Monthly Archives: December 2008

Random Thoughts on… Comedy

A Consultant’s Interpretation of Comedy

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A Layman’s Interpretation of a Consultant’s Matrix

STARS: These jokes have the potential of getting big laughs from a widespread audience. Classic bathroom humor, fashion faux pas, Amy-Winehouse-style cocaine addiction, and making fun of Ryan Seacrest? …Topical, relevant, and always hilarious.

CASH COWS: These are the jokes that just fall into our laps… they’re still crowd pleasers, but there’s not much else to say. We’ve already tapped everything Britney has to offer, and Sarah Palin has been completely comedically vetted, from her grandma hairstyle to her moose-skin Timbs. And even though we’ve heard the same Ohio jokes over and over, it’s still easy to enjoy making fun of the state’s finest: undecided voters, Cleveland, and Joe the Plumber.

QUESTION MARKS: There’s a lot of comic potential here, but will people actually find it funny? With all the layoffs, is it too painful to joke about the recession right now? Is it too soon to make fun of our golden boy president? And is Helen Keller permanently off limits? Say it ain’t so, HK… or, well… never mind.

DOGS: Death, funerals, and killing of cute, cuddly animals (like penguins) is generally not funny. And while Jersey has seen its cash cow heyday in the past, it’s not the butt of all jokes anymore… Well actually, that’s untrue: the only reason why the dirty Jerz is in the “Dogs” quadrant is to place it near the pictures of the gun and the funeral. Naturally.

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Auto Industry Bailout: For or Against?

The case AGAINST:

Simple economics: If the Big Three automakers fail, it’s because someone else is doing it faster, better, and cheaper. And that won’t change with a measly $15 bn loan that can barely cover the companies’ monthly billion-dollar losses… As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Any bailout will just be delaying the death.

carsTime to restructure: Just as it doesn’t make sense to grow oranges in Minnesota, it may not make sense to mass-produce cars in the US. GM, Ford, and Chrysler all have profitable overseas operations, but they’re getting squeezed here at home with higher costs, tighter regulations, and powerful unions. We’ll have to take the hit sometime, so why waste taxpayer money? It’s time to acknowledge that the economics just cannot support an auto industry in Detroit.

Bailing out a lack of innovation: Finally, Tom Friedman likens an auto industry bailout to funding typewriter companies on the eve of the birth of computers.

The case FOR:

lions_fanLost jobs: If there is no bailout and the Big Three automakers must reduce production, a conservative estimate is that we will lose 453,000 jobs next year; others have said it could be as bad as 2.5 million. What will all these people do next? Watch the Lions go 0-16?

Repaying taxpayers: Letting the car companies fail would lead to less tax revenue from lower incomes and lost jobs–which may end up costing us more than an upfront loan funded by taxpayers. Plus, there’s always the chance that the car companies could take the loan and actually turn things around… meaning we’d get our money back eventually, even if it’s in yen.

Like our economy isn’t crappy enough already… let’s just make it worse. The death of the auto industry would have a ripple effect on the entire economy, just as we saw with letting Lehman fail (bailout of AIG, collapse of WaMu, hello-goodbye of $700 bn). If the Big Three go down, taxpayers may eventually have to jump in and bail out everyone on down in the supply chain, plus insurers, pension guarantors, etc. How long could it take to get out of this? Well, how long have the Lions been in the “re-building” phase? Years and years.

What do you think?

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A Few of Our Favorite Things, on YouTube

I don’t care much about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Copper kettles can kill you and I’m fine with cold mittens. Brown paper packages can hide away bombs… and can’t whiskers also be found on most dogs?

Some of my favorite things, ex-family and friends? Cookie dough, cloudless skies, panda bears, The Land Before Time, the word “chimichangas”, the Christmas tree smell, dollar cost averaging, fajitas, and rhyming words that don’t rhyme, like “bombs” and “dogs”.

But when you’re feeling down, it’s not always easy to find some of your favorite things, especially if you’re looking for a panda (cough, cough, environment alert). Thus, we must use the power of YouTube, the best source for cheer-up entertainment since Fraulein Maria and the traveling puppet show.

In fact, I’d like to argue that YouTube isn’t all just about dancing parrots and other meaningless frivolities. There are some pretty deep videos out there that can serve as an important narrative for our generation. The following are some edifying clips to amuse, but also enlighten:

“Cubby dances to Beyonce’s Single Ladies video”: Is this meant to be a comic repudiation of pro-woman, feminist lyrics — or, is it a satire of another over-sexualized music video? Either way, I leave impressed with the durability of today’s leotards:

“Everyone has feelings”: The Care Bears remind us all that we have feelings; ironically, they do this by depicting a grumpy tree which is transformed at the end of the song. But, let’s be honest: trees do not have feelings. And science hasn’t proved that bears possess the human capacity to empathize. Talk about the blind leading the blind…

“Crazy 80s workout”: This is probably how Cubby has been working out. The video not only introduces us to new 80s-era exercise techniques, but it also brings back the soothing, you’re-still-on-hold music. A true relic. Plus, more leotards… who can resist?

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Optimizing Sleep Time at Work

Over the past few months, writing this blog on a daily basis has been fun, enlightening, and utterly exhausting.  There are days when the writing is easy, but also days when it is not.  I usually start writing only after I’ve gotten home from work, eaten, and watched my favorite trashy TV shows: most of the time, this is well after 11 pm.  Once I start writing, I must deal with frequent writer’s block and the distraction of Food Network’s late-night programming.  Thus, I’m often still awake past 2 am, trying to find pictures of aliens that resemble Joan Rivers’ face, while learning about how raisins are made on Unwrapped.

Needless to say, sleeping is a luxury, and I’m sure that I’m not the only insomniac with a late-night affinity for Marc Summers.  But, I’ve made it my pre-New Year’s resolution to start sleeping more, whenever I can get it.  It may be at  home, at work, or at dinner with friends, but I’m going to get my 8 hours of sleep each night.  And given that the majority of my day is spent at work, I need some creative ways to pull some shut-eye at the office…

Here are some techniques that have been recommended to me by others:

  • Bathroom naps: Stake out the biggest stall, put down a toilet seat cover, and find a roll of Charmin to rest your head on.
    • Pros: You can always blame your extended absence on food poisoning, or, if you are a woman, “female matters”.
    • Cons: You really don’t want to experience the full range of bodily functions that may occur during 20 minutes in the workplace bathroom.  After-lunch bathroom naps are definitely not recommended.
  • Car naps: Curl up in the back seat of your car and sleep off an hour… or two.
    • Pros: Unlike the bathroom stall, at least you know all the business that has gone down in your back seat.
    • Cons: Death.  If you’re parked in a garage, there’s always the slight chance that you could suffer carbon monoxide poisoning and die.  And that would be a rather embarrassing way to go.
  • Under your desk naps: Set up some paper stacks to serve as pillows, and climb on under there.
    • Pros: Minimal effort; you don’t have to walk down the hall to the bathroom, or make a trip to the parking garage.  Instead, your nap space is right in front of you.
    • Cons: Highest likelihood of getting caught, and unless you’re built like a Chinese gymnast, it may get a little uncomfortable down there.

My recommendation?  Even with high gastronomic activity in adjacent stalls, I think that bathroom naps offer the best work-sleep that you can get.  It’s mostly quiet, convenient, and relatively comfortable–in the right position, it’s like sleeping on the window seat of a plane.  Plus, the toxins in the bathroom are probably less dangerous than the ones in the parking garage.  And with the size of the stall, there’s always the possibility of upgrading your nap space with a twin-size Aerobed.

So, given that I’m pontificating about bathroom spaces (…again), I guess you can tell how severe my writer’s block was tonight.  Yup, it’s getting pretty late…  I’m definitely bringing in a travel pillow tomorrow, to go along with my bad case of “food poisoning.”

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It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like… a Recession

So it’s official: we’re in a recession. On Monday, the mere confirmation that we’re in a recession caused the Dow to drop 680 points. Did we need more proof? The auto industry has been on the verge of collapse for the past few months. Banks are still on life support, trying to raise capital. And yesterday, Harvard announced that its endowment lost 22% of its value in the past four months, or, oh just $8 billion.

And how are our harbingers of corporate America doing?

  • Google (GOOG), which was approaching $700 at the beginning of this year, is now trading at $280
  • General Electric (GE) is currently trading at $18, a ten-year low, and down from $37 since March
  • Goldman Sachs (GS) closed at $199 in May, a mere six months ago; since then, its stock has fallen 65%, now trading at $68

It is not a good time to be checking your 401(k).

It seems like the complete desecration of the stock market has come painfully fast. So, out of curiosity, I looked up some of the other recessions in this century to see if we saw similar declines in the market. According to the gospel of Wikipedia, these are the official recessions since 1929 that have lasted over two years:

  • 2001-03: Bursting of dot-com bubble, September 11, Enron and Worldcom scandals
  • 1980-81: Result of 1979 energy crisis and tight monetary policy to control inflation
  • 1973-75: High oil prices and Vietnam War leading to stagflation

From Google Finance, I looked at a four year period before and after the recession – I’ve also included the largest % declines in the Dow during this time.

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recession1980s

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Some things that jump out:

  • With our current recession, it’s only been a year, and the Dow has already lost 36%, or over 4,800 points. The last time it was this bad, during the 1970s, this pain was spread over two whole years.
  • Bottoming out seems to occur about 1.5 to 2 years after the high point… which means we might still have some time to fall.
  • The good thing is, in all cases, we see the Dow bouncing back a few years after we hit rock bottom… so, if we’re patient, our 401(k)s may recover their losses in a couple years.

Guess I’m waiting until 2011 to buy that flat-screen TV…

Updated (3/11/09): Four months have gone by, and Google and Goldman seem to have recovered nicely… while GE is now trading around $9. Hmm. But not to worry, the General certainly has company: the Dow is now 51% removed from December 2007, versus a mere 36% in December 2008. Again, just by looking at these graphs of the previous recessions, it seems like we’ve got at least two years to go from the peak… By my calculation, it’s looking like December 2009 may be the inflection point where the market will finally bottom out and perhaps start turning up again. With the way things are going now, I’d hope so.

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A Reality Show That Inspires a Bigger and Better Reality

Throughout the fall, I’ve developed a steady workout routine. Every Tuesday, I rush home to watch my favorite reality show, The Biggest Loser. From my spot on the couch, I watch while quasi-attractive fat people work their way to becoming very attractive thin people. I cringe during the last chance workouts. I recoil from the trainers’ sharp tongue-lashings. I shudder at the suspense of the weigh-ins, complete with untimely cuts to commercial. The show has its soft side, with corny lines, tearjerker moments, and just the right amount of family drama. It has its hard side, with a lot of grunting, groaning, and heavy metal weights. The not-so-subtle product placement has enlightened me to the wonders of Extra gum and Jennie-O turkey. Then, of course, there is the sex appeal. (Although during this season of Biggest Loser: Families, it seems wrong to make eyes at the husbands and fathers, no matter how muscular they’ve become.)

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Rawr...

While watching the Biggest Loser contestants hit the treadmill, lift weights, and eat lettuce wraps, you would think that this would encourage similar behavior from the viewer. At times I am compelled to do leg lifts or crunches, but more often I find myself fighting the urge to make cookies. Or cupcakes. Or sizzling chicken fajitas. And thus I usually end up exercising my gastrointestinal muscles, going at my food with an intensity that rivals Paula Dean digging into a country-fried steak. During last night’s show, I ate two fajitas, three cookies, half a bag of grapes, and a yogurt. I was thinking about heating up some meatballs and opening up a cantaloupe, but there just wasn’t enough time in between commercials.

Some might think it’s weird that The Biggest Loser has inspired my sedentary, food-filled Tuesday nights. But American Idol often compels me to belt out a little Mariah. So You Think You Can Dance encourages me to try some Irish tap dancing. Top Chef makes me want to explore non-microwave cooking possibilities. So why wouldn’t The Biggest Loser inspire me to get really fat just so I can get skinny again?

It makes sense to me. Fingers crossed that I’ll make it for The Biggest Loser: Rabid Fans in 2025.

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The New and Improved Chinese Zodiac for Christmas

Over Thanksgiving break, I made the unfortunate decision to have lunch at a local “Polynesian-Chinese” restaurant. polychinaTiki Palace was dead empty when my grandmother and I arrived at noon. The waiter with the leather jacket and lazy eye further confirmed my growing suspicion that the place was a front for the Polynesian-Chinese mob. While waiting for the food and trying to catch a glimpse of illegal opium dealings, I found myself perusing the Chinese zodiac placemats. I’d forgotten how wonderfully descriptive these zodiac signs were. Born in the year of the Ox, I read that I am supposedly easy-going, fierce, demanding, and good with my hands… I would be a good hairdresser, the zodiac proselytized.

It seems like you can always convince yourself of some truth if you think about it long enough. After reading about my Ox-ness, I started reconsidering careers in which I could put my good hands to use, like becoming a concert pianist or a cardiac surgeon. chinesezodiacIt also got me thinking: if such attributes can be gleaned from something as arbitrary as year of birth, how else can we be convinced of our easy-going fierceness? So, given that this blog is inspired by exposing arbitrariness, overgeneralizations and frivolous categorizations, I have decided to create a zodiac of my own. Based on a complex mathematical algorithm, basic principles in quantum physics, and an undying belief in Santa, this revised zodiac is a marked improvement upon the old, vague, anything-goes version. My only hope is that Tiki Palace will one day carry my zodiac… and take their orange chicken off the menu.

THE NEW, IMPROVED, POLYNESIAN-CHINESE-WESTERNIZED ZODIAC

Add up the two digits in your DAY of birth (for example, if your birthday is on the 4th, you would add 0+4 = 4). Then take the sum, and match it to the reindeer below.

1 // RUDOLPH – 2 // DASHER – 3 // DANCER – 4 // PRANCER – 5 // VIXEN – 6 // COMET – 7 // CUPID – 8 // DONNER – 9+ // BLITZEN

reindeer(1) RUDOLPH: You are a tireless optimist, filled with fuzzy positivity. You are perennially cheerful, chipper, and trusting. You’re generous with your smile and your exclamation marks. You often sing karaoke, bake cookies and use “heart” as a verb. You don’t notice that sometimes, other people want to bludgeon your sugary goodness with a baseball bat. You get along best with Dancer and Cupid. You should avoid Dasher. You will likely become a customer service representative for a company that sells rainbows and hugs.

(2) DASHER: You rush through life, never noticing a thing. You are perennially busy, edgy, and on the phone. You enjoy Starbucks lattes, walking fast, and eating hot dogs from street vendors. You probably own two phones, a bluetooth headset, and a profanity-heavy vocabulary. You get along best with Vixen and Blitzen. You should avoid children and the elderly. You will likely find yourself sobbing in the bathroom as your fortunes slip away with the withering stock market.

(3) DANCER: You love drama. You swing from extreme highs to extreme lows, from radiant jubilation to a depressing, old Sarah McLachlan song. You are overemotional, sensitive, and sometimes scary to be around. When you’re angry, you like to start fights and challenge strangers to dance-offs. When you’re sad, you like to buy a gallon of ice cream and watch The Hills in sweatpants. You get along best with Prancer. You should avoid hard drugs and The Notebook. You will likely become a high school chemistry teacher/soccer coach.

sadsanta(4) PRANCER: See ‘DANCER’. Sadly Santa was not creative enough to come up with unique reindeer names.

(5) VIXEN: You’re devious, sneaky, and utterly intriguing. You’re a Bond girl before we find out whether or not she is evil. You are mysterious and potentially harmful to others. You enjoy drinking martinis and attending masquerade balls. You get along with nobody. You should avoid everybody. You will likely get arrested, escape, and move to Fiji at some point in the future.

(6) COMET: You revel in your anonymity, coming and going as you please. You are partial to the emo-style nomads, the quiet heroes, and the courageous loners. You want to be in the choir, in the background, disrupting the world as little as possible. You get along best with yourself. You should avoid Dasher and Dancer. You will likely find yourself going down one of two paths: either becoming a) Nobel-winning genius, or b) the Unabomber.

lifetimemovie(7) CUPID: For you, the world is full of love. You love love. You love people. You think that all the world’s ills can be solved by love and diamond rings. When others complain, you immediately think that it’s because they’re not getting enough love. You prescribe Match.com, a stiff drink, and Viagara. You get along best with Rudolph. You should avoid single people. You will likely find yourself as on a TLC reality show, or as the subject of a Lifetime original movie.

(8.) DONNER: Unfortunately, you are dull, boring, and uninteresting. Because “Donner” does not translate into anything literal, you are stuck as the default outcast, the uncool kid on the block. You spend your days doing mundane things, like knitting, making finger puppets, and watching HGTV. You iron your shirts and you have great table manners. The only excitement in your day comes from guessing correctly on House Hunters. You get along best with your friends on Second Life, but you should avoid all normal people. You will likely find yourself in a charming 2BR/2BA brownstone with a leaky roof and cats.

(9+) BLITZEN: You are fifteen minutes ago. You’re brash, outrageous, and completely behind the times. You think you’re a godsend, but everyone does the eye-roll once you leave a conversation. You enjoy debating hot-button issues that you’ve read about in magazines, and you often end up disagreeing with those idiot “experts”. You’re obviously the preeminent authority on all topics ranging from GQ to Us Weekly, so we should listen up. You get along best with anyone willing to listen. You should avoid people who are smarter than you (if they exist). You will likely end up at an Alaska rally for Sarah Palin in 2012.

So, do you believe in the truths held by this zodiac? According to this, I’m a Donner (born on the 26th, 2+6). Ho hum + HGTV + cats? Sounds about right.

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