Posts Tagged 'news'

Reason #93105 Summer Olympics>Winter Olympics

About a year ago, NBC added those little Olympic rings to its network bug. Maybe they never went away after 2008, who knows. Usually they’re translucent, but on rare and joyous occasions, they light up with the five colors of Olympic glory (that symbolize togetherness or competition or something). And that constant subliminal reminder that the Olympic games really shouldn’t ever be broadcast on anything but the National Broadcasting Company comes down to tonight’s spectacular Opening Ceremony… that’s being held indoors.

There’s nothing not to love about the Olympics. It happens so infrequently that clichés like the Super Bowl Party or World Cup Skivving Off Work For A Month To Watch A Sport Americans Can’t Even Pretend To Care About don’t hold water, and people can’t help but come together to root for their country and against whatever communists are hosting it. But the Winter Games are the bastard stepchild of that great athletic competition thought up by the ancient Greeks (who did nothing but think, when they weren’t waging war on each other).

I always loved the Winter Olympics. Snow capped mountains, figure skating, cereal tie-ins that let my brother and me send away for hockey sticks and proceed to ruin our parents’ living room–I didn’t realise these games were any less important or prestigious than their balmy-month counterparts, and wondered why newsmen started off their Olympic reports with how low the night’s broadcast rated. But it was that doubt, planted in my head during the 2002 games, that made me wonder whether the Winter Olympics really did matter. And the answer was, sadly, not really. Tonight, as I watch the Opening Ceremony, I’ll attempt to reflect on why.

First of all, it’s cold. Maybe it’s the 3 feet of snow I just lived through talking, but watching people be cold makes me cold. Sideline reporters, all be-parka’d and mittened, look like they hate their lives, and would give anything to kill Bob Costas and use his skin for warmth (or, conversely, be in  the studio with him, but that’s splitting hairs). I have the sympathetic chills, and that’s no fun.

It's an orange body condom.

And because it’s cold, everyone in the Winter Olympics is wearing a body condom. Even the figure skaters are wearing nylon mesh. Cos they’re skating on ice, and it’s effing cold. Summer Olympics feature shirtless men in pools and bikini-clad volleyball players on hot summer sand. They’re tan and sweaty and their struggle is raw and volatile. Winter athletes are windblown and red once they’re done flying down a mountain, and goggle lines are not a good look on the medal podium.

Winter sports require a tremendous amount of planning and money to participate. Truth be known, any kind of Olympic-level athlete has poured money and dedication into the pursuit of his goals, but there are far fewer barriers to entry into competition in the summer. A runner in Kenya needs only a long, flat path on which to run in order to become world-class, whereas a skier in Mexico needs access to a snow-capped mountain, money to afford the highest-caliber skis and equipment (and body condoms), and a desire to bolt down a mountain at 80 miles per hour. The Jamaican bobsledders made it work (or, didn’t), but when you watch the parade of nations, check out how many obscure island nations only have one poor schmoe representing them. Good luck, Cayman Islands.

Finally, it’s in Canada. We have to listen to the freaking Canadian anthem every freaking day. Sure, they’re our good-natured neighbors to the north, but they’re also our inconsequential neighbors to the north. They can’t even make it snow to host the games. Ninety-eight percent of Canada is an ice sheet, and the parts that aren’t are snow over permafrost. Watching the Olympic torch trace its route around such barren lands as Alert evoked a strong feeling of existential pointlessness that even a moderately more populated state, like maybe Algeria, wouldn’t. Canada is no China.

I do love the Olympics, really. Any kind of fortnight-long, every-four-years event makes that time feel special and different from any other in the year. We can compete with our global neighbors without banks or battlefields and learn about sports we wouldn’t even watch on ESPN Ocho on a normal day. But something about seeing such hot women athletes as Lindsey Vonn bundled up in a chunky cable knit turtleneck sweater and snow pants seems to lessen at least part of the appeal for watching otherwise unwatchable sports. I’ll watch, and I’ll try not to grumble through the whole 2 weeks. Go America.

Did I mention it’s cold?

UPDATE: Why is everyone a secret Canadian? Leonard Cohen? Joni Mitchell? If they were really proud of their Maple Leaf heritage, we’d know they were from there. Shania Twain, Alanis Morisette, Celine Dion–now those are proud Canadians. Bryan (Ryan?) Adams. But we forget that most people who are Canadian, are Canadian.

UPDATE 2: DONALD SUTHERLAND IS CANADIAN!?!?!?!

UPDATE 3: ARE WE EFFING SERIOUS?? MECHANICAL PROBLEMS?? China would have taken a sword through the torsos of every person responsible for this embarrassing as hell failure to launch.

Controversy, schmontroversy. She's hot. Go America.

I will never sneeze into my elbow

https://i0.wp.com/newsday.today.com/files/2009/09/artelmo_flu_gi_.jpgAt the risk of sounding like an old woman who yells at her TV, I offer this direct response to Kathleen Sebelius and Elmo, and everyone else who advises the public to do impractical and potentially dangerous things: I will never sneeze into my elbow.

Remember when we were kids, and, to our mothers’ horror, we would wipe our runny noses on our sleeves, from elbow all the way to wrist and sometimes fingertips if we were wearing gloves? It was after washing that umpteenth snot-encrusted sweater that mom thrust a box of Kleenex into our hands and taught us to blow our noses. Tissues go in the trash, where their nasty germ-filled contents are destined for a gruesome incinerated death. And that fact gives me comfort.

Advance 20 years. We live in an age of bird, swine, beef, ground lamb, and Cornish game hen flu, and it’s best not to spread that sort of thing around. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, that wonderful catch-all department that’s supposed to be most in tune with the Public Interest but really only in the event of an epidemic, Kathleen Sebelius was charged with the responsibility to keep all those foreign animal influenzas from breaching our shores and mixing with our women infecting the American population. For the better part of 2009, this job consisted of holding regular press conferences to tell us just how fast the H1N1 was spreading, and when we should expect to have to start wearing surgical masks and burning anyone who coughed or scratched their nose. But when FLU SEASON started, Sebelius took it upon herself to re-teach all of America how to sneeze.

Evidently, we’d been doing it wrong (though those incorrigible folks who sneeze openly into the air to shoot their 45-mile-per-hour spit droplets onto everyone and everything around them always do it wrong). Rather than sneeze into our hands, then proceed directly to the sink to wash said hands or OCD apply hand sanitizer as a stop-gap, she told us to sneeze into our elbows. Sneeze all that grossness into our bare (gross) or beshirted (GROSS) elbows, then sit around with a wet spot on our arm until it dries and all the germs turn into spores and… sorry, I’m gagging.

I was horrified when I first heard this cockamamie advice, and promptly decided to ignore it. But today I was watching PBS (full disclosure, I enjoy watching Arthur and have ever since… well, high school), and there appeared some old guy and Elmo to feed this nonsense to children! They’re undermining mom’s stern guidance to instead teach kids to sneeze onto their clothes, and by extension each others’ clothes, until every Kindergarten across this great nation devolves into one massive snotty sticky mess (well, more so than they already were). This is worse than the corn lobby’s ministrations against people who spurn high-fructose corn syrup, because it’s “nutritionally the same as sugar and fine in moderation.” (They leave out that pesky little detail that HFCS is so dirt cheap that food manufacturers may as well put it in everything, everywhere. As a general rule, any ad or congressman that advises you to “get the facts” is probably lying to you.) Because the idea of sneeze-laden shirtsleeves is just SO GROSS.

No amount of elbow grease can out those damn spots.

I was told there’d be moon colonies

“Glow-in-the-Dark Plants are Highlight of International Space Station Science Briefing” reads my latest email alert from NASA.  And we’re de-funding this agency, why?

After decades of war and depression (the money kind), Americans needed something to rally around in the 1950s, and the answer was space flight (and polio vaccines). If for no other reason than to smite the Soviets, Americans enthusiastically pursued the once-impossible goal of flying to the moon. The moon moon, that everyone sees every night from everywhere around the world. People’s minds were literally (ok, maybe figuratively) blown forty years ago when man walked on the moon, which actually happened, despite what that guy who hangs around outside Union Station says. And on that day, our dreams of one day living on the moon–after we’d drained every last resource our planet had to offer and salted the earth for good measure–were born.

But those dreams were effectively dashed when President Obama’s budget came out on Monday. In it was a paltry (ok, ungainly in real-people terms, but we’re talking interstellar travel here) $6 billion over five years for NASA to oversee the development and construction of commercial space vehicles. For the first time since its inception, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is taking a back seat, not the cutting edge, on space exploration.  

Of the many and varied programs the federal government takes my money away to fund, I object to NASA the least. I do admit, it’s odd that I am such an ardent supporter of one of the most massive bureaucracies our government has to offer. Even odder that the agency’s scaling-back was initiated not by a waste-conscious Republican (it was former president George W. Bush who challenged NASA to “gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own” in 2004 [and it was another Bush that said “The future lies in space travel”]) but a progressive Democrat. But space travel falls into one of those special categories, like national defense (and in fact, our research into space has regularly improved our defensive capabilities), that I believe are best suited to government spearheading.

First of all, barriers to entry into the space travel market are huge. Unlike air travel, which relied on a few physical principles and benefitted from the input of countless individual pioneers, the principles of space travel are prohibitively complex and expensive. What few commercial space travel outfits exist are funded by billionaires like Richard Branson, with little hope that small startups or even moderately sized aviation firms could join the fledgling industry at present. Deregulation that allowed for the birth of the commercial satellite industry was surely a step in the non-governmental direction, but while the technologies are in the same general ballpark, telecom satellites and trips to the moon are apples and oranges.

Second, privatization of space travel eliminates the patriotic component that drove scientific innovation in the first place. Government-sponsored projects aimed to beat the Ruskis, and the accountability for success was to the taxpayer, not private investors. If it turns into something like the military industrial complex, where private developers compete for government contracts and thus improve the overall quality and cost of each project, I would be on board. But if budget cuts prove to be the death knell to NASA, I fear for what private space travel will mean for scientific and public innovation.

Most importantly, and perhaps most morbidly, when things like space shuttles explode, it’s a big deal. Bigger than when planes crash, even though shuttles are generally smaller, because they’re hurtling in from outside Earth’s atmosphere and rain fire and debris across hundreds of square miles. These are national tragedies, and as a nation we come together and mourn, take stock of our losses, and fix what went wrong. Private companies are not beholden to the public trust, and so when things go catastrophically wrong, we would become that much more likely to suffer through coverups, finger pointing, and shady back-door transactions. To be sure, a government agency is far from immune to this sort of behavior, but there is inherently zero transparency and accountability in private firms. Look no further than Wall Street, circa September 2008, if you don’t believe me (not that I believe government intervention was the answer there, but the analogy is ripe).

When the Kanamits came and promised they were going “To Serve Man,” all the naive little 1960s high-trousered earth people destroyed their civil defenses and greeted their visitors with open arms. Then the aliens ate them. I can only hope this step towards commercial space exploration does not leave our government powerless in the face of competition, terrestrial or otherwise.

We are the bodyscanners

You know what I like more than keeping my skivvies to myself? Not getting blown up.

Every now and then, the ACLU finds itself in agreement with some core conservative principles–personal property, opposition to government intrusion in personal lives, privacy. So it comes as only a mild surprise that the ACLU has come out in opposition to the use of electronic scanners as an additional measure of airport security. “Full body scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness,” their statement reads. While I agree that the effectiveness of such devices should be thoroughly evaluated and improved, the degree of threat to my personal privacy is highly dubious.

For one thing, the only secret I keep in my bra is some pretty great BioFit technology… but that’s just for show. I try not to walk around with high explosives strapped to my body, so I don’t mind in the slightest if someone takes a look-see to make sure. If it catches the guy next to me who does have more to hide than a flat chest, then I’m glad to have done my part.

Second, have you ever used one of those body scanners? Moderate claustrophobia aside, those things are pretty neat. Like a 5 second open MRI, shaken, not stirred.

“Body scanners produce strikingly graphic images, creating pictures of virtually naked bodies that reveal not only sexual organs but also intimate medical details such as colostomy bags and mastectomy scars,” the ACLU statement continues. Anyone who’s ever gotten a bikini wax has shared more with total strangers than these body scans reveal. But for more private people, I understand how someone looking at your virtual hoo-hah isn’t the most pleasant of ideas. Some pervy security workers might get a jolly from looking at these bizarre alien-like images, but one can only hope that if the system works as it is intended to work, they’ll be looking for–and will catch–bombs.

I’m sure the argument was raised when x-ray scanners were improved so TSA workers could see more than vague shapes inside your carry-on bags. “They don’t need to know I’m carrying a box of tampons with me!” “That’s bottle of pain pills is MY business!” But we’ve gradually learned to leave a little dignity at the airport doors in the years since 9/11, along with cans of mace and pipe bombs. We’ve learned to react not with fear and sorrow over terrorist efforts, but rather, as did the heroic citizens on board Northwest 253 Christmas Day, with outrage and hardened determination not to become statistics in a tragedy. Of course the fear of a slippery slope is legitimate, but if it’s one thing we can do to keep our travels safer, we should embrace it, however begrudgingly. After all, there is less revealed in a fleeting body scan image than your personal information on Facebook–and that stays public forever.

The opposite of “weblog” is “log”

The Oxford American Dictionary has given us the latest incarnation of what happens when the real world tries to grapple with online phenomena.

According to the Oxford University Press blog (which in itself is a quagmire), “unfriend” is the 2009 Word of the Year. Stiff competition? “teabagger.” I can’t wait until 2010 when “rimjob” might be in contention…

Anyway, the trouble here is, have you ever heard anyone use the term “unfriend?” I would think that word would be a derivation of the adverb, “unfriendly,” which is, afterall, a real word. eg: “The Id can be very unfriendly when she’s in a bad mood. She unfriended me last week by farting on my bed, although I’m not sure that was the result of a bad mood.” If her unfriendliness ever gets so bad that I want to cut all ties with her, I will “defriend” her from my facebook, and “stop being roommates with” her in real life.

Negative prefixes aren’t always perfect, but it makes more sense to think of “defriend” like “deactivate” (as if I would “deactivate” my facebook account) than “unfriend” like “undo” (as if I would Ctrl + Z our friendship).

UPDATE: Luke Russert agrees.

But the root of the matter, beyond the fact that Brits shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about how badly Americans bastardise [sic] the English language, is that when the real world tries to make sense of and codify the random and natural evolution of the internet, something’s bound to miss its mark.

When you have the world at your fingertips, it doesn’t make sense to go to a dusty library, sort through shelves of books, and then put as much of the world as can be contained by 1,000 abridged pages at your fingertips. When there’s a .com version of a real-life thing, the online thing wins.

Dictionary.com > Dictionary.
Google Translate > Merriam-Webster’s Spanish/English dictionary. (For that matter, Google > Human brain)
Thesaurus.com>  Shift F7  > Thesaurus.

The one notable exception to this rule is virtual pets (and materialistic teenage girls, and farms). FooPets is on the list of websites I should not have access to. Because, on a Wednesday night with a little shiraz in my blood and an intense desire to play tug of war with my actual dog, a cute furry animated Shiba Inu who barks and sneezes and lets you rub his tummy (with your cursor) is a very reasonable alternative. Until, of course, these clever webmasters get you hooked and con you into paying electronic funds transfers real money for pet food, shampoo, and facebook birthday gift doodads that you can never actually touch. When the time comes that you actually consider PayPal-ing your money away for a jpeg birthday cake, you should probably just go to the library.


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