Things That Suck About Living in the 21st Century


Not long after 9/11, a friend of mine asked me how I could still be remotely enthusiastic about the then-upcoming Spider-Man movie, or superhero stories in general. He was certain the entire genre was doomed — or at least its current cycle of popularity was — because they cut too close to the bone in their frequent depictions of apocalyptic events so similar to the ones we’d just witnessed in real life. Surely, he thought, audiences would no longer have the stomach for fantasies of this sort when it had just been so forcibly demonstrated to everyone that there really aren’t any mutants or god-like aliens or obsessive rich guys in tights who will save us when the towers start to fall.

I countered that people might want those escapist fantasies now more than ever… that superhero stories give us a way to imagine a different outcome to real-life horrors that are nearly impossible to wrap our minds around. To believe, if only for a couple of hours, that we aren’t alone in our moments of greatest danger, that help might still be coming when all the normal institutions and authorities seem powerless to do anything… that maybe we ourselves could make a difference under the right circumstances. I argued that going to a superhero movie in the wake of a catastrophe was a healthy kind of wish fulfillment, a momentary respite from the crushing knowledge that, in the real world, bad things happen and people die, and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it.

So what a brutal irony that the latest mass shooting by a whacko lone gunman should take place at a premiere screening of the latest superhero movie. But not just any superhero movie… the latest Batman movie. Batman — a superhero whose back story begins with a very personal incident of urban gun violence, and who, more than any other major character in this idiom, concerns himself with protecting innocent citizens from lunatics who revel in anarchy and chaos for their own sake. While other superheroes are saving the world or even the universe from vast armies or immense cosmic forces, Batman is in the streets, fighting it out on the micro level of individual human lives. Talk about striking close to the bone.

I wasn’t planning to write about last week’s events in Aurora, Colorado, because I figured everyone else would say all there is to say before I got around to it, and pretty much the same things get said every time one of these incidents occurs anyway. (And isn’t it incredibly sad that these things happen often enough that we can anticipate what will be said in the aftermath?) But I find I keep replaying the words of Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight Rises, in a statement he made following the shootings: “I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

I can’t say what percentage of my life has been spent in movie theaters (although it might be interesting to know, if there were some way of calculating it). I can tell you, however, that many of my most vivid and pleasurable memories revolve around them. I remember exactly where I saw most of my personal landmark films that came out during my childhood and teen years. My first two jobs were in theaters, first at a neighborhood single-screen movie house where I ran antiquated changeover-style projectors with carbon-arc light sources, then at a modern multiplex where I started tearing tickets and worked my way back into the booth. I went to a movie on my very first car date. (I took a girl named Sheryl to see A View to a Kill… real romantic, eh? She liked the Duran Duran theme song, at least.) My first date with Anne was the night we saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while she was home from her summer job at the Grand Canyon. Granted, we didn’t go out again for three years afterward, but technically speaking, it was our first date. And when the two of us travel now, it’s not unusual for us to seek out old or interesting theaters in our destination cities and take in a movie while we’re on our vacation, as when we visited the Castro Theatre during our last trip to San Francisco in ’08.

The point is, movie theaters have been a central part of my life for a very long time. To me, the Aurora shootings are as repugnant and, yes, blasphemous as if someone had opened fire in a church on Easter Sunday. (The fact that it happened in a Cinemark theater makes it all the more personal and violating for me, since that’s the chain I used to work for in my multiplex days. I can all too easily imagine what it would have been like, as a naive young usher whose definition of “crisis” was usually no more serious than finding a mop when someone dropped a 44-ounce Coke, to try and deal with a houseful of wounded and panicky patrons.)

And now of course the question is what will happen in response to this heinous attack. Gun-control advocates are calling for tighter restrictions on “assault” weapons (as if there’s any type of gun that doesn’t assault someone when you shoot it at them), while gun lovers are asking why there wasn’t somebody in that theater with a concealed-carry permit and an equalizer under their shirt. The same discussion we have after every mass shooting, in other words, and the results will be the same: the two sides will bicker for a while, repeating the same old arguments over and over again, spinning in tighter and smaller circles until we finally get distracted by something else, and then it’ll all spin out and go away until the next time.

For the record, I’m fairly indifferent to guns. Several of my conservative friends seem to have it in their heads that all liberals want to cross out the Second Amendment and do away with all guns, but this one doesn’t. I much prefer the First and Fourth Amendments, personally, and I cannot imagine myself ever owning any sort of firearm. But I really don’t give a shit if other people own them. The issue just isn’t anything that’s important to me in any meaningful way.

That said, however, I don’t get why anyone thinks they need a military-style rifle like the AR-15 (which, I understand, is a civilian version of the good old M-16 my uncle carried in Vietnam, only without the gizmo that allows for full-on automatic fire), or why it’s so unreasonable to place restrictions on the types of gun and ammunition private citizens can get their hands on, or the quantities. We restrict all sorts of chemical materials and pharmaceuticals because they pose a danger to society when they’re misused, right? So what’s the difference?

Also, I find some of the comments being made about concealed-carry in the Aurora situation downright laughable. When people say “somebody could have made a difference” in Aurora, what they’re really thinking is “I could’ve made a difference.” It’s a superhero fantasy of a different sort — they imagine themselves as John McClane, saving the day and winning the girl. But they forget one salient detail about Bruce Willis’ signature character: he wasn’t just some guy, he was a cop. And in fact, the only real-life instance I know when somebody with a concealed gun succeeded in stopping one of these whacko shooters was that incident here in Salt Lake’s Trolley Square mall a few years ago, and that concealed-carrier was — surprise! — an off-duty cop. Honestly, I just don’t trust some regular old yahoo with a handgun in his shorts not to shoot me while they’re trying to peg the bad guy. I mean, think about it: a dark movie theater filled with screaming, panicky people trying to escape, with your vision further obscured by the smoke or gas or whatever it was, and the movie still running in the background… do you really think Joe Schmoe, who’s probably taken at most a couple hours of gun safety at the community college, really has the skills to get the job done without causing more collateral damage? Sorry, I’ll buy Norse gods in New Mexico and men of steel from another planet over that one.

But none of that matters, because we know from past experience the gun laws aren’t really going to change as a result of Aurora. My worry, going forward, is that the movie-going experience is going to be forever tainted because of this asshole. Not because I personally am going to be nervous or looking over my shoulder all during the movie, although I’m sure some people will be. No, my concern is that the exhibition industry is going to go bananas and turn theaters into security checkpoints, with metal detectors and armed guards, just like airports and high schools. You want to talk about liberty slipping away, how about the liberty to go to a freaking movie without having to wait in a security line to prove you’re harmless? The truth is, these mass shootings can happen anywhere people gather in numbers greater than two. Today a movie theater, tomorrow a restaurant, or even — why not? — a church. So do we put metal detectors at the entrance to every public space that ever witnesses a violent crime? And even if we don’t go that far, what about smaller, seemingly minor steps that nevertheless lessen the whole experience of going out? Already some theaters are banning the wearing of costumes to premieres, a time-honored, harmless, and fun activity, as if ballistic body armor really looks anything like a Batman suit… or even a Star Wars stormtrooper outfit. And I’m willing to bet that policy will never get revisited, even if 20 years pass without any further problems in a theater. Just like the TSA is never going to be reined in, even though anyone with a lick of sense knows that taking off your shoes at the airport does nothing to make you safer. And we’ll put up with it, we “free and brave” Americans, because we’re scared and we’ll put up with anything if we’re told it’s for our safety.

I hate the 21st century.

Photo credit: AP Photo/The Denver Post, Aaron Ontiveroz, appropriated by me from here.


What If You Went to the Bottom of the Sea and Nobody Cared?

One of the more depressing aspects of living in the current epoch, at least for me, is a nagging sense that the days of the Great Adventure are over. What do I mean by this? Consider: throughout much of the 20th century, larger-than-life men and women were constantly pushing the boundaries of how far, how high, and how fast human beings could go, either making or contributing to extraordinary scientific discoveries along the way, and all with the full attention and support of the general public. Viewing the popular movies and newsreels of decades past, and reading the contemporary pulp fiction (which I believe is often more representative of a particular milieu than the “good” stuff), you can really feel the shared sense of excitement ordinary joes must have vicariously experienced as daring aviators flew solo across the Atlantic for the first time, then circumnavigated the globe by plane, then broke the sound barrier and ventured to the edge of outer space; as intrepid explorers uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun and located the legendary city of Macchu Picchu high in the mountains of South America; as hardy adventurers reached the poles and summited Mount Everest; and ultimately, as astronauts first stepped onto the surface of another planetary body. The word “progress” meant something unambiguously positive then, and it must’ve seemed to folks living in those heady times as if the human race was really going… well, somewhere. I personally came along a little too late to share in that zeitgeist firsthand, but even in my own youth during the 1970s and ’80s, I recall the public imagination being captured by the early space shuttle launches, by the first untethered spacewalk by an astronaut with a jetpack, and by Dr. Robert Ballard’s discovery of the most famous shipwreck in history, RMS Titanic, lying in the silent darkness two-and-a-half miles below the surface of the ocean.

Nowadays, though… things are different now. Here in the second decade of the 21st century, every square foot of the Earth’s surface has been mapped and photographed from orbit. Ancient cities lost for centuries in desert sands and steaming jungles can be pinpointed from air-conditioned rooms in anonymous suburban office parks using thermal imaging satellites. Any place on the globe can be reached by air in a matter of hours. African safaris and Everest hikes are vacation destinations for those who can afford them. And even distant worlds are accessible to the human race as never before, via our robot proxies and the information-sharing power of the Internet. And that’s all good, it really is. Many of those early adventurer/explorers I romanticize met with pitiful and/or horrific deaths because they had to be there in person, and the folks back home never got more than just a glimpse of the sights they saw and things they learned. Today, technology has made discovery much safer, and it’s made it truly democratic as well — everyone can view the latest photos from the Hubble telescope or the surviving Mars rover, or zoom in on some section of the globe at the click of a mouse. People can even participate if they like, though projects like SETI@home. But the trade-off, unfortunately, and the irony as well, is that just at the moment when the average citizen can become more involved in this sort of thing than ever before, not many people seem to care anymore. Exploration and discovery seem to have become, at least as far as I can tell, a niche enthusiasm that attracts a relative few, rather than a society-wide concern.

Why else would there have been so little apparent interest three weeks ago when James Cameron — yes, that James Cameron, the writer/director of Titanic, Avatar, and, somewhat prophetically, The Abyss — joined the ranks of the great explorers by riding a revolutionary new submersible to the bottom of Challenger Deep, the very deepest point in all of Earth’s oceans? To my mind, this was a Big Damn Deal. The sort of thing that strangers on trains should’ve been talking about for days afterwards, worthy of front-page articles and magazine covers. Instead, it seems to have been a mere blip on the cultural radar, duly noted and then shoved aside with the turn of another 24-hour news cycle. There are follow-up stories out there, but you have to seek them out if you’re interested. And my inner cynic can’t help but wonder with a sour grumble just how many of the mouth-breathers walking around out there actually are interested. Neither he nor I like the odds much.

To be fair to the mouth-breathers, though, a big chunk of the blame for the indifference that surrounded this story must be thrown at the media. There wasn’t much news about Cameron’s plans beforehand — I myself only heard about the expedition by chance a couple weeks prior, via the blog Boing Boing, if I remember correctly — and, as I said, the coverage of the actual dive has been perfunctory at best. I guess a good old-fashioned adventure is just not that important at the moment, not when there’s an endless race for the Republican presidential nominee to focus on, and hey, did you hear Snooki’s pregnant, and of course Facebook just bought Instagram, whatever the hell that is. If people who don’t follow certain types of blogs aren’t hearing about expeditions like Cameron’s, why should they care?

I also wonder if perhaps part of the problem is James Cameron himself. My mother’s reaction when I told her about the expedition was something to the effect of, “Why him?” And I imagine that’s not an unusual reaction. He’s a filmmaker, after all, not any sort of scientist (although the National Geographic Society has named him an explorer-in-residence, and he’s made over 70 deep submersible dives in the last couple decades, which I think qualifies him for this). That “king of the world” thing at the 1998 Oscars still sticks in some people’s craws, and he has a reputation for being a royal son-of-a-bitch to work with. But hey, let’s be honest: I think a certain degree of arrogance is probably a requirement to doing something like this. You have to believe that the thing can be done, and you have to believe you’re the one who can do it, and both require a sizable belief in oneself. In this case, Cameron wasn’t the first human to journey into the Challenger Deep — two men did it in 1960 with the help of the U.S. Navy and a submersible “bathyscaphe” called the Trieste — but he is the first to do it in 52 years, and the first to do it solo. And the conditions he knew he’d be facing were pretty daunting, even with a half-century of technological advancement since the Trieste.

Cameron’s submarine, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, dropped seven miles straight down into the Pacific Ocean, the downward journey taking close to three hours while his six-foot-plus body was folded into a steel sphere only 43 inches in diameter. The pressure outside grew to an astonishing 16,285 pounds per square inch — barely less than the pilot sphere’s rated capacity of 16,500 psi — pressure so intense that the sub actually shrank in height by a couple of inches. Meanwhile, the temperature inside Cameron’s sphere fell from uncomfortably warm near the surface (because of the electronics and Cameron’s own body heat in such a confined space) to meat-locker cold at the bottom of the sea. And of course it was pitch black at the bottom. He was all alone in utter darkness farther below sea-level than Mount Everest rises above it, trusting that the engineers who designed and built DEEPSEA CHALLENGER hadn’t overlooked anything. In other words, this situation was very much like a flight into space… and as much as I admire astronauts for their drive and guts, I admire James Cameron for his.

The Sunday he went down, March 25, I was following along on Twitter, a service I normally find rather silly, but that day it was the only place I could find any news. I was on the edge of my seat as each new update came in from the expedition, ticking off the latest depth he’d reached, the time elapsed since he’d submerged, etc. And when Cameron’s own tweet flashed across the Internet — “Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/ you” — I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and thought of the words of Charlie Duke, the CAPCOM on the Apollo 11 mission, when Neil Armstrong radioed back that the Eagle had landed: “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.” (Sidenote: How bizarre is it to think that a man was able to send a “tweet,” surely one of the most frivolous means of communication ever invented, from the bottom of the ocean? We really are living in the future, aren’t we?)

I don’t know… maybe a moment like that doesn’t do anything for you. Maybe this really is just one of my esoteric and slightly backward interests, like old movies, something that the vast majority of the population no longer has any use for. Another example of how I should’ve been born a generation or two back. These days, there are a lot of people out there who feel we shouldn’t bother trying to put human beings into space or other hostile environments; it’s too expensive, they say, and too dangerous to justify what we get back, and anyhow we can learn all we need to know with cheap, efficient robot probes. I don’t know if these people are in the majority. They certainly seem to have the loudest voices sometimes. And that just makes me sad, and frustrated. Because the world of the early 21st century feels too bloody tame to me. I’m so grateful that every once in a while, somebody like James Cameron comes along and does something to demonstrate that there are still frontiers to be crossed, and it’s much more interesting to cross them in person, if only somebody is willing to cross them.




Nobody Is Safer


Over the past week, the British magazine The Economist has been hosting an online debate between security consultant (and highly vocal TSA critic) Bruce Schneier and former TSA administrator (and current TSA apologist) Kip Hawley over whether, in fact, post-9/11 airport security procedures have done more harm than good. My own views line up nearly one-to-one with Schneier’s: I think the rigamarole you have to go through to get on a plane these days is needlessly demeaning, intrusive nonsense designed to make it look like the government is doing something to make traveling safer, but which ultimately accomplishes little except inconveniencing and intimidating travelers. (For one thing, all the procedures are designed to stop whatever the last would-be terrorist attempted to do; logically, that just means the next attempt will be something new that the TSA’s not screening for.) I could go on at length about this, and about how incredible I find it that a people who genuflect to the concept of individual liberty are so willing to simply “hand over their papers” (so to speak) when somebody in uniform demands them, as long as they think they’re doing it in the name of their own safety. But instead I think I’ll just quote the final two paragraphs of Schneier’s closing remarks:

The goal of terrorism is not to crash planes, or even to kill people; the goal of terrorism is to cause terror. Liquid bombs, PETN, planes as missiles: these are all tactics designed to cause terror by killing innocents. But terrorists can only do so much. They cannot take away our freedoms. They cannot reduce our liberties. They cannot, by themselves, cause that much terror. It’s our reaction to terrorism that determines whether or not their actions are ultimately successful. That we allow governments to do these things to us–to effectively do the terrorists’ job for them–is the greatest harm of all.


Return airport security checkpoints to pre-9/11 levels. Get rid of everything that isn’t needed to protect against random amateur terrorists and won’t work against professional al-Qaeda plots. Take the savings thus earned and invest them in investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: security outside the airport, security that does not require us to play guessing games about plots. Recognise that 100% safety is impossible, and also that terrorism is not an “existential threat” to our way of life. Respond to terrorism not with fear but with indomitability. Refuse to be terrorized.

The whole of the debate is worth skimming, although I remained totally unconvinced by Hawley’s arguments, which seem to basically consist of “hey, nothing’s happened, so we must be doing something right!” and “we’ve had lots of successes, we just can’t tell you about them.” I found Schneier’s comment that airports have become effectively “rights-free zones” where TSA “officers” can do pretty much anything they want to you and your belongings in the name of “security” especially trenchant… and chilling. Just lately, though, I’ve been seeing some signs that the tide may be turning, that people may be regaining a bit of sanity a bit on this subject, or perhaps they’re just getting tired of minimum-wage rent-a-cops feeling up their grandmas and confiscating their baby formula. Either way, I fervently hope we’re eventually going to ratchet things down to something that more resembles the way it was when I first started flying.

It’d be lovely to be able to go to the airport for a hotdog and an afternoon of people-watching again…


Lament for Bill Mantlo

One of my favorite ways of disposing of my allowance when I was a kid was a comic book called The Micronauts. It was based on a line of imported Japanese toys — Loyal Readers of a certain age may remember them — and, like pretty much everything else around that time, it was heavily influenced by Star Wars, in particular by the Star Wars comics that were being published by the same company, Marvel. Despite its derivative elements, though, Micronauts quickly established its own rich identity. Its pages were filled with all sorts of wild ideas and concepts: another universe nestled within our own at a sub-microscopic level; a brave space explorer whose body spent 1,000 years in suspended animation while his conscious mind, merged with that of his robot co-pilot, traveled to the literal edge of their universe; and the decadent, violent society they returned to, where the rich and powerful prolonged their lives to near-infinity by replacing worn-out body parts with components harvested from the poor. It was all pretty heady stuff for a ten-year-old living in a sleepy little town in parochial old Utah, and it left a big impression.

Micronauts ran for five years, 1979 to 1984, resulting in 59 regular issues and two double-length “annuals.” Remarkably, all of those issues save one were written by the same man, a guy named Bill Mantlo. Even more remarkably, Mantlo was simultaneously scripting all the issues for another toy-based comic, Rom Spaceknight, as well as contributing to other titles such as The Incredible Hulk, Spectacular Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man, a simply amazing level of productivity. By the late ’80s, however, Mantlo was pretty well finished with comics; he left the industry, reinvented himself, and shortly became one of the great “where are they now?” mysteries from the pop culture of that era.

Earlier this week, I learned the fate of Bill Mantlo, and it isn’t pretty. In 1992, he was struck by a car while rollerblading. It was a hit-and-run; the driver has never been found. Mantlo survived, but honestly it would’ve been better for him if he hadn’t. He sustained massive brain injuries and was left severely impaired, both mentally and physically. But the accident was only the beginning of the real nightmare for Mantlo and his family. Although he made significant progress in his early rehabilitation, his insurance company soon started balking at the cost of the rehab, pressuring Mantlo’s brother Mike — who has been handling his affairs since the accident — to find cheaper and cheaper facilities. Finally, the insurer decreed — contrary to the opinions of doctors, mind you — that further rehab was “unnecessary.” Mantlo was cut off altogether. Mike was forced to liquidate everything Bill owned to qualify him for Medicare, and today Bill Mantlo, once such a prolific and creative force to be reckoned with, is warehoused in a geriatric nursing home in Queens, the only place his family could afford to send him. He is penniless and helpless. What progress he’d once made toward recovery has entirely dissipated without continuing therapy. His quality of life is essentially nonexistent. He is simply waiting to die.

That’s the executive summary; you can read all the details here. It’s a long article, but it’s well worth your time, and I highly recommend that you read it and ponder it. Consider it a cautionary tale of how thoroughly a human life can be destroyed, short of death itself. And keep in mind that Bill Mantlo was one of the “lucky” ones. He had health insurance.

For me, this sad story constitutes just one more outrageous piece of evidence that the way we handle healthcare in this country is seriously broken. Conservative politicians scared a lot of people silly a couple years ago by claiming that a single-payer health system would lead to rationing of care and so-called “death panels,” but what was Bill Mantlo subjected to if not rationing? And what were the faceless, implacable bureaucrats who decided his fate if not the equivalent of those dread death panels? Actually, they were worse than a “death” panel, because they condemned him not to death itself, but to a lingering, living hell until he finally gets around to dying. And they made that decision entirely on how much he was going to cost them, not whether he was responding to care or was still capable of improvement. If the United States truly is, as I’ve always been told, the richest country on earth, the best country on earth, how can we in good conscience abandon a human life in this way? The dirty truth behind our for-profit insurance industry is that insurers are more concerned with the dividends of their shareholders than the needs of their policy holders. People carry insurance as a hedge against anything really bad ever happening to us, but if anything really bad does happen, the insurance companies fight like hell to not actually help you, and that is just wrong. No… it’s obscene. Our society’s treatment of the long-term ill isn’t quite as perverted as what Bill Mantlo imagined in the pages of The Mirconauts, i.e., Baron Karza’s evil body banks, but in my book, it is just about as cruel and inhumane. I wish more people could see that and agree to change it.


From the Department of Needless Complication

Walking to the office from the train today, I noticed a workman refreshing the paint on some traffic-barrier poles near my building. The poles were glistening in the strengthening morning sunlight, and there were signs taped to the pavement around them warning off the unwary who might brush against them. Something about this scene was so reminiscent of the television fantasies of urban life I’d been exposed to as a very small boy — think Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and about a billion cop shows set in the gritty decay of ’70s-vintage New York — that I couldn’t help but smile. But then I noticed something weird about those warning signs. One of them read “Almost Dry Paint,” which seemed like an unnecessarily specific descriptor. And then the sign next to the pole the man was still slathering with Battleship Gray read “Undry Paint.”

“Undry?” It’s bad enough that we now apparently feel it necessary to define different categories of wetness, but “Undry?” Really? Is that even a word? Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned clarity — not to mention concision — of “Wet?” Seriously, what could be more straightforward and absolutely not in need of elaboration than the traditional phrasing related to the transferability of newly applied paint? What the hell is wrong with the 21st century anyhow? It almost like society is adopting the foolishly complex language of the Coneheads and saying things like “electric incandescent illumination unit” instead of “lamp,” because, oh I don’t know, we’re living in the future or something, and everyone knows that people in the future speak in pointlessly convoluted ways. Because it’s the future, man. Arg.


Things That Suck About Living in the 21st Century

‘ve been thinking for a while now that I really ought to start a new series of curmudgeonly rants here on Simple Tricks called “Things That Suck About Living in the 21st Century.” Now, to be fair, this is a pretty amazing time we find ourselves in. We have technologies and luxuries undreamed of only a few decades ago: we can carry thousands of songs around on objects the size of a pack of smokes (or smaller, depending on the model); DVDs and hi-def TVs are a boon for movie fans (although they arguably come at the price of losing — or at least drastically transforming — the communal theater-going experience); the InterWebs give joe-schmoes like me a public forum to talk about any damn thing we wish, as well as a means of tracking down all those obscure Star Wars collectibles we missed out on as children; and the new Dodge Charger is a pretty damn nice-looking car. (That last one was for Anne; enjoy, honey!)

But there are also a lot of stupid little annoyances these days, stuff that can only be explained as a result of somebody, somewhere, abandoning all common sense. It’s like some evil, shadowy cabal somehow gained control over the workings of our society and decided to redesign all those everyday items and mundane procedures that used to work just fine for the express purpose of driving people crazy.

My first example: cash register receipts.


Whose Brilliant Idea… ?

I’ve just been reading about the guerilla marketing campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force that went horribly wrong yesterday, and I honestly can’t decide who is more foolish: the marketers who didn’t stop to consider the ultra-paranoid times in which we live before they started planting mysterious devices all over urban settings, or the ultra-paranoid public who apparently believe that al-Qaeda has started decorating its bombs with blinking LED cartoon characters.

I really hate the 21st Century sometimes…


Low-Flying Planes and 21st Century Angst

I don’t usually suffer from the post-9/11 jumpiness that afflicts so many Americans. I don’t freak out whenever Homeland Security spins the Big Color Wheel, I don’t compulsively imagine horrific scenarios of doom a la James Lileks, and, aside from the hour a week when I’m watching 24, I don’t fret about sleeper cells executing their nefarious plans within our borders. Generally, I’m more worried about other people’s road-rage than I am about swarthy militants setting off a dirty bomb in the quiet little backwater I call home. It’s not that I think another attack is impossible or even unlikely; I just don’t see the usefulness of living in a state of constant anxiety, and I also don’t think Salt Lake City is much of a target compared to other places around the country. We’re a smallish city, we don’t command much national attention, and we don’t have any globally recognizable landmarks whose loss would demoralize the entire country. (Well, I guess the main LDS Temple is pretty well known, but it’s not the same kind of high-profile target as, say, the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate.) Yep, I feel pretty safe living here in dull ol’ Deseret.

And that’s why my reaction to the incident this morning was so… unexpected. What incident, you ask? Well, kids, let me tell you a story…