Parents on CTA take stroller rudeness to new lows


Most CTA seat hogs only take up one extra seat. Standard seat-hog operating procedure entails sitting in the aisle seat of a bus or train and placing one’s belongings in the window seat, thus prohibiting other passengers from sitting next to oneself. It’s the in-transit homosapien’s answer to pissing on a fire hydrant.

Every so often someone with a real passion for monopolizing public space will take up two extra seats, like so:

Yesterday, however, I saw seat hogging taken to a whole new level. This instance of seat hogging transcended itself to incorporate no less than three forms of CTA-specific antisocial behavior.

It’s common for someone to hog an extra seat. And for parents to refuse to fold their strollers, which unnecessarily narrows the aisle. And for the Steven Statues of the world to stand at the rear of the bus, blocking access to the stairs. But not until Sunday had I seen all three of these elements combined to create a Voltron of CTA sociopathy.

A couple boarded the bus with a double-seat stroller. Mom and dad pushed the stroller all the way to the back stairs, where they decided to set up a seat-hog shop of horrors. All told, they managed to hog four extra seats on the lower level, in addition to completely blocking the back stairs.


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Introducing CTA-HOLES: New trading cards examine (in)civility aboard Chicago transit

I’m proud to announce the arrival of the CTA-HOLES trading-card collection. The ideological love child of Garbage Pail Kids and Emily Post, CTA-HOLES are intended to prompt conversation about how we Chicagoans treat each other on buses and trains.

To see the rest of the cards, visit my main site,

Peter H. Gilmore Interview: Satanic Rule vs. Golden Rule

Here’s an excerpt of my interview with Magus Peter H. Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan:

Joe Jarvis: From your own perspective, why, if the Golden Rule “works so well,” do we have wars, child molestation, honor killings, etc. perpetuated by people and countries who identify themselves as adherents of religions that hold the Golden Rule at the center of their teachings?

Peter H. Gilmore: As you’ve demonstrated, Forni is in error regarding his claim that this is a functioning rule of conduct. People never practice what they preach when proclaimed tenets go against basic human nature - which is always driven by self-interest, despite protests to the contrary. If one examines Christian doctrine, their supposed foundation is upon “love”, but any observer of history can handily note that members of major and minor Christian sects are guilty of murder, rape, torture and genocide, often directed at those Christians with simple doctrinal differences, but such atrocities are employed with guilt-free gusto upon anyone who has not embraced their mythical savior. Perhaps contemporary spin-doctors could call this “tough love,” but I suggest that rational people not allow this hypocrisy to go without criticism.

To read the rest of the interview and visit the Incivilian’s new home,  click here.

I decided this illustration deserved to live free, untethered from the text of my preceding post.

I decided this illustration deserved to live free, untethered from the text of my preceding post.

The Great Malawi Fart Flap of 2011

Two government officials in Malawi made headlines earlier this month when they began, as the BBC put it, “arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public.” Reported on by the likes of the Huffington Post and Gawker, the story quickly roared its way through the interwebs. (Google now returns some 204,000 results for “Malawi fart.”) Malawian lawmakers planned on debating the issue the week before last, but before they had the chance, the big stink had already faded. After February 4, the issue simply disappeared. No follow-up articles, nothing.

The only decent summary of the derailed debate that I’ve seen comes from Barry Ronge, writing for the Times Live. Basically, there’s a 1929 Malawian law that states: “Any person who voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere … shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.” George Chaponda, Malawi’s justice and constitutional affairs minister, recently decided to argue that “vitiation” includes farting, and that the prohibition should be enforced.

Naturally, Chaponda linked Malawi’s farting crisis to the rise of democracy. Ronge quotes the minister as saying:

"People felt free to fart anywhere," he said. "It was not there during the time of dictatorship because people were afraid of the consequences. Now, because of multiparty-ism or freedom, people would like to fart anywhere. They should go to the toilet instead of farting in public."

Solicitor general Anthony Kamanga took Chaponda to task for egregiously misinterpreting the law, arguing that “vitiation” referred to a more traditional definition of air pollution. Chaponda ultimately agreed, and the story quickly dissipated without a trace, despite making a great deal of noise, thereby assuming the opposite properties of a silent-but-deadly.

It’s a shame that the matter didn’t make it to debate. It would have given us a chance to reconsider the immense changes in farting protocol over the centuries. Some 470 years ago, Erasmus advised:

Don’t squeeze your buttocks to prevent the emission as it may injure your health, so if you must in company, cover with a discreet and well-timed cough.

Today, of course, no amount of well-timed coughs make public farting acceptable. (How exactly does something go from accepted to reviled within five centuries?) Despite our revulsion, we have absolutely no way of enforcing our social rule against the act, whether we’re the Malawian police or a good ol’ boy in a sleeveless t-shirt at the public library.

*Check out, my permanent online home.*

Dear Chicago Dog Owner (The thing about snow is…)

Today while walking through Bucktown, I spotted four (4) heaps of dog feces exposed by thawing snow between the houses at 1919 and 1923 North Wolcott—a distance of maybe 20 feet. I took photos, but decided against posting, what with dog feces being fairly unappetizing (unless your name happens to be Divine). A veritable coprolith laid outside the house at 1901 North Wolcott, and innumerable other unscooped deposits greeted me as I worked my way down to Milwaukee. Guys, please. Stop this.

Also, I’m over here full-time now:

Snowmageddon or Not…

You rock, 1942 N. Winchester. If we all acted like you, the world would be a far better place. Unless you like to torture exchange students in your basement or something. But I doubt that, seeing how you tend the sidewalk in front of your residence no matter how deep the snow drift, regardless of how little practical good it does because none of your neighbors follow suit. You do it because it needs doing, and in so doing you melt my cold black heart.

I’ve switched away from Tumblr. Check out the new site at


In a recent post about endangered New Zealand pedestrians, I mentioned the book Nation of Rebels, and its two authors’ contention that manners and courtesy primarily function as indicators of our willingness to follow social rules.

We make way for one another when passing on sidewalks. If we both arrive at the buffet at the same time to discover that only one gray, delectable disc of Salisbury steak remains, we go through a trite but nonetheless important series of insincere deferences (“No, please, I insist. Well if you’re sure …”), until eventually one of us strides off about his get his minced-beef on and the other leaves feeling slightly ass-chafed by the whole thing (that would be you, sucka). We take these interactions for granted, but they let us know what we can expect from each other. Our chat at the buffet establishes mutual reassurance that the social order remains intact and will not imminently dissolve into a chaotic mess in which you plunge a pair of salad tongs into the side of my neck and leave me bleeding out on the floor of Old Country Buffet. 

As Heath and Potter go on to note,

It is precisely this trust mechanism that is exploited by the best con artists and psychopaths, who are invariably charming and polite. Strictly speaking, it is a false inference to conclude that people who play by the rules when it comes to the small stuff will also play by the rules when it comes to the big stuff. Con artists prove this by doing the former and not the latter.

You’ll find an excellent article titled, “Grifters, Bunco Artists and Flimflam Men” in the thoroughly enjoyable February issue of Wired. (Chalk it up to my tech illiteracy, but I can’t find any content from the “Underworld Exposed” issue on the Wired site.) The author—Ricky Jay, who is also an actor, sleight-of-hand practitioner and deception expert—runs through a rogue’s gallery of some of his “favorite demimondaines and demimondudes.” 

Among the motley crew is Hod Bacon, who specialized in spotting and swindling emigrants leaving the States for their homelands. Explaining how Bacon managed to quickly ingratiate himself with his victims, Jay quotes from an 1876 book titled Criminals of America, in which author Philip Farley discussed the necessity for a con man to exude charm:

At a steamboat landing or railroad depot there is not another more diffident or retiring man in the world … he can joke with the servants, play with the children and wish you God speed on your journey …

If you live in a city, you’ve heard every pitch imaginable from folks on the street. With no way to know who truly needs help or the best way to deliver that help, the option often seems like either living your life as a rube, flinging loose bills in the air as you walk to the train, or putting up a forcefield of chill between yourself and the outside world. Other people quickly become threats, or at best suspects who, if you were to drop your guard for one single solitary moment, would think nothing of stabbing you in the neck with a pair of salad tongs and leaving you to bleed out on the floor of Old Country Buffet. Insincere but polite deference? Making way on the street? That’s for suckers, the weak—easy marks not willing to do what it takes for the last delicious piece of Salisbury steak. Trust disappears—and along with it, social order.

Collective: The best of civility on the webs

  • "NASA Ponders Etiquette of Sex in Space." Best passage from article on how NASA should handle sticky subject of interstellar scroggin’: “’Human beings are sexual,’ Joseph told ‘They think about it a lot. So if you’re on a trip to Mars, it’s going to be dark out, you’ll be in a long period of isolation, and there’s not going to be a lot to do.’” (Via Salem News
  • "Economic Impact of Toilet-Seat Etiquette." In new paper, economist makes the following startling claim: "… the ‘selfish’ or the ‘status quo’ rule that leaves the toilet seat in the position used dominates the down rule in a wide range of parameter spaces including the case where the inconvenience costs are the same.” So there. (Via Infectious Greed)
  • "How to Be a Gay Lady—Manners for the Modern Lesbian." In the fifteenth installment of her tongue-in- …. uh …. -cheek tutorial, Ruth Callander explains the most effective strategies for alienating your life-partner’s circle of friends, so that you can have her all to your damn self. (Via After Ellen)
  • "Medical Cannabis Etiquette 101." Basically, don’t bogart space in the lounge and be prepared to deal with some real buzzkill stinginess from Berkeley Patients Group, which allows its members a piddly per-day maximum of two (2) ounces of bud. (Via East Bay Express)
  • "National Hug Day 2011." Drag! It was yesterday and I totally spaced the date. (Thanks a lot, Berkeley Patients Group.) Jordan Yerman celebrated by refocusing our attention on the do’s and don’ts of the classic close-quarters embrace. Helpful hints include: "The person who initiates the hug is the one who also ends it. If hugging a total stranger on the street, keep it reasonably brief: you’re hugging them, not detaining them.” (Via NowPublic)

Mutha’uckin’ Manners (A Kiss is Not a Social Contract)

Yesterday I wrote this snippet while mulling over ideas from the book Nation of Rebels, written by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter:

~The CTA driver expects me to step back slightly from the curb when she wheels the bus into the stop area, lest the protruding side mirrors split open my skull. I in turn expect the bus driver to refrain from haphazardly mashing the accelerator and mowing down helpless pedestrians. In order to participate in society, we have to trust each other to follow the rules. "One way in which people establish the requisite trust," Heath and Potter explain, "is by demonstrating their willingness to play by the rules in small, symbolic ways. This is the core function of courtesy and good manners."~

I didn’t publish what I wrote, thinking that maybe I could use it sometime in the future. Then this morning I read that outside a mall in Wellington, New Zealand, a bus recently struck a pedestrian, marking the fifth such occurrence since the opening of a new two-way route outside the mall.

The name of the mall? Why, Manners Mall, of course. Yes, this is the same Manners Mall where in 2008 a most unmannered gentleman went on a bit of a rampage, “smashing shop windows, throwing stock and pinching jewelry,” according to this article from Stuff.

If you think that’s bad, you should see what goes on at Polite Plaza.

Judeo-Christian Indoctrination, Your Juan Uribe and You (NSFW)

Here I am on the morning commute, holding the overhead strap on the train. Now I’ve disembarked at the station and am standing on an escalator, absentmindedly gripping the black rubber belt that moves alongside; and now I’m swatting at the turnstile spoke and stepping into the stairwell, where I ease my climb by pulling at the hand rail. Out onto the street, I extend a couple of bills to the newspaper vendor and palm loose change in turn. 

During this brief commute, I’ve contacted innumerable surfaces previously touched by countless hands, hands that blocked coughs and cushioned sneezes and scratched whatever body parts, which is to say nothing of the time that these surfaces were otherwise left exposed to nature. (Filthy, filthy nature.)

~NSFW cartoon after jump~

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How to Change Clothes After Practicing Bikram Yoga Without Inflicting Upon God and All Creation the Sight of Your Splayed Buttocks:

I practice yoga at Bikram Yoga Chicago, where there’s usually 30 people in each class, regardless of time of day.  (What with some New Year’s resolutions and “Bikram challenges” still going strong, it’s now not uncommon for there to be upwards of 40.)  Of these 30-40 people, maybe 12 are men.  Of these 12 men, maybe (maybe) one of them would like to see my bare bottom.  But when even this one guy who actually wants to see my bare bottom innocently pulls back the linen curtain and steps inside the rickety bamboo frame of our studio’s Gilligan’s Island-style changing area, the last thing he wants to see is me from behind as I stand nude-skidoo, bent at the waist and rummaging through a duffle bag situated on the floor in front of me.  And remember: this is the guy with a yen to see my unadorned tookus.  If he reacts to the sight of my splayed buttocks with repugnance, just imagine how the guys must feel who do not want to see my unadorned tookus. 

Fortunately, the situation is easily remedied.  Judging from what I’ve seen behind the linen curtain, I am the first person on earth to discover a simple procedure for changing my clothes after practicing Bikram yoga without inflicting on god and all creation the sight of my splayed buttocks.  I now share with you this poorly illustrated tutorial in the true spirit of Bikram: with generosity, friendship and the willingness to file litigation against anything that moves.

I’ll be straight with you: it’s not just about splayed buttocks.  It’s about buttocks in general.  And wangs.  I’d simply prefer not to see them, and you can throw in scrotums to boot. 

Maybe I’m just “uptight.”  Perhaps I need to “loosen up a little” and “stop taking (my)self so seriously.”  Sure, I guess it’s possible that I’m “just another repressed American who fetishizes sexual organs because he didn’t get to see them on prime-time television while growing up in a culture that relentlessly drilled its members to believe that certain body parts were dirty.”  (And just to get it out of the way, yes, maybe I’m “gay” or “projecting” due to my own poor self-image.)

Maybe.  All I’m saying is that I’d really rather not pull back that linen curtain to see your bits and pieces while you stand naked as a jaybird casually checking voice messages.  Nor do I care to hear the wet slap of your John Thomas striking the inside of your thigh as you frantically swivel on one foot, with raised heel ensnared in an underwear waistband.

Is that too much too ask?  Could we all at least give modesty a try, just for kicks?  Please?

Awareness and incivility

The highly aware gentleman on the left, god bless him, has heaped a briefcase and shopping bag onto his lap—while holding both an umbrella and mobile device, no less—in order to leave free the seat to his right.  Not that it matters much.  The woman in the center of the photograph would prefer to stand in the aisle, staring at her phone while the bus makes stop after stop, and passenger after passenger (like the lady on the far right) squeezes past. 

In his book The Civility Solution, P.M. Forni discusses what he calls focused and unfocused rudeness.  I prefer to consider this divide as being between aware and unaware behavior.  Most rude behavior, such as obstructing bus aisles, results from a lack of awareness.  This type of behavior is inconsiderate and inconvenient to others, but naive and unaggressive.  

The woman standing center doesn’t realize that there’s a seat open for her to sit in. But even if she did notice, it wouldn’t make a difference because on a more fundamental level she remains unaware of how her actions impact others.  In this instance, not only do boarding passengers have to maneuver a needlessly narrow aisle, but when she moves to the right immediately after I snap this photo, deboarding passengers will queue up behind her, thinking that she is waiting to get off at the next stop.  By the time these poor folks realize that she is simply oblivious to the world around her, new riders will have already come aboard, creating a bottleneck around the fare boxes. However, it’s difficult to imagine that feigning obliviousness while deliberately standing in bus aisles is part of this woman’s dastardly plot to take over the world one minor inconvenience at a time.  She’s frustrating to be around, most certainly, but unaware, and thus not antisocial.

Again, most rude behavior on the bus belongs to this class.  Not only aisle-standers, but loud talkers and those folks who inexplicably post up directly in front of the rear doors.  No one, apparently, has ever encouraged any of them to pay attention to the immediate effects of their behavior.  

Then you have what Dr. Forni might call focused rudeness, or what I would describe in equally academic terms as “being a massive jerk.”  To observe self-conscious rudeness is to witness the jagged edge of incivility tear into the fabric of civilization, to have one’s very innocence ripped into bloody ribbons and strewn among bushes behind the roadside rest of cultural consciousness.  

If you dare, lower your eyes and behold the inhumanity:

OK, so it’s not exactly casting your gaze upon Gorgons, but it’s still pretty ugly. Unlike the gentleman in the first photograph, this woman has made the conscious decision to say “no” to others by claiming the window seat with a single bag.  Seat hogs are the nastiest of all the CTA-holes (not counting the overtly hostile types).  Although the loud talker most likely has no clue as to the difference between an inside and outside voice, the seat hogs, by virtue of staking off property, clearly understand what they’re doing.  And it’s that deliberate intent that comes across so sour, as such a petty strike against others.

Of course, one could make the argument that even focused rudeness comes from a lack of awareness.  The argument goes that one can be conscious of one’s actions, but nonetheless remain unaware of how they affect others. The seat hog in this photograph might understand intellectually that she is behaving antisocially, but she cannot possibly understand—on a visceral level—how her actions impact others, as such an understanding would preempt antisocial behavior.  True awareness (and thus civility), then, is empathy.  

So much for civility

"Being aware of others is where civility begins. To be fully aware of them, we must weave empathy into the fabric of our connection."

-P.M. Forni, The Civility Solution

"Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy…"

-President Obama, January 12

"Much will be written today, comparing last night’s moving speech by President Obama to Sarah Palin’s eight-minute exercise in narcissism…"

-Barbara Morrill, DailyKos, January 13


-Inanemergencydial, HotAir, January 12, 11:59pm

"Civility" became a hot topic following the recent Tucson shooting.*  During a nine-minute "Special Comment", Keith Olbermann seconded Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s plea for an end to “violent rhetoric” in politics. Katrina Trinko at the National Review Online responded with an article documenting past instances in which Olbermann used harsh language against his opponents. 

This exchange typified the “I know you are, but what am I” dynamic that continued for a couple of days.  One on hand, Michelle Malkin offers up an "illustrated primer" on the "progressive ‘culture of hate’.  On the other, the American Prospect blog publishes a post that issues this challenge: “… any journalist who characterizes this as a bipartisan problem ought to be able to show examples, from people equal in prominence to those on the right (i.e. members of Congress, incredibly popular radio hosts, etc.) who have said equally violent and incendiary things.”

It was like watching brothel patrons accuse each other of low morals.  The “civility” conversation, may it rest in peace, could have just as easily been about the deficit or health care or whether we should continue to invest in NASA. The “news cycle,” as mentioned by President Obama during his speech last night, spews up talking points, which conservative and liberal pundits alike pounce on and chew to shreds.  If that talking point happens to be “civility,” so be it.  We’ll simply gouge out each other’s eyes fighting to determine who shows greater restraint.

The President appealed for civility last night and no one so much as flinched. We just took the idea of “civility” and cut or stretched it to fit our pre-existing beliefs.  But only long enough to catch our collective breath and start yelling again.  Sadly, civility isn’t something that you achieve by thinking about it. It’s something that can only be achieved by acting civilly.  That would take some humility, which would take more than we’re willing to give. 

*In fairness, Joe Scarborough had a jump on this whole “civility in politics” thing back in November when he helped launch the purportedly centrist No Labels movement.  But, “civility” didn’t start flooding Twitter feeds until after the Tucson event.

After one dismal moviegoing experience after another in the city, my girlfriend and I started driving to the Regal Cinema in Lincolnshire for before-noon showings on weekends.  Although this strategy resulted in being the only people in the room on several occasions, there’s something to be said for being part of a moviegoing crowd, when the members of that crowd are actually into the film and not catching up with each other on their personal lives.  That kind of committed, communal experience is just what we got when we took another chance on the city and went to Century Centre Cinema for a showing of The King’s Speech.  (In terms of the most well-mannered movie crowds in Chicago, you’d have to put the patrons of the Gene Siskel Film Center right up at the top of the list as well.)

After one dismal moviegoing experience after another in the city, my girlfriend and I started driving to the Regal Cinema in Lincolnshire for before-noon showings on weekends.  Although this strategy resulted in being the only people in the room on several occasions, there’s something to be said for being part of a moviegoing crowd, when the members of that crowd are actually into the film and not catching up with each other on their personal lives.  That kind of committed, communal experience is just what we got when we took another chance on the city and went to Century Centre Cinema for a showing of The King’s Speech.  (In terms of the most well-mannered movie crowds in Chicago, you’d have to put the patrons of the Gene Siskel Film Center right up at the top of the list as well.)