Saturday, May 13, 2006


History is full of pivotal events -- events which, once they occur, leave the world (or at least our perception of the world) forever changed.

For the United States, a recent pivotal event took place on September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, we have divided the historical timeline into the pre-9/11 world and the post-9/11 world.

A more recent pivotal event took place a few years later, when one of Janet Jackson's breasts was accidentally displayed during a Super Bowl half-time performance. This was nowhere near as significant as what happened on 9/11, but the repercussions were nonetheless much more far-reaching than they should have been. The FCC changed its obscenity laws and increased the fine from about $25,000 to close to $500,000. In some cases, it reversed its rulings and decided that radio and television networks that it had previously found not guilty of FCC obscenity violations were indeed guilty after all.

The fact that one breast can cause so much trouble is testament to the fact that this country has a bizarre -- some would say dysfunctional -- attitude toward breasts. For further evidence of this, recall that at the urging of former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department spent $8,000 to cover the exposed breast on the "Spirit of Justice" statue.

Given this bizarre attitude, I think it's sort of ironic that we insist on labeling things as breasts when we know they really aren't. I'm referring specifically to the term "chicken breast." We've all heard that term before. We may have even used it ourselves once or twice. But as we all know, chickens are not mammals. They do not nurse their young. They do not have breasts. So calling something a "chicken breast" is like calling something a "square circle." These things simply do not exist.

I don't claim to be an expert in the field of Chicken Anatomy, but it occurs to me that what we mistakenly refer to as the "chicken breast" may actually be the pectoral muscle, so perhaps we should be using the term "chicken pec" instead.

Okay, that's all I've got for today. Chicken Pecs. I don't have anything more to add, other than that I know we'll never use this term, although we might use the homophonic "chicken peck" when we want to distinguish the peck of a chicken from, for example, that of a duck or a hen.

But who knows? Perhaps in the future, chickens will have breasts. Maybe some ambitious genetic engineer will create a chicken with breasts one day. I can't begin to guess why anyone would want to, but stranger things have been done in the name of science.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pig Traditions

You may have noticed that I didn't write anything last week. I can't remember what I did instead, but whatever it was, I'm sure it must have been important. Or interesting. Or something.

I wasn't going to write anything this week either because I've been sort of busy, but I decided to take a few minutes and jot down a few words anyway.

Last week I saw the movie United 93. It's hard to call it a movie, because it didn't really seem like a movie. It seemed more like a reenactment, which in fact is exactly what it was. It was a faithful reenactment of actual events, but not a whole lot more.

This week I saw the movie Mission Impossible 3, which was everything United 93 was not. United 93 was realistic and believable and true, but Mission Impossible 3 defied logic and reason and some of the fundamental laws of physics. But it was still a good movie. United 93 was good too, in a different sort of way.

So, two different movies, two different weeks. But as I left the theater each time, I couldn't help making the same observation: We are pigs.

I don't mean we have flat upturned noses and curly little tails. I don't mean we grunt and walk on all fours and eat food out of a trough. I don't even mean we are obese or that we cool ourselves by rolling around in mud. What I mean is, we are slobs.

What is it about movie theaters that encourages people to leave their trash behind when they leave? You don't see this sort of behavior anywhere else. Sure, you see the occasional piece of trash on the sidewalk, and every now and then you'll see some thoughtless driver toss some trash out his car window, but most of us think of that as unacceptable behavior.

However, inside a movie theater making this kind of mess is considered the norm. And it's a disgusting norm. But it's also an American cinematic tradition. It's been going on for as long as I've been alive and probably even longer. I'm probably at the opposite end of the extreme -- I take my ticket stubs home and toss them in the recycling bin, although I don't expect everyone to do that. But how difficult is it to pick up an empty cup or popcorn tub as you leave the theater and drop it in a trash can? It's not hard at all. It's actually pretty easy. But people like acting like pigs. They like the tradition of piggery and they don't want to give up the freedom of being able to make a mess in public places.

So I don't expect this behavior to change. As long as there are movie theaters, there will be people who want to defile them.

By the way, why do people eat food in movie theaters in the first place? That's another American tradition that makes no sense. I understand why movie theaters sell food -- they actually make more money from concession sales than they do from ticket sales, since they don't have to split the profits from concession sales with the film distributors. I understand all that. But just because they sell it doesn't mean everyone else has to buy it. I know people who can't watch a movie in a theater unless they've got a huge vat of popcorn in front of them. Some people can't even watch a movie at home without popcorn. Without it, they think they're missing something. It's obviously just some sort of conditioned response, but nobody seems to want to be deprogrammed. Maybe that's how traditions get started: people do something for so long that they can't think of not doing it, even though they don't know why they're doing it in the first place.

I could say a lot more about the stupidity of traditions, but I'll save that for some other time. Today I have more important things to do. Or more interesting things. Or something.