Where being rational fails

I feel compassion for those who voted against equal rights in North Carolina. I know their vote was wrong and based on prejudice and faulty logic, but I still have compassion for them, because they rationally believed that they were doing the right thing. To many of us in metropolitan areas or with homosexual friends or who are just compassionate people, the vote is astounding. Clearly, rationally, no one should be punished for who they fall in love with. Two rational adults making a decision to merge their lives together should be celebrated, because relationships produce more offspring than just children. Whole families merge and the extended human panoply gets one bit smaller, closer than before; cultures mix and friends are made. What does gender have to do with this? But there are those who believe gender is the overriding factor in relationships as surely as I do not.

And here there are no winners. Obviously, people fighting for civil rights have lost, but North Carolina made a law that was already in effect just a little bit stronger, possibly strong enough to punish heterosexual couples who are not married. Far from protecting the sanctity of marriage, the law codifies it and prevents churches from having their own definitions. Those who strongly support the law see it as a bulwark against sin and modernity, but who declares a wall a victory? They know there is a rising tide against them. They know that history will render the law moot and this battle an aberration. The wall will crumble, but the state will survive.

Why hate these people, then? Why fill ourselves with anger at this loss? The frustration of knowing we are on the right side and that those that would vote against civil rights are doing it for ancient, mistaken beliefs is great, but the frustration on the other side is just as great, because they believe they are on the right side and that those that would allow homosexual marriage are chipping away at the foundations of society.

But wait, I am not getting postmodern here. I do not believe that what is right and what is wrong depends on point of view. I know that granting civil rights, including the ability to enter into a marriage with another consenting adult, is the inevitable progression of any forward society. Once a society grants equal rights to women, something we’re oddly still fighting about, there is no chance to turn the clock back—hinder the clock, yes—but it can never be turned back. Justice and equality will eventually be granted to all people, because when more people have it, compassion for those that do not grows exponentially. Which is why I will endeavor to remain compassionate for those that rail against the future. If I remain compassionate to those I disagree with, I will rationally choose a more inclusive society, instead of futilely attempting to keep people out.

The Flat Earth Society

When I look at the sun setting, I don’t think the sun is actually moving; although, from my point of reference it may look that way. But knowing that Earth revolves around the sun and that the Earth, itself, rotates, I’ve long-since conditioned my mind to reason that when I see the sun setting, I’m seeing my little section of the Earth rotate into it’s own shadow.

It’s easy to understand in hindsight. I don’t blame the ancients for getting it wrong, but once the mechanism is understood, it sure is a lot easier to understand things like seasons and shorter or longer periods of daylight (the angle of the Earth to the sun), eclipses (bodies entering shadows cast by other bodies), and the movement of other planets (each revolves at a specific speed, and when Earth ‘passes’ the other planet, it looks like that planet is moving backwards in the night sky).

The ancients had all sorts of explanations for all of this, but they were just claptrap. Actually, some Chinese and Greeks figured it out millennia ago, but the common wisdom remained, by definition, more popular.

What continues to bother me though is that the ancients thought the world was flat. I know this is not true. The evidence for it not being flat was all over the place. I can buy that very few people had any idea how large of a ball we were on. (Columbus’s big idea wasn’t that the world was round, but that the round world was much smaller than commonly thought. He was terribly wrong in his calculations, assuming that when he landed in the Caribbean he was actually in India. Hence West Indies. Hence Indians.) But that anyone other than some backwater hermit thought that the world was flat was just not paying attention to anything.

Scientifically, it was easy to prove with shadows. The Greek, Eratosthenes, took measurements of two pillars and their shadows at known times in two different parts of the world. Using a new field of mathematics called Trigonometry, he computed the circumference of the world. Circumference, by the way, implies roundness.

The ancient world was dominated by trade and conquest. Much of this trade and conquest moved over huge portions of land or sea. Any explorer knew that the edge of the world was just an illusion. There was always something waiting over the horizon. Anecdotally, everyone knew the world was round.

By example, they knew the Earth was round. By looking at the phases of the moon, anyone can clearly see it’s a sphere, not a circle. If one were to take a flat plate, and try to mimic the phases with a light source, he would be disappointed as there would be no shadow until the light source moved completely behind the plate. It takes a sphere to produce those shadows. And the ancients, watchers of the sky, would have seen the shadow of the Earth cast in its own sky creeping along in twilight until it enveloped the heavens. That creeping shadow implies a curved edge, not the hard edge of a flat plate.

We can still see that shadow, on clear nights, but it’s difficult to notice, and, by the time I think of it, it’s already nightfall.

The evidence was all over the place. The ancients knew the world wasn’t flat. Why do we think they did?

I think of this when I hear people talk about what is commonly known, what everyone believes. How can millions of individuals know something, but it will invariably come out wrong when everyone believes it’s opposite? The world wasn’t flat, no one believed that it was, but somehow everyone thought it was flat. The political and social world of today is filled with this magical thinking. No one I know believes any of it. And yet everyone believes it.

The way to end this is to stop–not only to stop believing in the common wisdom, but to also stop believing there is a common wisdom. The people selling it are people who are selling us things that we wouldn’t buy unless we thought our peers were buying it too. This is in all things, physical and intangible. Consider that any idea that everyone believes is not to be trusted, look for it’s faults, break it into smaller pieces, and form your own opinion. In this time of the fractured media landscape, the remaining gatekeepers are desperate and determined to hold onto any group of believers that they manufacture. We don’t have to assist them by aligning with them.

It’s Alphabetic

Huh. I was going to post that I wanted to get two of ABC’s albums with “The Look of Love,” “How to Be a Millionare,” and “Poison Arrow.” I think these are on two different albums if I remember my 80s vinyl correctly. But not only are those albums not available on CD, but the songs themselves are only available as best-of collections as MP3s.

Now, ABC wasn’t known for their album-oriented rock, so I really shouldn’t have a problem buying a best-of and that’s that, but, boy, is that going to be the toughest thing to give up in our post-album world. It’s not the loss of the artwork or liner notes, which enterprising distributors are bringing back. It’s not the loss of cohesion within a group of songs, since it looks like a lot of artists are still grouping songs to release at once.

No, it’s hitting me hardest that I can’t remain smug when I, as a real fan, purchase albums and scoff at the fair-weather fans who purchase best-ofs and think they know anything about the band or the music they’re listening to. I want my high-horse back!

I answer questions

Facebook has a recently-added question area. Normally, I avoid answering the questions because many seem–well–they seem sketchy. Complete strangers asking each other about God’s existence and whether or not women who dress provocatively deserve harassment seems designed to just get on people’s nerves. But the pedagogue in me sometimes can’t resist. (And the feminist in me couldn’t resist answering the latter question with: Fuck men who think they can ever harass women.)

One question popped up which lead me to this little rant. I figure my long-suffering readers shouldn’t miss out on yet more of my brilliance, just because they’re not going to read my scintillating answers on Facebook. So, I’m republishing my answer here.

The question was: Why are unhealthy foods so tasty?

My answer follows: Because big companies spend lots of money on research to make it that way.

Which big companies? Well, your McDonalds and Kraft Foods, sure, but also companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto–companies that are supposed to be in the agriculture business, but instead spend tremendous amounts of money making sure that their main products (corn and soybeans) can be used to replace any other foodstuff.

Let’s face it. Most of the foods we eat don’t resemble anything that came from an animal or grew in the ground. To do that in an efficient, mass-production way, we need cheap, readily available ingredients. So maybe corn isn’t what you expect in ice cream, or maybe you thought you had to order a soy-burger to actually get soy in your burger. Well, it’s in the beef one, too.

They’ve taken corn and soy and seaweed and sometimes just plain chemicals and combined them, reduced them, steamed them, whatever, to approximate what is missing from mass-produced foods.

In doing so, they’ve distilled the flavors to the point where (and this is true) McDonalds adds a French-fry flavor to it’s French fries. McDonalds will say it is for consistency, but a side-benefit is that it makes food we all like to eat taste MORE like the foods we like to eat. Therefore, there is no incentive for food production companies to add better ingredients, just more flavorings of the food we like to cheaper and cheaper ingredients.

So here’s something for all of us. We can totally train our taste buds. We can eat things with less sugar and less salt and actually enjoy it. I’m not telling anyone to eat organic or stop using butter–if you saw me in person, you’d know I’m a person who enjoys more than my share of butter. What I am saying is that we can eat healthier as soon as we stop to taste things. Fat isn’t a problem; sugar isn’t a problem; salt isn’t a problem–in moderation. But companies selling us prepared foods don’t have time to hit us with subtleties. They fire fat-sugar-salt! all at once and hit all our pleasure centers.

Taking the Service out of Customer Service for over 20 years.

I hate TicketMaster and Live Nation with a passion, so please take this example of what never to do in customer service with a grain of salt. A rock god is playing a once-in-a-generation event in my area, and I was going to see him, even if it meant purchasing tickets through the hated brokerage, TicketMaster. I signed up for a lottery that would give me access to pre-sale tickets, got that access, and still had to purchase tickets in a far more expensive area than I had planned, because all the cheaper seats had sold by the time I could purchase mine.

Again, that was still in the pre-sale phase. And it’s not at all what I want to complain about, since that’s part of the price, purchasing through a ticket monopoly, that I’ve been painfully aware of for the past 20 years. What is in important to highlight, however, is that I purchased my ticket package, which included some “free” merchandise, four months before the date of the show. Four months before any of the shows. Once the tickets were purchased, I was given a link to “order” my “free” merchandise, and a coupon code so the merchandise would be “free.”

The link took me to a site called FanFire.com. If one were to visit FanFire.com without any other tracking info embedded into the link, one would quickly find herself on the Live Nation Store site, as it immediately redirects. In other words, FanFire is just another front in the giant Live Nation monopoly. However, the link that I was given had some other cruft, which kept me within the FanFire domain, and allowed me to order my “free” merchandise. Four months, remember, before any concert began in that particular tour.

It is now a week before the concert that I’m going to, and about two weeks since the concert launched. I, of course, have not gotten any of my “free” merchandise. So I go to the site and check on my order status. There is no information, other than the order was received. There is a link to inquire about the order, so I click on it to get this page:

A form for me to fill out to find out the status of my order. The key visual here is that there is no indication that this is going to go to Live Nation instead of the proper FanFire contact.

The text at the top that is impossible to read says, “We’re here to help! The best way to contact us is to use the form below….” So I do. (Oddly, the order date is a month later than my actual order, but I don’t particularly care, as I have my original email receipt.) I ask the nice form if it knows when my order will ship.

I get a response one hour later:

Hello,

Thank you for choosing Live Nation Merchandise. For all information about your VIP or Premium Ticket Package, please contact tickets@fanfire.com.

If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to contact us.

Sincerely,

Taylor
Live Nation Merchandise Customer Service
http://www.store.livenation.com/

Huh. So the best way to find out about my order is to fill out a form on the FanFire.com site, which forwards to a Live Nation rep, who tells me that he cannot help me. Yes, that does seem like it was the best way.

I actually wrote back to ask, “Are you unable to answer this question or even forward it to the proper department?”

Within minutes, Taylor responds:

Hello ,

Thank you for choosing Live Nation Merchandise. The VIP ticket packages are handled by a different division of our company. That is tickets@fanfire. You must email them regarding an updated status on this order being that the merchandise is fulfilled and shipped out of their facilities. If they have not responded to you after a few business days please contact me back.

If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to contact us.

Sincerely,

Taylor
Live Nation Merchandise Customer Service
http://www.store.livenation.com/

I don’t have the heart to tell Taylor that I actually did not choose Live Nation Merchandise. Ever. I purchased my tickets through TicketMaster, was sent a link to FanFire to order my merchandise, and used the form on FanFire to inquire about the status of my order, some four months after the purchase was made. At no point did I choose Live Nation Merchandise. I do choose to believe that monopolies suck and there is no way that this behemoth of a company should be allowed to survive.

I will enjoy the concert that I’ve paid way too much for. And I know that the couple of t-shirts that I’m getting for “free” will be just as nice after the concert as before. I don’t believe that the artist that this revolves around should be implicated in any way, because Live Nation is the only game in town, and there is just no way to have a nationwide concert series without using them in one of their guises. In all, I can’t really say that Live Nation is doing anything any differently than any other way-too-large company with it’s thousands of divisions that don’t actually talk to each other.

But I know the Web. I know a bit about usability and the tenets of extremely basic customer service. And point number one in any lousy presentation that is going to bore the caffeine out of everyone: Don’t force your customers to fill out something that won’t go to the correct department. That’s just stupid.

Don’t make me Chrysler

On the teevee, there’s been a couple of Chrysler commercials that have really, really annoyed me. The first one is subtly annoying, because I had to pay attention to it before I realized how awful it was. There’s a young waifish boy who is leaving school. We hear, but don’t see, a boy say “Hey, Billy, I’ll race you home.” And you see the waif look alarmed. He runs, and then we see three larger shadowy boys chase after him. He escapes into his mom’s Chrysler minivan.

Clearly, the boy is being chased by bullies, but this probably played poorly with some sort of focus group. Reasonably, who the hell wants to associate the safety of her car with her poor, picked-on child? But it drives me crazy that the fix for this horrible commercial was to have the dumb voice-over in the beginning implying that the child was racing the other kids home. The kid looks horrified, and the other kids chasing him are clearly disappointed they didn’t get to hand him a beat down when he barely escapes. Who thought that was a good idea? And now, the edited commercial is nonsensical and cringe inducing.

The other Chrysler commercial I didn’t even have to pay attention to for it to make my brain matter seep out. It’s another minivan commercial–does Chrysler only make minivans now?–and after talking about all the amazing thing this minivan does, the voice-over says, “Oh, yeah, and it literally gave birth to every other minivan.”

Unless this is about another Michael Bay movie that I’m never going to see, this is literally the worst use of “literally” that I’ve ever heard. Most people may not realize this, but advertising agencies usually have smarter people involved in ad-campaigns. If the ad was literally put together by a 13 year-old, I could understand the usage, but anyone who has a high-school education knows what “literally” means. That ad had to pass through at least 2 dozen people. Not one of them pointed out how wrong that was?

At any rate, I put the kibosh on purchasing any Chrysler products in my household. I’m sure that’ll be the final nail in that company’s coffin.

Humans don’t cost much

I just read that an employee of BP who was on the Deepwater Horizon Rig, pleaded the 5th at a federal investigative panel about his actions on the day of the explosion. The obvious reason for this is that there was criminal negligence or possibly criminal action.

The article deserves a read. One passage stood out:

The company men [from BP] have a key role on a drilling rig, said Carl Smith, a former U.S. Coast Guard captain and expert witness, who testified Wednesday.

“Their [BP’s] emphasis is they’re trying to drill to make money for their company, so their primary interest is to make progress on the well,” he said. “So, you’re always going to have a conflict between the people who are representing the owner’s of the rig and the people who are renting it because the people who are renting it want to go faster and drill, and the people who are operating the rig want to maintain the integrity of the rig, which is a natural conflict.”

The people who are operating the rig want to maintain its integrity. Seems fair. But the conflict is the company that is renting the rig, in this case BP, wants to drill faster at the expense of safety. Surely this implies that it is less expensive in the long run for the company to mop up oil spills and pay the insurance on those on the rig that have died.

That’s some truly fucked-up accounting, right there.

I’m old–and new things scare me!

Especially when the new things are hundreds of years old and sound Muslim!

Found on MSNBC:
Headline: "1 in 4 young adults has used a hookah," from MSNBC website

I have no desire to read the story. It may even be positive, since it is believed that hookah smoke is safer than directly inhaling smoke from a burning source, like cigarettes or pipes. But the only reason that this would be a story on a national news site is to freak out the whitebreads who think that hookahs can only be used for illegal drugs and would only be used by alien cultures.

Don’t tell anyone that some young people eat hummus and wear pajamas.

Notes from a commuter

11/15 11:16 pm

— I don’t know what was going on tonight. There were some people wearing Ranger’s jerseys, so I’m assuming there was a hockey game tonight, but there were also these women who were dressed like they were going to ladies’ night at some singles’ club–lots of sequins and cleavage. I don’t think that was for a hockey game.

— I missed the 10:16. I almost always miss the train I want to take home. Instead, I’m on the 11:16 and it’s packed. At least the front couple of cars are. I normally like to hit the cars in the back, but I saw a seat with a plug by it, and I took the opportunity to grab some juice. I probably could have found something closer to the rear, though.

There was a pretty good busker in Penn Station tonight. He was covering Bob Marley songs on a guitar. He played them kind of jazzy. I was considering spending $5 to buy his CD, but I didn’t. Maybe if I see him again.

— Two people asked me for change. One was a tiny, old Asian woman. She had a handful of quarters and asked me for a quarter. I said, “You look like you have a lot of quarters already!” and proceeded to fish in my pocket for a quarter to give her. The other one was this guy who I see constantly in Penn Station. He asks for change all the time. I’ve seen him when he’s not begging–he’s usually harassing women and listening to music through very expensive headphones. He’s got stylish jeans, and, like I said, I see him there all the time. I consider him a professional beggar, and since I don’t like his service, I don’t give him money. If I ever get up the nerve, I’ll tell him to grab an instrument and pretend to offer something like all the other professional beggars out there. I give the buskers money all the time. I give homeless people money or a meal more than I’d care to admit. But that dude? C’mon, man, do something to earn it. Tap dance or mumble or offer to read palms. Do something.

I’ve gotten a couple of people asking me about my necklace at work. It’s a silver sun with a round amber stone in the middle. My wife gave it to me for our anniversary. The last guy to ask about it was a customer at the Apple store, and he wanted to know if the symbol had some sort of meaning. I thought to myself that usually suns mean something about the sun, but I explained that my wife is the sun, bright, blonde and cheery, as opposed to me, cold, dark, and brooding–the moon. I don’t think the answer satisfied him, but I’m not sure what he wanted the sun to actually represent. Maybe next time, I’ll talk about the cult that I belong to.

— My new MacBook is great, but the sharp aluminum palm rest digs into my wrists when I type. Playing a game is fine, but typing this hurts.

11/16 8:40 am

— So far, Optimum WiFi service sucks. The system delivers data fine to my iPhone, but the iPhone is much smaller than the one on my MacBook, so I only get the WiFi signal on the iPhone when I’ve stopped in a station. The MacBook antenna gets the signal for a few seconds outside of the train stations, but gets a fraction of the data that my iPhone does. And then, the service logs me out almost immediately, so I have to go to a website to log in again. I have an automatic login app (DeviceScape) that will bypass most website login screens, but it doesn’t work with Optimum. Then, too, if I’ve logged in with either the iPhone or the MacBook, I can’t log in with the other, even after the service has logged me out of the first device. I get what I pay for with this, I guess.

Leave a message

About every other month or so, either Katherine or I will get a phone call from an unknown number, which we won’t pick up. Invariably, the caller will not leave a message, but will instead call the phone back 3 or 4 times in a 10 minute span, until I get enraged enough to answer it.

“Hello!” I demand.

“Elisa Shabadoo?” says someone on the other end of a horrible, static-y connection.

“Wrong number!” I yell and hang up.

I just don’t understand why the other person who is so insistent on getting through to Elisa won’t take the 5 seconds to listen to the voicemail greeting that clearly says “Hi, this is Katherine,” or “Hi, you’ve reached Jonathan’s voicemail.”

Speaking of voicemail, if you try to reach me, that’s probably what you’ll get. Last week, I accidently dunked my smartphone in to a glass of water. This was not the stupidest thing I have ever done, but I think it’s in my top 20. At any rate, after some extreme and active drying techniques were applied, the phone was restored to an almost pristine state, except that it shuts off whenever I put the phone to sleep.

It’s odd; the phone will stay on while I use it, and if I passively let it go to sleep after using it, it won’t shut off. But as soon as I click the sleep button, the phone must be manually turned on, and will shut off whether actively or passively put to sleep until I put it in the charger for about 8–10 hours.

And since dunking in water is not covered under the warrantee, and I don’t really want to spend another $200 to replace it, I’m going to live with my phone shutting off for some time.

But as I said, if you call me, expect to get my voicemail; it’s nothing personal.