Thursday, May 30, 2013


Many of you have seen the infamous “Geography of Hate” map that plots out hateful tweets on an interactive Google map of the United States. The data was provided by California’s Humboldt State University whose team of undergraduate researchers combed through 150,000“hateful” Twitter rants posted over an eleven month period. Each tweet was manually screened for context to eliminate false positives and the keywords were broadly categorized as homophobic, racist, or prejudice against those with a disability. The map then weighted the total volume of tweets from that county in relation to the number of contextually hateful tweets and created a heat-map. 
Anti-Cripple Tweets

Of course, only users who allow geotagging of their posts could be sampled and that currently is less than 1% of all registered Tweeters. The other issue is that one could author racist tweets without using any of the keywords sought by the researchers. Shortcomings aside, here is what I found playing with the map:

1.      There is a surprising amount of anger toward “cripples” along the North Dakota / Montana border.

In fact, the amount per capita hatred toward disabled individuals far eclipsed any other area in the United States. The resentment is so prominent that I would be worried that any handicapped parking spaces along Highway 201 are simply staging areas for an ambush. It is unclear how widespread this animosity is since there cannot be that many geotagging Twitter users in eastern Montana. Perhaps the only person in the entire area with a Twitter account and an iPhone happens to have a personal beef with the co-owner of The Scooter Store or was asked to leave the Special Olympics.

2.      There is a surprising amount of anger toward “niggers” in North Dakota.

While use of the often quoted racial slur occurred in wide swaths throughout the southeast, I was again surprised by the localized intensity in the upper mid-west. It would appear that the only thing more dangerous that being a handicapped motorist in North Dakota is being a black handicapped motorist in North Dakota. It is too bad that the study didn’t ascertain how North Dakota residents felt about dwarfism or we might have scored the intolerance trifecta.

3.      There is a palatable dislike of lesbianism in Virginia.

When the researchers isolated tweets negatively utilizing the word “dyke” this commonwealth was at the top of the list. This is even more puzzling since they barely register in the use of the other four homophobic slurs analyzed. While I am not familiar enough with Virginians to explain this dichotomy, I would advise any visitors to the area to avoid Indigo Girls concerts and openly discussing season 2 of The L Word.

While the prevalence of intolerance does not surprise me, the number of intolerant people that chose to publicly espouse their views while divulging their geographical location does. Most people have the common decency to dislike African-America paraplegics or Asian lesbians in the privacy of their own home, but it is indicative of this country’s moral decline that we now feel comfortable hash-tagging it next to our GPS coordinates. Perhaps for their next study, the university will correlate the number of registered Facebook users who regularly exercise with the number of Facebook users who are unable to regularly exercise without announcing to other Facebook users that they regularly exercise.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Baby Story Part 12

Having read much of the obligatory pre-birth literature, I was prepared for many of the possible behavioral changes in my wife. Hormonal fluctuation, post-partum malaise, and sleep deprivation were all cited as contributing factors to watch for in the days and months following the delivery. 
What I was not prepared for was the onset of Worst-Case Scenario Syndrome (WCSS), a debilitating condition whereby a characteristically logical person finds themselves assuming that any situation involving their child will have a horrific outcome.

Normally, WCSS takes a milder form (don’t cross your eyes or they will get stuck like that, you’ll ruin your supper, etc..) but all too often it can intensify until you find yourself discussing the plot of a Sean Penn film. The signs tend to be gradual and in my wife’s case tended to involve common household accidents. For instance we had the following conversation about an ill-placed ottoman:

Her – Why is this ottoman pushed out?
Me – Sorry, I forgot to push it back after I got up.
Her – What if one of us is holding the baby, trips on it, and crushes his tiny body as a result of the subsequent loss of balance it caused!?

I am here to tell you that there is not an appropriate response to that hypothetical. Suddenly, commonplace laziness has created an unfathomable tragedy and “it would make me sad” will likely get you struck by a desk-lamp. These conjectural scenarios can be associated with anything; bath-time, misplaced laundry, or even improperly discarded candy wrappers.

All of this culminated at two o’clock in the morning a few nights ago when my wife shook me awake to inform me that our dog had been murdered by unknown assailants who had absconded with our infant son. When I groggily inquired as to how she arrived so readily at this canine homicide/amber alert explanation she pointed to the video monitor on our nightstand and said, “See! He isn’t there!”

After retrieving my glasses, I glanced at the receiver and noticed that I did not see the form of a sleeping baby. I also noticed that I was staring at a very pixelated close-up of the crib mattress indicating that the camera has fallen from its mount. When I explained this to her in order allay her fears, I got the feeling that instead of calming her down I had simply given her a reason to believe the perpetrators were even cleverer than she had originally suspected.

Walking past our still-breathing dog and into the nursery, I found our son sound asleep and the camera face down on the mattress. Returning it to its perch, I sauntered back to the bedroom and explained that there was no need to alert law enforcement. When I asked how she surmised our pet’s unfortunate end by staring at the video monitor, she explained that since the child had been taken without our knowledge the only explanation was that they had killed our dog first in order to escape undetected. It was at this point I decided to go back to sleep before she formed a conspiracy theory surrounding the relocated diaper genie.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

They Say

Just the other day I was talking to a friend and I realized that there is nothing more conversationally powerful than the open-ended phrase, “they say.” It is the accepted method of introducing unverifiable facts attributed to ambiguous experts in an unidentified field of study. The best part is that current societal norms insist that all participants accept these revelations without question lest we be considered rude.

Personally, I find myself deploying “they say” on three separate occasions:

1.      I have an unsubstantiated theory I wish to legitimize without fear of reprisal.

Let’s say that I am in a conversation with someone and for whatever reason I have come to believe that the leading cause of death for Caucasian rhythm guitarists is hummus poisoning. To my knowledge, this is nothing more than wild speculation but presentation is key:

Scenario A

"I just realized that spoiled hummus is to blame for the death of most white rhythm guitarists. Did you know that?"

"Really? Where did you get that from? Did something happen to Ronnie Wood? That doesn’t even sound plausible. Why am I even friends with you?"

Scenario B

"They say that the leading cause of death for Caucasian rhythm guitarists is hummus poisoning."

"Really? That is interesting. I suppose I have never read anything that would disprove that....."

2.      I wish to broach a volatile subject with a new acquaintance in a non-committal fashion.

Let’s say I want to interject a blanket statement that covers all major hot-button issues simultaneously. This allows me to ascertain the scope of someone’s political perspective in the most efficient manner possible. For instance, I could approach a complete stranger and declare, “They say that the majority of abortion providers in states without the death penalty are welfare-funded homosexual Islamic immigrants whose passion for gun control is only narrowly exceeded by their commitment to creeping socialism.”

If the person reacts negatively, you can easily distance yourself by attributing the statement to an often maligned organization like the Federal government or bloggers named Trey. If the person readily accepts this statement as true, it might be time to talk to someone else.

3.      I wish to offer unsolicited medical advice.

You may find yourself in the elevator with a coworker when the subject of their recent surgical procedure comes up. Desperate for a response other than “oh my” or “that sounds terrible,” sometimes I will toss out legitimate sounding home remedies in the hopes that the person will field test them for me.

A few that can yield interesting results:

  • They say that pre-moistening your undershirt with pineapple juice does wonders for gout.
  • They say that most dandruff can be alleviated by mixing laxatives and baby aspirin.
  • They say that it is cheaper to just take out your stitches at home with a staple remover.
  • They say that canine heart-worm medication is an aphrodisiac.
  • They say that the majority of third nipples are the result of excess riboflavin in your diet.
  • They say that sleeping east to west is the most effective way to minimize the impact of rosacea.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Horror & Home-ownership

Having recently watched a few horror movies (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, etc..) it has occurred to me that a disturbing pattern has emerged. Primarily, that home-ownership lends itself to demonic possession. For whatever reason, dark spiritual forces are attracted to American mortgage holders while transient citizens with no equity benefit from “renter’s immunity.” As a homeowner, I find this to be offensive. If you have never toured a moderately-priced apartment complex you don’t know the definition of uneasiness and foreboding. Maybe I am reading too much into these productions, but it is almost as if the American dream itself is under attack.

Furthermore, the current movie trend indicates that the poorly illuminated attic has replaced the poorly illuminated basement as the popular staging area of choice for nefarious supernatural encounters. As a mortgage holder with overhead storage, I can assure you that the most frightening aspect of a dimly lit attic the opportunity to miss a beam and put your foot through the sheetrock. 

That is not to say that discovering a trunk of Native American snuff films or the remnants of a gypsy garage sale wouldn’t be disconcerting; it is simply the acknowledgement that such a discovery would be far more interesting than racking myself on a support beam and making a trip to Lowes.

It would also appear that the homeowner’s association in all of these films prohibits the use of light-bulbs in excess of 40 watts since the characters spend most of the film squinting or utilizing underpowered flashlights. For all the money the owners spend on priests and paranormal investigation they could have purchased a few torch lamps from K-mart and saved themselves a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

While I am on the subject, how is it possible to walk into a dark room and not automatically reach for the light switch? It is an involuntary motion for anyone born since the Great Depression. The muscle memory is so ingrained I can’t even stop myself from doing it when I know the electricity is out. Levitating flatware or not, when I walk into a dark room, I reach around for a light switch. 

On a side note, there was a scene from Sinister that I wished they had filmed. I always hope these movies would include the dialogue between the main protagonist and the realtor who just received the most surprising phone call of their career.

Realtor – Hello?
Buyer – Yes, I was interested in the scene of the grisly triple homicide/unsolved child abduction. I noticed that the price was recently reduced and I had a question concerning the school zoning.
Realtor – Uh…sure….let me just get my notes here. It is just a few miles from a wonderful charter school, one of the best in this part of the state.
Buyer – Do you think they would have any openings?
Realtor – I would venture to guess they have at least one…..
Buyer – What about the kitchen? From the photos it looks a little outdated.
Realtor – I know the previous owners had plans to renovate, but those fell by the wayside when they were brutally executed on the sun porch. On the plus side, the master bedroom has a spacious on-suite!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Door To Door

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will know that my neighborhood sees a large volume of door to door solicitation. This week, I got two of the most interesting:

The first was a pair of Caucasian males in a pickup truck. I was outside mowing the lawn when I noticed their vehicle stop in front of the house opposite mine. The driver exited the truck and conveyed his desire to talk to me through gesticulation. Once I stopped the mower engine, he shook my hand and inquired as to how I was doing. This question was quickly followed by the statement, “You look like a man that can appreciate a good steak.”

In my experience, this statement is almost always followed by, “Son, have you considered joining the armed services?” It was either that or I was about to be asked on a date. However, it turns out that these two enterprising young men were distributing frozen meat products from their automobile. Before I could respond he had recited an impressive list of cuts (both steer and fowl) while assuring me that he had the best prices in town.

While I didn’t doubt his sincerity, I just didn’t feel comfortable purchasing a ribeye from a total stranger in a Dodge Ram. Furthermore, I couldn’t bear the shame of being hospitalized for food poisoning and being forced to admit, “Well it could have been that chicken breast Billy Ray sold me out of his glove-box…” Can you imagine the shame my newborn son would feel when he was old enough to ask what happened to his father and my wife was forced to tell him that my unwillingness to pay market price for ground beef had been my undoing?

I watched as he and his partner struck pay-dirt a few houses down where at least three consenting adults could be seen handing them money in exchange for plastic bags of what I can only assume was USDA choice. For the next several days I fully expected to see an estate-sale sign appear in their front yard.

The second, and most interesting, visitor that week was Eric. Eric was an African-American male in his late 20’s wearing a white button-up and necktie. He carried a small, black portfolio case and when I answered the door he introduced himself and told me that he was selling magazines and books on behalf of Inner City Sales, a company that recruited at-risk youth and gave them the opportunity to better themselves.

Quickly assessing me as a staunch middle class Republican, he emphasized that this sure was a better use of his time than “sitting around and collecting welfare or gangbanging.” I nodded as if to concur with his conclusion, and he continued that he had a young son he was trying to support through his earnings. From there the conversation went as follows:

Eric – “I am from New Jersey. You ever been to Jersey?”
Me – “Been to New York, but never New Jersey.”
 “Good, it is awful. Anyway, are you familiar with HBO?”
 “Uh, sure. Home Box Office?”
“Naw man, Help a Brotha’ Out! How about buying a magazine?”
“I really don’t need any other magazines..”
“I thought you might say that. Luckily for people like you we have the Double-O plan!”
“Double O?”
“Yeah, other options. What about books? Do you like books?
“I do enjoy books… What is the cheapest book you’ve got?”
“I got a book about turtles.”
“Yeah man, like sea turtles.”
“What does that run?”
“Well, that seems a little step for a book about tu….”
“Plus $10 handling.”
“Eric, I just can’t bring myself to drop $30 on a book that vaguely discusses turtles.”
“Don’t worry sir. Since you look like the kind of person who only wants to help others we can send the book directly to a children’s hospital or orphanage as a donation.”

While Eric’s salesmanship was polished and the program sounded admirable, I am not sure an overpriced book about salt-water reptiles is exactly the path to self-sufficiency. What are the odds he is going to happen upon the one household just chomping at the bit to get their hands on “The Sea Turtle Almanac” and a 2-year subscription to Conde Nast Traveler?

I do wish Eric and the beef brothers all the best and I hope that somewhere in town there is a family eating bargain priced filets as they marvel at the unparalleled longevity of one of the ocean’s most majestic creatures.