August 04, 2014

Are they a 'Rebel' or of the 'Empire'? A False Dichotomy

Blanketing any writer/philosopher/scientist/artist/politician as “right” or wrong” is entirely unhelpful. Are they a 'Rebel' or of the 'Empire' is a false dichotomy. Like the rest of us, they are mere men and women, deeply shaded in gray. Let us judge only their ideas, and one at a time. Quick to embrace the cream that rises to the top. And equally quick to discard the folly, not as evidence of their intentional opposition to all things good, but merely of their humanity.

August 03, 2014

The Noble and Psychotic Act of Reading a Newspaper Cover to Cover

There is beauty in the act of reading a local newspaper cover-to-cover each morning. There is psychosis as well. For while this once may have been, this habitual act no longer offers an efficient way to become informed – no matter what your intellectual interest. We continue to do ‘noble’ things, not for their nobility, but for how they comfort us.

July 24, 2014

The "Cynical Optimist" is Not a Contradiction of Terms

The "cynical optimist" is not a contradiction of terms, but a real understanding that while the human heart is undeniably corrupt, the breakthroughs and inventions of a few will make the entire world better, all without us needing to become better people at all – a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario. We will get richer. We will become safer. We will technologically progress. All without any moral progression required at all. Thus, we must be on guard for the illusion that we are evolving when things around us get better, when we are most certainly not.

February 01, 2013

30 Rock is Over (DON'T WORRY - NO SPOILERS)

The final episode of 30 Rock aired last night. Don't worry, no spoilers.

You see, I can't spoil the show. Because in its seven year history, 30 Rock never gave us a single story line TO spoil - nor one to root for.

In fact, 30 Rock was far and away the funniest show on television I didn't really care about watching.

Because intentionally a-sexual and disinterested Liz Lemon never gave us a coming of age or love story to root for. And her supporting cast of self-consumed exaggerations created big laughs, but no empathy either.

Perhaps this was an intentional attempt to recreate a single-serving, episode at a time Seinfeldian "show about nothing" - or a direct snub at more formulaic television - a "we don't need a Sam & Diane to make people laugh".

And they didn't. But they didn't make us care either.

Instead, they would serve up multiple jokes in a single episode that would make no sense to those not intimately familiar with the Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa.

They would alienate the 95% in order to make the 5% feel incredibly IN on something.

And they packed more smart and clever jokes in a 21-minute show than anyone else did - so chances were, no matter what 5% you were in, you'd at least have a handful of magical moments each episode.

But then you would forget about it.

December 21, 2012

Not Lying to Your Children About Santa: A Christmas Compromise

My adamant refusal to let my daughter believe in Santa Claus is one of my least popular belief systems.

For the small minority of us whose childhood trauma resulted in parental resentment, it couldn't be simpler. We don't want our children to similarly resent us.

But for those who transitioned out of adolescence without spite, they fear my child will lose a sense of magic they remember so fondly of as a kid.

My rebuttal to date has been, "It's the presents that make it magical. Not who they're from."

They disagree. And I'm not entirely sure. So, what about this for a compromise?

What if I simply don't go out of my way to stop her belief, similarly to how I don't go out of my way to convince her the Transformers aren't real. "Now you know the Decepticons are just pretend, right sweetie?!? They're NOT real!"

I'm comfortable with the larger world of make believe we all learn to separate in our minds (some better than others).

But, I just can't lie to my daughter...about this at least.

December 20, 2012

A Post-Newton Pre-Shouting Primer on Gun Control

The United States does indeed have the most gun violence and least restrictive gun laws out of any developed country.

However, individual states and cities in the United States with the most restrictive gun laws (see Washington D.C. and Chicago) tend to have the most gun violence. For instance, my home city of Chicago is on track to reach a haunting 3,000 shootings by year end.

But, are these really contradictions? Couldn't it be that Chicago instituted these harsh gun laws in an attempt to solve an existing problem? Absolutely. It would be absurd to suggest "no-gun" policies created the problem. But, as this year's data continues to sadly stream in, it would be equally absurd to claim these policies solved it.

Surprisingly, it turns out that those who act out in murderous rampages don't respect gun-free zones. In fact, gun-free zones such as malls and schools are where mass shootings most often occur.

It was sad to see last Friday turn into a "This proves my point about gun control!" shout-fest, well before the facts of the Newton case were in. Some might argue we needed to start talking about solutions while all eyes were on Newton - that this was just another example of a growing trend of mass gun violence in this country (it's actually not).

The problem with this is people think they can throw out your entire argument when the present situation didn't unfold like you originally thought.

Because initial arguments such as "How did someone with reported mental illness receive a gun permit?!?" could be later shot down with, "Ha! It wasn't his gun! It was his mom's!" While, of course, the crux of your argument was really his ease of access. But if you had waited, you could have better constructed your argument to compete against the gut feelings people tend to have regardless of statistics.

With all that nuance in mind, you may now resume shouting.

December 17, 2012

6 AM? What am I, a milkman?

I'm still stuck on my recent discovery that while I no longer find the same jokes funny that I did at the age of 13, new 13-year olds do.

It makes me want to add comedy to my theory of transitional art. That one needs to get through slapstick comedy and yo mama jokes before thinking Russell Brand is funny (this is his audition from the film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Because Brand's comedy is a play off everything else. It's a new punchline to the same joke. (It also involves a rich vocabulary and a bit of pretention, which I can't help but admire.) But it only makes sense if you've already heard the joke.

For instance, if someone provides you with a set-up line referencing 6 in the morning...

"6 AM? What am I, a milkman?" is the correct and obvious answer. As a humorist, this should be your instinctual response.  But more often, we're attempting to entertain an audience who has already heard that joke before. So, you need to go further. And this is what I argue Brand does better than just about anybody else right now. His humor fools you. His punchlines are unguessable.

Now, many comedians do this well. For instance, Tommy Johnagin, one of my favorite stand-ups from the last five years offered his take on that same punchline with, "I don't get up in single digits."

Same joke. New angle on the delivery. Made me laugh again.

Now, I haven't heard the Russell Brand take on this premise. But I assume it would be something like, "What sins are you attempting to hide from the sun?"

It's all the same joke. But the new slant prevents staleness.

Always be listening for set-up lines. But don't offer the easy punchline, unless there are 13-year olds present.