August 07, 2007

Today's comic pages have been outsourced to Wal-Mart's Sex Discrimination Department

Hagar the Horrible, 8/7/07

That’s right, women: Not getting that promotion your male co-workers got? Got fired when you complained about sexual harassment from your boss? Suck it up, because clearly you just haven’t figured out how to use your equal rights! Shit, you women have had equal rights since the Vikings! You never saw Attila the Hun get all weepy over some sexually loaded commentary at work, did you?

Oh, Attila was a man’s name back then? Well, uh. Whatever, you get the point.

So, hey, why not just go to the kitchen, pick up the nearest kitchen tool -- nothing sharp, of course -- and wave it around a bit. See? Doesn’t that make everything better? And while you’re there, can you please make Hagar the Horrible writer Chris Browne a sandwich? The man works hard all day; that’s really the least you can do.

And meanwhile, down the street at the Bumstead residence, a young boy is pointing at a grown woman’s ass and saying he “wants that stuff in (his) room.”

Blondie, 8/7/07

Sure you were talking about the dirt, Elmo. She is a dirty, dirty woman.

Permalink: 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2007

And I’ve just been hired as Giuliani’s foreign policy adviser, because I like foreign films and once spent the weekend in Canada

From a New York Times story yesterday about Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Judith:

But he described her as an effective fund-raiser and trusted sounding board for his policies, particularly on health care, because she holds a two-year nursing degree and once sold pharmaceuticals.

Permalink: 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2007

Reality tv: Hitting rock bottom, then digging


In a grave affront to basic intelligence, Mindset (a.k.a. Phil, my friend Kathryn's brother, and the Official Reality TV Star of was canned this week from SciFi Channel's "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" The contestants on the show had been captured by a villain called Bee Sting, who, in a move that would make Dr. Evil cringe, challenged them to a spelling bee -- except all words must be spelled with an extra e (bee-serker, say). Mindset doesn't play along, and spells his word correctly.

As an editor, I consider that admirable dedication to our language. But it also made sense for the show: Its challenges are often distractions from more noble pursuits, like when the contestants are told to fix their car but instead are rewarded for helping a nearby old lady pick up her groceries, so this spelling bee should have also been more than it appeared. As Phil says during his exit interview, he figured it was more heroic for a captured hero to stick by what's right, rather than kowtow to a captor's wacky demands. But Stan Lee doesn't see it that way, and kicked off Phil for being prideful.

It's especially curious because Stan, of all people, should know the power of words. The man's fortune has come from (or at least, was initiated in) the publishing industry. Come on, man. One letter means big changes in words. It makes Fantastic Four into fantastic flour. The X-Men are disposed-of boyfriends. Marvel is an ice cream company. Tell us, Stan: If you were kidnapped by Potato Man and forced to cater to his spelling whims, would this have been your largest claim to fame?:


I think not. Mindset, you're an inspiration to us all.

Permalink: 08:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2007

Table Scraps:

HIGH-FIVE, HUMANITY! We finally did it! We finally built a personal, flying saucer! Be sure to watch the video, and jam along to its music. And here's a related news story.



A NICE PIECE of outrage: A local columnist tries doing a fluff piece on a bridge, and the bridge's operator responds by firing an employee he talked to. So now he's writing a different, far better column.

WHEN YOU'RE CHALLENGED to draw 200 comics, no idea is a bad idea.

WHO NEEDS TO watch movies before reviewing them? Not my friend Zack. His great, new videos are the Wayne's World of movie-review shows, and they're here and here. (They're Quicktime videos, though, so they may take a few minutes to load.) And speaking of movies, this should run before every one of them.

IF YOU NEED some help at the self-checkout line -- and don't we all? -- then this might be of service to you.

CHECK OUT THE photo underneath this blog entry's title, "50 Year Storm fails to dampen Tahsis Spirit." Nothing but, uh, un-dampened spirits there, I tell you.

HOW TO COMBINE weddings and bicycles? Apparently, like this.


Permalink: 08:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2007

And now, some regularly scheduled self-promotion

The new issue of Boston magazine is on stands, featuring a whopping 320 pages of awesomeness, some of which are mine all mine. It's my first as editor of the City Journal section (although it isn't online in full, here's the section's opener), and I've got a fun, long piece about the war between two local "duck tour" companies, called, "Duck, Duck... Lawsuit!" I stumbled upon the fight before it became a legal battle, did most of the reporting before any papers were filed, and then watched anxiously as it went through the court system while our deadline fast approached. Another editor and I ended up having to stick around the office until 2 a.m. one time, making sure this thing was as up-to-date as possible. eXtreme jOurnalism, my friends.

Permalink: 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2007

With strangers like these

Last week, a e-mail arrived in the inbox of an account I don't use much anymore. It was from a guy named Ben, who wanted to wish me well and hoped I'm having a great time coaching. Except, you know, I'm not coaching anybody. And I don't know Ben. The e-mail went on for quite a bit, and ended with:

You are such a powerful man, Jason. You are going to do so much good (and already are) - I'm excited to watch and hear about what you're up to. Let me know how you're doing and if you need anything. Thanks!
I wrote him back, explaining that he has e-mailed the wrong person. And then, cheekily, I concluded:

And hey, I don't turn away compliments such as "you're such a powerful man" lightly!
To which he responded:

Sorry about the mix-up, Jason. I would say that the compliment about being a powerful man could be said about any man, once he was coming from his true self.
I, uh... thanks?

Permalink: 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2007

Someone's kampf against the floor

Last year, I posted a picture of the curiously Nazi-esq floor in my friend's Allston apartment building. Here's a slice:


It elicited a fair amount of commentary on this blog, and even an entry at the very bottom of Wikipedia's entry on "Western use of the Swastika in the early 20th century." But strangely, in all the time my friend's lived there, nobody in the building's actually been too worked up about it. Floor sympathizers? No! Finally, someone takes a brave stand against the tyranny of tiling. Here's a note my friend found posted in her lobby today:


Permalink: 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2007

Why they should teach math in journalism class

The New York Times has an interesting piece today about presidential candidates' use of private jets. The issue: Candidates prefer to use flights on private jets that are owned by friendly companies, because they legally only have to reimburse those companies by paying first-class commercial air rates. That's far cheaper than paying for a chartered flight, the paper says:

The savings can be substantial. A chartered Hawker 800, a midsize, twin-engine corporate jet from Washington, D.C., to Manchester, N.H., would cost about $7,000, according to CSI Aviation services, an air charter company. The Hawker seats 8 to 13 passengers. If a candidate were to reimburse a company for the use of a corporate jet at first-class rates, the same flight would cost less than $700 per person.

Do the math on this: The supposedly more-expensive chartered flight costs $7,000, and can carry 13 people. The corporate jet costs $700 per person -- or $9,100 for 13 people. How is that a substantial savings? Sure, it'd be nice and cheap if the candidate was flying alone, but how often does that happen? Am I missing something here?

Permalink: 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2007

If you’re going to be derogatory, at least do it right


I was taking a train on the Green Line yesterday, and as it pulled into a station, the conductor announced that the train was being taken out of service and we’d all have to exit and board the next one. So, we did. After one stop on the new train, the conductor announced that it was also being taken out of service.

“This is like the retard bus,” a teenage dude behind me said to his girlfriend.

“That’s very inappropriate,” a middle-aged woman next to him said.

“But, I mean, like, it’s not working right,” he said. “It’s a retard bus.”

“You mean ‘short bus,’” she said.

“Oh, right. Sorry. It’s like a short bus.”

Permalink: 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2007

Still a few reps of bitterness left

A year ago, I wrote on this blog about my harrowing first journey into gym membership. My conclusion was this:

The gym has opened a wound in my bank account, and it won’t stop bleeding for a year. At this point, the best I can do is get my money’s worth -- and wait, as the days crawl by, for July 19, 2007, so life can go back to normal.

Just before I moved to Boston a few months ago, I tried canceling my membership at this Gold’s Gym in the ‘burbs, but an employee there said I couldn’t do that until my full year was up. (Or, well, I could, but I’d be paying a cancellation fee that's more than it’d cost to simply run out the membership.) Fine, I said. I’ll wait. And so I moved, and then forgot all about it -- until a kind and eagle-eyed reader of this blog named Jessica e-mailed me on Thursday: “I just wanted to say congratulations,” she wrote, “because it is at this very moment July 19, 2007 and you are officially free of Gold's Gym. You made it!” I did! I made it! I made it... by going to the gym for a few months, moving, not signing up for a gym in Boston, and wasting gobs of money. But, well, whatever. The nightmare is over.

Except, it isn’t. Because as Jessica noted, “Gyms are like the grown up version of Columbia House CDs-by-mail.”

The descent started when I called up Gold’s Gym to make sure my membership had indeed expired, and the guy at the desk put me on hold for 10 minutes. When he came back, he told me I needed to call a company called ABC Financial in North Little Rock, Arkansas, because they handle my account. “So,” I said, “I can open a membership with you, but I can’t close one?”

“Right,” he said.


So I called ABC Financial, navigated its automated phone system, and finally reached a very stern woman with little time and patience for my inquiry. Here’s the deal, she said: My membership automatically renews, and the only way to stop it is to send a certified letter to ABC Financial -- and after a 30-day period, it’ll be processed.

“Wait,” I said. “So I’m going to send a letter, and it’s going to sit around for 30 days before you act on it?”

“No, it doesn’t sit around” she said, the way a teacher scolds a class-clown flunkie. “You’re going to send a letter, we’ll receive it, and then there’s a 30-day processing time.”

“I still don’t get it,” I said. “So I’m going to send a letter, and you’ll get it, and then you won’t act on it for 30 days?”

“No,” she said. “You’re going to send a letter, we’ll receive it and cancel your account, and then there’s a 30-day processing time.”

“I see,” I said. “So I’m going to send a letter, you’ll get it and cancel my account, but I’m still going to be charged an extra month at the gym.”

“Correct,” she said.

I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. Gyms are notoriously seedy (as my friend Julia wrote in a local Boston paper), and their contracts are full of trickery and borderline scams. It’s a disgusting business, locking people into confusing and expensive agreements, and then, when customers call it quits, being deceptive so as to squeeze every possible penny out of them. When I went to mail my certified letter, a woman at the post office told me that her son once applied to work at a gym, and they tricked him into signing on for a three-year membership. It’s like the mob: Once you sign on, they’ll abuse you until you give up far more than you bargained for.

And all of this would make sense if they were the mob, an organization that wouldn’t exist if it didn’t take advantage of people. But gyms aren’t. Gyms are popular. They’re in vogue. People go to them willingly, and often. Gold's Gym has three million members. There’s no actual reason to build gym contracts this way -- or, hell, to make people sign contracts at all -- except to be exploitative. And I can only hope that one day, some enterprising fitness nut will recognize that there's an easy way to compete with thugs like Gold's Gym, and open up a club that treats people with some respect. Because when that happens, the game will have to change.

Permalink: 09:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2007

Three cheers for puberty

Last night I started reading "Hey, Look" on the Shouts & Murmurs page in the New Yorker, which starts out like this:

What I imagined the people around me were saying when I was . . .


“Oh, man, I can’t believe that kid Simon missed that ground ball! How pathetic!”

“Wait. He’s staring at his baseball glove with a confused expression on his face. Maybe there’s something wrong with his glove and that’s why he messed up.”

“Yeah, that’s probably what happened.”

I laughed out loud. Multiple times. At just that. So I called my girlfriend over, and read the rest of the piece aloud. Each little item -- when he's 12, when he's 13, etc. -- and I guffawed, occasionally slapping the magazine as if it's an old buddy. She listened, and smiled at some of the jokes.

At the end, she said, "This piece called you out, didn't it?

"Yeah," I said. "It did."

Permalink: 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2007

Another reason for Christian fundamentalists to hate Harry Potter

I saw the new Harry Potter movie this weekend, and spent much of it trying to figure out why Dolores Umbridge, the bureaucratic henchman who alters childrens' education to match her boss's political needs, looked so familiar. And then, the ah-hah moment:


Left: Dolores Umbridge, as portrayed by actress Imelda Staunton. Right: Margaret Spellings, current U.S. secretary of education. Is it just me, or is her water glass partially obscuring a wand?

Permalink: 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2007

Table Scraps:

I'M GOING THROUGH some old e-mails, and realized I forgot to update a previous blog post. Remember when my Trader Joe's bread had snot? The company wrote me to explain: "We're not sure what this is. We believe it may be a piece of fruit from another baked good made by the baker, but we'd like to take a look at it. We'd also like to replace your bread or get you a refund. At your convenience, we'd like to ask that you return the loaf to one of our stores and ask to fill out a product complaint form." At that point, though, I had already thrown out the loaf, so there was no refund for me. Oh well.

ACTUAL, USEFUL DATA that's been transformed into something cooler but less useful? That, my friend, is what the web is for. (It's the product of Jason Nelson, a HappyScrappy reader who e-mailed me to hawk his product. Open invitation: Got something worth linking here? Show me!)

PLUGGERS: A COMIC working in plugs.

I ONCE COVERED a military ceremony, in which some recently returned guys from Iraq got medals. Before it all happened, though, some priest got up and had a lot to say about Jesus. Seemed somewhat, uh, illegal to me, but what do I know? Turns out, that's just the tip of it.

WHY DO PEOPLE make fake license plates? Presumably, for this exact reason.

COLUMBUS ZOO HOLDS a contest to name its new water park, many entries are submitted, and it announces the winner: Zoombezi Bay. But nobody thought to register -- except for some local guy, who snatched it up for $8.95. Now a zoo spokesman is playing dumb on local TV: "We created it; the public voted for it -- why not let the public have it?" he says. What an awful argument, and one I see many confounded businesses make: They position their profit as for the public good. Wrong. Unless you've entered a profit-sharing agreement with the public, this website address isn't the public's. It's yours. So if you want it back, cough up the cash and pay off this local dude.


Permalink: 08:57 AM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2007

Scents and Sensibility

I’m quoted in this week’s Science News (cover, right), in a story about research into smell loss. It’s the second time a reporter has used me as a source for this topic, but the first time a reporter managed to mix up my life with a script from Leave it to Beaver. From Science News:

While he was in the kitchen, his girlfriend called to him from another room to ask whether something was burning. "I said no," Feifer recalls, and when his girlfriend asked if he was sure, he replied emphatically, "Yes, ma'am."

In fact, a malfunctioning electric grill just inches away from him had begun spewing stinky, black smoke.

True story, that. I even used it as the lede in the piece I wrote about my smell loss for the Washington Post. But never, ever have I called her “ma'am.” I just want that on record.

In any case, the Science News piece relies heavily on a doctor, Robert Henkin, who I also interviewed for my Post piece. When we spoke two years ago, he was dismissive of other taste-and-smell docs, and told me he was developing groundbreaking treatments that go far beyond what anyone else has done. That struck me as suspiciously boastful, and anyway, the piece was focused on first-person experience and didn’t have room to get into a debate over research methods. So, he ended up playing a small role in the story. Science News now cites Henkin's studies as very promising, though, so perhaps he was on to something after all. That’s great. Judging from the letters I got from readers of my piece, smell and taste loss can be a pretty depressing thing (although not for me, because I can’t remember ever having the senses), so the more promising research out there, the better.

Permalink: 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

July 09, 2007

Step one to building a better mousetrap: Forget the old mousetrap

My alma mater just built a new dorm, and have installed eco-friendly toilets in it. Here’s one, via a story in the newspaper I once worked for:


They’re simple enough to use: Push the handle up if you pissed, or down if there’s something more solid to flush. That’ll instruct the toilet to use the proper amount of water for the job, which is a great, valuable method of conservation. I’ve seen systems like this outside the country, and always wished they were more common here. But there’s one fault with this particular toilet: Even though instructions are posted nearby, few people will use it correctly.

It’s a common problem when a routine function is retooled to be environmentally friendly: By trying to closely emulate the appearance of the old system (in this case, the old toilet), the design fails to break people of their routines. Just think of the last time you saw a designated recycling bin on a street corner or in a pizza shop. It’s usually right next to a trash bin, but people are throwing garbage and recyclables in both. It’s not because they don’t care; it’s because they’re not paying attention, and the recycling bin isn’t different enough for them to take notice. People don’t think when they’re doing routine things like flushing toilets or throwing away garbage. It’s too common. They do this stuff every day.

What these initiatives need is a fresh design, which is simple to understand but different enough to make people notice. Here’s a fine example:


That’s a toilet in Melbourne, Australia, in a hotel I stayed in. After I used the toilet, it was clear that these buttons were the key to flushing -- and because there was no handle to instinctively flick down, I had to consider what these buttons were for. It was soon obvious -- they’re either half-flush or whole flush, depending on how much flushing is needed -- and I made my choice.

Simply changing the color of a familiar toilet handle won’t stop people from unthinkingly pushing it down. And for that matter, it makes even less sense to repurpose this handle, because it was already designed for a specific purpose: It's to be pushed down by foot, so that users don't have to expose themselves to germs by touching it with their hands. Asking them to pull up is not only counterintuitive, but counterproductive: After touching the handle, they’ll probably use more water at the sink washing their hands. It’s great the school is thinking about water conservation, but a simple redesign could have made it so much more effective.

Permalink: 12:02 AM | Comments (3)