I often hear pe…

I often hear people say “the future is here” usually followed by some contrite example of how some singular thing defines the now as the future we tell ourselves we were promised and entitled to. It is a self-congratulatory statement as it implies that all of existence as it is known to us – some 14 billion years or so – has been a prelude to the latest innovations of man.
“Duuuude! Flying cars, man!” someone will say, and the universe would mock our trivial smallness, our utmost insignificance if only it were an entity with such petty emotions capable of doing so and not a personified construct called into being to mock my fellow man. Even then it might decide it is better off ignoring us entirely because frankly it can’t be bothered.
There is another problem with proclaiming “the future is now:” the future being referred to is quite often (if not always) the purview of a desperately small percentage of the population. Flying cars exist – they are not particularly practical or anywhere near as sexy as we would like them to be, but they are around. The reason you have never seen one is because there are a number of hurdles beyond the development stage of these flights of fancy. Assuming you are part of the much ballyhooed 1% and can afford to buy one (there are no production models available), there are laws and regulations governing things that leave the sweet embrace of mother earth and take to the heavens. Don’t believe me? Ask someone at the FAA who Icarus was and how his gossamer wings relate to why you need to switch off your Kindle when you board an aircraft, to say nothing of flying cars.
No, friends, the world is a far less simple place than the chaotic hopefulness of our dreams and desires.
Even terrestrial cars – things we might all recognize as such – exist in categories ranging from economy to luxury and classic cars to space-age hyper tech. Looking at the inspired design of a Lamborghini Aventador in stark contrast to the Lada Niva for example or the humble London cab it is easy to believe the future is here, now, roaring past firing on all twelve cylinders, but again that is a privilege few among us will ever now. Worse, if you are the proud owner of a nice Lamborghini or even the latest electric cars whose engineering represents the cutting edge of what is possible in a production car you would still be driving on a road – not flying through the sky (something specifically requiring dedicated aerodynamics and a massive spoiler over about 135 miles an hour) as well as sharing the road with people who are all still driving relics of a past. You may have cocooned yourself in a little bubble of the future, but the vast majority of people couldn’t give a damn about the design or engineering of the future; they are in their hatchbacks and minivans on their way to work to pay the bills. They have very real concerns in the moment that must take precedence over their desires for the future.

Often times the products and services we use have very little to do with being an accurate, contemporary representation of where the scientific or aesthetic frontiers are and everything to do with what is practical, dependable, easily mass-produced, and ultimately expendable. We have aircraft equipped with scramjets that are able to traverse the diameter of the earth, dipping in and out of suborbital altitudes at theorized speeds of Mach 24 (29,000km/h) and tested speeds of Mach 5.1 in less time than it takes you to fly to a different state. Worse still, the Concorde first flew operationally in 1969 and air travel has since slowed down significantly. The future was here, but now it’s gone.

None of this gets us closer to the point however; be happy with what you have, now, and let the future bring what it may, when it may.

The author does not drive a push-rod suspension, carbotanium, intuo-drive hypercar. No flying car for me, no personal jet pack, and long lines for an even longer flight with “modern” air travel, but you know what, it’s fine. I’m happy.

I will continue to marvel at the innovations of science and the groundbreaking designs of engineers, architects, artists, and visionaries, but I am in no rush for the future to find us at some artificially accelerated pace; time passes inexorably, all that remains is to enjoy it.


Quandaries of Procreation

The overpowering biological imperative to produce offspring can be so severe that women will settle for some guy simply because he possesses the necessary bits to fulfill her burning desire for a baby. You will note I say baby – in which women see things I know many men do not – myself foremost among these. Women find children – but babies in particular – fascinating in ways I do not pretend to fully understand. Call it emotional connectedness, call it maternal instinct, call it empathy; I do not have it in any measurable amount. Although far be it from me to rule out having children altogether, I think doing so is an act commonly grossly underestimated in both scope and severity, and one that has led to more than a few broken homes, shattered dreams, and rude awakenings.

Creating offspring is no great challenge; some 1,000,000 babies are born on every day of every year, and that number is growing. There are however considerations beyond the physical ability to have children; you also need to be able to take a child and provide it with 24-hour care and all its earthly needs save oxygen for the first 18 or so years at the very least. It comes as no surprise then that people say “having kids will change your life,” all misty-eyed yet full of unmistakable superiority, as though to rationalize for themselves the Hurculean effort they mustered, day in and day out for years, to take something that was little more than an uncanilly noisy, squishy, and highly fragile poop machine, and turn it into something recognizable as a person.
My outlook is admittedly grim, but then a realistic appreciation often reveals the less than ideal, overly romantisized, and unpopular reality.
Still, I understand that for many people having children is something they want to do whether it be for reasons good or bad, and I would not presume to stand in their way, but I often question their motives. What is it they hope to achieve and – perhaps more importantly – what do they believe they will miss out on if they wait until their lives allow for this unpresidented change. What would they miss were they to refrain altogether? I am unsure.
Pride, ego, and the natural desire to procreate all play more major roles than most (women especially) are willing to admit, and I believe this to be a mistake; we are the only species on the planet capable of higher reasoning as well as being in control of our reproduction, yet we commonly forsake both for the sake of having a baby on account of our base instincts and misguided ideas.
I often hear women say “I love children” and that may be, but unlike all the other things you may love, once arrived a child is ever-present, endlessly needy, and presents very real challenges for its parents no matter how well-meaning, loving, or otherwise intentioned. Often times the same people who can barely figure out their own lives have children of whom not much can be expected under those circumstances. Worse, there are too many children in this world whose parents cannot wait to be rid of them – released of the burden – all the romantic notions of childhood fleeting and gone once they reach some arbitrary age of ascension, and in many cases long before that.
Too many children are born into abject poverty, starting life at such a disadvantage that it will burden them for the rest of their – generally much shorter – lives. Too many children too are born to single parents, the physical consumation of their union symbolic for their relationship; all too brief. As difficult as it is to raise a child, doing so alone compounds that difficulty to a titanic challenge.
It is no wonder then that there are statistical correlations between crime, drug use, violent behavior, psychological disorders, and children who were deprived the benefit of two parents.
So now that I have insulted most of you in some way, let me make sure I get the last few of you fired up enough to leave your discontent in the comments; as usual, religion has made things worse still. By forbidding birth control measures, claiming all life as sacred, (excepting of course anyone who doesn’t believe what we do – those people must clearly be murdered, in God’s name, amen) and generally sticking their nose in procreation as though it is readily evident that what happens between a man and a woman is very much the church’s business, religions have had a frightful impact on both population and the social politics of man that govern it. To the thinking man proclaiming every life as sacred, determining that life begins at conception, and subsequently forbidding abortion, is akin to lunacy. The commonly cited example is the violent and traumatic rape of a woman who, being both unwilling, unable, and unprepared to have a child is raped and then raped again as the church commandeers not just her body, but her entire life as she is forced to raise the child of a rapist whose foul seed bespoiled her body. As sickening as this reality is to me as a man, I cannot begin to fathom how I might fear to leave the relative safety of my home were I a woman and subject to the perverse dogma of the church. (This incidentally entirely aside from the fact I do not understand why any women can abide religions that tell them they are subject to their husbands and should be publically stoned to death should they commit adultery whilst no such punishment would befall the husband under the same circumstances. “Good book” indeed!)

I am certain having a child can be a wondrous experience. I am equally certain watching a child grow, become a person as unique as any of us, and then going on to have children of their own is without a doubt one of the most normal and genuinely fine experiences of life, but I fear merely aspiring to these positives ill-prepares would-be parents for the complicated reality they will soon face.


Opinions

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We all have opinions. They are part of what defines who you are. Your opinions sculpt the landscape of your individualism just as your looks separate you from the person standing next to you, and that guy, over there, and a good thing it is too.

If we all subscribed to exactly the same opinions, the world would be an unimaginably uninteresting place. Moreover, humans would have died out long ago. For much like the different paths of evolution that have led to us – homo sapiens – so too do differences in opinion lead to new discovery. I cannot begin to imagine the number of scientific, philosophical, and intellectual leaps that have been made spurred by nothing but a disagreement. Imagine if Nicolaus Copernicus had taken the Catholic church at it’s word and subscribed unquestioningly to their doctrine – we may still believe the earth to be the center of the (observable) universe. Aside from that assertion being so wrong as to necessitate the error being measured in parsecs, had Copernicus been complacent in accepting it, we – as human beings – would have missed out on the ripple effect caused by this one man’s willingness to risk his life to have a wholly different opinion to the accepted one.

Opinions, in short, are more important than people think they are – even to those of us who think they are very important indeed! Not only do they define who we are, drive us to critically examine the world around us, but they also provide for thoroughly interesting conversation which in turn helps people relate to each other, make friends, and even fall in love with the ‘right’ person. (for our current purpose we will blatantly ignore the appalling divorce statistics and my spectacularly unpopular opinions on that particular ball of wax)

Being in agreement with someone can be deeply satisfying, helps foster solidarity, and breeds peace and unity. Being of opposite minds meanwhile sparks discussion, conflict, new ideas, and advances us as a people. In other words, it does not matter if you have the same opinion, as long as you have one you possess all the necessary tools for joining in the debate.

Once said debate begins in earnest however and the stakes are high, things begin to fall apart. On a small scale that means my tremendously unpopular opinions have cost me my share of friends and girlfriends over the years, whilst on the macro scale we like to fight wars over differences of opinion like whether or not there is a divine being, and what we should call him (or her, as the case may very well turn out to be). That is where opinions get us in trouble. Not the opinions themselves mind – we all have them after all – but our obsessive need to have everyone subscribe to the same (preferably our own) opinion. In our 200,000 year history, not once have all people, everywhere, held all the same opinions, but in our infinite capacity for self-important arrogance that has not stopped us from trying to force our opinions onto others nonetheless.

It should be noted that we’ve actually become quite good at forcing our opinions onto others. For instance, if I am of the opinion you should give me your wallet, you will most likely disagree, but thanks to the 9mm automatic in my hand, I am reasonable certain you’ll come to see things my way post haste. You see, our opinions are for sale – susceptible as we are to coercion – whether it is for money, power, or the simple joy of having a robbery not turn into a murder.  What is worse is that since time immemorial the fact that our opinions are for sale has been enthusiastically exploited to further political agendas, religious propagation, and – crucially – to make money.

Now, you may say, “My opinion is not for sale! I am my own person!” Of course you are, settle down, no one here is saying you are not a special, little snowflake, but take a moment to consider what is being supposed.

Celebrity endorsements are so common these days that our reaction to them is blasé. Yet, alarmingly to the discerning consumer in me, they perpetuate a dangerous precedent set long ago: pay someone enough money and they will say pretty much whatever you want them to. (or, in the case of women – and I am looking at you here Scarlett Johansson – they will show some skin and hug suggestively phallic champagne bottles) Advertisers know this, and the dividends show in the accounting office, and thus the world is run. If Oprah Winfrey says a book is worth reading then by God I am running to the store this instant to get it! Yes, our consumerism has been raised to a well-conditioned Pavlovian response. Lenin and Marx are rolling in their graves.

Still, even with our opinions readily for sale we find time to have our true opinions – our most valuable, most emphatic, most personally meaningful opinions. Aka: the shit we care about. No one is going to war over the brand of toothpaste their neighbor prefers, but mention a couple of the hot-button topics of this century (and centuries past for that matter) and the boys at the Pentagon start rolling out invasion plans for a dozen or so medium sized foreign sovereignties they think would be fun places for the 101st airborne to visit. This reaction is only natural – it is the natural, yet tragically overbearing extension of a defense mechanism in place in all of us to prevent being taken advantage of.

Thankfully there are other ways to disagree. Politics for instance are based on the stipulated fact that people (and countries) disagree about countless things, but let’s try not to kill each other over every single one. Indeed, let’s shake hands, have a cup of tea, and smile for a joint photo opportunity since fewer youngsters will have to be flown around the world to kill people they’ve never met in countries they’ve never heard of that way.

Thus discussion, debate, and great oratory are the virtuous means by which we shape our opinions. We support our opinions with fact, fiction, data, and conjecture, and at the end of the day we each go home believing what we believe, whether that is different from the assertions we woke up with that day or not.

Crucially, it is paramount to muster the supreme effort required to have some humility and accept that the world, the universe, and the physical laws that govern it, do not revolve around you, your opinion, or whether you are right or wrong. We all believe we are right – that is the essence of having an opinion – and more than a few of us are hesitant (if not down right stubbornly reluctant) in relinquishing our stance in an argument, but it is important to maintain perspective. Your argument, no matter how heated and thoroughly important to you at the time, is one argument, one difference of opinion, and one only. You have countless opinions, as do the people who disagree with you on this one issue. Perhaps they share some of your opinions on other matters. In fact, I guarantee that beneath the pride that prevents such people from acknowledging it, they absolutely do. I think we can all get on board with the idea that war is bad, and people should try not to kill each other, which is exactly why the US and the former Soviet Union never flipped the switches that would have taken us all back to the stone age; we agreed on nothing except that nuking each other into oblivion was bad. We agreed on that so perfectly that even the weight of all our differences (which, at the time, was pretty much everything else) could not motivate either side enough to give it a go with a preemptive strike. Sure, the two countries were not the best of friends at the time, and there were not a lot of joint resolutions being signed at the time for posterity, but neither did we allow our different opinions to destroy us all. We showed a surprising amount of restraint considering the foolish tantrums we as a species throw in daily life over the most trivial of matters, and – thanks to a half a century of hot, cold, and lukewarm warring – we made quite a few stunning technological advances, so there is an argument to be made that even the most radically different opinions can be equally meritorious if they lead us to greater wisdom in the end.

And that is the message here today; knowing that even in reading this you may not have agreed with some – or indeed quite a lot – of what I wrote, but you read it anyway. You read it, have an opinion, and if you are anything like me you know for a fact you are right. You are. Your opinion is yours alone and therefore you cannot be wrong. That is, you cannot be wrong until you close your heart and mind to revision of your opinions in light of new facts. You cannot be wrong unless your opinion also requires everyone else to subscribe to it as well – by force if necessary. You cannot be wrong in your opinions so long as at the end of the day you can muster the courage to accept that maybe tomorrow, maybe a week, or a year from now, you may need to alter an opinion slightly so as to account for the weight of all human knowledge, the vast experience of humanity as a whole, or just the simple truism you saw for the first time scribbled on a bathroom wall.

“All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.”

-Henry David Thoreau


On Knowledge, Assumptions, and Diablo III

There are certain things I am sure of in this world and many others of which I am not. What lies between is a vast swathe of assumptions at times later proved to be either correct or erroneous, and sometimes remaining forever ambiguous.

I like knowing things. Knowledge is fun. Knowing things allows you understanding, and understanding facilitates peace of mind. Similarly, not knowing things makes me nervous, unsettled, even restless. My mind grasps at the clues and tries desperately to reach a level of understanding sufficient to return a state of peaceful tranquility, and must often make dangerous assumptions to do so. This is a wholly involuntary process, and it is strong in this one.

Recently for instance the gaming world was rocked by the long anticipated release of the third installment in Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo series – “Diablo III.” I know things about games. I know things about Blizzard. I even know things about the Diablo franchise. Yet most things labeled “new” that actually are and not some re-marketed version of something we’ve always had, are by their very nature unknown – a problem for my curious brain. My brain wants to know everything there is to know about new things that interest me as soon as possible. Thus, content is devoured at breakneck pace with little concern for story, character development, and – most heinous of all – enjoying myself. I am this way with all things; books, television series (I am the person who waits for the series to finish and then watch all the episodes continuously until I run out of seasons), and even food. Give me a bag of something and it will be eaten until empty. Now I am not particularly gluttonous and go to great lengths not to buy things that come in bags, but I assume this is part of my obsessive compulsive need to know. I must know what every single last marshmallow tastes like in the bag, not because I believe one may taste differently from the others, but because somehow my brain isn’t satisfied knowing there are more marshmallows in the bag. It wants them all in one place apparently – either in the bag or in my stomach, and as such I do not buy marshmallows.

I stray.

This compulsive need in me to know breeds assumptions where the information that would otherwise put my restless mind at ease is unavailable, unobtainable, or otherwise obscured. Thus has it been with Diablo III.

Having not worked on the game myself (not for lack of applying I may add), my brain does not have all the answers. Some answers it got from playing the game, like how the storyline develops as the characters once more rush headlong into swarms of demons, others were more difficult to come by. Worst among the enigma is the four-tiered difficulty setting in Diablo III. Even if you do not play the game it is enough to know that basically once you beat the game on your first ‘normal’ playthrough, you unlock the ability – nay – the privilege of playing the exact same game you just beat with more difficult monsters in ‘nightmare’ mode.  This process repeats at the conclusion of nightmare with a run through ‘hell,’ and finally, at the pinnacle of difficulty, beyond the plains of thoroughly hard, atop the pinnacle of mount impossible lies ‘inferno’ difficulty for the masochist in you.

My brain knows the storyline is unchanged in these later difficulty settings. My brain knows no good can come of throwing my ill-prepared character at ever more vicious and unforgiving waves of monsters. Yet it does so – forcing my hand – vexed by the notion that there are yet challenges left unattained, monsters to slay, and items to collect.

So it is that I have now played all four difficulty levels and, having not been part of the developing side of the game, am forced to assume some things, particularly about the difficulty settings. My assumption is as follows: I believe four different teams were each tasked with designing one difficulty level based on a psychological profile and general standing of social likability within the company – like Bob – the ever-chipper, ever-willing, friend to all who holds no position of great power (as being genuinely nice is frowned upon by corporate America and taken as a sign you are an uncommitted capitalist), but is known to all because every first Monday of the month he brings heart-shaped, home-made cookies individually wrapped and tied with adorable bows. Bob is the guy who remembers your name, birthday, likes and dislikes, and even brings you coffee when it looks like you had a late night without the disapproving, holier-than-thou look with which your other coworkers would not.

It is in fact Bob, and those of his ilk, who were grouped into ‘team one’ – responsible for ‘normal’ difficulty – and after the group hug and some motivational gleefulness set about doing just that, with a smile.

The first concern for Bob and his team was making you, the player and loyal customer, feel welcome. Thus helpful hints and tips pop up on your screen teaching you, reminding, you, and even compelling you to make the correct decisions that will allow you to progress through the game as one would through a spring meadow of wild flowers on a leisurely stroll. Bob and his team excel at this sort of thing and as a result normal difficulty feels as though you are born aloft on pillows stuffed entirely with baby kittens and fluffy clouds and are spoon-fed warm, molten caramel as the mobs all but kill themselves for you, enfeebled by your mighty presence. Sadly for Bob and the other hippies and alternative lifestyle friends of team one, this experience ill-prepares you for what lies ahead; the fetid malaise of team two and ‘nightmare’ difficulty.

Team two is comprised of the people who you see every day at work eating the same lunch, sitting at the same desk, munching on something or other whilst seemingly trying very hard not to die of boredom. These people do not care about the work in the sense that they lack passion (and indeed many other human emotions), and have a nine to five because bills don’t pay themselves. Team two them is the nameless horde – a group of people identified by their mutual anonymity – and they set about doing what they were told, joyless, and emotionally stunted.

Team two – in their nigh infinite capacity to not care – found it easy to crank up the difficulty level; they simply took off the goose-down padded gloves Bob and team one had put on the mobs fearing players might hurt themselves, and called it a day. A job well done, and thoroughly unrewarding, these guys were out the door and in their cars when Bob and the gang were still baby-proofing those nasty spikes on Diablo’s head.

So, realistically, ‘nightmare’ is what other games might call ‘normal’ whereas Diablo III’s version of ‘normal’ is really ‘absolute beginners’ (incidentally a fantastic song by David Bowie). Thus it is ‘hell’ difficulty and team three who are responsible for giving the players a real challenge.

Team three as you might imagine comprises the people around the office whose names you know because you fear them. Most of these people are real go-getter types, bent on climbing the corporate ladder, and accustomed to winning no matter what the stakes. These guys have nicknames for each other like members of some homoerotic fraternity, but lesser beings are forbidden from using these über-cool call signs, only whispering their surnames as muffled curses, fearing the reprisal of the chosen ones. Team three then is comprised of people who wake up early, go for a nice, brisk, 10-mile run, and then eat their all-bran flakes laced with amino powders before racing to the office (as they have to ‘win’ the morning commute). Upon arrival they take of their logo-embroidered driving gloves, high fiving the other BMW and Audi drivers, and then set about picking on the joyless nerds of team two whilst besieging the coffee corner.

Once the caffeine has calmed them down a bit, the boys of team three focus on work, but it’s not what you think; they get paid to put together ‘hell’ difficulty, but the pay check is just something to keep the lights on and to quantify how well they’re doing, their real passion is fucking with you.

Players who sludge their way through the minimally required efforts of team two are then confronted by the cruel lash of team three. Lulled into a false sense of accomplishment by having beaten not one, but two difficulty levels, players arrive in ‘hell’ only to find an unfamiliar place. Oh, the levels are the same, and the monsters may look familiar, but behind the scenes team three has given the monsters the same treatment they give themselves: inter-venal horse steroids straight into the spinal column. Mobs at this point unapologetically punch the heroes in the face with zeal and cruel satisfaction as fostered by the dudes of team three who, after having turned the volume up to 11, celebrated your would-be demise with some beers before popping some extra-strength Viagra and racing home to satisfy the wife.

That just leaves team four. Wiping the sweat from your brow and allowing the adrenaline to settle, you realize that yet one more – all new – difficulty level remains: inferno. Unbeknownst to team three, there are people in the office far more malicious than they. Easily mistaken for the anonymous horde that is team two, these people are sad, broken, soulless things devoid of love and incapable of empathy. In the backs of their minds they remember what it was like feeling joy, but now, with that long-absent emotion so distant in their minds, to even think of it only brings more pain. Team four is small – perhaps thankfully so – but over worked. Those who did not quit, get fired, or succumbed in some other way over the years now find themselves here, turning out 12-hour days in the dimly-lit recesses of the building where they have been sequestered so as to quarantine the alarmingly high prevalence of suicide and arson amongst this group. Most of team four consists of men well past their prime. They lacked the unscrupulous motivation of the guys of team three, but got on board long ago, when the company was still in its infancy, and their stories would make Bob’s fucking head spin right off his fat little torso. “The crunch” of 95? Yeah, team four was there in the trenches. “Mandatory over time” three months straight back in 02– the divorce lawyers did good business that year and team four paid the legal fees.  Yet they soldier on because this is their life now.

Unlike the other teams, the people of team four are lifers. They would go down with the ship if that is what it took, not because of loyalty, but because this is all they have. The youth and vitality went long ago, the wife, kids, dog, and the house went in the divorce, and the fact that ‘Chaz’ from team three is now tucking your kids in at night hasn’t helped matters. Team four are the survivors – men who have manned customer service phones deep into the night on patch days long after everyone else had gone home and the lights had been turned off dealing with people so obnoxious other men would turn to a life of the most spectacular crimes.

Now, somewhere in their minds team four knows you personally are not responsible for the state of their lives, but they have no problem blaming you for it all the same. They resent you, they loathe you, they despise you with the fiery passion of a thousand suns and have created a difficulty level that reflects this heart-felt sentiment in spades. Inferno difficulty is what I imagine it would be like if a Abercrombie and Fitch model were to be sent to a maximum security penitentiary housing only the most violently homosexual, 300lbs men South of the Mason-Dixy line. Dismissing the efforts of team three as ‘cute, but lacking in conviction,’ the tortured souls of team four have labored to produce monsters whose propensity for violence makes rabid wolverines look like lap dogs. So thoroughly do their creations make a mockery of your vaunted hero characters that you may find yourself waking in the night, screaming, covered in sweat and sitting in a pool of your own urine as even your dreams have been haunted by the horror. Somewhere, living in a small, dark, sparsely furnished apartment clasping an old wedding picture with one of the heads cut out is a man whose job it was to make the monsters that now haunt your dreams. A tortured smile creeps into the corner of his withered mouth, as the knowledge of your endless frustration and painful inadequacy brings him some small glimmer of satisfaction.


Three dimensions of superfluousness

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed three dimensional movies are back. After a brief popularity stint in the 80s and 90s signified by rather flimsy white cardboard ‘glasses’ with one red and one green ‘lens’ with a regrettable life expectancy rather significantly shorter than the movies they were designed to ‘enhance.’
Now, well into the 21st century, 3D is back trying to deliver on an age-old dream of true three-dimensional cinematic media.

I deplore 3D films in their current incarnation. In truth, we all should, but unlike fanatics my world view is not dependent on you agreeing with me. Indeed, feel free to be wrong; someone has to define ‘sub par’ and it may as well be you.

Continuing under the presumption you agree (or at the very least are disinclined to disagree on the grounds of confouding already low expectations) we come to issue of cost. Studios, production companies, and their share holders in particular are the kind of filthy rich but faceless people who are so easy to target as a focus of our own frustrations and financially slightly less emphatic successes.This is a mistake. I do not deny these people could stand to surrender some of their obscene profits in the name of quality over quantity, but I do not resent them for being better capitalists than I am. What I will say is their greed adversely affects the down-stream products for which their investments are responsible. Though it must be granted it is unlikely said shareholders should also happen to be celebrated film critics, they should still be made aware of the fact that the padding of their bottom line for the sake of money is ruining the cinematic experience for those of us who can tell the good films apart from the bad and understand 3D technology for what it is: imperfect and unwanted.
Still, making a profit in today’s world means cutting costs, just as it means jumping on surcharges for 3D movies, and thus I sympathize… to a point. My concern is when the choice to see a movie normally – that is, without the eye-destroying, migraine-inducing pseudo three dimensional nonsense is taken out of my hands as a consumer. It implies you know best, and as fans of my writing know that is patently false; I know best.


Things I learned from shopping with women

Now, please do not misconstrue what follows as some passive aggressive stab at scoring points for the fellas. I am abjectly opposed to the battle between the sexes and would really like for us all to get along irrespective of our reproductive organs. That way we can all focus on what is important; race, religion, and of course sexual orientation!

I kid. Or at least, it would be funny if such observations did not stem from the tragic reality. I suppose we should be grateful that we haven’t declared open war on each other. Thank god for sex.

Still, differences between men and women abound. Such differences are the source of much friction, library shelves full of unhelpful literature, and the regretable existence of divorce lawyers.

One of the differences too numerous to count is the way we shop. When a need arises in a man’s life that can be solved by buying something said item is – pending budgetary review – bought immediately. Problem solved.

Women go about this same process in altogether different way. First and foremost it must be made plain that ‘shopping’ is more than a mere verb to a woman; it is a hobby ( and in some cases a compulsion or even addiction. ) That being the case it is easy to understand that women experience a different, emotional response to the exact same activity, and as such – much to the lament and consternation of many a man stuck holding bags – seek to prolong the process beyond the point where even the most self-determined man would throw in the proverbial towel.

Theirs is not just a social mandate to stay contemporary with regards to trending styles, but a very real sense that if a woman were to forsake the act of shopping she would deny herself the joy of the experience men do not know to look for. The reason surely must be that for a woman shopping is about more than simply the acquisition. A man could not imagine trying on two dozen pairs of jeans and gyrating our derriere in front of a mirror to ensure our butt looks just so. (it is worth mentioning that womens’ shops outnumber mens’ some 10 to 1 and as such most of us would be hard pressed to find a dozen different jeans in our size – a topic for another time)

One of my favorite frustrations is the undeniably feminine ability to profess a pair of jeans perfect in every way, put them back, and continue shopping. This is an act of such irrational defiance a man simply cannot be expected to sympathize with a woman on the matter. Ladies, I put it to you here and now in no uncertain terms: it doesn’t matter what he says, it is not dependent on how much he loves you; if he says he understands, he’s lying. He doesn’t understand – cannot begin to understand – he thinks you’re crazy.

Between the advent of the internet and online shopping men have had much reason to rejoice. Not only has the world been opened up to us from the comfort of our own homes, but we are now able to further limit the amount of time we spend in stores by making all the necessary comparisons before actually venturing out to purchace the item we decide upon. Better still, often times said item can be delivered to us. Wonderful, because here is another thing: we despise sales assistants. We loathe the phrase “can I help you find something” on the grounds that it is presumptuous and hollow, incinsere and redundant. No, your “help” is not required nor is it desired. I came here for a specific item, predetermined through careful scrutiny, and all I need you to do is get out of my way so I can get it. Unless there is a massive discount to be had you may stand idly behind the register and await my displeasure with your lowest-common-denominator personality there.

Women on the other hand crave validation. Moreover they are biologically predispositioned to be group-based, social creatures and as such actively seek out and engage sales representatives. The exchange between a woman shopping and the sales representative is a wholly biased one; the sales representative is trying to sell things – things you may not necessarily want or have come in for to say nothing of liking them or not. Alas, a capable sales representative can interact with my girlfriend in a more meaningful way in the first few minutes of meeting her than I could the first few months. This enigmatic bond between women transcends such trivial distinctions as compatible personalities, interests, and political affilliations centering instead on a common love of materialism and looking good – the sacred duty of any self-respecting capitalist.

In the interest of looking good whilst enjoying the shopping experience women will also try on, hold, fondle, and caress items they have no intention of buying under any circumstances barring an unexpected and wholly improbable win in the lottery. Oddly this is the one thing I do understand on a very fundamental level although it must be said I object on moral grounds even to my own admitted understanding of the phenomenon. I like to imagine that if I could walk into the Lamborghini showroom and “try on” the new Aventador to see how cute my butt looked in its hand-stitched, Italian leather seats, I might be tempted to take her for a spin knowing full well I cannot afford the $375,000 price tag of the base model.

What little, if any, conclusions we can draw from the myriad differences between men and women beyond biological purposes are not immediately interesting to me. Each generation and any number of self-professed experts will claim to have the answers to all our problems stemming from regretible interactions with the opposite sex, but – in keeping with my interest in observations rather than conclusions – I have noticed these are the kind of people who have been divorced a few times and have a lot of time on their hands to justify their failures. In the guise of learned men and women they spew their convenient, sugar-coated fortune cookie nonsense and for the bargain sum of $9,99 you too can among the clueless but endlessly willing diciples of abject mediocracy. The discerning (and if you made it this far, that means you) will not be surprised then that I offer no absolution of any kind. No helpful hints or tips to prevent your feet from hurting on a marathon shoppin spree with your significant other, nor advice of any kind regarding how to avoid being dragged along as a glorified shopping cart (or portable ATM for that matter). I think it is enough to spark the discussion and see what comes of it. I do so enjoy my fan mail after all – death threats and emphatic discertations that denounce me as an agent of Satan included.

As always I invite my audience to share their thoughts on the matter acknowledging aforehand that I realize doing so on the internet is like sticking your head through the bars at the zoo with your eyes closed and hoping you picked the enclosure of a pleasant herbivore saying “bring it on!”


A Shrinking World

There is great significance in a Dutchman being helped by a Peruvian speaking English in a shop in Japan. Better still, the item in question boasts a label that reads: “Designed by Apple in California” and goes on to say “Assembled in China.” 
In short, when you’re iPhone is on the fritz – or more accurately the crappy headphones that come with it – it brings together the nations of the world in a way that politics has failed to do since someone first suggested “you know what, I think someone should be in charge” and the phenomenon began.

I like the globalization of our planet in a theoretical sense. I think matters of language, culture, and race are poor indicators of a person’s potential and I firmly believe we are not so different from one another. In a very real and measurable scientific sense of course, we aren’t. I know we all like to think we are unique little snowflakes, but make no mistake that my DNA is not only more or less interchangeable with yours, unless you were a learned expert you’d have a hell of a time telling your own DNA apart from that of most other mammals. 
But enough scientific jibber-jabber; let us on to the issue at hand. The world is shrinking – not physically mind you – but shrinking nonetheless. Although the speed of air travel is often cited as the reason for this social phenomenon, let’s quickly remember that the Anglo-French Concorde and the blatant Russian rip-off, the Tupolev 144, first flew in 1969 and have since been retired. So in essence, air travel has slowed down – significantly actually – and I haven’t even started to talk about the excessive security at airports and all the fun and games we are subjected to during the hours of pre-flight, lay overs, and being made to feel ‘welcome’ by immigration.

Still, despite this, I maintain the world is shrinking. There are over seven billion of us now, and although you’ve likely heard that number before, very few people can wrap their minds adequately around the true size of the population it implies. Seven billion is the kind of number that most of us will never use in conversation in any other context than our population, or how many Italian lire will add up to a dollar if the Euro implodes. It simply isn’t enough to skim over this number and allow your apathetic brain to saddle you with the insufficient notion that it is merely ‘a large number.’ Seven billion is in fact a vast number – large in ways it is difficult to explain without resorting to tortured clichés such as how many Jelly Beans fit in a jumbo jet. 
But seven billion people is a number that starts making more sense when you break into (only slightly) more manageable chunks. The US population is estimated at around 280-300 million individuals. (I say estimated because your census is amongst the least accurate in the developed world) 300 million – still a larger number than has true meaning to us must then be broken down further so that some people start catching on to what we are talking about. A medium sized stadium seats around 30,000 people (large ones upwards of 50,000), and so we can fairly easily work out using more common numerical figures that to seat the US population in stadia (the correct Latin plural of ‘stadium’) we would need 10,000 of them. Please note that I am refraining from making the obvious joke that quite a few Americans would require two seats due to their bulk. Fucking fatties. By that same logic the world population would fit in 233,334 stadia, where I happily concede the last stadium may not be filled to capacity due to rounding margins. 

Why is this relevant to a shrinking planet? Simple, there are now so many of us that we simply don’t all ‘fit’ anymore. Some big cities like Tokyo, Moscow, New York, and Beijing are over full; saturated by a biomass predominantly human, each individual within which must go about its life beleaguered on all sides, at all times, by hordes of his or her peers. Peers, you may recall, that include those from other countries in droves, themselves displaced by choice or by necessity, all interacting in the busy metropolis. (again, Latin – the root language for much of our vaunted, internationally popular English) These interactions – cultural exchanges and collisions – are happening more and more, as people move around the globe, do business, travel as tourists, and even marry those of ‘foreign’ descent. (You will note the quotation marks denote the fact that we are all foreigners to some people – most people in fact!) 
Thus do traditional, isolationist ways dilute into a more internationally fathomable culture, rich with compromise and understanding. (Incidentally fact that politics is slow to catch on to this wholly natural process is the reason why we still send armies of young men and women to go kill each other because the older generation never learned to get along.)

Don’t like what you are reading? Stop, no one is making you, but know that I sugarcoat for no man. 

The world is shrinking because though they are still not quite sure what to do with me, the Japanese are no longer surprised when they see a white face on their islands. Similarly, no one is surprised anymore than a black person can be French or American without the necessity for his or her ancestors having been forcibly removed from Africa. (Call Michael Clark Duncan or Ronnie Coleman a slave to their face – I dare you) The world is shrinking because there are just so many of us, doing so many things, in so many places, and now, with 24-hour news channels and a level of interconnectedness unrivaled since the entire human population (Adam and Eve for some of you, the first few homo sapiens to emerge from ancient Africa to the rest of us) could be counted by a clever monkey. I like this – as I have said – in theory. But the truth is we are not all ready for our world to shrink. We are not all willing to be connected to everyone else. Some of us do not want there to be an internet, nor an international stock exchange, or even air travel. These people are not wrong in the traditional sense of the word; they are merely ill informed, ill prepared, and perhaps even just plain mentally ill. 
People fear change. This is natural. We take great comfort in things we understand and are naturally skeptical of things we don’t. This is what safeguards the status quo and is the root of the tortured saying: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

Yet this world is in constant flux – as is the universe at large – and, other than the laws of physics (and we are not 100% sure on those either), nothing is constant. There is, in effect, no status quo. Even the people who swear by “living in the now” do so only by way of definition, not by a chosen space in time – a decision that is not left to the likes of us by the forces of the cosmos. Moreover, change – the very change some loathe and fear – is the catalyst of all the things that you love and upon whose advent you now depend. Had some dapper ancient hominid not bravely and ingeniously sharpened a piece of flint rock into a crude but ostensibly functional knife, you and I may no be here now, much less the aforementioned internet, international stock exchange, and yes, jet travel. It is change that safeguards our right, not just to simply be, but also to maintain our place atop the food chain as the dominant species of this planet. It is and ever has been change that has moved us forward, not simply in time, but in our understanding of it, the lives we live, and the universe we live them in.

It is this never ending series of changes that has brought us to this point: a Peruvian man furiously inspecting my Chinese technological marvel designed in the US by people whose ancestors hailed from Europe. Thus the world is round just as it has been globalized. I have said I like this globalization in theory, and I do for the rather convoluted reasons herein, but there remains one problem; the reason why I don’t like globalization in practice.

Globalization, the free market, jet planes and Internet – these things all contribute to the shrinking and ever more crowded world of man. In it I feel claustrophobic, trapped, and powerless to free myself from its oppressive grasp. Worse, I admit only a part of me wants this autonomy – my heart – whereas my rational mind knows it to be folly and impractical, a flight of fancy based in emotion and not in reason and practical considerations. The world is shrinking, like an island sinking slowly into the sea, and so the beaches grow more crowded. One cannot move without bumping into a neighbor – perhaps equally reluctant to share this shrinking world with you as you are with him or her – and the situation is deteriorating. Our ballooning world population has a voracious and growing appetite for increasingly limited resources and, barring one of the great changes that have allowed us to come this far coming soon, I fear the life we have come to know is unsustainable. Thus I find myself longing for the times of past generations, without internet and a world market, where each man carved for himself a miniscule place in this world, called it his own, and wanted for nothing. The shrinking world has made the elective isolation of the individual a practical impossibility and hence I labor, typing away even now to pay the bills, still my hunger, and quench my thirst in a world whose busy hum drones out the echoes of paradise in my mind. Image


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