Archive for December, 2006

Drinking on Someone Else’s Dime

Posted: December 26, 2006 in Culture, Tacky

In my job, I find it sometimes necessary or worthwhile to go out on the town and socialize after work. (I don’t always resist.) When it’s clear that someone else will be picking up the tab, whether a vendor purchasing some good will or a partner of the firm feting an employee, the intention is usually to get pretty drunk. I think of it as a sort of culturally approved fucked-upedness. So a night a couple weeks ago was one of those nights for me. Although I had not planned to go as far as I did, once the ball got rolling, inhibitions and restraints fell away. I didn’t do anything to be embarrassed about; there were no crimes committed, insults levied, or driving home. However, I felt oddly about it. Simply put, it’s decadent to rip through a bunch of drinks and in the process someone else’s dollars. Some call it blowing off steam or celebrating life. I’m not so sure.

Naturally, the whole experience caused me to reflect upon it for a while afterward. As vices and misbehavior go, this was pretty modest. Yet I know better than to indulge too often. After all, intoxication is really a drug state using legal drugs. I paid for it for most of the next day, which is a reminder I apparently need three or four times per year why I don’t drink liberally more often. What really intrigues me, though, is how easily or persistently others push to get someone drunk. Bartenders definitely have an interest in mounting the bill up higher and higher. But others who might reasonably wish to put a cap on things at some point, either in terms of number of drinks or the bar tab, tend to go beyond reasonable levels, especially when it’s on an expense account. The participants sometimes try to see just how much “damage” can be done. The imperative is rather strange, and I haven’t yet decided whether it’s truly fun or merely fodder for stories to be told later.

Soft Drinks’ Effects as Stimulants

Posted: December 20, 2006 in Health

Here is a curious article called What Happens To Your Body If You Drink A Coke Right Now? The descriptions of metabolic processes lack context, so it’s unclear how normal or abnormal the body’s reaction to Coke is. Since I lack expertise in this area, I can’t offer an informed opinion on the effects of Coke vs. a Krispy Kreme donut or a spoonful of peanut butter. However, I don’t believe that the effects of any Coke-like beverage are any too good.

I pretty much stopped drinking the stuff a few years ago. When asked why, I usually respond that what amounts to sugar water no longer appeals to me. (It still tastes good to me, but it doesn’t help me to eat healthily.) And as the article says, buried down in the footnote:

Coke itself is not the enemy, here. It’s the dynamic combo of massive sugar doses combined with caffeine and phosphoric acid — things found in almost all soda.

I admit, though, that it’s hard to escape soft drinks in one’s diet. They’re bundled with meals, mixed with alcohol, and closely associated with a variety of activities and behaviors. For instance, I can hardly bring myself to see a movie in a theater without also getting a popcorn/soft drink combo. Those combos usually come with 32 oz. drinks and free refills. No wonder why everyone queues outside the restrooms after the movie lets out.

No More Free Air

Posted: December 12, 2006 in Advertising, Consumerism

In my boyhood, for a period of a few years, I practically lived on my bike. It was the means to adventure, sometimes farther off but usually within a five-mile radius of home. It was a rugged bike, which was good because I abused the hell out of it. But I also got my use out of it. One of my frequent stops was neighborhood filling stations to use the air hose to fill the tires periodically. Almost every station had an air pump somewhere for general use, and it hadn’t yet dawned on anyone that there was a lost opportunity for income there.

Fast forward to my adulthood, and not only is it well nigh impossible to find the service a filling station used to offer as a matter of course (such as actually pumping gas), the air hose has been fitted with a coin slot so that patrons must pay for the privilege of inflating one’s tires. Out of principle, I used to be able to buy gas at the few holdouts — the stations that still offered free air. That day has now passed, too.

If the distastefulness of being regarded as a sales mark at every turn isn’t enough, the cost of the air hose machines has climbed from a modest (if irritating) 25 cents to 50 cents and now even 75 cents at some stations. Those machines are often beat to hell, totallymiscalibrated , and difficult to use within the operating span a turn one’s coin provides. (Heaven forbid someone get a little free air on someone else’s quarters.) The newest thing I’ve seen is machines equipped with scrolling marquees to advertise loss leaders like milk for $1.50 a gallon or cigarettes for whatever is a desirable price.

I don’t know that I long for the day when the filling station had a team of attendants on hand to cater to customers’ needs, although that does seem quite luxurious by today’s standards. But it would be nice for businesses to recognize that a little contribution to the public good and a modest sense of community would go a long was toward curing the dog-eat-dog mentality that characterizes modern life, a perspective where if you’re not getting over on someone then they must be making a chump out of you instead. And really, must everything be an advertising space?

Vertical Excitement

Posted: December 8, 2006 in Culture, Nomenclature, Skyscrapers

I came across a new term recently that struck a chord with me: vertical excitement. The term refers to the palpable sense of energy one feels, particularly on the streets of New York City, associated with the hustle and bustle of human activity. Why “vertical”? It refers to skyscrapers and suggests, I think, the dizzying disequilibrium of overstimulation and behind-the-scenes movers sitting in great halls of power (also known as power brokers).

I respond to the term because, as with New York City, the Chicago loop (where I work) is heavily populated by some very tall buildings. (Chicago and New York have had a skyscraper competition going since the early days of the 20th century.) During the workday, constant movement of people to and fro creates a vague sense of urgency and very little repose. My first job in a tall building was on the 17th floor, and it took me some time to get used to the visual illusion of Lake Michigan coming up at the horizon to meet me. I’ve worked as high as the 56th floor of a building, which offered a handsome view of everything around as well as the horizon some 60 miles off. I now work on the 24th floor and essentially have views of the adjacent buildings.

I also have a few poker buddies who host games at their apartments in those downtown high rises. They mostly have six-figure incomes and quietly compete for the best views and furnishings (a competition I can’t contemplate as I don’t earn so much and thus live away from the loop). It’s interesting, though, that looking out the windows from someone’s apartment (11th, 33rd, or 47th floor) at the Chicago skyline imparts that same vertical excitement as during the day at street level.

If you really want to breathe some rarified air, the best spot I’ve found is the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building. There you can get expensive meals and/or cocktails and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Being so high up feels as though you are no longer rooted to the ground, like you’re floating above the fray, even if only temporarily. I’ve sat there sometimes for periods of two or three hours, staring like a goon out the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the vertical excitement never wears off.

Jose Padilla Update

Posted: December 4, 2006 in Politics

I blogged before about Jose Padilla, who has been detained since 2002 as an “enemy combatant” until earlier this fall when he

was added as a defendant in a terrorism conspiracy case already under way in Miami. At the time, the Supreme Court was weighing whether to take up the legality of his military detention — and thus the issue of the president’s authority to seize an American citizen on American soil and hold him indefinitely without charges — when the Bush administration pre-empted its decision by filing criminal charges against Mr. Padilla.

The quote above is from a December 4 article in the New York Times.

My prior concern was with Padilla’s being held without charge and the court’s refusal to review this denial of civil rights. Padilla is a U.S. citizen. My new concern (considering the old one was obviated by both the court and the Bush Administration) is that during his detention, Padilla was held in isolation and deprived not only of society (other than his interrogators) but of sensory stimulation. According to the New York Times article,

his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door … windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and … he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran.

Further, when he was taken from his cell for dental care, he wore noise-blocking earphones, blacked-out goggles, and manacles at the ankles and wrists. Although military apologists insist that he was provided food, clothing, shelter, sleep, and medical care, thus treated humanely, that standard is such a low threshold that over the course of several years the logical result was realized: Padilla was rendered unfit to assist in his own defense and is unconvinced that his attorneys are actually on his side and not merely another interrogation technique. In short, his captivity was so torturous and inhumane that he is a ruined man.

I cannot fathom a compelling state interest in ruining people in this manner. Since Padilla’s ordeal began, we have revised our policies and laws to legalize (though not legitimize) torture and detention and in the process absolved Padilla’s captors of any liability for their actions. This is just one case; and as with Abu Ghraib, there is plenty of reason to believe that many, many other cases that haven’t drawn public scrutiny are occurring as well. And the response of the American people? Very little. In our failure to protest and agitate against such awfulness committed in our names, we give tacit consent. Indeed, many people believe that Padilla is merely an example of the collateral damage necessary to prosecute the war on terror and further believe that useful intelligence can be obtained with such tactics. I remain utterly unconvinced any good can come from torture. Our government’s abandonment of humane treatment of prisoners (among other things) speaks to the growing power of the police state already upon us.

Cross-posted at Creative Destruction.