Monthly Archives: July 2010

static in my attic from channel z

7/29/10

Since we found out a few months ago that you guys are one of the last sustainable subsets of honest people gathered on the internet that is neither too large or too small, let’s take advantage of it again, shall we? I have a pop quiz for all of you.

PLEASE don’t worry if you can’t answer any of these – there’s no such thing as doing poorly. This is merely to test a theory some folks (including me) have been raising in Los Angeles recently, and it’d really help.

In another window on your computer, please cut and paste the following ten television shows. After them, please write what NETWORK or CABLE CHANNEL you think that particular show is on. Do not look up the answers on the web, or else this whole exercise is for naught. Answer off the top of your head.

Here goes:

1. CSI: New York

2. Glee

3. Damages

4. Mad Men

5. Chuck

6. Weeds

7. Big Brother 12

8. Modern Family

9. The Bachelorette

10. Big Love

When you’re done, check your answers here. Then paste or just say your results in the comments section, along with anything else you gotta git off your chest. THANK YOU!

call me morbid, call me pale

7/28/10

I began this blog in earnest on the April 10, 2002 after a few PTSD-laced entries from a few months before. As I’ve no doubt said before, the original mandate had nothing to do with politics, pictures of cute babies or the sex lives of our dear commenters (although those have been awesome). No, it was a droningly quotidian diary of the first night I went on the antidepressant Celexa, and I swore I’d write every night for a year.

I would quantify that particular journey as a success, given that I’m now 87% functional, as opposed to the 34% functionality of those times. Come what may, I have many things to thank for my present sanity, but Celexa is a huge part of it. As I told Tessa, I’m not sure which third of the serenity prayer the drug is responsible for, but it definitely gets partial credit.

That said, the Celexa is like an old perennial flower that is finding it harder to sprout. Under no circumstances should a person on a good dose of SSRI have the kind of nervous breakdown I had in January, which, if you can believe it, I softpedaled on the blog. The truth was, I was about fifteen neurons away from just walking into the snow the way Kate Chopin walks into an ocean.

Since then, I’ve buttressed myself with work, talk therapy, exercise, some meditation and of course, distraction – but after a chat with my psychopharmacologist, we decided to make a gradual switch over to Cymbalta, an SNRI shown to be a fantastic replacement therapy for SSRIs.

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go Team Duloxetine go go go!

(Some side notes: Edna, the protagonist in Kate Chopin’s novel “The Awakening”, lived in Grand Isle, Louisiana. When she walks into the ocean, she is actually walking into what would now be the most polluted shores in America thanks to the BP oilcano… thus the chemicals would kill her, rather than Victorian-era oppression. Also: “psychopharmacologist” is easily the longest word I regularly have to say. And to answer your question, yes, “Cymbalta” is a stupid name.)

Anyway, this is all to say that I’m switching off a drug that has become an intrinsic part of who I am, and as much as I trust the process, it’s still scary. I know many of you distrust all pharmacology, both the drugs themselves and the people that make them. I mostly agree with you – I still have a case of Vioxx from the dot-com days.

But I feel like I have first-hand, first-cerebellum proof that at least one of these drugs saved my life in a real way, and I have to open myself up to the fine-tuning process inherent in any slightly-mysterious discipline. In other words, if I turn into a wobbly, emotional, unpredictable fuck with meteoric mood swings, you’ll know why!

fire lane faculty u-turn parking only – yield to oncoming deer

7/26/10

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This, my friends, is the Peachtree Parking Supplies catalog. Yes, we have gone out of our way to get off catalog mailing lists, but when I installed a BOLLARD POST SLEEVE (RED WITH WHITE TAPE) in our driveway last year – to keep us from destroying our car every time we parked – I became a valued member of the Peachtree Parking Supply team.

And I have to say, as catalogs go, this one is awesome. I had no idea you could actually buy actual traffic signs and put them up in your neighborhood. I mean, just imagine the kind of chaos you can cause with these at your disposal:

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You can change the speed limit at will, you can make handicapped parking spaces anywhere, you can even lay down a speed bump. It is here where I have to admit something: as much as I like to make fun of Lindsay for being officious, it is I who originally raised officiousness to an art form. When we were kids, I typed up Dewey Decimal System numbers on all my books and created a functioning library in my “office” (the space behind the bunk beds). I loved it, not just because I got to torture Sean and Michelle with arbitrary late fees – which was fantastic – but because I loved the idea of signage you had to take seriously.

Now that I think about it, I probably learned calligraphy not because I had no friends and no meaningful contact with girls – which was not fantastic – but because anything written in calligraphy has to be treated with a fair amount of gravity. I can make a shopping list look like Eurystheus’ list of the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

Anyway, I did find something I wanted to buy: the yellow “SLOW – CHILDREN PLAYING” sign you see near playgrounds. Y’see, at the farm, we live off a state route that is something of a thoroughfare to the Berkshires. Even though the speed limit is 40, trucks barrel down our street doing 75 fuckin’ miles an hour, and it pisses me off. It’s loud, and we always have young kids chasing balls around, which makes me want to blow the truckers’ cab into bits with a sawed-off shotgun.

I doubt the town council or anybody else will have a problem with a couple of these signs on the road, unless somebody has some serious control freak issues, and I can guarantee one thing: I’ll beat them in that category every time.

I know this makes me sound like the dribbling, stupefying NIMBY Concerned Parent buttwipe that screams at “undesirables” as they pass his blue-lawn McMansion. But I assure you that isn’t true. I speed in my car with the best of them, and I still listen to my music loud, and I still like a nice Sun Country wine cooler while getting my chest waxed by the cabana boy with the Pet Shop Boys on the iPod. But I am definitely not into some fucking trucker jack-knifing into our yard while there’s toddlers afoot.

Besides, the Peachtree Parking Supplies catalog has stuff for the real ninny fartypants among us. If you install these on your property, well, sir, you are truly a dick:

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hold that thought

7/25/10

Tessa once said something to me that has resonated for about ten years now. I was having a terrible time at my Internet Job, continually feeling like the Marketing department was going out of its way to make me look bad, rendering me ever-mindful that the axe was about to fall (the half-and-half had already disappeared). After a particularly nasty day of passive-aggressive bullshit, I came home and Tessa calmly said, “you know, just wait it out… pretty soon the person making you miserable gets fired, or moves on. No matter what, the situation always changes.”

The person in Marketing left nine days later. Which, of course, was a coincidence, but the point stands: pretty much every state in America says “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. Buddhist say the same things, only they don’t have to.

It’s especially hard to take when you wait it out, and discover you were horribly wrong about something. As much as it pained me to put it in writing, I had to utterly retract any invective hurled at the Dook lacrosse team for assuming they did it. In more global matters, the New York Times kinda sorta apologized for printing a bunch of bullshit that helped shape the case for the Iraq War.

And now we’ve got two news events that show, once again, how waiting a few minutes for the weather to change can reverse everything. The Shirley Sherrod episode is a goddamned embarrassment for the White House and further proof that right-wingers begin to lie when they open their mouths to breathe. But the Toyota craziness is even more dramatic.

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It turns out that there was NOTHING WRONG WITH THE PRIUS AFTER ALL. Billions of dollars and a destroyed reputation later, every single Prius “uncontrolled acceleration” was shown by the onboard computers to be driver error – the drivers thought they were pushing the brake, but they were actually flooring the gas pedal. Which happens in every car, regardless of make and model. ‘Cuz people are dumb.

There were some previous issues with the floor mat – which we had known about (and dealt with) sometime in 2006 – but all those Prius and Lexus stories? ALL BULLSHIT. Remember, this led every news broadcast for months. Prii were being sold at discounts, and Toyota was pilloried for being a bunch of dicks.

It makes you wonder how to teach your children constant skepticism without rendering them immune to empathy, or at least, impervious to excitement. It seems like every piece of information merits commentary:

“Well, BP is actually lying when they say that, honey.”

“It sure looks like that guy is guilty, sweetie, but do we ever really know?”

“I know it seems like everyone’s getting hurt on accident this season on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, but just wait a few months – there might be a producer scandal going on…”

please welcome back to our stage

7/22/10

Tessa and I were talking in the car today about the Jay Leno/late night television kerfuffle of the last year or so, when something super un-profound occurred to me: the experiment had failed. If you recall, the network (NBC) had crunched the numbers and said it was all about “margins” now – they only needed about 15 people to watch the Leno show at 10pm, and they’d still make money. Lots of people considered it a brilliant move.

At the time, none of the personal politics bothered me, even though my humor is much more in line with Conan O’Brien. Neither did I bemoan the fact that slots for five dramas (one for each night of the week previously in the 10pm spot) no longer existed, making our job that much harder. Nope, my concerns were much more precious and farty.

To me, if you get rid of dramas and put a celebrity talk show in its place, you’re beginning a death spiral where there are a hundred talk shows with nobody to talk to. Leno at 10pm replaced the very shows that would have created the stars he wanted to interview. It was like tearing down a Victorian mansion to build a Center for Victorian Mansion Preservation.

Yeah, I know that’s too lofty a pedestal for most television dramas, but the point stands. It reminds me a little of our current digital lives – so many places to connect, so many Facebook messages, so many tweets, so many platforms – yet little original content, causing social media to spend a lot of time talking about itself. It’s not a bad thing from the get-go, but it is unsustainable.

And oddly enough, the Leno experiment actually failed. They might have needed 15 people to watch, and only nine did. That means original storytelling, no matter how bad you might think it is on TV, still won. It’s very rare in capitalism that a huge conglomerate ended up deferring to some bards around a campfire, but that’s essentially what happened. And that’s worth a quiet celebration and another s’more.

these are the days of lasers in the jungle

7/21/10

Exactly 14 years ago this week, I was welcomed into the team that would create the look and feel of CitySearch as it was originally envisioned. And exactly one decade ago this week, I joined a startup that was to change the face of internet gaming with the help of ESPN and Disney. The latter spent $43 million without ever delivering a product, and the former is now a rusting hull of its former self – but both times, the glimpse into the future, and the promise it held, was mesmerizing.

When we were first working on CitySearch, we had to explain to people what the Web was, and furthermore, convince them it would last. After all, many people had grown up in houses with gaslight fixtures long turned off, milk delivery boxes oxidized shut by time, and intercom buttons that were painted over. There was no guarantee that the World Wide Web was going to last any longer than the Tamagotchis that had just appeared at the mall.

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PLEASE stay alive, you dumb piece of shit

Being an early adopter, or even an early evangelist, is a lonely business. Even if you’re a fervent missionary, there’s always a piece of you that thinks you got it horribly wrong – or, more realistically, that your chosen obsession is a great idea but won’t actually happen for another eight years. Even if it works, is it a craze or a fad?

But those of us on the early front lines of the internet as we now know it… we were right. We established the early rules of writing for the screen (rules I break on this blog almost daily), began the eyeball-tracking research, understood our generation’s attention span for what it was, and, well, I’ve already waxed anaphylactic how much I loved the salad days.

Someone we could have really used back then is commenter Tammy Oler, whose brain I pick whenever in earshot, along with her stand-up guy Ehren, because whatever is happening next in the internet/social media world, they’ll be right about it. And Tammy just started a new thinktank/virtual social club for folks in that milieu called Zeitgeist, which is where those big ideas may well go from haploid to blastocyst.

Which leads me to today’s question: when did you first have your “aha! the internet is actually going to be awesome” moment? Think of the first thing you saw that made you think, “well, that probably changes everything…”

ow, quit it. ow, quit it. ow, quit it

7/20/10

I suppose every positive blog needs its antithesis, and so this is where we must deal with the negative side of kids’ behavior, but I think childrearin’ can get pretty tricky in this area. There’s no Grand Unifying Theory on how to make kids stop doing bad things – there’s about forty theories in 400 books, and that’s some heavy lifting.

In general, our gameplan stays positive: crappy behavior is made rare in a world where positive behavior is rewarded. It’s akin to heating your house with a woodstove – you can’t pipe the hot air to other rooms very effectively, but you can pipe the cold air to the stove from other rooms to achieve that goal. It’s effective, but it’s a roundabout method, and it takes time.

There was a pretty simple rule we heard, and it went something like this:

• say your toddler is hitting your laptop with a spatula

• ask them nicely – and firmly – to stop

• if they do it again, tell them why they can’t do it, and remind them of consequences [thanks, Deb! -ed.]

• if they don’t, don’t ask again – CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY take away the spatula and remove the laptop from the situation

• if the laptop is something that can’t be moved, CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY carry them somewhere else

• if they come back, CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY remove them again

• if they do it a third time, they get a swift “time out” somewhere boring

The key is not negotiating, and quick, consistent action every time. They will learn super goddamn fast that it isn’t worth it. And if you remain fairly emotion-free during the event, it will take the “juice” out of it for them. Remember, they have ALL DAY to fuck with you, and you have FIFTEEN THOUSAND other things to do.

Again, don’t negotiate – this is like crack cocaine to them. And freaking out only ensures that they know they’ve got your number. The boundaries you set right here keep them out of therapy later.

Will all kids respond to this? Probably not, especially little boys, who are filled with hormones and cat pee and craziness and honestly can’t help themselves most of the time. But if you have foregone spanking, swatting, humiliation, derision, screaming or the silent treatment… you gotta start somewhere, and it’s as good a place as any.

That said, I grew up in a house that participated in much of the negative reinforcement above, so I admit trying to overcorrect in the other direction. Punishing my child actually makes me physically nauseous, because it brings up things from my own childhood, so I will put up with a lot. The only things I really can’t abide are entitlement-seeming rudeness (rare, thank god) and the tooth-brushing opera (common, and infuriating).

A word about the Wheel of Wonderful™ – I agree with Deb’s dad… a point earned is not one that can be taken away. Believe me, I’ve been tempted, but turning back the wheel seems unnatural, and the ability to erase them somehow diminishes their power.

There is a sneaky way to go about it, however. When she’s massively fartypantsing around when we’re late for school, we’ll say something like “oh man, we really wanted to give you points for getting in the car quickly – ah well…” and that seems to do the trick (which is odd, since we would never give her points in that situation anyway).

I also don’t want to give off the notion that our house is held under the tyranny of the W.O.W. and the points are as anticipated as chits in a bingo lock-in. We’ve gone for weeks, a month, without even mentioning the point system, and at one point, the W.O.W. was under a car seat for a while. Apparently this is the recommended method – giving the system an unspoken break for a stretch increases the effectiveness and mitigates the “what am I getting for this?” effect Neva and Anne mentioned yesterday.

I realize all this picayune bullshit makes people without kids swear they’ll never have any. If I were 23 and reading this, I’d hop in my shitty-ass VW Rabbit and drive to New Orleans and do absinthe shots in Jackson Square just to clear my head of the imagined deadness. And yet, it’s actually its own adventure. Every second of this ride is worth it, and my 23-year-old self is looking rather dull from this side of the carnival.

any port in a storm

7/19/10

While the next little tidbit is related to parenting, and therefore supposed to bore the ever-livin’ lymph out of anyone who doesn’t plan on breeding, hopefully it will still relate. If not, well, it’s late July, which means the internet itself is having its usual mid-to-late-summer period of flatulence, so you can continue barely reading this. It’s funny how we can digitize the world out the ass, and yet, when it’s July or August, that world still just wants to lie in a hammock drinking a sloe gin fizz.

But I digress.

Almost every study done on behavior modification shows that negative reinforcement works very quickly, but is a terrible long-term bet with all kinds of problems. In other words, if your child is misbehaving, you can slap him across the room and he’ll stop… but he won’t stop for long, and he’ll grow up loathing you, then he’ll hit his own kids, and then need lots of therapy.

Early on, we did the research, and concluded this: the only way to get your child to behave decently was to praise him/her when he/she did things correctly. Conjunctively, when they do something awful, you calmly remove them from the situation, and guarantee their boredom.

It’s hard for several reasons: first, negative reinforcement tends to be the most primal response… nothing screams parenthood like a parent screaming. Secondly, when you’re in a tough battle of wills with the kid, it’s awfully hard to find anything to praise. Thirdly, you may have a kid that thinks a “time out” is just as fun as “real life”. But if you can get a few angles in there, it’s mesmerizingly effective.

Which brings me to The Wheel of Wonderful™. Researchers showed amazing results when kids were given goals that were clearly marked on big sheets of paper stuck to the wall. They’d amass gold stars and all kinds of shit, and just the physical presence of that “doin’ good stuff” wall was turning violent little brats into children you actually want to eat dinner with. Of course, this raises all the usual donnybrooks about turning your kids into nice little robots for your convenience, but that’s another blog.

Lucy had something similar on her door for a while, complete with crazy rubber stamps she could press herself. She would get one stamp each time she did something the first time she was asked, shared well, asked for things nicely, and other things at our discretion. When she got 25 points (usually within 2-3 weeks), she could pick out any (realistically suitable) toy at the toy store down the block.

Problem was, we travel a lot, and her bedroom door was not portable. So I got two squares of thick black foam posterboard of different lengths. In the middle, I stuck a white foamboard wheel with numbers written along the outside, and clamped them together with a script binder:

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A little window, a few non-sequitur stickers, and voilà: Lucy’s Wheel of Wonderful™. Of course, I couldn’t figure out how to have 25 equal sections of a circle even with a graphing calculator, so the magic number is now 24. For each point she earns, she dials them herself, seeing the number in the little window.

That bizarre little art project has now been to New York twice, Italy, France, England, Santa Cruz and all points in-between. And while Lucy herself is going through an intense physical phase that has her jumping onto my head knees-first without notice, I have to say, she’s such an awesome pumpkinpants.

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with her last 24 points, she chose this dress – assymmetrical sweetness

Did the W.O.W. have anything to do with it? Hard to say, but it sure didn’t hurt, and there have been lots of situations where the promise of “points” got her to do something with 4,000 less man-hours of parent labor. I sometimes wonder if the Wheel of Wonderful can be translated out into the world as a whole, for grownups in real jobs. Sure, we do things for the promise of money, power, or some form of adulation, but what if it was a little more tactile, and we got to turn the wheel ourselves?

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another W.O.W. present she chose: the fairy kite!

i AM practicing, mom

7/14/10

As I’m flying all day today en route to a wedding in Pennsylvania (by way of NYC), your assignment is simple. Anonymous or not, please state exactly what part of your character, your job, or your overall life experience is currently nagging you to fix it. What vague – or altogether too obvious – icicle is dangling over your head… and furthermore, what exactly are you going to do to fix it?

State the facts as they are, and what you will realistically do about them; try not to say something you know is merely your way of psyching yourself up. Honesty cures almost everything except a sinus infection!

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i sing the body amnesic

7/13/10

The essential Tammy O. sent along a great article from the Boston Globe that really is required reading. You’ve heard the thesis before – facts actually make many Americans more attached to their pre-existing false beliefs – but I’ve never read it put so cogently, and in many cases, so hopelessly.

There’s a lot in the article I’ll reference next week when I plan on mounting another political offensive guaranteed to be offensive, but there was a paragraph that stood out for a completely different reason:

What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.”

Suddenly I saw this not as a political problem, but an emotional one – and the “information” was not some news source, but the narrative I was telling myself about the world around me. In other words, this statement defines depression.

I know this barely qualifies for self-help-book epiphany, but think about it: if you “actively dismiss” information that doesn’t fit into your belief about yourself, it’s no wonder that people stay miserable forever. If you’re a melancholic person, prone to depression and think the world is a miserable place… your own brain is working overtime to make sure you stay that way.

The Boston Globe piece mentions a study where subjects were given articles to read that contained a blatant falsehood (something like “WMDs were found in Iraq”) with a correction of the falsehood printed at the end. The conservatives who read the article believed more strongly that WMDs had been found in Iraq even after reading the correction.

Forget about the political implications of this, and concentrate on your self-image. If you swap out “conservative” for “depressed”, then it stands to reason any information that could make you happier is not only ignored, it’s not even seen. In fact, it can make you even more depressed.

I’m always fascinated by built-in systems that are so curiously self-destructive. Further proof that the world constantly demands you stay engaged, stay puzzled, and stay flexible, no matter the subject.