TSA Bumper Stickers

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From here, and here's another link to underwear you can purchase that contains metallic ink that will show up in the scan.

Humor aside, I think all the attention to the TSA's body-search rule should instead be directed to the banning of liquids on carry-ons. I doubt the no-liquids rule thwarts a next generation explosive, and it's especially annoying for long, international flights bound for the United States. That's because the search for liquids occurs right before you board the flight, so it's impossible to bring water bottles onto the plane. (In the U.S. you can purchase water after the security checkpoint.) The searches that seize liquids from carry-ons for U.S. bound flights overseas also require several staff members specially assigned to this purpose — so it's expensive, too, for whomever is bearing that cost.

Overall, I am hopeful the debate about the body-search rule will spark a larger conversation about the security theater in America and the risk of overreacting to security threats.

A Question Men Ask Themselves

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Elsewhere in the world of gender:

  • Marty Nemko on how men don't have it easy in society.
  • The always-funny Kelly Oxford tweets: New numbers: 100% of girls with good posture are called 'bitches'.
  • Here is how to give a great man to man hug. Highly informative. I would just add that if you're doing a goodbye hug it should be at the very end of the interaction. Any sooner, and you risk having to pass time with the person you just hugged / said-goodbye-to — could it get any more awkward?

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Elsewhere on the web, and on completely different themes: I was moved by Tony Judt's reflection in the NYRB about trying to sleep with Lou Gehrig's disease. Eric Falkenstein's detailed critique of Nassim Taleb in general and Black Swan in particular was interesting — I'm not qualified to comment on the more technical finance / math points, but I do agree that Taleb's (and many others') constant bashing of "experts" has gone way overboard. I learned quite a bit about the history of American foreign policy from George Packer's review of Peter Beinart.

Living Out the “Do One Thing That Scares You” Advice

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing each day that scares you.” Last week I did one thing that scared me: I attended an introductory hip-hop dance class.

Who doesn’t want to dance better? Is it possible to watch this flash mob at Ole Miss dancing to Jai Ho without wanting to be teleported to that cafeteria and join in? Or watch my Spanish teachers in Santiago perform their rendition of Shakira’s Waka-Waka without cheering them on? (The official version was watched 70 million times in one month.) Still, the thought of letting it loose on a real dance floor makes many a heart pound — including mine. Heeding Roosevelt’s dictum, though, I added “hip hop dance class” to my June to-do list.

On the appointed night, I put on my Nike Air Max gray sneakers, my gray sweatpants which I’ve owned for 8 years, and my Air Force Academy gray hooded sweatshirt. (Hood up. Obviously.) I made my way over to the Bellavista neighborhood not sure what to expect. I found the building, pre-paid $10 for the one-hour class and waited nervously in the locker room area. Because I was taller than the walls of both the women’s and men’s locker room, I stood in the hallway with my head politely down, and gathered my composure, B-Rabbit style.

The dance room looked like a yoga studio except the speakers were big and blaring and the front mirror stretched wall-to-wall. Each of the 20 students found a place in the room. Without any introductory remarks, the teacher turned on loud dance music and began to lead us in stretches. Five minutes later we began to go step-by-step through a choreographed dance to a generic dance beat.

Almost immediately, I fell behind. Having never taken a dance class or in any way moved my body to a beat, I was lumbering, awkward, inflexible, and incompetent. While I can usually handle myself on a dance floor where there are no rules, keeping up with the (mostly) girls around me who moved briskly through each choreographed stage was impossible. If I wasn’t a step or two behind everyone else, I was instead frozen as I had forgotten the next step in the sequence. I was quite clearly the worst in the class.

As I sat at KFC afterwards reflecting on the class, a few thoughts crossed my mind. First, I knew I’d get a blog post out of the night, which tends to justify most new experiences. Second, there are not many things I do where I am truly the worst. I wouldn’t call it “humbling” — the most cliche of lessons these days, isn’t it? — but hip hop dance did put me out of my comfort zone and generated feelings of frustration I haven’t felt for years. Finally, I’m confident that if I took 5-10 classes I could become halfway decent. There’s a lesson in here about the power of practice.

Bottom Line: As we get older we tend to do stuff we already know we’re good at. Experimenting outside this zone of competence can be fun, mind-expanding, and even a bit scary.

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One year ago I received an epic, unforgettable Chinese massage in Beijing. The short version of a Chinese massage is you’re thrown into a co-ed room with others, the lights are bright, you lie on a futon naked, an overweight old woman comes in and slaps your ass, stuffs her fingers into your ears, pounds your head with clenched fists, grabs your balls, gives you scalding hot tea halfway through, and then 10 seconds after she finishes she hands you a feedback form to fill in on what you thought of the experience.

Strictly for purposes of comparison, over the weekend I got one-hour massage in Santiago. Not everything in Chile is cheap, but some things like apartments and lunch menus can be had at third world prices. Apparently massages too: USD $14 for an hour! The basic Chilean massage is more dignified than the Chinese. Suave music in the background, a dark room, a gentle masseuse. The only oddity was that the massuse didn’t touch my quads or buttocks — two of the largest muscle groups on the body. Instead, she obsessed with my feet. I happen to have very ticklish toes and feet. When she grabbed them, I left my meditative state, started sweating, and gripped the massage table. My leg convulsed with every touch. None of this dented her enthusiasm. In the face of such stress, all of my usted conjugations escaped me, so I said nothing except curse under my breath. I’m 0-2 with massages the last two years.

A Personal Letter from Steve Martin

A letter of reply Steve Martin sent to a fan in the early 80's, written on his production company's letterhead. Click to enlarge.

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Ha! It's hard to go wrong with self-deprecating humor when you are the higher status person in an interaction and both parties know it. Here's the source, and I thank J.Y. for the pointer.

The Four Chords of Every Pop Song

I had a lot of fun watching this five minute video not only because the underlying point is interesting (pop hits use the same four chords) but also because I knew almost every one:

Other videos:

The Rice Cooker

The first thing to know about a rice cooker is that it knows more than you.

It knows when the rice is done.

ItBlack-&-decker-20-cup-stainless-steel-rice-cooker knows when the shrimp is cooked.

It knows how to keep food warm for hours on end.

It probably knows more about your emotional state of being in the kitchen than anything or anyone else.

How? "It's a mystery of the orient. Don't ask questions you don't need the answer to."

So, take it from me, a man who has challenged the Cooker's authority two too many times: be deferential in its presence.

The second thing to know about rice cooker is that it is arguably the most versatile piece of kitchen equipment yet invented. How versatile? Think of how versatile peanut butter and cottage cheese are: it's that versatile. Think of Kobe Bryant now with a post game. Think Philip Seymour Hoffman doing the Big Lebowski, Capote, and Doubt.

Want to cook white rice? Done. Brown rice? Done. Banana nut bread? Done. Steam vegetables? Done.  Korean BiBimBap or Chicken Biryani? Done. Want to liberate women in Iran? According to the New York Times, thank rice cookers.

Roger Ebert, in the face of such variety, just calls it "the pot." Me? I'm a religious man. I call it "El Padre."

Bottom Line: Love the rice cooker because the rice cooker loves you.

Quote of the Day

The craziest sentences uttered at the Vancouver Olympics came from Norwegian silver medalist Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset describing his performance in the men's 4×10 cross-country relay:

"My name is Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset. I skied the second lap and I fucked up today. I think I have seen too much porn in the last 14 days. I have the room next to Petter Northhug and every day there is noise in there. So I think that is the reason I fucked up. By the way, Tiger Woods is a really good man."

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In other news that made me laugh:

Epic Beard Man: Another Day in Oakland

A few days ago there was a fight on an Oakland bus between a 50 year old black man and a 67 year old white man who was wearing a T-shirt that read "I AM A MOTHERFUCKER." The fight is embedded above and available on YouTube here, where it has been watched more than two million times.

Know Your Meme has an exhaustive analysis of this internet phenomenon including this summary:

The older white man in the video has been identified as Thomas Bruso, AKA Tom Slick, AKA Vietnam Tom; infamous in Oakland for his reputation of belligerence. Prior to the discovery of his identity, Anonymous had already dubbed him Epic Beard Man.

After the black man’s nose is broken, he says “bring an ambulance” which has been misheard as both “bring M&M’s” and “bring Amber Lamps” due to a combination of his dialect and facial injury. Amber Lamps has also come to be used as a pseudonym for the girl sitting next to the black man in the video.

Here is one man's video response to the fight. Here's a post-fight interview with EBM via the always-reliable KRON-4 news in which he at times he is crying and other times is bragging about knocking out the black dude for "twenty two and a half minutes" with a Mohammad Ali strike. (Totally false.) Here is Epic Beard Man getting tased by police at an Oakland A's game.

Besides the hilarity of it all — except the ugly racial slurs that have accompanied many of the internet postings — it is a case study in how quickly a internet meme can catch on. Thanks to the indefatigable Steve Dodson for the pointer.

How to Write Funny

A couple years ago Scott Adams laid out the keys to writing funny. It's excellent advice. A few up-front points about humor:

  • A company's or an executive's ability to deploy humor is an undervalued asset in the business world.
  • It is rare to find someone who is very funny and not smart.
  • My two main filters on whether I want to spend time with someone: interestingness and sense of humor.
  • Writing funny is harder than in-person humor. I discussed this a bit in my post The Best Jokes Are Hardest to Recall.

So, read Scott's advice on writing funny quoted below:

Picking a Topic
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The topic does half of your work. I look for topics that have at least one of the essential elements of humor:

Clever
Cute
Bizarre
Cruel
Naughty
Recognizable

In order for something to be funny, it has to have at least two of the six elements of humor….

Simple Sentences
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Keep your writing simple, as if you were sending a witty e-mail to a friend. Be smart, but not academic. Prune words that don’t make a difference.

Write About People
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It’s impossible to find humor in inanimate things. If you must write about an object or a concept, focus on how someone (usually you) thinks or feels or experiences those things. Humor is about people, period.

Write Visually
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Paint a funny picture with your words, but leave out any details that don’t serve the humor…

Leave Room for Imagination
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…Leaving out details allows readers to fill them in with whatever image strikes them as funniest. In effect, you let readers direct their own funny movie.

Funny Words
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Use “funny” words when you can. Here are some I used:

Mongolian
Herdsman
Vagina
Trouser
Shish Kabob
Storm drain
Johnson
Slap
Canoe

You can read that list of funny words totally out of context and it almost makes you laugh. Funny words are the ones that are familiar yet rarely used in conversation. It’s a bonus when those words have funny sounds to them, as do most of the ones in my list.

Pop Culture References
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References to popular culture often add humor. It’s funny that the world’s tallest man is retrieving a lost iPod, and not something generic such as a wallet. And it’s funny that his manhood is compared to Ryan Seacrest as opposed to something generic, such as an oak tree. Someone could write a thesis on why pop culture references are funny, but just accept it.

Animal analogies
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Animal references are funny. If you can’t think of anything funny, make some sort of animal/creature analogy. It’s easy, and it almost always works. I made these creature analogies in my post…

King salmon
Python

Exaggerate, then Exaggerate Some More
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Figure out what’s the worst that could happen with your topic, then multiple it by ten or more. Don’t say a mole is as big as a grapefruit. Say that mole is opening its own Starbucks. (Notice the pop culture reference of Starbucks.) The bigger the exaggeration, the funnier it is.

Near Logic
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Humor is about creating logic that a-a-a-lmost makes sense but doesn’t. No one in the real world could put gum on his penis and retrieve an iPod from a storm drain. But your brain allows you to imagine that working, while simultaneously knowing it can’t. That incongruity launches the laugh reflex.

Merry Christmas

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