Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell


I am a big fan of statistical anomalies. When something happens that defies the laws of chance, it temporarily creates in me a false belief that anything can happen, and that there is still a chance that the remainder of my life will not be a combination of meaninglessness and soul-sucking boredom followed by being spoon-fed soup. Of course, that idea is illusory, but on the upside, I do like soup.

Statistical anomalies even got me to watch the World Series last week! Now you know my feelings about baseball, so it took something special to convince me to waste a whole week of my time that I would have otherwise spent doing absolutely nothing. More than a week, if you count the time they spent on video reviews. He was out, for Christ's sake - just get on with it! Or safe - who fucking cares? It's baseball! The point is, the away team won every game of the World Series. Do you know what the odds of that are? If we assume that the home team has a 5-10% greater likelihood of winning any single game, and I break out my abacus here to compute this, the odds of 7 straight away wins are like who fucking knows? I can't do math like that, but it never happened before, so it can't be that likely. And just imagining 50,000 fans going home unhappy day after day after day tickled my funny bone enough to make it through all the games, with a healthy serving of gin for all the pitching changes. And congratulations to whatever team it was that won - I'm sure that was great for you.

Numbers can definitely be surprising sometimes - like the time I was shocked to discover that many items at Dollar General are priced higher than a dollar! Talk about some bullshit! People are afraid of the truth though. When I picketed Dollar General, did they lower their prices? No, they did not. Did I end up with a ticket for disturbing the peace? Why yes, I did. There is no justice in this world.

Anyway, this book has lots of practical information, like why professional hockey players are all born in January. That's an interesting anomaly, and a fact that is sure to make you popular with the ladies. I particularly liked the part of this book about the 10,000 hour rule, which basically says that it takes 10,000 hours or practice to achieve greatness at something. I don't know if I would have come up with that number, but it does explain why I am now the world's foremost expert at telling my son-in-law what an idiot he is. Jesus, Gerry - look what you turned me into.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Death Among Us by Stephen Bentley et al.


This is a great collection of dark murder mystery stories - just right for the Halloween season. Too much candy, not enough murder - that's the problem with Halloween these days. Anyway, I especially liked the story where the police chase a demented murderer into a cave and they all get eaten by a giant hairy slug-monster. I imagined it like that creature from Stranger Things on steroids. Some scary shit! I could use something like that around here to deal with my neighbor's schnauzer. But you can never find a ravenous, bloodthirsty monster when you need one, can you?

This whole collection got me reminiscing about my childhood because fear played such an integral role in it. I remember lots of scary stories my parents used to tell us. Like the one about don't you dare go near Old Man Palmer's House if you don't want to get kidnapped. Or the one about you had better have all your chores done by the time I get home or I shit you not you will regret it. In retrospect, they seem somewhat less like stories than threats, but there is a blurry line, I suppose.

I'll tell you this - we didn't bat an eye at that kind of thing back then. These days, when all the 9-year-old snowflakes get their mandatory cell phones, they come pre-programmed with the number for Child Protective Services so they can report their parents if they forget to say please when asking them to stop playing video games at midnight. What the hell happened to respect? And Halloween is a perfect example.

When I was a kid, you assembled some kind of costume from what you had around the house and walked up and down the block, collecting a few small pieces of candy and maybe a couple pennies. It was a wholesome community event that brought people together. And now look! If you don't buy an expensive, full body Disney get up, you are the cheapskate parent, and that's if you're lucky. Half the kids out there see Halloween as an excuse to wear the most inappropriate clothing (or lack thereof) that they can find. "Oh bye Mom, I'm going to the party as a sexy clown kitten in a tornado - don't wait up!"

Which is not to mention that it is practically warfare in the streets to obtain insane amounts of candy. When I was still foolish enough to give out candy on Halloween, I would open my door with a bowl and before I could give anything away, I would be practically knocked over by hordes of bloody mutants and sexy fairies ravenously attacking my bowl. And don't even try to set limits on what they can eat, parents, unless you've already deleted that CPS number. Sometimes we have to take it upon ourselves to restore meaning to our societal rituals, so this year I am just going to focus on that feeling of satisfaction I get from that look on a kid's face as you hand him a box of raisins. That, my friends, is the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Shamus Dust by Janet Roger



There are people out there trying to get me, and you can't convince me otherwise. This suspenseful,  intricate, deftly written murder mystery just reminded me of how far people will go. I couldn't help but relate to our brusque, headstrong hero, Newman. He's the kind of guy who can be a complete jerk but you can't help but love him anyway. I will admit that I have been described that way once or twice. The other shoe is persistently about to drop in this novel, and Newman justifiably seems to believe that there is always someone around the corner with eyes on him. And I can relate to that too! Just listen to what happened to me yesterday.

It started when I went up to the gas station to get some Takis. Have you tried these things? Not as bad as you would think. When you get old enough to count your taste buds one by one, you need something with a little kick. But that is not really the point. When I got home, the little string I leave hanging down over my screen door was INSIDE the door, definitive evidence that an intruder had been present. Since my children have forced me to have a "hidden" key for "safety" reasons, anyone with a metal detector can now break into my home at any time.

I entered my home slowly (admittedly, this is my default setting), and I grabbed the night vision goggles I keep by the door for emergencies and turned off the lights. Unfortunately, it was only 4:00 in the afternoon, so the sunlight made the goggles useless and probably did permanent damage to my bad eye and my less bad eye. There was a smell in the house, not unpleasant, and I could peer into the kitchen enough to see a foreign object on the counter. It was a kind of small, plastic bucket, and a gentle touch told me that it was still warm, indicating that the intruder had only just left, or in fact was still lurking in the shadows! I listened for a few moments but heard nothing. I opened the bucket and saw what appeared to be chicken soup. It looked and smelled delicious, but I am not an idiot. I considered my options.

My first thought was to run some tests, but most of my lab equipment was confiscated after my snake venom experiments. Did you know that you can buy that stuff on the internet? I knew it was shortsighted to have agreed dismantle the lab, but a plea deal is a plea deal. With no better option coming to mind, I was left with no choice but to dump the entire bucket down the drain as quickly as possible. Nice try, assassins. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to outsmart me, and today is not your day!

A followup: This afternoon I received a call from my daughter, who asked if I enjoyed the chicken soup that she made me. I replayed yesterday's events in my head, and I had to admit that this alternative explanation made some sense, although who is to say if she is in cahoots with forces unknown and just checking to see if I was dead yet. I didn't want to outright lie, so I told her that her soup had indeed made quite an impression. Perhaps a missed opportunity on my part, but who is going to complain about a dinner of gin and Takis?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking


I love science. You know why? It helps you make other people look stupid! Doesn't it feel great to drop a load of facts on some guy at a party spouting out about shit he doesn't understand? You know what I'm talking about. And so does my granddaughter Tina, I might add. She knows that there are only a few things in life I can't stand: 1) Sweet pickles (an abomination), 2) Being wrong (this rarely happens, of course), and 3) Being wrong about sweet pickles (not possible). So we have this little game of trying to catch each other making mistakes and teaching each other new things, and books like this come in pretty handy for that. I can pretty much guarantee that Tina knows shit about rifts in the space-time continuum.

But a terrible thing happened. We were having tea and apple tarts (aka gin in a teacup for me) after she got home from school and talking about the universe, and I made mention of the 9 planets and how to remember them with the mnemonic we all learned in grade school - My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles. I have always loved that mnemonic device, for obvious reasons. Only Tina tells me that no, there are only 8 planets. A rookie mistake, I thought, for which I was happy to correct her. But she pulls out some bullshit textbook from school, and lo and behold, someone stole Pluto!

God damn it, scientists! What is wrong with you people? You can't just go around changing the number of planets whenever you want to. What is my eager mother supposed to serve us now - Nectarines? Noodles? Nothing? It just doesn't work any more. Pluto is still out there, and it is the same damn thing it was when I was a kid, only now someone ivory tower nerd wants to redefine what a planet is and isn't? No chance, kid. If you like outer space so much, why don't you do something useful, like get out there and find some aliens. There's no way Stephen Hawking would approve of this bullshit. And you just made me look like a fool in front of my granddaughter!

Do you realize how important science is, and what you have done? How are people supposed to believe you about important things like global warming, nanotechnology, and sharknadoes if you can just change facts in retrospect for your own convenience? This doesn't end here, scientists. I want a written letter of apology that I can show to Tina, or I am joining the Flat Earth Society. I will be waiting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Institute by Stephen King


My daughter and I are "working on our relationship." She knows how much I love Stephen King because reading about other people's terror and misery gives me a moment of illusory joy thinking that my own life isn't so bad after all. So this book was a kind of peace offering from her. "Working on our relationship" essentially means that she comes over on the weekends, suggests a terrible activity, and instead of telling her where to shove it, I smile and say ok and then have to give up a Saturday's worth of reading to take a crochet class or learn to make bubble tea. Side note - what the fuck is bubble tea?

Anyway, this past weekend was beautiful, and she decided we would take a walk along the bike path near my house. The trees are just starting to turn, and it is still warm, and truth be told, I wasn't having the worst time. Then, out of nowhere, a motorcycle comes flying past us on the path, nearly knocking me straight into a patch of invasive garlic mustard that nobody from the city bothered to eradicate (your tax dollars at work, people). I let out a string of expletives that would make Captain Haddock blush, and demanded that my daughter call the police to have the motorcyclist arrested. She then told me that it was not a motorcycle, but rather - I shit you not - an "electric bicycle."

Are you fucking kidding me? First off, what the hell is an electric bicycle? It looks like a motorcycle, it's fast like a motorcycle, it could have killed me like a motorcycle - seems like a motorcycle to me! The only thing missing is the obnoxious noise, which you might think is an improvement, but at least the noise of a real motorcycle warns you when you're about to get run off the road. These things are silent death machines, presumably lurking around every corner to hunt you down like those damn Prius cars everyone is driving! Only for some reason, they let these "bicycles" on walking paths! I mean - doesn't the entire concept defeat the purpose of a bicycle in the first place? You can't very well say you went for a bike ride if you had an electric motor pushing you the whole time.

This is just another prime example of American laziness. These days, people need everything automatized for them, even their exercise! And every time they make something electric, the new version is leaps and bounds worse than the original. I hereby declare my official opposition to electric bicycles, electric cars, electric stoves, electric fireplaces, electric guitars, electric blankets, the Electric Slide, electric eels, Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth album, the electric chair, and electric toothbrushes. If you want clean teeth, move your damn hands!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui


Let me tell you, some crazy shit can happen in a Nashville bathroom. And sometimes the things that happen in our youth can have lasting effects on us, even if we don't remember all the details. This, as it happens, is a central theme of this beautifully illustrated memoir, as the author takes us through her family history in Vietnam and Malaysia and tries to piece together how her early life experience, and that of her parents, influenced the course of her life. But enough about this wonderful book, because it reminded me about this other story, and I'm sure you're all dying to hear it.

As a young man, I happened to find myself in Nashville on Halloween night. The circumstances of my arrival are inconsequential, but I found myself in a full body cow suit in some honky-tonky bar with a bunch of new "friends." I don't know which bar it was, but there was line dancing involved. And there was a crowd of "cow-girls" there that I was drunk enough to believe were interested in my cow-self.

So a bunch of us were piled into this big booth - me, some cowgirls, a pirate, a rodeo clown, and the man from UNCLE. The whiskey we were drinking was worse than the stuff my buddy was making in a bathtub in the shed behind his barn, but it was better than not drinking whiskey, so there you go. At one point, I got up to relieve myself, and when I returned, I had a story to tell. I was somewhat agitated, almost disturbed, but mostly excited to share some shocking news.

"You will not believe what just happened in the restroom," I told them. "It was profound." I started to tell my story, but just at that moment, another round of shots arrived, and we had no choice but to take care of them in the customary fashion. Then the man from UNCLE said something that offended one of the cowgirls. The rodeo clown came to her defense, and in a matter of seconds the table had erupted into fistacuffs! We were all unceremoniously escorted out of the establishment and thrown into the street, where, being Nashville, it was impossible to tell the real cowboys from the Halloween cowboys.

Somehow I ended up face-down in a hammock in somebody's yard, and when we all woke up the next morning, we agreed that just waking up was a victory of sorts. Then one of my friends asked me to tell everyone what had happened in the bathroom, and I shit you not, I didn't have a fucking clue. "But it was profound!," they said, so I spent the rest of the day waiting for it to come back to me. But it didn't! And to this day, I still have never remembered. The obvious questions plague me - what happened? Did it change me without my knowing? Is this why I'm so angry? At this point, I am running out of time and willing to try anything -  hypnosis, psilocybin, sensory deprivation chambers. I would look for witnesses, but the time frame suggests that they are probably all dead. If you have suggestions, email me at imnotreallygoingtolistentoyoursuggestions@aol.com.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


There is no fucking way I am going to buy gas from a gas station that makes you pay for air. Will not happen. Now I will admit that there is some debate in my family as to whether or not I should be driving at all "at my age," but my mind is sharp as an executioner's blade, and if Ms. Atwood can write a book this good at her age, surely I can handle going to HyVee for some Lean Cuisines and Metamucil.

But back to my point. It does not cost a gas station anything to provide air for you to fill your tires. But one after another, they are installing these indecipherable new air machines that cost 3 dollars and flash a bunch of lights at you while you check your tire pressure. And do you know why? Because people like you let them! You just shrug your shoulders, swipe your Kwik Trip reward card (Hey, free 264 oz. soda!), and surrender. You know where this leads, right? To a corporofascist state that will make Gilead look like Disneyland!

We have been here before, people. I can remember a time 30 years ago when I stopped by my son's house to criticize his lawn care and he offered me bottled water. "How can you buy this stuff?!?!," I exclaimed. "If you do that, people will think it is normal!" He assured me that he had gotten it at a conference and that no one would ever think it would be normal to buy the same water you can get for free, and now look at us! A bunch of brainless sheeple buying bottled water every day like our house was on fire. The only legitimate reason to buy bottled water is to smuggle gin into a baseball game. If you put a little hot glue on the cap, you can make it look unopened. But I digress.

The point is, if you think they will stop at air for tires, you are beyond naive. If you legitimize buying air, you will soon be buying the air you breathe. Giant air conglomerates will control the world's oxygen supply, and they will use it to oppress us all just like on Mars in Total Recall. I knew that movie would come true in the end! And so, even though the cruel irony of burning through gas driving across town to buy gas makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, I will keep doing it. For you. For Offred. For the children.