December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Just like at Thanksgiving time, I am wussying out and not writing a post for the Minister of Common Sense blog. Please forgive me (and this is the time of year to do so). I will also be opting out for New Year's Eve, but will be back in full force for 2009! Please come back and see us again after the holidays. In the meantime, enjoy the season.
-- The Minister

December 18, 2008

Gasoline Prices

This posting probably won't make me very popular, but I wish people would stop the communist, conspiracy theories regarding gasoline prices. I admit it – I am a complete capitalist. I studied the financial sciences in school, and I believe in letting businesses and people make as much money as they can (within the boundaries of what is legal)... or lose as much money as they can (which seems to be the more common scenario recently).

I, like you, did not enjoy paying $50 to fill up my tank back when gasoline was $4 per gallon. But I also understand that the price of gasoline is not governed by the gas station, nor is it set by the ExxonMobils of the world. The price of gasoline is essentially established by the price of oil, which is based upon global supply and demand fundamentals. When global economies are strong, then the demand (and price) of oil will rise, and when economies weaken (like right now) then the price will fall. It is far from the influence of oil companies.

When gasoline prices ramped up to $4 per gallon, it seemed like everyone was screaming bloody murder. There are ways to try to reduce the price of oil (and, by extension, the price of gasoline), but none of them are a quick fix. (For the record, some of the solutions include alternative energy and promoting the exploration for more oil.) However, many people, including some of my smart friends, were blaming the oil companies for the high gasoline prices, claiming that the companies were raising them, that they were trying to screw us, that they were greedy, that they were gouging us, and why don’t they lower them? That’s not really how it works.

I don't blame people for misunderstanding the complicated economics behind oil prices, and my following comments will be oversimplified, but perhaps they can help clear the record – and point out the inconsistencies of some lines of thinking. Certainly the media isn't going to be responsible and do the job correctly – they are too interested in the television ratings they receive when they rant about gasoline prices... it makes for good six o'clock news.

Gasoline is made from oil, and oil is a fungible, worldwide commodity. Which essentially means that you can move it anywhere in the world (i.e. put it on an oil tanker) and the price is essentially the same. The world's supply and demand set the price of oil (and, therefore, gasoline prices). You can’t sell oil for more than it's worth, because no one would buy it from you... it's too easy to go somewhere else and buy it from someone else. There is too much oil available for purchase in the world from too many different sources, so all these forces balance out and everyone essentially has to charge the same price. ExxonMobil may sounds like an all-mighty empire, capable of controlling oil prices, but they only produced about 5% of the world's total oil in 2007. That is hardly a monopoly position from which to control prices.

So, I hate to burst the bubble of conspiracy theorists, but ExxonMobil wasn't raising the price of gasoline higher and higher to see how much the consumer could withstand. They were charging the fair market price for gasoline – they couldn't charge more, and they couldn't less. (“Couldn't charge less?” Am I sure? Yes. If ExxonMobil charged $3 for a gallon of gasoline when everyone else was charging $4 per gallon, then arbitrageurs would buy all of ExxonMobil's $3 gasoline and immediately start selling it for $4. ExxonMobil would be sold out of $3 gasoline, and the only gasoline in the market would sell for $4. So, no, ExxonMobil really can’t give you a friendly discount. And while ExxonMobil does produce some of its own oil, they also need to buy additional oil from other sources to make more gasoline. That oil they were buying was increasing in price, and oil is a major cost component of gasoline. If they started charging less for gasoline then, at some point, they start to lose money, even at relatively "high" gasoline prices.)

I also laughed to myself when some people complained loudly when gasoline prices went to $4 per gallon, and they blamed it all on the oil companies, but now that gasoline prices have plummeted to below $2.00 per gallon, no one is saying, “Thank you, ExxonMobil! Thank you for lowering gasoline prices and making my life better!” You can’t have it both ways. If you want to erroneously believe that the big, bad oil companies are arbitrarily raising gasoline prices to screw you, then you have to thank them when they “lower” the prices for you, too, right?

Did the oil companies make a hell of a lot of money in the past few years? Heck yeah they did. And consumers and politicians screamed and railed against the oil companies, saying they were making too much money and how it was unfair and there should be a windfall profit tax (an extra tax to penalize a company for making “too much money”). Although oil prices reached $150 per barrel this year, did you know they fell to $10 per barrel in 1999? When oil prices were super depressed in 1999, do you remember giving ExxonMobil a donation to help them out during their tough times? Did you say “Poor ExxonMobil and their horrible profits – it’s such a shame”? No you didn't. So you can’t now say, “Damn ExxonMobil and all the money they are making!”. Once again, you can’t have it both ways. (By the way, I’m not saying you should say, “Poor ExxonMobil” during their tough times... you shouldn't say anything, ever – you should just let them run their business and succeed and fail, and let that be that.) And by the way, oil prices that once were $150 per barrel are now less than $50 per barrel, so there are good times in business and bad times.

The public and politicians may complain that oil companies “make too much money,” and therefore there should be an extra tax or the oil companies should give some of it back... but, theoretically, they already are. Their profits are higher, and therefore they are paying more absolute dollars in taxes to the government because of that. Higher corporate profits generate more tax revenue for the government and, therefore, more money to provide public services and programs. So, high gasoline prices actually are helping the consumer indirectly by providing more corporate taxes to fund government programs (which we all, theoretically, should benefit from).

The oil companies aren't out to “screw us” and the Middle East oil countries aren't out to screw us either. OK, the Middle Eastern countries are “out to screw us” in the way that they fly planes into our buildings, but they aren't jacking with the price of oil to try to hit us in the wallet. Saudi Arabia et al don’t really have the power to control oil prices. It is true that certain countries did form a group called OPEC (which is sort of like a union for oil-producing countries), and they try to control oil supply to help support oil prices, but they historically have been very poor and unsuccessful at doing this.

Also keep in mind that taxes represent a significant amount of the price you pay at the pump. Gasoline taxes vary state by state, but they generally range from $0.50-$0.60 per gallon. That is about 25% of the price you pay for a gallon of gasoline today, and the government didn't have to "make" the product, so it's nearly a 100% profit to them, whereas the oil companies has to pay to find and extract the oil, convert it into gasoline, and then sell it at all the physical locations (gas stations). I would venture to say that, at today's prices, our government is making more "profit" on a gallon of gasoline than ExxonMobil. Of course, things could be much worse. Next time you are filling up your car with gasoline at $2.00 per gallon, keep in mind that gasoline prices over in the U.K. are over $5.00 per gallon (similar to all of Europe because they have very high taxes). Back when we were paying $4.00 per gallon, people in London were paying over $9.00 per gallon!

So, things could be much worse. Sure, oil companies come with their problems, but they also provide and fuel nearly every single great aspect of our modern lives - from transportation to electricity to plastics. So gasoline prices aren't screwing you... what would really screw you is if oil companies failed to supply the 80 million barrels of oil that the world consumes every single day.

December 11, 2008

Weddings: The Money Pit of All Money Pits

If you think the stock market is the quickest way to lose vast sums of money, then you've never thrown a wedding. One of my closest friends is getting married in three months, and he invited me to be one of his groomsman. As a result, I have had a (terrifying) inside glimpse into the costs associated with throwing a wedding. If the divorce rate wasn't enough to put you off from marriage, then maybe the catering bill will.

My friend and his soon-to-be wife both have very good jobs (dentist and lawyer), and their parents are middle-to-upper class, so they can afford a really nice wedding, but I was still shocked at the costs. I used to think that maybe $30,000 would get you a really, really nice wedding... but now I’m starting to think that the number is more like $60,000 and possibly $90,000. I’m not even sure how that is possible, but it is.

I'm sure there are many of you reading this thinking, "$30,000?! I would never spend $30,000 on a wedding... let alone $60,000! That’s insane! Me and my hubby, Billy Bob, had a great wedding at Cracker Barrel a couple of years ago for $7,000, and it was great." OK, OK, I'm sure that the Cracker Barrel wedding was great and, yes, I will admit that each couple has their own spending budget for a wedding. However, I'm telling you that you cannot have a standard wedding for 200 people in a metropolitan city, in a real facility, with real food, real entertainment, real flowers, and a real cake, for less than $30,000. And, I'm horrified to say, it's probably closer to $60,000.

The wedding industry is a scam. It's shocking to think that people spend THAT much money ($9,000... $30,000... $60,000... whatever) on a party for ONE night. I know it is an important day, but tens of thousands of dollars? Really?? It's gotten to the point where you have to ask, "Who can afford to even get married anymore?"

As I mentioned, my friend and his fiancee can afford the big wedding they want, even as the United States is rapidly becoming a third-world country. But what about the 99% of "other" Americans out there? Most of us have normal jobs making a normal salary, and we don't have $5,000 lying around, let alone $60,000. Our parents may have some money, but that is still a massive chunk of coin, right? So how do these young couples pay for it all?

I think that many couples end up paying for it through credit cards. Maybe not the whole thing, but there is likely some difference between what they get from parents, what little they may have to contribute themselves and what they get in gifts. (By the way, you will NEVER recover your wedding costs through gifts from guests. If you have any question about that, take a look at one of my earlier blogs, called Hosting Weddings Sucks on 8/21/08.) Perhaps a couple may "only" put $5,000 of the wedding expenses on a credit card, or maybe it's more like $15,000 or more... but either way, it's a massive amount of debt that could prove crippling.

[By the way, the photo above is from a real wedding loan website. I love how she has a tatoo on her hand... you just know she is a dirty slut (great for a night, but bad for a marriage!) Why on earth did they pick her to be the model? I find that so amusing.]

Can you think of a WORSE way for a new, young couple to start off in life other than mired in credit card debt after the wedding?? Credit card debt that bought (literally) NOTHING. It bought a party. A party that the wedding couple didn't even enjoy, because they were running around hosting everyone. There is no hard asset to offset the debt they have incurred. The cost of a wedding could have been a substantial down payment on a house, or paid for school, or paid off pre-existing debt, or saved for retirement. Those who understand the "present value of money" from finance classes can appreciate the magnitude that this debt will have on a young couple.

It gets you to thinking... the divorce rate is about 50%, and the most common reason why couples argue (and why they get divorced) is money. You have to wonder how many marriages were ironically destroyed by the very event that formed them – a wedding (and the subsequent horrible financial position it can create). Now, I'm not saying that if we abolish weddings then we will prevent all the money problems and arguing in a marriage. However, I am saying that a lot of hardship could probably be avoided if there wasn't the societal pressures to have a big fancy wedding – especially if the couple can't really afford it. Am I off base here, or did some of you get married and have to take on tons of debt to do so? How expensive were your weddings, and was it worth it when you look back years later?

December 4, 2008

Chicken Fried Steak Lawsuit

I would like to invite you to join a class-action lawsuit that I am bringing against chicken fried steak. The name of this food item is completely misleading and fraudulent to the dining consumer of America.

I had jury duty recently, and during the lunch break, the only real food choice was this hole-in-the-wall place that specialized in southern food. I don’t think The South has ever really demonstrated any special culinary excellence, so I'm not sure why a restaurant would specialize in “southern food” – it’s the equivalent of specializing in cooking shit. If you want to specialize in being “gracious,” “racist,” or “slow,” then I recommend copying The South, but not for food. Anyway, as you expect, the restaurant had terrible food choices, so I steered clear of things like grits and pieces of pig that you wouldn't eat unless you were in Lord of the Flies... and I went with the safest pick – the chicken. Specifically, the chicken fried steak.

Now, if you are like me and didn't already know, “chicken fried steak” isn't chicken at all – it’s steak, as in red meat. When I cut into my “chicken” at the restaurant and discovered that it was actually steak, I was shocked and pissed off. I think it’s total bullshit that they call this thing “chicken fried steak”. Why the hell is “chicken” in the name?? “Chicken” is a noun and a protein, and when I order something with “chicken” in the name, I expect to actually get chicken. It’s so misleading. I mean, what the fuck?

Believe me... it's not chicken

I know, I know... the word “steak” is in the name, too. But, in fairness, that word comes at the end, and it isn't the headliner of the dish. I was also thinking that maybe the name referred to the type of chicken – that the chicken was cut into a steak-like pieces (or fillet) and didn't have bones. Plus, who knows what they mean in The South anyway?... it was like ordering off a foreign menu with all the weird stuff they had.

People have since informed me that it is called “chicken fried steak” because it is steak that is fried in the same manner as fried chicken. Obviously, that is the intent of the idiot who fraudulently named this piece-of-shit dish, but there are two problems with that explanation. First of all, it is grammatically incorrect. If you have compound words in front of a noun, then you are supposed to hyphenate them. So, the proper way to write the name of the dish is “chicken-fried steak”. OK, now THAT I understand... chicken-fried is the compound descriptor of the noun, steak. The proper way to read that name is that it is a steak that has been fried in a chicken style. As part of my lawsuit, I am going to require that all menus be changed to use the hyphenated phrase “chicken-fried steak.” The fact that the name is already grammatically incorrect is evidence that whoever invented this dish isn't necessarily coming up with the best ideas out there.

The second problem with the explaination for the name is that I don’t think that chicken has a special frying style that is exclusively its own, does it? Fried chicken is fried in batter – so what's the big deal? When we order other fried foods, we’re never disappointed with how it is fried, are we? Did you ever get served something and think, “Goddamnit, I wish this was chicken-fried and not just normal-fried”? We don’t call fried chicken “chicken-fried chicken,” do we? No, we just call it fried chicken. So why can’t we just call it fried steak, too? Why complicate and confuse the matter?

I have heard that sometimes this dish is called “country fried steak” (again, there should be a hyphen), but I am SO fine with that name. There is no confusion with a name like “country fried steak.” You might not know what “country fried” means exactly, but you have some idea, and you certainly don’t expect to order it and get a big slab of “country” on your plate, do you? In the name “country fried steak,” there is only one food noun, so you can’t go wrong, right?!

Maybe I am an idiot. Maybe everyone already knows that chicken fried steak is steak and has nothing to do with chicken. But I feel misled and cheated, and I think it’s wrong to name something “chicken fried steak” when all it really is, is a fried steak.

On top of all this, it fucking sucks, too. It’s this super-thin slice of red meat that is pounded down and fried with too much breading. The color of the meat is gray, and it’s a crap-quality cut, so that it’s tough and fatty. And then they pour this hideous white gravy on top of it. White gravy?? Who ever heard of such a thing? Gravy is brown (possibly red, if you are Italian). We all just had Thanksgiving, and how many of you out there poured a white “gravy” on your turkey? None of you. So how come chicken fried steak suddenly has this white gravy invention?? That is another rip-off associated with the dish. And by the way, white/cream sauces do no pair well with red meat. Do you know what white sauces DO pair well with?... fish... and CHICKEN! Someone please put an end to this fraudulent, shitty, protein-confused meal.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Although it is Thursday (my normal blog day), I decided not to officially post a blog this week because of Thanksgiving. First of all, it's a holiday. Secondly, 90% of you will be traveling and with family, and you wouldn't read it anyway. And, lastly, it's difficult coming up with insightful, interesting, quasi-funny essays every week, so I deserve a break everyone once in a while, too! If you think this is a cop-out, you may be right. But get used to it... Christmas this year falls on a Thursday, too. See you next week and enjoy the turkey.

November 20, 2008

Hyphenation Alienation

I have a friend who recently got married and legally assumed a hyphenated last name. This wouldn't be a big surprise to me at all, if my friend wasn't a male. Yes, he is a guy who hyphenated his last name and, no, he did not marry another guy. I have never seen this before, have you?

I’m all for a woman hyphenating her last name or even keeping her maiden name. That is fine with me. In fact, I have a shitty last name, so I don’t blame any chick for wanting to avoid it. Believe me, I already present enough challenges for any girl who would want to marry me, so there’s no point in making it even worse with tagging her with an 11-letter last name. I've even jokingly said that I would consider switching my last name and taking HER name (assuming I ever got married), in order to lose a few syllables and put an end to years of misspellings on my credit cards. While I guess I would entertain changing my last name (if my parents were dead), the idea of hyphenating it has never occurred to me.

The invention of the hyphenated last name came from women who didn't want to completely switch their last name after getting married. Because of its origins, hyphenated last names have the appearance of being uniquely feminine and, therefore, unsuitable for a man. I’m guessing that this is the number one reason why no guy that I have ever know (except for one!) has ever taken on a hyphenated last name. I also imagine that it’s going to be a bit of a hassle for this guy, not so much because of the obvious jokes he might encounter (“Gee, John, I thought Nancy was the bride, not you!”), but you also probably have to explain it to a million people (for the rest of your life) when you're introduced to them, handing them your business card, etc. Thank goodness his first name is a typical man's name, otherwise I would assume there would be a lot of gender confusion by those who contact him sight unseen.

So why on earth adopt such a troublesome name? I’m assuming that his wife also hyphenated her last name, so maybe they wanted to pair themselves up properly. It's a little weird for the guy I know, because his name is hyphenated in the traditional female style of maiden name first, followed by the groom's name... his real last name isn't even listed first, which is odd. But, again, I’m sure it was done to match the couple up with the same last (hyphenated) name.

So why is it important to have a matched up last name? Someone suggested that it is for when they have kids. The kids would then have two parents with the same last name and the children would also share that same last name. In theory, this sounds sweet, until you think that the kid now has a last name that is double in traditional size, contains a character that is not in the alphabet, and is completely alien from any last name that any other kid has! I’m pretty sure that a hyphenated last name is going to get that kid’s ass kicked at least once on the playground. Also, you know it’s not going to fit on those Scantron forms used to take SATS, etc. I’m no psychologist, but I have to think that this will all result in some developmental setback for the kid. Is it really that alienating and weird for a family to have one last name (the man’s) and the mother can be hyphenated (which the kids will never really see, unless it’s on mail that’s delivered or something). I think that's something the kids can handle much better.

The hyphenation is also a pain in the ass for us adults who have to interact with these people. Before, if a woman hyphenated her last name, that was fine, but you were able to get away with calling them Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But now that they guy has gone and done something crazy with HIS last name, you have to call them Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Jones. The whole thing doesn't seem necessary.

If two gay guys got married, THEN I understand both of them hyphenating their last name. In that situation, you have two men, and traditionally the man retains his name.

Maybe the whole thing of having the woman assume someone else's last name is sexist. I mean, decades ago, it probably made more sense, but today women have established careers, and they may be reluctant to change their “brand” (i.e. last name) and start causing confusion with clients and co-workers. A hyphenation partly helps address that, but again, this decision falls on the shoulders of the female. Guys never even need to think about doing anything with their name to help comply with a newly unionized couple - it's probably sexist that men don't have to consider that. This is why I support a woman keeping her maiden name, or switching it, or even hyphenating it (although I will confess that I think hyphenation kind of reeks of indecision and is the surname equivalent of keeping one foot on either side of the fence). I just don’t know how I feel about a man doing it for all the reasons I have mentioned above.

Think about when the kids with hyphenated names grow up and marry someone. If it was only the mother who hyphenated her name, then the ever-expanding last name stops with her. But if you burden your kids with your hyphenated last name, then we have to be prepared for the idea that those kids will grow up and marry someone. If it’s a daughter, will they take on a triple hyphenation after marriage to someone?? If it’s a son, will his bride hyphenate her last name to come up with her own triple-last-name cocktail? (The son will probably adopt that same triple hyphenation himself, because you beat it into him that mommy and daddy's last names were SO important that they had to combine them when they got married - someone raised in that environment isn't going shorter with a last name, they're going to go longer at any opportunity.) God forbid one hyphenated kid meets and marries another hyphenated kid (they’ll probably meet one another in a Last Name Support Group or something). What happens when these two kids get married?... a QUADRUPLE hyphenated last name?! For god’s sake, we’re setting up a system that will produce humans that sound more like law firms than kids.

And what happens if the parents of a hyphenated kid end up getting a divorce? I’m willing to bet that both the mom and dad will revert back to their original (and single) last name... but the kid stays hyphenated, right? Well, there goes your happy family of “one last name” concept that was seemed to be so critically important. And now the kid has a constant reminder of the failed marriage... it’s right there on his name tag. Hyphenation seems like dangerous territory to me!

November 13, 2008

Cell Phone Earpiece Annoyance

Cell phones are the ultimate in convenience, and I can’t even recall what life was like without them. How did we ever contact one another? How did we find one another when we got separated at the ball game? How did we ever let someone know when we “got there”?

As technology advanced, earpieces were developed for our cell phones. First there was that “talking wire" thing that dangles down someone's chest. That one always really bugged me – there was no way to tell that they were on the phone – they were just talking out loud and murmuring to themselves like homeless people. Of course, you always thought they were talking to you, until you started to ask them, "What?" and then noticed the stupid wire. There is never an actual cell phone in sight. It's amazing that the wire works at all, because it doesn't look like something that would be able to pick up your voice. Of course, not everyone trusts the wire, do they? You always see those people who hold up that little black knot in the wire up to their mouths as they walk around and talk. If that is what you need to do, then just hold up your cell phone to your mouth – don't even bother with the wire, right?

After the invention of the dangling wire, they developed wireless earpieces. I own one of these, and it works really well. But I only put it in my ear when I am making or receiving a call. If I am out in public, I always hold my cell phone out in front of me, so people understand that I am on the phone, and not talking to them. I kind of feel like that is the appropriate cell-phone-earpiece etiquette.

One thing that really bothers me about the wireless earpieces are the people who wear them CONSTANTLY. What's up with that? They are always these big shiny Star Trek looking things. Do you really need to wear it ALL THE TIME? Why? Are you a telephone operator or something? Are you really getting THAT MANY calls that you need to have your cell phone permanently glued to your face? I tend to think that people who walk around constantly wearing the earpiece are really just trying to show off that they own one. At least where I live, this trend or fashion seems to be adopted mostly by one particular race. I guess, in some people's minds, it counts as extra "bling".

I've also noticed that it is mostly guys who constantly wear the earpiece – girls don't really seem to do it much (probably because they are smart enough to know it looks stupid and it isn't a pretty "accessory"). I guess guys use it to show off that they: (1) can afford it; and (2) are so important that they need to be able to be reached at all times (but by who?... believe me, there isn't anyone important trying to call them).

Aside from it being completely unnecessary and stupid-looking (and, therefore, annoying to me), it also is tends to screw up the rest of us. After being fooled for years by the talking wire people, we have learned that when we see the earpiece on someone, everything they are saying is not directed at us – it's directed to the person on the other end of the earpiece. But now we have these guys walking around with earpieces on who aren't actually on a phone call! They come up and talk to us or say something, and then we have to try to guess whether they are REALLY talking to us, or if they are on a phone call. And none of us want to risk being "tricked again" by responding to this person who may or may not be actually talking to us... so we wait it out to see if you say something to us again or maybe we can figure out if you're on a call or not. Screw all that!... we seriously have better things to do! And I have enough stress in my life that I don't need the added anxiety of trying to deal with your earpiece fake out. And I have to ask... doesn't constantly wearing that earpiece eventually start to hurt your ear?? I fucking hate those things. Take it off, stupid.

November 9, 2008

1,000 Hits

Yay! Today the Minister of Common Sense blog has elipsed 1,000 hits! Thanks for your support, and keep spreading the word to your friends!

November 6, 2008

Did "24" Help Obama?

I finished watching the first season of "24" on DVD recently (I know, I know... I'm like the last person in the world to have finally seen it. Whatever.). It's a pretty good show, and the black guy running for president seems like a very strong and determined character... good presidential material. It got me to thinking and it made me wonder whether the TV show "24" had any impact on helping Obama get elected this week.

I'm assuming the black guy in "24" got elected in Season Two, but did the strength of the character and the popularity of the TV show help open America's minds to the possibility of a black president? I'd like to think that we are so evolved that we don't harbor any prejudices, but that isn't true. In fact, I have argued that if you can simply notice that someone is from of a different race, then there is some minute, theoretical discrimination going on inside you (with the definition of discrimination being "the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently"). Doesn't mean you're a bad person or that you are racist - it just means that you may respond fractionally different to a person of a different race, which is just natural... it's just that there are just varying degrees of "responding differently".

However, familiarity will generally reduce that inherent level of "responding differently" (or discrimination) to the point where, hopefully, it's imperceivable. When you meet someone from a different race for the first time, you will likely have a standard reaction (regardless of race), plus an added degree of a different reaction (based on race). That different reaction might range from hatred (real racism) to wondering if their English is any good (ignorance) to wondering if they play basketball (stereotyping) to wondering about the dot on their head (just plain noticing a physical/cultural difference). But then, after three years, perhaps that same person is now your best friend. Any different initial reaction you may have had to them based on their race or culture, has probably melted down to absolutely nothing, or something so minute, it's imperceivable. Perhaps it was almost nothing to begin with, but now it really is nothing - your mind doesn't even register that they are a different race, because you are so familiar with them.

So did the black presidential candidate on "24" help build some familiarity in the voting population to allowed us to view Barack as a normal candidate and evaluate his platform based on its own merits, instead of viewing him as a "black candidate"? Or was the inclusion of a black candidate as a character in the television show a reflection of society's pre-existing belief that we would accept a black president in this day an age? Or does "24" and Obama have absolutely nothing to do with one another? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

There have been a lot of examples in TV where there have been "firsts" that have gone on to shape views in society. If you're old enough, you might remember Hill Street Blues when they showed bare ass on network TV for the first time. That was big deal, and today, you can get away with showing girls in thongs all the time. Also, Ellen coming out of the closet was a big deal, and today gay and lesbian couples enjoy far more freedom and less prejudice than ever before. So I wonder if "24" is one of those steps that helped society evolve a bit.

I won't rant too long on this, because everyone has already beat it to death... but what a horrible, horrible decision McCain made in selecting Palin to be his running mate. Anyone with any kind of brain could have figured out this was going to be disaster. It was very gutsy and actually proved to be very positive for the campaign for about 12 minutes, but even if you were the evil genius who foresaw that, wouldn't you also be smart enough to know that it couldn't possibly last long enough to carry you through to the election? Barack might have beaten McCain under any circumstance, but McCain definitely lost it with that decision to add Palin to the ticket.

There can't possibly be a rationale person in America with an I.Q. over 110 that can honestly say they think Palin is qualified to be Vice President. I'm pretty sure that if you got Palin alone in a room, she would tell you herself that she isn't qualified. None of this is her fault. If McCain or Obama picked me to be their running mate, heck, I would go for it! But I'm going to get destroyed and laughed at - even though I'm highly educated, a good orator, very intelligent and successful - but I'm not qualified to be Vice President. With enough time, I could GET qualified, but I'm not qualified right now. Despite that, if I got the nod from Obama or McCain, I would still give it a try, right? So you can't blame Palin for existing. The mistake wasn't Palin herself; it was the decision to select her. I would pay a lot of money to hear the real true story of how she actually got picked by the Republicans. How did that conversation go? I'm dying to know how they came to the conclusion that Palin actually gave them the best chance to win.

So, like it or not, Obama is our new president. We are in some shitty times right now - my 401(k) is destroyed, I have lots of friends out of work, a have a friend shipping off to Iraq, and this blog is looking more and more like it could my new full-time job. Let's hope for the best over the next four years and give all our support to the new guy in charge, because it's all we got. Even if you don't like the election of Obama, you still have to admit it's a pretty amazing testament to our country... there are people who, in their lifetime, have seen separate water fountains for black people and now a black person as president. I think we can now truly say that you can achieve anything you set your mind to - which is probably a good thing for all of us.

October 30, 2008

It's Not SkyMall!

I spend a lot of time flying, and it is very clear that airports and airplanes are in dire need of improved efficiencies by your Minister of Common Sense. Humans act absolutely atrociously in these environments, and I wrote a posting a few weeks describing The Rules of the Air – it's a must read for anyone who flies. But a new thing happened to me recently on a flight that shocked the shit out of me.

It's actually the second time that this has happened in my life. The first time, I thought it was a complete fluke and would never happen again... and then it did happen again. So now I know that it's not a once-in-a-lifetime event, and maybe it's something happening with frightening frequency. Perhaps it has happened to you. Perhaps you are the person doing it.

I was on a plane and had purchased some magazines to read on the flight. I put them in the pouch on the seatback in front of me. I was in the window seat in coach, and there was a guy in his 20s sitting in the middle seat next to me. I started reading a book that I had brought along, and I was saving the magazines for later in the flight. After about an hour into the flight, the guy in the middle seat suddenly leans across and picks one of my magazines out of the pouch in front of me and starts reading it!

I was shocked and incredulous. The magazine was Maxim and, in disbelief, I exclaimed, "Dude!" He said, "Oh, is this yours?" I said, "Uh, yeah!" I then went on to say that he could read it, which (unfortunately) is the only decent thing you can do after someone hijacks your magazine. He read it and then put it back (with his goddamn greasy fingerprints all over it).

So let me ask you - why the fuck did this person think they could take and read that magazine? There is no acceptable explanation for this. It's wrong on so many levels. Let's break it down... first of all, the magazines were not in a common area for anyone to take. This is not a doctor's office – it is an airplane and it's my pouch. That pouch is part of my territory and my area. Anything in it is mine... even if I don't own it or didn't put it there. You wouldn't crumple up trash and lean over and put it in the pouch of the person next to you, would you? So if you wouldn't feel right putting something IN someone's pouch, then why do you feel right taking something OUT of it? To further illustrate the personal space territory argument, the pouch is like 3 inches away from my knee. This guy's hand got dangerously close to me, and it's just unacceptable. I didn't get an "excuse me" or anything.

Even if you were of the mind that the pouch wasn't a person's private area, then what on earth makes you think that Continental suddenly started putting Maxim magazines on their planes?? It's not SkyMall, it's Maxim! And, you know what?... even if it WAS SkyMall, you STILL can't take it! If you had the shit-ass unfortunate luck of not getting a SkyMall in your pouch, that's your problem. You can't suddenly take mine, despite it being a free magazine. Now, you CAN take it from me if I hadn't gotten to my seat yet (similar to how you can take the one blanket that is in a row of seats, even if it's not on your seat, provided no one else is there yet – but you can't take the blanket off someone's lap, once they sit down and claim it).

If you know that SkyMall is a universe magazine that is supposed to be in everyone's pouch, and you don’t have one, and you want it, then you ASK to borrow it, don't you?? How do you not ask me for the magazine?? Instead, this guy leaned over and just took my Maxim without saying a word. I just don't know how to explain this. Let's assume that it's common knowledge that the airplane is stocked with free, random magazines - like a doctor's office. If you sat down and saw that the guy's pouch next to you had a Maxim, and you didn't, wouldn't you think to yourself, "Damn! That guy got all the best magazines, and I got shit!" Then you would wait a minute or two to see if they guy was going to read it. If he didn't, then you would ask him, "Excuse me, do you mind if I read this?" And you would hover your hand over the magazine of interest and wait for his response, right? Mind you, this is all assuming that the magazines are known to common property, which they aren't. But my point is that I didn't get any of that! The guy didn't act properly if he thought the magazine was owned by me AND he didn't act properly if he thought the magazine was common property. It wasn't like the guy was an asshole, either. He was a normal, seemingly nice guy, who clearly wasn't aware that what he was doing was wrong. Which I think is even worse than KNOWING it was wrong and doing it because of selfish reasons. This guy was just plain stupid and ignorant of the laws of common sense and society.

Like I said before, if it only happened once, then I would just have to assume that the guy was new to being a human being and it was just a freak occurrence. But, this is the SECOND time that someone has leaned over and taken my magazine out of my pouch without asking (and the other time it was a woman in her 40s, so there is no rhyme or reason to it). And I know it's happened to at least one other person, too. This act is inconsiderate, rude, stupid, an invasion of private space and STEALING. It breaks like six rules of common sense and human decency all in one fell swoop.

And while I'm on the topic - who are the people who knowingly get on a multi-hour flight and bring NOTHING to read with them (aside form an illiterate person and someone who is going to put on the headphones and obnoxiously laugh out loud while watching the movie)? Who puts themselves in that position? Who doesn't have the foresight and thinks to themselves, "Gee, I'm about to have to sit in the same seat for hours and hours... I think I'll just walk on empty handed." Do you know who does that?... a complete idiot who thinks he will read the magazines in other people's pouches.

October 23, 2008

"Reply to All" Emails

The Minister of Common Sense loves email. In fact, I rather write email to people instead of talking to them under just about any circumstance. It's a better form of communication in nearly every way, not the least of which is being able to avoid directly dealing with someone. I would have sex via email, if it was possible. HOWEVER... I hate people who needlessly "Reply to All" on big group emails.

It starts with someone who writes an email to a big bunch of people, and then people start responding... to everyone... over and over again. The biggest abuse is when someone sends a group email saying something like, "I'm collecting money for John's birthday gift. For anyone who wants to contribute $20, let me know and we'll pool together the funds and get a gift certificate to Best Buy." Then the Reply to All emails start to pour in with comments like, "Count me in!" or "OK, where do I send the money?" and "Can I give you the money at the party?" I don't need to hear all that! Your emails don't have any bearing on whether or not I'm going to give $20. I'm also not the one collecting the money or buying the gift certificate. The proper response in this situation is to reply ONLY to the original sender. So why do people feel the need to Reply to All? After 15 minutes, my inbox is flooded with pointless, "Count me in!" emails. There are 100 examples of this type of abuse.

You can find some horrible examples of Reply to All failures at work, too. Let's say that human resources department sends around a company-wide email about making your health insurance elections online through the company's intranet site. Invariably, some idiot manages to Reply to All with "How do you log in?" or something like that. Why do I need to see that?? Why did you send it to EVERYONE in the whole fucking company?! If you don't know how to log in, then just respond to the HR person directly and ask them. I'm not going to tell you how to log in - I probably don't even know who you are. And if you're stupid enough to not know how to log in AND to not know how to properly use Reply and Reply to All functions in email, then I'm certainly not going to help you. When this happens, HR should just automatically fire them. In fact, they should occasionally send around emails that try to entrap people into improperly using
the Reply to All function, just so we can cull the employee base of people who are too stupid to work for us.

It's amazing when you see these Reply to All emails and you know the person probably didn't mean to do it, but how does this physically/mentally happen? I don't understand it. The Reply and Reply to All buttons are two separate selections (albeit, next to one another on Outlook). I would think that the natural, default response to an email is to reflexively hit the Reply button (and not the Reply to All button). I would think that there are many more Replies to emails when you meant to Reply to All (under appropriate circumstances), but how does it happen the other way around? You actually have to go out of your way to hit the Reply to All button. On a Blackberry, the Reply selection is the default, and the Reply to All is three wheel clicks away... how do you land there on a big group email?

Of course, sometimes it is OK to Reply to All on emails that are to 3-4 people, and when you are all collaborating on something together or whatever. It can be a useful function when a group opinion is required, or everyone needs to know what the others are doing. But, let's start using the Reply to All function a little more judiciously, especially on those big group or organization-wide emails.

The email sender can take a little responsibility for this, too, and bcc people (instead of cc people) on big group emails where you know that there is no reason for anyone to Reply to All. The bcc only allows them to respond to you, and not to everyone else. But I'm not going to sit here and teach a class on how to use Microsoft Outlook - I only teach Common Sense 101 (and many of you are failing).

While I'm on the topic of emails and replies, there is one thing that really annoys me, and that is when people add others on their response back to you. You may write a work email to one person, typically asking a question, and then they respond to you with the answer and needlessly cc some other person on it (usually their boss or your boss). What the fuck? I directly asked YOU a question, if I wanted to ask the other person, or let them know about it, then I would have included them on the original email. What, you have to tell your daddy that you are communicating with me and what you are up to? I can't imagine all the pointless cc emails that get sent every day. Just stop it already.

October 16, 2008

Blockbuster Ballbusting

I am one of the last people in the country who physically goes to Blockbuster to rent a movie, instead of using Netflix or whatever. I'm beginning to see the appeal of Netflix - if only because you have don't have to deal with people.

I went to Blockbuster the other day and strolled up to the checkout counter where this older, gray-haired lady is ringing people out. She is apparently the manager or something, because she's WAY TOO into it. She's like the Blockbuster equivalent of the Starbucks' barista... very excited to be there and very excited to tell you about their new orange mango hazelnut frappuccino, or, in this case, the Blockbuster Rewards Card.

As she's ringing me out, she asks, "Do you have a Blockbuster Rewards Card?" Fuck. As soon as I hear this at any store, my shoulders slump and I close my eyes, because I just know where it is headed. With a defeated and annoyed sigh, I respond, "No." Without knowing anything about the rewards card, I know I don't want it. Actually, what I WANT is to not be hassled with this shit.

She proceeds to rapid-fire tell me something like, "It's our new program that lets you earn a free rental with every four Blockbuster rentals you make, plus you earn points toward [whatever-the-fuck-it-is]." I half-listen to the spiel and then politely say, "No thanks." You know what happens next, right? She says, "Are you sure? It's free to sign up." I try to push my money into her hand while saying, "No, that's OK." Plus, there are other people waiting in line behind me - they don't want to be dealing with this delay either.

You think this would be the end of it, right? But she doesn't quit. She notices that I'm renting Season One of The Office and says, "Are you sure?? You can get substantial savings if you are going to rent lots of these videos." For God's sake! I respond, "No, no. It's fine. That's OK." What I really want to say is, "Listen, lady, I make enough money that I don't give a damn about saving $3.99 every six months or whatever. I don't want to fill out any fucking forms. You know what I want? I want a rapid checkout. Just let me rent the video and move on with my life. How much do I have to pay for that? What rewards program can I sign up to get that? Don't fucking talk to me, just tell me what I owe."

I know that Blockbuster has probably run all the statistical models that show that people who have the rewards card probably rent more often from them or whatever. But I have to endure this third-degree from this particular lady every time I go there. It's gotten to the point that when I see the lady at the counter, I will purposely wait for the next checkout person. Anymore of this, and I will switch to Netflixs. Maybe Blockbuster should factor that into their model.

October 9, 2008

Pharmacy Farce

The Minister of Common Sense just got back from the pharmacy where I picked up two prescriptions. I can't figure out why the hell it takes SO LONG for them to fill these things. I went in the middle of the day on a Monday, and there was literally no other customers there. I gave them the prescriptions and said I would wait for it. Thirty minutes later, I was still waiting. What the hell?!

My prescriptions included 30 pills and a bottle of lotion (don't ask what I have, just know that it's not contagious). How long does it take to count 30 pills and grab a bottle of lotion off the shelf... maybe 90 seconds? So how does this whole thing manage to turn into 30-minute ordeal? If you put me behind the counter, I'd take your order, throw the stuff in a bag and hand it to you. How hard is that?

Pharmacies should be like fast food restaurants. At least at McDonald's they actually MAKE the food. Pharmacies aren't in the back cooking up the medicine or mixing the shit they put in the capsules, are they? So then why does it take so long?

Maybe they do it on purpose. I think a pharmacy takes so long to fill your order because they want you to think they are more important than they really are. I mean, what does a pharmacist actually do? They are professional pill counters, aren't they? Where is the skill, science (and time) required to do that? Now that computers can print out the description and directions for the medicine, what purpose does the pharmacist really serve at this point? Of course, you can't really complain to them because we're all too afraid they will intentionally mess up your order and give you pills that make you fat or something - the pharmaceutical equivalent of spitting in your food.

Sometimes there are other customers waiting there (so instead of taking 90 seconds to get your order, maybe it should take 4 minutes), and even though they give you a computer printout with all the instructions, they still shout out to you, "Here is your [insert embarrassing medicine], Mr. Smith. Have you taken this before?" You want to say yes to get out of there, but if you say no, then they embarrass you by saying, "You rectally insert it every three hours" or "Your Asian Mad Cow Rash should clear up in four days". Of course, there is a group of customers sitting around, who have been waiting for 30 minutes with nothing better to do than to listen to all this and judge you.

Why hasn't the whole pharmacy system been replaced by giant vending machines by now? You should be able to walk up, insert your prescription slip with a bar code on it (with the doctor's name, insurance info, prescription and your information) into the machine. The machine would then dispense the pills into a bottle and slap a label on it. Done. It would be infinity quicker, less costly (bye bye, pharmacists), and more accurate (no human error). If the industry still wanted to humiliate us, the vending machine could have an electronic voice that says, "Good luck with your gonorrhea, and thank you for shopping at Walgreens" after you pay.

On another note, aren't you surprised that the pharmacy always seems to have the medicine for your prescription? How is this possible? There has to be a million different kinds of medicines in the world, yet they always seem to have them all on hand. Maybe I've never had an ailment bad enough that it required some exotic medicine (thank god), but when have you ever gone to the pharmacy and had them say, "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't have this. We'll have to special order it"? I find that amazing.

October 2, 2008

Rules of the Air

As the Minister of Common Sense, I spend a lot of time hating people while I'm on an airplane. I'm not sure what it is, but people become surprisingly more stupid and inconsiderate while at the airport or while sitting on a plane. I log about 100,000 miles a year in the air, and until the The Ministry buys me my own private jet, I am stuck interacting with these "people" (I just spat on the ground). As your trusty public servant, I am posting the following Rules of the Air. You are now free to move about the cabin.

(1) Don't set off the metal detector. It's a METAL DETECTOR, PEOPLE! The name of the machine is pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? Then why are there always people who walk through it, set it off, then act all surprised as they take off their watch, giant belt buckle, big bracelet, etc.? For God's sake, just think about it next time, would you?? (I'm not going to even bother getting into the topic of laptops and liquids... let's just try for the basics right now.)

(2) Wait for your section/row to be called before trying to board the plane. In a classic move, the gate agent announces boarding and everyone rushes to the entrance of the jetway. If you have flown before, then you know this is not how it works. If you are so undeveloped as a human being that you have ever "rode the plane", then think about it... don't you believe that there are people who are "better" than you? We live in a commercial world with classes. When have you, Mr. First Time Flyer, ever been allowed to be first for anything in your life? Well, it's not starting now. The people in First Class board first, then the airline's frequent flyers, then specific rows or sections. There are people who paid a lot more money than you to take this flight, and they get to board first. If you are NOT one of the sections/people that they letting board first, then STAND WELL CLEAR of the boarding area. There are people behind you that can't get on the plane because your Priceline ass is in the way. Oh, and while I'm at it, for those of you who are ESL (English is a Second Language), don't pretend like you don't know any English, act all confused, and try to board first when they are calling first class. I see this all the time, and we are on to your tricks - we won't let you board. This isn't a toilet paper line in Russia - we have rules.

(3) Don't talk to the person sitting next to you. If English IS your first language, don't use it and talk to me when I sit next to you. If you want to say "Hey" and give me a little head nod when you sit down to prove you are not a hijacker, that's cool - but don't try to engage me in a conversation. I'm being FORCED to sit next to you - I didn't ELECT to sit next to you - it's not an invitation to talk. And if someone is READING, then DEFINITELY don't talk to them. Reading a book on an airplane is a defense mechanism to MAKE SURE you don't talk to us. Sometimes, a good conversation may develop on a plane, but if the person is responding to you in monosyllables, then guess what?... they're not interested. I'm sorry other people in your life aren't interested in talking to you, but don't try to practice on me. If people in your life aren't interested in talking to you, then I am for damn sure not interested. My heart goes out to pretty girls on planes... I see that they are especially subjected to unwanted "stranger talk". Here is a hint to all the guys who try to talk to them... they are not going to sleep with you. In fact, they hate you.

(3b) Don't talk loudly. The plane is like a library. People are reading. People don't really want to be there. They are trying to ENDURE the hours. We don't want to hear anything that we didn't initiate. If you must talk to someone you know (or you found someone actually willing to listen to you), then speak softly.

(4) Don't fucking touch my seat. Why do people feel the need to grab and shake the seat in front of them when they are getting in and out of their own seat? I know it's a tight fit, but please appreciate that I CAN FEEL THAT! My seatback is not some crutch for you to use to stand up. And it's not like they just lean or pull against it for a second, it seems like they feel the need to shake it violently. Are you having problems getting up?... then you are too fucking fat. Not my problem.

(5) No babies in First Class. One of the benefits of buying a first class seat is that you are away from the masses... especially crying babies. Nothing ruins First Class more than having a crying baby one row away from you. I don't care how rich you are, if you have a baby, you can't buy a First Class seat. If you have a baby with you on a long flight (in First Class or Coach) then at least have the decency to slip it a little Benadryl and make all our lives better.

(6) When exiting the aircraft, people in the row in front of you get to exit first. I am all for boarding and exiting the plane as smoothly and efficiently as possible, but this does not mean you get to try to sneak past me while I'm getting my bag down from the overhead bin. If someone is really delaying or taking their time getting out of the row in front of you, then that is one thing. But, if they are exiting the row and getting their bag in a normal fashion, then you have to give them the two seconds it takes to get out. I give a hard body check to people who try to sneak past me in the aisle, and I let my elbows fly wide when getting my bag from the overhead bin. Anything that happens to you is your own fault.

(7) Don't play your iPod too loud through your headphones. First of all, you are damaging your ears, and it doesn't need to be THAT loud. Secondly, I can hear your goddamn music, and I hate it. The sole purpose of the headphone is so that ONLY YOU can hear it. Let's try to keep it that way, OK? We all hated people who would carry around boomboxes before the invention of the headphone, so don't make your iPod so loud that it becomes a mini boombox.

(8) The middle seat gets the armrests on both sides of their seat. We all know that it sucks to be in the middle seat. With that in mind, the aisle and window people need to relinquish the shared armrests to the middle seat person - they get the right of first refusal. The aisle and window seat people have more room than the middle seat and they have their own armrest, so let the middle seat people claim the "joint armrest" between you.

(8a) Stay in your airspace. If I let you use the armrest, then stay on the armrest and don't cross over into my air space. If your arm is touching mine, then you know you are too far over, and you should quickly retreat. Why is it that people don't move away from you when their leg/arm starts to lean against yours on an airplane? I hate that.

(9) Don't recline like you are in a La-Z-Boy. I will admit that you have the right to recline your seat, but do it SLOWLY. Don't hit the button and leap back at a 100 miles an hour. There is not a lot of room back here, and your seatback infringes on my tray table, headspace, laptop, etc. Doing a slow, controlled recline gives me warning and allows me to prepare for the intrusion. Doing it fast will slam my laptop shut, spill my drink and hit my head. Another rule is that you really shouldn't recline on flights less than two hours. Although I will acknowledge that it is your "right" to recline, it really isn't necessary for short flights. Don't make the flight worse for me by needlessly reclining... or doing a full 100% recline, try it halfway and see how it feels.

(10) Board as quickly as possible. When getting on the plane, please put your bag in the overhead bin in a rapid fashion and MOVE OUT OF THE AISLE! It shocks me to see tons of people put their bag up, then fidget around needlessly before getting into their seat and getting out of the way. It's like the whole drive-thru problem I blogged about earlier... people place their order at the intercom and then (now that they are done their business) don't pull all the way up to the car in front of them, completely ignorant to the fact that they are screwing up everyone behind them. The same is true on a plane - people don't get out of the aisle, once they have gotten to their seat and put their bag up in storage. YOU HAVE TO MOVE to allow for the other 200 miserable people to get on the plane and achieve an ontime departure. The flight attendants are constantly on the mic telling people to move out of the aisle, yet it never seems to sink it. And while you're at it, make sure you are in the right row and seat. There are signs and diagrams showing the row number and that seat A is the window, etc... just get it right, for God's sake.

I am sure I could make a list of 100 rules, and I probably left some important ones out. I'd love to hear from you as to what I missed. There are special, completely obnoxious things that have happened to me while on a plane, but they deserve their own postings. Coming soon.

September 25, 2008

Massages Are Not Relaxing

The Minister of Common Sense got a massage the other day. They are supposed to be relaxing, but I don’t think they are. I mean, the first thing that happens is they send you to the locker room to change into the robe and flip flops that they give you. That would be fine, if you didn't have to try to time your nudity to avoid other people. I went into the locker room and, thankfully, I was the only one in there. However, I heard the shower running, so I knew there was at least other nude dude around somewhere. No one likes to get naked in front of strangers in these situations. So now I have to contend with changing out of my clothes and into the robe. Do I dilly dally to see if the guy gets out of the shower right away, and then I can see where he goes so I can avoid him? Or do I rush to get changed now while he’s still in the shower and hope that I beat him into the robe before he comes out? But if I wait a few moments to get changed, then that increases the probability of someone else walking in. I decide to rush and immediately strip down to nothing and quickly wrap the robe around me. I manage to get the robe on while the guy was still in the shower and with no one else walking in on me, which is a big relief. The massage hasn't even started yet, but I've already gone though one of the most-stressful moments of my week.

And it’s not like I’m ashamed of my body or that I am “small” or anything like that. Believe me, my body is way better than 90% of Americans (which I know which isn't saying much). It’s just that it's awkward and weird being in a group of strange, naked men. No one really likes it. It’s like everyone’s trying not to look at one another and trying to act like no one else is in the room, but everyone IS in the room, and everyone is trying to look to see if anyone else is looking, but you’re not supposed to be looking, but you have to see where you are walking... it’s just a stupid, impossible situation.

Anyway, after the awkward nudity that the spa forces you to endure, they make you sit in some kind of fancy waiting room with plants and running water and other people in robes sitting around. I want to get a massage NOW – at my appointed time – I don’t want to sit and “relax” in your “Garden of Tranquility” or whatever the hell they call it. In fact, there is nothing relaxing about that room at all. You sit in this small room, wearing a robe (which is already awkward), pretending to read Home & Garden or some other bullshit magazine, with other robe people sitting around... it’s just weird. And if the setting isn't weird and stressful enough, then there is the stress of waiting to see which masseuse will come out and call your name.

I think I speak for all straight guys when I say we want at least a semi-decent-looking female masseuse. It’s not that we think “something will happen” during the massage, or that we'll get a "happy ending"... it’s just that a massage is nicer if it’s someone we don't mind touching our bodies. When the husky, old woman masseuse walks out to get someone, I hold my breath until she calls someone else’s name... then I sit there anxiously waiting to see what the next masseuse will look like and what name she will call. Once again, this is not a relaxing process. And what if a MAN comes out and calls my name?? I specified that I wanted a female, but mistakes can happen during the reservation process, right? What if a guy comes out for me? I mean, I can’t really say to him (in front of everyone), “Oh, no, sorry, I wanted a female.” Everyone will stare at me as I spoil the Garden of Tranquility with homophobia. And for the female clients, it’s not that they are afraid of looking homophobic – it’s the opposite – they are afraid of appearing too heterosexual. I get the sense that women are generally OK with either a female or male masseuse, but if they ask for a male and they get a female by mistake, they can’t say out loud that they wanted a male, everyone will think, “Oh!... Look what she’s after with her 'massage', hmmm!” The point is that this whole masseuse delivery process is riddled with uncertainty and anxiety for both men and women.

Once your masseuse comes and claims you, they guide you to the room where they explain a few things. You know they are going to eventually leave the room to let you take off your robe and allow you to get naked under the sheets, but there is always those few seconds when they don’t leave right away, and you’re thinking to yourself, “OK, OK, I know what to do – now get out, lady.” Finally they leave, then comes the stressful moment of whether or not you will be able to take off the robe and get under the sheets quick enough. You know the masseuse is going to come back very soon (after all, how long does it take to remove a robe and get under a sheet?). In fact, she is probably standing right outside the door with her hand on the knob. I tried to remove my robe quickly, but I fumbled with the knot (which was probably tangled up after the paranoid and hasty tie job I did in the locker room). Anyway, it took WAY too long to get the robe off, so then I’m rushing over to the massage table, frantically trying to get in it. But the sheet is tucked in too tight, so I’m standing there naked, scratching and clawing at the table, desperately trying to find a seam in the dim lighting. Meanwhile, I know the seconds are ticking away, and the masseuse is going to bust in at any moment. However, I managed to get under the sheets in time. My heart was pounding as my face was down in that holding contraption... not exactly a “relaxing” moment, right? How much am I paying for all this??

And that face-holding contraption is never comfortable, is it? I bob my head up and down on it several times, trying to get a good “fit” and it never happens. Once I’m totally uncomfortable, I can feel the creases beginning to form on my face from the wrinkles in the sheet/face/contraption thing. They put a flower on the floor to look at, but I can never see it because the sheet from the contraption covers my eyes. I must have a malformed head or something.

So then the supposedly real "relaxing" part begins – the actual massage. But it's always a little awkward because you worry about so many things. First of all, will she accidentally (or purposely??) touch your privates? What do you do, if that happens? Or what do you do if you get aroused?? And they move that sheet around you, near you ass, and you just know that they are looking. Are you supposed to say anything during the massage? It’s so quiet. Are you supposed to give verbal feedback, one way or the other? Maybe you start to moan in pleasure to let them know they are doing a good job, but it probably comes across as totally creepy. Sometimes the masseuse talks to you when you don’t want them to. Or they ask you a question, but you can’t hear what they are saying because your face is in the contraption, so you have to immediately decide to either say, “uh, yeah” (without really knowing what they asked) or crane your neck upward and ask, “What did you say?” and now you're in a whole awkward conversation.

They make you flip over at some point and your eyes are closed. She is rubbing your legs or whatever, and I always want to open my eyes, but I fear that if I open my eyes, I will see her staring off into space, with a totally bored look on her face, which will completely ruin everything for me. Or worse, she will have a look of complete disgust on her face. Even if that’s not the case, and I look at her, she will be thinking, “Why is this guy looking at me??” Then she’ll ask if everything is alright, and now I’m back in that awkward conversation thing. So, I clench my eyes even tighter, out of fear of accidentally opening them, which makes my face scrunch up, which makes her quietly ask, “Is evye hinde troyt?”, to which I have to respond, “Uh, yeah” or “What did you say?”

So once the whole thing is over (whew, what a relief!), she then says some stuff which you still can’t hear, and she leaves the room. So you get up and get the robe back on. Then you are sitting there trying to remember if she said she would come back with the water or do you come out to get the water or what exactly happens next? So you open the door and peek out and there is no one in the hall. So you quickly shut the door and stand there, getting more and more anxious with every second. Maybe you are supposed to go to the front desk? Where IS the front desk? Is she coming back? What if another massage patient comes in? Soon, you are just as uptight and stressed out as you were before you even arrived.

Just when you are about to give up and get back under the sheets, the masseuse returns and takes you back to the dreaded locker room, where she invites you to use the sauna or steam room. I should have just left at this point, but I thought the sauna or steam room would help relax me after a stressful massage. I rush out of my robe and into a towel (again, trying to be as quick as possible to avoid everyone). There is a steam room and a sauna room – both have glass windows. I don’t really want to be in either of these rooms with anyone else, and I can’t confirm if there is anyone in the steam room (because the steam clouds my view), so I choose to go into the sauna (which is empty). But are you supposed to go in there with a towel or naked? I never know the rules for these things. I elect to go in with a towel (which I think is the right thing to do). So I’m sitting in there alone, FINALLY relaxing a little, when in walks a guy who is completely naked. Great. Of course, I can’t rush out, because that would be weird, too. But it’s also weird that I have a towel on and he doesn't. So I have to sit there for a few awkward minutes before finally leaving, making one last rapid towel-to-clothes exchange, and eventually get out of there. So I ask you, what is remotely relaxing about a massage??

September 18, 2008


There are two consecutive doors that lead into the entrance of the Ministry. I always question the appropriate etiquette when passing through these doors with other people.

There is one set of swinging glass doors, followed immediately by another set of glass doors that are only about 15 feet away. (I’m not sure what the logic is of having these double doors – maybe it’s to help for climate control or to prevent stuff from being blown in by the wind. I’ll have to look into the common sense of it all when I get some free time, because it’s damn annoying having to open two doors to get in and out everyday). Anyway, the doors are really heavy, and it’s kind of difficult to open them. So when someone is in front of me, and they hold the door until I can put my own hand on it, I always say thank you. Not a big, loud “THANK YOU!”, like they just did me the biggest favor in the world, but a simple, quiet “thanks”. I don’t expect them to say “You’re absolutely welcome” or anything like that – that type of exchange would begin to constitute a conversation, and I don’t really like people all that much, so I’m happy to steer clear of that. But sometimes they say “sure” or “no problem” or something, which is fine.

So if I say “thanks,” then I sure as hell expect others to say “thanks” when I hold the door for them. It irks me so much when I stop my walk and hold open this heavy-ass door for them for a second, only to not get a thank you. It makes me feel like such a fool and a sucker. If I don’t get a thank you on the first door, then I let the second door swing back on them, and they can deal with it themselves. Sometimes I think I hear them mumble a thank you, but I’m not really sure. When that happens, I only have 15 feet (or about 2.5 seconds) to make a decision how to handle the second door. In those circumstances, I usually hold it open again, to err on the side of caution. But if I sense a bad attitude, I might just let them deal with the second door on their own.

The double doors are so heavy and such a hassle that I time my walk based on the proximity of people around me. If I’m headed for the doors, and there is someone close behind me, I will often speed up my walk a bit to create enough space in between us so that I’m out of the range that would obligate me to hold the door open for them. Conversely, I will speed up my walk, if I see someone in front of me, so that I can quickly catch the open door behind them and not create one of those awkward moments where you are well behind the person, but they think you are in the range that obligates them to hold the door, then you see them standing there with the door open for seconds and seconds, and you have to make that mini-jog move to get to the door quickly, then you DO have to give them a big “THANK YOU!”, which is all just exhausting, so I try to avoid it. If I’m behind someone, and I think I’m on the border of the range of obligation, I will slow down big time (sometimes I even come to a full stop) in order to create a ton of space between me and the person in front of me, so that there is no doubt that they should NOT hold the door for me. I’d rather stand there and let them walk way ahead of me, rather than feel like I owe them something because they played doorman.

But getting back to the etiquette question and saying thank you – do you need to say “thank you” twice (once for each of the two doors that are held)? I go back and forth on this. If I say thank you on the first door that is held for me, and I feel like it’s heard and respected, then I might not say thanks again for the second door, which is only two seconds later. I feel it’s a little repetitive and unnecessary. They get the picture – I’m grateful – I didn't suddenly become ungrateful in the two seconds in between doors.

If I’m the one holding the doors, I definitely care if I hear a thank you on the first door, but I’m not expecting it (or needing it) on the second door. In fact, if I do get a thank you on the second door, it starts to be too much, and now I feel obligated to them to give them a big “you’re welcome” and all that crap.

It’s like when the guy around you sneezes, and you say “god bless you”, and then they sneeze right away again. You want to say “god bless you again”, but then you’re wondering if they have a third sneeze in them, and how much longer will this all go on. If you say the second “god bless you”, then you are committed, and I think you have to stick out the god bless yous or at least fain interest as they go on their sneeze run. I try to split the two strategies and give one initial “god bless you,” followed by a “god bless you, AGAIN!” and if there is a third sneeze, I usually say, “oh my!” and I get the hell out of there (for health reasons and because I have better things to do than to religiously preside over the guy’s allergies).

So, as for the doors, I think the proper etiquette is to say thanks for the first door held, but it is entirely optional for the second door. As for the door holder, it is entirely their option whether they say “you’re welcome” for the thank you(s) they receive, or they can say nothing at all. It is appropriate for the door holder to save up their welcomes and roll it all into one “you’re welcome” after the second door, but it is NOT appropriate for the person who is having the doors held open for them to save their “thank you” for one big one at the end. I never get to hear that anyway, as by that time, I’m letting the second door swing back on them. That is my common sense ruling on the matter.

September 11, 2008

Cell Phones in Elevators

People kill me. They just, plain kill me. How many times do we (as a society) need to complain about people and their cell phones in order for the idiots to finally “get it” and stop annoying the hell out of all of us? Here at the Ministry, we have issued so many bulletins on this topic, I can’t even keep up with all the button pushing that needs to happen to non-conformers.

Using a cell phone in an elevator is a classic example. It is the height of rudeness and arrogance to get on an elevator while talking on your cell phone, and it’s jaw-dropping how many people do it every day. And it’s always the same situation and conversation... the person gets on the elevator (filled with other people) and they are talking loudly on their cell phone. You all know what happens next, right?... the person says to the other person on the other line, “I just got on an elevator, so I might lose you.”

OK, so if you know you “might lose” the person on the other end of the line, then why are getting on the elevator in the first place?? If you are talking to the person on a cell phone then, by definition, you DON’T want to lose that person (otherwise, you would have ended the call already). So, if you don’t WANT to lose that person, then why are you willingly engaging in an activity that will almost certainly guarantee that you WILL lose them?? It’s fucking stupid. And I love it when they say, “I MIGHT lose you” – of course you will lose them! When has anyone ever been in an elevator and NOT lost them? It’s a goddamn given. Cell phones barely work outside, so what is it about getting inside a moving steel box surrounded by concrete that makes you think your cell phone will work?

The next stage in the cell-phone-elevator conversation is just as predictable. The cell phone user plays that game with themselves when they say (over and over again), “Hello?” “Are you there?” “Hello?” No, they are not there. You KNEW they would not be there – you even told them so yourself a second ago!

I haven’t even gotten to the part where all of this is totally annoying and rude to the other people on the elevator. I don’t want to hear your fucking conversation. In fact, I don’t want to hear anything at all. Have you ever noticed how quiet it is on an elevator with people in it? Why do you think that is? We weren’t taught to not talk on an elevator, it just feels like the right thing to do, right? That’s because it IS the right thing to do! The decision to be quiet on an elevator is just naturally “in us”. It’s innate. It’s natural. And some people are missing that gene, which just shocks the shit out of me.

One time, I would like to be on an elevator when it’s just me and the cell phone guy. And while he’s trying to talk on the phone, I’m going to start talking really loudly to no one in particular in order to mess up his call. Me talking out loud to no one is essentially the same thing that he is doing to me. (Of course, I won’t need to mess up his call - the bricks and mortar will do that on their own).

So, if you are talking on a cell phone, don’t get on the elevator! It’s so simple. We don’t want you on the elevator because you will annoy everyone. But even if you’re selfish and don’t care about other people, you shouldn’t want to get on the elevator because you will drop your call. Why would anyone ever decide to get on an elevator while on a cell phone? It’s illogical, stupid and rude – and I push the button on them all.

September 4, 2008

Drive-Thru Stupidity

I usually go to a Starbucks drive-thru before going to the Ministry, and I find it astounding that people fail to properly navigate it.

The shocking thing is that people often place their order at the intercom, then they don't pull up all the way to the car in front of them. This prevents me (or the next person in line) from pulling directly up to the intercom in order to place an order. Why on earth do people do this?? Certainly they have been subject to the same problem by other people who didn't pull up properly in the past visits, so why aren't they aware of this and correct the error within themselves?

Drive-thrus are built to handle an exact amount of automobiles between the order intercom and the pickup window, so if people consume more space than necessary by leaving a gap in front of them, then all the cars are misaligned after them and it screws everyone up.

I'm not sure if this is specific to my city or area, or perhaps it happens in other parts of the country. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I also find that it particularly happens in the morning at this Starbucks. It doesn't seem to happen at lunch at Taco Bell or other places. And it's not the shape of this particular Starbucks drive-thru that is the problem - yes, there is a curve to it, but just about every drive-thru has a curve somewhere between the order intercom and the pick-up window. Is it because it's the morning?? More than likely it's because people are just plain stupid.

When it happens, I can clearly see that they are not properly pulled up to the car in front of them. I would love to lay on the horn and get them to correct their idiocy, but at this point, the hood of my car is lined up with the intercom, so I know that if I did beep (obnoxiously), it would blow the eardrums out of the poor 16-year old girl on the headset inside. So all I can do is yell out the window, "PULL THE FUCK UP!". This has mixed results.

I would just love to poll these people after they are finished getting their order and ask them what the hell they are thinking. Are they completely ignorant that they screwed everything up for everyone behind them? Are they only interested in placing their order, then they forget the impact that their actions might have on everyone else afterwards? Are they "afraid" of pulling too close to the car in front of them?

I'm telling you, this happens just about every day - the consistency of their failure is infuriating, and I'm getting sick of all the resulting paperwork that I need to file first thing in the morning when I get to the Ministry. I have your license plate numbers, people.

August 28, 2008

Is Phelps Phony?

My purview as Minister of Common Sense extends to many corners of society, including sports. I watched the Olympics with great interest, especially as Michael Phelps pursued his historical, record-setting eight gold medals. However, I got to thinking... and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe all the hype surrounding his achievements are overblown.

Phelps is being lauded as either the “greatest Olympian ever” or the “greatest athlete ever” (depending on who you talk to, and some people think he is both). These titles are being bestowed on Phelps because of the amazing number of gold medals he won in Beijing. But, did he really win “eight” gold medals or just “one”?

I mean, it’s swimming. He’s a great swimmer. I get that. But do we really need all those different swimming events and strokes? At its most basic, a swimming race is two people in a body of water trying to go from point A to point B in the least amount of time. Who cares how you get there? Why do we need the freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly? It’s like losing a foot race to someone and then saying, “OK, let’s race again... but this time we have to run sideways!” The dude is faster than you, and he just proved it, so who cares if you are a faster sideways runner than him? If you both had to race to the last lifejacket on the Titanic, guess what?... you’re not going to get it. We don’t have sideways running, so why do we have the butterfly?

If someone is a fast runner, I’m willing to bet he’s also a pretty fast sideways runner, too. Just as Phelps is a fast freestyle swimmer, he’s also pretty good at all the other hokey swim strokes. Given all the different swimming strokes, distances and relays, there were 17 opportunities to win a gold medal as a male swimmer in Beijing. That is almost as much as track & field (24), and track & field has everything from walking to the long jump to the javelin to the pole vault. That is a hell of a lot more varied than just swimming. So with 17 gold medals available in swimming, if you insert a great swimmer like Michael Phelps into that opportunity, of course he’s going to walk away with a shitload of them. So why is that so amazing?

One way to look at it is that Phelps basically won 5 gold medals for the same thing – being a fast swimmer. (He won three more gold medals for being a fast swimmer who also had other fast swimmers in the same country, which is even less impressive.) I could shatter Phelps’ gold medal record tomorrow... if you made common sense an Olympic sport and had events such as: common sense on Monday morning; common sense on Monday afternoon; common sense on Tuesday morning; common sense on Tuesday afternoon; etc. By the end of the week, I’d have 14 gold medals around my neck. Does that make me the best Olympian or athlete of all time? No, it just makes me a guy with a lot of common sense, right? So why is Phelps suddenly the best athlete ever?

I say that Phelps isn’t the best athlete ever. You could also say he’s also not the best Olympian ever because there are too many events (i.e. gold medal opportunities) in swimming, plus Larissa Latynina has the most career medals ever with 18 (bet you didn't know that). You know what you CAN say?... you can say he’s the best swimmer ever, which is pretty damn good.

This isn’t Phelps’ fault, of course, and I’m not suggesting that we push the button on him or anything. It’s the fault of the Ministry of Olympics for having too many swimming events. They don’t give one gold medal for ping pong with a red paddle and then another gold medal for ping pong with a blue paddle, so why do we have all the different retarded swimming strokes? I recommend that all swimming events at the Olympics should just come down to one race – “the fastest motherfucker to the other side of the pool”. OK, I’ll grant them swimming races at different distances, too, just to mix things up. I’m on my way to the Olympic Minister’s office right now.

August 21, 2008

Hosting Weddings Sucks

A friend of mine got married recently. I'm not married, so I don't have any first-hand experience at this, but I was appalled at the rudeness and lack of consideration from their guests.

The first problem came after the RSVP date for the invitations came and went... and 30% of the guests still hadn't responded (one way or the other). OK, fine, people might forget or whatever - or maybe they assume that a non-RSVP means that they are not coming (by the way, that is NOT what it means - it just means that you are lazy, rude and inconsiderate). Whatever the case, a 30% non-response rate is a lot. Many of the invitees who didn't RSVP were married themselves, so you would think that these people would appreciate how expensive weddings can be (even at the cheapest) and would understand about how getting the guest count correct is key to managing the costs, right? Anyway, the bride and groom had to spend tons of time calling these people personally and ask them if they were coming (certainly something they shouldn't have to do, which is the whole purpose of the RSVP). But, wait, it gets worse.

The couple getting married requested no children at the wedding reception - it was written on the invitation - yet multiple people who attended the wedding brought along their friggin' kids. Additionally, the RSVP cards were sent out pre-printed with the number of guests already written on it (like "1" if the invite was just for one person, "2" if it was for someone and their girlfriend, etc.). Well, get this - people would cross out the pre-printed number and write their own response. Individuals would cross out "1" and write "2". Couples would cross out "2" and write "4". You can't fucking do that, people!! But, wait, it gets worse.

After the wedding, the couple couldn't help but notice that the the gifts they received only amounted to one-fifth of the cost to throw the wedding. And this wasn't an expensive wedding, so it made the numbers all the more shocking. As an example, if the wedding cost $20,000, they only received $3,700 in gifts. There were a ton of people who didn't event bring a CARD! I know the "rule" is that you have one year to give the married couple a gift, but let's be honest, if the guest doesn't bring a gift to the wedding, there is a great probability they won't give a gift at all. It was a destination wedding, so you can excuse the people who traveled from giving a gift. But the majority of the attendees at the wedding were local at this "destination" wedding, and the couple still didn't get shit for gifts. (Disclaimer: the guests were not the most affluent people in the world, but I'm still pretty shocked... I mean, knit a sweater or something.) Of course, you shouldn't throw a wedding in order to get gifts, or with the expectation it will pay for your party - I understand that - but isn't this horrible that a ton of people didn't give anything, not even a card? That seems rude to me.

The couple then held a reception in their hometown for the people who couldn't travel all the way to the actual wedding, and the gifts received at the hometown reception was just as bad - again, only about half of the guests brought a gift and they were just as skimpy as those received at the actual wedding. I'm shocked that HALF the guests wouldn't bring some sort of gift or token - is this the norm?

There was one person who is a close friend of the couple, who attended the lavish bachelor party (for free), didn't come to the actual wedding, attended the hometown reception, and didn't even bring a card (let alone cash)! This is the same person who received a $300 gift from the groom at his wedding a while back). In another horrible example - a bonefide millionaire, who is a friend of the family, came to the hometown reception and didn't even bring a card. What the fuck?!?!

It's shocking how screwed up and rude people can be when when invited to weddings. How is this possible? If I get invited to a legitimate friend/family wedding, I send a gift even if I DON'T COME! Shouldn't the button be pushed on all these people?? If you're the bride or groom, how do you even LOOK at these people again? Maybe the guests didn't think the couple would make it long term?? I just find this all very disappointing, and it shakes my confidence in people.

I'd love to hear your wedding horror stories, as I'm sure they get much worse.

If you're interested in reading more about weddings, you might want to check out another post on this blog titled, "Weddings: The Money Pit of All Money Pits".