Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Battling for Position is Boxing Out

So, there is an interesting battle shaping up in the mediasphere. It's the tax guy versus the tax box.

I don't really watch a ton of TV, but I have never been able to totally deprogram my brainwashing in the process of getting an advertising degree. Often, I will turn to my wife and make some comment about and ad that has just run, and she'll say "huh?" I realize I'm different here.

Except on Super Bowl Sunday, everybody is like me.

Anyway, there are at least two competing ads. The first, and obviously the most effective because I actually remember it was for H&R Block, features the ad-typical dipshit male lamenting over his taxes (or in another iteration, finding out he is being audited). His wife walks up and coyly suggests he talk to their tax guy. Except, they don't have a tax guy, they have a box, a tax software box (with TURB just barely in view). The wife pretends to try to talk to the box.

Aww, cute. They're telling us we're too stupid to do taxes on our own.

Then, we have it's mirror twin. I've seen two versions, but they've got no pop, no sizzle, and I have no idea what the actual product is. A man or woman is sitting across from the tax guy, and he is that boring dillhole they always cast as the soon-to-be-obsolete middleman. And, sure enough, while he lumbers through, the guy/girl grabs the keyboard away from him, starts doing his/her own taxes, and the tax guy fades away (less wicked witch and more Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance).

Get it? Tax guys are like betamax, dude.

Really, this little battle is only mildly interesting to me in and of itself. I actually like doing taxes, and used to do the long form when I was in my twenties just for shits and giggles (because there wasn't any aspect of my financial situation not covered by an EZ). Now, I'm pretty happy with online TurboTax because we don't own nothin' and it takes me less than an hour. So, I don't really care who winds the tax guy vs tax box battle.

But I think it is very much a narrative we will see played out again and again. It isn't as simple as man versus machine, it is competing ways of doing business that will have to find a way to coexist.

Over the next decade, we as a culture are going to decide, for each aspect of our lives, which path is best (and it will be majority rule by-and-large - almost pure market decisions). And neither choice is going to be best every time. There's no question I want a real, actual chef making my expensive meal, and a real actual person taking my pulse and gently hefting my testicles. And I'm pretty okay with tax guys and travel agents falling by the wayside. But the grey areas are most interesting. Por ejemplo, if CGI tech gets far enough, why would we need actors?

How we answer those questions will contribute a great deal to the society we continue to become, going beyond questions of economics to becoming future bases for value judgements. What will be good sense? What will be luxury? Where will we establish or baselines? Our benchmarks?

For what industries, for what tasks, in what arenas will we struggle to keep our tax guys? And when is it okay to submit to the box?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why do you act like that?

When you are the parent of a three-year-old, you spend a lot of time asking essentially-rhetorical questions like “Why the fuck do you act like this?” Me, frustrated intellectual without a home that I am, tend to overanalyze the potential answers.

So, just trust this jump, having someone else comb your hair, especially when it is a rat’s nest and preschool starts in twenty minutes, isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world. Liv has never really relished it. But, lately, she responds as though she is an enemy combatant being “questioned” in the shadow prison of a US “ally.”

I’ve decided that kids of Livvie’s age have reached the point when they begin to question the essential nature of things. Up to this point, she relied on her parents to tell her what a thing's essential nature is. Thus, combing the hair was necessarily uncomfortable, but that being the ordained (by mom and dad) nature of the thing, her protests were minimal.

But now she has assumed enough agency to begin figuring out the essential nature of things on her own, and her assumptions are. Naturally, not always in accordance with mom and dad’s. Thus she can question whether, for example, hair combing must really be uncomfortable. And, as a result of questioning whether the discomfort is essential, she can rebel against it. Because, damnit, combing her shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable.

The thing is, explaining it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with at 9:05 when I’m dropping her off at 9:30.

It has me thinking about the nature of such resistance, though.

Those things we believe to be essential, inevitable or necessary, we don’t resist. There is an innate disinclination towards exercises in futility. In fact, once your brain tells you something is essential, must by definition exist, there is nothing to fight against. You’d as soon rage against the sky being blue, water being wet, or death being final.

It is this that I think most gums up the works of religious discourse. There is no perceived need to resist the doctrines one has decided, or been told and accepted, are essentially true. And there must be a comfort in that, being in a place where resistance is from outward appearances futile, but from within beyond question, mere folly. Once not only the conception of God/the universe/everything has been accepted, but also the rhetorical/conceptual framing that accompanies that acceptance, the idea of resisting, of questioning, is Quixotic.

This isn’t to be simplistic, to say that accepting a truth is childish and the resistance a sign of maturity. In the case of Liv and combing hair, she will likely, one would hope, eventually accept the discomfort of combing long hair as necessary to hair combing. But it is to point out that this relationship, for each individual, to what is worthy of question and what is not is worthy of consideration.

Because this is how we create our personal store of knowledge, of wisdom – deciding what questions to ask, what battles to fight.

And so I let Liv, for the most part, rage on, and do my best to teach her how to make good choices, and hope that the lessons, in the teaching, rub off on me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Reflections on my lexicon

For a couple days over the holidays, some friends of mine asked me to keep an eye on their cat, Shakespeare. Shakes is a mammoth cat, more animate ottoman than feline, but it wasn’t until I saw his special food that I realized he was a specific breed – a Maine Coon Cat.

And since then, ole’ Shakes has had me thinking.

I’ve been thinking about an “uncle” I used to have. He was the brother-in-law of my father’s second wife, so no whiff of blood relation but someone I considered family on those odd weekends and summer vacations I’d spend with my father.

Truth is, I’ve forgotten his name. I haven’t spoken to that side of my family in years, and it is remarkable how swiftly names and faces and times start sliding away when their memories aren’t refreshed by shared narrative.

He’s also many years dead, eaten alive by a host of different cancers right about the time I graduated high school. A career in asbestos installation, and later removal, will do that to you.

He looked like a cross between Jerry Lewis and R. Lee Ermey, like the aging sound guy for a rockabilly band. Jet black pomped hair, horse face, and teeth that grew impossibly long and yellow when he smiled.

Oh, and, like most of that side of the family, he was racist.

Because of him, I can’t say, even in my head, the word “coon” without dragging out the oooo and adding a touch of twang. It was the punchline to some joke he told me one summer, waiting in front of a small country store for my father to come back from buying smokes. I was standing next to him, and he delivered it leaning down over his shoulder toward me, smiling long and yellow.

TBO and I have gone back and forth a bit about the n-word before, him saying he found “n*****” more insulting than “nigger”, me saying I just don’t like using the word, even just writing it write now, and every time I have used it in my life (except when privately singing along to rap songs, in which case I let it all hang out) it has caught a little in my throat.

But, for me, “coon” is the far more racist term.

I don’t like using the word “nigger” because I grew up being taught it was vulgar and crass, and that is how it sounds on white lips to me. It is a sign of ignorance.

“Coon” isn’t about ignorance, it is conscious, intentional racism. There is this belief that racism is simply ignorance, as though through exposure and familiarity alone we will all hold hands and sing spirituals together. And surely that is sometimes the case. I’d be willing to take the leap that the white kid that uses “nigger” is more reachable, more teachable, than the kid that uses “coon.”

I recognize that all of this is just because of my personal lexicon (an idea Kundera explores to lovely effect in The Unbearable Lightness of Being). And that the effect of our personal lexicons is inescapable. Otherwise I’d be able to let go of this nagging feeling that my friend’s cat is vaguely racist.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

14/48 is HERE!

I'm so freekin' excited I can't stand it.

14/48, fourteen plays from writing to performance in 48 hours, is as much fun as one can have fully clothed (though nudity isn't out of the question).

Tonight, starting at 8, I'll be writing a ten-minute play, due by 8am Friday. Tomorrow night, starting at 10, I'll write another, due 8am Saturday.

Wish me luck. The last time I did this, I got the theme "biodiesel" and drank too much while bitching about the theme and proceeded to pass out until almost 6am. Wrote a play about football in just over an hour.

Go check out the website. Gots lots of nifty stuff on it. The guy who designed it is a total stud. And dead sexy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby!

32 years ago today, my lovely wife was born. A day for which I am eternally thankful. Nobody else could put up with me the way she has, nobody else has so much love in her heart. She's a wonderful mother and wife, and I am a blessed man.

Happy Birthday, Tricia. I love you very much.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Spouting Off Again

But first, does anyone else find humorous the in-store special I found at my local QFC yesterday? Buy any 6 Lean Cuisine frozen meals and receive a 56oz Dreyer's Ice Cream for FREE! Them's some sadistic bastards. I saw a fat lady standing in front of the sign weeping.

Anyhoo, I'm trying to finish my friggin' thesis project, and so not writing here so much, but I did let TBO con me into participating in another Spout Off on his blog. You should check it out - probably be up by late in the day Sunday.