Archive for June, 2011

Here’s the deal.  It’s time to explore another reader’s suggestion, and my thanks to Stephanie for being irked by today’s topic.  There really is no good reason to refer to oneself in the third person, but let’s take a closer look at this disorder.

Firstly, a grammar school refresher course.  You’ve got the first person, as in, “I am now speaking in the first person.”  This is the preferred/normal way of communicating with others.  Then, you’ve got your second person, useful in instruction manuals, the beginning of this very sentence, and those classic Choose Your Own Adventure books from my childhood (“You are now face to face with an eight-foot tall Yeti.  If you want to run in fear, turn to page 67.  If you decide to poke the Yeti with a stick, turn to page 93.”)  Lastly, you’ve got third person – “He realized that his decision to poke the Yeti was ill-advised.”  The fact that most fiction is written in the third person does not make it an acceptable way for you to refer to yourself.

This way of speaking is generally reserved for two types of people.  Not unlike the royal we, referring to oneself in the third person is often a sign of extreme narcissism and can be found in high ranking politicians and superstar athletes.  Practitioners of illeism (don’t worry, I just learned this word myself, apparently it’s common enough to have a name, who knew?) include Bob Dole, who would go around saying things like, “You can trust Bob Dole,” somehow not realizing that the very way he chose to say he could be trusted made him sound less trustworthy.  Or how about LeBron James?  He once said, “LeBron stays humble by just being LeBron.”  Sure.  That sounds plenty humble.

Elmo

Image via Wikipedia

The second group of third person referrers are those who lack basic linguistic skills.  This may be because they are muscular brutes with low mental abilities (as in, “Hulk smash,” or “Do you smell what The Rock is cooking?”).  Sometimes it’s because they are too young to have yet learned how to speak correctly, as in, “Elmo loves you.”  Or it could be that English is their second language – “Miyagi hate fighting.”  It could even be that they have only recently become sentient beings, “Number Five is alive!”

Whatever the reason, it’s not positive.  This type of communication never comes off well.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will Makya stop people from referring to themselves in the third person?  I have an idea.  I’m inventing a fourth person.  When speaking in the fourth person, there is no “I,” “you,” or “he/she.”  In the fourth person all names and pronouns are replaced with “Greg.”  We used to have complicated sentences like, “Sally and I went to the park to meet her mom, once there we saw that she had brought a picnic lunch and we had a lovely afternoon.”  Sally who?  I what?  Where?  Who’s “we”?  What’s going on here?  Don’t worry.  With fourth person, it now reads, “Greg and Greg went to the park to meet Greg, once there Greg saw that Greg had brought a picnic lunch and Greg had a lovely afternoon.”  Nice and simple.   And, unless you’re name is Greg, no one will ever again be able to refer to themselves in the third person.  And, come on, how many people are named Greg anyway?

I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t it okay sometimes?  Number Five is alive?  That’s funny.  I like Short Circuit.”  No.  You only think you like Short Circuit.  You remember it fondly because you were twelve when you saw it and thought it was cool.  It wasn’t.  Fisher Stevens inexplicably playing an Indian man?  Ally Sheedy spinning around in ecstasy as she dances with a robot?  Steve Guttenberg?  Come on, people.  This is the type of nonsense that this third personing leads to.  It must be stopped.  And that’s all Greg has to say on the matter.

Here’s the deal.  State symbols are out of control.  They’re designed to celebrate cultural heritage and natural treasures, but the sheer number of state symbols renders them increasingly meaningless.  (Believe it or not, all of the symbols listed below are real).

Let’s start with the basics – every state has a state tree (South Dakota’s, for example, is the Black Hills Spruce), but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do when we encounter a state tree….stop and salute?  And what other parts of nature do our states celebrate?  Did you know that all fifty have a state soil?  That’s right, take pride in your state dirt.  Most have a state flower.  43 have a state fossil.  35 have a state gemstone.  27 have a state rock.  21 have a state mineral (how can you think of “rhodochrosite” without calling up images of Colorado?)  17 have a state grass.  And 14 have a state shell.  Is it just me, or do we really not need a state rock? 

And then there are the animals.  So many animals.  Each has a state bird.  42 have a state mammal.  41 have a state insect.  29 have a state butterfly.  26 have a state reptile.  Then there are state amphibians (like New Hampshire’s famous red-spotted newt), state horses, dogs, cats, and fish (my favorite being Hawaii’s state fish, the “humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpuaʻa”).  There are even state crustaceans and three states recognize a state bat.

How about creatures that are no longer with us?  Yep, we got that too.  In 1982, Colorado declared the Stegosaurus as its state dinosaur.  And, since then, five other states have adopted their own dino.

Key Lime Pie mit Schlag

Image by Hamburger Helper via Flickr

Thirty three states express their pride by celebrating some type of state food.  Mostly, these are state nuts, fruits, vegetables and beverages.  But there’s more.  Five have a state pie (next time you’re in Florida, show your appreciation with a slice of Key Lime).  Georgia’s state prepared food is grits (I don’t know if you’ve ever had grits, but they could also be the state adhesive).  The state snack food of Illinois is popcorn.  Louisiana has a state jelly (something called “mayhaw”).  Maine’s state soft drink is Moxie and their state treat is the whoopie pie.  If you’ve got a sweet tooth, though, perhaps you should head south to Massachusetts where they have a state dessert, cookie and doughnut.  The jalapeno is the state pepper of Texas.  Minnesota has a state mushroom (the morel).  Oklahoma loves its food…they don’t mess around with individual items, they’ve got ten state meals.  And North Carolina has both a state red berry (the strawberry) and a state blue berry (the blueberry…way to think outside of the box, North Carolina).

As evidenced by Oklahoma’s appetite, states don’t even bother to limit themselves to a single symbol per category.  They’re so symbol happy, they just can’t help themselves.  While 23 have adopted a state color, Maryland claims four (why not just save the time and go with, “all of the above?”).  Almost every state has a song.  New Hampshire has ten.  (Think about it…this means that, at a minimum, ten people have written songs about New Hampshire).

Monarch Butterfly Red Zinnia 2050px

Image via Wikipedia

And isn’t the point of all this to showcase what is unique to your state?  You’d think so, but not so much.  Seven states have voted the cardinal as their symbol.  Of the 29 with a butterfly, eight of them are the monarch (in their defense, is there any other type of butterfly?)  Seventeen states claim the honeybee as their state instinct (that’s a lot of area to represent they must be as busy as a ….well…).  Of the 29 states with a state beverage, 20 of them are milk.  (My favorite state beverage, however is Indiana’s – water.  Keeping it real, Hoosiers).  29 also celebrate a state dance…21 of which are the square dance.  So, if you see a cardinal, monarch butterfly, honeybee, glass of milk or square dance, then you’re probably in…a state.

On the opposite side of the coin, some states are perhaps too unique.  Strangely unique.  Utah and Arizona have a state firearm, symbolizing, I suppose, the pride they take in shooting things.  Maryland’s state sport is jousting (really?  Really, Maryland?  You do a lot of jousting there, do you?)  Pennsylvania’s state toy is the Slinky.  I’m watching you, Pennsylvania…you too, Illinois, because of the popcorn (Makya McBee vs. the Slinky is here, and popcorn is here).  New Mexico’s state aircraft is the hot air balloon (“Hot air balloons…slightly faster than walking.”)  Arizona’s state neckware is the bola tie.  (What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall the day they passed that key legislation).  Utah has a state cooking pot and a state astronomical symbol (come on, Utah, that’s outer space, that’s not even something that can be found in your state.  Stop cheating.  That’s like having a state planet, it doesn’t make any sense.)  Montana has a state lullaby.  Delaware, always on the cutting edge of orgainisms with miniscule spines, has a state macroinvertebrate (the stonefly, of course).  Kentucky has a state covered bridge and silverware pattern.  The state exercise of Maryland is walking (“Walking…slightly slower than a hot air balloon”).  Massachusetts has a state polka.  North Carolina has had a state toast since 1957.  Guess what it’s called?  Hint, it’s called, “A Toast to North Carolina.”  (Between that and North Carolina’s blueberry as state blue berry, they win the obvious state symbol award…it’s a lovely trophy called the Obvious State Symbol Award).  Oklahoma has a state cartoon character.  Texas has a state caricature artist and is now the first state to propose a state molecule (I’m on the edge of my seat).  Alabama has a state quilt and horseshoe tournament.  And Tennessee has a state bicentennial rap song.  It’s called “A Tennessee Bicentennial Rap” and beat out, literally, zeroes of other bicentennial rap songs to take home the honor.

You see what I’m saying, right?  It’s a bit much.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I stop U.S. state symbols from replicating like a Gremlin in a swimming pool?  I have no idea.  It’s wildly overwhelming.  I feel like a California dogface butterfly lost in a field of California poppies.  I think I just need to take this one step at a time.  Step one…try to figure out how to pronounce humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpuaʻa…

Here’s the deal.  Most people think of household dust as a minor nuisance.  Not so, friends.  Dust is an alarming potpourri of debris that infiltrates our homes like an unwanted guest.  And, unlike a guest, it won’t even help with the dishes or join us in a game of Scrabble.  It just sits there, confident in the fact that even were we to wipe it away it would be back in just a few days.  Diabolical.

In order to defeat dust, we’ll have to get down and dirty.  We’ll have to do more than just put on French maid outfits and bandy about with frilly, pink dusters (although I see no reason why we can’t do that as well), we’ll have to…use science.

Dust bunnies

Image via Wikipedia

Firstly, we must examine dust’s ingredients.  A study by professors David Layton and Paloma Beamer concluded that, while household dust differs depending on a number of factors, it generally consists of:   bits of human skin, animal fur, decomposing insects, food debris, lint, organic fibers from clothes, bedding and other fabrics, tracked-in soil, soot, and particulate matter from smoking and cooking.  That’s the stuff building up on every available surface in your house even as you read this…you have been warned.

What’s my skin doing on the bookshelf and atop the TV?  I need my skin to keep my blood and organs from popping out and making a mess.  And decomposing insects?  That’s just rude.  Listen up insects, please decompose somewhere else.  Anywhere else.  This is disturbing.

These dust-studying profs also found that about 60% of the dust in your home comes from outside, through windows, doors, vents and on the soles of your shoes.  As usual, the outdoors are simply not to be trusted.  What, there’s no room for your animal fur and soil out there?  You have to use your wind to slide it in through our vents when we’re not looking?  Just another example of mother nature using the great indoors as her dumping ground.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I make dust bite the dust?  Well, we can start by renaming dust bunnies.  This misleading moniker makes them seem cute and adorable.  Now that we know what these “bunnies” are made of, perhaps we can start calling them something more appropriate, like dust trolls.  Or dust wads of dead skin, food, dirt, insects, and hair.  Yeah, that seems much less cute than a bunny.

But we really need to (a) limit the number of people living in our homes (less people=less skin), (b) do a better job of keeping our skin on our bodies, (c) get rid of our pets and household plants, (d) stop cooking food and eating inside, (e) quit smoking, (f) buy better bug zappers, (g) use lint rollers, (h) stop wearing clothes, (i) get rid of our beds and couches, (j) don’t walk outside, and (k) never open our doors or windows.  And we need to do it quickly, before I run out of letters with which to list the things we need to do.  So, basically, we just need to become shut in, nudist, fasting hermits with empty homes.  Problem solved.

Here’s the deal.  There are a lot of letters (26 last time I counted), each with its own personality.  I enjoy the quiet, humble strength of a and e.  The sturdy determination of d and k.  The poetic, soft nature of h and l.  The quirky flair of x and q.  And who doesn’t love s?  But w?  I’ve got problems with w.

Double-u (yep, that’s how you spell it) is the only letter with more than one syllable.  It has three.  Way to go, syllable hog.  It has so many syllables because, unlike all of the other letters, w is completely unoriginal.  In Old English it was actually written uu.  It’s not a real letter, it’s just another letter doubled.  And, on top of that, it looks like a double v.  Double-u steals its name from one letter, thieves its look from another and then struts around in multisyllabic glory like it owns the alphabet. 

But my main issue with this letter is whether or not it’s a vowel.  Growing up, I was always told that the vowels were, “A, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.”  It wasn’t until after college that someone amended this to, “A, e, i, o, u and sometimes y and w.”  “Sometimes w!” I screamed in terror.  My world had been turned upside down.  Everything I thought I knew thrown into doubt in one life-questioning moment.  Was e sometimes a consonant?  Was my dog sometimes a cat?  Was w sometimes a dog and/or cat?  It was utter madness.

Here’s how it works.  A diphthong is a sound made by two vowels blended together, and in words like “claw,” “dew,” and “show,” the w works with the other vowel to make a diphthong.  This makes w a semi-vowel or a semi-consonant, depending on who you ask.  If you ask me, it makes double-u wishy-washy, and not to be trusted.  So the sentence, “Hi, I’m double-u and one of my many flaws is that I borrow a few traits from other letters,” may include three examples of w as a vowel, but more importantly, it contains one truth.

Then, if we want to get really crazy, we can look at the words “cwm” (a valley) and “crwth” (a musical instrument), where some claim that w is a pure vowel.  While others contend that these are ridiculous words that no one ever uses, so what’s the point?

Believe me, I’m not the only one who can’t stand w.  The University of Washington and the University of Wyoming both go by the nickname, “U of Dub,” in an attempt to distance themselves from this unfortunate letter.  Remember when we had to type “www” (or sextuplet u) at the start of every internet address.  Not anymore.  We all hated those w’s and the president of the internet got rid of them.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I eradicate the 23rd letter?  There are two things we can do.  We can go old school and write double-u the original way.  Like this – Uue can go old school and uurite double-u the original uuay.  And we you and I can simply try to avoid this letter.  Like this – Every day after Tuesday, my female spouse and I take our dog for a stroll, he’s so happy he moves his tail back and forth.  Got it?  Good.  United, anything is possible.  Let’s make it uuork.

Here’s the deal.  Completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart (or CAPTTTTCAHA…or the more commonly shortened shortened version, CAPTCHA) are annoying.  You know these things.  The words written with squiggly letters that you have to correctly identify to do anything on the internet.  Yep, those.

Terminator (character)

Image via Wikipedia

This distorted text is designed to be legible by humans, but unreadable by computer programs and to protect websites from bots.  Sure, computers can run complex programs, defeat chess grandmasters, and perform millions of intricate calculations in seconds…but show them a consonant with a little wiggle to it and they’re completely lost.  Hmmmm, who knew bots were so easily defeated?  They didn’t have to waste all that time running from the Terminators, they could have just held up a CAPTCHA.

“Take me to Sarah Connor.”

“Sure, if you can read this!”

“What?  Those letters are so squiggly.  Does not compute.  Must self terminate.”

So, yeah, it seems like a good idea.  The problem is, about 34% of the time these things can’t be read by computers or humans.  For example, what the hell does this say?

 

heturin ygeen?  limlnrris ygeen?  halvrrh ygeen?  Can I just type in “something ygeen?”  I can’t count the number of times I’ve misidentified a CAPTCHA and have been instructed to try again.  Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m actually a highly developed android and I don’t know it.  That might explain why I find the toaster so attractive…

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I put an end to my embarrassment at not being able to correctly identify myself as a member of the species Homo sapiens by reading a blurred text?  We simply need to find a different method of differentiating the humans from the bots.  Couldn’t we just ask some simple questions that only humans would know the answers to?  For example, aren’t emotions cool?  Or, isn’t it great having blood pumping through your veins?  Or maybe – to _____ is human.  (For those humans who need help with these questions, the answers, disguised in case any bots are reading this, are yes, yes and err).  I don’t know whether or not this will work, but something must be done.  Because I don’t care if you’re a human or a bot, nobody knows what a limlnrris ygeen is.

Here’s the deal.  If you’re going to bother to take the time to put something on TV, please take the time to say something that isn’t blatantly obvious.  Give us a little insight.  Something to think about.  Some new information.

Example #1: A couple of weeks ago, I kept seeing an ad for some show on the Discovery Channel about guys capturing crocodiles.  In this spot, one of the men shouts out the following advice, “Don’t put your fingers in the croc’s mouth!”

Phylum : Chordata - Class : Reptilia - Order :...

Image via Wikipedia

That sentence alone was enough to make me not want to watch the show.  That’s the type of programming that will not provide me with new information.  I’ve never even been near a crocodile, and yet I already know not to put my fingers in its mouth.  Call it instinct. 

I don’t think there’s anybody out there who was thinking, “Hmmmm, I wonder where a good place to put my fingers would be?  I know!  I can rest them right here in this crocodile’s mouth.  What?  What’s that?  Oh, don’t put my fingers in the croc’s mouth?  Thanks for the heads up!”

Example #2:  I saw an interview with a woman who had won six million dollars in the state lottery.  Who isn’t a little bit curious about what this would feel like?  So, I was interested to get the inside scoop.  Until the lucky lady said, “Stuff like this just doesn’t happen to me.” 

Really?  Because stuff like this happens to most people all the time.  “What happened to you today?”  “I won six million dollars in the lottery.”  “Again?”

Example #3: I was flipping through the channels last week and paused on CNN.  The reporter informed me that, “After two straight days of going up, today their stocks went in the opposite direction, down.” 

I’m pretty sure he could have ended that sentence after the word, “direction.” 

I’m not saying that everyone that watches CNN is a genius, but I’m willing to bet that most of them know what the opposite of up is.  Am I the only one who read Everything I Needed to Know to Watch CNN I Learned in Kindergarten?

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I obliterate the obvious?  Never fear, I’m currently training a team of proof readers to unleash on the world.  We’ll start with TV, double checking every script and speech to verify that none of the commentary is patently obvious (“This just in, the sun is hot”).  Then we’ll move on to other forms of media, eradicating the apparent wherever we go, taking all of the obvious patter that is bad and moving it in the opposite direction…come on, you know this one…

Here’s the deal.  I got fat.  It’s a strange thing, because I was pretty thin in high school and college and then all of the sudden over the course of eight years I got fat.  Maybe it was the non-stop diet of pizza and ice cream.  Maybe it was the complete lack of exercise.  Maybe it was…no, it was probably those first two things.  But I’m not here to place blame.  It happened. 

But I don’t mind saying that I was pretty disappointed to have gone from being called tall to being called big.  Tall is easy to change – all I have to do is sit down.  Big – that takes a little more work.  So, about six weeks ago I joined a gym. 

The first time I went, my muscles were furious with me.  “What’s this all about?” they asked the following day, “We were enjoying our eight year vacation – what’s up with putting us back to work?”  And, in an organized act of civil disobedience, they refused to function for the next three days.  I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you that it was painful to lift a pencil.  Generally, writer is not a particularly physically taxing job, but for those three days, every time I turned a page it felt like I was lifting a slab of concrete. 

Of course, that’s all in the past.  I no longer have that type of pain after working out.  But, believe me, it still hurts every single time.  Some people talk about an endorphin rush when they exercise – my body chemistry, apparently, doesn’t work that way.  The only rush I feel is the rush to get the hell out of that gym.  Oh, if only I had been born craving broccoli and sit ups – it would be so easy to stay in shape.  Instead, I was cursed with the urge to eat fudge and nap.  Why is it that the things that are bad for us usually feel the best?  That’s just poor evolutionary planning.

Plus, working out is so monotonous.  I look at a weight that dozens of people lift every day – and then set right back down.  Nothing is being accomplished here.  I imagine if aliens landed in a gym they’d be perplexed.  To them we’d look like very slow learners.  I think someone should devise a gym where members move weights from one location to another to give them some sort of purpose.  Or maybe hook up the treadmills to a generator so that we’re supplying power to a nearby apartment complex.  (They don’t need gyms in third world countries.  To get a work out they just remove the “out.”)

It is a little strange to go to a gym and lift weights.  What, you don’t have heavy things at home that you could pick up?  That’s also why I don’t like the stationary bikes.  I own a bike that I never ride.  It seems pretty silly to pay people to let me sit on their bike that’s glued to the floor.  That’s why I prefer the elliptical – at least that presents me with a motion that I can’t accomplish for free on my own.  This way I can pretend that this is why I’m going to the gym…not the real reason, that I lack the discipline to exercise independently and the knowledge that I’m paying for this service will shame me into occasionally using it.

The gym is a strange subculture.  As I sweat profusely on the elliptical, struggling against the machine’s lowest setting, I watch the sculpted people divide their time between bench presses and looking at their muscles in the mirror immediately following bench presses.  There’s a reason, I realize, that the bench press section is surrounded by mirrors and the row of ellipticals and treadmills are reflection free.  First we have to get down to a presentable weight on these machines before we can enter the vanity section of the gym.

I’m still a long way from being able to look in the mirror as I work out and think to myself, “Oh, yeah, baby, that’s the definition daddy was looking for.”  (Which is what most of the guys at my gym appear to be thinking based on their facial expressions).  My profile still bears a disturbing resemblance to the outline Alfred Hitchcock would step into at the beginning of his TV show.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I defeat my dislike of the gym?  Oh, I won’t.  I’ve never liked exercising, even when I was in shape.  I recall my freshman year of high school, when my parents coerced me into joining the cross country team.  Do you know what a typical cross country practice consists of?  The “coach” would load us into his pickup truck, drive us three or four miles from the school and tell us to run back.  That’s not a sport, it’s child abuse. 

Knowing I shall never exorcise my exercise demons, I still must find a way to make working out work out for me.  Right now I’m using a reward system – if I go to the gym today, I am rewarded with not having to go tomorrow.  But then the next day comes and I have to start it all over again – making my reward system as repetitive as my workout.  Hmmmm, what do I really want?  Maybe I can convince myself that my future health is more important than my present discomfort.  Maybe I can focus on the fact that I’m adding valuable years to my life.  Or maybe I can just hang a piece of fudge in front of the elliptical.