Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Real Time Recipe

1. Buy two containers of sugar-free vanilla ice cream, because that was her favorite flavor back when she could eat ice cream with abandon. Sit them in the back seat for the half hour drive home from the store.

2. When you get home, grab a lidded pan. Tear out a long sheet of wax paper and line the bottom of the pan, leaving two ends of the sheet sticking out on the sides.

3. The ice cream has softened because ice cream is treacherous. Open one container and spoon it into the pan.

4. Take the sugar-free oreos a friend purchased specially online for this. Empty one package into the blender. Chop them up well.

5. Pour the oreos over the ice cream. Spread them out with a spoon to get it even.

6. Open the second ice cream container and spoon it over the oreo layer. Get it relatively smooth. Then loosely wrap the wax paper over it and seal the lid over that. Sealed, it won't absorb any flavors from the freezer. Stick it in the freezer to firm up until she gets here.

7. When she wants a dessert but is in the other room, remove the pan from the freezer. Remove the lid and turn it upside down over a large plate. Apply a little heat to the pan and it will slide out.

8. Peel off the wax paper. Take the rest of your sugar-free oreos and decorate the thing before she gets back. Quicker – she’s coming. You should probably stick some candles in there.

9. Your diabetic friend now has an ice cream cake for her birthday.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

Today we have the miracle of telling you that you are not alone. We cannot say if there is life in the rest of this universe, but there is life in others. You have at least 16,777,216 sister earths out there. We are one of them.


The main difference between us is that you are one of 128 earths that does not have an Isayas or a comparable analog. That’s 128 out of 16,777,216 currently accessible parallel earths that have life on them at all.

Our comedians joke that you are an “evil” parallel earth full of mustached versions of us. Most of us don’t see you as an anomaly. You’re not so different from us. After all, in both our earths the mustache represents a mock-evil parallel universe self. And we are all made of stardust; we all evolved from single-celled organisms. We all have two eyes, ears and nostrils; we all have hair on our heads, and many have unwanted hair in other places. 16,777,214 of the earths share the same fascination with dinosaurs, aside from the two where humans co-existed with them and have some understandable prejudices. Like you, we had our caveman, hunter/gatherer and feudal periods. We have two hemispheres, a Europe, an Asia and an Australia. Jesus Christ is important in our Bibles as well. We even called our great leap forward ‘The Enlightenment,’ as your Europeans call theirs.

When you understand our similarities, perhaps you’ll understand how perplexing the absence of Isayas is from your earth. Isayas the Good Heretic was (in our world and most of the 16,777,216) an Islamic king who converted to Christianity. The conversion was loose, retaining his Persian identity and throne, and using his stations to merge the two mega-religions. Being a king during the height of Persia’s scientific exploration, he managed to advance industry in Asia Minor and West Europe. By improving life expectancy and quality of life, and eliminating most governmental and religious disputes by instituting his own intellectual product. Isayas used market forces to create a trans-continental empire across what you see as Europe, the Middle East and Africa. His theocrats used their Islamo-Christian amalgam to mediate with lesser superstitions like the Irish pagans. Within 500 years on nearly every earth, the Isayas kingdom openly traded and had influence in Southern Africa and Asia Proper.

As fond as we are of our culture, few here believe there is an ideal earth. None of our scientists have yet located one. Our own will never outlive its mistreatment of the Outlets – the Americas in your world. They were mistreated or annihilated on nearly every world where they were not the conquerors themselves. But for most earths this is the World War, where you have had least two. Your earth has substantially more governments and inter-governmental conflicts. With that openness of governments, Communism, Autocracy and general xenophobia is greatly exaggerated against the worlds where there is an Isayas- or Isayas-analog revolution.

Perhaps related, your earth also has atypically wide divides between religion, art and science. Like most earths, though, all three of those forces are tied closely to the fourth force of economics. It seems almost universal that where there is intelligent life that you can spread knowledge, belief and opinion through sales.

Our comedians joke that we should exploit that economic opening and treat you like Isayas treated the Pagans. Humor is very important to us – we call it the Seventh Estate. We’ve taken their advice and left one hundred million one-pill cures for HIV in crates along your Sub-Saharan Africa. These we offer to you for free. If you’d like more, we’d be happy to exchange with you.

Another similarity between our earths is that deserts spread. But there is a difference: only your Sahara is experiencing rapid desertification. On 8,388,608 earths, including our own, are nearly out of arable land. Frustrating as it is, we’ve developed inter-dimensional communication before effective terraforming or transplanetary travel. Talking to you is actually cheaper than flying to Venus or Mars, let alone making them habitable. The market moves in mysterious ways.

All 16,777,216 earths we’ve found so far have a nearby Venus and Mars. You’re one of the few that seems serious about living on them.

We hoped another earth would have a terraforming-rich culture, yet of the 16,777,216 examples, none is adept. Curiously, some of your 128 earths have the most advanced space stations. We research space by cheap drones, but you just went there again. While your earth lags behind most of the 128 in deep space travel, it seems your scientists have some of the keenest ideas for terraforming. Many of the 128 treat other planets like campsites, bringing what they need, destroying a little, and leaving their trash behind as they hop to the next. This isn’t sustainable, and 120 of these 128 earths are near or at extinction as a result. Sustainability is the essence of a good market. Many more seem headed for extinction.

So will you work with your transdimensional sisters? There are economic openings to exploit.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: A Comedy of Commerces

It began in the computer aisle. Seeing the unfortunate effectiveness of political attack ads, Apple launched its own attack ads at Microsoft computers. Apple’s Mac brand had long struggled to be relevant in the world of laptop and desktop computing. So naturally they hired a fat, sad man to announce “I’m a PC.” A more popular, attractive actor announced, “I’m a Mac.” They played out unfunny vignettes in which Mr. Mac was to appear superior to Mr. PC. By the end of the first year, you wondered if Mr. PC wouldn’t hang himself at the end of the next commercial.

Meanwhile Apple emerged as a powerhouse in handheld devices. No cell was as infamous as their iPhone. And so T-Mobile created its own series of attack ads featuring a pretty girl in a pink dress dismissing someone similar to Apple’s Mr. Mac. Pretty Pink Girl is apparently a T-Mobile. It was the same condescending cherry-picking of features as Mr. PC had once endured.

But Virgin Mobile didn’t appreciate that T-Mobile might be getting a boost off of their parody-parody. They commissioned their own ads, in which a couple of sexy club-goers represent Virgin Mobile customers. The T-Mobile Clubbers blast by her in a simulation of fun life, which apparently no other cell phone users get to have. In their parody-parody-parody, Pretty Pink Girl hates her saccharine existence. Mr. PC awkwardly mills around the club behind her in some form of vestigial insult.

Meanwhile, Apple, T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile created one of the most antagonistic and unentertaining series of commercials in the world, rivaling the obnoxious natures of the political attack ads that inspired them. Old Spice dominated the entertaining commercial business thanks to the charismatic and shirtless Old Spice Guy. So they decided to defend commercial breaks by launching a series of attack ads where Old Spice Guy ceaselessly outwitted Mr. Mac, Pretty Pink Girl and the T-Mobile Clubbers.

Hearing that Old Spice Guy is vying to play Luke Cage in a Marvel Comics movie, Warner Brothers and DC Comics launched their attack ad. In this ad, Old Spice Guy was a dumpy only man in a towel, while Superman was ridiculously toned and witty. The advertisement accentuated how much cooler and edgier his Man of Steel movie would be than whatever they called Old Spice Guy’s thing. Mr. PC appeared in one ad to lend Old Spice Guy a straight razor, with the implication that these two mascots had taken up cutting themselves.

The Catholic Church took offense at Warner Brothers’ ad. This was not so much because of the suicide jokes, but because Superman is a nigh-omnipotent role model, and Catholics have their own brand of that product. So they did an ad where a dumpy man in a blue spandex costume announced, “I’m a DC.”

As to be expected, the second religion showed up in an ad a bunch of politicians jumped on it without checking what it was. It’s uncertain which Republican ran the first attack ad against the Catholic Church, but they probably didn’t know they were doing it. The first Democrat to attack the Republican’s attack ad probably did know what he was doing. It escalated to the point where Senators were paying for Superbowl ads to defend theology as glibly as humanly possible. It was the single unfunniest Superbowl ever. The NFL even took out an attack ad against its own advertiser’s attack ads, screened after the final play of the game. In it, a stuffy white man announced, “I’m a Republican.” Then a second stuffy white man announced, “I’m a Democrat.” Then Terry Tate tackled the crap out of both of them.

It was a debacle, but at least it got us Campaign Finance Reform for all attack ads. Suddenly Apple was sued for spending too much on “first degree being-annoying,” and several counts of “inciting further annoying bullshit.” It’s unclear how the laws will hold up in appellate courts. Rumor has it that lobbyists are raising funds to let the State Supreme Court’s dissenting opinion be broadcast in the form of a strawman attack ad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: 6000 Players at Level 0

“There was a complex equation for people’s levels in the game. It tabulated how many people you killed, how many times you killed each of them, modifying scores based on headshots and eviscerations, while also tabulating how often you healed a partner or sacrificed yourself, modifying scores based on speed and ludicrous valor. It followed your weapon usage, route varieties, team coordination, and even assigned a specific score for how many keywords you used in voice chat. To give players additional incentive, the sole programmer summed up the entire score, then multiplied it by your level number. It was poorly thought through, but he got his girlfriend at the time and was distracted. So distracted that he didn’t get any of the player e-mails that everyone started at Level 0, and thereby couldn’t level up. Whatever you scored wound up multiplied by 0. At the end of the year and the relationship, he logged in to find six thousand players still at Level 0. One player was at Level 999. That one player was Captain James Tiberius Kirk.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Essay: Are People Designed to be Unhappy?

The television presents an interview with a mother in Syria. She claims to have lost two children to famine and national catastrophe. An infant appears almost lifeless in her arms. Existence is so brutal that they are living among terrorists who the mother believes could kill her at any time. But this is where the food is.

A few friends share a link on Facebook. It’s an interview with Darcus Howe in London, someone BBC’s Fiona Armstrong introduces as a broadcaster. He’s a black man with a vaguely Middle Eastern accent. To me, he looks very tired. He derides England’s police system for abusing the young. While he won’t explicitly condone the rioting and massive property damage, his vitriol is for the government that shot an armed young man.

Not five minutes later, I’m sent another video. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist I hold in high regard, rants on NASA’s budget cuts. He is in what looks like an expensive suit, sitting as one of three guests in an air conditioned studio with an audience that applauds at every pause he grants. To me, he looks very well groomed. He is irate that we aren’t going to the moon anymore. How dare we say it’s too expensive to afford “the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow.”

I watch all three interviews in the same hour. They transpired in the same week. Lumped together, they are irreconcilable. My mind stretches for a simple explanation as to how someone like Dr. Tyson can be unhappy at all, let alone demand space travel when earth-children are starving. It seems insane that Dr. Tyson should say going to the moon is the sole source of hope against the backdrop of global emergencies. You can’t possibly think that Syrian mother or British broadcaster are dreaming of space travel tonight.

But if I’d only been reading astronomy and cosmology, how would I feel? Dr. Tyson and Mr. Howe don’t live in Syria. They see very little of it, and like most people on the planet, think very little of it. When it comes up it’s grave, but then it goes back down. They see and think as little of it as I do. It’s a damning epiphany.

In the next few hours I’m furious with my ISP for sending the wrong brand of router. I have to plug into it to access my high speed internet; there’s no wifi. That’s what preoccupies me. Something small that’s close preoccupies so much more easily than something enormous that’s distant. For Dr. Tyson, who spends so much time on the sky, the moon is closer than Syria.

Is it the condition of humans to always adjust to our circumstances and find something in them that displeases? Is that what makes millionaires go into debt over buying still more yachts? Is that what makes modern atheists compare themselves to African American civil rights pioneers? In their videos, Dr. Tyson appears absolutely as angry as Mr. Howe. I think back to Otakon in Maryland, and to the many miserable-looking people I saw in the hallways of a cartoon convention. And if I prowl Youtube, I’ll find tweens filming themselves in tears over their parents not buying them the latest Apple gadget. This is what preoccupies them.

It’s not a matter of seeking the thing that makes them unhappy. It seems as though people find these things on instinct. Was the evolutionary imperative to constantly seek out threats so strong that we have to be this way? It feels like it shouldn’t be. I’ve observed my behavior and modified for the positive before. But tomorrow, and next week, and next year, what will preoccupy me? How far away will the worst place in the world be?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Launching a Podcast

Consumed debuts this week. It's a podcast by three media consumers: myself, actor Nat Sylva and computer programmer Max Cantor. We're constantly reading, watching and playing, and gather to discuss what's stuck with us as we've consumed. After finding the proper mics, reliable recording programs and a ridiculously self-destructive pilot, we recorded our first proper episode. You can listen to it for free on the site.

My offerings are Harlan Ellison's Strange Wine and the Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood series. Max and Nat bring in Scrubs, the PC game Terraria, and two Westerns. Any feedback is welcome. Since comments aren't open on the Consumed site yet, feel free to comment here. We hope to record the second episode next week.

Download Consumed episode one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Kamikaze Pilots Are Unethical

“Never had respect for them, and was always grateful they were on the other side. Not grateful for those that hit our carriers, but you’re never grateful for any loss of life. You’re grateful for less loss of life, and that’s what kamikazes promise you. See, to be a kamikaze you’ve got to be able to kill yourself. Right? That means losing the value on your own life, and that simply can’t be done without compromising your overall judgment. A pilot is a selfish animal that wants to fly safely above the fight. He doesn’t blow himself up sanely. The mindset can be linked to hallucinations and generally self-destructive behavior. The results are in our data: kamikazes are less likely to hit their target than modern missiles, and take up a whole aircraft with them. So a kamikaze is giving up the value of his own life and the value of his performance. He's breaking his ethical duties to the military and nation. A very good thing to have as an enemy, if you’re on guard. We always are, as we appreciate our lives. Will take theirs, too, if they’re so keen to get rid of them.”
Counter est. March 2, 2008