Archive for January, 2011

‘Me Generation’ Blues

January 31, 2011

Dear readers, I’m troubled. And since we have been told since childhood that it’s good to share, I’m going to share my troubles with you.

Around thirty or forty years ago, people started thinking that children shouldn’t be disciplined when misbehaving.  This, it was thought, would stifle their development, and lead to a depressingly low amount of self esteem. The result was annoyingly noisy children running amok, while mommies and daddies shrugged off their parental responsibilities: “If we spank little Johnny, it will hurt his self confidence.” Thus began the ‘Me Generation,’ which followed the why-can’t-they-be-like-we-were? ‘Baby Boomers.’

Public places such as stores became unbearable, since unbridled children — what’s so bad about putting your little monster on a leash? — would run around, crashing into adults or displays of goods and screaming at the top of their lungs, while parents stood idly by. In the old days, adult strangers would not hesitate to reprimand wayward children with either a harsh rebuke or a well-placed slap. This was generally agreed to be a laudable act for the common good. I wouldn’t try it nowadays if I were you, partly because it might get you arrested, and partly because the parent would consider it an insult to their parenting skills. (It appears that ‘Me Generation’ attitudes get passed on to their children.) Oh no!

Recent international test results point out that while US students score high on confidence, they score very low on subjects like math, science and critical thinking. Pond scum in Romania is better at math than American teenagers. Isn’t there something seriously wrong here? Shouldn’t confidence be based on mastery or achievement?

Then there is the current state of manners and etiquette. I work on a college campus, and have watched college students for twenty years; their etiquette skills are different from previous generations. For example, when I go through a door, I glance over my shoulder to see if there is someone behind me. If there is someone in the ‘close-enough zone’ I hold the door for them. College students, on the other hand, usually walk through, and cluelessly allow the door to slam on whomever follows. Their ‘Me Generation’ focus is on themselves; it is not on others.

When at the wheel, far too many people nowadays don’t give a damn about other drivers; they think only of themselves. The polite use of turn signals — important for safety, believe it or not — has all but disappeared. Why wouldn’t you want other drivers around you to know your intentions when you’re going at the speed of sound? Drivers just whoosh from one lane into another, not caring about other drivers or safety; clearly a small swipe of a finger on the turn indicator is too much trouble, since the other guy isn’t worth it.

In Framingham is an intersection where half the vehicles wish to turn left at the traffic light. There is just enough room for two vehicles going in one direction to fit through, so when the light is green, one vehicle can turn left while another car can go straight through the intersection. But people turning left don’t stay to the left — they drive in the middle, taking up so much room that drivers wishing to go straight have to wait.

Why can’t these drivers think of this? It’s because they are inconsiderate, thinking only of themselves. The devil on my shoulder wishes me to say that most of those who block the intersection are the boneheads who drive the SUV’s that are bigger than Rhode Island, and that if they are incapable of properly controlling their SUV maybe they should buy a smaller vehicle. The angel sitting on my other shoulder suggests gently that some drivers who block the intersection are not driving the new GM Goliath, but are in normal sedans. Sometimes I wish the angel would just shut up.

Yesterday I was in Braintree, MA, and wanted to turn into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot to get some espresso. The guy exiting the lot was driving a big SUV, and was in the middle of the entrance. Again, there was room for a vehicle to enter and one to exit at the same time, but this guy felt that he deserved the middle of the driveway. What is with this sense of entitlement?

A cell phone company is airing ads on TV that center on this ‘me me me’ attitude. A professional athlete has suffered a career-ending injury, and the doctor sends texts and shows video which hurt the player’s feelings; the doctor says not to worry because it’s not costing him anything due to his data plan. A couple are at dinner at a restaurant, and the girl ends the relationship by texting the guy across the table, and changing her Facebook status, which of course are severe blows to the guy’s feelings. The girl replies that it’s not a big deal, since her data plan allows these activities at low or no cost.

In both of these commercials someone is hurt, but the person causing the pain is unconcerned, because they are safely insulated from caring about others due to their focus on Number One.

This selfish ‘me me me’ tendency to put oneself at the center of the universe, to the detriment of all others, will have far-reaching consequences, as sympathy, goodwill and philanthropy decline. It also means that I’ll have to shovel all this damn snow myself.



Status Updates from North Korea

January 10, 2011

Some of the smartest people in the country work at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, located in Northern Virginia. Their mission is to use advanced technology to come up with unusual weapons, like super broccoli, which could cause an enemy statesman to fart to death; or a strategically modified shampoo which could grow breasts on a hated military despot, while still giving lustrous thick hair.

These people think outside the box.

Kim Jong Il, the ‘Most Exalted and Gorgeously Coifed Leader’ of North Korea, has created a similar organization in his impoverished country. The North Korean Research Advanced Projects Agency (NoKRAPA) has been given the responsibility to develop weapons to be used on its enemies, especially if they are within sling-shot range.  So far, the organization’s only success story has been its “bird brain death ray” weapon, designed to kill innocent birds (see Jan 4 post), which then fall on enemy heads.

It was a team of MIT graduates at DARPA that identified North Korea as the source of the demise of thousands of birds around the globe. Some thought that the bonked blackbirds in Beebe had suffered a physical trauma, or had been too close to an emission of gastrointestinal gas suffered by Oprah Winfrey, after she ate seven garlic and beef breakfast burritos, smothered in Velveeta.

Documents smuggled secretly by stealthy sources reveal that North Korea is working on even more insidious weapons befitting the Internet Age. Working on the premise that Facebook now has something in the neighborhood of 550 million users worldwide, and that all but around four of those are enemies, NoKRAPA hopes to produce a social networking weapon.

They plan to add a program to Facebook, so that when users are perusing the status of friends or updating their own, they will succumb to minute alterations in the computer display, and fall into a hypnotic trance. At that point, subliminal messages will be sent, exhorting Facebook users to send things Pyongyang desperately needs, like cash, Napoleon brandy and Ferraris.

There has been an unexpected backlash to Facebook in North Korea. It turns out that Kim Jong Eun, Kim Jong Il’s son and heir-apparent — his mother was either a North Korean Olympic pole-dancer or a member of the official court belly dancing troupe — has become a devoted user of Facebook. The international press notes that in recent months the certainty that he’ll take over North Korea’s leadership has declined precipitously due to his status updates that are less than flattering to his mother country.

He has even started a Facebook group, “North Korea Sucks”, which lists him as its only member. He whines that, unlike in Switzerland, where he went to boarding school, there is no championship golf course just a few short steps from his palace, and in Pyongyang, he can’t drive his Lamborghini 150 mph, because the narrow and rutted roads there are only suited for small carts pulled by squirrels. But there are no squirrels, since the starving populace has eaten them all.

In addition, his birthday was last Saturday, January 8th — he is either 27 or 14 ½, according to official state news sources — but according to his Facebook posts his birthday was not given a sufficiently royal treatment. In North Korea, the birthdays of its leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the nation’s most important holidays. Citizens celebrate by reaching down, grabbing a handful of dirt, and throwing it into the air in a festive manner. Kim Jong Eun was so disappointed with his birthday that he posted a message saying that “my dad didn’t even send me a birthday card!”

Some North Korea watchers speculate that Kim Jong Eun’s prestige has dropped precisely because his Facebook posts are not in line with Pyongyang’s expectations, and because at an important dinner with Chinese dignitaries, he did not seem to know how to handle his chopsticks, and asked instead for a fork.

The news event that might be the last nail in Kim Jong Eun’s PR coffin comes from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A pudgy young Asian man was seen making the rounds there while surrounded by burly, Asian bodyguards. An official from Samsung, the South Korean electronics manufacturing giant, nudged me in the ribs and whispered, “That’s him! That’s Kim Jong Eun!” This official, who did not wish to be identified, told me that, as part of the cult of unswerving leadership, North Koreans are required to wear lapel pins depicting the face of either Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, 24 hours a day, whether they’re sleeping or even taking a bath in the nearest river.

We were stunned to see that instead of an officially sanctioned pin, he was wearing a Facebook lapel pin. Maybe he’s not ready to assume command just yet.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

January 6, 2011

The Chinese have unveiled, if that is the right word, a new stealth jet fighter, the J-20. I’d tell you more about it except that I can’t see it.

Just kidding. That’s it to the right.

They didn’t really develop their own version so much as they copied one of our models, the F-22. And ‘copy’ is not really the right word here: according to eyewitness sources, it looks like ours, but is purported to be less sophisticated than ours. It’s not like you could take a jet fighter, put it into a giant copy machine, press a button, and then moments later an exact copy would slide out the tray.

So it might be more correct to say merely that theirs looks like ours on the outside.

The U.S. military first brought out stealth aircraft technology in the early 1980’s with the F-117 Nighthawk, which was hugely successful. Thereafter came the B-2 bomber and the F-22 Raptor. The latest U.S. stealth fighter is the F-35 Lightning II, which is so advanced it will be used to battle giant warrior bugs on Mars.

Part of what makes the F-22 stealthy is the outer shape, which is designed to reduce radar reflections, but there are also other factors to keep a stealth plane hidden from an enemy’s sensors, such as heat and sound. Plus, there are top secret electronic systems at play that complete the plane’s ability to hide from radar, sonar, and even Jewish grandmothers. One could deduce that the Chinese doppelgänger would lack these crucial abilities.

A vaguely alchemical technology central to stealthiness is “metamaterial,” which involves tweaking the properties of substances so that light bends around it. This was the industrial magic behind what made James Bond’s Aston Martin Vanquish invisible in “Die Another Day”. The Chinese are not having luck in developing this technology, so they are looking elsewhere.

Rumors circulating around Beijing suggest that top scientists from the Peoples Bullying Party have tried zealously to procure large quantities of invisibility cloaks, like the kind worn by Harry Potter. Agents of the Central Committee have spent months trying in vain to gain access to Diagon Alley, the main street of the magical market zone. A secret document discovered in a fortune cookie says that Chinese agents would pay “hansomry” for 1,000 cloaks, enough to cover a couple J-20‘s.

This intrepid reporter could not determine if the Peoples Bullying Party is made up entirely of muggles or not, but it appears that way.

The J-20 was given a very rigorous test at Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute, where it zoomed down the runway at a hair-mussing 30 mph. Clearly the Peoples Liberation Army didn’t want to damage their precious new fighter by pushing it too hard.

One of the main reasons why the Chinese military is having difficulty bringing a competitive fighter jet into the not-so-friendly skies is that they rely on outmoded Russian engines. These engines, borrowed from the Russian Su-27 jet, first flown in 1977, are themselves derived from the Vyatka Automat-1 washing machine, and can reach speeds of 300-350 rpm.

Fling Dung, of the Peoples Propaganda Department, likes to look on the bright side, and says that if the J-20 does not reach its full potential as a deadly jet fighter, it still could be used to clean — very slowly — the heavily polluted skies of Chinese cities. A proud achievement indeed.

Dead Birds Society

January 4, 2011

This reporter is not the smartest guy around, and because of that you may be tempted to suggest that I have a bird brain. But do not laugh. It is a mistake to not take seriously the brain of a bird.

Recently in Beebe, Arkansas, something happened. Ordinarily in that not-quite-up-and-coming community there is little more than a skinned knee to report, or else someone named Lukey Joe Kuhstupper has added his name to the Darwin Award list.

This time, however, something foreboding, something so very sinister occurred, that even that icy-veined pundit, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former Harvard professor and national security advisor, might head for a concrete bunker: dead birds fell from the sky. Lots of them.

As usual, I seem to be the only one who knows what’s really going on.

On New Year’s Eve, approximately 5,000 dead, red-winged blackbirds fell on Beebe. As if bird poop falling on you isn’t bad enough, thousands of dead birds fell on terrified Beebians. Access to deeply secret sources, combined with advanced global affairs jigsaw puzzle analysis, allowed me to discover how it happened and who was behind it.

As you may know, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is a movie fanatic with an enormous collection estimated at over 20,000 titles. He has everything Alfred Hitchcock ever made, and is a particularly devoted fan of “The Birds”.

He also is aware of a recent document [“National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020)”] published by the Peoples Bullying Party of China, blueprinting their desire to impel greater innovation and creativity for future strategic gain. The paranoid old men who sit on the Central Committee don’t wish to see China’s lower-status role as the world’s low cost manufacturer continue; rather, they want to become known as a ’golden orchard’ of leading product designers and sought after brands, more like a Silicon Valley than a Peoples Industrial Zone #487-C.

Once Jong Il had read the pipedream, I mean government position paper, he decided to put his scientists — mostly kidnapped from developed nations — to work on a new weapon.

Here in the States, biologists were perplexed as to what caused the deaths of thousands of birds, and many theories were propounded, such as the short-circuiting of GPS chips implanted in the birds by DARPA ornithologists; or that the bottles of moonshine affixed to the birds’ necks by University of Arkansas graduate students were too heavy.

One Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent was suspicious of a large shipment of potato guns sent to a bait shop in Beebe, and thought that the birds had been used as ammo, but in fact it turned out to be a relatively harmless cache of weapons ordered by local gang members.

According to intercepted text messages smuggled out on NSA toilet paper, the North Koreans have developed Project Serene Moonbeam, or as it is known in Pyongyang, the “bird brain death ray.” This powerful, concentrated ray destroys the brains of targeted birds. The ray weapon requires lots of energy, but since the North Koreans have no money and no viable power supplies, and since all the batteries have been eaten by the starving populace, the energy comes from enormous vats of fermenting Kim chi stolen from South Korea.

North Korea, attempting to emulate China in its race to develop niche products and boutique brands, hopes to become the Gucci of ray guns, and to market desirable weapons to discerning customers everywhere.

The dead red-winged blackbirds that fell on Beebe, Arkansas, are testament to a successful demonstration of the bird brain death ray. Clearly, Kim Jong Il plans to attack the civilized world with dead birds.

An earlier experiment in Japan was not so successful. Japanese authorities publicly announced that a recent outbreak of avian flu was to blame for the deaths of various birds around the country. I have discovered, however, that the deaths were instead due to a beta version of North Korea’s weapon. The scientist in charge of the weapon’s test on Japan, Dr Yuk Yuk Flap, miscalculated an adjustment to the main control panel, and instead of killing the targeted birds quickly, the unfortunate birds thought that they were Jerry Lewis. This unexpected identity switch led them to forget that they were flying. The birds dissolved into convulsive laughter, and plummeted to their deaths.

The North Koreans are sure to test this heinous new weapon again soon, on innocent birds around the world.

Prepare yourselves. Buy stock in helmet companies, and watch the skies!