Friday, October 05, 2012

Soapbox: Alan Smithee for President

Oh Gawd. Politics.

Over the last decade or so, I've become increasingly disillusioned with the American political system. Part of it has to do with my age: being born in 1981, the first national election in which I was able to vote was that of the year 2000. I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone of that fiasco, but one result that doesn't seem to get much attention is that many young voters (at least, many that I've spoken with) came away with the strong feeling that, in the end, there were only nine votes in the entire country that actually mattered.

The intervening years have done little to improve my opinion of the system. The increasingly polarized atmosphere, the venomous, partisan rhetoric flung back an forth, the frankly immature behavior of both major parties - all of these (plus a complete lack of faith in either candidate's credibility, and various objections to both parties' policies that are irrelevent here) have me looking for another option. I voted for a third party in 2008, but on later reflection, I realized that this wasn't an ideal solution either, because my only reason for doing so was to protest the Republicans and Democrats. I didn't agree with their policies enough to warrant their getting my vote, and, worse, my message of disdain for the major parties wasn't effectively communicated that way.

(A brief aside - I strongly disagree with those who say that voting for a third party is a waste of a vote. The Presidential election of 1912 is probably the most significant example of a third party affecting an outcome, but I can think of another example: if every third-party vote in Indiana had instead gone to the Republicans in 2008, the state would have gone to McCain.)

In my perfect world, ballots would include an option to abstain. The message sent would then be "I wish to cast a vote in this election, but do not find any of the candidates acceptable." It would tell both (or all) parties that there are people who are dissatisfied not only with them, but with the entire (in my opinion broken) system. Without that option, though, there is another recourse: the write-in.

But who to write in for? What name can convey our feelings?

For many years, a Hollywood director who was dissatisfied with a film they'd made, and wished to disown it, had the option of using the pseudonym "Alan Smithee." And, as a voter who wishes to disown the major candidates, but also doesn't wish to vote for a party he doesn't fully support, that's my proposal.

I suppose this sounds like a joke, but it isn't. Or maybe it's a bit crackpot. I certainly hope not. And I want to make it perfectly clear that I only propose this course of action to people who are as disgusted with the current state of affairs as myself - I'd never ask anybody to change their vote just to make this statement. But if you plan to vote for a third party to send a message to the Big Two, or don't plan to vote because no candidate appeals to you, then writing Alan Smithee in will get the message across much more clearly - especially if a lot of us do it. Imagine thousands of votes coming in for a name that's synonymous with dissatisfaction. That'll get some attention.

Would it make a difference in the outcome? I seriously doubt it. But, just as loyal party supporters are able to send a clear and unambiguous message of support to their respective candidates, I think voters like myself need a way to send a clear, unambiguous message of nonsupport. And I think Alan Smithee provides a simple way to do so.

Alan Smithee for President.

(Note: while I encourage feedback and debate, any partisan comments will be summarily deleted.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Manifesto of a Grumpy Barista

There is no "x" in "espresso."
Seriously, people, look at this word. E-S-P-R-E-S-S-O. Not an X to be found. According to my calculations, people who pronounce it "expresso" are directly responsible for global warming, the economic crisis, and the recent death of Ertha Kitt. Stop making Juan Valdez cry.

There is no "u" in "Colombian."
Yes, I am aware of the fact that I live in Columbia City, but you may notice that there is a distinct lack of coffee cultivation here. Columbia, Oregon and the District of Columbia are also deficient in this respect. There is, however, a South American nation known as "Colombia" that is quite active in this pursuit. (Incidentally, all four were named for Cristoforo Colombo, an Italian who sailed for the Spanish under the name "Cristobal Colón." Blame the name "Christopher Columbus" on anglocentrism - but that's another rant.)

We are not Starbucks.
We do not serve Frappuccinos. We make macchiatos properly. Oh, and our coffee is actually good.

We are not a gas station.
That means a cappuccino is not something that is excreted fully-formed from a machine full of hot water and powdered drink mix. It is rather made of equal parts espresso (which, you may notice, still has no X), steamed milk, and foamed milk.

The darker the roast, the lower the caffeine content.
Look it up: heat destroys caffeine. All of you self-professed caffeine junkies who go straight for the dark roast are actually depriving yourselves. (Espresso is only more caffeinated because it's concentrated.)

Coffee is not American.
It originated in Ethiopia, and was perfected in Turkey and Italy. Seattle's only contribution is the present air of insufferable snobbery that surrounds the American coffee industry. (Fortunately, the Grumpy Barista is immune to such attitudes. Why are you looking at me like that?)

The Italian name for watered-down espresso is "Americano."
Kinda puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

soapbox: Pride and Prejudice

A couple weeks ago, a couple of friends, completely independently of each other, asked me if I'd like to come to a local Pride festival. My answer to all was along the lines of "I probably won't make it out, but have fun." This was good enough for most, but one friend (who will of course remain anonymous) pushed the issue. "Why aren't you going? Don't you support us?"

Well, of course I do. I'm what's called a straight supporter - I'm not homo- or bisexual myself, but I see no reason why it should be anything but okay. I fully support marriage legislation; I've even let the issue influence my vote. Okay, I'm not terribly active in The Community (more on this in a future post), but they've got my wholehearted support. Hell, I've got way too many GLBT friends to even consider thinking any other way.

The thing I don't do, though, is attend "Pride" events. Parades, concerts, festivals, whatever - you won't find me there (one exception: I love the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and any public screening tends to turn into a Pride event. But that's not why I go.). Now, why is this? It's not fear or shame - I could honestly care less what a stranger thinks my orientation is, and my friends generally know where I stand: fairly screwed up, but straight (although one or two seem to think I'm a 3C, or Certified Closet Case). And if I'm really worried, well, I can always get a "Straight Supporter" T-shirt or something.

No, the reason why I don't go to these things is because they tend to be so painfully undignified that I'm embarrassed by association. Think of the stereotypical Pride parade. Yes, there are some who carry themselves with a bit of dignity - parents' groups, mainly, or teachers. But they're not the ones who get the attention. The ones who get the attention are the ones who scream for it: the fat women in fetish gear, or the skinny, jockstrap-clad men grinding away to Aretha Franklin songs, or the oiled-up firemen, or whatever.

Yes, I'm dealing in stereotypes here. But there's a reason for that: it's the stereotypes who grab the spotlight, and it's generally deliberate. The flashiest, most flamboyant attendees are there to be seen, dammit, and if that means parading in front of a TV camera in body glitter, three feathers, and a smile, well, no sacrifice too great for equal rights, right?

Unfortunately, this doesn't do a lot for the cause, because it means that the only representatives of the GLBT community that the general public sees are the ones who are the hardest to take seriously. Hell, as far as I'm concerned, they're preaching to the choir, and even I have a hard time respecting them. A tip to GLBT protesters: if you're alienating your own supporters, you may want to rethink your strategy. I'm just sayin'.

Basically, what I'm describing here is cognitive dissonance: I support the cause, but not its most vocal proponents. I'm all about gay marriage, equal treatment, what have you, but NAMBLA can just shut right the hell up as far as I'm concerned (incidentally, the same goes for animal rights: the ASPCA gets my donations; PETA doesn't).

I'm posting this in a few places where my friends can see it. I'm curious to see what others think of this, especially those who are GLBT. And if any of this offends you, well, next time we meet up, I give you permission to tease me for being left-handed.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Purple Prose (because I've been awake for too long)

Consider the lowly dryer sheet. It exists not for itself, but for us and our selfish desires.

We place the laundry sheet atop our sodden clothing, expecting it to lay down its life that we may be spared the agony and anguish of rough fabric against our fragile skin. It spins with our vestments, dancing among the socks, frolicking here through a collar, there through a trouser leg, bestowing softness upon all it encounters.

The dryer sheet asks for nothing. It knows not of the world beyond the laundry room. It will never know the joy of a summer's evening, or the music of the silence of a snow-covered day. No, its fate is grimmer.

As we pull our now-freshened garments from the dryer, we pay little heed to the noble dryer sheet, now spent and lifeless. Its purpose has been fulfilled, its usefulness expended. And so we dispose of it, throwing its desiccated husk into the garbage, there to languish with the lint trap scrapings and empty detergent boxes.

Weep for the dryer sheet. Weep for its sacrifice. For few else will.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Twenty-Five Things I've Learned in Twenty-Five Years

My birthday is about three weeks away, and it's going to be my twenty-fifth - quite a number for someone who still hasn't gotten used to the idea of being eighteen. (The more important date comes two days later, when I celebrate the tenth anniversary of the auditions for my first play. Appropriately enough, it'll be spent onstage.)

Since I've been feeling introspective lately, I've decided to pull a Dave Barry and present Twenty-Five Things I've Learned in Twenty-Five Years. Some of these are silly, some aren't. Some pretend to be wise. Some are borrowed from others. Some are horribly clichéd. But all of them are, in my own limited experience, true.

1. Never use pears in a smoothie.
2. Nearly everybody, regardless of sex or religion, is horny - but few are willing to admit it.
3. Anybody who repeatedly goes out of their way to assure you that you are their "go-to guy" does not have your best interests in mind.
4. Cats only look dignified.
5. You can eat like a king on a pauper's purse. Just learn how to cook.
6. There are people - very few, but they're out there - people who do not like the Beatles. Remember that they are human too, and though misguided, can still be productive members of society.
7. When playing a part in a film or play, remember that it's not you doing these things - it's a character. Once you've got that through your head, you can do just about anything the script calls for.
8. Some people are just jerks.
9. If it's a sweet recipe, ginger will make it better. Invariably.
10. Same goes for garlic in everything else.
11. Spanking a child is a legitimate form of punishment. Beating a child is not. Yes, there is a difference.
12. There is nothing inherently virtuous about physical labor - but if you're in the right mood, it can be very satisfying.
13. Every scar tells a story.
14. If you can't be bothered to fasten your seatbelt, or can't tell the difference between reality and a game, or think you can do a trick you saw on Jackass, then you are an idiot and deserve whatever you get.
15. The world is more fun when you can laugh at yourself.
16. Listen to the lyrics - they're there for a reason.
17. You can't choose your beliefs, any more than you can choose the color of your hair. Anything you decide to believe is nothing more than a dye job - a façade masking your true colors. Any true changes will come naturally, and with time.
18. Nice guys may finish last, but they also tend to have a better time along the way.
19. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Yes, this one's five years older than dead. Doesn't mean it isn't true.
20. Just 'cause you're a grownup doesn't mean you're an adult, and just 'cause you're a kid doesn't mean you're a child. I've known eighty-year-olds who never grew up, and ten-year-olds who were more mature than I am. "Age" and "maturity" are not the same thing.
21. In every workplace and organization, there is at least one old-timer who's been there forever and has found a niche, usually outside the chain of command. This person will have their job long after your sorry ass has been fired.
22. If you can afford to, travel. There's more in the world than anyone can ever see, but you owe it to yourself to see at least a little of it. Just remember: there's more to life than just seeing the sights.
23. If you can help somebody, do. If you can't, don't. Between selflessness and selfishness lies enlightened self-interest.
24. Let tomato sauce simmer for at least four hours, and don't forget the Chianti.
25. There are very few people lucky enough to do what they love for a living. For the rest of us, the old cliché stands: don't live to work; work to live.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Jesus is Just All Right

Okay, so here's the problem I have with Christian rock. It's not that it's Christian - hell, some of my favorite songs ever have Christian overtones.

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me..."

"Jesus is just all right with me..."

"So I know that when I die, He's gonna set me up with the Spirit in the sky..."

Some of the greatest music ever has been in the celebration of religion. Would Handel have written the music for the Messiah without religion as his inspiration? Beyond music, some of the greatest art ever produced has been religious in nature. Think of the Sistine Chapel, or the great Buddhist and Hindu temples, or Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. I have no problem with religion in art. But here's the thing: religion and art are not inseparable. Da Vinci also painted the Mona Lisa. McCartney also wrote "Band on the Run."

Maybe I'm just a bit irritated right now. I'm sitting in a coffee house, listening to a couple of friends do a set. In an hour and a half, every song has been about God in one of His incarnations. Actual lyric: "It's all about you, Jesus." That sums the set up pretty well. (And they've been repeating that line for literally six minutes now)

And that's my problem with Christian rock. Yeah, it may sound good, the tunes might be nice, but there's absolutely no variety when it comes to subject matter. Yeah, okay, I get it - you're nuts about God. But what else you got? (I know, I know. I'm writing this as a somewhat puzzled deist. I'm not exactly unbiased here. But my issue isn't with religion. I think I've made that point. My problem is that it's boring.)

There also seems to be an attitude that if you're singing about God, you don't have to put as much effort into it. 90% of the Christian rock songs I've heard have had one, or at most two, verses, and a chorus. Thus a 3-minute song might only have a minute of actual content, and is then padded with endless repetitions of the chorus. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson: "The wonder of these songs is not that they are written well, but that they are written at all." It's about God - all we have to do is sing loud and look passionate about it, and the subject matter will make it significant!

Christian rock takes itself far too seriously. You will never hear a funny Christian rock song, or even a moderately clever one. You will never see someone sing a Christian rock song without looking constipated. And you will never hear a Christian rock song that doesn't sound like every other Christian rock song.

My last issue with the genre is that it's very self-congratulatory. Nobody has ever been converted my listening to a Christian rock song. They're written by the faithful, for the faithful, and they're all about the warm 'n' fuzzy feeling they get when Jesus hugs their hearts. Hey, I get the same feeling when I listen to a great piece of music - but I'm not gonna spend ninety minutes singing about the Brandenburg concertos.

I feel bad about writing this. These guys my friends, and they are good. But they could be so much better, if only they would allow themselves to vary from the formula a bit.

Karl Marx said it: "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Whether that's true or not, it certainly applies to tonight's music.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Second-Person Solipsism

Any solipsists in the house? Yes? Well, break a leg.

For those who don't know, solipsism is the belief that the entire universe and everyone in it is the product of imagination. A solipsist believes that he or she is the only "real" being, and that everyone and everything else is just a figment.

I have a few problems with solipsism, not least of which is the fact that I didn't come up with it.

I was first introduced to the idea back in high school. A friend of mine (I'l call him Josh because that is his name) explained the concept to me, asserting that he was the one true consciousness. To this day I'm not sure whether he really meant it, or if he was just trying to get under my skin. (He also regularly wore fake fangs, dyed his hair roofing-tar black, and made a big show of practicing neopaganism, so it could really have gone either way.)

Obviously I didn't buy it. I have a hard time believing I'm imaginary. And nobody ever makes the opposite claim. I'm much more likely to listen to someone who's trying to prove that I'm the only real person, and that everyone else is a figment of my imagination.

But nobody ever makes that argument.

It's just as well, really. I'd have to be pretty messed up in the head to have come up with some of the things in this world. Quantum electrodynamics comes to mind. Heironymous Bosch. Timothy Leary. Frank Zappa. Hanna-Barbara.

Solipsists can be fun, though. Once you get past the fact that a solipsist is impossible to reason with (since every argument can be countered with "I just imagined you'd say that"), there are a ways to toy with him.

One way is to agree wholeheartedly with everything he says. This can be confusing to a solipsist, who is used to being argued with. He has a smug, unprovable answer for every argument you can throw at him - but is totally unprepared for agreement. This throws him off balance.

Of course, if mind games aren't your thing, there's also the brute-force method - my personal favorite. Simply smack your solipsist in the head repeatedly while chanting "Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself."

Yeah, it's immature and smartassed. But so's solipsism. What goes around comes around.

My imagination, my rules. Stop hitting yourself.