There are a few moments in my life that I wish could be collectively forgotten by all who had witnessed them. Throwing up in my high school parking lot after downing a half-bottle of Southern Comfort at 1:00 in the afternoon. Shooting that spitball in the sixth grade that missed my target and thwacked my teacher in the face. Accepting that dare to chug back a large KFC gravy like it was Gatorade.
But those are the curses strung like sooty leis around the neck of my conscience – the snarky memories that promise to surge into my brain at unwanted moments, when I’m otherwise feeling good and groovy. We’ve all got them, and some are even more awful to imagine than the gravy thing. The question I’m asking today is how much are we legally allowed to wipe from the societal record?
The “Right To Be Forgotten” sounds like a foray into self-imposed hermitism, of declaring one’s intention to leave the grid and skitter out of civilization’s crosshairs. And while that can play into it, the right to be forgotten is a far less dramatic and demanding concept, yet nearly as tricky to achieve. What about simply yanking something off the record? Booting the search engine results that conceal that most jagged bone of the skeleton in your closet? It’s not so simple.
The European Union addressed this issue early in the internet age, adopting something called the European Data Protection Directive in 1995. This is a lengthy bill, full of rollicking puns and nineteen colorful applications of the word “fuck-bucket”. Actually, I haven’t read the thing, but I’m sure it’s a laugh riot from start to finish. It sketches out that fine twisted squiggle between privacy and transparency, offering a legitimized perspective of where human rights trump the right to knowledge. And if you’re someone who’d like to keep a little nugget of your past quiet, it’s a really good thing. Read more…
One day a young student at the University of Copenhagen was asked if he knew how to measure the height of a building using only a barometer. The correct answer involves measuring the atmospheric pressure on the building’s roof and again on the street below, then calculating the height through the difference between the two results. The student came up with a number of alternative answers instead, forcing the professor to re-think the very nature of how he asked questions of his students. That young man was none other than Niels Bohr, future winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Don’t believe me? What if I told you that student was future Vice-President of the United States Spiro Agnew? No? How about a savvy teenage Marc Price, who played Skippy on Family Ties? Are you getting the sense that I have no idea what I’m talking about? 854 days and finally the truth is revealed.
The barometer question is one of the most pristine examples of a true urban legend. We can trace its publication origin perfectly, yet not even the super-sleuths at snopes.com can confirm whether or not such a dastardly comedic display of youthful insouciance ever actually occurred in a college classroom.
Dr. Alexander Calandra, a test designer with a face that practically dares you to challenge his charming and home-spun anecdotes, included this story in his 1961 blockbuster, The Teaching of Elementary Science of Mathematics. The legend’s origins can be traced to a Reader’s Digest story three years earlier. Dr. Calandra claims the incident actually happened to his colleague during the Sputnik Crisis, when American scientific minds were in a panic to avoid being the second superpower nation to conquer outer space. Read more…
It’s a new year! And in most parts of the world that also means it’s a new month – the twelfth entry in my Monthly Observances series. After today’s article completes the series you can now sprinkle your entire calendar with heaps of celebrations you’d never previously imagined. Raise a glass to National Cleavage Day in April! Down a tube of chemically processed hog anus on Hot Dog Day in July! Count things and show your friends some bar graphs on World Statistics Day in October! With so many things to celebrate, it’s a shame we have but twelve months in which to contain them.
And January is no exception. Most of us are enjoying what I personally call ‘International Hangover Day’ today – a day off from work in which we can soothe our collective headache whilst watching a parade of flowers and too-loud bagpipers. My American friends can enjoy a long weekend in honor of Martin Luther King later this month, but in Canada we get nothing else. January is cold, unpleasant, and devoid of any special days off aside from this one.
Which is why I’m thrilled to have found some new occasions to observe.
Keep an eye out for anyone wearing purple on January 17. The third Friday of the year is International Fetish Day, and wearing purple shows your support for those who like a little bit of kinky spice in their sexual paella, and those who oppose banning extreme pornography from our internet airwaves. The storied tradition of this event dates way, way back to 2008. Read more…
Every so often, medical science allows for a horrific story to plop onto the table of discussion, the foul stench of How-Could-They mocking the air while the malodorous sludge of dangerous malpractice seeps off the edge and lands in a tragic little puddle of broken lives and stolen future. For those looking up at the underside of the table, wondering what could have been had their choice of doctor been more fortuitous, we can offer only the solace that their story may prevent a similar misstep upon someone else’s life.
This is the unbelievable tale of David Reimer, a man who was a victim – first of circumstance, then of incompetence, subsequently of aberrance, and lastly of medical truculence. David’s story made international headlines, and sparked debates of philosophy, ethics and the fuzzy lines of medical decency.
Also, for the purposes of this particular re-telling of the tale, I feel the story requires one of these to be laid out up front:
The reason for the giant asterisk is that my research into this sensitive topic stretches not much further than my trusty but sometimes lopsided companion, Wikipedia, and a smattering of other online sources. While the principle events of this tale are no doubt true, not all sides of the story have been equally represented, at least not in the places I’ve been looking. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Read more…
It should come as no surprise that much of the trivial minutiae with which people pepper their conversations is either completely false or so deeply steeped in bullshit, the smell will linger for weeks. Sometimes the misconception becomes so widely proliferated it evolves into the understood truth. But truth is not a beverage meant to be shot back with haste; it should be savored and swooshed around the mind’s mouth for a little bit, its essence questioned and reaffirmed.
To that end, I hope to clear up some shit today. While the list of misconceptions is long and convoluted, I want to start with the trappings of false history to which so many of us adhere.
Be warned – I’m busting out some serious truths here. That said, they are truths broadcast by Wikipedia, a site whose veracity is often questioned (though in my experience, its facts generally hold up). Let’s begin in the vomitorium.
When the Romans would have their fill of wine and dead animal carcass, they would stroll over to the vomitorium, a room set up for purging in the middle of a meal so as to make room for tiramisu. Were the Romans so steeped in gustatory self-indulgence that they built a room just so they could cram two meals into one dining experience? Read more…
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece on the historical tradition of censorship in the city of Boston. If you don’t feel like following the link and adding an extra two thousand words to your reading plate, I’ll catch you up. Due to its Puritan background and molasses-slow crawl from its beginnings as a theocracy, the city of Boston became known for banning plays, books, movies and even an Everly Brothers song, when few or no other cities would. The whole practice was a little silly.
The ironic end result of this school-marmish behavior was that playwrights, authors and theatre companies would specifically hope to be banned in Boston, since the ensuing publicity would draw crowds in every other more forward-thinking metropolis in the country.
This phenomenon is known as the Streisand Effect. If you ban it, they will come. And they will come with gawking eyes and (when applicable) open wallets.
Why Streisand? Well, Babs brought it on herself. Back around 2003, a guy named Kenneth Adelman took about 12,000 photos of the California coastline, in order to document coastal erosion. This was his job – the government was paying him to do it. “Image 3850” happened to feature Barbra’s spectacular mansion in Malibu. Barbra somehow caught wind of the fact that her home was on a website (unlabeled and buried amid 11,999 other photos), and promptly sued the photographer and Pictopia.com, which hosted the collection. Read more…
Rather than compose an elegant piece of lyrical prose about the subject of kissing, I think I’ll just rattle off a bunch of trivia using my old trusty friend, the bullet-point list. Is it laziness? Sleepiness? An unanticipated delay in the drugs taking effect? Maybe a little of all three, but the reality is, there are simply too many points worth mentioning when it comes to the world of kissing.
For example, did you know that the act of kissing actually predates the formation of the band KISS? The internet is full of all kinds of fascinating bits of information like this.
So now, without further ado (because fuck ado… there’s too much ado in the world today), let’s wet our lips, stretch our tongues (don’t want to pull anything), and go gum-to-gum with the wild world of smoochery.
– One of the origin stories for the mistletoe kiss comes from Norse mythology. A goddess named Frigg gave birth to a vowel-challenged son named Baldr. She magically made all plants unable to hurt him, but forgot the mistletoe plant. Loki, always a son-of-a-bitch, talked another god into killing Baldr with a mistletoe spear. The gods brought Baldr back to life and Frigg decided mistletoe should bring love into the world, not death. And so we kiss underneath it, in order to remind ourselves that Loki is a dick. Read more…
As a one-day deviation from the normal, I’m going to cast off down the waters of fiction for Day #500. Having always been a fan of Raymond Chandler / Mickey Spillaine style hard-boiled detective fiction, that’s the direction I’ll be pointing my shadow-blanketed fingers. Imagine the chiaroscuro lighting, the weather-beaten fedoras and the foreboding shadows of classic film noir against the grey wall as you read this.
Oh, and since I don’t want to leave out my constant companion, I’ll be making liberal use of Wikipedia’s ‘Random Article’ button to move the story forward. Very liberal use.
That way, if this experiment is a disaster, you can blame Wikipedia.
It was half-past far too late when I finally tucked the Kratochwill case into its dusty file folder and dropped it in the cabinet under ‘N’ for ‘Never gonna need this again.’ The Kratochwill case had gotten to me. Mrs. Kratochwill had been murdered while exploring the Sandhohallet Glacier. With my years of experience, I was able to crack the case without leaving the city. Never trust a woman’s “best friend” who can freely quote Eleanor Cameron. Explicit knowledge of Canadian children’s authors is always a tip-off that someone is up to no good. Read more…