James M. Flammang, author of more than two dozen
books (including six for children), is at work on
several more, including the title described below.

A veteran automotive journalist, Flammang concentrates
on the "big picture," whether he's writing about cars,
consumer issues, simpler living, or any other topic.

During 2013, Flammang is expanding his efforts into
the areas of work/labor, consumer concerns, and travel.



Absurdities

Logical Lapses in everyday life and thought

by James M. Flammang


Is poverty an inevitable part of modern life, just
because it's always been there? That's Absurd!


Topic Outline


Note: Absurdities is an ongoing project. By the time this book is ready for publication, more topics are sure to emerge. Therefore, publishers are advised to consider this Topic Outline as tentative. Some new topics may be added, others modified a bit; and a few possibly deleted.

Section I: Identity

Heroism: Courage vs. cowardice
Who's heroic, anyway? Is it ever heroic to do a great deed that's a regular part of your job–essentially, the duty you signed on for? Does everyone who performs what's deemed a heroic act fully deserve the honors and medals that are issued? Is it heroic if you're not afraid to step into the fray? Here we consider who the real heroes are, and who might actually be the true cowards–and who fall somewhere in between.

Wimps and Geeks
High-school nerds didn't all become dot-com and venture-capital billionaires. Most are toiling at dull jobs, unnoticed and unappreciated, trudging their way through life without respect–much like their more popular "everyman" colleagues. Typically branded cowardly and weak, these put-upon–mostly male–young folks who fall into the wimp/geek category face hardships at every waking moment that would devastate their he-man and girl-power cohorts. Yet, they're belittled and scorned, if not outright bullied–and the nasty treatment doesn't necessarily stop after school days have ended.

Fashion (non)sense
Who ever said fashion means anything at all? Why did we believe him or her? Long ago, a men's wear salesman–doubtless smelling a commission–insisted that fashion was important to men and women alike. In this essay, we consider whether the fashion business provides a real benefit to society, or is just a monumental moneymaker for its perpetrators. We also discuss what the emphasis on style does to people of modest means, who, like their more affluent cousins, have likely been tricked into believing that fashionable folks really do matter most.

Am I Gay?
How many young men (and women) have been tormented by this concern, because they were taught–directly or implicitly–that nothing could be worse that discovering you're "one of them." How many of those homophobes making "queer" jokes feared that they were really gay themselves, underneath? So many of these instances of mistaken identity came about because people loved to point to irrelevant traits as indicators of "gayness." This essay observes the role of flamboyant gays as well as the quiet ones, to demonstrate that extraneous issues of appearance and behavior have always been irrelevant. Long ago, I went through this phenomenon sporadically, deemed homosexual because I was shy, read books, and shunned sports. "You aren't," I was finally told by an acquaintance who was (if secretly), calling a halt to my fretting. Many never got such assurance, and spent years wondering what they really were. Is the supposed stigma of gayness really all that different today, with frantic opponents of gay marriage appearing regularly on the news?

Making of a Man
Veterans of the Marine Corps, in particular, retain a camaraderie that includes perceiving themselves as more manly than the mass of men. So do past and present members of other communal groups that are vociferously male-dominated, seeking to indoctrinate and establish an esprit that lasts a lifetime. As a result, those who were not part of such a collective often are, in the eyes of the in-group, never quite the men that these few were–and still are. What does this sense of "belonging" accomplish, for those who are part of such a group? Does it harm the outsiders in any real way? How does membership or non-membership affect a person's overall life attitudes? Essentially, this essay looks at what constitutes a "real man" in American society, in both the past and present.

Celebrity Worship: Is there no end?
Film stars, pop stars, sports figures. Just because they have a specific talent, are they to be idolized? Why did they have to call that popular TV show "American Idol?" Does the winner really have to be an idol? Isn't it enough just to be judged good at what you do, or exceptionally talented? Here, we look at why so many of us are so tantalized by celebs, asking if our own lives are truly that dull in comparison. This chapter also gazes at the activities of what might be dubbed "little celebs," such as authors who appear at book signings. Whatever happened to the notion of having one's work speak for itself? If an author has to explain what his or her latest book is about, after the fact, hasn't that writer failed? Why, too, should any of us care about an author's (or any celebrity's) personal habits and foibles. Would we ask similar questions of a dentist, lawyer, or gardener?

Big Boobs for small minds
No one can deny the attraction of a female breast. That's normal, and artists have known about their aesthetic appeal for centuries. What isn't quite that normal, or logical, is the fascination with oversize orbs. Not only do countless men proclaim a preference for immense bust sizes, but plenty of women are throwing big bucks at plastic surgeons to augment their natural dimensions. This occurs even when the natural originals are ample and shapely as they stand. Why would anyone go through what amounts to serious surgery for what seems, to some of us, a frivolous purpose? Many say it makes them feel more womanly. But why? How much is a reaction to the comments men who have learned, in this sex-oriented age, to equate size with sexiness? Before leaving this subject, we also take a look at the attempts by men to increase the size of their own sexual organs, even if they currently fall right into the normal category.

Curious Rebellion: Tats and piercings
Rebellion is normal for young folks, but what's the attraction here? Are those who adorn themselves in increasingly bizarre ways aware that such means of decoration began with primitive people, going back thousands of years? Would it matter? Some of the adornments can be considered cute; others gross, at least to mainstream eyes. Here, we consider how–and why–tattoos and piercings that used to be the province of certain occupational groups and social classes became so mainstream in just a few years. What message, in particular, is sent by piercings on the nipples, genitals, and navel, not to mention the tongue? Along the way, we'll take a quick look at unconventional apparel as well, to see if it's really as nonconformist as the wearer likely believes. Finally, we'll have a few comments about the trend toward shaving of pubic hair, fully removing what has since the beginning of time been a secondary sexual characteristic.

Section II: Money

Fat Paydays: Sorry, Greed Is Not Great
Why have we become so blase about excessive pay and rewards for top executives and financial barons? How working people, who struggle daily just to get by, can accept–and even applaud–the disastrous antics of the titans and super-rich is a mystery. Have they not noticed the level of inconsistency and unfairness that pervades our economic system? Do they not see how those on top are heaped with rewards that are far out of accord with the usefulness of what they do–provided they do anything at all, and aren't actively engaged in dismantling the economy from within by their greed. In a battle between CEOs and workers, management versus labor, why are the "big boys" invariably deemed deserving of victory, in the minds of so many? Most puzzling: Why do so many of us who fall into the working class take the side of big business? It's not only business and finance, of course. We happily support the multi-millions that go to sports figures, movie stars, and amorphous celebrities, while blithely ignoring (or even scoffing at) the plight of teachers, social workers, laborers. This essay ponders why we put up with these grotesque disparities. Have the protests against anti-union legislative actions that began in Wisconsin in February 2011 resulted in a meaningful change in public attitude toward wealth and greed, or is it a lost cause?

Money Isn't Everything–It's Nothing At All
Underneath our avariciousness, most of us realize that the pursuit of money–to the exclusion of more civil activities–isn't a good thing. Yet, money rules. Everywhere. Art, literature, science, medical care, education. Nearly nothing is exempt anymore from pecuniary considerations. Logically, success in any moral or rational sense should be unrelated to the acquisition of wealth. In the overall scheme of things, it's nothing. So, why has it assumed such overwhelming importance in everyday life? How did we get to the point where virtually every single thing we do is based on money? Why do so few of us grasp this, or even consider it worth a thought? Why are we–regardless of our status–so utterly driven by money and greed, and envy of wealth? To question this foundation of daily life is heresy and radical, of course; but that's the purpose of this essay.

Credit and Debt
You are what you owe. That's practically what the modern world has come to. Children today are taught personal finance poorly, if at all–just as they have been for decades. Instead, they're taught to be nice, obedient little consumers. They learn that it's acceptable–probably even good–to be in debt. All that matters, some educators appear to suggest, is that you have some clue as to what you're getting into. Altogether, youngsters learn–either directly or implicitly–that debt is nothing to fear. As a result, we have frightful rates of piled-up credit-card debt, the mortgage-foreclosure scandal, and millions of Americans going bankrupt to get away from their debts. This essay asks whether there's another way to live besides surviving on monthly payments.

End Poverty Now
Let's quit saying it can't be done. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. That was the theme of a 2005 movie, Girl in the Cafe, where the main character is attending the G8 Summit–again–but the discerning young lady he meets and who accompanies him asks why they're accomplishing little more than setting the time for the next Summit. Only one question should ever be asked: Are there, or are there not, sufficient resources and services worldwide. If some are lacking, do something about that shortage. Don't use it as an excuse. Acknowledge the horrific obstacles, devote every effort to overcoming them, but don't let them set the agenda. Because the ultimate issue is inevitably distribution. Therefore, just do it. Starting right now. Is providing a survival-level income for everyone really asking too much? We could do it tomorrow, if the will were there–but there's a dreadful and unfathomable shortage of that crucial commodity.

Greed: The guy who started it all
Many millennia ago, some ambitious early human decided trading would be more personally beneficial if he obtained an item for a given "price," then sold it to another prehistoric person for a higher one. Thus came the profit motive–and the basic foundation for greed, as time went by. No one is ever supposed to question the profit motive, because that's doubting capitalism. Therefore, the inquirer must be a communist, or at least a socialist. In reality, the profit motive can be seen as having done vastly more harm than good, if we're able to look boldly past the strictly economic elements. Still, we have to wonder how that very first greedy guy got the other prehistoric folk to follow his lead, Why were they so willing to let him amass the great bulk of the profits from an endeavor, whatever form they took in those days.

Surprise! Some of us like to pay taxes
During 2011, the average tax "burden" for Americans reached its lowest level since 1958. Yet, all we seem to hear from politicians, pundits, and ordinary people are complaints that they're paying too much in taxes. In contrast, some of us believe Americans are grossly undertaxed. We concur with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said: “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." This chapter looks at the amounts we've actually been paying over the years, wonders why it's so common to complain about overtaxation, and attempts to clarify the purpose of taxation in a democratic society.

Healing for Profit
Few social critics would find anything wrong with paying for a loaf of bread, a theater ticket, an automobile, a home. Under a capitalist system, purveyors of each of those commodities are entitled to make a profit. But some of us cannot understand how medical treatment has come to fall into the for-profit category. Big profits, at that. How can doctors and hospital administrators, not to mention pharmaceutical suppliers, possibly justify making money off someone's illness or injury? Worse yet, how can they justify the insurance-based health-care system–which at least a few critics view as parasitical. Furthermore, why are people so petrified by the thought of a single-payer, government-backed system, and even aghast at the mild reforms emanating from what has been regularly derided as "Obamacare?"

Whatever happened to the guaranteed income?
Richard Nixon, of all people, wanted it. Maybe not for the same reason as liberals, but he saw the ultimate value. So did prime economist Milton Friedman. Here, we look at the heretical notion that in a civilized world, a minimal guaranteed income is essential as a "floor." As a bonus, it could do away with unemployment benefits, welfare, and a host of stopgap measures. Anyone who isn't satisfied with the minimum could work and engage in commercial enterprise to his or her heart's content. In fact, a civilized society should have tasks for everyone who cares to participate. But wouldn't it be dandy if there were no obligation to work more and earn more than the minimum, if that happened to be satisfying personally.

Why So Many Banks?
Who's making all those transactions? With so much banking done online nowadays, the number of banks should logically be declining, not escalating beyond reason. Here, we ponder why practically every other street corner in our cities seems to have at least one.

Section III: Work

Our Biggest Myth: That there's a job for everyone who wants to work
Of all the myths and absurdities we live by, this is one of the most damaging. It wasn't even entirely true decades ago, when jobs were plentiful. There always were people who didn't qualify, didn't fit in, failed to participate in the workforce. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, with unemployment officially wavering around 7 to 8 percent (and the actual figure far higher), it should be obvious that there never will be a job of any kind for everyone, much less one that's worth having. As novelist B. Traven put it in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, someone will always eagerly tell an idle person that he should get a job. But that ever-so-helpful advisor never has a job to offer, or knows of anyone who does.

Needed Now: Jobs, Not Careers
They're not the same, and the difference puts millions of potential workers in jeopardy. For decades, young people have been induced to follow career paths, many of which have led to dead ends. That's even more true now, with fewer and fewer usable paths remaining open. Jobs for the short-term are crucial at a time when careers are difficult, if not impossible, to undertake.

Voluntary Slavery
To a shocking extent, that's what many jobs have become–especially when people cling to them to survive and, especially, to remain insured. Professionals and executives are in a different work world, filled with choices. For the rest of us, work is more often a matter of taking the first job that comes along, and then feeling obligated to remain rather than rejoin the unemployment line. Without insulting those who have suffered–and continue to suffer–from true physical slavery in its various forms, we look at the unfortunate trend toward workers sticking to jobs they hate, year after year.

Hate Your Job?
Countless numbers of workers do exactly that. Should they? What can they do about it in hard times? One survey suggested that 84 percent of workers were looking for another job while working at the current one. Is this a workforce that's happy in their toil, as those on top would have us believe? Not likely, when you consider how many in the upper levels of the workaday world have a perpetual resume out there for consideration, and how many at less-lofty positions would leave immediately if circumstances permitted.

Career Paths: Shouldn't "None" be an option?
Some of us aren't meant to be career people; or perhaps, to have a job at all. Maybe all we need is a way to earn enough to survive, and we'd then we wholly content. How do we get past the "slacker" stigma that's invariably attached to people who choose not to follow the conventional worklife and, worse yet, appear to enjoy their idle periods? We take a quick look at categories of slackers, including beats and hippies of the past, hoboes and tramps before that, and dissatisfied workers today who know that simply getting a different job isn't the solution.

New Ways to Look at Work
Clearly, the traditional approaches to work and employment aren't working. Yet, most experts appear to be incapable of looking past the old ways and coming up with fresh ideas. Here, we consider some of those ideas, which are going to become essential as the number of available conventional jobs continues to decline.

Reject! For some applicants, job search is futile exercise
Face it, some folks just aren't able to find work–ever. They're counted out from the start. Many more find themselves booted off the employment highway at some point in their worklives, whether through layoffs, firings, or inability to cope, and they cannot discern a way to climb back aboard. Heretical as it sounds, still others are simply incapable of working, even if they appear to be physically able. In this essay, we ponder what can–and should–be done with those who will never fit in.

Job Search shouldn't be a career in itself
A whole industry has sprung up to help unemployed folks search for jobs, take tests, and pass interviews. Admirable as these efforts appear to be, and often are, they're sometimes misguided and naive. Why should people spend weeks, even months, studying and practicing how to get a job? What most of them need is a job they can do, right now–right this minute. Why are we putting people through this, when we know that many of them aren't going to find work by this process anyway?

Job Troubles stem from other people
Not all, of course; but far more often than is commonly thought. How many employees go home at night crying–or wanting to? Whether it's bullying or browbeating, boneheaded bosses, sexual or other harassment, callous co-workers, or quarrelsome customers, workplace anguish can easily make people depressed, angry, and ill. Is that the kind of laboring society we want to have? Most notably, why does this insidious phenomenon get so little attention in the countless books and articles written about work issues?

Jobs That Count
They're not as numerous as we may think, if we look closely at what people really do, and what they've accomplished at day's end. Certainly, doctors, nurses, and teachers are performing valuable services (most of them, at any rate). What about data shufflers (who have replaced the stereotypical paper shufflers), salespeople, marketers, PR folks, financial manipulators? In between are jobs that sound worthy, but may be far less so in reality, upon closer scrutiny. Most important, we need to recognize that not all jobs are good or beneficial. Some are demeaning, dangerous, and/or debilitating–psychologically and spiritually, if not physically.

Nonsense Questions
Isn't it time to get rid of job interviews that don't relate to the task under consideration, but are mainly ways to weed people out–justifiably or not? For decades, job applicants have been asked questions, filled out lengthy forms, and taken obtuse tests, few of which had anything to do with the job for which they were applying. This practice has produced a lot of makework for human resources "professionals" and industrial psychologists, but is there any tangible evidence to show that these methods have truly resulted in better employees?

Future Work
For a quick look at what could be a workable future for labor, let's ponder what some folks are willing to do to earn money, rather than take a conventional job: prostitute, dancing girl, nude model, criminal, thug, drug dealer, mercenary–all dubious yet popular "careers." In this essay, we also look at the overemphasis on remunerative work as the sole possibility for fulfillment, which stems largely from the Judeo-Christian concept of toil (good) vs. laziness/sloth (bad). When will we give up on applying such stigmas to those who are presumed to be "non-productive?"

Work and Pleasure: Can they really coincide?
In Colonial America, as in most earlier societies, the very idea that work could be pleasurable was heretical and rarely came to mind. Work was supposed to be hard–the harder the better. Why? Because that was the primary way to prove you deserved to get to heaven later on. Only in recent times has work been deemed potentially pleasurable for at least some of us, only in certain cultures. Looking more closely, however, we find that many of the pleasures that are derived during a day's employment have little or nothing to do with the job at hand.

Section IV: Politics and Law

Democracy R.I.P.
The dreadful ramifications of the Supreme Court decision declaring that corporations can contribute as much as they like to political campaigns–without accountability–has barely begun to be noticed, much less felt. This essay looks at that Citizens United case, and wonders if there is any way for democracy to make a comeback in the wake of such an absurd giveaway of power to the corporate interests.

Boo! Yikes, it's a Socialist!
Ever since Barack Obama began running for president, and more so following his election and re-election, allegations of socialism have run wild. Who's afraid of the big bad socialist? Just about everyone, it seems–certainly, everyone in the center or right politically. And even those on the left, who increasingly have appeared to be petrified by the very word, struggling to distance themselves from any statement or act that could conceivably be branded as socialist in nature. Clearly, the "center" of political thought has moved quite a distance to the right, so formerly mainstream solutions to social problems can now be branded as leftist social engineering. Actual socialists find this laughable, but in this new atmosphere of fear, even mildly left-leaning pundits and activists are treading on dangerous ground when espousing progressive reforms. We also take a quick look at the Acorn case of a few years back, as an example of what political hysteria has already accomplished in moving the country far rightward.

Who's afraid of the big bad immigrant?
If any imagined enemy has stirred the emotions as much as socialists, it's immigrants–notably, undocumented workers from Mexico. Here, we take a close look at the Arizona immigration law and others that have sprouted lately, and observe just who these frightful "illegals" are. We also look back at the bracero program that once allowed Mexicans to enter the U.S. to work, and wonder why a modern, reasonable, humane equivalent hasn't been seriously promoted.

Immigration and the right to free travel
As the world becomes smaller due to vastly improved communication and shared cultural icons, restrictions on travel grow instead of ease. Long ago, B. Traven wrote in The Death Ship of the absurdity of requiring people to possess and present "papers," noting that before World War I, it wasn't an issue in much of the world. Then, after making the world "safe for democracy," the authorities flip-flopped, making it harder and harder for most people to experience more of that world, much less choose to live in a country other than the one in which they happened to be born. Why are we so eager to place limits on the right of free travel and residence? Is concern about job losses really the reason, or is that a "red herring?"

Second Trial, without the rules
This chapter delves into the jury system's failings, observing that what's beautiful in theory falls well short in reality. In courtrooms across the country, trials are conducted under carefully-defined sets of rules. Yet, after the trial itself has ended, a second trial takes place in the jury room, with no rules or requirements other than a verdict. Result: an invitation to intimidation. Can people be trusted not to make up their minds early, and not to talk about the case? Or think about it? When unanimous verdicts are required, how can there not be pressure and intimidation to bring reluctant jurors over to the other side?

"Get Out of Jail" cards
If you're found to be guilty of a crime, shouldn't you get the prescribed punishment? Mistakes are made, of course, and not everyone who's in prison is guilty of the crime he or she was charged with. No less insidiously, thousands of defendants never get to trial at all because their attorneys manage to "plea bargain" their cases down to a lower level, with reduced (or even no) punishment. If you're guilty, you belong in jail. If not, you don't. Period. Plea bargaining is simply an absurdity that turns the legal system into a travesty, each and every day. We also take a quick look at bail and fines, and their relationship to pleas.

The beauty of the law, vs. the sad reality
The U.S. Constitution, in particular its Bill of Rights, is a masterful and magnificent document, exquisite and elegant in its verbal simplicity and foresight. That it's been–and is being–interpreted to embrace repressive actions that reach far beyond anything the founding fathers could have imagined is absurd. Here, we look at several of the most notable ways in which the law is not as it appears.

Everyday Offenders
Speeders, tax evaders, illicit drug users, frauds and cheats of various sorts. Many are the ways that supposedly "honest" peoplel have managed to defy the law and, in all too many instances, to evade any punishment for their misdeeds. Here, we question how those who take a hard line against conventional crime are able to conveniently ignore the law when it stands in the way of their own pleasures and pastimes.

Section V: Consumption

Stuff: Why do we need so much?
Obviously, we don't. We only think we do. Or, does having more and more satisfy inner needs that may be only minimally related to the articles in question? By kindergarten age, young Americans already are inculcated with the notion that they're here on earth to buy and consume as much as possible. How did this happen? Why are so many of us so gullible? Is there any way to curtail our acquisitiveness, even in the face of economic strife?

Shopping as Pastime
Or, maybe this segment should be called "Shopping as Obsession." Folks who love to shop appear unable to understand that it's possible to live without perpetual shopping. Those of us who hate to shop have to ask: "What's fun about it?" How do some of us easily escape the urge, while others seemingly devote their lives to more and more acquisitions?

Members Only: Why must we join up, just to make simple transactions?
Discount cards. Membership rewards. Bonuses. Special-customer offers. Buying clubs. Whatever happened to the simple practice of stopping into a store, making a purchase, and paying at the register–preferably in cash? Now, we’re expected to whip out a membership card of some sort, which entitles us to discounted prices, special offers, and other inducements. Retailers aren’t slashing their prices to favored customers out of the goodness of their hearts. All these “benefits” are developed to make us feel we’re not merely customers, but members of the organization–serious participants in the business at hand. In addition to contemplating the rapid growth in this members-only phenomenon, this chapter takes a close look at “feedback” and surveys that we’re expected to provide after our trivial transaction has been completed. We also consider the troubling prevalence of “customer reviews,” which have been replacing professional evaluations by knowledgeable experts.

Wretched Excess
At home or on the road, we see so many examples of going big–and bigger yet. Single-occupancy cars, many of them sizable trucks, clog our roads. Oversize homes (McMansions or close to that level) house one or two people. And why, in many areas, are nearly all new condos and housing developments described as "luxury?" Can we no longer even imagine a home meant for ordinary people, rather than those who seek and demand a luxurious lifestyle?

Artificial Life
Tourist attractions created strictly for visitors; whole created communities; replicas of great designs; retro-look products. This essay looks at the many ways in which artificiality has become the norm. People are said to crave "authenticity" these days, but what they wind up with, all too often, is more artificial life. Strangely, most appear to like it that way.

Quantity trumps Quality
Back in the Fifties, in the midst of postwar prosperity, America became known as the nation where “bigger was better.” Shouldn’t we have gotten past that concept by now, especially after enduring several harsh economic downturns through recent decades? But no, the desire for something bigger persists relentlessly–and not just measured in size. Must everything we buy and use be larger, ”better,” more valuable, allegedly more user-friendly (when often the opposite is true)? Or tinier and tinier, in the case of electronics devices and microchips). And on and on. One small example: reports on movies that consider only the gross intake at the box office, and the films’ ranking in dollars earned, not whether they’re worth seeing. Everywhere we turn, it seems, there’s an emphasis on growth, whether in commerce, government, or daily life–regardless of whether that growth is good, bad or indifferent, when judged by qualities that count, rather than some form of magnitude.

Product Endorsements
On TV and elsewhere, celebrities and almost-celebs hawk their endless streams of products. They've done this for decades. Who cares? What possible difference could it make if a certain movie star or pro athlete uses a given product-or says he does, in exchange for a handsome fee. How can so many of us be so foolish as to pay even a shred of attention to product endorsements given for money? Is this just another example of the emptiness of so many of our lives, to the point that we turn over our decision-making processes to celebrities, too?

Section VI: Communication

Is Everybody Blogging?
Social media are all the rage, but is this rapidly-risen phenomenon really a total game-changer? Or is everything just broadened and speeded-up, while the basic elements of communication are declining, not expanding? People used to rant in bars (like Peter Boyle in the 1970 film, Joe), and on frenzied street corners. Now, everyone with a few dollars to set up a blog or website has his or her own forum. Trouble is, one that's conducted by a person with no particular expertise or knowledge is considered as worthy of attention as another operated by a knowledgeable professional who devotes his or her working life to a given topic. As Andrew Keen has written in The Cult of the Amateur, user-created content helps signal the death of professionalism. Here, we take a quick look at wikis, blogs, MySpace, "citizen journalists," Facebook, Second Life, Twitter, and ponder whatever might be coming next.

Technology: Sorry, but so much of it is Boring Kid Stuff
As soon as personal computers evolved from operating systems that required a bit of knowledge, becoming allegedly “user-friendly,” they also became childlike. With both Windows and Macintosh models, the shift began with such basics as calling the device “My Computer,” as a seven-year-old might do. We also have “My Pictures,” “My Videos,” and on and on. Then, in the 21st century, came “tweeting” on Twitter, YouTube, web-site “Likes,” not to mention the seeking of Followers, Fans, and Friends. All of these supposedly high-tech offshoots of computerization sound like something to attract a child’s notice, yet zillions of grown-ups participate in the nonsense. It’s all supposed to be so modern, so tomorrow (rather than “so 42 seconds ago,” as a recent commercial annoyingly specified). As devices get smaller and smaller, and operations become faster and faster yet, we’re all supposed to swoon in admiration and stand in line to be first to get the latest whatzit. Well, what’s hot, hotter and hottest to the majority is boring, boring, boring to some of us, largely because so much of it is childish–trivializing nearly every aspect of modern life. This chapter concludes with a discussion of what may be the most cringe-inducting term of all: apps.

Popularity Takes Precedence
All over the Internet, the emphasis on quality has been disappearing. It's been replaced by popularity. Even on major news sites, lists of the top five or ten stories aren't identified as the most important, the most newsworthy, the most insightful. No, they're billed as the most popular ones out there today: the stories viewed by the most readers. Why would I care whether a story is popular or not, if it's the one I consider most valuable? This chapter takes a look at the emergence and likely consequences of a phenomenon that is already proving dangerous to the priorities in society.

Sorry, Facebook: Some of us don't "like" anything
Like a stereotypical teenage girl toting up her number of friends at school, the Internet has turned into a never-ending popularity contest. Not just teens and children, but adults who should know better, are seduced by websites and social-media gathering places to express their "Like" for a given report, person, product, company, or whatever else is in need of acclaim. Well, our numbers may be small, but those of us who refuse to "Like" anything or anyone online, as a matter of principle and common sense, will win out in the end. Or will we all succumb to online loneliness, and take steps to induce everyone we deal with to "Like" us, too?

No Cell, Please: we decline to communicate
Cell phones and pagers are so universal that they're hardly noticed anymore. In virtually every country, they're used by nearly every class of people. While watching carnival festivities in a village in Chiapas, Mexico recently, we couldn't help but notice that some of the indigenous Mayan ladies in their traditional outfits had cell phones tacked to their ears. A few years ago, we didn't need to be on the phone all the time. What happened? Do desires expand to meet new technology as it appears? Yes, as we shall see, it's possible to be without a cell phone of any kind, much less the latest iPhone, iPad, or Droid. Or whatever miraculous substitute has come out since I started writing these words.

Online Everything
For so many practical daily tasks, the Internet is terrific. When you just want to buy a ticket, make an appointment, send an announcement, or a thousand other relatively trivial duties, doing it online is a lot easier than the old ways. For acquiring near-instant information, too, the web is just fine–provided you're able to separate the reliable from the doubtful, which is an increasingly tall order. But is there an end to it all? Because online services are so cheap to set up and run, companies are using them for more and more operations. Will there soon be no personal contact left in the business world? Will we all be online all day, every day, one way or another? Most important, should we be delighted by or fearful of that prospect?

TV Censorship
Europeans, Mexicans, and Canadians have to laugh at Americans, who continue to exhibit such prudishness about sex and nudity, among other taboos. All they have to do is watch a few programs on PBS, and see how much is bleeped or blurred, at a time when virtually "anything goes" on the Internet and elsewhere. Even Japanese TV is far more open. How can this be when even some basic cable stations (such as Turner Classic Movies) run uncut films. How can there still be such an anti-nudity stance, after NYPD Blue pioneered images of the human body (parts of it, at least) and sexual congress some years ago. Most ludicrous of all was the frenzy over the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" incident a while back. Americans were aghast that viewers got to see a portion of Ms. Jackson's shapely nipple on commercial TV. Why, we wonder here, are TV executives so petrified by the FCC, and why has that agency maintained a stance that should have evaporated decades ago.

Ads that say nothing ... or that know too much
Silly as advertising can be, its practitioners used to pride themselves on being capable communicators. Since they were trying to influence consumers, copywriters and art directors had to make sure their pleas were understood–and absorbed in a matter of seconds. What happened? All too often today, you can't even tell what's being pushed. Has style taken precedence over clarity to the point that no one notices? Or, are they trying to promote their wares only to viewers who somehow "know" what the ads are about, without being told? Elsewhere on the advertising spectrum, we ponder the fast-growing phenomenon of targeted ads, typically sent in our direction–like it or not–because of preferences we may have expressed in the past.

PR and Publicity
Some occupations seem to have little reason to exist in a logical world. Public relations is one of them. Publicity, too, though that term isn't heard nearly as much anymore. After a quick look at the history of PR, we ponder whether their activities contribute anything of value to contemporary society, and consider how they've amassed such power in modern communications.

Section VII: Pastimes–Good, Bad, Indifferent

Leaving Reality Behind: Drug use, enjoyment, and abuse
Why do it? Is the world so awful that it needs to be obliterated, at least temporarily? Why do we rarely ask such questions, and concentrate instead on trying to force drug use to a halt using wartime methods? Smirking attitudes toward drug use by middle-class people don't help, either, as witness such TV shows as Showtime's Weeds and AMC's Breaking Bad, which features the exploits of a crystal meth dealer, of all things. Both shows have earned plenty of awards by catering in large measure to the sizable group of occasional, well-to-do drug users. If drugs are bad, they're bad for everyone. If they're acceptable, then get rid of the nonsensical "war on drugs" at long last. Sometimes, it really is as simple as that.

What's so funny about drinking?
Amazingly, excessive drinking is still a joke to many, after all these years. Pop culture has long been filled with images and tales of all-out drunks and tipsy imbibers, often making their antics appear cute. At the same time, binge drinking on college campuses has become rampant. What can be done to make heavy drinking less compelling? Or, are young people going to keep on drinking excessively, no matter what's done? This essay views the situation from the perspective of an older person who fell into the heavy-drinking mentality when young, but eventually found a way out.

Sports: Notes from a non-fan
All over the country every weekend, sports fans gather in front of their TVs or at stadiums to cheer "our team." You'd think these guys were out on the field themselves, or have somehow been restrained from doing so. As one small example, we recently heard one fellow relate how he paid $1,500 to travel to see his city's (New Orleans) team in a big game. Naturally, we're treading on dangerous ground here. People take their sports awfully seriously, and don't countenance those who take no interest or, worse yet, toss off a mocking comment or two about the silliness of it all. Most heretical, perhaps, are those who are able to watch a game without caring who wins. Are remnants of European football hooliganism lurking underneath many of our smoother facades? The evidence appears to say, "Yes, indeed."

Travel: Real world or artificial?
Most tourists like to think they're true travelers. In reality, the vast majority of visits to foreign places focus on sights, sounds, and experiences that were created to attract those very visitors. Even the highly-vaunted "adventure" tours typically bring hardy folks to situations that were carefully developed to create a controlled environment. Here, we look at the artificiality of typical travel, versus spending time in the real world–where actual people live and work, and would be doing so even if no tourists were present.

Video Games: Exercise for the thumbs ... but the mind?
Proponents of video games often insist that they're not merely time-passers. Instead, they allegedly help teach young people useful skills for the near-future. Can this be true, or is that self-serving promotion? In this chapter, we also wonder how all those game-players have so much time on their hands to be filled with pastimes, and consider the addictive nature of high-tech games–including online gambling for money.

Section VIII: Sex

Adios, Eros
Internet porn vs. eroticism vs. sensuality: they're not alike at all, but in the modern American mind, they're treated almost equally. Over the past few decades, eroticism and sensuality have taken a back seat to all-out pornography. Purveyors of the latter seem to believe that viewers don't really want to see an attractive body, or two people who appear to like each other having sexual contact. Instead, they seem certain that men really seek the vile over the erotic, and crave the most "freaky" images. Sadly, of course, many do. Sensible eroticism highlights the beauty of the human body and of intimate consensual, enthusiastic relations. Nobody dies from the sight of a naked body, if that person was brought up to see it as magnificent rather than something to hide.

Welcome ED!
Sexual functioning isn't for everyone, despite claims to the contrary. When we grow older, in particular, why should we expect to remain functional and active? After all, plenty of folks had little sexual activity in their prime years. Today, many who have no need whatsoever for Viagra might prefer a pill that kills sexual thoughts and penile stimulation, which are simply annoying habits when there's no opportunity to engage in any such activities. Isn't ED actually a sign that sexual activity simply isn't meant to be anymore, just as excess exercise becomes unwise after a certain age, and female fertility becomes impossible? At least a few critics are beginning to suggest that it's a made-up malady, devised mainly to sell pills.

Sex and Romance
Must the two go together? In a culture surrounded by sexual images and exhortations, sex as a physical activity–not unlike sports–tends to take precedence over the ordinary human need for romance and simple intimacy. What can be done to bring back romance, especially to males who have long been induced to view themselves as virtual barnyard animals when it comes to sexual conquests, placing relationships a distant second in their priority lists.

Regular Guys
Commercials for Viagra and its competitors are all over the TV these days. So are ads for remedies for troubled prostates. Ever notice that they're seldom aimed at men, or gentlemen, or males? No, the sufferers depicted are nearly always "guys." They may be at risk of losing a foremost part of their "guyness," but they're still regular guys, both before and after any treatment. In this essay, we ponder why these fictional males with common maladies are so insecure in their identity.

Is porn pornographic?
Can images and stories really be pornographic if they depict something nearly everyone has done, and many did just last night? Here, we look at the tendency to label every sexual image and scene as pornographic, ignoring the simple fact that such actions are commonplace and normal. How can something most people do be pornographic? We also consider the difference, real and imagined, between softcore erotica and true, offensive, vile hardcore porn that has nothing to do with beauty or sensuality, but everything to do with coercion, cruelty, excess, and violence. How can it be crude to marvel at the female form–or the beauty of physical coupling as an act of joy? Not everyone cares to be photographed while in intimate congress, of course–though probably more people are exhibitionistic than most of us might have believed.

Section IX: Transportation

Are You Really What You Drive?
Nearly everyone seems to think so–especially in the auto industry and among marketers. And what's exactly what those marketers want you to believe. Here, we consider some of the social and psychological traits that marketers claim can be yours if only you purchase the "right" vehicle.

Fast cars, Big cars
American motorists often appear to be perpetual adolescents. Fascination with acceleration and fast driving might be understandable at age 16; at 60, it's just foolish–and dangerous. Yet, many of us persist in craving cars with swift 0-60 acceleration times, which we characterize here as "zero to silly." We also take a look at why so many of us continue to be entranced by big cars and trucks, despite gross uncertainty about the future of oil supplies and a compelling need for serious conservation.

Mass Transit: Time to take it seriously
It's long past time, actually. Yet, few tangible moves are taking place to make it truly available, in every city and region. Just look at our urban Interstates: What would their designers think today? After taking a quick peek at the history of mass transit, this chapter compares American systems with those of Europe and Mexico–and finds the former sadly wanting. We also ponder why such a small percentage of Americans take advantage of public transit for commuting, even in regions where it's readily available.

Fuel-efficiency: Needed now, more than ever
Despite overwhelming evidence that global warming is largely influenced by human activities, coupled with the fact that oil supplies could shrink dramatically as a result of Middle East turmoil, countless Americans keep their heads in the sand. Even if they accept that cars continue to contribute to harmful greenhouse gases, they keep buying and driving oversize vehicles regardless. Only when gasoline prices start to spike do vehicle buying habits change, and not for long. Here, we ask why fuel-efficiency, while gaining in stature lately, still hasn't become a seriously compelling argument.

What happened to the one-car (or no-car) family?
Hard to believe in the 21st century, but not so long ago, families typically had one automobile. Millions, in fact, had none at all. Today, as least among the relatively well-off, it's not uncommon for Dad to have one car (perhaps a sporty model), Mom another (likely, minivan or SUV), with a third for the driving-age youngsters to share. Or, where possible, one for each of the offspring. What brought about this change of lifestyle and expectations? Answer: the rise of the suburbs. Here, we look at what happened in the 1950s, and how those automotive expectations rose through the years.

Auto financing: Gateway to an installment-plan life
Nowadays, analysts say young people aren't as interested in cars as their predecessors were at the same age. Maybe so, but one result of car ownership hasn't changed much: the reliance on financing. More than any other commodity, cars have served as the gateway for teenagers into a life of monthly payments and never quite owning anything. By the 1960s, it was automatically assumed that virtually everyone had a "car note," and that installment buying had become ingrained into the young American's psyche. This essay considers how those early car payments helped result in today's absurd dependence on credit, where "plastic" is used not only for major purchases but for lunch at Burger King or McDonald's.

Why do we put up with traffic snarl?
When the Interstate Highway System was devised and begun in the mid-1950s, during the Eisenhower Administration, no one could have imagined the congestion that those highways and their users would endure, decades later. Oh, out in the wide-open spaces, the Interstates do their job well. However, if one of those early developers were to stand on a bridge overlooking an Interstate running through a major city at rush-hour time, he would likely shake his head in anguish–if not in shame. This essay ponders what went wrong, and if anything can ever be done about clogged traffic in urban areas. No less important, we consider why motorists have become so blase about it, accepting the barely-moving traffic as normal.

Are we really ready for electric and fuel-cell cars?
Advocates for battery-powered automobiles and hybrid-powertrain models are an optimistic lot. Most are convinced that the day of the electric is finally just over the horizon, and we'll be there soon. This essay looks at the reality of alternative-fuel vehicles, from the perspective of an auto journalist who's long been a proponent, but isn't so sure anymore about prospects for the near-future.

Section X: Life's Purpose

What is it? What should it be? Has it changed over the centuries? No answers will be offered here. We'll leave that to the philosophers and theologians, but we'll take a quick look at some of the intriguing possibilities. Obviously, none of us can say for sure what our purpose is. But by standing back and observing the world around us, we can speculate on what it almost certainly is not. Most important, we can try to avoid letting Absurdities stand in the way of determining what our purpose, and everyone's, might be.

Please take a look at Excerpts from and a Summary of Absurdities:
Overview and Summary of Absurdities
Excerpt from Section I (Identity) of Absurdities: Heroism–Courage vs. Cowardice
Excerpt from Section III (Work) of Absurdities: Myth of a job for everyone
Excerpt from Section III (Work) of Absurdities: Reject!
Excerpt from Section III (Work) of Absurdities: Needed now: Jobs, not careers

Publishers: For further information on availability of Absurdities and all other book projects from James M. Flammang, editor of Tirekicking Today (www.tirekick.com), please e-mail us at JF@tirekick.com.


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