Monday, November 17, 2008
I am in the process of envisioning a slightly different focus for this blog to continue talking about the subjects of all- not just one-- of my books. This will be a challenge with books ranging in topic from Elvis Impersonation to the weather and ballet. Still it is worth a shot.
I came across an article today that could have formed a chapter in The 100 Most Dangerous Things in Every Day Life and What You Can Do About Them, had it not, you know, come out four years after the book did.
The New York Times is reporting on the bane of shoppers existence-- clamshell packaging. You know, the kind of inpenetrable plastic theft prevention prophylactic that you need a pocket knife to open and which occasionally results in the accidental slashing of your fingers.
It has sent about 6,000 Americans each year to emergency rooms with injuries caused by trying to pry, stab and cut open their purchases, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Companies like Amazon and Sony are working on alternatives which may make your holidays brighter this year.
In case you are confronted with a clamshell anyway, WikiHow suggests using a can opener to get inside.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Aren't translation gaffes fun?
Here is a sign in Wales where law requires everything be posted in both English and Welsh.
The Swansea council was ready to put up a sign reading "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only." So they fired off an e-mail to their regular translator and received a reply, which was duly printed on the sign.
There was only one problem, the e-mail was an autoresponder. The sign to the left tells Welsh truckers: "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."
If you like to read about fun with electronic translation and other translation gaffes, the BBC story on this sign features some links to similar escapades.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Seriously, if you have a toilet to flush you’re doing better than one billion people on earth. That is the number of people who do not have a sanitary system of any kind where they live. One third of the planet is that poor. Having to cancel your Netflix subscription doesn’t seem like such a hardship now does it?
If you make
If you make$10,787 a year, the U.S. poverty line for an individual, you are in the top 13% of wealth in the world. If you make the median salary of a U.S. man, $43,460, you are in the top 2.17% richest people on the earth. Source: Globalrichlist.com, which has a cool calculator that allows you to put your wealth in international perspective. Type in your income and see how rich you are.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Now, unless A. Serwer thinks that there is actually a registered voter named "Duran Duran" in New Mexico, he ought to refrain from sputtering that those who disagree with him are 'racist' and 'paranoid.'
The person who is "Duran Duran" almost certainly voted under their real name, and thus got two votes in the primary. God knows how many of those 27 others exist; for all we know, one person might have cast all of them. Anybody who voted once had their vote diluted by the guy who cheated to vote two to twenty-seven times.
Check and mate A. Serwer! Oh, but hold on a minute. There's one little detail I should mention. Duran Duran is actually a voter. Geraghty was forced to tag this amendment to the end of the story:
UPDATE: I am floored by the fact that the white pages for Albuquereque, New Mexico has a listing for "Duran Duran." Mea culpa.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
In an article entitled "Epic win: Goodbye schadenfreude, hello fail." Christopher Beam traces the origin of the expression to a 1998 Neo Geo arcade game called Blazing Star. If you beat a level, the screen flashes with the words: "You beat it! Your skill is great!" If you lose you're chided with this poor Japanese to English translation: "You fail it! Your skill is not enough! See you next time! Bye bye!"
It also introduces the current word for a form of schadenfreude, lulz, the questionable pleasure of hurting someone's feelings on the Web.
Schadenfreude is so 2007. I fail it. Bye Bye.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Paleo-Future, a Web site devoted to past futurism, recently posted a clip from a 1966 program 2000 A.D. The clip predicts a 3 day work week by 2000.
From there it goes on to predict weather control: "My estimate is that we will start to work seriously to modify thunderclouds to reduce lightning. I think that we'll be able to have some sort of estimate of whether we can control tornadoes and such local severe storms."
Weather control is no mere whimsy. As I noted in Blame it on the Rain, scientists (and quite a few quacks) have been working on it for years. They're just not very good at it.
In the late 19th century the Weather Bureau and the Department of Agriculture funded various tests in which explosives were unleashed in the clouds to release their rain. Money that The Chicago Times believed would have been “less ridiculously employed if it were devoted to the attempted manufacture of whistles out of pig’s tails.”
One of the first successful attempts was in 1946 when a high school dropout named Vincent Schaefer, who was employed by General Electric, flew above the Schenectady, New York clouds and dropped six pounds of dry ice into them. The result was snow.
A year later, Schaefer and Irving Langmuir, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, tried to change the course of a hurricane threatening the Florida coast. They dumped almost 200 pounds of dry ice into its eye. As they predicted, the storm changed direction. The experiment would have been a complete success were it not for the fact that the new path put the storm on a collision course with Savannah, Georgia, where it did about $5 million in damage.
As early as 1957, a report of Eisenhower’s advisory committee noted that weather control could become a “more important weapon than the atom bomb.” In 1966, the U.S. got a chance to try it out. “Project Popeye” dispensed a rain-making agent into the clouds of Vietnam and extended the monsoon season in order to increase the mud on the Ho Chi Minh trail—the main enemy supply route to South Vietnam. Whether or not these attempts were successful depends on whose report you read.
Of course, American generals were not the only ones to think of this. In Soviet Russia scientists were looking for ways to modify weather using laser technology. Recently declassified documents in England reveal that a storm that dropped 9 inches of rain in only 21 hours in August of 1952 came after a secret rainmaking experiment in which the military seeded clouds with silver iodine powder. The storm created a flood that swept through the costal town of Lynmouth destroying bridges, buildings and roads. The flood killed 34 people.
Weather control seems, for the foreseeable future, to remain the stuff of science fiction.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
"After being caught sending explicit emails to underage boys, Florida congressman Mark Foley has resigned," Jay Leno quipped. "So his seat is up for grabs, which is what got him in trouble in the first place."
Foley slunk off in humiliation and in rode a Democrat, Tim Mahoney, on a white steed promising to restore integrity to the office. A socially conservative married father, Mahoney ran on a “Faith and Families” platform.
If you've followed politics at all, you've probably already guessed the punch line. Mahoney has bonked himself into a scandal of his own. He had an affair with one of his staffers and just for good measure, fired her in a mean and nasty recorded telephone call and then agreed to pay her $121,000 in hush money.
This story just goes to show that family values hypocricy is not the sole property of the Rebpublican party. But wait, our friends at Political Irony have pointed out yet one more twist in the story.
"...it will be difficult for Republicans to wave this an example of how Democrats are just as corrupt as Republicans, because Mahoney was actually a Republican who was recruited to run as a Democrat against Foley in the first place. Since being elected, Mahoney has voted with the Republicans almost as much as he has voted with the Democrats."
Cartoon © Chan Lowe
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The greatest part of the story was the quote by the minister's boss state premier Nathan Rees, who told Fairfax Radio Network: "I subsequently put it to former minister Brown late last night that there are too many reports of you in your underwear for me to ignore."
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The Internet and the news media continue to buzz with people describing their sense of pleasure at seeing the rich fare poorly. The number of "schadenfreudes" in recent news stories are too numerous to recount. The Boston Phoenix added a little color today by coining "schadenfreude-riffic."
"Turns out, Wall Street’s just as fallible as me," wrote Kara Baskin. "I know it’s kind of unpatriotic and cruel, but there’s something schadenfreude-riffic about watching arrogant and formerly rich assholes scurry for help, tails between their legs. The New York Times said it best: 'Wall Street traders began to believe that the values they had assigned to all sorts of assets were rational because, well, they had assigned them.'”
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Seeing fat cats laid low has always produced an emotion the Germans call Schadenfreude, defined in English as "joy in another's misfortune." I should know, I wrote a book on the subject, Schadenfreude, Baby! published by Lyons Press.
The past few weeks have been a good time for Schadenfreude watchers. If you have a Google alert set to "Schadenfreude" you have seen it go crazy recently with observers of all stripes expressing something other than empathy for failed investment bankers. But it's hard to feel too gleeful. The emotion we're experiencing is different than our old school Schadenfreude over Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton.
“There would be something comical, even pleasurable, in watching the frenetic agitation of the banking world”, wrote Laurent Joffrin, editor of Libération newspaper, “if millions of jobs were not at stake, not to mention the economic balance of the planet.”
We need a new word to describe the mix of emotions we're feeling which is why I called for submissions from the general public on my blog www.schadenfreude-baby.blogspot.com.
The winning word was submitted by Tom Lennon of England who coined "Sadenfreude: Taking pleasure from others misfortune while feeling rather sad about it."
Other entries included karmaglee; desletsenium, a mix of three different latin terms for a regretful feeling of Schadenfreude; Eupheria or Schadenfreude tinged with fear of impending financial doom; trickledownpathoshumorism, and Himmeldonnerwetter, "brought to you by the same folks that gave you schadenfreude!"
Related neologisms submitted included "neoconomitus -- the shared malaise that comes from failed neoconservative economic policies and practices;" "Har-de-harbinger, Something that foreshadows an ominous-yet-funny event;" and "Fucosthriveudie-meaning financial officers of a company will always thrive, even if those they have scammed or let down financially die."
Congratulations Tom on your winning submission. Although the contest is now closed, please feel free to keep posting your words and suggestions. I've enjoyed your creativity.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
September 30, 1980- Seattle pitcher Rick Honeycutt was thrown off the mound after umpires discovered a tack and a piece of sandpaper taped to his index finger. Embarrassed at having been caught, Honeycutt wiped his brow- forgetting for a moment that business about the tack. He left a bright red scratch across his forehead.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
President Barrat Jagdeo of Guyana complained: “There is clear evidence that many of the standards and much of the scrutiny that are applied routinely to smaller countries were not applied to some larger countries which actually pose much greater systemic risk.”...
The financial crisis put actor Michael Douglas, who proclaimed “Greed is Good” the film “Wall Street”, in an awkward spot. Appearing at a press conference on nuclear disarmament, Douglas was asked about his role as Gordon Gekko. “Are you saying, Gordon, that greed is not good?” a reporter asked. “I’m not saying that,” Douglas replied. “And my name is not Gordon. He’s a character I played 20 years ago.”
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
A powerful magnate who made a grand show of his wealth is suffering financial losses and has to lay off... his Playboy Bunnies.
Yes, from The Telegraph comes this headline: Hugh Hefner to Sack Playboy Bunnies Amid Financial Crisis.
They couldn't have covered this story a year ago when I was writing Schadenfreude, Baby?
It quotes Germany's finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, saying that the credit crisis threatens the United States' status as a financial superpower.
"The United States will lose its status as the superpower in the world financial system," he said. "The world financial system will become more multipolar." (I would argue that this doesn't actually qualify as Schadenfreude, but as simple criticism and prediction, the real Schadenfreude is to come...)
Before you get too worried, I should note that German bankers do not seem to have a great knack for prediction. I remind you of an article I posted here in may.
"German Bundesbankers...are not concerned about any direct fallout from the US mortgage crisis," wrote Ralph Atkins in the Financial Times.
The article's headline was "Schadenfreude stirs in resilient Germany."
Conde Nast's article today noted with a smirk that "Herr Minister has a personal reason to be bitter about the credit crisis. Steinbrück is on the supervisory board of the state-controlled bank KfW, which transferred some $425 million to Lehman Brothers a little more than an hour before the Wall Street firm filed for bankruptcy protection. 'Germany's Dumbest Bank!' screamed the front-page headline in the newspaper Bild."
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Back in 1999, I wrote a book called Bad Predictions. It is ironically both my rarest book on the market, and the one I have the most copies of in my basement. Go figure.
The project grew out of a passion of mine-- used book stores. I love ephemera and books that were only intended for their era. I collect out of date etiquette manuals and I find it hard to resist old magazines and newspaper archives that discuss past events and attitudes using the language of their own day.
As we were approaching the year 2000, I began to collect books by past futurists with a view to cataloging their mistakes. Regardless of their correctness or incorrectness I loved their imagination. In fact, I most admired those who had a bold enough vision to risk being utterly wrong.
If you enjoy this kind of thing too, I recomend the blog Paleo-Future. It is full of great scans of the flying cars, household robots and space craft we were supposed to have by now.
Bad Predictions Blow Out! For a limited time, I am selling copies of my 2000 book Bad Predictions, cover price $15.95, for just $5.00. Get a brand new, autographed, hard to find elsewhere book for an incredibly low price by following the link.
Today's Schadenfreude spottings: Slate Magazine's article Why Washington hates Wall Street.
"But it's a sign of Brauchli's newbie status in Washington...that he should think reporters at the Washington Post feel anything other than schadenfreude about Wall Street's tumble in fortunes. They can't help it—they're Washingtonians... 'Isn't this exciting?' Rep. Ed Markey enthused to me on Oct. 19, 1987 ('Black Monday')"
And just in case you needed any more proof that the current state of Schadenfreude is dark indeed it's the Hdege Fund Implode-O-Meter.
The kind of Schadenfreude many of us have been feeling in the wake of the financial crisis has a different quality and character than the celebrity downfall gazing of a year ago. It's darker, blacker and angrier. Over at Psych Central John Grohol is talking about his emotions: "I find a strange melancholic amusement to learn that many of these investment banks’ CEOs and boards of directors — people being paid millions of dollars every year to purportedly know what their own companies are doing and how they make money — didn’t have a clue as to how deep their companies were into questionable financial practices."
I'm looking for suggestions for a new word that encapsulates this "melancholic amusement"- Schadenfreude tinged with a touch of sadness and foreboding. Please post your suggestions in the comments. The author of the winning word will get an autographed copy of Schadenfreude, Baby! and just maybe add a new word to our vocabulary. You can also enter by talking about this contest on your own blog. Just send me a link to your article, and I will enter your words into the contest too.
Deadline: October 1.
"We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all."
Surviving the New Depression: Tip #94 from Steve Delahoyde on Vimeo.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Today, Conor Friedersdorf, features editor at Culture 11 argues that Schadenfreude has also been the overriding political strategy of the GOP in the last few elections. In an article titled "The Politics of Schadenfreude" he wrote:
"The people who run the GOP are rewarded in prestige and treasure based on election results, not advancing a conservative agenda. So they are quick to realize that they need not do the hard work of finding the best candidate on substance, or running the most honorable campaigns, unless voters demand as much as a requirement for their support. Absent that, the GOP establishment hasn't sufficient incentive to run races, as Ronald Reagan did, that persuade Americans on the issues and create a mandate for governing accordingly. Not when running against the media and “the elites” is easier and as effective."
While you're reflecting on that, enjoy this scene from the Monkees 1968 movie Head for some psychedlic Schadenfreude.
How is that for a rock band name? Psychedelic Schadenfreude...
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Here's a special tune for all the banks that lobbied to make personal bankrupcy harder with the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005," who are now asking the government to give them a second chance. If you, like me, are wondering if AIG has to complete a "mandatory debtor education course" before it is relieved of its bad debt, this is the song for you.
I will share with you the tragic tale of one victim of this dreaded disease which I learned about through the web site of Houston television station KHOU. One day Jacki was living her normal life as a self-described “uninteresting teacher.”
After a hard day grading ungrammatical 9th grade essays, she would come home, feed the dog and fire up the computer. With complete faith in her lack of an audience, Jacki would type out reviews of The Gilmore Girls and Days of Our Lives. She worried that her students might watch The Secret Life of an American Teenager and get the idea that teenage pregnancy was cool. Jacki wasn’t the type of person who was featured in the news. World events happened somewhere else. She watched them on television.
Then, in September 2008, Hurricane Ike changed everything. No, not in the way you might think. Jacki was spared by the worst of the weather. Her house was not damaged, she had running water and power. She didn’t even have to go to work because her school was closed, but she was still getting a paycheck. In all, she had fared quite well.
She should have heeded the warning signs. Extra leisure time puts a person at increased risk of Anonymity Syndrome. Jacki was on the edge of a national story with nothing to do but blog. And blog she did.
“Life is great after a hurricane,” she wrote, “when nothing really happened to your house!”
Emboldened by her sense of solitude—she couldn’t even get her best friends to read her reviews of episodes of Big Brother—she went on to describe how she went around town collecting MRE’s, military rations distributed to hurricane victims who were without power and food.
“I think that I am falling in love with MREs,” she wrote, “They are pretty darn good… It’s so cool that you put a little bit of water in the bag with the food and in about a minute, there is hot food. This is great. I don’t have school and I’m getting free food!”
What Jacki hadn’t thought about before she hit “preview” and “post” was that people were going to read it. It would only take a few people with copy and paste functionality on their computers to share her newfound joy in free MREs with an audience she never imagined—people who did not know her, love her or call her a friend.
Some of those people, Texas residents who were an even bigger part of the Hurricane Ike story, did not take Jacki’s narrative in quite the way she intended.
Hundreds of comments started to appear. Some were threatening, harassing, unrepeatable. They threatened to turn her into authorities.
“How do you live with yourself?”
“Hope you choke on those MRE’s.”
Her blog became the stuff of local legend, and the “uninteresting teacher” was suddenly getting calls from reporters asking her to explain herself. She was a story on the television news.
When the blog disappeared, Jacki’s anonymity did not return. The angry posters merely moved to the khou.com story about her site and plotted to send letters of complaint to her employer by the hundreds. Jacki’s online hobby had come crashing into her real life with the force of a hurricane.
The story has a few lessons for us. First, if you’re lucky enough to be spared by a tragedy, and you’re surrounded by those who are not—keep it to yourself. Second, if you forget the first rule, at least keep your crowing to a respectably small circle of friends. Third, if you can’t manage to follow the second rule at least do not literally broadcast your good fortune. Fourth, don’t take food intended for people who just lost their homes and brag about it on a blog about your uninteresting life. Actually, that one should probably go first.
Another example of Anonymity Syndrome was reported by MyFox yesterday. Steven loved to chat with friends on Myspace and blog about his adventures. One of his adventures involved stealing two monkeys from a wildlife compound. The Myspace page was set to public. The authorities investigating the case, being part of the public, found it fairly easy to track him down.
We've said it here a number of times, but it bears repeating. If you're doing something that is not entirely ethical or legal, it behooves to keep it to yourself.
Friday, September 19, 2008
1. If you are in posession of a $130,000 vehicle, you might not want to leave it running with the keys inside.
It's hard to feel too sorry for Steve Harris Imports who left two custom Ferraris, one worth $130,000 and a second worth $300,000, idling. They were almost daring someone to swipe it.
2. If you aspire to a career as a car thief, you might want to avoid drawing attention to yourself; the sort of attention you might get if, for example, you were driving around in a 2001 burgundy Ferrari 550 Maranello.
Since the car was the only one of its kind in the area, employees watched the theif drive off, shrugged and called the police. When an officer saw the sports car 90 minutes later, he knew exactly where it had come from.
Source: Desert News
There are people who are physically allergic to the stuff. The irritant in question is nickel, which not only shows up in the coin of that name, but also in paper money. A report in the August 1991 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that people with nickel allergies can get stubborn rashes from handling legal tender.
So you’re broke. You think you’ve got an original problem here? You’re going to have to try a bit harder. If you’re talking to creditors on the phone on a regular basis, you’re not the exception—you’re the rule! And perhaps it will please you to know that there are people out there who have the same problem as you with quite a few extra zeroes at the end.
You’re surely better off than Mr. William Stern who filed the largest bankruptcy in British history in 1978. Before he went bust, the property mogul bragged that banks competed to loan him money. (This was in the 1970s, before those Lending Tree commercials hit the airwaves.)
At age 43, Stern had managed to rack up liabilities in excess of 100,000,000 pounds against assets of 10,070. Hearing the case in London Bankruptcy Court, Mr. Alan Sales was unfazed. “This bankruptcy has been described as the world’s biggest,” he said, “but really it is a very ordinary bankruptcy with noughts at the end.” It might not impress the collections department, but you’ll feel better.
Speaking of the collections department, if you are late on your payments to five creditors and they call you every day, count yourself blessed. In their book The Best, Worst and Most Unusual, Bruce Felton and Mark Fowler list one Yosjiyuki Yonei, a salesman for a Tokyo tool company, as the “Worst Creditor.” Yonei was arrested after he harassed a delinquent customer to the point that his wife had a nervous breakdown. Yonei called the customer 4,190 times—340 in a single day!
Given all that debt stress, it’s easy to see how a cash-strapped person can make choices that they later regret. In 1890, a Swede named Albert Vystroem signed a contract with the Royal Swedish Institute of Anatomy. In exchange for some cash in hand, he gave them the right to use his body for scientific study after his death. In the intervening years, Vystroem came into a small fortune and decided he wanted his body back. So in 1910, he suded the organization. Not only did the Institute successfully defend its position, it was awarded damages for two teeth Vystroem had had extracted with its permission.
P.S. Separated at birth? Sean Lennon and Project Runway's Daniel Franco?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
"I Guess He Wasn't Listening to the Speech About Family Values" gushed a headline in the Dallas Morning News's religion blog.
To be fair to Gabriel Schwartz, a lawyer from Denver, we don't know if he is a "values" voter or if he is a social conservative. So the story lacks the irony of, say, a Larry Craig. The delegate did, however, give this interview with Link TV. His "Bomb Iran" stance was so extreme that it made this reporter wonder if he wasn't a plant from The Daily Show.
After this performance, Schwartz told police he picked up a woman in the bar of a swanky Minneapolis hotel and brought her up to his room. She poured him a drink and when he woke she was gone, and so were up to $50,000 in jewelry, cash and other items.
P.S. The correct way to say that is "Fewer taxes, more war." (See the post on Worsplosion.) And grammar purists will note that since there is no signature in this posting that "p.s." isn't really appropriate either. I know. But I don't care.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
As I've noted here before, I have a Google alert set to the word "Schadenfreude." Usually there are one or two stories featuring the word each day, but yesterday it suddently went crazy. The collapse of Lehman Brothers, and other bank woes, are apparently giving people a sense of... glee.
"Is it me or is Schadenfreude on the march?" wrote Guy Dressler in Reuters.
It's not you, Guy.
The New York Times put "Schadenfreude" in its headline: "As Europe Watches Wall Street Fall, Schadenfreude Gives Way to Worry."
"I only watched the news last night to have a good laugh at the bankers carrying out their belongings," wrote someone basking in the anonymity of the Internet. "Naturally I feel sorry for the admin and IT staff who weren't subject to the bonuses that the bankers get. I'd love to listen in to one of their conversations when they got home. 'Sorry Tarquin, we're going to have to put you in a state school from now on because daddy spent his disgustingly huge bonus on a Ferrari which he can't sell because of the Credit Crunch.' Welcome to our level. Merry Christmas."
This was one of many such items posted in response to a story in The Guardian which posed the question:"Investment banking: one of the most reviled professions?"
Over at DailyComedy.com, Ricardo Aleman of "America's Got Talent" fame, writes: "...they are all out of a job, but need to find a way to pay their next month's bills fast. I eagerly await the Women Of Lehman Bothers Playboy issue."
After describing his intial sensations of Schadenfreude, Will Self of the Evening Standard concludes that it isn't really the right emotion at all:
"No, schadenfreude isn't really called for here, not when people are posting their house keys through the door and going on the run because they can't keep up interest payments. What's required is a far stronger emotion: anger. Anger towards those at the top of the heap who went on gambling with other people's futures, and anger towards those in government who were seriously comfortable with the seriously rich — no matter how they made their money."
Incidentally, September 18 is the anniversary of the "Panic of 1873" when 37 banks and brokerage firm Jay Cooke & Company went under. Shortly afterwards, the New York Stock Exchange temporarily shut down, further damaging faith in the economy. The federal government's efforts to stem the panic were fruitless and the depression lasted through 1879. Happy Anniversary, Baby!
[Cartoon from Geraldgee.]
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Geraldo Rivera took time away from finding Al Capone's vault to travel into the path of a hurricane. "Look, I want to show you something," he says.
As he predicted, he has become a star on Schadenfreude Central, Youtube.
Friday, September 12, 2008
His attorney was in court yesterday arguing to have his disorderly conduct conviction thrown out for lack of evidence during arguments Wednesday before the state Court of Appeals.
Now I would never be caught taking glee at an anti-gay rights politician's ironic legal woes. I'll leave that to a You Tube artist:
And to Roy Zimmerman, seen here performing "Larry Craig is Completely Heterosexual."
And the Capitol Steps.
And... well, you get the idea.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Today I came across a poem that explores just that concept, but in a far more personal way. Philip Schultz' latest book of poetry is named Failure and the on-line journal Failure Magazine recently printed an interview with the poet. (The links in the preceeding text are respectively to buy the book and to read the interview) The entire text of the title poem is reprinted at Failure Magazine, and you can read it there. I wanted to share one stanza with you that helps to sum up my fascination with the losers of history, the people who never quite got it together.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Do you have an opinion about Sarah Palin? Does it have to do with her voting record or do you think she's a spunky conservative powerhouse? Do you find yourself chanting "Yes, we can!" without really knowing what we can do?
After hearing hours of coverage of the conventions and candidates, are you familiar with their budget proposals? Do you agree with their positions on media consolidation? Do you know their records on agriculture issues? You probably know this-- there's been a big surge in enthusiasm over Sarah Palin, Obama has struck back over mocking of "community organizers," Hillary Clinton is plugging Obama while carefully trying not to slam Palin. McCain is a war hero and Obama is a rock star. One represents experience the other change.
Brian Unger, on NPR, did a feature today on Political Dementia, an invented mental disorder with symptoms like being unable to tell the difference between the experienced between the inexperienced, good experience from bad experience and worthless experience from valuable inexperience.
Maybe we can just stop all this political nonsense now and choose our candidate reality show style as this clip, aired today on CNN, suggests.
This feature on a Mad TV segment is listed as one of the top stories right now on CNN.com. As is often the case, the comedian manages to point out something that we've barely noticed. Our brand of news as info-tainment lends itself well to storytelling. We like stories about characters and so we debate politicians rather than politics.
A few days ago I sounded in on the Peggy Noonan open mic viral video and its commentary. I did not include a link to her original Wall Street Journal article and its attached response to her unintended moment of public candor.
Along with the much reported criticism of Palin, Noonan and Mike Murphy criticized a whole system which she referred to later in the introduction to her article as "The Narrative."
"It was just after the 1988 Republican convention ended," she wrote. "I was on the plane, as a speechwriter, that took Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, and the new vice presidential nominee, Dan Quayle, from New Orleans, the site of the convention, to Indiana. Sitting next to Mr. Quayle was the other senator from that state, Richard Lugar. As we chatted, I thought, 'Why him and not him?' Why Mr. Quayle as the choice, and not the more experienced Mr. Lugar? I came to think, in following years, that some of the reason came down to what is now called The Narrative. The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself, and communicate to others. I don't like the idea of The Narrative."
But we have become conditioned to The Narrative. The Narrative tells us which character to root for on Dancing with the Stars or Top Chef. The Narrative lets us choose Santino Rice as a Project Runway villian. It helps us to form an opinion as to whether Randal or Rebecca should be The Apprentice. And The Narrative will help us choose a president.
Don't believe that we don't know the difference between celebrity gossip and politics that affect our lives? The moment that illustrated our political dementia best to me did not come during this election cycle, but last winter when the actor, Owen Wilson, attempted suicide.
An announcer on a television network call in show (I'm sorry, I don't remember the program at this point) was asking his viewers to weigh in on whether the Santa Monica attorney's office was correct in withholding the 911 tapes of the incident from the news media. The announcer in question was making the argument that it was in the public interest-- that the public had a right to know because the actor is a public figure.
Owen Wilson is a publicized figure, but he is not going to make any policy that changes my life or yours. That a journalist would even make the argument that the public had the right to hear these tapes shows the extremes to which political dementia reaches. A reporter should understand that the fact that the public is interested does not constitute public interest.
Gawking, gossip and engaging in Schadenfreude are thought of as negative emotions, but they universal enough that we have to assume they fulfill important social functions. The biggest problem with them is when they drown out other, more important discourse.
The UPI, which apparently spends as much time surfing random blogs on the Internet as you do, reports that the operator of a Web site that publishes photos of people making fools of themselves gave himself the same treatment after admitting drunk driving in Arizona.
Now I have visited the "Dirty" web site, and I'm having a little trouble entirely understanding its theme. Guess it's an Arizona thing. But what I gather is that the public nominates "douchebags" for bad, off color, or generally embarassing behavior and administer a virtual public lashing by their peers in the comments section. Recent postings include a guy who decorated his car with messages referring to his love of women's breasts, a woman with a Michael Phelps racing sperm t-shirt, and a pregnant Hooters waitress.
The UPI reports that Hooman Karamian, 29, admitted publicly for the first time that he is the operator of The Dirty, under his nom de plume (nom de keyboard?) Nik Richie.
"It's still hard for me to comprehend what happened yesterday," he told reporters. "People are going to the comments and shredding me and it's weird to see what it's like, but it helps me understand the site better and it's only going to help the growth of the site."
When someone who is known for revelling in other's stupidity is caught doing something stupid, there is very little chance it will fail to attract attention. And don't think I wasn't aware of this when writing Schadenfreude, Baby.
"I have to admit," I wrote, "I have a vague fear that I'll be involved in a terrible accident involving a kitchen appliance and the newspaper report will jump on the fabulous irony of finding Schadenfreude in the misfortune of the Schadenfreude author."
Of course it didn't stop me from reveling a bit in the legal troubles of Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis (it couldn't happen to a nicer guy), or in the rancorous divorce of one of the co-authors of The Rules. The irony is just too inviting.
But there's something a little odd about this "Dirty" story. Is someone really hoisted by their own petard if they do the hoisting themselves and then send out a press release about it? Hmmm.
Oh gee, did I forget to post the URL of the "Dirty" web site? How did that happen?
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Here is the Schadenfreude quote of the day from the Sunday Times of London in a review of the Republican National Convention:
"Sarah Palin is making the keynote speech. She has flown in from Alaska with her family. The announcement that this obscure governor is going to be the vice-presidential nominee has propelled the convention into the biggest, kitschest reality show in the world. The relations and the speculation about paternity, maternity, fecundity, mendacity and the gestation period for Eskimos has led to a Gustav of schadenfreude that has overwhelmed the shallow blogs on the web."
Hey! Who are you calling shallow?
Friday, September 5, 2008
Speaking of poo-poo... (I'm a professional writer, don't try these transitions at home.) I have been slowly building up a library of books from the "What They Said In" reference series by editors Alan and Jason Prater. From 1969-1996 they published annual editions compiling spoken quotes by politicians and people of note in the news. They're great records of the issues of the day. As I go through them I become alternately comforted and discouraged to see that we've been having essentially the same cultural and political conversations for years. What is a patriot? Is it patriotic or unpatriotic to question a war? Should we embrace change or preserve our sense of community and continuity? These were some of the big questions of 1970.
One of the quotes from the 1970 edition-- and I am getting back to poo-poo-- seemed to have special resonance in light of the current discussion of community organizing we've been seeing on the news. It comes from Saul Alinsky, a pioneer of community organizing, who said, "Civil rights is a movement, and a movement without organization is nothing more than a bowel movement."
Power to the people, right on!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
There are few political faux pas that inspire such glee-- to the other political party-- as the open mic gaffe. This is when a nomally polished public speaker is caught in an unguarded moment on a microphone he or she did not know was on.
Former John McCain advisor Mike Murphy and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan have joined the ranks of public figures whose "off camera" views and speaking styles were accidentally exposed. If they are feeling a bit red faced about the whole thing, they can take comfort in the fact that the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, himself was caught in a hot mic scandlette back in the 1980s.
(Before making a radio broadcast at the height of the Cold War in 1984, he quipped: "I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever - the bombing begins in five minutes.'" the joke went out over the airwaves. The Russians weren't amused.)
Open mic embarasments almost always inspire mirth because they unintentionally reveal the differences between people's public and private personas. Democrats have had extra reasons to wallow in Schadenfreude because this conversation, immortalized for the next day or two on Youtube, reveals two talking heads doubting the credentials of Vice Presidental candidate Sarah Palin.
Of course this would be most ripe for humor of one of the speakers were found to contradict their earlier public statements. For example if Peggy Noonan had written an article just that morning in the Wall Street Journal that called Palin "powerful" and "transformative."
She did? Great! Of course, you have to take her praise of Palin a bit out of context to create the most effective and Schadenfreude-worthy flipflop. The gist of her article was that the Palin choice might work or might backfire.
"The Sarah Palin choice is really going to work, or really not going to work," Noonan wrote. "It's not going to be a little successful or a little not; it's not going to be a wash. She is either going to be magic or one of history's accidents. She is either going to be brilliant and groundbreaking, or will soon be the target of
unattributed quotes by bitter staffers shifting blame in all 'The Making of the President 2008' books."
With a little tweaking, like they do with the film reviews, that paragraph can be pared down to "The Sarah Palin choice is... brilliant and groundbreaking."
There's the pay off! Let's not let the text of the article get in the way of a great story.
Of course the Democrats have had their open mic moments too. Do you remember this summer when Jesse Jackson was caught whispering a threat to "cut Obama's nuts off" before a televised interview with Fox News?
Back in 2001, The BBC did an entire feature on the curse of the open mic. But drawing attention to gaffes by Tony Blair (in 1993) and by George W. Bush (in 2000) didn't prevent them having a converstion in a room full of every imaginable type of recording equipment at the G8 summit in 2006. The infamous "Yo Blair" conversation revealed the U.S. president's cowboy speaking style and his in depth analysis "China is big and so is Russia." Blair, for his part, refers to international economics as "this trade thingy."
With the increased presence of 24 hour television news media, call in talk shows, and video on cell phones, expect more delightful unguarded moments in the future.
Monday, September 1, 2008
It turns out that Obama is kind of popular.
I don't know if you're familiar with lines of 20,000 people, but they're pretty long. This one stretched four city blocks, turned a corner and snaked around another 2 blocks then turned in and around itself heading back the direction in which it had come.
We wondered if there was any chance of getting from the end of that line into Hart Plaza or if we should stay where we were near a giant viewing screen erected on Jefferson. We had a couple of hours and decided to take our chance in the line.
(That's me in the line) It was an orderly line. No one was pushing or shoving. People were resigned and curious. They'd make it to the front or they wouldn't. The Obama campaign had asked people not to bring signs or banners, but there were plenty of sales people with Obama badges and t-shirts pacing up and down along the crowd. Oh, and there were these guys.
The tall buildings of downtown Detroit shielded us from the rays of the sun and the 86 degree heat for most of our journey. We doubted there was much chance that we'd end up in Hart Plaza, but we did have some gratification seeing the line stretch out longer and longer behind us as we wound back around our old path. The members of the crowd were collectively photographing the each other. If they wouldn't get to see Obama at least they could record that they saw a lot of other people.
As 11 AM approached we had finally gotten to the end of the line in perfect time to find ourselves... right back at the video screen where we had started.
These guys had made it too.
The disorganized, but not unruly, throng gazed hopefully at the blackened video screen. Since we'd been told not to bring beverages, a few people were lying on the ground swooning in the heat. We heard a buzz of folks wondering if this video screen was actually going to show anything at all. One woman called a friend inside Hart Plaza to ask if Obama was in there speaking already. Meanwhile, we were trying to guess if the 6'4" guy in front of us was going to lean to the left or the right so we could position ourselves for the best view.
Finally at around 11:15 the screen came to life. At first there was no sound, but then the speakers began to cackle and a loud cheer erupted from the audience and after our long journey we finally caught our first glimpse of... this lady.
I have no idea who she is, and neither did anyone else, but for some reason the camera person decided not to focus on the introductory speaker, or even on the sign language interpreter (on the far left) but on the woman in the blue dress.
The enthusiastic crowd of Obama supporters was overcome with emotion and began to chant in unison: "Move-the-camera! Move-the-camera!"
And then came a change we could believe in. A new focus... for the camera. Just in time to avoid an outright mutiny, it was the candidate himself!
And yes, he looked just like he does on TV.
As for the speech itself. I leave that reporting up to the Detroit Free Press:
Obama said he planned to give a speech extolling organized labor, but said, “There is a time to argue politics and there’s a time to come together as Americans.”
Obama then asked the crowd of more than 10,000 to donate to the Red Cross, as Hurricane Gustav bore down on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
He said showing solidarity with those who are evacuated or facing displacement shows the spirit of togetherness that his campaign has sought to inspire.
He then called for a brief, silent prayer, and ended an appearance that lasted less than 10 minutes.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
This is an older story, and one that I wish I'd been aware of in time to include it in Schadenfreude, Baby!
The headline alone should explain it all:
Financial Woes Force Church to Sell Private Jet.
The church preached the "Prosperity Gospel." Prosperity churches are based on the idea that success in business or personal life is evidence of God's love.
No word on whether they were planning on using the private jet to get a camel through the eye of a needle.
Friday, July 25, 2008
While seeing a book you labored over for months or years relegated to the remainder bin is an author's misfortune, Clive James notes it's kind of a kick when it's someone else's book.
In fact, he was inspired enough by his literary schadenfreude to write a poem about it in his new book Opal Sunset. The New York Times printed the entire poem, but here is an excerpt:
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs...
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The one-day conference at the University of East Anglia was titled: "Going Cheap? Female celebrity in the tabloid, reality and scandal genres." It was organized by two professors in UEA’s School of Film and Television Studies.
One of the organizers, Dr. Su Holmes explained the lure of the tabloid celebrity. "First, it reflects on the wider desire to see celebrities 'stripped bare' - as 'damaged', more 'ordinary', and in some ways, apparently more 'real'. This might be cast as a kind of democratisation of the relationship between audience and celebrity, or at least a means of venting public frustration with inequalities in wealth, privilege etc."
If you'd like more analysis of Brittney Spears in a post feminist context, you can read more about this event at The Huffington Post.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
The UPI reports that a Swedish couple was not permitted to give their daughter the first name of their choice-- Elvis.
They felt the name was "pretty and gender neutral." But the Swedish National Tax Board disagreed.
In 1977, the year of Elvis's death, the name had moved up to #598 in popularity (Between Buddy and Torrey). About .011% of the male children born in 1977 were Elvises. In 2004, it was the 694th most popular baby boy's name.
In 1977, the year of Elvis's death, the name had moved up to #598 in popularity (Between Buddy and Torrey). About .011% of the male children born in 1977 were Elvises. In 2004, it was the 694th most popular baby boy's name.
Friday, June 6, 2008
There is nothing people enjoy more than a real life soap opera, and this one had everything. The main characters had a cartoonish quality to begin with, his wife Tammy Faye wore unintentionally comical makeup, and both spoke with soft voices and permanent smiles. There were allegations of sexual impropriety, enough showy wealth to make Robin Leach (the host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) blush, and behind the scenes machinations by rival television ministers.
What I didn't know when I wrote the book was that it also had a theme song. The Ballad of Jim and Tammy, recorded by none other than Tammy Faye. You can listen to it courtesy of WFMU. Enjoy.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Today I came across an unbelieveable curiosity related to another of my books, The Elvis Impersonation Kit, released by Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers. I spoke to dialect coaches and Elvis tribute artists to learn every aspect of Elvis performance, including the between song chatter. Had I only known someone put out a record of just such a thing!
Way Out Junk, a blog that catalogs obscure vinyl oddities-- especially children's music-- came across "Having Fun with Elvis" a record that featured everything you would need for a full Elvis concert experience except for the songs. Yes, a live concert with the pesky musical bits removed. If you want to hear what that sounds like, you can download this bit of recording innovation by clicking the link above.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
You already know the punch line: She was on her cell phone at the time.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Replace "friend" with "pop star" and all bets are off. When it comes to Schadenfreude-star-power no one outdoes Britney Spears. Whether you were raised on MTV or you don't know the Spice Girls from Hannah Montana; even if you've never heard Britney sing a note, you probably know she had a meltdown and shaved her head; that she is divorced from someone named K-Mart or something, and that she likes to party with Paris Hilton and leave her underwear at home.
That Britney has inspired the do-it-yourself artists over at You Tube to produce hundreds of Schadenfreude-themed opuses is no surprise. That her tragic young life has inspired a ballet is a bit less expected. Meltdown, a 14 minute dance sequence by choreographer Hubert Essakow for the Rambert Dance Company, portrayed Spears’ constant hounding by the paparazzi, including the moment she shaved her head and culminated in Spears’ character being carried off stage on a stretcher. It was performed at the at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The music was composed by Richard Thomas, the man behind "Jerry Springer the Opera."
Essakow must have had his fingers crossed behind his back when he told the BBC that the ballet was not designed to wallow in Schadenfreude but as "an homage" to Spears.
Gemma Nixon, who danced the role of Britney, practiced by watching the pop star's videos. "I was a bit embarrassed," Nixon told the BBC. "It is sort-of grotesque this persona."
NPR did a feature on the production, and from this page you can also access economic reportage on "cashing in on Britney."
So why do we put stars on pedestels just to knock them off? The online publication Global Politican spoke with a Dr. Sam Vaknin, Ph.D on this subject. (Unfortunately the site offers no credentials for the good doctor, so I'm only going on the assumption that his Ph.D was in psychology and not agriculture.)
"The celebrity's inevitable downfall and corruption is the modern-day equivalent of the medieval morality play," said Vaknin. "This trajectory - from rags to riches and fame and back to rags or worse - proves that order and justice do prevail, that hubris invariably gets punished, and that the celebrity is no better, neither is he superior, to his fans."
Being a celebrity is a terrible, unnatural state that leads to madness and unhappiness. Thank goodness I avoided that tragedy by working at the Piggly Wiggly...
Incidentally, word is that Chris Crocker, the "Leave Britney Alone" guy (whose Wikipedia entry is nearly as long as Britney's), is hoping to turn his 15 minutes of You Tube fame into a TV career.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Examples? "Hillaryfreude may better name your sadistic joy at the death throes of the former First Lady’s campaign—unless your heart is filled with Obamafreude, over the Illinois Senator’s protracted preacher problems. Or maybe you’re bathing in Spitzenfreude, Shaqenfreude, or Spearsenfreude, as you luxuriate in the declining fortunes of Eliot Spitzer, Shaquille O’Neal, or Britney Spears," writes Mark Peters.
As the writer explains, "The success of -(en)freude is an example of what linguists call 'cranberry morphemes'—or cran-morphs for short. There was no cran before cranberry, but that little syllable grew up to become shorthand for cranberry in words like cran-apple and cran-grape."
The article gives many entertaining examples of -(en)freude words, my favorite being an example lifted from someone's personal blog: “Yesterday, it was ‘selfenfreude’ that got me through the day. If you can’t laugh at yourself...”
If "selfenfreude" catches on, I'll have to take joy in my own misery that a book on Schadenfreude is already behind the lexical curve.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Sometimes, no matter how much talent, energy and work you put into your dreams, you can’t seem to get beyond running in place. You won’t hear it from motivational speakers or daytime talk show hosts—but here’s the truth—that’s normal. That’s life. So stop beating yourself up with comparisons to the winners. It’s time to compare yourself to the losers for a change. These are the folks who would be singing “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me,” if they could only carry a tune and remember the words.
This aspect of Schadenfreude-- more a relief than a joy at another's bad luck-- is not as often discussed, but it is something we all recognize. Today I came across a story in The Guardian with the modest title: This Column Will Change Your Life.
It's author, Oliver Burkeman, reflects on this positive form of Schadenfreude while discussing how the story of Samuel Johnson's anxiety has been used to help people suffering from "toxic worry" in the modern era.
"Self-help authors love few things more than calling on the wisdom of great historical figures, and happily, great historical figures seem only too keen to oblige," he writes. "Maybe I'm guilty of schadenfreude, but it's far more invigorating to discover that some past icon was as insecure and fretful as the rest of us."