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.

“Please do not throw paper towels into the toilet”

-The Management

I’m sure we’ve all see the above message before, in all its variations in grammar and language. Some are more creative than others. Sometimes I feel like I’m being scolded, sometimes dared. I especially appreciate the ones that try to be humorous, although clogged toilets really aren’t that funny. But every time I see this sign in a bathroom, I always wonder, “Who actually tries to flush paper towels?”

Toilet paper is made to dissolve in water. It has one main function. This is why a roll of Charmin is terrible when you have a runny nose. A wad of TP quickly rips and leaves a drippy, unhygienic mess upon contact with liquid. Septic and waste treatment systems are designed to handle two things–stuff that comes out of humans and the stuff humans use to wipe. I know in some countries, the septic system can’t even handle toilet paper. But this is America. And if there’s anything we should be proud of, it should be wiping our asses then dropping the whole mess down the hole without another thought.

Paper towels are exactly what the name implies. They are a paper substitute for towels. Every paper towel advertisement out there touts the miraculous integrity of its paper product. In a public restroom, the paper towel is used to dry your hands and for any other major clean up. Once you’re done, it goes in the trash can. And on that note, please stop using the paper towel to open the door of the bathroom and then tossing it on the ground. We all know the handle is disgusting, but that’s no reason for you to make an even bigger mess.

Now that we know the two separate uses for toilet paper and paper towels, why would the paper towel ever be in the toilet? Occasionally, a stray towel might end up in the stall for whatever clean-up duty it has been assigned, but that should be so rare an occurrence not to need a general warning. Hence, most often, you’ll see the sign in single-use bathrooms, in which the toilet is within tossing distance of the door. I hypothesize that the paper towel used to open the handle is just tossed straight into the nearest open receptacle. Everyone should know by now not to clog the toilet with a towel. I feel like the warning will have no deterrent effect on those who would perpetrate the crime anyway.

And as for warnings to keep feminine products out of the porcelain bowl, I am going to stay consciously ignorant of disposal procedures for those items.

First it’s the wait. You come in early to fill out paperwork even though they only admit you after the obligatory half hour wait past your appointment time. Finally, after reading three month old news in the dated subscriptions in the waiting room, your name is called and you walk down the hall of operating rooms. You sit down and recline on the chair, which look suspiciously like torture chambers sans restraints. After some semi-abusive scraping and prodding with very sharp metal instruments, your only consolation is that at some point they’ll run out of teeth to destroy. You wonder how the hygienists do it, look down at you while you stare back at them obviously in pain, fear, or some combination of the above.

Imagine for a moment that aliens visit Earth and encounter dentist offices. What would they think seeing the operating chairs and tools? Metal hooks and tubes, chemical abrasives, alligator clips and drills. Tools of the trade for both the dentist and the interrogator. Even worse, the dentist offices have mirrors, as if the interrogators have a sadistic desire to reflect their victims’ pains back on them. And of course there’s the omnipresent lamp that hovers above the chair. With a flick of the switch, you’re blinded and the dentist gets you to admit your deepest, darkest secrets, i.e. you really don’t floss very often. The hygienists makes sure you know how painful flossing should be as they pull out blood with what must be little chunks of your gums while admonishing you for your lack of regular oral care.

Or instead of the alien, imagine future historians. I have little doubt that doctors decades from now will look back on oral hygienic practices in this ritualistic bi-annual cleaning with horror. I’m sure in the future, all teeth maintenance will be done touch free with ultraviolet rays or something. During the violent scraping of the teeth with the occasional slip that digs the hook into the gums, I imagine myself as a giant eating my tiny victims. Their only recourse would be to attack whatever soft tissue they could find with spears and arrows. Then again, every video game scenario involving being swallowed always has the victim attacking the uvula.

Sure, oral hygiene is very important and should not be shirked. But everyone hates visiting the dentist for a reason. It shouldn’t be so unbearable.

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.

When Facebook changed it’s profile policy a few months ago in an effort to stamp out all individuality on the profile pages, I protested to deaf ears of the Facebook customer service team. In an effort to standardize everyone’s interests, it stamped out everyone’s individualistic quirks and forced broad categories onto us. I formerly listed my favorite karaoke songs under the “Music” section of my profile. When the profile renovation came, I lost all of that. As a consequence, I now mostly neglect my Facebook profile. Still, there are some interests of mine that go back up as generally generic interests.

While Facebook is pretty good at matching you up with recommended friends, its interest matching needs much more work. Sometimes the recommendations are absurd (see above, food and eating are apparently correlated).

Sometimes the recommendations are just plain wrong.

Though I’ll give them some credit for matching “Avatar” with “video games.”

Perhaps Facebook shouldn’t just shoehorn its users into these digitally defined interests. Of course, that’s how Facebook is going to make its money, by dissecting you into Likes and Dislikes. Here’s an article explaining the threat Facebook presents to Google by indexing the Internet through Like buttons.

What you, as a digital consumer, should be aware of, is the dissemination of your personal data. We have this general perception that we don’t have a say in services that we don’t pay for. This is not true. Check out dotrights.org for more information on privacy protections.


Jake Gyllenhaal discussing his fake accent in Prince of Persia

How come so often in Hollywood movies set in foreign countries in foreign languages the actors speak English with British accents? For foreign actors who are speaking in their normal tongue, that makes some sense. But why the need for the legions of Americans straining to imitate a bad accent when they theoretically shouldn’t be speaking English at all? Does speaking with a British accent somehow make the film seem more foreign?

In some cases, maybe the accent gives the American audience a sense of antiquity. See Angelina Jolie’s bizarre accent in Alexander or Dominic West in 300 (yep, that’s McNulty and that isn’t a Baltimore accent). But when the movie is obviously set in a non-English speaking world, there is no real need for the American actors to speak in anything but their normal American accents. The characters don’t become any more legitimate or compelling when they don’t communicate clearly because of some artificial speech burden. If I’m watching the Reader, it’s fine that Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes speak in their native British accents.

TV Tropes offers a good explanation of “the Queen’s Latin” convention. Britain seems like it has a longer history than America’s 200+ years (although ironically much we would recognize as British accent conventions are relatively recent developments). British accents are also the most understandable to American audiences, even if an Italian or French might be more geographically accurate. Last of all, TV Tropes also cites the Coconut Effect–actors speak in British accents because we’ve just come to expect it! The article also includes an expansive list of iterations of the Queen’s Latin, including notably George Lucas having the Empire speak with British accents and the Rebels speaking in American English.

I wonder if there is any harm in this convention. Since it is normally used in an historic context, I hope no one actually thinks modern Greeks speak English with a British twinge. There’s a rich diversity of accents out there; Hollywood shouldn’t be so afraid to bring them out. Accents certainly add another layer to the film/theater/television/video game, but authenticity sure isn’t  one of them.

Although I believe homophobia is detrimental to society and it is our duty to make an effort to phase it out, this article is actually advocating the end of the use of the term “homophobia” to describe discrimination against homosexuals. Most people’s Latin is basic enough to discern the root of the term and can loosely define homophobia as fear of the same, specifically fear of homosexuals. My problem with this is that most people who are considered “homophobic” are not fearful, whether they admit it or not.

A University of Arkansas study determined that “homophobia originates not out of fear or anxiety – as true phobias do – but from feelings of disgust.” A UC Davis paper described the pitfalls of “homophobia” as characterizing this prejudice as a phobia makes “assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes.” Instead, the paper advocates the use of “sexual prejudice” to describe discrimination against homosexuals. Other alternatives proposed include homonegativity and homosexism (Jung, Patricia. Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge).

Why does it matter if “homophobia” mischaracterizes the motivations of prejudice? Many people who are prejudicial against homosexual exempt themselves from being homophobic because they are not fearful of homosexuality. Instead, their discriminatory mindset is based on disgust or contempt (whatever the source). They are thus improperly excluded by the term. We don’t call racists “ethniphobic”. If a man harbors false assumptions about women, we call him sexist, not “feminphobic.” So why do we have the term “homophobic”?

This comes to some root of the concept of homosexuality as contagion. Homosexuality was sometimes considered a contamination, which could spread and infect others. While this may sound archaic and obsolete, simply look at the Protect Marriage’s commercials in the Proposition 8 campaign. The idea of homosexuality as an infection is still relevant to a substantial proportion of the population. Calling them homophobic only legitimizes their fear. They want to play the victim rather than the oppressor. They’re not discriminating because of irrational animosity or moral reprobation; they’re fighting the good fight against homosexuals. They are the bullies, not the targets. Let’s not give them this angle from which to appeal.

Even many who favor discrimination against homosexuals can at least agree that homophobia does not adequately describe them. I can imagine many hatemongers would violently oppose being called fearful in any capacity. Some are even openly hateful and might enjoy being called “homosexists” than “homophobes.” Hopefully eliminating the term “homophobia” is at least one thing both sides can agree on.

bumper bully

Living in the city now, I see all sorts of extraordinary sights and people. Among them are the people who put these hideous bumper guards on their cars while parked on the street. My initial reaction is that these people must be trying to protect their car from scratches. Street parkers don’t tend to be that careful; some cars are bound to hit other cars while swiveling into that parallel parking space. I guess a rubber skirt would keep those tiny collisions from leaving indelible scratches on their back bumper (note: I have yet to see a front bumper bully equivalent).

So I get it; you don’t want your car to get scratched. Is that for aesthetic reasons? Sure, you might a void a tiny scratch here, but don’t you think that black rubber partition is an eyesore itself? I’ll be that any scratch that bumper bully can prevent would be invisible to all but the most scrutinizing at point blank range. While having that bumper “protection” on is visible to all the people making fun of your car from hundreds of feet away. Consider this from the Bumper Bully faq:

(3) Will the Bumper Bully protect my car bumper from damage?

The Bumper Bully may protect the bumper finish only. It may not protect your bumper from impacts greater than 1MPH. The product may help minimize the risk of scratches, the result of low impact parking maneuvers. The Bumper Bully is not a structural component and will not contribute to vehicle crashworthiness or occupant safety during rear end collisions.

I wonder how bad an accidental scratch you’re going to get at 1 MPH. The website lists the Bumper Bully “Extreme Edition” for $29.95. Honda’s parts warehouse lists touch up paint for $11.95 with FREE SHIPPING & HANDLING. This paint is reusable and works on front scratches too! Or maybe you don’t want to buy the paint to fix that insignificant scratch. After all, you drive a Honda Accord. It’s not a bad looking car, even a little scratched up. But you’re pretty solidly in mid-class sedan range. Putting on the bumper protection doesn’t turn your Accord into an E-Class. Ditch the black bumper cover and let loose.

Beware of black seats!

Like the restaurant that keeps its lighting too dim to tell how ugly your food is, the public restroom with black toilet seats is equally malicious and misleading. How do these toilet seats not create wild public outrage? If you’re anything like me, your main concern with public toilets is sanitation. Privacy comes as a close second, but that gives way quickly in an emergency. We all know, especially men, how dirty toilet seats are. Guys already know the seat is dirty; they don’t want to touch it to lift it before the do their business. Speaking of which, I plead to all guys to use a urinal whenever possible and only save the toilets for the solid business. I really don’t need to find a wet toilet seat because of your insecurities peeing next to another guy. If you must use the stall, lift the seat. Your aim is not that good no matter how many times you’ve written your name in the snow!

Unlike choosing a urinal, the main concern in choosing a toilet is cleanliness. I would choose a stall in between two other occupants if  that one is cleaner than the stall by itself in the corner. Frankly, if you’re already in the same bathroom, there’s not far you can go to escape a guy sitting on the porcelain throne. Proximity fears  go out the door with a spreading noxious cloud.

The problem with black toilet seats is that they lull you into a false sense of security. At a glance, it’s difficult to tell if the seat is actually clean. Worse yet, you won’t know until you take a close look, and by then, you’re pretty well settled in. It’s certainly awkward to walk back out of a stall after you’ve already dropped your pants.  Establishments that employ black seats are unfairly representing the cleanliness of their bathrooms. This is why you typically see black seats in places like public schools, where the seats are frequently smeared and custodial staff are underpaid and overworked. If you see a bathroom with black seats, hold it in and find somewhere safer.