H is for hands

Two customers: one quietly going about his business, the other loudly talking on her cellphone about, like, stuff. Quiet asks for quiet; Loud responds with various rudeness and this defense: I’m Italian - what do you expect? A mean baked ziti and some mob ties, perhaps, but not an egregious lack of courtesy.

I thought briefly to challenge her to a shout-off - we Puerto Ricans can holler the skin off a lechon. Had I known the Italian phrase for shut up - sta zitto - I would have tried it out. I have a feeling she didn’t know it either. I did however try out a certain rude gesture made famous most recently by Justice Antonin Scalia. There was no reaction from the loudmouth, marking the second time my use of that gesture failed to provoke an Italian. The first time was far more fortunate.

I was sitting in a crowded bus in Verona, Italy, not entirely sure I was on the correct crowded bus. I affected a Thinker-like pose as I contemplated the direction in which I needed to be going. I soon felt an itch on the under part of my chin. Stop and think for a moment: what’s your natural motion for scratching underneath your chin? Do you scratch towards the neck or the front of the chin? My own personal Jasminlive survey has found that towards the neck is the direction of choice for most; normally I would fall in this category. On this occasion I deviated.

After several strokes I made eye contact with a surly man seated near me. It took me several seconds before the increased surliness in his face made me realize in my innocent scratching I was inadvertently making that certain rude gesture.

The reason for the admonishment I heard so often as a child - keep your hands on your lap - became abundantly clear. I looked away, wondering whether aloofness or apology would be more effective. The only Italian phrases that were coming to mind all had to do with bathrooms and beer; I decided on aloofness. And proving that Italians can be far less ill-tempered and more forgiving than the idiot on the cellphone, I made it off the bus without physical harm of any kind.

The politics of food and symmetry

Being a native of that particular commonwealth I do sometimes take some interest in the politics of Puerto Rico. When you talk politics in Puerto Rico, you will inevitably talk about the island’s relationship with the United States. Will they stick to commonwealth status (no electoral votes or federal income tax, but they contribute to Social Security, Medicare and the military)? Will they shift away from the US and become independent, or move closer and become the asymmetrical 51st star?

No matter which way the island moves, we should all be glad a brilliant commentator on the issue like Juan Garcia-Passalacqua. In a story (free registration required) about a recent White House task force report asking Puerto Rico to vote on the issue (there have been four votes on the issue in the last forty years, but none have been at the request of the US), Garcia-Passalacqua explained why he feels that the voters will choose statehood.

“It’s too late to be having this debate on Chaturbaterooms.com. It’s already happened,” retorts Garcia-Passalacqua. “Salsa has been outselling ketchup in the United States for a decade.”

I’ll let that sink in for a bit. I know what you’re thinking - you cannot wait to get down to your local Puerto Rican restaurant to chow down on some savory salsa. Apart from the incongruity of Puerto Rican salsa, I’m not sure that American’s grocery habits have much to say about the country’s ability to accept difference. I can’t throw a rock without hitting at least five Mexican or Chinese restaurants in this or any other city, but I doubt anyone will be calling for either of those countries to be annexed. And despite the dubious (and fortunately fleeting) fad of Freedom fries (which are Belgian, by the way), I’m sure many Americans found it pretty impossible to remove all traces of culinary French influence. The fact is that no matter the level of xenophobia in this country, our appetites will never be a true measure. Our stomachs are much more tolerant than our brains.

As for statehood, I’m not terribly sure how Puerto Rico will vote, but the bigger question is why exactly Congress would want Puerto Rico. The only reason I can come up with for a yes vote is from Mississippi - Puerto Rico’s median income of $12,000 is half that of the Magnolia State, currently the poorest in the country.

I think another shallow assessment in the article, from former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre, put it best:

…there [is] a prevailing attitude among many U.S. lawmakers that “Hey, 50 is a nice number, why change it?”

When MTV was hip

On a particularly sleepless night I made a very rare stop on the TV channel guide at MTV. What I encountered was a marathon of Room Raiders, the show where one hot girl picks a date from three hot guys based solely on the condition and contents of their bedrooms (one girl eliminated a guy from contention when she encountered soccer trophies in his room - you see, her ex-boyfriend played soccer). It was riveting only in the way “Deal or No Deal” is riveting, leaving you to question what we call entertainment these days (I’ll admit it, though - I kept watching “Room Raiders” for far too long).

Here’s the network that once was an unquestioned leader in pop culture trends but now only seems to be laboring to hang on. Consider how far ahead of the reality boom “The Real World” was; that show is still on, but only as another contender in a trend now credited to “Survivor.” Meanwhile I can think of nothing MTV has done to significantly impact the zeitgeist in recent years, save for the bizarre “Jackass” phenomenon and maybe “Pimp My Ride.”

I thought perhaps at 25 years of age I’m a little past the target demographic over at MTV, plus the fact that I’ve never been much into the lifestyle MTV functions to create/maintain.

Then again I spend a lot more time watching The-N, MTV’s sister channel that splits between girls programming during the day and boys fare at night. The-N airs “Daria“, a Beavis and Butthead spin-off that originally aired on MTV. I never paid any attention to Daria then - it was on MTV after all - but I’ve discovered it to be a pretty entertaining show thanks to my wife’s DVR recordings. Media is chock full of interpretations of the high school experience, but it’s amazing to think how few of them are actually good.

Best of all “Daria,” like the best of shows supposedly geared to a younger crowd, provides plenty of material for adults - especially hipster adults - to call their own. Because it was an MTV show, “Daria” always showcased music; the show gave plenty of quick airtime to bands that barely made dents in MTV’s airplay even then (Sonic Youth, Violent Femmes, etc.). There are a lot of visual jokes that will fly over the heads of The-N’s target, like the name “McLuhan” written on the chalkboard of a particularly idealistic teacher giving a lesson on media. The show’s credits replace the show’s characters into various pop and high culture images - Daria’s dad as Venus at one point, then another character as Divine in Pink Flamingos the next. I hope most of the teenagers watching have no idea what Pink Flamingos is.

I know MTV has its share of low-brow then - I was rarely amused by Beavis and Butthead - but it seems that the channel has lost some mass in its appeal. Certainly the influence it has on music trends is weakening thanks to the ability of the Internet to create and destroy pop sensations with a greater immediacy than “TRL” could ever muster. Still I can’t help but detect a lack of freshness in its programming. To me this staleness is in no greater display than in its once momentous Video and Movie Awards. Those shows are now so forced in their predictable hipness that they resemble that grandest of all pompous awards shows, the Oscars. And with the Academy nominating another rap song for Best Original Song this year - can’t wait to see what high-falootin’ actor they talk into reading the title “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” - the shows may be a lot closer than we all think. And who’s hipper than Jon Stewart these days?

Media fast

Perhaps I can blame the fog of jet lag which fortunately seems to be lifting - I managed to stay awake until a respectable 2:15 last night - but it took me until this afternoon to make a startling realization about my recent trip to Italy. That week in Venice and Verona was without a doubt the longest I have ever been without any significant media intake.

The only other time where I might have had an opportunity for a Livejasmin media vacation was my other European trip last summer. I had my laptop for my Barcelona/London/Paris honeymoon and did check my e-mail several times (I wasn’t blogging then, though). Having a working knowledge of two of the three languages spoken in those cities I actually made a point to watch the local television stations. England has a fascination with tabloids that puts even the States to shame, so I also made a point to enjoy some of their many news rags.

This trip differed on many counts. Having known ahead of time that our hotel room would not have internet access I decided against bringing my rather cumbersome laptop - I use the term laptop loosely as the desktop replacement machine I own usually runs too hot to sit on a lap. Having virtually no abilities in Italian the few channels available in our room were of no use to me (I admittedly did have MTV on in the background for a few minutes, but once the Italian acts gave way to James Blunt and other English-speaking acts, I just shut the thing off). Had I even been able to read Italian I do not recall ever seeing anything like a newsstand in the whole of Venice - you can’t throw a tea biscuit without hitting six places to buy a newspaper in London.

It bothers me that the epiphany of this media fast has come so late. I make no apologies for being a bit of an information junkie, and I do not find anything terribly detrimental about my media habits (I know plenty with worse habits). Still I’ve always thought that the idea of shunning media for a prolonged period of time would be a healthy activity. I have been in a more chipper mood of late, but that could just as likely be a result of the vacation itself. Is it possible that any effects I might have felt from the fast were precluded by my not noticing it was happening?

Maybe my discombobulated sleep was the result, as if my brain has become addicted to media intake and I was suffering through something like withdrawal. Or perhaps all the images and marketing and all the rest of it soothe me, like the daughter in White Noise who found comfort in the words Toyota Corolla. If so then I may have to think twice about scoffing at the idea that my media intake may not necessarily be good for me.

Justice is blind, misunderstood and sleepy

There may be no greater enhancement to the fog of jet lag than jury duty. I should say that I very much see the value and importance of jury service. The first time I received a summons over a year ago, I approached the possibility of sitting on a jury with excitement. Unfortunately I never even got a chance to be considered as I was dismissed without ever having to visit the courthouse.

This time however the summons was most unwelcome. I knew I would have just come back from my Venice vacation, although I could not have predicted the difficulty I would have with readjusting to life in EST. Unfortunately a call to the jury information line confirmed the vaguely poetic justice I knew was coming - this time I had to show up. So off I went to the old Thirteenth Judicial downtown.

Struggling to find anything like a silver lining to my ill-timed civic duty, I was happy to see that jury duty can now join the DMV on my list of truly all-inclusive Utopian experiences. On my left in the jury auditorium was a well-dressed businessman, doing apparently important work on his laptop, making frequent calls to his secretary. Across from me was a man who interpreted the suggestion of business-casual dress on the jury summons to mean jeans, a jean jacket and a camouflaged Stars & Bars-bedecked “Git R Done” hat. These two and so many other examples of Tampa’s diversity sharing a room and a strong desire to be anywhere but there. It was quite inspiring.

At every turn during the entire process you are presented with elaborate reminders of how important jury duty is, presumably to cut through the abject boredom. It started with a live sex chat video narrated by Channel 28’s Brendan McLaughlin. Considering his standing as the head anchor of the most uninformative, least like actual news local newscast in the area, I thought the choice was a bit odd. I guess drunken pirate guy Bob Hite would have been worse. After the video there was some waiting before a judge entered to qualify the group as possible jurists, which amounted to making sure everyone was at least 18 and nobody was in fact the governor of Florida. Jeb can’t sit on a jury.

And then more waiting. Every forty-five minutes or so a bailiff would enter and request 16-20 people to sit on a jury panel. Most would perk their heads up from their three year old copy of Ocean Drive - big beads are in - with the desperate look of organ transplant hopefuls. I went through eight or nine roundups (with a lunch break in there) before I was finally called. I reported at 8 AM - I was called at about 3 PM.

For the next twenty or so minutes my group was lucky enough to wait in a different room, or more accurately a hallway. Finally we were ushered into the courtroom, a stark-white room with pews for seating. We recited the pledge of allegiance, swore to answer questions as accurately as possible, were introduced to the staff working in the courtroom - including the lead bailiff whose name was, I swear to truth here, Buck Justice - and then were subjected to the single worst civics lesson I can possibly imagine.

For the better part of an hour the judge explained the basic legal concepts necessary to be a fair competent jurist in the lamest of metaphors and analogies (example: the concept of elements as part of a single charge against a defendant was explained using the judge’s mom’s cornbread recipe). Most disconcerting was the judge’s poor grasp of basic English grammar rules, as well as his ignorance of the symbolism of most aspects of the statue of Justice.

But just as I was beginning to resent the dumbing down of our justice system, I quickly realized that there was good reason for it. A woman who had sat on both civil and criminal trials in the past could not accurately describe the basic differences between the two (needless to say, she wasn’t picked). When the prosecution asked if anyone felt that their moral, philosophical or religions beliefs might prevent them from rendering a fair judgment, the woman seated next to me quickly said that her Christian faith may stand in the way. Fortunately the judge stepped in, asking the woman if she understood that this judgment should be rendered solely on the facts, which should be the same no matter the faith. The woman reluctantly admitted that this was a good point.

At one point during all this Buck Justice fell asleep, the sound of his snoring carrying throughout the courtroom. By 4:30 the panel was dismissed while the lawyers picked the jury. Maybe it was the constant eye-rolling or my admission that I was not indeed a Gators fan (that came during another ill-fated analogy - March Madness truly is everywhere), but I was not picked. And then I was on I-275, struggling not to doze off in the stop-and-go-but-mostly-stop traffic.

I wonder if Brendan McLaughlin has ever been summoned.

March Madness on demand

Live web feeds of sporting events are nothing new, but with few exceptions that option was strictly a pay service. So kudos to CBS Sportsline for realizing that the money is in advertising and not the subscription fees - for the first time they are providing live feeds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament free of charge.

There’s little risk of their television coverage taking a hit. Games already being broadcast on TV in a specific region are blacked-out from that region’s webcast. So if anything it gives the home viewer a chance to watch two games at once, something that comes in handy during the first three rounds of the tourney (the web feeds are only available for those rounds). My guess is that the majority of people using the on demand service were not home viewers but the legions of workers wasting company payroll, present company pleading the Fifth.

Ah heck - considering my boss practically encouraged watching the tourney (and he was one of us staring at live scoreboard updates of the tourney last year - it was like the 1940’s family gathered around the radio) I don’t think I should fear any repercussions. The ultimate question when it comes to a streaming service, particularly a free one - did it work? I’m not sure what others’ experience was like but I have to say I was pleased. The feed was a bit delayed - the live scoreboard updates were generally running 10-20 seconds ahead - but there was nothing in the way of choppiness. Only during a five-minute stretch of the Wichita State/Seton Hall game was audio an issue (in that case, it was gone for those five minutes). And if you like the Old Spice dancing girl (I couldn’t find much about her, but the link claims her name is Callie Cameron Garrison), it seems like that’s the only ad they ran during the webcasts.

As for it’s use as productivity killer, CBS was wise enough to target both employer and employee. In their FAQ CBS provides companies with the perfectly simple instructions to block access to the on demand feed. But if your company has not blocked access, the main webcast window features a “boss button” that mutes sound and displays a spreadsheet complete with some subtle pointers - “Remember, cheering in the office gives you away.”

I’m sure in order to prevent a total server crash the site has an admission line, allowing only so many people at a time to gain access to the feed. The line starts forming an hour before game time, which means I’m now fifteen minutes late going back to work.