Racial discrimination is an awful thing. At this point, I think most of the enlightened world would agree that society would benefit from the elimination of stereotypes. But while they exist, it may not be so bad to take advantage of the ones that work in your favor.

Although “positive” stereotypes are detrimental to the racial group as a whole because they do not reflect real vicissitudes among individuals, they can be used to your advantage when you’re the beneficiary. If you’re a model minority and someone assumes that you are smart and industrious, roll with it. If you’re not actually intelligent and hard-working, this just makes it easier to fake it like everyone else does. This is especially the case with anything non-white being more “authentic.” This can apply to any aspect of culture, but if you have cultural authority based on the color of your skin, then use that empowerment to better spread your message.

Much has been written about Twelve Years a Slave winning the Oscar for Best Picture because of white guilt. Two Academy voters even when as far as voting for it without seeing it because of its “social relevance.” Ellen DeGeneres may have joked that there were two scenarios–either Twelves Years a Slave would win or the Academy is made up of racists–but she touched on the real issue of how much race played into the decision. “Social relevance” may just be a euphemism for white guilt.

Now here I’ll make a distinction between white guilt and affirmative action. Ostensibly, affirmative action is driven by a goal of diversity, and less so now to rectify past wrongdoings. White guilt is a response that European descendants feel towards minorities because of a history of imperialism, including institutionalized slavery. Although a college admissions officer may be inclined to admit the black candidate because her ancestors were slaveholders and she is correcting for some cross-generational moral deviance, her official line would be that the black candidate would increase the college’s “diversity.”

I won’t proffer an opinion on affirmative action here; that would take up entire post, if not the entire blog. However, I will say that white guilt is completely fair game. As a minority, you don’t know what kind of unspoken biases are held against you. Safe to say that most of those stereotypes are more detrimental than beneficial. You can work to subvert that racism because you know that it is wrong on a societal level, but you can also smartly use it to your advantage when necessary. So when a white person offers you some sort of concession because of some historical event that likely didn’t directly affect either of you, go ahead and grab it!

Lastly, if you are a white reader, don’t let white privilege blind you any more than pernicious racial biases do. Sometimes an Asian person is just not that smart; sometimes a black person is just not that athletic. And sometimes a movie about slavery is just not that great.

*NB: This also applies to Jews, of course.

It still surprises me when I’m trying to get past a crowd on an escalator and the pedestrians don’t know to keep right if they’re not moving. Fine, you don’t need a license to walk so maybe they just have never learned to stay to the right and they’re too oblivious to realize that’s what everyone else is doing. But driving a car is completely different. There are rules of the road, rather important rules if you want to survive, or have the barest of courtesy towards your fellow drivers.

Having driven too many times along that God forsaken stretch of highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’ve had my share of frustration of slow drivers blocking the fast lane. I don’t care how fast you’re going, if someone is behind you, move to the right and let them pass. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re going fast enough; you’re not the speed arbiter of the road. All it does is enrage the people behind you. I can only assume that you are intentionally holding people behind you because if you’re too oblivious to realize a line of frustrated motorists tailing you, you’re not observant enough to be driving in the first place. For two-lane highways there is not much choice. Trucks dictate the speed of the right lane. The slowest motorist dictates the speed of the left lane. You should never be the car that sets the speed. As long as someone wants to go faster than you, get out of the way.

I don’t speed excessively on highways, even through long stretches of nothing.  I tend to speed up and try to pass cars in front of me; however, I respect the rules of the road. If I am being tailed and I’m uncomfortable driving any faster, I pull to the right. There’s very little diversion out on this highway and passing cars breaks up the monotony. Besides the In-n-Out oasis in Kettleman City, is there nothing else on the 5 interstate besides Jack in the Boxes and Carl’s Jrs.? That’s not completely fair. There are a few major landmarks. When it starts smelling like manure, you know you’re passing by Harris Ranch. When you see windmills, that’s Andersen’s Pea Soup. And when you pass Buttonwillow, look out for the only Indian restaurant between LA and SF. So if you’re not the speedy type and want to take it easy in life, those are three places to pull off the road instead of slowing down the fast lane.


Photo credit: Herrick

As a zombie apocalypse enthusiast, I am often asked about survival plans. Admittedly, I have not read The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I draw my zombie plan from a variety of media sources. Among the movies I reference: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, I Am Legend, The Road, Omega Man, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil, Zombieland. In books: I Am Legend,” The Walking Dead, The Passage. In TV: “The Walking Dead” has been on lately, not to mention all the spoofs of zombie on Halloween specials. The recent “Community” Halloween episode comes to mind. Also, a variety of video game influences, Resident Evil, Dead Rising 2, and Left 4 Dead in particular.

I’m not sure what it is about zombies that is so compelling. Maybe it’s because I frequently have nightmares in which I’m the last man on Earth. It wasn’t until I played my first round of Left 4 Dead did I realize shooting these creatures in the head was awakening some deep-seeded desire to kill zombies. But the fascination is more than just inconsequential and indiscriminate violence. Zombies are fascinating from a philosophical perspective. They speak to the great existential fears of complete human extinction. Unlike vampires, werewolves, or benevolent aliens, zombies signal annihilation of society and death. And of course, as George Romero can show you, they are a frequent allegorical device for slavish adherence to just about anything.

The remainder of this post is basically my general survival strategy in case of zombie apocalypse. It is very rough and surely open to critique and refinement with some contributions from my friends. It is also in the context of a lengthy email thread.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Keith

First, you need to know what kind of zombies you’re facing. Rage zombies might have some modicum of intelligence and reasoning so you might not be able to keep them out be sheer force. Most of the defenses we’re envisioning are based on certain assumptions about zombies, mostly that they are a) slow-moving, b) dim-witted, c) killable, d) not airborne contagious, e) can’t swim. My idea of gathering supplies and going out to open water is under the assumption they can’t swim, fly, or operate watercraft. But with any type of epidemic response plan, you have to keep in mind that maybe the virus will get you before the zombies do. Going out into open water is partially as a self-quarantine to avoid infection. It won’t do you any good to lock yourself up with weapons and supplies if you just breathe in a virus and become a zombie anyway. But let’s just assume that you only become a zombie upon direct exposure or dying and reanimation. If these are the only methods, physical isolation may be sufficient.

Second, you should probably have several response plans. Most importantly, you need to have an emergency evacuation plan and a long-term plan. It might be prudent to escape from a heavily populated area. Given that we’re all in major cities right now, it’s probably best to get out of here as soon as there are signs of an outbreak. The sheer mass of people would make survival unlikely once the majority of the population turns. If you want to escape though, you need to do it before the military installs some sort of quarantine zone. Otherwise, you’re stuck…with zombies. So for an immediate plan, I’d suggest getting away from a densely populated area. For the long-term though, depends on your confidence in the government restoring order and containing the infection. In the modern world, you can see how difficult it is to contain an epidemic, but movies like Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead have shown some ability of the government to beat the zombies. Either way, I’d escape into the wilderness and try to wait it out indefinitely. First with supplies, but eventually developing some sort of self-sufficiency. Think fortified cabin in the woods.

The problem with my open water idea is that eventually I’d have to come back for supplies, but perhaps I could go across the ocean and find a deserted island somewhere. In The Passage, all communication has broken down in the country so no one knows if there is anyone else left. Think Kevin Costner in the Postman. Perhaps a few years in the wilderness and this drive to find other survivors will pull you back into a journey for civilization. We should also consider the possible responses by the government in case of outbreak. If the infection becomes severe enough, staying in an infected zone might put you within blast radius if the military tries to burn out the infection one city at a time. Wherever I hole up, I’d just make sure I had a radio or some other type of information source. The worst part may be not knowing.

Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Third, is a zombie world the kind of world you even want to live in? Most of these escape plans are awfully lonely be design. You don’t want to pull an I Am Legend, being the last man alive. So any escape/long-term plan I have will involve a companion. As of now, it’ll be my girlfriend because she is someone whom I can rely on. Emotional support is going to be tantamount in any kind of end-of-the-world scenario. Sometimes, it’s not worth the fight anymore. I have recurring zombie apocalypse dreams, and sometimes I just give up. You fight the good fight, but maybe it’s not worth it anymore. You don’t want to make the value judgment that being a human is somehow better than being a zombie.

The issue I see with a barricade idea is that two to three weeks may not be enough. An apartment building or house is hardly self-sustaining. Even if you could forage for supplies among the other units and potentially keep all zombies out of the building, it can’t last indefinitely. See Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a city like New York, I doubt three weeks will be enough time to contain a zombie outbreak. There are simply too many people here. An evacuation is probably safer for now. Though of course storing food and water for three weeks isn’t a bad idea for other disasters, namely real ones.

A rooftop standoff is certainly noble and quite thematic. But we have to think more survival and less action-movie climax. Let’s be realistic here. If there’s a zombie outbreak you want to trap yourself on a rooftop with no where to go but up? Sure there is one entrance, but what if there are hordes of zombies? What if there’s no helicopter to take you away? I think in an outbreak scenario, you can’t rely on someone to save you. A hospital isn’t a bad place to stop for supplies, but you might want to avoid hospitals in general when there’s an epidemic. You can’t tell how quickly the virus will spread. It could lay dormant. If it hit a city like NY, considering the density, it would spread fast (assuming the virility of fictional zombie viruses). Self-containment is probably the most realistic thing you’d do. If suddenly you heard on the news that there was a mysterious disease spreading throughout the city, you wouldn’t just abandon everything and escape the city. However, this is precisely the kind of early response you probably need to survive and escape, before the virus reaches critical mass. So forever be on the lookout for health advisories.

Photo Credit: Sam Javanrouh

I mentioned before the issue of companionship. Ideally you’d want someone with a compatible skill set, perhaps a doctor or an engineer. Even someone handy with a shotgun would be an asset. However consider the possibility of power control in a small-group dynamic. In Night of the Living Dead, you have two alpha males disagreeing on the best barricade. This leads to people turning on themselves. As many post-apocalyptic movies show you, humankind, at the brink of annihilation, does some despicable things. Again, see The Road with looting, rape, cannibalism. So in any kind of survival companion, primarily you’d want trust. Someone you can work together with will be infinitely more useful than someone who has a great skill set. Of course, in most zombie situations, you’re stuck with whatever survivor group you’re in. Just beware of the internal threats as much as the external. I think survival is best with a small group, perhaps two or three people. Sure, you may be paranoid about your companions, but loneliness is a killer too. Besides, if you’re going to die, you don’t want to die alone. Also, in a group dynamic, if you’re not the boss, someone has to be the boss. Only a dictatorship will work. Don’t think dictatorship like Stalinist Russia. Think dictatorship like martial law and suspension of habeas corpus. Abraham Lincoln didn’t take shit from no body, and you don’t see any slaves today in the Union, do you? But yes, there can only be one dictator. As I said, the other members have to agree to cede their own authority for the sake of survival, trust in the leader’s decisions for the group.

For things you can do now to prepare for the end, I’d suggest increasing your survival skill set. Worst-case scenario handbooks are useful for picking up a skill or two. Having some sort of basic medical care, like EMT training would be a valuable asset. The other set of skills really is about wilderness survival. Make sure you know how to live on your own for a long time. In the long-term it might be good to pick up something about farming and construction. As far as skills in fighting the zombies, go out to the gun range and get some proficiency with firearms. But also think about unarmed self defense and physical conditioning. Be handy with a knife, axe, cricket bat, anything really. On the issue of transportation, depending on the amount of chaos caused by zombies, it wouldn’t be much of an issue to simply steal a car. Your morals might go out the window if it is a zombie apocalypse. I don’t think it’s necessary to “boost” a car involving any type of hotwiring know-how. Just find a set of keys and drive away. It’s actually not that hard to steal things when you’re not concerned about the consequences.

A realistic action movie call

For far too long there has been a conundrum desperately in need of solution. New technology always spurs new social convention; the use of caller ID and the dissemination of cell phones have created such a vexing question–who calls back?

We’ve all been there.  You call another person’s cellphone, and it goes straight to voicemail.  Is the phone off, or is the other person trying to call me at the exact same time?  How can I ever know for sure?  This problem is particularly tough after dropped calls.

It is now time to set firm, albeit arbitrary, rules to ensure we all avoid the dreaded cross-callbacks, in which no one gets through. There are several criteria by which we determined this social convention.

  1. Call priority should not be linked to any physical or racial trait that would tend to discriminate. For example, if the tallest person is always the callback initiator, women will be disproportionally subjected to always be on the receiving end.
  2. Call priority should be easy to discern without ever having met in person. As with the first example, it is too hard to decide who the taller person would be, especially if the parties have never met.
  3. Call priority should not be based on obscure personal arcana. Two people who are in contact for the first time through this phone call should be able to determine the criterion immediately without delving into each other’s personal lives. Hence, the callback convention cannot be something like mother’s maiden name. This is not a forgotten password retrieval mechanism.
  4. Call priority should be as universal as possible. This rule is flexible, as it is premised on a universal society, which is certainly not true. Maybe a convention that covers most people within the same social group would be sufficient.

We now propose several possible metrics to determine call priority:

Alphabetical Order

This is the most common mechanism to sort people. Ideally, both parties will have each other’s full names and will be able to determine priority by last name, then first. This convention is most restricted by limited information. But if each person only knows first names, it is fine to alphabetize just based on that. And if someone is calling you anonymously, are you really so eager to call them back? Alphabetical order is limited by the last of the criteria though. Non-phonetic languages will have a difficult time following this system.  Also, don’t ever call anybody that has your exact same name.  They shouldn’t be your friend.

Numerical Order by Phone Number

Bigger number wins. Take your ten-digit phone number and compare. In many cases, callers will be from the same area code, so it’ll come to the seven-digit showdown. Major problem: blocked and restricted numbers ruin all the fun.

West-to-East Geographical Priority

First, I’ll say that I picked West somewhat arbitrarily. This is not any endorsement of the West over the East, I just read from left to right. In fact, the sun seems to favor the East more anyway. Alas, even with the proliferation of geotagging and Foursquare, you’ll rarely know enough about a caller’s physical location to use this metric. And if one day we can determine this readily, it’s time to move off the grid altogether and run from Big Brother.

Initiator Always Calls Back

I almost think this has already been the de facto standard. The person who calls usually has the most to say. Therefore, the logical progression would be that said person should also take all means to reestablish that connection. This would not work however, when two people call at exactly the same time. But how often does that actually occur?

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.

In season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry adopts a dog that barks at black people. Wanda Sykes accuses the dog of being racist. Given that the dog was adopted by, and not raised by, the current owner, the discriminatory instinct of the dog probably can’t be attributed to Larry. But that made me wonder–should you blame an owner if his pet seems to be racist?

I have not done extensive research into animal behavior, but I would assume that animals have no racial preferences (towards humans) by nature. A dog should not care who raises it, as long as it’s given a good home. What animals do seem to pick up on however, is their owners’ reactions towards other people. If a type of person has a negative effect on the owner, the pet probably reflects the owner’s personality and preferences. If you train your dog to bark at minorities, that’s surely a bad reflection on you. But the pets often pick up on more subtle cues that non-self-realized racists may by unconsciously leaving.

People are pretty quick to blame owners for their pets’ bad behavior, including racism. But does that also count animals short in their free will? Can an owner be completely free of bigotry and still have a racist pet? Some friendly people have very bitchy cats (though I’d argue that all cats are bitchy to some extent). Some timid individuals might have loud and aggressive dogs. Pets have their own personalities to a certain extent, rather than exact mirror images of their owners. Maybe it’s not fair to blame the owners if the animal indeed barks more often at black people. Perhaps it’s because people don’t think that animals are so deficient in reasoning that any kind of learned behavior must be human-driven.

What do you think? Should we blame owners for racist pets?

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

A little elevator etiquette directed at the douche who closed the elevator on me yesterday–

It’s bad enough that you’re not going to hold the elevator for me. You could be in a rush, you could have complete indifference to the my plight. We’ve all been a second too late to miss the elevator, the subway, the bus, whatever it is. I understand a refusal to hold the door in a subway because it causes delays for everyone else, but when you’re the only person standing in the elevator and I’m running up, you’ve lost that “greater good for society” justification. Sure, we all derive a sickening pleasure at the schadenfreude of watching the doors close on the luckless individual. Perhaps that person is carrying boxes or is too fat to get to the elevator in time. All I ask is that you enjoy this self-satisfaction without letting me know. Please don’t smile at me and shrug as you press the close door button.

When I close the door on people, whether through apathy or when I’m just in a rush, I at least make the effort to avoid giving the impression that I’m doing so spitefully. I’ll never look at the person as I’m closing the door. It’s just like jay-walking in front of oncoming traffic. If you make eye-contact with the driver, he’s going to be less inclined to politely let you cut him off.

I’ll hide behind the wall of the elevator, pretending like I didn’t see the mom with stroller in tow or the obnoxious fella on his bluetooth headset. I’ll even signal that I’m pressing the open button and it just isn’t working. “Sorry dude, it just keeps closing.” But if I’m letting the door close intentionally, I wait at least until the victim is out of sight to chuckle to myself. I can feel good at myself without making the other person feel bad.

Not holding the door for me because you don’t see me–that’s fine. Seeing me and still letting it close–I’ll let it slide. But don’t smile contently while closing the elevator on me. That just crosses the line.

Whatever the origins of this belabored phrase, it’s wholly unnecessary. As the same for gesundheit or anything else you’re supposed to say when someone sneezes. Okay, there’s a sneeze, so what? Why bother pointing out someone’s sneeze? Whatever spiritual significance that may have been an issue in antiquity should no longer hold our bodily function hostage. I want to sneeze without anyone paying any attention. You don’t say anything when I cough, yawn, or fart. If anything, I should be the one saying something, hopefully an apology (or doorknob) for the last one, when one of those events occurs. But sneezes seem to be unique in that the audience is the first to react.

Now if you can’t shake the need to acknowledge a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air through my nose and mouth, please don’t expect me to say “thank you.” Is your self-worth so dependent on my validation that you noticed I sneezed? Now instead of wasting one breath by saying “bless you,” I also have to waste a breath in receipt of your blessing? Please, save your breath and let me sneeze in peace.