Day of the Rat

What tragic human characteristic is it that compells some people to brave danger, to jump onto the grenade to protect the battalion, to take on armies of alien invaders armed only with a toothpick and a witty rejoinder?

I made the dubious decision of taking the family to Disneyland last week, to spend some quality time with my wife and kids and five million of our closest friends. Like many soldiers, I was fortunate enough to survive the onslaught, but I will bear the emotional scars for life.

The horror began with the traffic dance just getting to our parking place, followed by the many lines we stood in until we finally got into the park. After 50 years, I am sure that the minions of the Rat could figure out how to optimize this and make things flow more smoothly, so I can only suppose that this preliminary torture is done on purpose to either heighten the anticipation or train us for what's to come. After all, soldiers do not simply go running into battle wielding a gun for the first time; there has to be some kind of Boot Camp to prepare them. Numbing us to the pain of waiting in long lines and strengthening our bladders proved essential in the day to come.

The next point of pain came with the admission prices. I am someone who still balks at the prices of a movie and looks back nostalgically to the costs years ago when I worked as an usher in a movie theater (and thus got in for free). So the idea of paying $63 for any activity that lasts only for the day is mental and financial torture. Add on the ticket costs of the rest of the family (all of whom selfishly insisted on getting into the park as well) and the pain was excruciating.

Of course, that one single ticket price gets you into rides throughout the day. Being a math guy, I calculated how far that ticket price went in terms of rides and minutes. I figure that $63 is distributed evenly among all of the rides I waited to get on yesterday, bringing the per-ride and per-minute cost way down to, let's see ... $63. For each of us.

My wife pointed out that it's not the rides per-se that you are paying for at the park; it's the experience. The experience of spending all day in lines with huge crowds, apparently.

As ever, I am an optimist and I figure it's not a total loss. When the kids ask to go again sometime, or ask for anything else at all, I'll remind them that we went to Disneyland that Christmas in 2006 and that memory will have to do. I plan to get mileage out of this for decades.


Dis the Season

Reasoning for the Seasoning

It's that time of year again; time to Be of Good Cheer, time to give and receive presents, time to sneak into your neighbor's yard and steal garbage can space for your extra wrapping paper trash. But perhaps most of all, it's time to reflect on the origins and meanings of the holidays.

For me, this means thinking about Jesus' birthday. In particular, I wonder things like:
  • Was Jesus ever conflicted about being Jewish, yet celebrating Christ's birthday?
  • Did God ever appear with lots of gifts for Jesus to make up for the whole absentee-father thing?
  • What did Jesus want for his birthday? Peace on Earth? Or the latest Power Rangers action figures?
  • Did Jesus ever have a jumpy house for his birthday party? Or a magician doing tricks with loaves and fishes? Or did he just have camel rides?
  • Did he ever get many friends to come to his birthday parties, or were they all too busy with other holiday plans?
  • Was Jesus ever bummed that his birthday was during the holidays so he never really got presents for both events like other kids?


When I am King: Capital Appreciation

When I am King...

Locate my government's capital in a nice place.

Sacramento, Richmond, Salem, Trenton, Indianapolis, Albany, anywhere in the Dakotas, ....

There is an infinite list of capital cities located in places that just aren't what people normally think of as "destinations". And they're certainly not what I think of as fun places to look out on from the throne every day.

Why are capitals usually located in such dull, or at least odd, places? This seems to be a tradition with a fairly long history. Internationally, St. Petersburg, Russia comes to mind. It's actually quite a beautiful city, but it's also one that is covered in snow, ice and inhumanly cold temperatures for about 12 months out of every year. But Peter the Great went out of his way to establish St. Petersburg as the new capital of Russia (calmer, warmer heads have since prevailed and the capital is once again located in the (still damn cold) city of Moscow).

In the U.S., there is also a tradition of picking off-beat locations for capitals, dating from the first federal capital which George Washington chose to be built on a swamp. It may not look like one now, but go to D.C. in August and you'll understand.

Is this approach to building capitals a tourist trap? Like putting billboards out hundreds of miles for incredibly awful attractions? Are we trying to drive visitors to places that they otherwise would avoid like, say, a swamp? And do we think that putting a bunch of bureaucrats in big government buildings will really be an attraction? I can hear the dinner table conversations now: “Oh, honey, let's go to Sacramento this summer. I hear they've repaired that leak in the men's room near the Assembly room.”

It seems more likely that it's done as a motivator for all of the civil servants stoking the blazing furnace of this democracy. If a city was too interesting, the workers might be tempted to amuse themselves outdoors occasionally. Perhaps by making them work in such dull locales, we encourage our gorvernment workers to pursue their jobs at a fever pitch, driving them to work all the way until 4 pm in some extreme cases of diligence.

My administration will take a different tack: capitals should be located in areas of splendor, worthy of leaders and visiting dignitaries. As such, I will place my kingdom's capital in one of the better spots of our nation.

No decisions have been made yet on where the capital will end up. Bidding may commence at any time. The approach of Salt Lake City in bidding for past Olympics venues is not out of the question; I am not opposed to accepting large sums of cash to help sway the decision. I can't say I would actually ever choose to relocate to Provo, but I wouldn't mind being bribed to consider it briefly. One possible outcome, based on the number and amount of the bids, would be to have several capitals and to move the seat of power as weather and whim decree.

I still subscribe to the principal of leaving the actual government workforce in the current, boring locations. For one thing, maybe the whole “nothing to do in this town, might as well work” premise actually works to some extent. But more importantly, it just seems like my government would be so much more productive without all of that bureacracy around.

So by saying I will relocate the capital I mean, of course, me. L'├ętat, c'est Chet and all that.


Feeling Flemish

I spent some time in Belgium recently. It struck me that I stood out there as being from Not Here. I like to travel a little more incognito (despite the fact that Americans are received so well as the polite and quiet tourists that we are), so I thought it would be worth figuring out how I could go more native next time around.

I think I've nailed down a couple of things about the natives that made me stand out: eyeglasses and language.

Eyeglasses: Everyone seemed to wear the same type of glasses: narrow, rectangular frames.

Language: Being American, I'm restricted by U.S. law from knowing any languages besides English, but I took note of the types of sounds and syllables they use here. Here are some samples:

  • "keivoos" (very bad),
  • "keimottig" (very ugly)
  • "Grote Markt" (haven't a clue what this means)
  • "sneeuwwit" (Snow White)

and of course who could forget:

  • "Wie got er mee ne frit steken?" (want to go get some fries with me?).

Also, when I went to a restaurant there, the waiter asked me to "Please shit down". Then my friend swore that a shop lady finished a transaction by telling him nicely "Bling blang". Clearly, faking this language will take some work, but I think it's worth the effort.

Here is my proposed disguise for any future trips to this area:


When I am King: Baby Labels

When I am King...

Hospitals will provide a gender-labeling service for newborns.

Most babies look like variations on the same blob theme. Hence, most people have difficulty distinguishing the gender of these blobs. Some parents are (for reasons that elude me) mortally afraid of someone guessing the wrong sex of their child. It's as if someone saying that your little boy is a cute girl will cause irreparable emotional damage and possibly a strong attraction to musical numbers.

So the parents staple a pink ribbon to their girl's head. Or put a blue baseball cap on their boy's head. They dress the girl blobs in painfully frilly pink things, and the boy blobs in denims and truck shirts. They basically do everything shy of mounting a billboard on the kids' heads saying “This is a boy!” or "This is a girl!".

So why not provide exactly that service for the parents?

Prior to releasing the baby, a hospital will offer parents the option of having the sex tattooed on the baby's forehead (in the language of their choice, although sign language may be problematic). The tattoo ink will be specially formulated to disappear within one year, which is about the time it takes for most blobs to actually develop some sexually distinguishing features, like pot bellies or hair buns.

The program will allow for some customization, where parents can choose from a select set of pictures or phrases. For example, we expect cartoon syndicates to do well in licensing various characters, and there will be popular use of such catchy phrases as “Baby on board!”, and “666”.

There will also be an opportunity for high-end parents/customers to have a more dynamic and customizable system. This will entail installing a color display on the baby's forehead (for removal at any time, although medical experts suggest this should be done before the skull's growth starts tearing the mounting screws). The display can be dynamically programmed to display whatever words, phrases, and pictures the parents want. In fact, the system can also be programmed to show movies. This feature is appealing to families with older children that might otherwise pay no attention to their new sibling. This way, the infant will feel loved and admired by their family as parents and siblings spend hours staring in rapt attention at the baby's forehead.

Working parents would also benefit from our Date-Care(TM) options packages such as an appointment calendar, address book, and speaker phone (part of the BlueToothless(TM) package). No longer will these important people forget their devices and lose track of their hectic schedules; as long as they remember to bring the baby, they'll always have what they need.


When I am King: National Insecurity

When I am King...

Programs will be instituted that will ensure that we all feel bad about ourselves.

When we strive to achieve, we are trying to do better. Better than what? Ourselves? That's impossible, by definition; try as we might, we're always going to end up in a dead heat. So we try to do better than we would do otherwise.

What's actually going on here is that we're continually trying to do better because we think we suck. Honestly, which one of us can rightly claim that they are absolutely confident in what they do and have no doubt whatsoever in their knowledge or decisions? How many of us, instead, have some niggling doubt, or maybe even certain knowledge, that:
  • we don't know what the hell we're doing?
  • we don't look very good?
  • we basically have messed up everything in life and it's all been going downhill for some time?
I've counted the hands in the audience; it's pretty much unanimous, discounting the ones that didn't hear the question.

This fact of human existence, our persistent perception of our inadequacies, is what makes us strive to be better. Better than we are, better than we could be, and hopefully better than that guy next to us.

And what happens when we do better? Does the doubt go away? Of course not; we just doubt things on an entirely new level. So we keep trying. And the bigger the doubts, the harder we try.

Think how much we could accomplish as a society if we felt even worse about ourselves. There is no mountain too high, as long as we think we can't climb well enough. No river too wide, as long as we're certain we can't swim well enough. No road too long, as long as our shoes won't hold up.
  • My administration will immediately institute programs to make everyone feel much worse about themselves. There are many areas that will be addressed:
  • Academics: Standardized tests will be introduced in schools that no child will score well on.
  • Looks: Television shows and movies, which currently hire only a handful of normal-looking people, will no longer be allowed to hire anyone less than inhumanly beautiful.
  • Size: Clothing sizes will be shifted down, so that everyone will be wearing clothing that is labeled one size larger; those who are now a “medium” will now be a “large”, and so on. These size changes will be carried through everything in the garment industry, as waist measurements will be updated to read 3 inches larger than they physcially are, and belts will have extra holes at sizes several inches smaller than would make physical sense.
  • Work: Corporations will be mandated to use standard performance evaluations with top ratings of “Mediocre”, proceeding down to “Suicide Watch”.
  • Sports: The three point rule in basketball will be taken away, and all 2-point shots will now be worth the new “quarter point” score instead. Nets in basketball will be raised to be one foot higher than the current dunking record. All national sports championships will go away, to be replaced by championships in sports that can only be won by visiting teams from other countries, such as Badminton, Ping Pong, and Curling.

But there is no reason this change needs to wait for my ascension to the throne; you can do your part today. Stop reading this right now, go to the person nearest you and have a motivating conversation. Here are some phrase suggestions: “Where did you get that shirt? Can you take it back? I don't think it goes with your hair. You haven't had it cut in a while, have you? And it doesn't quite go with your glasses, does it? Have you tried contacts? Or just going without? Have you gained weight? I saw that report you wrote on Monday; did you spell check that? I'm going to lunch with friends today; will you still be in the office when I get back?” Imagine how much harder they will try from just this little bit of effort on your part.

Ours will be a truly great society. I think. Won't it?


When I am King: Nicer, Dumber Kids

When I am King...

Kids will only go to school through the 5th grade.

This is also known as my "Every Child Left Behind" program.

We learn bad habits from middle and high school that carry us through the rest of our lives. For example, are politicians any better than high school class presidents running in a popularity contest? And do they accomplish anything more than our class presidents did?

We seem to learn good habits in kindergarten and grade school, like sharing, talking through our problems, and closing the door when peeing. We learn bad habits later in life, like insulting, sucking up, and talking on a cellphone when we should be driving.

I propose simply pulling our kids out of school before all of that happens. That way, maybe our kids will grow up with the ethics they learn in grade school instead of the horrors they pick up after that.

Think about it:

  • Politicians would think that kickbacks are when you return the soccer ball to their friend
  • Celebrities would be popular by being nice to everyone
  • Clothing styles would be worn because they're practical
  • Disgruntled employees would only play with toy guns
  • Terrorists would cause fear and chaos by farting in public places

It's not clear yet what we do with the kids between 5th grade and adulthood, although the idea of simply sending them to work is appealing from both a daycare and a monetary standpoint. I know that some countries are condemned for their child labor practices. But perhaps that has all been a cultural misunderstanding, and they are just trying to keep their kids from becoming cheerleaders, jocks, and burnouts.


Thanksgiving: A Fowl Tradition

I am now in recovery from the Thanskgiving meal. I believe this holiday originally celebrated sharing between cultures and giving thanks for the bounty of the harvest. It has now come to symbolize binge eating and drinking to an awesome degree.

The turkey itself is almost irrelevant compared to all of the side dishes. You've got the stuffing, which is basically there to make sure that none of the grease from the turkey escapes. Then the gravy, which is nothing more than grease in a solid form. Every vegetable dish is more like vegetable particles held in a solution of cream and butter. The fruit is mixed with so much sugar or gelatin that you might as well call it Jello. And the alcohol keeps flowing, presumably to numb our nerves so our intestines don't hurt.

And after all of this food, you have dessert. You can just hear the stomach seams popping as everyone inhales the pie.

I envy the Romans with their socially acceptable vomitoriums. I think bulimics are probably the only people that are comfortable with their bodies this weekend.

In the meantime, I was wondering:
If wishbones really worked, don't you think the turkeys would have figured it out long ago and there'd be a lot less birds consumed every year?


When I am King: Banniversaries

When I am King...

There will be no more celebration of wedding anniversaries.

What is a wedding anniversary celebrating, exactly? That the couple is still together? In my mind, if you have to celebrate that you've survived another year of the marriage, it's probably better that you just end it. I mean, if a relationship is good, shouldn't getting through another year be a breeze? And if it's not, why are you still married?

Some might argue that an anniversary is celebrating simply being alive together each year. I agree that that is indeed an accomplishment, when simply surviving each day can be difficult. But I believe this is actually the purpose of birthdays. Or New Years Eve, if that holiday has any point at all.

It seems far better to try to have a relationship where getting through another year does not merit a celebration, but is instead a fact of life, like your body falling apart or the dentist scraping enough tartar off your teeth every six months to fill an ice cream cone.

Instead of being a society that celebrates the adequate, wouldn't we rather be a society that rejoices in knowing when to call it quits?

My regime will usher in a new concept, possibly even a national holiday, called Terminaries, which will commemorate the ending of truly horrific relationships.

Maybe, just maybe, we can then all live in a truly enlightened time of positive partnerships when I can finally stop feeling guilty about forgetting my anniversary. Every. Single. Year.


Do Nuns Have Filthy Habits?

Do nuns have filthy habits?

Do priests have summer frocks?

Why do they call it an altar if it never changes?

Do priests have collar ID?

If the church is God's House, does he ever forget his keys and get locked out?
And what kind of car does God drive?


My Philosophy on Life

I live each day as if it were my last.

This explains the wheezing and drooling.


When I am King: Mno nmore mnemonics

When I am King...

Words with silly silent letters will have their spelling changed.

Doesn't our education system have enough work to do teaching our kids not to kill each other without also having to teach how to spell words in completely ridiculous ways?

One of the first things I will do when I ascend to my throne will be to fix various egregious oversights in our spelling system. For example, I will change the spelling of “mnemonics” to remove the silent “m” at the beginning. The new word will have the more reasonable spelling “nemonics”.

Silent m? Who came up with that one? Was someone trying to fill out a crossword puzzle with a word that didn't quite fit so they added a letter? Or maybe a loved one had a speech impediment and they were trying to level the playing field. Or maybe they just really liked m's.

In its current spelling, the word typically takes about 30 keystrokes to type in, including all of the backspaces and re-types until it's right. My new version of the word will make it possible to type the word as it sounds and actually get it right the first time.

I will also mandate changes for various “silent p” words: pteradactyl, pneumonia, and ptarmigan, to name a few. Again, I fail to see how someone came up with these words; p has a very clear sound and it's not silent. Nor are we encouraged to simply throw the letter in wherever we like because we think a p would look pnice pthere.

My kids are learning how to write and, hence, they end up with some inventive spelling as they sound out the words in their sentences. But even they know not to simply throw in an m or a p in a place where there is no such sound. “thar” for “there”, sure. “bin” for “been”, well done. But “pdog” for “dog”? I think not.

While I'm at it, I'm going to strike all words of Welsh origin from the language; I think these words breed exactly the kind of confusion that I'm talking about. Double-l's simply don't belong at the beginning of a sentence. We have the l sound already; why add another one? To bulk it up a bit, make it appear more important?

Some readers may feel that this is hardly an important task, given some of the other priorities that will face the kingdom, such as parades and fancy dress balls; after all, the words cited above are hardly commonplace (except for ptarmigan, of course). But I would argue that their disuse comes directly from their impossible spelling; noone wants to go anywhere near these words because they know for a fact that they'll get them wrong. Just think of the vocabulary that would be accessible to us if we just had more words available.

Of course I do find many of these words quaint and attractive in a Olde Englishe kind of way, and I will miss them when they are gone. But to force words like this on a society that has a hard time graduating students that can manage to spell “cat” (without a silent p) is asking a bit much.


Chet Does an Open Mic

I did an open mic in San Francisco last weekend; my 5 minutes of fame (or fear and trepidation). The video is bad and the audio is sometimes hard to hear (it wasn't really taken with the teeming public in mind; it was taken with a compact digital camera (thanks Chris Campbell!)), but here it is:


Holiday Traditions

Halloween is over, but people are still living it. I was in San Francisco last night and saw plenty of folks still dressed in their hobo costumes.

My daughter went out last Tuesday dressed up as the invisible girl; I haven't seen her since.

When the kids say"trick or treat", I opt for the trick - I take their bags of candy and slam the door. We didn't get any kids coming to our house this year.

Halloween makes me think of the grand traditions we all have around holidays in the U.S.


First of all is the old tradition of eviscerating a bunch of inedible vegetables and leaving them on the porch to rot.

Then there's the tradition overdosing kids on candy right before bedtime, a tradition obviously not invented by parents.

There is also the tradition of this holiday being scary. But somehow the image of a 6 year old in a $9.99 plastic mask from Target doesn't quite do it. Maybe that's why some folks in the Castro decided to shoot a few people this year? It scared me, anyway.


Thanksgiving is coming up this month. This is a holiday where I guess we're celebrating stealing the other guys' land? Dead birds? Obesity?

And who thought up the idea of a holiday on a Thursday?


Christmas is a great celebration of single-motherhood, and God as a deadbeat Dad. I guess that means the presents are gifts in lieu of child support?

Of course there's nothing strange about Christmas traditions, with a fat man in a flying sleigh pulled by deer.

I personally love the tradition of spending an entire weekend putting up decorations that you have to spend another entire weekend taking back down next month. You're creating work for yourself as you're doing work. It's like raking leaves onto your lawn so that you will have something to rake off of it.

The best Christmas tradition, though, is the tree lights. We have these strings of lights that are very convenient, assuming you can untangle them, except that one single bulb always goes out somewhere and takes down the entire string, and you can never chase down the bulb and never have a replacement even if you do. But better than this tradition is the pre-electricity version of it, where people put lit candles on the branches. Who came up with that one? "Right - light the candle, put it on that branch under that other branch. It'll be fine! Let's go eat dinner. ... Your house burned down? How'd that happen?!"

New Years

This has to be the silliest holiday, simply celebrating one day turning into the next. Noone can figure out what else to do with the holiday, so we just drink heavily.


Passover is, from what I can figure out, celebrating bad food and hard times.


Easter is always a happy time, where we celebrate the original Dawn of the Dead.
I'm not sure how this got us to a bunny distributing eggs and candy.

Memorial Day and Labor Day

I can never keep these holidays straight; they're just the two generic Monday holidays.

July 4th, Independence Day

This is a wonderful holiday, celebrating that critical point in American history when we stood up to England and said, "We don't need your corrupt politicians anymore; we have enough of our own!"


When I am King: Common Scents

When I am King...

Overuse of cologne and perfume will be banned. They just stink too damn much.

What's with the guys that dump buckets of cologne on themselves? Can they not tell that they reek? Or that that they can't smell anything else in the entire environment? Or that people gag and plants wilt as they walk by?

I think that these scents dated from the age where showers and baths were not as easy to come by, and perfume was preferable to BO. But these people must have missed the memo about today's running water and soap.

Over-dosing is a growing problem as people grow older; I think their sense of smell starts to go and they have to really soak their skin to get the same effect in their nostrils as they used to get. (This is somewhat related to the way that I now have to have an IV drip delivering coffee directly into my system since I had developed a tolerance to all lesser measures.) You would think that when they change from using dabs to teaspoons it would be a giveway, but maybe they just assume that the manufacturers are watering down their product.

But this problem is not relegated to older people; many younger people suffer the same fate. Or rather, the rest of us suffer the same fate from younger people, too. There are just some folks that think that they need to bathe in the stuff to get any effect.

I'm particularly bothered by men overusing cologne, but I'm not excusing women; there are women that do the same thing with perfume. But somehow we are conditioned to expect perfume smells, even unnecessarily strong ones, or ones that smell like insect repellent, from women. However, the same sense of injustice, of odor intrusion, of nausea comes into play here; women should not be exempted from this law.

The root of the problem is not using cologne or perfume; used in moderate amounts, that is excusable. The real issue is the overdosing with the stuff, using amounts that cause large crowds to gag, small children to suffocate, and skunks to go into heat. Original plans for my proposed law required an outright ban, arguing that measuring the amount used would be too difficult, and outlawing all usage would be the only approach. But our clever scientists have come up with a system that should make it possible to only outlaw extreme use.

Enforcement for this new law will be easy. Detection and punishment will both be handled by the same mechanism; public places will have small, concealed pilot lights. Anyone using too much perfume or cologne near one of these units will spontaneously combust.

Sometimes extreme measures are called for. It may stink, but the punishment fits the crime.


When I am King: Squash World Hunger

When I am King...

No more yucky food will be grown.

I have a solution for world hunger; let's stop growing food that noone likes.

We've heard for years that the real problem behind world hunger is not availability, but distribution. (I happen to think that ready cash probably figures in there somewhere). But here's a different theory: maybe we're just not growing food that people actually want to eat.

Here's a good example. It's Halloween, and once again everyone's porch is decorated with inedible vegetables. It may seem like the porch is a natural place for these items because we are decorating the public entrances to our homes, but the real reason the things are there is that nobody wants them inside their house. There are gourds, which noone is quite sure what to do with. There is multi-colored corn, which looks simultaneously interesting and completely unappetizing. And then there are the pumpkins everywhere; carcasses of these massive vegetables so confound us that all we can think to do is to carve them up, in some sort of virtual homicide or ritual sacrifice.

Sure, we use some of the pumpkin innards. Occasionally. Somewhere, there is a factory that converts one part pumpkin, 10 parts cream, and 20 parts sugar into a gloppy substance that is then slorped into pie dishes and called “pumpkin pie”. Also, many people try (and fail) to convert the huge pumpkin seeds into something tasty (one part seeds, 10 parts butter or oil, 20 parts salt), but most of the inedible results end up in the trash can instead. A typical response is, “Hmm, honey (crunch, chew, crunch). Much better this year (crunch, chew),” followed by placing the rest of the handful quietly back in the bowl.

Pumpkins, gourds, and multi-color corn are all members of the Decoration food group. This food group is not found inside the classic “food pyramid”, but if you look closely you can see these foods on the pyramid's front porch.

The Decoration food group has many other members. Pomegranates, for example, have a grand history of being only partially consumed. The goddess Persephone could eat only a few seeds before giving up, and went to Hell for eating just that many. But who could blame her? The pomegranate is a parody of something edible, having more seed than actual fruit. Eating it is more a hobby than an act of consumption; it is about as productive as biting your nails, but substantially less filling.

So why do we continue to grow these things? Wouldn't we be better off growing things that people actually wanted to eat? Maybe if we just had more edible food in the world, it would somehow magically make its way into the hands and stomachs of people that had nothing. As it is, it seems like we have about the right amount of food for some number of people (less than the population of the planet) and then we have whole landfills and front porches full of these other bizarre foods. Sure, we might be able to ship this stuff around the planet in a desperate attempt to stave off hunger, but the recipients wouldn't want these things either. We could take our entire crop of pumpkins, figure out how to send them somewhere else (a quandary in and of itself), and would merely get a thank-you card back with a picture of all lots of carved pumpkins and a note inside; “We thank you for the festive decorations; do you have any food?”

I propose a new system of growing and manufacturing foods that people will actually eat, thereby filling the world with more edible options. On the organic side, we could grow more fruits like watermelons and oranges, or vegetables like, er, well, some vegetables that people like. On the manufacturing side, we could produce foods that have little dependence on nature. Pop-Tarts come to mind; they're tasty, filling, and people will eat them, but they appear to have no natural products in them.

I am heartened by this project so far, and have begun working on other planetary problems as well. There are plans to reduce global warming by getting enough people to run air conditioners while their windows are open. And droughts may be solved by simply turning on the faucets in a house and channeling the water to the outside. I'm still researching solutions to the global oil shortage, but the top contender involves teenagers and acne.


When I am King: Wedding Time

When I am King...

Marriage cermonies will be 2 minutes, tops.

I never understand why most weddings are so long; nobody is actually learning anything new in the process (except those new to the experience, who are learning that they don't want to do this again). Chances are, everyone knows that the couple is going to get married; the wedding invitation is a dead giveaway. So it's not like there's a surprise ending in store. There may be some that go to weddings with the same morbid desire that drives them to watch long car races; for the fiery crashes. But the odds are pretty poor that anything unpredictable will happen in most weddings.

The happy couple is changing their entire life (for better or worse), they have all of their friends and family in the world gathered around, they've got a party waiting on them to start ... and they opt for spending an hour listening to speeches by people in robes. And these aren't new speeches; these are the same words used in every Sunday sermon, for the last, oh, 2,000 years.

I've been working on a template for faster weddings. It goes something like this:

Marriage-Performer [looks at bride]: You?
Bride: Yes
Marriage-Performer [looks at groom]: And you?
Groom: Sure
Marriage-Performer [looks at both]: Done

(Rings, kisses, fond looks, and recriminations can be exchanged later)

So why do people have weddings that take so darned long?

Is it revenge for all the weddings they've had to attend?

Or just bad scheduling? I can picture the groom saying, “Dang! The Vet's hall doesn't open until 5:00. Let's hang out here a while and see what that guy in white has to say.”

Or maybe it's a money thing, like they need to justify the enormous volume of cash they've just poured down the drain of their love life. They just want to spread the cost out over more time. But that's like a wanting some horribly painful terminal disease to last longer to justify the exhorbitant treatment costs.

It's okay to spread the celebration out. But that's what the party is for. Don't waste the time sitting in the flowery room of heart-felt guilt. Or at least make attendance optional:

“Marriage will be from 2:00 - 3:00. Party will start at 2:03.”

Until my imminent ascension, weddings will probably continue to be too long. I would suggest,
then, that instead of calling the whole middle section a Mass, we should call it a Wake. This will handle the situation where someone in the audience has died waiting for the thing to end.


I am a Software Engineer

I am a Software Engineer.

I know what you're thinking.
You're thinking, "That guy is Cool".

You're so right. I don't like to brag, too much, but I'll let you in on some details.

I have many friends
in chat rooms.

I have excellent contacts
but I prefer to wear glasses because they make me look so cool.

Many women want me
to fix their computers.

I frequently get laid

I know many languages:
Java, C, C++.

I travel to many exotic places
in online games

I'm into sports

I collect fancy cars.
Most are still in their original Hot Wheels packaging.

I smell good
so I don't shower very often because I don't want to ruin it.

I have a black belt
that I wear when I can't find my suspenders.

I know that you're now thinking "I want to be that guy."
But you can't.
I was here first.


When I am King: No Kneed

When I am King...

All knees will be replaced by more functional joints.

I had knee surgery a couple of weeks ago, basically because I'm getting old. They poked around in there, shaved some, scraped some, put me back together. Now my knees feel grate; they grate every step I take. They sound like a couple of maracas; like my knees are some kind of Latin joint.

The knee has to be the dumbest joint ever invented. I think it probably worked fine back when people lived to, say, 22. But we're taking these things way past their warranty expiration, and the manufacturer is no longer in business. Can you imagine the class action suit for this screwup?

I can't believe that we evolved this joint; it just doesn't make sense. Evolution is supposed to improve upon things, make them better through the generations. Like our ability to detect prey in the area. Or coffee.

So how did knees get past the Quality Assurance Committee of the Evolution Task Force? Do you think anyone actually thought about them? “Hmm, here's one - Requirement: Needs to hold up to 100-250 pounds comfortably for up to 100 years. Proposal: bone sliding over bone. Thin layer of deteriorating cartilage. Works for me. Now where'd I put that other six pack?”

Instead, I think knees were imposed, maybe as a punishment, or as a practical joke. “Think thou can Flee my Wrath, eh? Well try it with these! Ha ha HA ha ha ha. HA!”. (Gods generally have poor senses of humor, and there is no hope of improving because noone ever tells them their jokes suck).

Or maybe knees were just a temporary measure, like the awful rental you get when your car is in the shop; it gets you to work, but you can't wait to get back to a real car. But the shop closed down, we never got our real joints back, and we're making do on rentals that have gone way beyond their mileage limit.

Help is on the way. Humanity didn't evolve better joints, but we did evolve surgery. In my kingdom, we will mandate surgeries that will do whole-knee replacements, but not with other knee joints (what a bad joke that is; it's like returning a meal because it has a cockroach in it and having the chef transfer the same roach to a new plate of food for you). Instead, we will replace knees with something else entirely.

We do not yet know what the solution will be like; we will create research foundations to find the answer. One possibility being weighed is removing our legs entirely and fastening our bodies in place, but working out a system to move everything else to us. It would be far easier on our bodies and much more convenient. Exercise will be limited, but we expect the remote control to be so complex that simply lifting and operating it should suffice.


Exercise? No Sweat.

I'm trying to stay in shape, hitting the gym when I can. I'm going to start working on my abs. But instead of going for a six pack, I think I'll aim higher and go for a full keg.

I'm staying clear of the cardiac machines, though.

I just do a few sets of waits.

Then I do some stares. I'm the stare master.

I do some sit ups, then I gotta lie down.

I skip rope. Completely.

I'm working on my flexibility, too; sometimes I hit the gym on Tuesday instead of Monday.


When I am King: No Alphabutts

When I am King...

There will be no words allowed on the pant seats of childrens' clothing.

It is truly disturbing to find yourself reading some words and then realize you're staring at the bottom of a 12 year old. Or someone much younger, like the age of one of my daughters.

It's particularly disturbing when the words say something like “Hot!” or “Sweet!”. They should say something more appropriate, like “Sick!,” or “Perv!,” or perhaps “What are you looking at, buddy?!”.

There is a universal law that says that we treeless apes will read words put in front of us. (Unless you're being taught to read, in which case the converse appears to be true). Why else do we find ourselves reading the drivel and ads on a cereal box during breakfast? Is it actually better than the novel upstairs by the bed? Or more fulfilling than actually talking to the family? Of course not; but the words are there and demand to be read.

This is probably why traffic engineers put the word “STOP” on a stop sign. We all know what the symbol means. But if there wasn't a word on it, we would ignore the sign off and roll right on toward our certain death. But since there's a word on the sign, our brain says “Hey! Read what it says! Maybe it's an ad!”

(In Russia, the word on the sign is “CTOP”, which is just a phonetic translation of our word, completely unrelated to whatever the Russian word is for stop. This helps explain why it is so dangerous crossing a Russian street.)

Some cunning clothing manufacturer latched onto this passion for words and decided to start putting reading material on pants, with the reasoning that everyone will be forced to look at the words. And the concept makes perfect marketing sense ... for clothing on a 25 year old. But is there any possible benefit to me, the kid, or the manufacturer from my looking at the pants of a 6 year old?

Manufacturers will be required to cease production on this childrens' clothing immediately and distributors will not be allowed to sell them. I will be a kindly king and will not require existing clothing to be thrown away, but all children with such pants will be required to wear a black square placard from their waist that hangs over the area of offence, much like the faces of people that are blacked out in videos to keep their identities secret. My daughters will each be wearing camouflage pants, a hoop skirt, and a cardboard box.


Some Jokes For You. Laugh, Dammit.

These are Chet originals. At least as far as I know.

When I was in high school, my parents sent me on an exchange program.
They were so surprised when I returned.

Did you hear about the guy that only drank beer and wine?
He thought the hard stuff was too whiskey.

Or how about the grumbler that avoided hard liquor?
He would only drink beer and whine.

Home is where the mortgage is.

Where do bulimics work out?
The gymnauseum.

And in my first and probably only foray into political humor:

What do you call a vacuum cleaner in Iraq?
A weapon of mess destruction


Global Solutions to Personal Problems

American companies are aggressively pursuing "offshoring"; hiring talented workers in other countries.
Does this mean our workforce is no longer in-continent?


When I am King: It's Official

When I am King...

Everyone will run for public office.

Only through the fear of future elections will we all be able to live the lives of saints.

Religion can be one way to educate and encourage people to lead good lives, guilty of sin. But this approach simply does not scale. What is sin in a world with war, terrorism, and Paris Hilton? Is it eating a second Twinkie? Is it turning Right on Red without stopping first? Is it socking someone in the jaw because you felt like it?

Religion simply cannot cope in the context of modern society with just so darned many ways for us to be Really Bad. Sure, eternity in hellfire sounds pretty awful, but if it's in the next life then it is pretty easy to ignore. Heck, I can't even imagine what my next week is going to be like; how am I supposed to see the afterlife as a motivator? And after all, the good guy always figures out how to escape from certain death between the end of one book and its sequel; maybe the bad guys can too.

But fear of public exposure; now there's an incentive.

If we all lived with the knowledge that some day in the future we would run for public office, that fear would freeze us in place. The publicity, the exposure, the Committees for Congressional Interrogation, the tabloid spreads .... These are all too real, too tangible, too sickening to ignore.

Sure, it might take a couple of years to sink in, but after the humiliating defeat and public undressing of so many normal, basically law-abiding citizens, people would begin to get the hint. Don't you slow down to just above the speed limit when you see someone pulled over on the highway? Only until you're past the scene, I know: but what if there was someone pulled over every 200 yards along the highway? Or what if (trying hard to armwrestle the metaphor back to where it started) someone new was drawn and quartered in the press every day for living a life not too unlike your own?

First, the extra-marital affairs would die down; the combination of the embarassing publicity and easy avenue for betrayal would make these transgressions too much of a liability. Next, the financial kickbacks and petty bribery; again, there would be too many others that knew, and too much certainty of public exposure. Eventually, even the less sensational offenses like hiring undocumented workers, tax evasion, and murder would disappear.

Ours would evolve into such a high state of law-abiding banality that nothing would be done that could ever be called out in future hearings.

The downside is that everyone would become complete recluses, afraid to venture outdoors for fear of being caught in the act of doing anything illegal, immoral, unethical, or otherwise publicly floggable. Nobody would stir outside their home unless completely necessary; restaurants would go out of business, relationships would wither, the birthrate would go down, and we would become a nation of hermits.

Traffic would therefore be drastically improved, which is reason enough for this brave new law.


When I am King: An End to Wallpaper

When I am King...
There will be no wallpaper.

Have you ever moved into a house or apartment with wallpaper in it? Inevitably, it's some horrid floral pattern, or pink abomination, or simply old and cracked. So it has to go.

Paint you can deal with; you just paint over it. It may be the worst color invented since lime Jello, but all you have to do is bear with it long enough to slap another coat or two on top until it stops screaming.

But wallpaper? You gotta take it down.

Now if they'd gotten it right, they would have come up with some simple mechanism to take it down. Velcro strips. Paperclips in the corners. Post-it strength sticky on the back. Zippers on the sides. A wick to set it alight. A fuse to detonate it.

But no.

Instead, they came up with a new molecule, just for wallpaper, one that guarantees that you will take your house down along with the paper.

Picture the inventors, sitting in a chemistry lab, with this memo in front of them:
Need simple adhesive for non-permanent attachment of temporary decorations
Only the scientists were newly arrived from nuclear labs in other countries, and had a hard time with the language. They translated the note thusly:
Need strongest adhesive in universe for structural bonding of space ship joints
They created a bond so tight that it's easier to just pry off the drywall than remove the paper.

And of course, there is the mess. The inventors had some extra time on their hands and went overboard creating an adhesive that is also the messiest compound in the universe (barring fresh-ground coffee; that stuff gets everywhere).

The first attack is to simply paint over it; it worked for the pink walls in the bedroom, why not for the baskets-o-fruit montage in the dining room? So you paint, and you paint, and you paint ... and then, just when you've squinted sufficiently and convinced yourself it looks good, your spouse comes in and helpfully chimes in, “What about the seams? And the peeling? And that big crack in the corner?”

So you put the paints away, and you wait for another free weekend, and you get out the scrapers. And the steam iron. And the trash cans. And you try to cover the floor and furniture. And you spend the next 48 hours in hell.

So in my kingdom, there will be no wallpaper. It won't be sold, and there will be severe penalties for putting it up; violators will have to take it down again.


When I am King: Headline News

When I am King...
There will be no news stories, only news headlines.

With all of the information swirling around the world and all of the demands on our time, who has time to read all this stuff? Much better to just read the headline, get the gist, and move on.
This is already happening to a great extent. Go to the front page of any news site and all you see are headlines. If you want the stories, you can click through, but who has time for that? It's surely much better to spend that time finding out that a boy was rescued from a well in Ohio and that there's another world war starting than to find out the details on the poor Ohioan (Ohian? Ohic? Ohihowareya?).

The current system of headlines and stories is just not sustainable, nor is it good for The People. Give someone a newspaper and they will inevitably spend time reading some of the stories (after the comics, of course). Give someone a headline URL and they may click on it and read the underlying story. Meanwhile, volumes of information are lost as people dive deep into irrelevant stories instead of learning more about the Big Picture by reading more headlines.

Thus I will mandate a headline-only approach to news. News sites such as CNN will consist of only a single page full of headlines, or may opt to have some sub-pages to hold more headlines. Newspapers may come back into popularity as they reduce down from 1,000 page epics to a single page of headlines, plus some for ads and comics. Radio news shows will go from audio essays to sound bytes, as they reel off headline after useful headline. They will be able to both shorten their broadcasts and offer more information. Public radio will finally be able to handle the ongoing drastic funding cuts as shows like All Things Considered go from a two hour show down to 10 minutes (the show will be renamed All Things Mentioned).

We will all become more acquainted with current events since we will have much more time to absorb information. We in the U.S. may even see and hear news about other countries, since there will be space to fill after the latest gripping boy-in-well headlines; no longer will stories like Earthquake Destroys All of Africa go unnoticed by the general populace. We could even find the time to learn more about our world with all of the new information we can absorb. It is not hard to envision headlines such as Portugal is a Country in Europe and Germans Speak Language Called German that would be useful in educating a now more globally-aware public.

My critics are quick to point out the potential downside that noone will know anything beyond the very basic information imparted in the headline. But I remain steadfast in my belief that this is irrelevant. For one thing, I find it unlikely that anyone actually remembers any of the details of these stories beyond the headlines. But perhaps more importantly, we learn about our world through interacting with other people. And what better way to interact than to have a veritable plethora of conversation topics to bring up? Rather than enter a conversation with a deeper understanding of just one or two stories, why not launch into it with a thousand stories you can bring up? No, I must disagree with my detractors; far better to go for quantity.

By learning less, we will know more.


When I am King: Manarchy Reigns

When I am King...
The word "monarch" will be replaced by a more appropriate word.

"Monarchy" is a great word for a kingdom in the Carribean, but it doesn't seem right for me; heck, I don't even know where Carribea is.

What about "manarchy" instead, since the guy at the top (that'd be me) is a man? Or if I want to go for a more casual flair, how about "guyarchy"? If we're sticking to our English roots in this thing, maybe "chaparchy". If the kingdom were California, perhaps "dudearchy" would be good, or if in the Midwest, maybe "neighborarchy".

But I think I like "manarchy"; it has a certain, I don't know, masculine feel to it. And it seems to just fit with the whole governance thing:

Q: What happens if you lose the head of a Manarchy?

A: anarchy

It just works.


Kansas: Land of ... Land

A friend from the San Francisco bay area recently moved to Kansas, where he is renting an 80 acre farm. I don't know about where you live, but that's an unbelievably huge amount of land in this area. We measure plots of land in feet and inches here. We even resort to metric because centimteres are smaller units than inches.

I can't even imagine that much land, but here's an attempt:

  • It's a lawn that's bigger than you could mow with a weedwhacker. By the time you finish mowing it, it's probably time to start again.
  • You could actually throw a frisbee from your property and have it land on your property (you can only manage this with a boomarang or a refrigerator in California). Of course, in Kansas they use a pitchfork instead of a frisbee, and the games don't last very long.
  • You could have a conversation inside your house with the windows open and your neighbors couldn't hear you.
  • You could call your property a "compound" and not "compact".
  • You could fit an entire car dealership's worth of vehicles up on blocks in the lawn.
  • It's bigger than the spread of a WIFI router.
  • If this parcel were in California, you would probably get in your car to drive from one end to the other. During that drive, you would pass at least 5 cafes (3 Starbucks, 1 Peet's, and one local joint)



Q: How much disk space does Google Earth require?

A: Terra bytes

When I am King: Let's Get Series

When I am King...

There will be government grants for any TV series that gets canceled. In the event that a series (at least a good one, like most of those canceled by Fox) gets canceled mid-storyline, there will be a government grant to cover the cost of one final episode that ties everything together. The current state of unsatisfied suspense is killing our society; we need closure on so many shows.

Let's face it; in this world of so many channels and so few real people that we actually care about, the characters on TV are actually more family and friends than the people outside the television box. And they're way better in some ways because you only have to deal with them a little bit at a time. You can turn them off any time you want. If you feel like having a sandwich and they're in the middle of talking to you, you can feel free to walk out on them (plus you don't have to share your food with them). Sure, they don't listen to you or care about your problems, but is that any worse than your current family and friends?

So when one of our favorite shows with our greatest friends gets canceled, it's as if terrorists came and killed our entire community instantaneously, and we didn't even get to go to the funerals. As human beings, we just cannot continue taking this kind of emotional torture.

So let us see our friends buried properly; all deserving shows will get a final show to send everyone off in style. All that the studios need to do is tie off all of the loose ends; no cliff-hangers are allowed.

This law will be retroactive to all shows from the mid-80s onward (it may be physically impossible to mimic hairstyles prior to those years); any show that got canceled mid-season may apply for the grant. This should help many of us clear up emotional baggage that has plagued us since childhood.

Of course, I'm all for shows being canceled as a rule. In fact, I prefer it when shows are canceled; this is when I start watching them.

I have a deep-rooted fear of getting attached to TV shows, related to my fear of dependency; I don't want to become dependent on the show and the people, and start seeing my life revolve around them (“Gotta go; gotta watch Phylli's Fillies”, “Ran out of disk space on my DVR; gotta watch some of the Phylli's Fillies backlog”). And just perhaps I grew up with so much rejection that I've extended that fear to TV characters; how can I get attached to them and then watch them dump me?

So I've found a fix: wait until the show is canceled, and then join in. For one thing, I can watch all of the episodes quickly, instead of drawing it out once a week over months and years. (assuming the show was actually popular before the network dumped it, and makes it to DVD). Better still, I get the pleasure of dumping these friends when it's over. Sure, it's sad to lose that friendship, but since I can see it coming right from the beginning, it's easier to take. It's like being friends with someone that has a terminal disease; it's heart-wrenching, but at least it's not a surprise when it takes them.


When I am King: Strong Signals

When I am King...

Failure to indicate turns by signaling will be punishable by death, or by having to watch Dora the Explorer for 72 hours straight, as chosen by the accused (I will be a benevolent ruler).

When did turn signals become optional? When did it become more important for that guy to hang his arm out the window than to move his hand inside the car, behind the steering wheel, and actually flick the turn signal to tell me that he's going to turn at the corner and I don't need to wait for his car to go through the intersection? When did it become optional for the woman on the cell phone to keep talking to her friend instead of simply moving the turn signal to actually inform me that she's going to move into my lane, so that I don't have to wait until her rear bumper nearly scrapes my front bumper for me to get her drift?

What do people think the turn signal lights are there for? Color detail on bumpers? Extra highlight colors to accentuate the lights they actually do use? And how about that awkwardly huge rod sticking out of the steering column? Do they use it for hanging sunglasses on? Or maybe dangling the cell phone on between critical calls from chatty friends?

And what do they think I'm doing when I use my signals? Do they wonder what that strange blinking light is below my headlight?

Or perhaps they think it all happens by magic; they'd like to turn, so I must know they want to turn, and I'll expect it. It must be that I continue to wait at the intersection because I'm too busy thinking about stuff. Or maybe I'm on a call to my friends and can't be bothered to actually step on the gas. Or maybe they think I just love to tailgate and wanted to almost brush their bumper with mine out of some playful game of tag.

Dora is too good for these people. Maybe Barney reruns. That dinosaur could teach them a thing or two about manners.

Pluto Tossed on his Asteroid

Pluto Tossed on his Asteroid

Chet Haase, 8/24/06

Scientists today decided that Pluto is no longer a planet. After billions of years of galactic harmony, this distant rock was summarily chucked out of our solar system.

Our star reporter caught up with Earth and talked with her about the situation.

"We've had good times over the millenia, there's no deyning it," said the mother planet. "I mean, it all started with the Big Bang,
and that was just heavenly.

"But the relationship was getting old and it was time to call it quits. There were a few ongoing issues that I just got tired of
dealing with, and it didn't look like they were going to change anytime soon. For one thing, Pluto's, well, small. And that's
not always a bad thing. But sometimes size matters, and this was one of those times. Also, his orbit's a bit, well, irregular.
Frankly, he's a bit elliptical. I just kept running circles around him.

"But the final straw was that Pluto is just too cold and distant for me. I'd even call him frigid. And I'm not talking brisk; we're measuring his temperature in Kelvin. The cold intellectual thing is fun occasionally, but eventually I get tired of always having to break the ice.

"So it's over. We're still good friends, of course. And we still run in the same circles so we'll pass each other by now and then.
But it's a done deal in my book."

When asked what the future was, Earth smiled and turned starry-eyed.

"After this long plutonic relationship, I think I'm ready for something new. I've had my eye on Mercury for a while, although he might be a bit too hot for me. I wouldn't even mind playing around on the wild side; I have a call
into Venus to see where she's at this time of year."

Meanwhile, Pluto wasn't as happy with the new arrangement. He was asked how he felt about his new classification as a 'dwarf planet':

"'Planet of small stature,' please. And I don't think size matters a bit. I can't point fingers, but Earth's a bit tilted on her axis. For one thing, we didn't have an exclusive thing; I've been going around with lots of planets for years.

"As far as my irregular orbit, that's a personal matter between me and my astrophysician.

We can't tell what the future holds for this couple, but for now it seems that Pluto is lost in space.

Copyright 2006, Chet Haase. All Rights