Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An alternative view on "Avatar": Is Jake Sully the villain?

There's a disturbing undercurrent in Avatar that's largely gone unremarked. Jake Sully, the soldier who "goes native", is at first glance the hero. In this sense, Avatar is part of a long movie tradition of white men who come to appreciate, side with, and ultimately cross over to the "other": compare, most obviously, Dances With Wolves and Lawrence of Arabia.

But there's a darker subtext to this theme. It's an enduring and unpleasant truth that rich, powerful white men always take what the "natives" have, whether its oil or land, and that is certainly the obvious message in Avatar. But Sully takes something even more precious from the Na'vi: their identity. Becoming them might be the most rapacious form of taking of all. Either Cameron missed this point, or he is being even more subtly subversive than most people have noticed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What the Internet really needs...

ICANN keeps talking about the benefits of adding new top-level domains, as if .biz really adds anything to .com except confusion. At the same time, they refuse to deal with the real problems online, for example refusing to sanction a .xxx domain for porn. Other than prudishness, what's wrong with this idea? It's not like porn is hard to find already for those that want it, so anything that makes it easier to find for those that want it and easier to avoid for those that don't has to be a good idea... unless, of course, you're one of those people for whom the very mention of "sex" makes you uncomfortable.

Anyway, it's clear to most of us that there are three big problems online: sex, scams, and spam. So I'd like to propose three new top-level domains where these things are actually appropriate. Those that want them will know where to get them (hey, somebody has to be replying to those Nigerian Prince emails or they wouldn't keep sending them...) and the rest of us can avoid them.

Scams: Obviously, should be at .con

Spam: Belongs in .can

Sex sites: If we can't have .xxx, how about .come?

The only remaining problem is what to do with all those "improve your sexual performance" emails, which are spam for a scam about sex...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Block That Metaphor

Joe Theismann, talking about the Redskins' latest debacle:

"It feels like we're swimming an uphill battle."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I was stuck behind a guy in a Prius this morning with his bumper covered with sanctimonious bullet points. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles in theory. It just seems that in practice, the reduced emission of smog is more than offset by the increased emission of smug.

Anyway, this particular driver had a sticker saying "Overpopulation: #1 environmental problem." And it struck me: people who say this never seem to be willing to do anything about it personally.

Monday, November 09, 2009

A Final Thought On Creationism and Intelligent Design

I have decided that I'm done with the topics of creationism and intelligent design. I've tried parody. I've tried satire. I've even been victimized by Poe's Law.

So I've decided to attempt a reasonable compromise with Christian fundamentalists. I propose that we all agree that man evolved from apes, except in certain parts of the American South, where he hasn't. Does that seem reasonable?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Espresso Checkout Line

In a coffee shop the other day I was stuck in line behind somebody ordering a "venti double skinny mocha vanilla mumbo jumbo", or something. Which is a drink, it turns out.

That's when I decided that coffee shops should have an express line, for those of us that actually want to order coffee, with a large sign saying "Two Adjective Limit Per Customer".

Of course, if I were running a coffee shop it would only serve four drinks -- espresso, cappuccino, latte and macchiato. If you want something with flavored syrup or whipped cream, try the Dairy Queen.

Feeling older

Last week, somebody tweeted one of my blog posts.

I can remember when that wasn't even a sentence.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Four weddings and two funerals

That's the total number I've been to of my own free will (so not counting the weddings of relatives my parents dressed me up for and dragged me along to as a child). It's a pathetically low number for somebody my age, but there's a simple explanation. Some time ago I stopped going to weddings or funerals, and for the same reason: I hate it when somebody else is the center of attention.

Friday, October 09, 2009

George vs. George: A philosophical question

My son's kindergarten class is learning about US presidents this week and my son, not yet grasping the idea that people don't live forever, asked me "How come George Washington is dead but George Bush is alive?"

And to be honest, I really didn't have a good answer for him...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Missing Words

There are some words in the English language that don't have the opposites you would normally expect: for instance, "Inept"; "Disgruntled"; and my favorite, "Unkempt".

This post doesn't really have a point. I just wanted to say that I would be a l0t more gruntled in my life if my son was more ept at keeping the house kempt.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Does Tom Cruise Walk? A Defence of Stationism

There is an insidious movement afoot intended to deceive our children. I'm talking about the claim that movie stars such as Tom Cruise walk all by themselves. This so-called Theory of Ambulation is being foisted on our kids, and it's time we Stationists fought back.

Now at first sight the Theory of Ambulation idea seems seductive, but ask yourself this: Have you ever seen Tom Cruise walk? Many people will say, "Of course! I saw him walk in Top Gun, and he did a bunch of walking in Mission: Impossible too." But look more closely at the evidence. What you actually saw in Top Gun was a lot of separate pictures, each showing a stationary Tom Cruise in slightly different positions. Yes, it looks convincing when you see a movie, but that's because somebody went to a lot of trouble to arrange those pictures in a certain order and then flash them in front of your eyes extremely quickly to deliberately create the illusion that he's walking. It's all a conspiracy, artfully designed to hide the truth!

So if Tom Cruise doesn't really walk, how do we explain the pictures? There are two possibilities. One is that Tom Cruise was found by chance in all those positions by some photographer who took the pictures and arranged them to make a "walk". Of course, it's obvious to everybody that the probability against random changes in his position somehow ending up in a "walk" is astronomical, so we can readily dismiss this theory.

That leaves only one logical possibility: In between each picture of Cruise that you see, some external agency adjusts his position. The resulting sequence of pictures is what we mistake for walking. Now, I'm not saying that the external agency is God... but I'm not saying that it isn't.

In light of this disturbing evidence, isn't it only reasonable that Stationism be given equal time in our schools alongside the Theory of Ambulation?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My name is Carl, and I'm an alcophilic

No, not an alcoholic: an alcophilic. I don't need alcohol, but I do love the way it tastes. Consequently, I don't have a drinking problem, but I might have a not-drinking problem.

Here's the issue: the only drinks that I really like the taste of are coffee, which I drink all day, and alcoholic beverages, which I drink in the evening. I like beer, wine, and most spirits (except gin, which I regard not so much as a drink choice but rather as a character flaw). Frankly, I'd like to have more nights where I don't drink any alcohol, but there's really nothing else I like the taste of nearly as much. Fruit juices are too sweet (and surprisingly calorie-laden). Soda and other children's drinks are sticky and unpleasantly flavored. Fruit teas are bitter (and not in the good way). Water is bland and boring, and I refuse to pay good money for the various ridiculous flavored, colored, or "enhanced" waters in the supermarket.

Out of desperation, I gave alcohol-free beer a try. And while it's better than most of the alternatives (at least it's not ridiculously sweet -- why does the average american have the palate of a five year-old?), it really doesn't taste much like beer.

And that's when I decided: the thing that makes beer taste good is the alcohol. That's the flavor that I like.

My name is Carl, and I'm an alcophilic.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Feeling old

I caught myself looking at a Buick and thinking, that's not such a bad-looking car.

God, I feel old...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Reform

The more I see of the bizarre and extremist form that the opposition to Health Care Reform has taken, the more I find myself thinking that Death Panels wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pixar and Female Heroes: Why Slate is Completely Wrong

Slate set off a bit off an online firestorm a couple of a weeks ago with a podcast pointing out that none of Pixar's movies to date have female heroes. Ignoring for a moment the fact that having no female heroes is still probably better than the "passive princess" role models Disney serves up, there's a problem with Slate's thesis:

It's completely wrong.

Maybe I'm the only one to notice, but the hero of The Incredibles is Elastigirl/Helen Parr; and the second lead is Violet.

Yes, I know it's not immediately obvious, and superficially it looks like it's Mr. Incredible's movie, but really it isn't. Consider:
  • Helen initiates all the major plot points in the movie. The initial crisis is prompted by her failure to notice that her husband has gotten by far a worse deal out of the bargain they have made to settle for normal domestic lives. The movie contrasts her moderately happy, undemanding domestic home life with his soul-sucking job. The contrast is underlined by the fact that she drives a late-model minivan while he squeezes into an aging, tiny underpowered junker.
  • The plot moves along with her suspicions about Bob, her visit to Edna, her pursuit of the missing/captured Mr. Incredible... At every stage it's Helen who initiates or triggers the next event, while Bob merely reacts to the events that are thrown at him, such as being recruited to hunt down the "rogue" Omnidroid. And isn't it remarkable that Mr. Incredible is captured and she rescues him, not the other way around?
  • More fundamentally from a "film theory" perspective, Helen, not Bob, is the one who has a character arc. She evolves from settling for fake domesticity and suppressed tensions, ignorant of the sacrifices her husband has made to accomodate "normality" (see in particular the scene where she is home, washing the baby and celebrating unpacking the last box while he is crammed into the worst possible cubicle turning down an old lady's claim, and she is completely oblivious to his unhappiness) to rediscovering the value of her husband and children, as well as her own true calling, and finding an accommodation that allows everybody to express their true selves -- including her. By contrast, Bob is essentially the same person at the end that he was at the beginning, only happier (note that we never see how his workplace frustrations are resolved).
  • To underline Helen's position as the hero, Violet's role "echoes" that of her mother in many ways. When the whole family is captured by Syndrome, she's the one who sets them free. She comes up with the idea for taking a rocket. At the climax of the movie, it's her powers that save the whole family from the falling burning debris. And then she wins the boy, not by being meek and passive but by being self-confident and assertive and asking him out on a date instead of waiting for him to notice her. In fact, she probably has the largest character arc of anybody in the movie. And by contrast, her brother Dash really has none: like his father, he is essentially the same person at the end that he was at the beginning.
So in summary: Helen's actions move the plot along, and her character is changed by her experiences. Mr. Incredible exists essentially to give Helen someone and something to save, so that she'll rediscover who she really is. In my book that makes her the hero of this movie, even if the fighting and explosions and conventional "heroics" cleverly conceal that fact.

Another Reason Star Wars Makes No Sense

There's something critically lacking in the Star Wars universe. Ask yourself this: why did they have to drag a droid halfway across the galaxy, under fire, to deliver the plans it contained?

If only there were some way to transmit information without needing to physically transfer a container. Something like mail, only completely electronic. "E-mail", if you will. What a great invention that would be.

That's right: the entire plot of Star Wars assumes that the galaxy relies on sneakernet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sports injury

Roller-coasters terrify me, but my son loves them. Unfortunately, he has just reached the height threshold for riding some of the adult ones, and last weekend we did so for the first time.

I clenched my ass so tight, I pulled a muscle in my butt.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Mickey Mouse Thought

Mickey Mouse has only three fingers and a thumb on each hand, which naturally leads me to wonder, if Mickey wants to give somebody the bird, which finger should he use?

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Republican Plan for Health Care Reform

As far as I can tell, the Republicans are opposed to a public insurance option because it would be a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that rations mediocre care with long waiting lists and no patient choice...

...and that would represent unfair competition to private insurance companies.

So, yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The dangers of folk wisdom

Folk wisdom killed my aunt. She used to tell us all the time: never go food shopping when you're hungry. Well, one day she woke up hungry and there was no food in the house. They found her three weeks later, on the kitchen floor. She had starved to death.

Let that be a lesson.

Friday, June 05, 2009

An Odd Batman Moment

I was watching "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" (I guess the Courageous and the Fearless were busy that day) with my son, and apparently Batman now has a dog who occasionally accompanies him on missions.

The odd part, is the dog is wearing a mask over his face... so he won't be recognized, I guess. But who exactly is he hiding his identity from? Because if it's the other dogs, he's wearing the mask on the wrong end.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Thought for the day

My son seems to be growing up ambidextrous. I'm so jealous. I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Long Dark Night of the Sole

I knew I shouldn't have eaten that fish.

Still, since I spent several hours invoking the name of God into the Great White Telephone, you could say it was a spiritual experience.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Roger Ebert agrees with me!

A proud moment:


(Last Q&A on the page, and also the inspiration for the column title for that week).

Yes, I am pathetically easy to please...

[Note: Updated April 13, 2015 as Answerman columns now have permalinks, which they did not when I first posted this.]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Post-Modernism Eats Itself

According to this article at Techdirt, the copyright holder for the works of Derrida is suing because somebody published a Spanish translation for free.

But wait -- I thought post-modernists like Derrida subscribed to Barthes' theory, set out in "The Death of the Author", that the reader should be considered the author just as much as the writer?

If so, Derrida's estate has no more business claiming royalties for his work than I do, right?

I used to be confident about my interpretation of the text, but now I'm not Saussure.

If you don't get this, don't worry: Dennis Miller will be along in a minute to explain it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'People-person' brain area found

According to this story at BBC News, scientists have discovered the areas of the brain that may determine how sociable a person is. Warm, sentimental people tend to have more brain tissue in the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes and in a structure deep in the brain's center.

Here's scans of the brains of two people in a social setting, with the "social pleasure" areas highlighted:

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Social Networking Sites

I think I've identified a handful of opportunities in the crowded social networking landscape:

  • False.com: the only online dating site that openly admits that most people are more interested in biology than chemistry. Lying about your identity and interests is actively encouraged.

  • Fakebook.com: if you're ashamed at the lack of activity and updates from friends on your Facebook page, this site can help. Just "friend" a handful of the fake profiles from the hundreds of thousands on offer, and pretty soon the invitations, photos, and funny messages posted from your new "friends" will make you the envy of all your real friends -- assuming you have any, of course. And in case you're wondering where we got the data for all those fake profiles: Remember that "25 Things About Me" meme that was going around? Exactly.

  • ADate: Jews have JDate to meet people with a similar religious and cultural background. It's about time somebody did something similar for the Amish. This is an enormous untapped opportunity: there are over a quarter of a million Amish in the USA and Canada, and not a single website caters to their social interests!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thought for the day

If my enemy's enemy is my friend, what does that make my friend's friend?

And what about my lover's lover?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

On the passing of the analog era

What my generation regards as normal in the worlds of music and movies is coming to an end. And by "my generation" I mean people old enough to remember buying music on something before CDs, and old enough to remember when watching a movie at home on videotape was a novelty. In reality, everything that we take for granted about the economics of music and movies is a brief aberration in the history of art and performance, one that is now passing.

When the history of the music industry is written, the introduction of the digital representation on CDs will probably be pointed to as the turning point, although the change really didn't reach critical mass until distribution (the internet) and reproduction (MP3s) were added. After that, it became inevitable.

But what makes this really interesting is the realization that this is not a revolution so much as a counter-reformation.

The 20th century gave us a small window of time in which music, films, prints, etc. could be distributed as analog physical products, meaning that they could be mass-produced easily, but not too easily. This oddity put economic power in the hands of companies that could marshal manufacturing, distribution, and marketing resources, and also made it possible to charge for every copy. It also made a painful necessity of the "star" system: with so much fixed cost involved in creating a record, from the recording sessions to the manufacturing to the shipping, records had to sell in large quantities. That in turn meant expensive promotion -- another fixed cost -- and an upward spiral that resulted in stars, superstars and megastars, where people who were only slightly more talented and slightly more fortunate were rewarded exponentially more.

And so a generation of artists, managers, agents, etc., grew up expecting to get paid for every copy, and from there it was just a small hop to getting paid for broadcasts or other performances that "cheated" them out of selling a copy. In the space of a couple of generations, this bizarre entitlement had become the new norm.

With digital reproduction of music and movies supplanting mass production/distribution, that assumption is breaking down. A generation is growing up that knows perfectly well that it costs essentially nothing to make copies of recordings... and that arbitrary rules aside, it's not actually depriving the artist of anything. The artist doesn't have to work any harder, and the artist isn't being deprived of any payment they might otherwise get... unless you assume a priori that they should get royalties. And frankly, that's not a very convincing argument.

Before mass production, musicians and actors had to go out and perform. With the passing of the analog interregnum they will have to do so once again if they want to get paid.

The companies that profit from the analog model are desperately fighting this shift as if the current state embodied some inherent moral and ethical right, rather than merely a profitable business model, and its end would be a catastrophe. "Nobody will be able to afford to make $120M movies", they say, as if that were self-evidently a terrible thing.

But really, the worst thing that will happen is that people like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie will be merely moderately rich rather than absurdly rich.

The second-best thing that will happen is that, in the absence of a compelling economic reason to manufacture and market celebrities, the whole ridiculous world of "celebrity culture", of Hello! magazine and awards shows and wedding pictures and paparazzi and TMZ, will evaporate.

And the best thing of all that might happen is that "reality" television shows, which are essentially the bastard offspring of pseudo-celebrity culture and over-elaborate game shows, a world that feeds on exposing people with neither talent nor shame to brief notoriety and passing ridicule through the lens of mass media and calling it entertainment -- will return to whatever circle of hell they escaped from.

Well, I can dream...

Friday, May 01, 2009

WHO do you think you are fooling?

WHO wants to change the name of the H1N1 'flu virus strain from 'swine flu' to 'influenza A (H1N1)'. They say it's at the request of the meat industry, but they're not fooling me: it's all part of the porcine cover-up. Sorry, little piggies, it's too late: I'm on to you.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

No Swine 'Flu in Virginia

So far, Virginia (the state where I live) has no reported cases of swine 'flu.

That can only mean one thing: Virginia's 'flu monitoring system isn't working.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A new kind of science, or an old kind of mistake?

Stephen Wolfram has written a fascinating book called A New Kind of Science, which describes the universe in terms of cellular automata, which are a long standing interest of his.

First let me say that Wolfram is undoubtedly one of the brightest minds of our generation. Had he lived a couple of centuries earlier he would probably have been one of those people reputed to know all that is known (an impossible standard these days). Having acknowledged that...

...I have one big question about the idea, and it's this: For as far back as we can tell, humans have described the physical world using as a model, essentially, the most complex thing they know at the time. They've also tended to assume, naively, that today's Most Complex Thing will never be surpassed in complexity. Consider:

In pre-history the most complex thing we knew was ourselves, so we explained the universe [earth, or some small corner of it] in terms of malicious gods and capricious spirits who were pretty much like us, except magically powerful. Sadly, many people still do -- but that's a topic for another day. (If you're reading this and you believe in something supernatural, then obviously I'm not talking about your profoundly-held spiritual beliefs. I'm talking about those other people and their irrational, crackpot beliefs in the wrong religion/magic/astrology/pyschics/ghosts/etc.)

When the greeks became mathematicians and, most notably, geometers, the universe [solar system] was understood as a complex problem in geometry. This world model persisted all the way up to Kepler, who believed that the positions of the then-known planets could be explained by nesting Platonic solids -- which makes so much more sense than that Ptolemaic nonsense about concentric crystal spheres!

The scientific revolution that included Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo spawned physical laws based in differential calculus, equations with (theoretically) precise solutions, and a universe described as the most complex piece of clockwork imaginable. The world, like maths and machines, was entirely predictable.

In the 19th century, with the rise of both statistical theory and the industrial revolution, it became fashionable to think of the universe in terms of thermodynamics (in other words, the most complex steam engine imaginable). While the physical laws were still deterministic, the behavior of a complex system (like, say, a universe) was really only understandable in statistically averaged ways. Out of this insight would eventually emerge non-linearity, chaos theory, and sytems that were theoretically predictable yet practically unpredictable. In particular, it became clear that some systems were inherently irreducible: they cannot be simulated by anything simpler than the system itself. (This came as something of a shock to physicists who, as a profession, like to reduce and simplify. These are people who, according to a popular joke, if asked to bet on a horse race would begin "Consider a perfectly spherical, hairless horse...").

In the 20th century we had the digital computer and, surprise, the idea that the universe could best be understood in terms of information theory. In other words, the universe is like the most complex computer imaginable. Or maybe even like a quantum computer, because those are even more complex.

Intriguingly, the history of quantum field theory neatly recapitulates the history above. Quantum mechanics started out as an essentially mechanical theory in which certain quantities needed to be quantized, for reasons then unexplained, to explain well-known experimental results, but not much else about it was particularly weird; it evolved into a theory based in statistical processes and probability and inherent uncertainty; and it is increasingly best understood as a theory about conservation of information rather than a theory about particles and forces. (This latter line of thought is at the root of much of Hawking's work, especially with regard to the physics of black holes, that suggest that the concept of Entropy, so fundamental to the 19th century thermodynamic view, is actually more deeply explained by Information).

And now we have a proposal that suggests that the universe is like cellular automata. The cellular automaton is a wonderful discovery, a construct built from transparently simple rules that can generate behavior so complex and unexpected that it is, for all practical purposes, unpredictable (and some cases, perhaps even formally undecidable). It combines the fundamental certainty of precise laws; the impossibility of predicting the behavior of an arbitrary starting point short of actually running the machine; and fascinating relations to information theory.

So... Maybe Wolfram does have has a unique insight into the how to describe the universe. If anybody is going to, it would probably be a singular mind like his.

Or perhaps Wolfram is merely the latest to model the universe in terms of the most complex thing we know. While it's always nice to understand the universe better, there's a decent possibility that the universe can't be adequately modeled by anything -- or at least, any one thing -- that is, by definition, within the Universe. I think Kurt Godel might have something to say about that...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Political Aside: Jiu-Jitsu

I've been following with fascination the debate about the torture of prisoners accused of terrorism (and if you're one of the people defending the practice, I urge you to take a moment to note the word "accused" in that sentence: not "convicted", not even "tried", but simply "accused" within a system that never holds the accusers accountable.)

On the surface it seems like Obama is being unusually clumsy. Didn't he anticipate that his supporters would be outraged that he isn't planning to prosecute anybody? And doesn't he realize what a great opportunity this is to go after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of that cabal?

Frankly I think that Obama knows exactly what he is doing. I'm coming to admire enormously his ability to shape the political battlefield before he engages the enemy (just like Colin Powell would do in a military conflict).

Think about this. If he had gone after the Bush/Cheney henchmen right away, the GOP and its proxies would wheel out the "Partisan witch-hunt!#@!!" talking points.

So what does Obama do? First he "upholds his promise of transparency" by releasing the documents. Then he says he's not planning to prosecute CIA officers who simply followed orders they'd been told were lawful [notice the implied contrast to the Bush regime's handling of Abu Ghraib...]. But he carefully leaves the door open. Then he waits...

...And pretty quickly there is an up-swelling of outrage from the public and the media demanding that somebody be held accountable, now that they have the details in the documents in front of them (yay transparency!). If not the CIA officers, then who? Well, I guess it has to be the people that authorized the torture. "I didn't want to appear partisan", says Obama, reluctantly, "but the American people demand accountability".

And of course, the increasingly ridiculous defense of these practices by Republicans plays right into his strategy. "It's not torture because... uh... we're Americans and Americans don't torture" wouldn't defeat an average high school debate team, let alone a master of political jiu-jitsu. Even funnier is watching them tie themselves in logical knots as they try to argue that Obama is endangering Americans by releasing these documents, while simultaneously demanding that he release more documents to prove that the torture worked and was therefore justified. It's only a matter of time before somebody's head explodes live on Fox News. (Please, God, let it be Sean Hannity.)

Oh and Rudy Giuliani: in case you're still wondering, this is what a "community organizer" does.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thought for the day: the armed forces

Wouldn't it make more sense if the armed forces were called the Army, the Navy, and the Airy?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Color Commentary

If you are male and not professionally employed in home decor or design, you can create a lasting positive impression on your wife/girlfriend/significant other with one simple trick:

Casually refer to some shade of red by a more specific name, such as "burgundy" or "claret".

For maximum effect, you should phrase the reference in the form of a question so that she can correct you. This allows her to simultaneously acknowledge your sensitivity and reaffirm her superiority in that regard.

IMPORTANT: The benefits of this stratagem will be entirely lost if she ever discovers that "burgundy and gold" or "claret and blue" are the commonly-referenced colors of your favorite football [sic] team.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thought for the day

There is no social situation so awkward and uncomfortable that it can't be made worse by somebody saying "Well, this is uncomfortable."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Better Off Ted

Well, I finally found a TV show I like: a new comedy called Better Off Ted. It reminds me heavily of the deadpan surrealism of the post-war Parisian Theatre of the Absurd, with an obvious influence of 19th century pataphysics in its setting, along with a whiff of commedia dell'arte. Its structure is a complete break from the standard tedious TV sitcom's setup line/zinger straightjacket, and in those regards reminds me of both Arrested Development and the underappreciated Andy Richter Controls The Universe -- not surprisingly, alums of both shows are involved in Ted.

It's smart, it's witty, and I give it no more than five weeks before its canceled and replaced with reruns of According To Jim.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The downside of fatherhood: A rant

While fatherhood is a lot of fun, it has to be said that there is one big, constant, nagging downside to being a father: the constant assumptions of people around you that the mother does the work, and the father does the play.

This is particularly annoying to me because my son has been on an extended "Daddy do it!" phase, where the only one of us that he will allow to change his pull-ups, dress or undress him, give him his bath, get up to sit with him when he wakes up in the middle of the night, etc. etc., is me. And even when he isn't being so exclusive, my wife's work takes her away for days, sometimes weeks at a time, and often ties her up at weekends. Overall, I can comfortably say that I've done the majority of feeds, diaper changes, and midnight clean-ups when he throws up on himself over the past four and a half years.

This attitude is pervasive. It's on every baby product, whose packaging and advertising assume that "mom" buys it and uses it. For instance, the pull-ups my son wears at nighttime inform me that they have "easy-open sides for mom." I guess we dads will just have to pull them up over our kids' heads, or something. And a recent free product sample that I requested arrived in an envelope saying "Mom, here's the sample you requested!". The most annoying part of this is that neither one of those statements would in any way be lessened by omitting the reference to "mom". And when was the last time you saw a product advertised as "the taste kids love, the nutrition both parents will approve of"? What, dads don't care if their children eat any old crap?

This attitude extends even to doctors and nurses. The last time I took my son to the doctor, she explained the foul-tasting prescription he'd have to take for the next 10 days, then told me, patronisingly, "being the father can't just be the fun parts of parenting". I restrained myself from responding, primarily because my sick son didn't want to be put down at that moment...

And don't even get me started on the workplace. Here's an ABC News article about Michelle Obama balancing work and family. Where's the piece on Obama? Last time I looked, they're his daughters too... Trust me on this: As a father, nobody will congratulate you on how well you balance work and family. Ever.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Office Drama

I can't decide if its hilarious or just sad how people in office jobs dramatize their work. They'll say things like "I dodged a bullet today", "He got his head handed to him", or "I'm in full fire-fighting mode" when in fact the greatest physical danger they faced was a paper cut or stapler misfire.

Funnily enough, you never hear anybody who actually dodges bullets, recovers decapitated bodies, or fights fires talk that way.

Although they do occasionally say "The victim was shot before he was beheaded? Then they tried to burn the corpse? Crap, the paperwork on this one is going to kill me."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Porcine Conspiracy

I had a frightening revelation last night: Pigs are trying to kill us all and take over the world. Yes, I know it sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory, but look at the evidence.

Exhibit one: bacon. Sweet, tangy, irresistible bacon... larded with artery-clogging cholesterol. Bacon is the crack cocaine of smoked meat products: totally addictive, totally lethal. But wait, you say: doesn't the pig have to die for us to get bacon? Sure, but the pig looks on it as a worthwhile sacrifice. He wears his haunches with the same fatalism that a suicide bomber wears his explosive vest. He's happy to die as long as he takes a few of us with him. And, fools that we are, we keep breeding more of these killers.

Exhibit two: 'flu. Pigs are conducting surreptitious biological warfare against the human race, and their weapon of choice is the 'flu virus. Ever wondered why the 'flu virus is different every year? Not many people know this, but 'flu starts out as a relatively harmless virus in chickens and ducks. The pigs then infect themselves with it and mutate it into a form that can infect humans. Don't believe me? Then maybe you'll believe the National Institutes of Health. Their goal is to create a lethal virus that will wipe out mankind. They almost succeeded once before, in 1918, when they unleashed their deadly plague on a population weakened by years of war, killing 20 million people. It's only a matter of time before they try again.

Exhibit three: Suid. When I discovered this little clue just a few days ago, the pieces of the evil porcine plot finally fell into place. Readers familiar with Linux will immediately recognize "suid" as the gateway to granting a program "root" privileges. If that's all geek to you just know this: "suid" is what a hacker needs to take control of a Linux server. So what? Well, did you know that "suid" is also the technical term for the pig family? Exactly! Linux is a plot by the pigs to take over our IT infrastructure, and they are so confident we won't notice they are throwing it in our faces!

You may point and laugh derisively now, but I do believe I have exposed an evil global conspiracy. Or at the very least, the plot of the final part of the "National Treasure" trilogy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Awkward friendships

Everybody has one: that person who likes you a lot more than you like them... and doesn't know it. Yes, you've got one, haven't you? You're thinking about them right now, aren't you?

You know the kind of friend I mean. They would really like to be "comfortably close" friends, the kind of friends who see each other so frequently you never need to catch up on news. You just do casual stuff together like go shopping, or see that new movie. You, on the other hand, would like to be the kind of friends that never call or visit, who exchange Christmas cards. Maybe. They're easy to spot: they're the friend who always calls you, you never call them. And when they have an idea for an outing, you'll grasp at any excuse not to go.

Oh, they're harmless enough -- we're not talking stalkers and restraining orders here. You don't dislike them, and you don't want to offend them by telling them to leave you alone. You just don't feel you have nearly as much in common as they seem to think. And, let's face it , they really aren't very cool, are they? It would be kind of... awkward... if any of your other friends saw the two of you together.

And as I was thinking about this it occurred to me: if everyone has one of these awkward friends, there's a pretty good chance that every one of us is one of these awkward friends to somebody else... and we never realized it.

And now you're thinking: huh, that guy never calls me, I always have to call him. I wonder if that's how he really sees me?

I just ruined your entire day, didn't I?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A short story: Satan Meets His Match

Martin stared out over the gray upholstered half-height walls of his cubicle, across a dozen rows of identically drab cubicles, at the clock high on the far wall of the office. The minute hand clicked over, from 4:23 to 4:24. A dissonant ping announced the arrival of another email. He scanned the subject line, hit the delete key, and returned his stare to the clock. Still 4:24. He glanced at the pile of paper on his desk. Meaningless busywork, summaries of aggregates prepared by regional managers of district managers, that he in turn would paraphrase for the benefit of some vice president up on the 20th floor who would present it to the CEO, a man six degrees removed from any human contact with customers. Martin wondered if the CEO even cared what the company made anymore, or whether from his lofty height it was simply an exercise in resource allocation and spreadsheets, pushing ants around with water.
Martin looked forward to 4:30. From there it was an easy slide downhill to 5:00, thirty minutes that could easily be occupied emptying his email, tidying his desk, and visiting the bathroom two or three times. After that, the dregs of the day would be all his own. A brisk walk to the car park, sluffing the after-work drinks invitations of his dull, narrow-minded co-workers. Forty minutes or more of slow-moving, nerve-jangling traffic. A cheap microwave dinner that combined the taste of chemical preservatives with the texture of wallpaper paste. A couple of hours of dull sitcoms and overwrought dramas on TV until his head felt leaden enough that sleep might come. Six hours of restless, unrefreshing tossing until the alarm buzzed and the cycle could begin over.
He took a sip from his coffee mug, blenching at the acrid, tepid brew. He stared at the clock again, and waited for it to click to 4:25, promising himself a fresh cup of coffee once it did so. And he waited. And waited. He began to wonder if the clock were broken. Then the deep and absolute silence struck him. The office was never particularly vibrant, but normally there was at least a background clatter of staccato keyboard clicks, a hum of muted phone conversations, and the buzzing of fluorescent light fixtures. Martin stood up and slowly turned around. He found himself facing a smartly tailored youngish man with a precisely groomed goatee and moustache. The only element that distinguished him from any of the senior management MBAs from the 20th floor was a distinct whiff of sulfur that his aftershave could not completely suppress.
The visitor flashed an even white smile marred by just the slightest hint of fangs about the canine teeth. “Sorry about the smell,” he said, wafting the cloud of sulfur with a perfectly manicured hand. “We’re very modern about most things, but on this one the traditionalists still hold sway.” He held out his hand. “You can call me… Damien.”
“If I shake your hand, have I committed myself to a deal?” asked Martin warily.
“Ha, ha, very good”, smiled the self-styled Damien. “I may steal that line. No, we operate strictly on contracts willingly entered into. We find there are more than enough of those without having to trick anybody.”
“I take it then you’re… him?” asked Martin, a little awed in spite of himself.
Damien’s smile barely faltered. “Sad to say, I’m not the chief himself. Think of me more as, say, a vice president of new business development. Fully authorized to act on behalf of the organization, of course.”
“And you’re here to offer me the usual deal?”, asked Martin.
“Ah, I do like a man who cuts to the chase” replied Damien. “Yes indeed, and here it is. You get one wish, anything you can name. I get your immortal soul when you die. What do you say?”
“I’m sure there’s some fine print, isn’t there?” asked Martin. Years of cubicle paper-shuffling had taught him to be dubious that any deal could be so straightforward.
“Well, of course. We do have to be discreet. We can’t have people noticing obviously supernatural interventions, not in this day and age. So for instance if you wish for riches, rather than just whipping up a pile of gold whose origin you can’t explain, we’ll put you into a rather juicy IPO that you can flip, or maybe arrange to backdate your stock options. And before you ask – because everybody does, you know – we also can’t change history, or kill somebody for you, or meddle with somebody else’s emotions. So if there’s a lady you have in mind, I can make you as desirable as you wish, but I can’t actually force her to desire you. Do you see?”
“How long do I have to make up my mind?” asked Martin.
Damien furrowed his brow and pretended to be disappointed. “Normally this is a take-it-or-leave-it offer. But I rather like you, so I can give you twenty four hours.” He hated not closing a deal, but he wasn’t worried. Nobody ever asked him to come back so they could say no. Invariably it was the clever ones who asked for time, thinking they could come up with some scheme to outwit the contract. And equally invariably, it was the clever ones who were easiest to hook. As if, after all this time, there were some deception that the Prince of Lies himself hadn’t seen before!
“Till tomorrow, then!” he announced, rather more theatrically than he had intended, and vanished. The clock ticked over to 4:25. Sound rushed back in as though a balloon had silently popped. The only evidence that the apparition had not been a daydream was the slowly fading smell of sulfur.
Martin’s drive home that night was even more miserable than usual. Headache-inducing rain had slowed traffic to an ill-tempered crawl. Tonight, though, Martin was, for the first time in years, seeing the other drivers as more than mere obstacles. A man laughing into his mobile phone. A woman twisting to chat to the child in the back seat. A couple stealing a kiss every time traffic stopped. These people looked happy, or at least short of miserable. What secret did they know that he didn’t? Once home, he turned on the TV and watched a sitcom with his full attention. It still seemed pointless and tedious and predictable, yet thirteen million people watched this thing every week, the newspaper told him, and it had won several awards. How could those people enjoy it, but not him?
Sleep came even harder that night than usual. Martin lay staring at the ceiling asking himself, how do they all manage to be happy, but not me? Eventually he must have fallen asleep, but it seemed like mere minutes before the alarm clock dragged him awake again.
The following day, Martin watched the clock even more avidly than usual. At 4:24 precisely, silence swallowed the office noises, and the familiar smell of sulfur announced the return of Damien. He pulled a neatly creased hand-written contract from his coat pocket and smoothed it out on Martin’s desk. There was a small blank space for his signature and a larger one for his wish. Martin tried to push away the discomforting suspicion that the contract might be written in blood.
“Ready?”, asked Damien, smiling warmly, his fangs just a little more prominent than the day before.
“First I have a couple of questions,” said Martin.
“Of course. I’d be disappointed if a smart guy like you didn’t.”
“Do many people ask for a beautiful wife?”
“One of the oldest”, laughed Damien. “And yes, they’re always disappointed when they realize they should have specified their own wife.”
“And do a lot of men wish for an enormous… you know?”
“One of my favorites,” chuckled Damien. “You can’t imagine the fun I have taking that one too literally.”
“Oh, I think I can. And people who wish for riches?”
“An easy one is to give them stolen money that they can’t spend, but I like to be a bit more creative.” Damien didn’t mind sharing a few trade secrets. Guys like Martin, he knew, always thought they’d figured out a new angle, and it didn’t hurt to flatter their egos for a few minutes. If anything, it made the deal even more sweet once they realized that they too had been swindled. “I actually invented a new one last year that I’m very pleased with”, he continued. “I gave a Nigerian two hundred million dollars in an untouchable bank account. All he needs now is to find someone willing to help him get it out of the country”.
“You mean…” stuttered Martin, “Those emails promising to share an illicit fortune are true?”
“Oh, it’s much better than that”, laughed Damien. “Just one of them is true. But nobody will ever know which one.”
“And talent?”
“Another old favorite. One time, I granted a young guitar player the ability to play the most amazing blues anybody had ever heard. All very traditional, that one. Crossroads at midnight, contract signed in blood, the whole deal. A year later he was dead, poisoned by a rival in a love triangle.”
“You killed him?” said Martin, astonished. “I thought you said you couldn’t do that?”
“Heaven forbid!” replied Damien, shocked. “No, really, I mean that literally. Heaven forbids it. We’re not allowed to meddle with your ordained lifespan. That would be cheap. I just made a side deal with his killer. All he wanted in return for his soul was to know the name of his rival in love, and his favorite drink.”
“So basically,” said Martin, “whatever I wish for, you’re going to try to cheat me out of the benefit of it?”
“That’s pretty much the name of the game,” nodded Damien. “We’re not in the business of making fair deals here. We’re in the business of exploiting greed and lust and avarice. After all, the Other Team wouldn’t have much of a chance at winning any souls if we were to get a reputation for actually delivering what we promised, would they?”
“I suppose not. And there are no clever get-outs, like making a selfless wish?”
“Only in Hollywood movies,” laughed Damien. “We closed that loophole a while ago. The Chief argued that if you make a selfless wish specifically to save your soul, it wasn’t really selfless after all, was it?”
Very nicely played,” said Martin. “I am impressed.”
“Thank you. We’re quite proud of that one ourselves. These days we call it the Clinton Clause.”
Bill Clinton?” asked Martin, astonished.
“Hillary, actually. It’s a long story.”
“Huh. Well, perhaps later. Right now, I’m ready to make my wish.”
“Excellent!” Damien uncapped his pen and his hand hovered over the contract.
“It’s very simple,” said Martin. “I wish to be happy for the rest of my life.”
“That’s it?” replied Damien. He was genuinely disappointed for a moment at the lack of imagination, but grinned with full fangs at the ease of this deal. He quickly filled in the blank space, and handed the contract to Martin to sign away his soul.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Martin, picking up his own pen.
“You do?” Damien’s grin faltered ever so slightly. The confidence in Martin’s voice was just a little unnerving.
“You’re thinking about all the ways you can screw me on this deal. Turn me into a religious fanatic, deliriously convinced of God’s favor even while my life turns to ruin. Or a drooling idiot, unaware that I’m sitting in my own excrement and vomit. Or somebody like Jeremy in Shipping who hums off-key all the time and has no idea how much everybody hates him.”
“Well… maybe…” mumbled Damien uncertainly. That certainly covered most of the possibilities he’d been mentally kicking around.
“But it won’t matter to me,” continued Martin, signing the contract with an exaggerated flourish. “I won’t care. I’ll still be happy, because that’s the deal.”
Damien scowled. His skin had developed a pronounced red tinge, and small horns were protruding through his carefully combed hair.
“Because there is one last loophole, isn’t there?” continued Martin. “You only get my soul if you can cheat me out of my wish, don’t you? If you have to actually give me what I asked for, I go free. Because your boss could never, ever keep a fair deal, could he?”
Damien’s skin was bright red now, and searingly hot even from inches away. “Damn you!” he hissed. “Damn you to Hell!”.
“Oh, I don’t think so”, smirked Martin. “Not today, at least”.
Damien snatched the contract from Martin’s hand and vanished in a flash of flame. Sound returned to the office like the popping of a champagne cork. The clock ticked over to 4:25.
Martin sniffed the air. He was beginning to like the smell of sulfur, and might even miss it just a little, in a gently nostalgic way. He lifted the steaming hot cup from his desk and took a deeply satisfying sip of the best coffee he had ever smelled. He scanned the heads of his colleagues, as warm and collegial a group as any man could hope to work with. “You know”, he said out loud to nobody in particular, “I might just work late tonight, and then join you all for drinks.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

25 Facts About Me: The Sequel

I guess it's about time I finished up this list. Here is the complete 25 facts in their entirety:

  1. I have no reflection in mirrors, nor do I show up in photographs.
  2. I am the best-selling author of several books in the "Dummies" series, most notably "Ventriloquism for Dummies".
  3. I also wrote 2008's top non-fiction book, "The Idiot's Guide to Managing Risk With Collateralized Mortgage Obligations". Sorry about that.
  4. Before they turn out the lights, monsters check under the bed for me.
  5. My hobby is annoying mathematicians. I like to divide by zero, factor prime numbers, and resolve the Axiom of Choice, just for the looks on their faces.
  6. I understand the difference between parody and satire, and furthermore I can explain it in eight words.
  7. I am the least musically talented person you have ever met. The last time I took part in a jam session, they took the tambourine away from me for playing it out of key.
  8. I know that Jesus loves me, but I just like him as a friend. So it's awkward.
  9. My Indian name is "Picked Last For Sports".
  10. I am illegal in thirteen states, including all the ones that begin with A.
  11. I'm not really as short as I look, I'm just moving really fast relative to you. (If you understand this, I silently applaud you.)
  12. When I was a child, I was the next door kid's imaginary friend.
  13. I am the other, other white meat.
  14. My one remaining ambition in life is to go gray before I go bald.
  15. Technically, I am the world's smallest giant. It's a long story.
  16. In the sitcom of life, I am your wacky neighbor.
  17. It's true what they say about men with small feet. We do have a hard time buying shoes.
  18. I have a four inch scar on my right shoulder blade, acquired during my most recent autopsy.
  19. No. 10 isn't completely true. Strictly speaking, I'm only illegal in Alabama on Sundays.
  20. I need a cup of coffee. This is true regardless of when you are reading this list.
  21. If you can guess my real name, I will spin straw into gold for you.
  22. I have been compared to George Clooney, Tiger Woods and Steven Hawking. But not favorably.
  23. I rarely introduce my friends to each other because I'm afraid they'll like each other more than they like me. This is really true.
  24. People who act as though they dislike me are really just intimidated by my charm, intelligence and wit, I like to think.
  25. I use humor as a psychological defense mechanism to hide my fear of intimacy and keep other people at a safe emotional distance. You bastard.


It may come as a surprise to some people but I am actually a very spiritual person. Some years ago I joined the Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. In fact, I belong to the little-known militant wing of the Quakers. We have dedicated our lives to social justice, tolerance and global peace.

And we are prepared to kill or maim anybody who stands in our way.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Epic Fail

So NBC has a new drama coming out called Kings, which is a modern retelling of the Biblical stories of King Saul and David. There's just one thing that bothers me about this... am I the only one uncomfortable with the depiction of the greatest historical hero of Judaism as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, Fascist-uniformed, Aryan poster child for the Hitler Youth?

Although given the way NBC is burying the show, it may have occurred to them too that there might be a teeny weeny problem here...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

25 facts about me

Everybody else is doing that "25 Facts" things, so here's 25 facts about me, including some that will surprise even my closest friends. Some of them are even true. (First half in this post, second half to follow later).
  1. I have no reflection in mirrors, nor do I show up in photographs.
  2. I am the best-selling author of several books in the "Dummies" series, most notably "Ventroliquism for Dummies".
  3. I also wrote last year's top non-fiction book, "The Idiot's Guide to Managing Risk With Collateralized Mortgage Obligations". Sorry about that.
  4. Before they turn out the lights, monsters check under the bed for me.
  5. My hobby is annoying mathematicians. I like to divide by zero, factor prime numbers, and resolve the Axiom of Choice, just for the looks on their faces.
  6. I understand the difference between parody and satire, and furthermore I can explain it in eight words.
  7. I am the least musically talented person you have ever met. The last time I took part in a jam session, they took the tambourine away from me for playing it out of key.
  8. I know that Jesus loves me, but I just like him as a friend. So it's awkward.
  9. My Indian name is "Picked Last For Sports".
  10. I am illegal in thirteen states, including all the ones that begin with A.
  11. I'm not really as short as I look, I'm just moving really fast relative to you. (If you understand this, I silently applaud you.)
  12. When I was a child, I was the next door kid's imaginary friend.
  13. In the sitcom of life, I am your wacky neighbor.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sequels That Should Never Be Made

It seems like there hasn't been a really good childrens' movie in a while. Perhaps it's the lack of good ideas. For that reason, I'm submitting the following ideas for sequels that I think can reinvigorate some neglected franchises:

Babe: Pig in a Blanket -- After his adventures on the farm and in the city, Babe meets a sad demise as he is killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver. In an uplifting ending, he is still able to bring smiles to the faces of thousands of children.

The Bipolar Express -- A middle-aged man continues to believe that Santa Claus is real, insisting that he once rode on a "magical train" to the North Pole where he met elves and even Santa himself. When he begins to complain of auditory hallucinations, maintaining he can hear sleigh bells that nobody else can hear, he is committed to a mental institution for his own safety.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' College Fund -- A nerdish scientist foolishly invests his two childrens' college savings in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Desperate to replace the money before his wife finds out the truth, he uses his technical skills to break into a bank. The robbery goes awry and turns into a siege that ends when he is shot and killed by a trigger-happy SWAT sniper. Fortunately, his widow is able to sue the city and the settlement is enough to ensure that the kids never need to work, so they don't bother going to college.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Women and cars

Do women in America not buy cars? I'm wondering because it seems that every car ad on TV is carefully designed to offend the female buyer. Any ad in which a woman appears fits one of four formulae:
  1. Man drives the car while woman gazes at him in adoration of his competence, wealth and general masculinity (yes, that is sarcasm). Variation: Two couples in the car, smiling and laughing as they head to some fun nightclub or restaurant. Both women gaze adoringly etc.

  2. Man drives the car, with woman in passenger seat. Woman tricks him into changing places, exploiting the fact that he is a complete moron who should never be allowed to operate powered machinery. Why is this competent, intelligent, attractive woman with this doofus?

  3. Woman drives the car (usually a minivan/SUV) with a gaggle of kids while the voiceover rhapsodizes about the number of seats/airbags/cupholders/DVD players. Variation: Incompetent man fails to load one bag into the trunk while his wife fluently stows everything else, easily flipping seats up and down, operating the power trunk lid, etc. This combines the stupid of #2 and #3 in one doubly stupid package.

  4. Woman drives the car alone while flirting ridiculously with the camera/viewer, usually accompanied by shots of the car plunging suggestively into unsubtle metaphors like tunnels.
By far the worst, however, is the ad where a guy holds open the door of his enormous SUV -- a vehicle that immediately prompts the question, "Over-compensate much?" -- while a long line of women in CFM dresses and shoes climb in, and finally tells his male friend there's no room for him. The only rational interpretation of this ad is that he is making the High Priced Call Girl run, dropping the girls off at their clients' hotels. The tag line for this ad needs to be something like "Pimps drive Cadillacs".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yet another great reason to drink coffee

As if drinking lots of coffee wasn't awesome enough already: "People who drink too much coffee could start seeing ghosts or hearing strange voices, UK research has suggested", according to this story on the BBC News. Free entertainment! Is there anything coffee can't do?

A profound meditation on the nature of Donald Trump

I am fascinated by the continuing celebrity of Donald Trump. Frankly, it's hard for me to take seriously a man whose hair looks like a bowl of shredded wheat crawled onto his head, curled up and died.

This is an actual picture of Donald Trump, taken from above:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Difference Between Satire and Parody

People often ask me, "Carl, what's the difference between satire and parody?" The answer, really, is more straightforward than many people think.

Parody is like a simile. Satire is metaphor.