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?