Photo Credit: iamhannah

Let us begin with the defining features of a soap opera: 1) it tells the tale of a group of entities and their interactions, 2) the story continues ad infinitum with no clear purpose or resolution, 3) the audience has an unusually strong emotional reaction to it, 4) the audience lives vicariously the triumphs and defeats of actors playing characters which have nothing to do with the audience members, 5) it is purely for entertainment, but taken far too seriously i.e. special magazines detailing the plot twists. The plots of soap operas generally involve domestic affairs such as family, relationships, illness, career, and evil twins. Their target audience is housewives for whom these things are also major concerns. How would one create a soap operas for the average man who cares about beer, physical violence, tits, beer, and the dominance of the alpha male? The answer is obviously sports. However, watching sports need not be this way. Here’s how to tell if a person treats sports like a soap.

  1. They care about the journey of a team, the different cities that hosted it, how many championship games it has played, when it changed management, etc.
  2. They know a lot of trivia about individual players to the point of arguing with other fans about it.
  3. They get overly excited or disappointed and express it invariably with violence.
  4. They are not athletic enough to play, but they wear athletic gear with team logos and talk constantly about how they used to play.
  5. They listen to or watch sports talkshows where other people talk about watching a game.
  6. They read ostensible autobiographies of semi-illiterate sports stars ghostwritten by some nobody.
  7. They care about the score of a game even if they don’t watch it.
  8. They are fans of a specific team or player because that team or player lives near them.

This last point deserves some further comment. All sports teams have a region from which they are based. If it is a franchise, that region is chosen because it has the most potential for profit. Being a fan of the Titans because you live in Nashville is stupid. It’s like celebrating Starbucks and hating Pete’s because Starbucks opened a franchise location on your block. They’re there to get your money, they don’t represent you and have nothing to do with you. National teams are no different; a group of manchildren playing ball and arguing with the ref does not represent the country they are from. A legitimate reason to follow someone specific might be a black American living under segregation who is a fan of Jackie Robinson. Another is a person, such as myself, who is proud of the US Women’s soccer team because they believe that the team’s success demonstrates the strength, independence, and equality of our women as superior to other countries’ cultures. Or perhaps one player plays the game with extraordinary honor and maturity and we wish to laud them for it. In short, if one cares about the game for the game’s sake then it’s sports. If one cares about the players or the teams or the stats or the score or which high school the back-up pitcher for Toronto got drafted from then it’s a soap opera for men.

Slim Slow

Riding the bus I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman about which movie was the scariest. Predictably the man said Saw and the woman said The Exorcist with the addendum, “because Saw is just a movie, but The Exorcist could really happen.” Needless to say fourteen ellipses paraded through my brain in succession at this utterance. “Psychotic killers are not real, but demon possession is” was the basis of her opinion. We can only hope she was sterile. Nevertheless, we should suspend our sense of reality and accept as fact her delusion that we may examine on equal footing these two positions. Saw’s terror lies in physical and psychological torment inflicted on a victim in a more or less arbitrary fashion. The victim suffers pain as a direct and indirect response to the self-preservation instinct. In The Exorcist the characters fear having their soul corrupted by sin. Here we are again deforming the shape of truth to fit “sin” loosely over “immoral actions” by ignoring the troublesome oxymoron, “religious morality.”


The reason this is significant is that one may tell a lot about a person by their greatest fear and a film can invoke that fear in ways that are experienced similarly by all viewers. One generally fears losing that which is valuable to them, therefore reaction to horror films is a window of insight into someone’s values. Those who fear Saw most value their physical and mental comfort; those who fear The Exorcist most value spiritual integrity. While I cannot agree with her choice of movie, I do agree with her in principle so that for me the scariest movie is The Machinist. There can be many other possibilities: insanity, dishonor, confinement (i.e. Virginia Woolf), emotional pain, the afflictions of loved ones, chaos or the unknown, permanent destruction of something sacred. A good experiment in personal discovery might be to watch well made horror films which use different fears and observe your experience of them.


Chief Digressor

The scariest movies for me are not the ones that are most realistic. Psychotic killers do not bother me because they are still confined by the rules of the physical world. Whereas paranormal events and entities are not constrained in the same way. I know what it takes to stop a serial killer, a vicious dog, or a school or piranha (get out of the water), but I don’t know what it takes to stop a ghost, a vampire, or a demon. Contrast that with a zombie apocalypse, for which I am overprepared. It is the unexplainable that I fear the most, hence my childhood fear of the dark. You can’t prepare for what you don’t know, or worse, can’t stop.

There are three types of people in this world: ones with a nice ass, ones with a huge ass, and ones with no ass at all. Only this last kind should be wearing belts. Those of the second kind clearly should not be wearing belts because to be effective they would have to tighten them somewhere around the armpit or risk a muffin top that can kill at thirty paces. The gorgeous people already look fantastic in jeans and skirts and shorts that no one else can wear so must they really claim the belt as well? They can afford to leave some wardrobe scraps for the less fortunate. I admit I am one of the assless and prefer to stick to the timeless standby of the knotted rope but have in the past few years added a variant, knotted vinyl tubing, for the reason that it is waterproof and more elastic. And working around fish tanks with a boss who remarked pointedly that I should stop yanking my pants up, there seemed no other recourse. But enough about my pants coming off, let’s talk about your pants coming off. Prurient, I know, but we’re all adults here and hopefully at least one of us has a nice ass.

Belt loops (yes, indeed, they are not carabiner loops you slobbering, stutter-brained hipsters!) are an inspired invention that a lady at a club once attempted to use to get me to dance which despite her being very attractive resulted in one ripped pair of slacks, one red-faced girl and a whole lot of unnecessary sniggering from nearby patrons. Nevertheless they require some skill to manage as the tail of the belt will never make it to the second loop and will instead flop around giving the impression that you are more interested in her than is actually the case when in fact you are only mildly embarrassed and wishing you could change into sweatpants. Any efforts to remedy this by losing weight, gaining weight, buying new clothes, or learning to sew, will avail you nothing as can be seen by a direct application of Murphy’s Law to your pants followed by a palm to your face. Duct tape here, as always, is your best friend. A quality leather belt with duct tape might seem a bit tacky so I recommend making the entire belt out of duct tape and saving 90 bucks. Or just taping the waistband directly to your crotch. I cannot imagine any negative consequences to such an action. The alternative is wood staples which are fine for formal gatherings so long as you don’t intend on removing your clothing for a few days. Keep in mind this is how World War I started.

Taking a belt off is just as important as putting it on. Careful, systematic removal interspersed with sighs will not do. You’ll want to rip it from your body in one motion and hurl it into the closet all with the dramatic style of Charleton Heston parting the Red Sea. If you can’t get it the first time, don’t be discouraged; practice makes perfect. Remember, you’re compensating for a humiliating lack of gluteal muscles. When done correctly, any witnessing party will be alternately grasping their sides in wonder and using both hands to stifle spontaneous cheering.

I want to close on a serious note. Asslessness affects millions of people: from sufferers and their disappointed lovers, to dented chairs. To combat this devastating condition we need to be supportive: more supportive than standing next to someone and holding their pockets while they make a call. We all know someone who is suffering silently and if we can create a safe, loving environment they will someday have the courage to say to you, “My name is Frank, and I have no ass.” On that day I hope that you will open your heart and your arms and present them with a belt of their very own.

Courtesy of xkcd

Not hardly, but one would be shocked by this fact if they were to take a critical look into the average human’s beliefs. I would like to think the following definition unnecessary, but clearly it is not, so I give it. Correlation is a correlational relationship between two events while causation is a causal relationship between two events. Simple, no? “How could anyone mistake them,” you ask. There are many ways.

One may see correlation in coincidence and causation where there is not even correlation. Skinner’s famous “Superstitious Pigeons” experiment of 1948 purported to show that pigeons developed superstitious behaviors in the following circumstance: a food pellet was released randomly into a cage and whatever the pigeons were doing when it was released they would repeat, finally inventing complex ritual dances to get the pellet to drop. Whether this experiment was valid, the conclusion has been strongly supported by further study of dopamine in the human brain. Reward pathways using dopamine as a neurotransmitter will respond to positive or negative events in an effort to predict outcomes based on preceding events. The reward pathways construct elaborate connections, even connections on other connections. This is the basis of operant conditioning (Pavlov’s dogs). An evolutionary mechanism to predict future events can deceive the unaware into all kinds of nonsensical traditions. Note that this implies someone praying for a heavenly favor is psychologically equivalent to a flying rat with a brain like a Jolly Rancher flapping its wings frantically for a food pellet.

A given correlational relationship between two events may be understood as causation when they share a cause in reality. The United States has a capitalist economy which economists tell us is based on entrepreneurship and innovation. The government seeks to improve the economy at its fundamental level by promoting these two principles with such legislative measures as tax cuts, deregulation, and subsidies. Despite these efforts, the US economy experiences periodic recessions for which the fixative measures are of dubious efficacy. Economists largely attribute them to the natural cycle of business, but perhaps the problem merits a closer examination. When a recession is detected, the immediate response is to decrease taxes and increase short-term government spending. However, ten to fifteen years later the same crisis arises requiring more of the same ineffective fixes. The question is why they are ineffective for more than a decade. Very few citizens are entrepreneurs and innovators: the majority are simply employees of the handful of employers. The majority are not manual laborers as would be true in an underdeveloped country. In fact, in America unskilled labor jobs are in large supply and low demand and are therefore filled mainly by immigrants. The rest of the job positions require education and training to even be considered as an applicant. From where do these entrepreneurs and innovators come who supposedly drive our economy? Why, they are the highest performing tier of the educated and skilled. Here, then, is the problem: economists have postulated certain principles as the root cause of a strong economy when in fact they are merely correlated because both they and the economy are predicated on an intelligent, skilled population. We see now that the remedies for the previous recession include cuts to education and job training which ten to fifteen years later, when the underserved people attempt to enter the workforce, precipitate a recession.

Causation may also be mistaken for correlation. A noted theoretical physicist (Paul Davies in The Mind of God) observed how perfect were the symmetries and balance of forces in our physical world. The slightest difference would have led to a universe which was incapable of human life like our own. Surely, he concluded, that of the infinite possibilities this one was chosen was proof that a divine being exists. He interpreted the data as a correlation between the existence of the universe and the existence of a god. Now suppose these symmetries did not exist and the universe was not stable. We would not exist to observe it. There is a tautology, known as the “anthropomorphic principle,” that a stable universe will always be observed because it must be stable to be observed. Thus we see that it is the existence of the universe which causes the existence of the idea of a god: a causal, not merely correlational, relationship.

Our last example is of a causal relationship being understood in the wrong direction. In the last 40 years much psychological research has examined the relationship between academic success and self-concept. While the more cautious scientists hedge their conclusions with conditionals, education policy has taken the firm stance that higher self-esteem causes better academic performance. Not surprisingly this has failed spectacularly to improve scholastic aptitude: test scores in all areas seeing a steady decline as more classroom time is spent stroking the egos of adolescents and less on actual instruction. That’s not entirely true, there is one area where scores have increased to the point where America is the clear world leader: self-esteem. As should be instantly clear, it is consistent achievement which promotes confidence, not the reverse. This one mistake is costing our nation respect and our children their future.

Photo Credit: Jesus Solana

“Positive thinking;” is there any phrase which stirs up more spiteful anger in me? There’s nothing wrong with optimism when things are going well, but when something genuinely blows we should be able to express that as well. Except now we have a bunch of happinazis imploring us to use constructive criticism and telling us, “if you can’t say something nice . . .” I don’t need my life cluttered with elementary school teachers muttering “mmm-kay” after every sentence. Forcing optimism on other people is in essence an excuse for passive aggression. Notice that the same people who pretend they are in a PG-13 movie get unreasonably vindictive and controlling when someone will not jump on the sunshine bandwagon. The truth is that these people are afraid of negative emotions. But I am not, especially whilst inflicting them on deserving assholes.

Positive thinking is for small minded people and therefore comes in bite-sized chunks of stupidity such as “turn that frown upside down” or “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met!” No, no it isn’t. Remember all those people you know, but are not friends with? (check your Facebook profile) Yeah, exactly, so stuff it. As if we are all in some Catholic monastery and the nuns are going to paddle us if we don’t walk around like rosy-cheeked cherubim. Along with nuns, these people are the only ones who are offended by swearing, of all things, the most fun part of having something go wrong. Why are curse words offensive? Because the happinazis choose to be offended by them.

Which brings us to the central idea of positive thinking that one can define good and bad without any reference to content. At the core of this is the philosophy that happiness is a state of mind. Therefore to be happy one need only choose to see the silver lining even when it doesn’t exist. I cannot disagree more. Certainly outlook affects how a person reacts to a situation, but it still depends on the situation. Appearing euphoric in all circumstances is possible in two ways: a total disregard for reality, or the belief that appearance of goodwill fundamental defines an event. The first is insanity, the second, sociopathy. For if we dare no admittance to negativity and our positivity consists of inserting a smile and a please into every interaction, then do we really feel anything at all?

Consider positive thinking behavior therapy which promises to identify negative thoughts and eliminate them thus making the patient a more wholesome and fulfilled individual. Did I mention that part of the therapy involves daily exercise and a nutritional cleanse diet? Perhaps if you stopped eating Cheetos on your couch and lamenting about your favorite soap opera characters you might be a better person without the “counseling.” Psychological science has already shown that the most effective single treatment for depression is physical exercise, beating out even the best prescription medications.  Why?  In part because the patient feels that they are taking conscious, active steps towards improving.  This is the cause of much of the placebo effect.  The error Positive Thinking makes is mistaking the belief in a cure for actively engaging in a cure.  If belief could heal, Christian Science would work.  What, do I really need to put in a link to how much that fails?  The gap between reality and perception of reality, between the support of a true emotional state and the facade which takes so much effort to hold up is bound to cause cognitive dissonance resulting in latent hostility, resentment, etc.: in short, the happinazi I so thoroughly detest.

The old standby for rating a person’s attractiveness is the ten-point scale. However, the meaning in a score has, I think, been heavily influenced by the letter grading system used in our schools. Thus a 9 is super hot, a 7 is average and a 5 is fugly. But this leaves half the scale unused except as comically insulting scores of 1.4, the decimal being used for humorous effect. The problem here is that we hesitate to give a score of less than 5: in part because scores less than 5 have little numerical meaning, and in part because 5 is already a failing score so why kick a dog — or someone who looks like a dog — while they are down. I propose two different rating systems to replace the ten-point scale which will hopefully clear up these issues.

The first is the five-point scale. The difference here is that it goes from -5 to 5. In this system an average looking person would receive a neutral zero, their perceived worth in society, and a wookie would get a negative score. It is important to inform hideously malformed abortions of human conception that their appearance detracts from them and is not simply the lack of a “bonus” of pleasing features. While it may seem cruel at first glance, think for a moment on the psychological damage inflicted on the general populace by fat, ugly people wearing revealing clothes and you will not only see that this is a good policy, you will have a searing mental image you can only remove with boobies. You’re welcome.

The second system is a ten-point logarithmic scale. A person, “Sheryl,” is assigned a score of “k” where “k” best completes the following sentence: in a room filled with 10^k random people, 1 would be more attractive. A score of less than 1 would be very common as 90% of the population would fall into that category. 0 is not possible because there’s no one so ugly that we couldn’t put them in a room with an uglier person then shoot them both and call it a mercy killing. Then burn down the room. As there are not 10 billion humans in existence, a score of 10 means the person is perfect. It does NOT mean that that person is the most gorgeous on Earth. It means that there is no one MORE attractive. Which brings me to a side note.

I saw an average rating of Raiders of the Lost Ark as 9.8 on some movie site with 10,000+ reviews. The only way this is possible is if some of the people gave it a 9 (it is inconceivable that anyone intelligent enough to use a computer would rate it less than 9). Why? There’s some weird compulsion certain numbskulls have about never giving something a perfect score as if 10 is a purely theoretical level of awesomeness. Just give it a 10 already, morons.

Guest post by SlimSlow

Mayer-West Handshake Fail

Surely this is a common occurrence: you (a man) and some other guy you don’t know well want to greet each other in a manly fashion. So you go for the handshake, but which one? If you can’t sync, you’ll end up sort of mashing your hands together which is incredibly awkward. So, if you don’t want to be hand fucking complete strangers I suggest we agree on a standard male handshake.

Now sure, we could go with the plain yogurt palm grasp, but what self-respecting man wants to be at a superbowl party looking like a banker who just put a second mortgage on someone’s house? There are a number of viable options with more appeal. The two front-runners as I see it are: the sideways high-five curled finger pullaway and the overhand thumb-grip with props and a terrorist fist jab*.

I’m sure there are others, that’s not the point. The point is there needs to be some standard. Of course each subculture is going to want their own unique standard but that can be remedied by having some signal given by the initiator such as calling the other guy “dude” or being black, whatever. A policy of this kind will drastically reduce the number of party fouls.  If this catches on, football players might even stop patting each other on the ass.  We can only hope.

*For clarification on the “terrorist fist jab,” refer to the knowledge depository (not to be confused with suppository) that is Fox News