Monday, November 23, 2009


When I was nineteen years old, my Political Science professor told me that the best way to understand politics was to look at the two words that make up politics: poli (or poly, meaning "many") and tics (or ticks, meaning "blood sucking leeches"). Over the last few weeks, I've found out that there's substantially more to it than that.

Apparently our system of government is not as simple as I thought it was. Take something simple, like electing a mayor. I thought that the process was that everyone votes, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Apparently this is not the case, at least in New York City. Now, I don't know what the exact process is, but surely it can't be the simple voting that I thought it was, because according to popular news programs (and even more popular fake news programs that people don't seem to understand are full of jokes), everybody in New York City was irate at the mere notion of Mayor Bloomberg running for another term. Yet somehow he was chosen to be our Mayor yet again. I don't understand the intricacies of how, but if the entire city was against him, as the news would have me believe, then surely he couldn't have been elected democratically. Come on, what's more likely: the media being wrong or misleading about popular opinion, or secret plots that subvert democracy? Clearly something shady is going on here.

Presidential elections are more complicated thanks to the electoral college (which is a lot like the Queen of England: if it tried to exercise it's true political power people would revolt, and it's mostly around for sentimental reasons at this point), but I thought I had a handle on those too. Apparently not. See, the other day I tried to get onto a crowded subway, but people just stood there by the doors and didn't move back toward the middle (if only Phil, the former SLO transit bus driver were there), until a guy finally said something and people started to move. At that point he informed me, "You gotta say something sometimes. People don't say anything anymore--that's how Bush got elected." Really? That's how Bush got elected? I always thought it was the 271 electoral votes (or 286 if we're talking about 2004). You mean all people have to do is say something and it negates 50 million votes?

People don't seem to know about this option. What we need to do is have one big, publicized day where everyone "says something" in an orderly fashion. People should go to a specific place and say (or maybe just write down, to save time) who they think should be President. Or if they can't make it on that particular day, they can mail it in. Then we can have people whose job it is to look at all of that and see who should be President. Hm... this sounds vaguely familiar.

While I'm on the subject of politics, let me share with you another wonderful nugget I heard this week: "The thing about politics is that it's very, very political." I'll be honest, when I read that, it sounds like a pretty dumb thing to say, but that wasn't the case when I heard it. No, when I heard it, it sounded like an incredibly dumb thing to say, because the guy who said it had that obnoxious "I'm better than everyone and I know everything, so come and listen attentively to my wisdom" tone that scene kids get when they talk about music or my old boss Nelson gets when he talks about anything. And the best part was, the context of it was him explaining to his disciples what people on my side of the political spectrum believe. Yes, please tell me what I think about healthcare, taxes, and guns. Had I not been working at the time I would have set him straight. Okay, I probably wouldn't have, but I at least could have gotten out of earshot.

So what's the moral of the story? Vote. Or don't. Tell me what and whom you are going to vote for, then I'll tell you whether or not you should.

Just kidding. Vote.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Observations from the P Train

Today, I write about one of the differences between men and women. Now, if you are among those who believe that men and women are psychologically the same, let me defend myself before getting your undergarments of choice in a twist. I firmly believe that this difference is a result of men having years of training in a related area that women have not. If women grew up with this same training, I am confident this difference would not exist. But it does (or at least it appears to based on my scientific process of noticing it from time to time), so I'm going to write about it.

The difference that has come to my attention is that men are significantly better at choosing seats on the subway than women.

First, let's look at an example of where men sit on a subway car. For the sake of simplicity, let's say there is only one group of seats (even though there are really more). The same principles apply to actual seating arrangements, but it's easier to discuss this way. When the first man walks in, he sits at one end of the seats. The next man will then sit at the opposite end. If a third man comes in, he sits in the exact middle. If more come in, they sit in the middle of the longest section of open seats, until there is only a single seat separating each man. If another man comes in at this point, he stands and waits until there is a 3-seat opening for him to sit in the middle of.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. First, there's the close friend exception. If a man is with a close friend, they can use the seats directly next to each other (but only if that is the only way they can both sit, and only if doing so still allows for a buffer between the friends and anyone else). The second exception is the crowded exception. If a train starts to get crowded, men can fill in the buffer seats, but if they do under no circumstances do they look directly at the person next to them. This exception is used only when it starts to get noticeably crowded; if there's just a few extra guys, they stand.

Women sit... I don't know. I haven't noticed any real pattern. Some will follow the same pattern as the males. I assume that these are long time New Yorkers who have learned the right place to go. But sometimes they'll sit one seat away from the edge, making the edge seat completely useless. It's quite aggravating.

So let this be a friendly reminder: space is precious, so spread out and make it easy for everyone else to do the same.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who Monitors the Monitors?

Because of this pesky thing I like to call "rent," I had to get a job when I came to New York. (Other pesky things include food, bills, and school supplies). I hit the proverbial pavement, and since then I've collected a few jobs, actually, since none of them individually would be able to support me. Of the two or three that I have, however, the only one that I've actually started (besides one hour of training for one of my programming jobs) is my lab monitor job.

Let me say this: if you are in school, a lab monitor job is the best gig you can get. In the 12 hours I've worked so far this week, I've had to clear one paper jam and tell a student that the air conditioning is broken. Other than that, I've done homework. And Sudoku. And crossword puzzles. Now, don't get me wrong. By no means do I think that having lab monitors is a waste of money. Lab monitors are like security guards: most of the time we just sit around, but that's the price you have to pay to make sure we're there when the problems do arise. Really, the main difference between lab monitors and security guards is that there are fewer derogatory nicknames for lab monitors.

But the fact of the matter is that most of the time we're not solving problems. Most of the time, I just sit here. And I say "here" rather than "there" because at this very moment I am monitoring a lab. I just looked around the room again, and everything is under control.

The problem is, however, that some students are not content with how easy the job is already. Apparently some people just don't bother to show up at all, and the omerta that is drilled into us all from our days on the playground lets them get away with it. I can't really complain, though, since I probably wouldn't say anything if someone didn't show up either. It's also possible to show up, but not do anything even if someone does have a problem. You know, there are times when I don't want to do anything, but even on a bad day I think I could handle doing ten minutes of work in the three hour shift I'm being paid for.

What's the solution? There are a couple of ways to go. One would be to get rid of lab monitors completely. I'm not too Keane on that idea though (if you got that joke, by the way, you are not only incredibly nerdy, you are also way too in tune with my strangely connected thoughts). While it would get rid of lazy lab monitors that waste university dollars, it would also make it harder on the students who are shelling out those dollars. Another solution would be to hire lab monitor monitors, who would watch us to make sure we're doing our jobs. The problem with this, is that they might not do that job well either. If there's one thing I've learned, it's not to underestimate the laziness of people. I think Jack Donaghy said it best when he said, "When you think about it, there is no answer." Of course, he said that because he didn't listen to what the other person was saying, but I think his point is strong nonetheless.

The bottom line is this: if you are already being paid to not do anything 90 percent of the time, don't mess it up for the rest of us by trying to be lazy 100 percent of the time.