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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: October 2011

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It no longer seems like a miracle that kids who grow up in one part of the country have eerily similar coming-of-age experiences as those who grew up three timezones away.  I will forever be baffled by the notion that 80’s/90’s kids in both New York and California — without the luxury of the Internet nor the patience for pen-palling — enjoyed/endured the same schoolyard taunts, shared the same (hilariously false) rumors about the relationship between Pop Rocks and soda/pop/cola/Coke, and had the same two-dimensional love affair with a pair of stereotypically Italian plumbing brothers.

As children, we were also — from coast to coast — bound by certain identical rules.  The conventional wisdom is that each generation is raised by a particular set of parents who were themselves raised in a particular environment, read a particular book written by a particular psychologist spouting a particular theory of child development.  (And then we all turn out the same.)  But regardless of the era, a few rules have held remarkably steady:

  1. Do not talk to strangers
  2. Do not accept candy from strangers
  3. Avoid situations that are frightening

Those are The Rules.

The Rules must be followed at all times.

Or else.

Period!

Except, as it turns out, on Halloween — or as I like to call it — Opposite Day.

Here are The Rules on Opposite Day:

  1. Talk to ALL strangers
  2. Accept ALL candy from strangers
  3. Hooray for scary things!

On Halloween, we take these three completely universalizable, seemingly reasonable rules and — with a dismissive, Snickers-stained handwave — pish-posh our tightly held convictions from 24 hours earlier.  We have decided, as a society, that for one special day, up is down, left is right, and stranger candy is our nation’s most fantastic resource.

We live in a culture where telling a young girl that she looks like a princess and offering her a selection of fine candies is adorable in the pitch black night of October 31st…and grounds for a police investigation when the sun comes up in November.

All of this is not to say that our time spent celebrating this chocolatey pagan festival would be better spent safely contained within a panic room where no strangers can see or talk to or offer our children Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (if they are lucky) or peanuts, butter, and cups (if they are not).  In fact, most of us would rather live in a community where we can (and do!) trust our neighbors — even the neighbors we do not know! — than a collection of individuals cemented into their homes protected by the highest white picket fences allowable by law.

But at the very least, we should recognize when we are sending mixed messages to future generations, especially when the message we most often send — that we should be skeptical of the intentions of those around us — is more cynical and anti-social than the less-often sent.  Halloween is a day when we purposefully let our guard down, allow ourselves to be a little frightened, allow ourselves to talk to and to be talked to by strangers.  It is a day to look into the eyes of our neighbors and their children and see kindness, thanks, and a common understanding: that candy is delicious and smiling is contagious.

In many ways, Halloween is indeed Opposite Day.  But I think we should ask ourselves: does it have to be?

(For more Faux Outrage about Halloween — from 2002! — click here.)

 

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In life, they say, you don’t get too many guarantees.  But here’s one, just for you: this blog entry will be the most meta in the history of Faux Outrage.  (And if it turns out that it’s not, I’m counting on you to forget this pesky — and, for the record, completely unenforceable — “guarantee.”)

There is a new faux word of the day today, Fictionary, that only exists because of the very idea of a FWOTD in the first place.  In essence, it is the reason for itself.

fictionary (fik-shuhn-ner-ee)
noun

an electronic reference resource, complied by Zach Sparer on the Faux Outrage website, that consists of an alphabetical list of not-exactly-real words with their completely-made-up meanings and parts of speech, and a guide to pronunciation and syllabification.

Put more simply, the Fictionary is a new feature here at Faux Outrage that will act as a clearinghouse for all past FWOTD’s.  Each of the past FWOTD as well as other blog-centric terms (e.g., “FWOTD”) are defined.  In addition, there are links to the fleshed-out blog posts for each faux word.  You’ll be able to access the fictionary at any time by clicking on Fictionary! link in the top-right corner of the blog, right next to the aptly named HUH? and WHO? links.

There are 10 entries in the fictionary so far.

Check it out!

toothpastefordinner.com

 

It was the bottom of the fifth inning in what could only be described in those days as “your standard Rochester RedWings game.”  The score was not close, the customers in the Team Store — unlike the mosquitos outside of it — were not biting, and the weather was as unspectacular as our lead-off man’s batting average.  And yet for some reason, among the fans at the stadium, there was no aura of dread or shame.

Those of us who live “Way Upstate” seem uniquely well-equipped to extract whatever happiness that our sports teams provide us while ignoring the obvious and potentially painful downsides.  Like when we smilingly admire the blinding sunlight that is reflecting off a glistening pile of snow that barricades us into our homes three days before Halloween, we are able to hone in on the goodness in any situation — even if no reasonable person would choose to endure the suffering from which it stems.

We are Buffalo Bills fans, after all.  We live in a perpetual state of standing at the threshold of the Promised Land listening the gods tell us — over and over again — that our people don’t really need to be bothered with all of that milk and honey.  And that’s fine, we guess, so long as housing prices stay low and Wegmans stays open 24 hours.  We get our milk and honey there, anyway.

So it’s no surprise that, given the Rochesterian’s propensity for unapologetic optimism, no one at the stadium that day was interested in buying our novelty rose-colored glasses: Most folks were already wearing a pair.

It was my first summer working at the RedWing’s Team Store, so my responsibilities were (understandably) limited to making change, wiping down the glass countertops, and directing frantic mothers and their potty-dancing kin to the nearest restroom.  However, on this particular day, in the bottom of the fifth inning, I was presented with a completely new, exciting task.  (In retrospect, I realize that my excitement was born entirely out the task’s newness and had nothing to do with any objective scale we use to measure excitation.)

I was instructed to go into the stands (!) and estimate how many people were left in the stadium.  If the crowd had sufficiently dissipated, for score-related and/or weather-related reasons, an employee or two would be sent home (!) a few innings early.  Everyone was counting on me, and all I had to do was count everyone.  Since I managed to get through a year of AP Bio with Mr. Hall, I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to handle some large-scale eyeballin’.

I left the store, passed through the main concourse.

Veni.

I scanned the stands.

Vidi.

I returned to my post.

“4,000ish.”

Vici.

“That’s it?  Alright, well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Veni, vidi, vici.  

No sweat.

Frontier Field (Rochester, NY)

As planned, I did see my boss the next day.

She told me that there were over 10,000 people in the stadium.

Oops.

I guess I’m pretty bad at estimating.

For awhile, this fact bothered me.  I don’t seem like the kind of person who would be terrible at estimation.  I’m interested in science, I’ve always had a knack for mathematics and critical thinking.  I can take apart a computer and put it back together.  I can even walk and chew gum at the same time.

So why am I horrendous at estimating?

And just like that, as if I were asking a rhetorical question (and since what I lack in estimation abilities I make up for in misplaced arrogance and self-deception) I realized something:  It is not my fault at all.  Not being able to estimate must be the natural progression of human evolution.  In fact, so far as I can tell, the less able a person is to estimate, the more evolved that person is according to me — errr — to Darwin!

What a relief.

It’s all about self-preservation, a fundamental tenant of natural selection.

Back when we (humans) were without language but overtaken by our primordial will to survive, estimation was fundamental to subsistence.  We had to guess which vegetation was safe to eat, we had to eyeball each type of animal to determine whether their potential deliciousness was outweighed by its possible dangerousness (sorry, cows).  We had to guess at which humans were friendly and which were worthy of our skepticism.  On the whole, it was important — some would say “crazy important” — that we were good guessers.

However!

As time went on, as we gained communicative abilities and moved from a society of hunter-gatherers to a more of a collectivist approach, estimation became less important.  Other skills were favored: language skills, cultivation skills, community skills, nunchuck skills (much later).  The ability to hunt prey and determining which leaves are poisonous (sumac) and which merely taste like poison (also sumac, but still) were still utilized but less important for the survival of the species.  Instead, those that practiced the art of estimation — by attempting to kill dangerous animals with pinpoint accuracy and make educated-but-risky choices  — were less likely to survive in the world of natural selection.

Nowadays, the folks who are the most talented estimators find themselves engaged in unnecessarily risky behaviors.  For example, a person who correctly recognize that there is a 0.001% chance of dying from some dangerous-though-not-necessary action are perfectly reasonable when they engage in that particular behavior.  More often than not, people do not die from driving recklessly, taking illegal drugs, or even going to war.

But what about the person who, because of his/her biological desire to “remain alive,” completely miscalculates and overestimates how dangerous that activity is?  That person does not engage in the behavior at all and, in a world where the activity is not actually a requisite for life, has a 100% chance of survival.  In other words, the person who is less able to estimate the danger associated with a particular activity is more likely to survive given our species’ fear instinct.

Ergo, one’s ability to accurately estimate should be seen as a biological weakness.

So the next time you’re trying to figure out whether potential mate has genes worthy of passing on to future generations, just ask them how many fingers you’re holding up.

If you’re lucky, they’ll estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.

The phrase “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results” is often attributed to a guy named Albert Einstein.

We attribute these words to Einstein in part because the fundamental idea presented (“Experiment!”) certainly seems like something he would have subscribed to — if our celebrity-obsessed caricature of him is to be maintained — and also because we tend to stare extra hard at words when we know that they were uttered by a person that we generally respect (even if that particular person is at least partially responsible for 200,000 human casualties, give or take).

As it turns out, though Einstein said a lot of things, there is no record of him having made this particular quip about the relationship between insanity and repetitive thing-doing.  The reality is that the quote should be credited to Rita Mae Brown, a relatively and theoretically famous writer, but not the really famous writer of the Theory of Relativity.  That we attribute this quote over and over again to Einstein is, in my opinion, is equal parts insane and ironic.

Regardless of where the quote originated, and despite the fact that there is ample reason to discourage repetitive, unsuccessful thing-doage, I don’t think it quite captures precisely what it means to be/act “insane.”  Instead, I think we should start printing the following on posters, from sea to shining sea:

“Insanity is dealing with a problem effectively at first but then, for no discernible reason, ignoring the solution and replacing it with nothing.”

In other words, everything we need to know about insanity can be understood by addressing the rise and fall of the standard, no-frills bicycle bell.  And though this tiny bell has never been a reason to commit an otherwise healthy person to a padded room, our complacency about (at best) or disdain for (at worst) this metallic marvel is nothing short of cuckoo.

The percentage of bikes that sport a bell, so far as I can tell, has taken a nosedive.  And though we still are very much living in the same world and surrounded by the same circumstances that necessitated the invention of the bicycle bell, we seem to have chosen to remove the bell from our bikes and replace it with…nothing.

Instead, bikers are “forced” to hearken back to the olden days and insist on warning pedestrians by yelling any number of versions of the technically accurate though actually most dangerous phrase in the universe“On your left!  Your left!”

This string of words produces, a vast majority of the time, precisely the opposite reaction than the speaker hopes.  When a thinking person hears, from behind, someone anxiously shriek, “Your left!”, the natural, understandable and immediate reaction is to move quickly to the left (directly into the bike’s warpath).  A far more effective technique would be to take this standard warning call and replace it with literally any other loud noise, which would prompt a pedestrian to triangulate the location/distance of the bike and move their body appropriately.

Literally any other loud noise.

You know, like a bell.

Ideally, when a new technology results in unintended negative consequences, the solution cycle (!) looks like this:

  1. Useful Technology invented 🙂
  2. Useful Technology causes unintended badness 😦
  3. Implement Other Thing to limit unintended badness 😐
  4. Final Solution = Useful Technology + Other Thing 😀

If we know steps (3) and (4), we should never ignore them nor pretend as though they do not exist.  As Albert Einstein — whose name gives instant credibility to this phrase — once maybe said, “Insanity is dealing with a problem effectively at first but then, for no discernible reason, ignoring the solution and replacing it with nothing.”

In a sane universe, here is how we would deal with the unintended negative consequences of bicycle traffic causing confusion when riders approach and overtake pedestrians:

  1. The bicycle is invented!
  2. The bicycle causes confusion for pedestrians!
  3. Ringing a bicycle bell alerts pedestrians of bike location.
  4. Final solution = Bicycle + bell

Unfortunately, this is not the world we currently live in.

Yet I still have hope that (one day!) we will re-learn to embrace the fantastic power of the simple bike bell.

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