Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is It Too Late to Re-do My Junior Prom?

Here I am expanding my vocabulary of adjectives describing people I hate — to "carefree" and "audacious" I add "plucky," as in this headline from Reuters: "Plucky boy gets Miss Universe dream date." And before you even ask: no, the boy doesn't have Down's Syndrome or terminal leukemia or a billionaire uncle. He's just some loser... or, I guess, ex-loser who couldn't get a date for his school dance. His lack of success with the local non-beauty queens leaving him undaunted, Daniel wrote a letter to former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins asking her to be his date, and just in case this doesn't sound enough like a shitty ABC Family movie of the week yet, Jennifer said yes.

No! No! No! That is not how the world is supposed to work! She's supposed to throw his letter in the pile with all the other horny-boy stalker-slash-pervert mail, which gets analyzed for fingerprints and DNA before being incinerated and having the ashes disinfected. I guess I'm a little miffed — eight years late, now I learn that I could've asked Miss Teen USA 1999 Vanessa Minillo to my junior prom instead of James! No offense to James or anything, I just think Miss Teen USA would make a better prom date. She's hotter in evening-wear.

It's not even one of those things where you look back and go, "Man, I wish I'd thought of that," like Velcro or bottling water and selling it or the Internet. You go, "No fair — I did think of that! I just assumed that it wouldn't work, because the planet I live on is littered with disappointment, broken dreams, and shirtless ass-clowns like Matt Ratliff." Frankly, I'm getting a little fed up with how capricious it all is — after this dork dating Miss Universe and that guy on Craigslist trading up a paperclip to a house, some twenty-one-year-old dipshit winning over half a million dollars in poker and the cast of fucking Laguna Beach (by the way, how much more awesome would that show be if it was called "Fucking Laguna Beach" instead?) I'd really appreciate it God might publish some of the guidelines He uses when deciding who's gonna get blessed with ridiculously good fortune and who gets to wallow around with the rest of us in the cesspool of reality.

Friday, September 22, 2006

La Guardia College held its graduation today at Madison Square Garden — and you can hold that puzzled expression on your face till later, because as you'll see, La Guardia College doesn't specialize in rational thought. I was just walking through the Garden, coming across the occassional person in a cap and gown, and not thinking much of it until... "Wait a second, classes just started like two weeks ago. What the hell?" But I was at one of the six Starbucks within a block of Madison Square Garden (yes, I counted that correctly) and I met this woman whose granddaughter was graduating; we started a conversation and apart from the way too much personal information she was giving me, she said that La Guardia College was what I can only pray was trying out a new graduation tradition.

You see, at a normal graduation like mine, you've got the dean of the school making an insipid speech whose triteness is more or less an insult to the four years of hard work and beer drinking you put in to reach this point. You've got the salutatorian and the valedictorian, who's been a little dipshit suck-up intellectual wanker since freshman orientation, giving their boring words of encouragement for the future, and years of planning the same event over and over again have taught the Graduation Committee that it's by this time that the entire audience will riot if they don't get to calling the names already. Which is what they did at the La Guardia graduation... except they thought it would be nice if each and every one of the thousand-plus graduates made a little speech upon receiving their diploma.

I heard this, and I mean, I wasn't even at the graduation — I was across the street and in Borders the whole time — and I wanted to shoot myself. I get that as a parent, it's nice and cute to see your kid get their diploma, get up on stage and thank the friends and family (sometimes in English, sometimes not) to end their college career... but who the hell is so damn short-sighted that they don't realize absolutely no one wants to see or hear the other nine-hundred ninety-nine graduates, because WE HAVE LIVES!!! Except for my dad. He'd stay for the whole ordeal.

Now, I'm going to keep up a little bit of faith in humanity and assume that this is the first — and last — time La Guardia College holds the awards-show variant graduation. You're the dean of a college, so you should be able to do some math — one-thousand students times, let's imagine, sixty seconds per student (including the inevitable applause that people are incapable of holding until the end), equals... I think they'll finish the ceremony by the time the Knicks are going to need the stadium.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I love the website Kids-In-Mind, which is one of those parents' resources that'll tell you whether a movie contains any content you might not want adulterating your kids' innocent minds. Kudos to them for doing what the MPAA sucks monkeyballs at, and also for describing every on-screen act of sex and violence in excruciating clinical detail. It's cheaper and faster to get a fix of what the cinema's best at than actually sitting through the entire boring movie, but what's really great about Kids-In-Mind is that they tell parents what "message" the movie tries to convey. The site's editors almost always miss the point, but occassionally they're dead on. Like, here's what they took away from the upcoming B-movie Feast: "When strangers come together to defend themselves against man-eating creatures, some may survive but most will be eaten just the same." Man, that is profound. They should put that inside a fortune cookie.

A few other gems:

From Snakes on a Plane — "Snakes can really mess up a perfectly pleasant airplane trip."

From Stay Alive — "Untested computer games can have deadly bugs."

From The World is Not Enough — "James Bond always gets the bad guys and the beautiful women."

From Beerfest — "Good beer is worth fighting for."

From Dr. Giggles — "Any premise can be turned into a horror film."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Notes From the U.N.

Favorite thing about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: He's at the forefront of the anti-necktie movement. Look at him speaking to the U.N. General Assembly today — he's up in front of all the world's leaders dressed in business casual! I bet he attends cabinet meetings in his pajamas and has been spotted at more than a few state dinners wearing nothing but his underpants.

Least favorite thing about Ahmadinejad: He cuts your tongue out if you mispronounce his last name.

Latest George W. Bush annoyance: Thanks to the last six years of Dubya's treating foreign affairs like a game of Risk, now I have to agree with leftist Venezuelan despot Hugo Chávez. Chávez called Bush "the Devil" in his speech to the U.N. — and by the way, I'd like to point out to all the rioting Muslims in the crowd how we Americans are able to have someone conflate our leader with a moralistic, religious portrait of evil and manage to not go around killing everyone and blowing shit up, and granted: we're about a bazillion times richer than you are and allowed to publicly mock our elected officials without getting thrown in jail and in many ways responsible for all the crap your country's been through, but still, knock it off already! — and while I don't the Bush is literally the devil (maybe Cheney is), he's certainly one of the devil's apprentices. But here's what Chávez said about Bush's speech: "He came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.... Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. He looks at your color, and he says, 'Oh, there’s an extremist.'" Well, duh. That's why we keep electing the jackass.

I can't say that I have any affection at all for Chávez... well, he hangs out with Cindy Sheehan, so that's a point for him and like negative twenty for her. But I think it's pretty clear that he's not the munificent bastard of the people that his image projects, and if he were in Bush's place and Venezuela in America's, he'd be just as corrupt, just as imperialist, and just as greedy as Dubya. While I know it's an act, I've got to respect him for cutting through the Bush administration's bullshit — and frankly, I wish there were a Western country that doesn't jail reporters or have ties to North Korea that I could respect instead, but their leaders are all too busy kissing Dubya's ass to call him out on Colin Powell's anthrax scare or the unilateral invasion of Iraq.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Last week was not the best, between my confidence-shattering worst job interview ever, typically dispiriting variant singles' night, and this cold I'm fighting off right now. The basic lesson of the job interview was, "With an attitude like that, no one will ever hire you," which, yeah, I sort of already know that and I don't need some condescending twenty-seven year old snot who's the vice president of his company solely because God happened to smile on him acting like he's doing me a huge favor by pointing that out. I went into the interview sort of forgetting to put on my obsequious face, and it took less than five minutes before I let my chronic cynicism slip out. So I share a different corporate philosophy than the jackass interviewing me: I believe products should be designed as elegantly and efficiently as possible, while he represents everything that's wrong with the world and thinks software should pander to the lowest common (paying) denominator. I don't want to get into a philosophical debate here, like I did in the interview, so let's just leave it that I'm right and he's a moron.

Kind of the same thing at singles' night, except this time it was some insouciant dude pointing out how I'm hugging the wall like its pet hamster just died and I'm thinking maybe I can turn this rodent mortality episode into some sympathy lovin'. The whole conceit of the evening was that they handed everyone a sheet full of stickers with words like "ambitious" or "flirt" or "sexy eyes" on them, and then you'd go around labelling the other singles and start what's bound to be awkward conversation: "What? You think I'm 'delicious?' You pervert!"

I knew beforehand that this singles' night wasn't going to be my smoothest moment, so I brought Lisa along to diffuse the miasma of discomfort in the bar and to hopefully keep me from chickening out before walking through the front door. It wasn't crowded when we got there, and you'd think that might make a better environment for me, but the downside is that it makes me an easier target for people like Insouciant Dude. He started chatting with us and it didn't take too long before he cast himself as the self-help guru who was gonna get us some numbers — which, of course, means that instead of putting my feeble little heart and soul into actually meeting people during the evening, I'm going to have to spend the night placating this guy so he'll stop bugging me to get out.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In honor of 9/11, there's this citywide music program where New Yorkers of all ages, genders, and races are joining together right now to sing "All You Need Is Love." It's very touching and all, but — sorry, John — love is not all you need. Not just in the "hugs and kisses aren't gonna stop Al-Qaeda" sense, although economic and social improvements in the Middle East might keep disaffected but otherwise moderate Muslims from turning radical. The thing is, right now, with a bunch of people in Chelsea singing the lyrics (uh, I mean, lyric) they know and humming the rest, first thing you need is to agree on a pitch, cause this dissonance with thirteen different people singing in thirteen different keys is sort of making me feel like I need earplugs.

Great. Same old post-9/11 world, where everyone does there own selfish thing, indifferent to the larger society, but at least we're all giving lip service to the same ideals. Well, the same ideal, at least — we can all agree that Osama is bad, but we should have a national debate about how to exploit that fact for my benefit. Should I use the threat of terrorism to let a craven Congress consolidate power within the executive branch? Or maybe I'll buy Toby Keith's boot-up=Osama's-ass song and put a magnetic ribbon on the back of my Humvee? I can let the government illegally strip my civil rights. Or I could buy a hybrid car and try to conserve oil, but then I'd have Dick Cheney calling me unpatriotic and that knuckle-dragging Toby Keith calling me a pussy.

And even that would be an improvement on the current torrent of idiotic fearmongering and punditry. So, Guy With an "Investigate The 9/11 Conspiracy" T-shirt, I know you're disenfranchised and you're afraid of losing what little control over your world that you have, but they already did investigate 9/11. Sorry that the loads of incompetence the 9/11 Commission found we are a disappointment to you, but like the rest of America, you need to learn to put the solipsism aside and deal with the society as it is, instead of how you'd like it to be.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

I Am Smart

I dug up an IQ test that I took fifteen years ago to get into some smarty-pants private school, and reading it now, I'm pretty sure I cheated somehow. I conned the psychologist into thinking that I had "an easy self-confidence that is pleasing rather than arrogant" and that I'm particularly attuned to the nuances of interpersonal relationships. I also had an IQ of 144 back then, so now I'm wondering what the hell happened to me?! Maybe I ought to move away from the power lines.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Found the following help wanted ad on Monster.com:

Company Confidential

Full Time Experienced
It's job #1849663, in case you think I'm making this up. I have a feeling that Monster.com has some automated process that handles all their classified postings, so it's not their fault that I'm snickering right now, but how out of touch and lazy do you have to be to spend actual money posting this ad? (And by the way, I don't think it's a joke because the listed contact has a Goldman-Sachs e-mail address.)

Fake Class

This semester, I enrolled for a class at the New School called "Fake News," Politics, and Popular Culture, and our first class was yesterday. Ah, the good old days of higher ed: the seminars, the enthusiastic professors, the token classmate who's about fifty years older than everyone else in the room, the three or four students who won't shut the hell up for ten seconds. But this time, I'm going the non-credit route, and I have to say that it's an absolutely awesome feeling when the professor hands out syllabi and is going on and on about grading procedures, papers, and the group project, and you're just chilling, thinking, "Hey, fuck this! ...Yeah, I'll do that reading, IF I FEEL LIKE IT, BITCH!"

I'll do the reading, though. The text for our class is The Daily Show, so now when someone tells me they're taking some class where they "get to" (instead of "have to") read Harry Potter, I can be all like, "Looks like I beat you. And what are you, eleven? You also get to read Judy Blume and maybe Dr. Seuss for that class?"

But this far — one hour and fifty minutes into the class — it seems relatively interesting. The professor's thesis, that which the credit students get to regurgitate in their papers (ha, ha!), is that the recent popularity of satirical news programs reflects Americans' fracturing relationship with the genuine thing. With the rise of the 24-hour news networks, and especially in the past decade or so, the network news has turned from the font of information one needed to make better decisions as a citizen into a hodgepodge of infotainment, debates grounded in dogma rather than reality, every crackpot who has an insane theory about Jon-Benet Ramsey, and Katie Couric's cooking segments and baby photos. The effectiveness of our journalists — and therefore our means of knowing what the government that represents us is doing or not doing in our name — has been so squelched by the national hegemony and the lines between propaganda and journalism have become so blurred that some alert citizens have turned to alternative sources for their information.

Enter the blogosphere, Stewart and Colbert, and stuff like The Onion or NPR's "Wait, Wait -- Don't Tell Me!" They're pseduo-journalists and pseudo-informative on the face of it, but the fact that they're already marginalized gives them the freedom to ask the questions Matt Lauer won't touch, like this gem from Colbert. The mainstream media, folks like Brian Williams, who refuses to call bullshit on Bush reading Camus and Shakespeare, superficially embrace the "fake" news but, behind the scenes, are seeing a serious threat to their turf, and to their business. We have columnists, like Richard Morin of the Washington Post, who charge, "Jon Stewart: Enemy of Democracy?" and complain that The Daily Show nurtures the same sort of political apathy that, ironically, fuels journalistic mediocrity. I'm glad that there's at least someone out in the news world who cared more about finding the weapons of mass destruction than a picture of Suri Cruise, and maybe if there were a bigger movement in that direction within the media, we wouldn't be fighting in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Note to people interviewing me for a job: Can you please knock it off with the extraordinarily vague questions? I used to think that "Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?" was a bad one — possible answers: "My favorite color is blue," or "I'm not a mermaid," or "I am composed of cells." — but somehow I managed to go for two interviews yesterday that were just a succession of questions each more nerve-wracking and non-specific than the last. Like, "Let's say I gave you a program, or a part of a program. How would you come up with some testing procedures for it?"

And I'm sitting there, sweating, with a giant question mark tattooed on my countenance. It's the computer geek equivalent of asking, "How can you tell if something is good?" and, even though you know it's not really the path to the right answer, all you can think to do is dredge up the scattered memories of that Aristotle class you took sophomore year of college.

We also had, "How would you go about familiarizing yourself with the components of a program?" and the venerable, "Tell me some ways you might improve a particular algorithm." In the world of theoretical computational modeling, we have a concept called undecidability, which is a shorthand Zen kind of non-answer that means that the question is faulty and its answer exists outside the boundaries of space, time, and logic that govern our universe. There's a part of me that wants to cut the interviewer short — when he asks how I'd design a program, I know what he means to say is "How would you design the program that we're hiring you to work on? Our team of twenty spent the last year and a half refining the design, but why don't you take half a minute and come up with your own ideas? — mu like a cow and fast until I acheive Buddha-nature.

Not that I mind being thrown some sort of counter-intuitive koan... in the middle of an interview... when I'm already on edge. Okay, I do mind it, but because it's the wrong time to wrap my mind around the inherit contradictions: I'm at this interview to provide the prospective employer with information, but I'm asked to do so via a method that's not merely uninformative but, by definition, meaningless. Ask me what a hashtable is, or what's my experience with SQL, or where I'd like to be in five years but I'm begging you: let there be an answer that makes sense!

That being said, our second candidate for most irritating interview question ever: "Tell me about a time, either in school or on the job, when you had to work in a team and you had a disagreement with someone else in the group. Tell me how you handled it." How do you freaking think I handled it?! I clobbered my corporate adversary on the head with a chunk of rebar and buried the body in Greenpoint — problem solved! Oh, wait... since I'm not sociopathic, I guess we just discussed the issue and came to a consensus through a meeting of minds.

But I think our winner for retarded, annoying interview question is still the venerable, "If you had a box, what would you put in it?"

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Labor Day comes around every year and our town throws its annual Italian Festival, which is the most exciting thing to hit the Scotch Plains-Fanwood area since Fanny Wood Day. There's no old ladies carrying an icon of a saint around town, no cannolis, and no plastic sheeting over the furniture, so I'm not really sure how they get away with calling it an "Italian" festival. It's really more like they picked up a chunk of Coney Island — and not the chunk with the beach or with Nathan's or with the freak show — and plopped it down in the back parking lot of a Catholic school. There were the luminescent kiddie rides — the roller coaster with an initial drop of about eight feet — and the spicy sausage stand, a house band, a carousel, and those games of skill where you spray a water gun into a clown's mouth and win a stuffed bootleg Bart Simpson or Stewie doll. (Am I the only one who thinks the San Gennaro Festival is getting too commercial? Like, every year, you've got to eat more zeppoli and buy more and more fifty-fifty tickets just to keep up with the Joneses.) Maybe I could muster some excitement if we lived way out in the boonies and this was the traveling carnival coming through town, but we actually already have a sort-of amusing amusement park that's like a five-minute drive — and they've got bumper cars! — so holding an ad hoc version of the same thing seems like a waste to me.

But Carolyn, Anne, and I went anyway because we'd already been to the diner — a.k.a. the thing there is to do in town — it was only eight at night, and maybe we'd get to see some people. We placed bets and registered our optimism: Anne thought we'd run into two people that we knew, Carolyn thought we'd run into one, and I'd be absolutely shocked if we ran into anybody. I was really only thinking about my peers from school, and in that respect, my wager was well placed, but it turns out that I have neighbors and I know other people who live and work in town and suffice it to say that I was off by three. The festival had this bizarre social structure that I don't think I've seen since those middle school dances where the boys were all on one side of the gym and the girls were all on the other side, and the middle was a no-mans land full of cooties and potential rumors where no one save the chaperones dared to tread.

You had your new parents carrying around wide-eyed toddlers up past their bedtimes, and scuzzy adults hanging out by the booze table (hilarious sight: some burnout kid who was like four feet tall and maybe fifteen at the oldest handing his fake ID to the cop watching over the beer stand), but mostly you could just walk around and pick out the seventh-grade cliques — the jocks, the alpha girls, the goth kids, the poor dweeb hanging off the festival fringes. Fine — I still stand off to the side, but at least it's been years since I've watched that sort of stratification from my perch. And wow, what sorts of clannish asses we must have been back before we grew up! I mean, not me... I was totally mature back in high school. I'm talking about all the rest of you.

Monday, September 4, 2006

This Isn't Funny

Just to make something clear, I'm not laughing at the girl in this video who's having a seizure on-stage. It's the other nine who are too busy shaking their inane little pop-star asses to help her that make this clip a classic.

It's a little reminiscent of the best Destiny's Child performance ever, although that moment had the added pleasure of watching one talentless celebrity humbled and two more shown for the callous divas that they are. Also damn hilarious, Kelsey Grammer at Disneyland. Take that, smartest show on TV!

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Mother of the Year

I thought the last act of Little Miss Sunshine was the creepiest and super-freakiest thing I'd ever see an eight-year-old do — followed closely by the wildly inappropriate collaboration between Abigail Breslin and Fergie's cooter at the VMA's — until someone was kind enough to share the 2001 HBO documentary Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen, the most awesome movie ever made about yokel perverts living vicariously through their emotionally ruined children. The whole thing is priceless, as possibly-inbred chain-smoking South Carolina mom Robin Browne upbraids and belittles her seven-year-old daughter Swan into winning the title of Gingerbread Pageant Queen, and, subsequently, many years of therapy. The Gingerbread Pageant is as prestigous an event as you can have in a subculture where pre-pubescent girls are taught to flirt with the middle-aged emcee, some horrible mother dresses her eighteen-month-old baby in hair extensions and a $1,200 dress (bought secondhand), and kids are dressed in outfits that would make Elton John-on-ecstasy blush, sing about "my cheatin' man," and are then judged in categories like "sportswear," "Westernwear," and the hilarious "Christmas-wear" competition. It's got all the pseudo-primness of a purebred dog show, and even though the judges don't examine the contestants' genitals (you can tell there are a few who want to, though), the dog show is still classier.

The movie's chopped into several parts, but I'll link specifically to part five, where we meet kindergartener Reed Hale, Prince of the Mullets. His hobbies include — I'm not making this up — "playing around in the dirt and watching Unsolved Mysteries." His star-spangled sequined outfit and lispy, off-key rendition of "God Save the U.S.A." makes Al-Qaeda cry. This clip also includes the most pedophilicious moment in the film, when the unctuous emcee sings to all twelve or so girls on-stage about how he "can't resist" them and "holds them in his heart and soul." Oh, did I forget to mention that he puts his slimy little lips right up in each of their faces — like, literally an inch and a half away. Words don't do the scene justice. Only Megan's Law does.

I shouldn't be too, too harsh on these creepy little crackers because here, in New York City, we have this bizarre phenomenon of parents-to-be applying their fetuses to exclusive private pre-schools with years-long waiting lists, entrance exams, and more than a whiff of cliqueish nepotism. The whole Southern beauty pageant circuit just seems like the kin-marrying white trash version of the same, like some good ol' boy with six teeth and way too much antebellum plantation money was a-thinkin', "Them girls don't got to be readin' an' doin' math an' all book-learnin'. Why ain't they competin' 'gainst each other, see who be pleasin' me the most while she be makin' my sandwich?" It's nice to see such an egalitarian society where it doesn't matter if you're nouveau riche or dirt poor, you can still try to assuage your personal insecurities by tricking out your children to match an arbitrary standard and exhibiting them in front of your perceived betters. And apparently, no matter how bigoted they are in your section of America, there's somehow always a gay stylist or two around to help.

Friday, September 1, 2006

On tonight's edition of The Insider: Brangelina visits (visit? — what are the grammar rules for pluralizing two individuals the media has scrunched together into a single unit?) New Orleans. According to an Associated Press article, Brangelina will be... well, here's the headline: "Pitt, Jolie to watch New Orleans rebuild." Typical Hollywood, and typical of the Pitt-Jolie Family of Superfortunate Third-World Orphans: they're too busy making crappy movies that exploit human misery to actually pick up a hammer and provide some tangible assistance to the poor people who lost everything when the levees broke, although Angelina and her glorious titties will be providing moral support. No, they're just "monitoring" the rebuilding process, and while I have little doubt they'll be more useful in the region than FEMA, I'd like to hold people whose very presence in a particular place rates a news story to a slightly higher standard.

Sure, Pitt donated $200,000 to the lower Ninth Ward, but I don't think the city needs the strings of sanctimony that come attached.

Pitt said Thursday he's still appalled — embarrassed even — that people in many New Orleans neighborhoods cannot return because of the lack of basic services like hospitals and schools.

"This is a social justice issue," he said. "In a catastrophe, you help the most vulnerable first, and we failed to do that."
Sure, Brad, that's exactly what you were doing in Namibia for half a year: helping the residents of New Orleans while having a baby in a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. That should be Namibia's new slogan — "Namibia: Celebrities prefer our maternity ward over the one in Rwanda."

Oh, and by the way, I'm sure that Pitt's magnanimity has nothing at all to do with the fact that he's shooting a movie in New Orleans next year. Nothing against him personally — he's probably a very nice guy, if not the luckiest bastard ever — but he really needs to stop diluting these humanitarian tragedies by pretending they mean something to him. Here's my challenge to Brad Pitt: Mr. Pitt, if you're genuinely serious about helping the people of New Orleans, why don't you donate all the money you make from your next movie to the redevelopment effort? I'm sure there'll still be enough left over from Angelina's salary to help the people of Darfur by buying Shiloh a tacky-ass pacifier studded with blood diamonds.