Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's: Most Pointless Holiday of the Year

Today is New Year's Eve, leading into New Year's Day...the most pointless holiday of the year. It's dumb because it's arbitrary. Today is only the last day of the year because the Gregorian calendar says so. If you go by the Chinese calendar, the new year doesn't begin until February 10! Check out Wikipedia for the full breakdown. 

Stated briefly: New Year's is celebrated all over the world, but anywhere from January to October!

Does the arbitrary change of dates actually change anything? No! It's totally symbolic and silly. You're the same awesome (or terrible) person on January 1 that you were on December 1. If you were a winner in December, January isn't going to bring you down. If you were a loser in December, January isn't going to improve anything, either.

I stopped making a big deal out of this nonsense years ago. If only everyone would do the same.

P.S. I've seen advertisements for Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve on Facebook. How does that work, exactly? Is the ghost if Dick Clark hosting? Is he going to possess Ryan Seacrest? Or is he just going to be the special New Year's correspondent for the afterlife? (Wouldn't that be a kick? "Hey, guys! It turns out that there's no Heaven or Hell! It's just one big party! Whee!") I don't mean to be disrespectful or anything. I don't want people to forget Dick Clark. But you have to admit it's a little if it were "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, hosted by Jay Leno Conan O'Brien Jay Leno.") Though I suppose that's a little different since he didn't pass away while still in the chair, but you know what I mean.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stupid Memes #1

“You are not just here to fill space or be a background character in someone else's movie. Consider this: nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you. We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us.”
Quote by David Niven

This is image macro of a quote , ladies and gentlemen, is the epitome of eye-rolling heroic nonsense. This is the sort of thing parents tell their children to reassure them that they are, in fact, "important" and "special." 

There are plenty of people who "fill space." Our prisons are filled with people who are doing nothing but filling space. Our policies are such that people with disabilities who want to work can't because no one will hire them, so they get to "fill space." It's common knowledge that many of our elders "fill space" in retirement homes, too.

There are plenty of background characters, too. Most of us live and die without anyone really noticing at all. If you don't believe me, consider the last time you watched the local news and heard about all the people in your city who died in accidents or fires. Did you mourn them? If you're the religious sort, did you pray for them? Did that news affect you at all?

Simply existing doesn't change anything. That's just silly. That, ladies and gentlemen, is heroic nonsense.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Humbug, part 2: Holidays in Newtown, CT

There was a big thing I left out of my last rant, and I didn't want to just edit it in, so I'm writing it as a new post. Perhaps that's for the best - it certainly deserves a post all its own.

Rhetorical question: Did they celebrate Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut this year?

Many families experience loss around the Holiday Season™. Many don't, but find it difficult all the same. The holidays just don't seem as they should be when your beloved dog isn't at the end of the dinner table, begging for goodies. They don't feel right when the person who sat in that particular chair isn't around anymore. It's strange when you realize you don't have to speak quite so loudly anymore because your hard-of-hearing grandparent is no longer sitting in the living room.

But none of that can possibly compare to the agony of the families in Newtown this year. The Sandy Hook shooting was a mere eleven days before six of days before the Winter Solstice.

In this season of gift-giving, many (most?) of those families had gifts waiting for those kids. They were anticipating making new family memories - like one victim's family got their daughter cowboy boots since she wanted a horse. What do you do with a new pair of cowboy boots when the intended recipient is no longer around to wear them?

It seemed like the world stopped for a lot of people on December 14th. Everyone was shocked and horrified - parents teachers, and other child educators and caregivers especially. But life went on for most of us. Newtown is drowning in memorials and they're planning a permanent memorial, but for most of us, life went candles, wrapping (and unwrapping) gifts, baking, eating, hugging.

I suppose you could say this is true every year. There's always a war somewhere in the world...this year, the dubious honor falls on Syria. Crime doesn't stop when the Holiday Season™starts. But I think you'll forgive me if I take a moment to ponder how it is that life seems to revert to normal so quickly, even in the midst of tragedy.

Humbug 2012

The vaunted Holiday Season™is nearly over. All we need to get past is the ridiculousness of New Year's Eve...well, then it'll be time to ramp up for Valentine's Day, right? But I digress.

Holidays are annoying. We stress out over them for weeks (if not months).

  • What do you get for your parents and grandparents, who can buy whatever they like? And as far as I'm concerned, gift cards and certificates should be a last resort. They're rather thoughtless and impersonal. 
  • How do avoid feeling guilty for giving far less than you receive?
  • Are we absolutely SURE we can't just skip the holidays this year?
  • For a time of such "togetherness," why do we feel so alone?

So then the holiday of choice (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, whatever) comes and goes, and...well, that's about it. It comes with a bang and leaves with a whimper. Now it's time to put away the decorations, the wrapping paper, and the gifts you've received. Well, that and exchange gifts in case you got duplicates or things you'll just never use. (One year I got four waffle irons. Seriously.) Oh, and you now have cash and gift cards. If you're a young adult, there's a good chance that any money you receive gets put into bills, which is mildly depressing.

In all likelihood, you didn't actually get what you really wanted anyway...which then leads into the whole issue of materialism. Just about every holiday story and TV special revolves around the True Meaning of Christmas™, which is basically about "being together" and "family" and "friends" and gag me with a spoon already. (Don't even get me started on O. Henry's "classic" tale, The Gift of the Magi, which I maintain is one of the most depressing and annoying stories in all of English literature.) Every year we indoctrinate children (and ourselves) with all this heroic nonsense about the True Meaning of Christmas™ while simultaneously falling into the same pattern of dashing off to the mall trying to find that perfect gift. If that isn't a mixed message, I don't know what is.

Some of you may be saying, "Well, why don't you break the cycle?" I've tried. I really have. But my family made it abundantly clear that - even if I requested that money be given to charity in lieu of gifts for me - I would still end up with presents. And I'm pretty sure if I tried to opt-out I would get packages in the mail. And if I tried to send them back, I would hurt their feelings. So I gave feelings about the Holidays™ are never going to be acknowledged or respected.

And by the way, every year TBS runs A Christmas Story in a loop for 24 hours or so...24 hours of Red Rider BB guns and "you'll shoot your eye out!" I have a gift idea for next holiday season...someone please collect all the copies of that insipid movie and destroy them. That would be the best gift I could ever receive.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

So, what's this all about?

So - much to my chagrin - it appears that the world hasn't ended just yet. I suppose that means I should talk about what I mean to accomplish with this blog.

Basically, I'm fed up with our happy-smiley culture. I'm tired of empty gestures, meaningless platitudes, and false hopes. I've had it with the myths we tell ourselves (and, more importantly, the children in our lives) to help ourselves sleep at night. I'm at my wits' end with the rampant dishonesty and inauthenticity that plagues our society.

And perhaps - most of all - I feel the need to stand up in defense of pessimism and cynicism. Pessimism gets a really, really bad rap. "Oh, you're so negative." "You're so cynical!" 

For example, some of you may recall what Conan O'Brien said on his last edition of The Tonight Show back in 2010:
Please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere.
I love Conan, but I think he was absolutely wrong. If Mr. O'Brien had been a little more cynical...a little more realistic (pessimistic?), maybe he would've seen trouble coming sooner. Could he have persuaded Jay Leno to retire? Or could he have given up on "Tonight" instead of getting - and then losing - the show? There's no way to know, of course. This is all speculation. But I think that it would've helped if he - or at least his advisors - had been a little more clear-eyed about the situation. 

It's a lot harder to see when the sun is blinding you. And that's what optimism can do...blind you to threats, dangers, and inconvenient facts.

So this blog is where I'm going to call out all the absurdities I see. I'm going to defend pessimism and cynicism. I'm going to write about the people and the books you need to know about. 

Maybe you'll find what I have to say amusing. I'd be OK with that. 

Maybe you'll disagree. I look forward to hearing your arguments (so long as you don't resort to name-calling and logical fallacies).

In any event, hopefully I'll give you something to think about.

(And this probably goes without saying, but if you like what you're reading, I'd appreciate it if you posted comments and shared me with your friends, enemies, teammates, families, arch-nemeses, etc.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the World? Let it burn!

I have been putting off creating this blog since June. But the world is supposedly going to end tomorrow, so...what the hell! If the world doesn't end, I'll work on the blog - including explaining what it's all about. (Digest version: huzzah for pessimism, sarcasm, and cynicism!) If it does, I didn't waste a lot of time. Win-win.

Anyway, a lot of people are excited about the impending apocalypse supposedly predicted by the Maya thousands of years ago. The media's all over it: 

  • NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook did an hour about how it's not really the end of days. Yeah, right, like we're going to believe the liberal media. Pfft.
  • On cable TV, the H2 channel (a History Channel spin-off) is presently airing a marathon of a series called Countdown to Apocalypse. The primary History Channel has set aside three hours this evening alone, including a two-hour-long program called simply 2012 the End is Now. Yes, that's the title - verbatim. I guess they decided not to waste the second of the precious time we have left that it would take to put some form of punctuation in the show's title. And yet they're repeating the program tomorrow...but if the world ends tomorrow, who's going to catch the repeat?
  • CNBC is re-airing a program called Apocalypse 2012. And for those of you who don't really think the end is nigh, CNBC's website also has lots of tips on how to profit from the hysteria! Woohoo! Oh, and there's a handy FAQ that's a fun read.
  • A nightclub in Atlanta didn't need CNBC to tell them how to exploit the silliness: they're throwing a big party starting at 10pm tomorrow. Sorry, kids, you can't experience the end of days at this nightclub - it's only for people age 21 and up. As if it matters if someone underage has a beer before their imminent death in a fiery inferno. Who's going to suspend their liquor license after the world ends, I wonder?

So that's all fine, well, and good. The world probably isn't going to end tomorrow. But here's my question: do we want the world to end? I think that many of us have a secret - even subconscious - desire for all this nonsense to be done and over with. Pain, suffering, loneliness, anxiety, fear, doubt, tragedy, struggle...haven't we had enough? Haven't we had enough wars, natural disasters, and human-caused catastrophes (like school shootings)?

What's the point, anyway? The Earth will eventually be destroyed. "We'll pack up and leave," you say? Well, let's assume that we will somehow manage to marshall the labor and resources that would be needed for an interplanetary exodus. (That's a big assumption. We can't even decide how much to tax and spend without setting up artificial "cliffs" to scare ourselves into making hard decisions!) What's the point of going on? Unless our scientists are somehow mistaken, the universe itself will eventually end in a rather horrifying state called "heat death." So - again - what's the point?

So I say - bring on the end! We've been watching this movie long enough to know that it's not going to end well. It's rather painful to watch, actually. So let the credits roll and let's leave the theater. 

Maybe we can tell the theater management how much we hated the movie and get a refund.