Monthly Archives: July 2010

Who You Lookin’ At?

I think I know what the next big Chinese export is going to be. 

I read this article about a new shop in China where only women can go.  On paying the equivalent of $8 NZ, they are admitted into a mock up of a house, complete with functioning appliances such as televisions and computers.  They are given a baseball bat and a helmet and for one minute, are allowed to take out their frustrations by smashing things with ruthless abandon.  The appliances actually work but are second hand.

The idea is that the woman can pretend that it’s her house and do what she wishes she really could at home.  Right now the only rooms available to trash are a living room and bedroom, but they are planning to add a kitchen.  In addition to appliances, you can throw plates, rip up paper and slash bean bags. 

Business is booming, according to the article.

The reason I think that this idea is going to catch on in the West is because it looks like we are doing everything we can to engineer ‘reacting’ out of our society.  I saw another article that talked about the city council of Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, planning to make it illegal to roll your eyes when someone says something stupid, or you object to what they are saying or doing.

Yes, you read that right.

The whole thing came about when a city councillor was ‘ejected’ from a meeting for “rolling her eyes” at something one of her colleagues said.  Now, in order to preserve “decorum,” the city council is asking the city attorney to look at ways to make eye rolling illegal as a “disturbance and disorderly conduct violation.” 

According to the article, under Illinois law, disorderly conduct means behaving “in an unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another, or to provoke a breach of the peace.”

What they are saying is that showing disagreement by rolling your eyes is unreasonable behaviour that might alarm or disturb someone.

If this sort of thing catches on, I’m getting a “Smash-Things-With-a-Baseball-Bat-Shop” franchise.  It will be a gold mine.  Imagine spending a whole day having to suppress natural reactions to the stupidity, thoughtlessness and general annoyingness of the people around you.  Wouldn’t it make you want to pick up a baseball bat and smash something?

I don’t know about you but I grew up in a world in which people were fairly quick to let you know where you stood.  Teachers used red ink and corrected our work with gentle observations like “WRONG!!!” And we survived.

When I was an agent of global capitalism, I met my share of people who made eye rolling look like a loving caress.  I once had a boss who was, to put it mildly, a maniac.  One time we had to present a report to him.  We worked diligently and polished the finished product.  After the presentation, which he did sit through without interruption, he picked up the report, tore it up, threw it in the wastebasket and then expectorated into the waste basket to show his displeasure.  Rich verbal feedback about our performance and quality as employees and human beings followed.

I wonder what the eyeball police would say about that.

In fact, the more I think about it, I’m a little worried about a post eyeball rolling world.  For one thing, walking down the street would be like a scene from Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned.  And that would be scary.

But it would also be confusing.  Because people would walk around like zombies and not be able to intimidate each other by eye rolling, but presumably they would still be able to give each other the finger while driving.  Or, given that this is Chicago, pull a gun on each other. 

The law of unintended consequences might end up engineering emotional nuance out of human interaction.

Where in the past other people could give you clues that you are getting on their nerves, e.g., by rolling their eyes, now they would be legally required to go to more extreme forms of showing displeasure. 

Theoretically, I supposed, if there were enough “Smash-Things-With-a-Baseball-Bat-Stores” it wouldn’t be so bad.  But if people couldn’t go work out their frustrations on inanimate objects, they very well may start doing it on each other. 

All because it would be illegal to show displeasure by eye rolling.

A Bigger Time Waster Than Facebook?

Have you ever met anyone who told you that they have too much time on their hands? 

Of course not.

Everyone you meet today is constantly complaining about how busy they are.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the important things that need to be done. 

And that’s why I am so confused by an article I read yesterday.  It described a bunch of people who have way too much time on their hands.

In the Houston Museum of Natural Science they have a specimen of something called a “corpse flower.”  It is called a corpse flower because when it blooms, the flower smells like a rotting corpse.

I don’t know about you, but that’s just about all I need to know about the corpse flower. 

Apparently, nature has equipped it with this characteristic in order to attract flies which crawl all over it and pollinate it.  Whatever happened to nice smells and colors to attract bees to do the same job?

The corpse flower only grows in Indonesia, but they have this one in Houston and people are coming out of the woodwork to see (and smell) it when it opens.

And that’s the problem. 

Lois, as the plant has been named, is refusing to open and the suspense is getting unbearable.  The plant is seven years old and has never bloomed before.  The flower only lasts for a few days and it may never bloom again.

I’m having a real hard time getting excited about it, but the plant’s caretaker is quoted as saying “This is huge.  This is one of the biggest attractions we’ve ever had here.”

Excuse me?  Last time I looked natural science encompassed things like space and black holes and Higgs Bosons and earthquakes.  Those things are huge.  Smelly plants are something else.

The museum has had to stay open 24×7 to accommodate the crowds who want to come see Lois.  And the flower hasn’t even opened yet.  They even have a webcam and Twitter feed.   Lois has 1,779 followers!

I used to think that it was weird that Wal Mart was open 24 hours.  I used to ask myself “Who goes to Wal Mart at three in the morning?”  Scratch that.  It’s now, “Who goes to see a smelly flower that hasn’t opened yet at three in the morning?”

Worse, who stares at a webcam feed of a smelly flower?  I gather (but cannot understand why) that a large part of the attraction is the smell.  How can you “enjoy” the experience by watching it on a webcam?  Now I know why my internet speed is so bad.  The pipes are clogged up with Lois watchers.  The article named some people who have been watching the webcam feed “for over a week.”  They are reported to be “disappointed by the lack of stench,” but they are proudly wearing “Team Lois” buttons and have purchased Corpse Flower t-shirts.  The mother is quoted as saying “We figure this is a rare opportunity and we need to come see it.”  Need?  Oh, and by the way, I checked.  The buttons are a cool $25 for a pack of six.

The museum reports that it is already getting four to five thousand people a day trooping through to see the plant.  The fact that it hasn’t flowered yet is disappointing many guests.  The article didn’t say whether grief counsellors are on hand. 

Actually some other form on counsellor should probably be on hand.  The head of marketing and communications for the museum was quoted as saying that people “keep coming back over and over because they are so excited about smelling it.”

As the blooming day gets closer visitor numbers are expected to rise and they think they will get ten thousand people a day on weekends.

The museum probably has mixed emotions on the flower blooming.  The suspense is pushing up attendance numbers but at the same time, they want the flower to open.  So Lois’s caretaker has put a bag of rotten bananas next to the plant.  Apparently the hormones emitted by rotting bananas can encourage flowers to bloom.  You might want to remember that.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist the temptation and decided to check out the web link.  Duh.  But guess what?  It’s worse than you think.  They explain that when you watch the feed you might see a girl with a guitar moving in and out of the picture.  She is one of the museum volunteers and she has written a song for Lois and she “serenades” the flower.  Here is an excerpt:

When she blooms you’ll smell her from a half mile radius
Oh, Lois. Come on and let your corpse-smell flow-is. 
Runnin out of words that rhyme with Lois.
La la la la la la la la grow for us.

You get the idea.

The scientific name for the Corpse flower is Amorphophallus titanium.   I don’t understand why it has that name.  I know what ‘amorphous’ means and what a ‘phallus’ is and what ‘titanium’ is, but when you put it all together I don’t know why you would call a flower by that name.

But scientific names don’t have to make sense.  After all they called the people lining up to see the flower “Homo sapiens.”

Here is a link to the webcam: you know you want to.

Update:  On July 28,  one week after I posted this, Lois mania is officially over.  The museum has returned to normal hours and a look at the webcam shows a fairly prostrate bloom.

New Grounds For White Coat Syndrome

You know you’re getting old when you are out for dinner with your friends and they start talking about their adventures at the doctor’s office.  And some of them don’t spare any of the gory details.

A friend had just finished telling us about his colonoscopy and my wife said to me, “Why don’t you tell them about what happened to you in Japan?”

Like many emotional traumas I had managed to block it out, but it all came back.  Just as there are eastern and western style toilets, based on what my friend had just said, there are also eastern and western style colonoscopies. 

When your turn comes, I encourage you to be in the Western Hemisphere.

I had this little problem.  Nothing major.  At first I thought I’d eaten some bad sushi or something.  But it didn’t respond to my tried and true method of “ignore it and it will go away,” so I figured I should have it checked out. 

I asked around and got the name of Dr. Fuji.  I went to see him and, to make a long story short, he told me that “a closer look” was desirable.

“How close?” I asked, totally rhetorically.

I called a friend in the US who is also a doctor to get a sort of remote control second opinion.  He told me not to worry and explained the drill (no pun intended).   He gave me some advice about “bowel prep,” a euphemism for the enema which patients are supposed to do at home.

“They didn’t say anything about that.”

“You better check.  It’s kind of important.”

So I did.  I called Dr. Fuji’s office and told the nurse, “Uh, I’m coming in for a (ahem) colonoscopy on Thursday.”

“That’s right!” she chirped happily, as if she couldn’t wait.

“Uh.  I was wondering.  When I made the appointment no one said anything about a, you know, enema.”

“Don’t worry.  We do that here.”

Don’t worry? Just when I thought that there was nothing worse than getting a colonoscopy, I found out that there was something worse:  Getting the deluxe package that included an enema.

Thursday morning I arrived at Dr. Fuji’s office determined to hold on to as much of my self respect and dignity as possible.  With Japanese efficiency I was called in right on time.   Not one, but two Japanese nurses, who looked like they were about fourteen years old, escorted me to a little room.  Unlike the rest of Dr. Fuji’s staff, their English was very limited.  Way too much of what followed was communicated in sign language. 

They gave me this tissue paper garment, which was sized for the smallest Japanese adult, and told me to put it on.  Usually you are allowed to do that in private.  But they watched to make sure I did it right. And they constantly chattered away in Japanese.   My Japanese was never very good and I certainly couldn’t follow their rapid fire conversation.  I was fervently hoping that they weren’t talking about me, because in addition to looking like fourteen year olds, they giggled away like teenagers as well.

Here I was, scheduled to make a presentation to the board of directors of one of the biggest companies in Japan later that afternoon. What would they think if they knew that I’d spent the morning modelling a tissue paper smock for two nurses?

I was then invited to assume, what I later learned by reading the medical report, was the “lateral decubitis position” on the table.  Basically that meant that I was lying on my side.  The two young ladies proceeded to administer a professional enema.  All the while chattering away in Japanese.  I had no idea what they were talking about but I was sure I was hearing interspersed giggles.

After that particular eternity was over, they had me sit up.  They pulled out this giant kitchen timer as big as a wall clock and set it for fifteen minutes.  One of them, I assume the senior nurse, shook her finger at me and said sternly, “No poo till bell ring.”  She then opened the door and showed me a bathroom with a sign saying “In use.”  She demonstrated that it was actually empty and I got the impression that the sign was intended to keep it that way for me.   Because less than a minute into the allotted time, I was in urgent need of using it.

They left me alone, trusting me to wait for the bell.  That surprised me.  I thought they would stay in the room to watch me.  And enjoy my discomfort.

You know how slowly time goes when you are watching the clock?  It’s even worse when you’ve just had an enema.  But I was terrified of not making it until the bell.  I had a vague idea of what was in store for me.  It would be bad enough if they were nice to me.  I definitely didn’t want to make them mad.

Fifteen minutes and thirty seconds later I emerged from the bathroom.  They were waiting for me, hands on hips.  “We do again.”  I was informed.  Had I done something wrong?  Or were they just unable to control their sadistic urges?

The second time it was even worse.  And I couldn’t last the full fifteen minutes.  I did make it to twelve.  I remember that distinctly.  This time when I emerged they asked, “How was your poo?” 

How do you answer that, I ask you?

Whatever I said satisfied them and I was invited to resume the lateral decubitis position.  Dr. Fuji came in.  I forgot to mention that he looked like Oddjob from Goldfinger without the hat.  After a few pleasantries got down to business, in every sense of the term.  It was fairly horrible but having inured myself to pain and humiliation I was fairly numb to what was going on.  Suffice it to say that Dr. Fuji was operating a machine which sounded like a vacuum cleaner.  I couldn’t see it but from what I could feel, it probably was. 

The only good thing was that over the whine of the vacuum cleaner and the (I was convinced) continued giggling were Dr. Fuji’s assurances that all was well.

That afternoon I limped into the boardroom.  You know how they tell you to relax when you are giving a speech by visualizing the audience in their underwear?  Well even though I couldn’t sit down, I was never so relaxed.  I just pictured all those old Japanese gentlemen in tissue paper robes in the lateral decubitis position. 

It was truly a special moment.

Adventures of a Luddite

I try.  I really try not to complain.  And I definitely try not to appear like an uncool old fart who doesn’t get it. 

Unfortunately, this is a big challenge, because there is an increasing number of things I just don’t get, and I was confronted by several of them this past weekend.

A group of us went to see a play on Saturday afternoon.  Admittedly, going to a show in the middle of the afternoon is a pretty old fart thing to do, but there was a good reason. 

It was a really good play.  The story was great, the acting was great and I was following it intently.  The climax was approaching.  All the bad stuff was out in the open.  Things couldn’t get any worse.  How was the playwright going to pull the whole thing together and resolve everything? 

Just then, for reasons I will never know, the lady in front and slightly to the right of me pulled out her cell phone and started texting.  In the darkness of the theatre, the screen of her cell phone looked like a supernova.  And the beeping buttons didn’t help. 

Mercifully, an usher swooped in out of nowhere and told her to knock if off.  Which she did.

The play ended, I still enjoyed it, but I’d missed a fairly important part of the dénouement.

The woman in question was old enough to know better, and old enough to have grown out of her ADD.  So I have to wonder what possibly could have been so important.  Did she know the play was nearing its end and decide to text in a pizza order?  Or what?

Anyway, after the play we decided to have a walk around town and then go to dinner. 

Well, you can’t just walk around town anymore and see the sights or window shop.  You have to constantly be alert.  Not for muggers, but to make sure you don’t run into the person walking in front of you who suddenly decides to stop and text. 

I’m really getting tired of Tweets saying “I’m at 5th and Broadway, walking south.”

We found a promising restaurant and decided to give it a try. 

There is a continuum of eating establishments, from fine dining on one end to fast food on the other.  This was not a fine dining restaurant—for example, it didn’t have white tablecloths.  In fact, there weren’t any tablecloths, but it was closer to fine dining than fast food.  And the prices were definitely at the fine dining end of the continuum.

The staff was wonderfully friendly and the menu and the food were great. 

So what’s to complain about, you ask.

The problem was that the music was so loud you could hardly carry on a conversation.  And the music was very bad.  While we are on the subject of continua it was toward the “noise” end of the music continuum. 

So about halfway through our dinner, one of our party (not me, I hasten to point out) asked the maitre’d if she could turn the music down.

For one thing, we couldn’t carry on a conversation.  And for another thing, it was freaking painful.

And this is the part I don’t get.  She said, and I quote, “I’ll do it, but to be honest with you, we have it loud on purpose.  One of the reasons people like to come here is because the music is so loud.”

Admittedly, my cochlea had been traumatized, but I’m sure I heard her correctly. 

How do they know that?  Do people walk out of the restaurant and say, “The food sucked.  But we’ll definitely be back because the music is so loud.”  Or “The food was good, but the music could have been louder.  We’re not coming back.”

Am I wrong, but isn’t that almost like asking your dentist for novocaine and having him tell you that he doesn’t use it and that is the secret to his popularity.

I guess I’m just out of touch.  I had the benighted and naïve impression that people go to a restaurant to relax, eat, and maybe even talk.

But I only had to look around the restaurant to realize how wrong I am.  I didn’t see any relaxing.  Eating was occurring, but seemed to be one of the lower priorities, and talking seemed limited to talking on the phone, talking to the staff or, in the case of parents, yelling at the kids (or at each other because they can’t agree on whether to yell at the kids).

Restaurant patrons exhibited three kinds of behaviour, depending on their age.  Kids under 12 ran around, beat their silverware on the tables, or repeatedly went to the rest room.  Kids from 13-18 stared into space with their iPod earphones buried in their ears, exuding the body language of people who are truly being made to suffer.  And the adults texted or talked on their cell phones. 

You heard right.  Couples were sitting in front of plates of steaming food and texting.  Each other?  Their spouses?  Their brokers?  Their friends in the evening performance of the play?  Who can say? 

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting an increasing sense that lately everyone would rather be doing something other that what they are doing.  Because they sure don’t seem to be engaged in what it is they are doing.  In the past week or so, in addition to the behaviours mentioned above I’ve seen people texting while driving (it’s illegal down here, but what the heck, when you’re running late for a Starbucks meeting you do what you gotta do).  I’ve heard, but fortunately not seen, people talking on their cell phones in public toilets,  and seen a couple walking their dog while both were wearing earphones. 

It doesn’t take an expert in analyzing body language to tell you that if someone sitting across from you is texting or listening to music, they aren’t particularly interested in you.

People putting up with that kind of behavior and spending time with people like that is another thing I don’t get.   Maybe I need to spend more time on Facebook so I can learn how to interact with other human beings!

BP’s New Defense??!!

I just read a scary article about the totally legal means that BP has to skate away from the Gulf problem with as little financial responsibility as possible.  Sure, they’re probably on the hook for the $20 billion that President Obama got them to grudgingly agree to.  But if he hadn’t shown leadership and put the hammer on them, I doubt if they’d volunteered.  And beyond the twenty billion, they might be able to get away fairly lightly.

My first thought was yeah, they can probably afford fancy lawyers to figure stuff like that out.

But that’s not what the article said.  You don’t have to be a lawyer.  You just have to be able to read the history of how other companies have dealt with liability problems.

The article started with Exxon and the Exxon Valdez hiccup.  The initial settlement was for $10 billion.  But they got it reduced to a billion.  And they get to pay it out over 20 years.  That’s not a bad deal—after all they made $20 billion after tax last year.  At that rate, they could set aside the whole amount today, buy an annuity and make money on the deal.

The article went on to talk about how BP could put all the liabilities into one company, declare bankruptcy, or spin off that company which would then be acquired by another company who would say “what oil spill?”  These techniques were developed and perfected by A.H. Robbins after the Dalkon Shield problem and by Union Carbide after Bhopal.  The end result is basically that a lot more money stays with the company rather than going to compensate the victims. 

Anybody out there think BP will do it differently?

But then I saw another item which made me realize that BP doesn’t need to do a lot of corporo-legal legerdemain to get out from under this thing.  All they need is what I call the “George Black Defense.” 

In case you haven’t heard, George Black is a Canadian guy who was playing softball a month or so ago.  He was playing third base and if you know anything about baseball you know that the third baseman often has to deal with screaming line drives.

On the day in question, a line drive came straight at George.  He put up his glove but failed to stop the ball.  He broke two fingers and then the ball impacted his face. 

He was wearing glasses which of course were pretty well destroyed and he ended up with 20 stitches.  I feel sorry for him.  That’s one of the reasons I never played third base.  The other, of course, being that I was always exiled to right field where, again if you know anything about baseball, I was least likely to do damage to myself or my team’s chance of winning. 

Anyway, George recovered enough to look at the bright (green) side of the incident and he found a lawyer.  If George had done the expected thing he would have sued the batter or the league sponsor or the baseball glove manufacturer.  Or his parents.  But all that’s been done before and anyway, none of that would have helped BP.

George decided that the most culpable party was the company that built the baseball field. 

You heard right.  His argument is that the reason he got smoked by the liner was because he “lost it in the sun.”  On that basis, he believes that the company was negligent because (1) they didn’t build a screen to protect players from the sun and (2) failing that, they didn’t “warn of the dangers of the sun at the particular time of day.”  Mr. Black himself has been quoted as saying “There have been no instructions in avoiding the sun.”

Mr. Black wants $1.5 million to make it all better.

I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of glad that they don’t build baseball fields with instruction manuals that say “The sun may be shining when you are playing.  You might want to wear sunglasses.”  

But the case is going to trial and BP should be closely monitoring its progress.  After all, if you can sue the guys who build a ball field because they didn’t tell you that the sun might get in your eyes, you should be able to sue, well, a lot of people if your offshore oil well just blows up.

Obviously they can sue the people who built the rig.  “You never told us it could blow up and spew oil.”  They can sue the government.  “You didn’t tell us that we’d have to clean up a spill.  No fair.”  Why not sue the people who live on the Gulf.  “You never told us you would get all hissy if oil washed up on your beaches.  If we’d only known . . .” In fact, they can even sue all of us.  “Hey, we were just doing what you wanted us to do.  You never told us you wanted us to do it safely.”

Be ready to settle out of court.