Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lemmings

When I discussed with my wife the topic I had in mind for this blog post, she told me I might come off as sounding a bit pedantic - to which I responded, "Have you read my blog? Pedantic is kind of my thing." Still, knowing that she has read my blog and, moreover, actually knows me; I'm lead to suspect that "a bit pedantic" may have been a euphemism for "wildly self indulgent and anal to the point of cruelty". Now, chances are, if you're reading this at all, you're a very near relative or friend of mine, and a single blog post, no matter how painful, will not create an unbridgeable schism in our relationship. However, if you're on the fence about me, you may want to skip this one.

Yesterday, I saw an image floating around on the Internet that gave me pause. Incidentally, when I say I saw an image "floating around", I really mean my web browser interpreted a file which was complied using the JPEG standard - as defined in RFC 1341 - that was stored on at least one of millions of interconnected computers and made publicly available via the HTTP protocol. (I just got pedantic goose bumps.)

Anyway, the image I saw was a depiction of a bumper sticker that stated, "Lemmings for Obama 2008". As I'm sure was the intention of the bumper sticker's author, the message got me thinking. However, it was not about Obama's proponents, but about actual lemmings. I realized, for the first time, that the idea of an entire species being genetically inclined to commit suicide en masse in order to control its own population was a bit hard to swallow - or rather, there was a disparity between that notion and my perception of rationality.

I decided to do some research on lemmings and, with surprisingly little effort, discovered that, in fact, lemmings are NOT innately suicidal at all. Not only do they not blindly follow each other over cliffs to their deaths, they show the same desire for self preservation as does every other species of animal on the planet.

Suddenly I was filled with the sort of holier-than-thou giddiness that only the truly self important can attain. Why? Because I enjoy irony nearly as much as I do pedanticism. See, lemmings are used as a metaphor to portray people who unquestioningly go along with an incorrect but popular opinion, but, in itself, the idea that lemmings unquestioningly follow each other is an opinion which is popular but incorrect. So, essentially, those who accuse others of being lemmings are, themselves, in fact... well, I suppose I can't call them lemmings - but whatever they are, it isn't as clever as me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgetting!

Thanksgiving is the most ironic of holidays. The fact that we gather together once a year to demonstrate our thanks by eating a ton of food makes me wonder if the original name for the holiday included air quotes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan - It's just that the physics of the thing don't quite click with me. First, we're presumably given something for which we are to be grateful - then, we show our gratitude by treating ourselves to roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc. It just doesn't seem very karma-friendly to me.

But, who am I to question a good thing. I mean, Thanksgiving is the epitome of a win-win situation. Far be it from me to disparage a truly American pastime. In fact, I think we should keep the spirit of Thanksgiving with us throughout the entire year.

A stranger lets you cut in front of him in line at the grocery store? Show your appreciation by buying yourself a candy bar. Your neighbor unexpectedly shovels your walk? Don't stay indebted, get yourself right over to Krispy Kreme and eat three doughnuts (four if you have a big driveway).

Now you're probably thinking, "Wait! If I show my gratitude throughout the whole year, will I have anything left to be thankful for come the actual Thanksgiving holiday?" The answer is, obviously, who cares? Haven't you ever heard of paying it forward? Suppose someone gives you a kidney in 20 years. Do you think you're going to be able to show thanks for something that generous by just eating a bowl of ice cream? No, you'll need years of gluttony to properly compensate for that level of kindness. Better to start saying thanks now so as not to find yourself in an awkward situation later.

Monday, August 2, 2010

So Much Negativity

Grammatically speaking, a double negative is a faux pas. You should obviously never commit a grammatical faux pas. However, in French, "faux" means "false", which has a negative connotation; never is also negative, so it's technically more correct to say, "You should always commit a pas." But, I shouldn't digress... or rather, I should gress.

While the "double negative" rule has been long standing and is generally undisputed... i mean puted, the origins of the rule itself are undisclosed... rrrgh... closed. By that, I mean to imply that the rule's root is actually known to a select few, and not undiscovered (I give up), as some have claimed.

I hesitate to use the word, "conspiracy", but only because the phrase, "I hesitate to..." is a worn out, euphemistic conversational device that I hesitate to... crap.

Anyway, why are we not allowed to use double negatives? If you want my opinion, it's because the grammarians of yore were either presumptuous snobs or communists. Either they honestly didn't believe our little brains could handle the back and forth switcherydoos of multiple negatives, or they were deliberately trying to make us stupider... uhh... more stupid - presumably to make the gradual introduction of their communist ideals less noticeable. Either way, I'm offended.

If someone wants to say something like, "I don't not want to never leave.", he should be allowed to do it without everyone in the room shrieking, "AHHHHH DOUBLE NEGATIVE!!" (Especially since it was a triple negative), and I should be given the opportunity to puzzle through all those negatives to figure out whether he actually wants to stay or go.

Maybe it's the programmer in me, but I think multiple negatives are fairly straightforward. Off - on - off - on... anyone able to count can get to the bottom of them. If something has to be banned from proper English, it should be vague and/or misleading statements. Phrases like, "We're looking into it" should be absolutely forbidden. The next time you hear that sentence from a customer service representative, make sure you have him define his pronouns. "We" could be him and his buddy Eugene, and "It" could be a monkey's armpit.

So I say down with rationing out our negatives like they're the final drops of water in a desert canteen. We're certainly not never going to not run out of them, so let's stop not using them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Send Out the Clowns

Why do we still have clowns? From what I can gather, they are just a vestige from the middle ages; a time when an autocrat could sit on his thrown and demand to be amused by a starkly painted commoner acting like an imbecile.

Of all the things that could have persisted from that era, why clowns? Why not heralds, or thatchers... or even gigantic flagons of ale?

Well, in the case of heralds and thatchers, it's simple. They're not needed. Nobody has a thatched roof these days, and people rarely require someone prancing about in front of them announcing their arrival. As for gigantic flagons of ale, who knows, maybe the 64oz Super Big Gulp is a descendent.

But why clowns? Do we still need them? Is there anyone out there that honestly thinks they're entertaining or funny? I don't think so. In fact, a disturbingly large number of people are actually afraid of clowns! And I'm not just talking about reclusive weirdos who think their fingers are cheese. These are normal, well-adjusted, hard-working, average-looking people that jump out of their skins at the mere mention of a clown. And for some reason, society is okay with that.

There's a reason you'll never hear about a person with a phobia of sitcoms. Sitcoms are there for entertainment, and entertainment should not freak people out. At its worst a sitcom may be cliché, or maybe even mildly offensive, but you'll never see a sitcom starring as the antagonist in a horror flick.

To draw a parallel, clowns are to the middle ages what alligators are to the Jurassic period. They give us a glimpse into a world long dead and, from a purely academic perspective, are an interesting object of study. But they shouldn't be allowed to roam freely among us, and you certainly wouldn't want your children anywhere near one.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pheidippides: Behind the Music

According to legend, the origins of the marathon race can be traced to the ancient battle of Marathon in Greece (490 B.C.). In this battle, the Persians were defeated by the Greeks. As the story goes, Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory. He ran the entire distance (26.2 miles) without stopping and promptly died after proclaiming to the assembly, "We have won!".

The validity of this account has been widely disputed among historians due to differing narratives from various sources. Some records mention a runner named Philippides (instead of Pheidippides). Others claim that the whole army marched rapidly to Athens, not just one messenger.

Fortunately, speculations over the details of the first marathon can now be quelled. Pheidippides' journals have been discovered and, by wild chance, have fallen into my hands. I'm going to paraphrase his personal account below. I would do more than paraphrase, but it's all written in Greek, which I don't understand per se. My interpretation is based mostly on the look and feel of his handwriting.

About a year before the Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides was 60 pounds overweight. "I'm pathetic", he said to himself as he stared at the scale one morning. "How could I have let myself get this fat?"

He resolved to get more fit, and decided the best way to do it would be to get a side job as a messenger. He started off easy - only delivering messages that were a mile or so from his home, but gradually he worked up to longer distances. His sister, who had been a long time messenger, invited him to deliver a couple of messages that were 5 and 10 kilometers away, and although he was a bit slow, he delivered the messages successfully.

After approximately six months of delivering messages, Pheidippides was feeling pretty good about himself. He had lost his excess weight, and was able to deliver several 5 to 10K messages each week. He decided to set his sights on something bigger. He had heard about the big battle of Marathon that was going to take place in half a year, and on a whim signed up to deliver the victory message from Marathon to Athens. After all, everyone knew the Greeks would win - it was really just an exhibition battle. (The Persians were a bunch of wimps.)

Some claimed that Pheidippides was a great patriot for voluteering to deliver the message, but really he just wanted to get the "κϛ.β" sticker for his chariot.

Pheidippides' sister agreed to deliver the message with him, and together they began to prepare themselves physically for the mighty task.

Pheidippides' wife was supportive, but a little concerned. "Are you sure this is a good time to deliver a message over such a long distance?" She pointed out that he was very busy with his full time job, and that he had recently joined the cathedral choir - which demanded a lot of time.

Pheidippides waved away his wife's worries and assured her that preparing to deliver the big message would not impact his life significantly. Pheidippides was wrong.

The ensuing months proved to be very difficult. With the hours of training added to his already busy schedule, Pheidippides began to think he had spread himself too thin. Still, he pressed on. He met his sister each Saturday to deliver messages and the distances grew longer and longer.

At long last, the day of the battle approached. Pheidippides and his sister travelled to the battle site with another messenger friend the evening before the victory was to be won. That night they made camp, but slept very little due to the fact that their camp site was right next to a umm... train station.

They awoke very early and got on one of the many chariots designated to transport all of the messengers to the place from which they would depart. Upon reaching the starting point, they huddled in the brisk morning with thousands of other messengers (apparently the Greeks believed in redundancy) and awaited the explosion that would announce the end of the battle and the beginning of their journey. They heard the blast and began.

The first several miles passed in relative ease. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, the cool mountain air was refreshing and there was an electricity in the air that was exhilarating. Some messengers were faster than Pheidippides and his sister. Some were slower, but no one cared. They were all just happy to be there delivering such an exciting message.

When they reached the half-way point, Pheidippides was pleased to see that, according to his GPS enabled wrist mounted sundial, he and his sister had traversed the distance much more quickly than they had expected. He was tired, but still felt strong and confident. They pressed on.

As the day progressed, the sun burned away the crisp air of morning and strength began to dwindle. The road stretched endlessly before him, and Pheidippides noticed that the distance between mile markers was growing. He plodded arduously for what seemed like hours only to find seconds had passed. At mile 17 he had a fleeting fear that he might not be able to deliver the message after all. He pushed the thought out of his mind and trudged on.

He passed mile 20 with a feeling of accomplishment. Never in his life had he delivered a message farther than 20 miles. Every step he took now was a new best for him.

Pheidippides had heard about "the wall" that messengers encountered when delivering messages over long distances. At mile 22 he began to wonder if he had already hit this wall. He was tired. His muscles screamed and his joints ached. Maybe this was all "the wall" was... It wasn't. At mile 24 Pheidippides learned what "the wall" was. His body felt like it shut down. Every single step was a battle of will. He wondered what in the hell ever possessed him to deliver this stupid message.

On and on he struggled. The path opened to a large clearing and Pheidippides was distantly aware of thousands of people cheering all of the messengers on their way. He could see his destination far down the road and it may as well have been on the moon. Every part of him wanted to stop. His hands, feet and head felt as if he had sat on them too long and they had gone to sleep. His vision was a blur and all sound seemed to be filtered through a pool of water. Still he plodded on.. and on.. and on... until finally he stumbled weekly through the entrance to the assembly.

Relief and exhaustion flooded over him. He shouted triumphantly, "WE HAVE WON!"

Then he died.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

First We Abhor

As the addage goes; first we abhor, then we tolerate, then we embrace. Well, there are a plethora of things that I abhor, and I've decided to skip the whole tolerate stage and just start embracing.

To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted to go directly from abhorance to embracing, so the results could be a little unpredictable. I'm hoping it gives me some sort of super power.

Firstly, the word plethora makes my skin crawl. Ever since "¡Three Amigos!" hit the big screen in 1986, plethoras upon plethoras of people have added this once obscure word to their vocabularies. Saying plethora makes you sound neither funny nor smart, and warrants a plethora of smackings.

Finally, it really irks me when people begin a statement with a word like, "finally" and then continue blathering after the statement is complete. If I'm already listening to you, then I've resigned myself to the ordeal and am prepared to suffer through it - but hinting at a conclusion before you're ready to give one is just cruel.

Lastly, "Got Pet Peeves?" I do. when people think they're clever by putting their own spin on a successful ad campaign it really gets my knickers in a twist. Almost as much as the phrase, "knickers in a twist". I mean seriously, "I'm NOT Lovin' It", so "Just DON'T Do It".


As I end, let me just tell you, there are a plethora of additional things that I abhor, but unfortunately I can't tell them to you. Well, I could... but then I'd have to kill you.

So, as a parting blow I'll impart to you some wisdom in an hilarious format:

Can of soup: $1.39
Stainless steel doorknob: $37.99
Discovering the fountain of youth and gaining immortality: Priceless

NOT!