Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Ballad of Bubbles P. Bubbles

This dialogue ensued on the way back from the laundromat, after I saw a little girl blowing bubbles on a street corner:

Me: Look! Bubbles!
R.A.: Bubbles P. Bubbles!
(long pause)
Me: What?
R.A.: Bubbles P. Bubbles.
Me: oh... What does that mean?
R.A.: Didn't they make you read that in L&T? ["Learning and Thinking Workshop" at college]
Me: No.
R.A.: Oh.
(long pause)
Me: So what does "Bubbles P. Bubbles" mean?
R.A.: It's from this short story that we had to read. Actually, I didn't read it. But my some of my friends read it and they thought it was hilarious.
Me: uh-huh
R.A.: And in the story the author ends one sentence with the words "Bubbles P." And he starts the nest sentence with the word, "Bubbles." So on the page, it looks like the name, "Bubbles P. Bubbles."
Me: Oh.
(long pause)
Me: So did he end the sentence with the letter "P" or with the word, "pee"?
R.A.: With the letter. Why on earth would he end a sentence with the words "bubbles pee"?
Me: I don't know.
(pause)
Me: Why would he end a sentence with the words "bubbles P." ?
R.A.: I don't know. I never read the stupid story. It was just that my friends saw the words "Bubbles P. Bubbles" and that was sort of a thing that we had for the rest of the year.
Me: Oh.
R.A: It's kind of an inside joke thing. It's hard to explain to someone.
Me: I see.
(pause)
Me: But I still don't think there is any possible way to end a sentence with "Bubbles P." Like, grammatically.
R.A.: Of course you can. You can end a sentence however you like. That's how the sentence ended.
Me: What was the sentence?
R.A.: How should I know?! I told you, I didn't read the story!
Me: But your friends still thought that it was funny that one sentence ended "Bubbles P." and the next started, "Bubbles".
R.A.: Yes!
Me: This is the worst conversation we've ever had.
R.A.: No it's not.
(pause)
Me: Top five, at least.
R.A.: Yeah, maybe top five.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Explanation

In case you were wondering, the name of this blog comes from three epithets of the Greek god Hermes., who is, in my opinion lately, the best Greek god. Hermes Logios means Hermes the orator or the persuader, as he is depicted in Plato's Republic. Also, early Christian philosophers saw Hermes Logios as the light of divine intellect that emanated from God down to Man.

Hermes Dolios is Hermes the trickster and schemer. I like this because it reminds me of the gods from other pantheons, like Loki, Coyote, and Maui. Also, this is related to Hermes Logios because the ability to speak, persuade, and educate entails the ability to lie, deceive, and misdirect.

Hermes Eriounios is Hermes the bringer of luck. He is the god of travelers, merchants, and vagrants, and these people are in dire need of good luck as they travel down the road from place to place.

So I see "Logios Dolios Eriounios" as translating to something like "Language (truth), Language (lies) and good luck, Jack."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Never Mix Baseball and Politics

This thought came to me on the toilet:

Here is a list of the last 5 World Series results:

2007: Boston Red Sox (AL) defeat Colorado Rockies (NL) 4-0
2006: St. Louis Cardinals (NL) defeat Detroit Tigers (AL) 4-1
2005: Chicago White Sox (AL) defeat Houston Astros (NL) 4-0
2004: Boston Red Sox (AL) defeat St. Louis Cardinals (NL) 4-0
2003: Florida Marlins (NL) defeat New York Yankees (AL) 4-2

Have you noticed anything yet? I mean, besides the fact that we haven't had a competitive World Series in at least five years? Here's a hint:

The American League champions have come from these four states: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York.
The National League champions have come from these four states: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, and Texas.

Do you see it yet? Give up?

All of the AL Champs come from Blue States that voted against George W. Bush.
All of the NL Champs come from Red States that voted for George W. Bush. (Or, in the case of Florida, "voted".)

Yes, you have to go back to 2002, when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants in a Cali vs. Cali match-up, to find the last NL team to come from a Blue State.

The last AL team to come from a Red State? The Cleveland Indians, in 1997, when they lost to the Florida Marlins in 7. (And, again, Ohio "voted" for Bush in much the same way Florida did. You really have to go all the way back to 1985, when the Kansas City Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals, to find a real Red State representing the AL) (I am counting Ontario as a Blue State, because I just don't see Canadians being big Bush fans in general.)

Is this some kind of conspiracy? A bizarre plot to tear America apart for good, with Democrats always rooting for the American League and Republicans rooting for the National? Is this a sign of these to come, when we do away with democracy for good and just settle our differences on the baseball diamond? (I wish!)

No, not really. But it does say something about demographics. By my count, of the 14 AL teams, only four hail from Red States: Cleveland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Texas. And, of course, two of those four states are Ohio and Florida, which are more purple than red.

By contrast, seven of the 16 NL teams come from pro-Bush states: Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida, Houston, and St. Louis. So it is, statistically speaking, a bit of a surprise that no NL team from a Blue State has made it to the World Series since 2002, since more than half of them come from Blue States. But overall, 17 out of 30 MLB teams come from Blue States, 11 from Red, 1 from Washington, D.C. (which is Blue), and one from Toronto. Which is Canadian, yet, for some reason, in the American League. Do the teams that make the World Series reflect this ratio? Not really. In the last fifteen World Series', 15 teams were from Blue States (11 from the AL), 13 were from Red States (11 from the NL) and 2 were Canadian (Toronto in 1992 and 1993). But if you extend the survey all the way back to 1972, you end up with 41 teams from Blue States (18 from the AL) compared to 21 from Red States (18 from the NL).

What this actually tells us is that the Democratic Party and Major League Baseball draw their support from the same places: big cities. In particular, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, but also Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, and others. Historically, the most successful franchises in baseball are the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Giants, the A's, and the Red Sox.

But that is just in terms of World Series appearances. Financially speaking, the most successful teams based on 2006 payrolls are: the Yankees (duh), the Red Sox (also, duh), the Angels, the White Sox, the Mets, the Dodgers, and the Cubs. Or: New York, Boston, LA, Chicago, NY, LA, Chicago. (www.onestopbaseball.com)

My point? That MLB is getting its [financial] support from the same places that the DNC gets its [political] support. And this means that, politically, it's more useful to be thinking about our national divide not in terms of East vs. West, North vs. South, Blue vs. Red, or even AL vs. NL, but as Urban vs. Rural.

But, because of this fact and because of some misconceptions about what it means, it is easy for the Republican Party to make it seem as if they represent a majority of Americans. Also, because of the way the Electoral College is set up, it favors the Republican candidate in the only national election in America, the Presidential election.

Come November, watch CNN. They will give you state-by-state "analysis" showing where McCain's and Obama/ Clinton's support is coming from, and every state will follow a very basic pattern: The Democrat will be depending on a large turnout from the cities to counteract the Republican's support in the rural areas. I would say that the inverse is true, but it's not; the Republican Party is always hoping for low voter turnout, as this generally improves their chances of winning. CNN will also give us a map that looks like this: (This is a map of the Kerry/Bush results that I lifted from politicalmaps.org)


The image “http://politicalmaps.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/1-2004-by-state.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Wow! Look at how much more Red there is on that map than Blue! You have to really stop and think about what this map means. If you just glance at it, it seems as if there is a clear Republican majority in the United States. But let's look at the next map, which reflects voting county-by-county:


4-2004-by-county.png

Still a lot of red, but now we can see where Kerry's support was coming from: the cities. To emphasize this again, here is a map that includes "shades" of purple to better show the percentages each candidate received county-by-county:

8-2007-shaded-by-county-cartogram.png


Try to see if you can identify the following cities on this map: Boston, MA, New York, NY, Washington, D.C., Miami, FL, New Orleans, LA, Cleveland, OH, Detroit, MI, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA. (Hint: Look for Blue.) If you need more help, this next map "distorts" each county to show its relative population. See if you can find the blue spots now:

9-2007-shaded-by-county-linear-cartogram.png

Seen this way, we get a different sense - some would say "more accurate" - of our nation's political tendencies. Instead of a few islands of blue awash in a sea of red, you have a crazy psychedelic swirl of different shades of purple with some very solid blue core areas, and most of your real Reds are on the fringes, a minority. This is what we should see when CNN shows us that first map with only red and blue states.

James Carville, who worked for Bill Clinton's campaign and is a supporter of Hillary, once called Pennsylvania "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between." And this is why Pennsylvania is a swing state: it has a fairly balanced ratio of urban to rural population. (Unlike, say, New York, which is dominated by the 8,143,197 inhabitants of New York City, 18,747,320 in the greater metro area, even though most of the rest of the state is very conservative.) Most of the rest of the swing states follow this pattern. Nevada is the most striking graphically: it will look like a sea of red with a tiny blue dot in the corner called "Las Vegas". But the actual number of votes will probably be very close to 50-50.

Hillary Clinton makes the argument that she is winning all of the "important" states in the primary, and that this makes her the stronger potential candidate against McCain. But the states that she has won are mostly the traditional strongholds: California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, etc. But I would bet money that all of these states - homes of the Angels, Yankees, and Red Sox, just to bring back kind of randomly my analogy here - will go Democratic no matter what. You could run my labrador retriever against McCain and he would carry Massachusetts. (Actually... not a bad idea...) The big exception to this is that Clinton did win Ohio, which a Democrat has to win, and Florida, although Florida "voted" again in that way that it likes to "vote".

What I like Obama is that he's getting votes in Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, etc. I'm not saying that he can carry Wyoming or anything, but if his presence can get out the vote in the general election the way that has in been in the primaries, especially among young voters and southern blacks, then suddenly a lot of states that are off the board for Clinton are in play for Obama. When was the last time a Democrat actually campaigned in the South? It could be a big step towards re-drawing the political map, and getting rid of the Red-Blue dichotomy that has been a taint of the Bush years. Literally, a taint. And one of many.

The World Series starts on October 22, 2008. The election is November 4.

Four years ago, the Boston Red Sox reversed the curse after 86 years. But a Senator from Massachusetts still lost the presidential election.

Maybe the Democrats just need someone from the NL.

Go Cubs.

Friday, March 21, 2008

5 Thoughts on a Thursday Afternoon/ Evening

(1) I should write a children's book entitled, "The Adventures of Spike, The Angry Pomeranian."

(2) I stayed up until four o'clock last night, writing my last final paper for this quarter. I got out of bed today around eleven. And you know what? I'm going to do it again tonight. This is how my body works, and really, has always worked. It's eight at night right now, and I am just now starting to feel up and alert, and able to be philosophically coherent and/ or intelligible. If I ever get a real job, it will have to be something that will work around my hours, like a security guard, or porn star, or jewel thief. No 9 to 5 for me.

(3) It was a beautiful, early Spring day in Chicago today, cool and sunny. Or, at least, it looked cool and sunny. I haven't left the apartment in forty-eight hours now, writing. I'm developing my own butt-mold in the carpet, and my body is staring to grow that wondrous, sweat and stale coffee scent.

(4) Have you seen Obama's speech on race yet? If you haven't, I highly recommend it. I don't enjoy talking about politics. And it has taken me a long time to warm up to Obama. I have been generally skeptical about Obama's campaign and his message. I kind of agreed with Clinton's point that it is all well and good to talk about hope and to talk about change, but at what point does that translate into accomplishing real things for real people? But then I saw this speech, and it kind of felt like a light bulb going off in my head. Senator Obama is raising the stakes of the game here. He is asking us to look deeper into the problems of this nation, and to confront them head on. It is stupid and naïve to believe that electing him is going to fundamentally change the problems of America - but that isn't really what he is asking us to do. He is asking us to raise the stakes (that's the best and only metaphor I can think of right now) of our own citizenship, of not allowing the present discourse that is, yes, I think this is true, that is dominated by fear, to continue. Do I think he will succeed? No, not really. But if he doesn't succeed, the failure will be ours, not his.

(5) My girlfriend and I are seriously considering getting a cat. We have it all figured out, too: She'll wake up at six to go to work and feed it and give it things in the morning. Then she'll leave, and the cat will be able to lord over the apartment for a couple of hours until it gets bored and decides to break into the bedroom and sit on my face until I wake up. Then I will feed it and give it things for a few hours until it's time to go to school. Then the cat will have the place all to itself, and it can eat my books and shed all over my clothes until we come home in the evening to feed it and give it things. And then, after R. A. goes to bed around eleven, me and the cat will be able to stay up for hours. It'll even be able to walk across my keyboard and sit between me and my computer screen when I am typing, because if there's one thing that cats absolutely hate, it's words. Then I'll go to bed, and the cat can spend the rest of the meowing, shredding up papers, and puking in the corners of the room until R.A. gets up at six again to feed it and give it things.

Some possible and potential cat names:

Mr. Bitters
Big Sleepy
Beasty
Jones
Little Luki
Cicero
Mr. Guppy
Professor Genius
Marzipan Madeline

And, God forbid, should we ever have three cats:

Swift, Milton, and Kafka
Smittens, Smuckler, and Pumbles


I have the hunch that, if we get a cat, I'll just call it whatever I feel like calling it for a while, and then eventually one name or another will stick. I mean, it's not like it's a dog or anything. Cats don't care what you call them, as long as you feed them and give them things.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Somewhere, Teddy Adorno is rolling in his grave

It's finals week, and I'm at home staring my last paper in the face. I'm doing the standard procrastinating thing, going from website to website, from the important ones (e-mail, Facebook, NY Times) down to the less urgent (sports, Cracked.com, indecision2008.com) and finally, I run out of options and end up at YouTube, that great black hole of lost time. (Of course, right now I'm blogging. Wittgenstein is judging me from the cover of the Tractatus.) And what do I end up looking at? "My New Haircut." I've seen it before, a couple of months ago, and yeah, it's pretty funny. But it's had 12,697,355 views. Is it really that funny? What is it about this particular video that people connect with? How did it catch lightning in a bottle like it has? Maybe looking at some of the other popular videos on YouTube will provide some answers...
"My New Haircut" pales in popularity when compared to OK Go's treadmill music video, featured on some of those 'old' iPhone ads, which is now at over 30 million views. I like this video - it's slapsticky, catchy, indie. Appeals to my demographic as an accident prone emo-listener. But what are the most viewed videos on YouTube? OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" is at #23 on the all time list. #24? A video of Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat" dubbed over a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon. Now that's having your finger on the cultural Zeitgeist. The actual Soulja Boy video is at #17, with 34,250,644 views. This video is actually pretty impressive, if the topic of conversation is still "Zeitgeist." It shows a music executive stumbling upon this Soulja Boy phenomenon via the internet. At the start of the video, he's watching his two kids dancing and singing to Soulja Boy, and he asks them, "Who is Soulja Boy?" They then roll their eyes like we all do when are parents are being so old and clueless and not with the times, and ... cue "Crank Dat" and scenes of Soulja Boy and those black street-dancing gangs that remind me of "West Side Story."
Most of the Top 10 is taken up by R & B music videos. #12 is, for some reason, this horrendous Chinese music video of young man (Edison Chen) apparently confessing his undying love for some girl. Why does this video have 40,915,220 views? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is titled "xxx". And the description of the video? I quote: "xxx". Most of the comments are angry people wondering where all of the "cum shots" are, and spammers with links to websites like boobs.com. I heard the other day that over half of the websites on the 'Net were porn sites. I don't know if this is true, but you know what? I'd believe it.
As we proceed upwards, we cross music videos by Timbaland, Rihanna, My Chemical Romance, and Avril Lavigne. But then we have your oddball videos thrown in there: At #11, with 41,436,616 views? "Hahaha", a 1:40 video of a baby laughing. That's it - cameraman makes funny noise, baby laughs. For one minute, forty seconds. 41 million views. Although, I must admit, it did make me laugh. But that was only because I was imagining someone (someone judging me from the cover of his damn book) watching me waste one minute and forty seconds of my time watching a baby laugh itself almost to death.
But even this video looks brilliant compared to the #1 video on YouTube, with 78,934,401 views, "Evolution of Dance." This video is billed as "The funniest 6 minutes you will ever see!" I dunno... the laughing baby was pretty funny. But it goes on: "Remember how many of these you have done!" Maybe this is my problem; I just don't connect with the absolute hilarity that resides in watching a middle-aged man doing the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" dance that we all did together in middle school. But I don't remember that fondly. I remember being dumb, and wishing that it were over.
So what's the lesson? That if I want ten million people to see something that I've created, then my best bet is to dub "Crank Dat" over my favorite Nickelodeon or PBS cartoon? (There's also a "Dora the Explorer" and a "Barney" Soulja Boy video.) Or, if I have the money, write a pop-song, fill the video with half-naked, gyrating babes, and post it on YouTube as something like, "XXXBOOBScumhArDcOReLIVE!!!!" Man, that video would get, like, a zillion views. Talk about your Zeitgeist.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Crazy Train, er, Bus

Today, like every day, the bus to campus was dangerously overcrowded. College students were crawling over one another to try and find a spot where they could hang on for dear life as the bus driver careened around the corners trying to get to school before one o'clock. I don't know why we can't use one of the larger, older buses, or maybe have the bus go to campus more than once every thirty minutes, but I guess that you get what you pay for. I was standing near the back of the bus, on a little elevated platform where the aisle narrows to accommodate more seats, and was holding on with both hands so that I wouldn't fall forward on to the poor girl in front of/ below me. Behind me, another poor little Chinese girl was trying desperately not to push me over the stairs and start some kind of horrible/hilarious human domino effect. Unfortunately, I was wearing my backpack, which was filled not only my laptop but also The Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophical Investigations, and every time the bus swerved, my bag would shift and whack the girl right in the face.
To make matters even more awkward and uncomfortable, every thirty seconds or so, a distant, authoritative, automated voice would come over the PA and say, "Please remove your backpacks, in order to give other passengers on the bus more room." Over and over again, this calm, soothing man's voice was gently urging me to remove my bulky bag and leave the girl behind me alone. "Please remove your backpacks, in order to give other passengers on the bus more room." Whack. "Please remove your backpacks, in order to give other passengers on the bus more room." Smack. I could feel everyone else on the bus watching me, judging me with their Gazes of the Others. Why, oh why, was I insisting on tyrannizing this girl with my big, bulky, philosophy-filled backpack?
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, or, more accurately, between an undergraduate and a small ledge. "Please remove your backpacks, in order to give other passengers on the bus more room." But if I removed my backpack, I would need to hold on to it, and then I would only have one hand to hold on to the pole! Didn't the man inside the PA box understand this? If I let go, the consequences would be dire - a giant, mixed-race, upper middle class dogpile, right in the middle of the bus. I could try to explain to the girl behind me this, that I was sorry, that I understood her predicament, but that I just didn't think that it was a good idea for me to remove my backpack at this time, and so on, and so on. But this would have entailed me turning around in a one hundred eighty degree manner, and the odds were that I would only succeed in bumping the Law School student on the other side of me.
So I did the only reasonable thing I could do - nothing. I gripped the bar tighter, and tried my darndest not to start a human domino effect, and if someone innocent has to suffer because of it, well, I guess that that's a sacrifice that we all must be willing to make. Or I could just start getting up earlier and taking the eight fifteen bus, which is like, a third as crowded.