Friday, March 31, 2006

#242 Chicken Free

I just saw a product at the grocery store that I didn’t believe. A little update in case you’ve been living under a rock. A while back, the notion of free-range chickens emerged. The plight of poor ordinary chickens raised under tortuous conditions was brought to the forefront of American sensibility. The buzz was about the birds. Seems that by raising factory chickens in tiny little cages, stacked one on top of each other, chicken farmers were somehow being inhumane. Well duh. They’re fowl for gosh sake. How humane can you treat a non-human. Now I’m not one of those guys that twirls cats around by their tail. The closest thing I ever did to inhumane treatment of animals was to have a cat’s rear claws declawed. That way, whenever I left the house, I could hang him on the screen door. Bad for him, good for my furniture. And I’m not a hunter, flushing nearly flightless birds out of a game park and obliterating them with a shotgun is not my idea of fun. There are plenty of video games that don’t require as much feather cleanup. And I think it’s a shame so many folks think hunting is parking their truck up by the blackberry patch and getting drunk while they wait to ambush a poor bear as he shambles by on his way to a fresh fruit dinner. Bears seem way too human for me to want to shoot em in the back. Just doesn’t seem sporting somehow. But, as I’m not a vegan—at least I think not, I didn’t catch all of Star Trek The Next Generation—and I’m not even a vegetarian, I find it hard to be up in arms over chicken food. Whether a chicken that we are raising solely for the purpose of killing and eating is better off never having tasted the freedom of the chicken yard or it’s better to let the little bugger scamper around and peck bugs out of the gravel in his supposedly free range is a matter for the ethics masters. Personally, I’m squeamish enough about bugs to prefer my chicken raised on a vegetarian diet of whole grains, peanuts, and an occasional blueberry. Beetles and worms translated into breast tissue is a little tummy unsettling. I mean there’s a reason game food tastes, well, gamy. The gamy stuff is transmogrified bugjuice. To me the best argument against factory-raised chicken is the chance of super bacteria emerging from the close proximity of countless gallons of chicken poop to countless pounds of chicken flesh. Superbugs love that kind of stuff, and one strain of avian flu in a modern chicken shed that develops resistant to the every-antibiotic-known-to-man-cocktail factory chickens are inoculated with, is going to be one strong avian flu bug indeed. Goodbye factories crowded with chickens and hello world empty of humans. But you really you know an idea has caught on when subsidiary products start to hit the shelves. The can I was looking at said it all. Swanson, Free Range Chicken Broth.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

#240 Wonder Drugs

You can’t watch TV these days without being hit by a barrage of ads for the new wonder drugs. I call them that, because after I see an ad for one of them I always say, I wonder... My wonder usually centers on the side effects issue. You take a drug for heartburn and it causes bloating and diarrhea. Just moving the problem down the line, if you ask me. You give a kid Ritalin, which is essentially an amphetamine, to slow him down. Then you arrest his father for cooking up meth. Ritalin is the Big Brother of our little post-1984. Forget about spying on each other, to keep us in line our brave new world has drugs. Big Brother is Smith Glaxo-Kline or maybe Merck. Which one makes Soma? The other night I saw ads for three different cholesterol-lowering drugs in a row. They all purported to help lower your cholesterol, both the inherited kind and the dietary kind. They all compared themselves to the established brand Lipitor. Whose name always sounded like some kind of piercing to me: “Hey dude, nice lipitor.” “Thanks man, you should see my Prince Albert.” Anyhow, the new cholesterol drug commercials were very careful to express concern that you should also make healthy lifestyle choices, like dieting and exercise, and promoted their products as cholesterol-lowering assistants not one-pill-shopping cures. Interesting. Are the new wonder drugs so much less potent that they’re spending beaucoup advertising dollars just to give you some wimpy help? Well, it’s not really a wonder drug, it’s more of a beats-a-jab-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick drug.
Last time I watch TV between five and six on a Sunday. Must be the geriatric hour. All I saw were cholesterol drugs and insomnia drugs. Sure enough, I flipped the channels around and what was on but Lawrence Welk? The perfect TV to digest by, when you come back from the early bird special. Speaking of insomnia drugs, I like the one with the butterflies and not the one with the Z’s floating around. I want to dream of butterflies and not letters. I got too many letters in my waking life. Then this prostate-shrinking drug ad came on. A delicate advertising challenge. Do an ad about a drug targeted at older people who aren’t comfortable talking about sex organs and accouterments. They pulled it off until they got to the side effects. Seems this drug Avodart shrinks your prostate by may enlarge your breasts. Oh well. After all the controversy about heart attacks with post-menopausal women, I suppose they needed to find a market for all of that stockpiled estrogen somewhere. Just then another ad comes on: “Hey Ted nice rack.” “Thanks Ed, this place serves the best ribs in the state...” It was for one of those BBQ chains and their early bird special. Wonder if they put Geritol in their sauce...
America, ya gotta love it.

#252 Walpurge-nacht

So is it just me or is there absolutely no vestige of morality and honor left in this great land of ours? My biggest problem is not with the crimes. Everyone makes mistakes, person or corporation. It is the hypocrisy, my friend, that I deplore the most. First the corporation: Pundits on both sides of the fence extol its virtues and its faults. When this retailer moves in, mom and pop stores move out. Yet this store takes great pains to picture itself as just a little backwoods hometown store grown big. A vast repository of American values, the retail backbone of the land of amber waves and purple majesty. And the good ol’ red, white, and blue. It’s only a little unsettling that the largest retailer of American flags carries ones that say “made in china.” Or that their basic sales and labor strategy can be summed up with the phrase: “hire illegal immigrants to sell crap made in other countries.” I mean, America is about the melting pot. Who cares if the pot is imported from Korea or Columbia? What’s more insidious and dishonest is wal-splogging. Splog, as you know is the blogging equivalent of spam. Other people insert comments on your blog and the comments link you back to their blog. Which does two things, it screws up your blog with irrelevant garbage, and it makes their blog look more linked and therefore more likely to come up on search engines and get read more. So if their splog extols, say, the virtues of Sam’s gargantuan little store killer, then blogville take the hindmost. The big question of the internet, “what is truth,” is a bigger and more troubling question than ever. And if bloggermart then hires half of India—as it’s apparently done—to write blogs for pay then the handbasket has already arrived in hell.
The other hypocriticism I have is about an Administration appointee who recently retired. Shortly afterward, he was arrested on charges that he stole merchandise and then took it back for cash refunds. Claude Allen was the prez’s top domestic policy advisor before he resigned. Word has it (I’m not sure if it’s true because I got it on a blog) that Allen was an extremely conservative and religious person, who was on record as anti-gay and pro-abstinence, and presumably a champion of at least most the ten commandments. Shoplifting merchandise and bringing it back for a refund on your credit card is arguably somewhere between coveting your neighbors stuff and thou-shall-not-stealing but the big problem here is, it’s confusing to the youth of America. If you’re going to point morality with one of your fingers the other four of them shouldn’t be engaged in taking a five-finger discount. Criminal types yes, top domestic policy advisor, no. I mean, I hope he wasn’t giving advice that it’s good policy to shoplift from Walmart. Oh, the humanity...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

#238 Count Dis

I think I’m getting skinflint-itis. I like to think of myself as a guy that’s not afraid to pay full price because full price is, or used to be, fair price, and that asking a retailer give you a discount is ignoring the fact that he has lots of expenses in the way of lights, shipping and labor that eat up his apparent profit margin like sumo wrestlers at the rice buffet. So I have never been one of those people who insisted on only buying things if they are on sale. But nowadays, the sad fact is most retailers have caught on that most buyers are that way. So they did what they had to do, marked things up more so they could mark them right back down again and get the same price they would have anyhow. The illusion of getting a deal is maintained, the consumer feels good, the retailer gets his nut and its win-win for everybody except the child worker/slave in Oompa Loompa land. Don’t feel too bad. The owners of Toyota have to face that Kathie Lee-type political controversy every time one of their cars gets sold in Japan with the label “Made in the USA.” Japanese workers get a little fed up with outsourcing stuff to third world America.
In any event, I went into this store because I had a gift certificate. I never shopped in the store ordinarily but I thought I might as well not throw the equivalent of money away and so I decided to pick out something that was as close as possible to the exact amount of the certificate. Naturally, I went a little over. But I figured, hey what the heck I got the item for only a few bucks so why complain. The clerk then surprised me. She said the item was 20% off so my total charge would be less and instead of going over and having to come up with the cash, they would owe me money. Great! Well, not great, it was one of those certificates you can’t get money back on. And it was one of those certificates where you couldn’t carry forward a balance. Which, since it was one of those computer card things, sounded pretty bogus to me. They could keep a small electronic credit on file, they just didn’t want to hassle it. So, It was either buy something else and go over or forfeit the balance. I hadn’t come to the game prepared so I forfeited. Now here’s the deal. At that point, I was angered with a capital PO. I mean, it was a gift certificate for the full amount that someone paid the full amount for. How dare they make me forfeit the difference? Here I was prepared to go over and pay extra and everything. But you know what, I told myself, she did give you 20% off, which is why it was under in the first place, she just took a couple of the percents she was giving you back so it all came out even. But it still rankles. I would have felt so much better if she had just not told me about the discount and said they’d let the few extra bucks over the gift certificate slide.
But another thing worries me more. When did I turn into an old fart penny pincher? Next I suppose, I’ll be holding up the grocery line while I fish exact change out of my coin purse.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

#237 Will He Wonk Her?

This weekend I watched the original Willy Wonka for the first time. I was in the lucky position of being able to see the original after I had seen the remake. The remake was better. I think Tim Burton did a better job capturing the hopelessness of Charlie’s family than did the original director. The darkness and texture of the modern photography was just so much more depressing than the cheery Technicolor of the original. In the original movie’s credits I saw the actual author of the book, Roald Dahl, wrote the screenplay. Roald is also credited with coining the term “gremlin” to describe magical beings that screw up aircraft machinery. Go figure. Somehow, I see a little gremlin in the Oompa Loompa. They are, by the way, one of those things we accept about the movie but smack a little of third world oppression. What would someone say today to going to a deep dark continent and bringing back a bunch of short people to work in your factory around the clock and their only pay was being spared from being eaten by the hoobastank monster, or whatever it was? How about if they just built the, um, “candy factory” in Oompa Loompa land? Would it be okay for Kathie Lee Gifford or Nike to own it? I was trying to trace back why I had never seen the original movie in its heyday. Then I saw the date, 1971. Well that makes sense. 1971 was the end of the sixties and my priorities were not in cautionary tales about family and candy. I was busy changing the world, fighting racism and sexism, and the exploitation of third world countries by, well, nevermind. I think I was also put off a bit by the signature song from the movie. I remember cringing every time Sammy Davis Junior came on the radio singing, “The Candy Man Can.” Believe it or not, there were those in the media of the day, perhaps the prototypes of Fox Newsies, who decried the candy man song as having veiled references to drug use. The, ahem, Candy Man, was supposedly a euphemism for the drug pusher. I kid you not. But the most entertaining part about watching the new and old movies was how they modernized the kid characters. Veruca Salt was the same spoiled brat, with only slightly more Bill Gates-y aspirations to riches. Gum-Chewing Violet Beauregarde had the added dimension of a driven, athletized, presumably coffee enema-d mother. Mike TeeVee Violence was updated to Mike VideoGame Violence. But the biggest surprise of all was Augustus Gloop, the fat German kid, the only non-English speaking person in the whole world to win a magic ticket. In the modern movie, Gloop’s girth had to be magnified tenfold to portray him as noticeably fat. The Gloop of the seventies looks downright normal by today’s standards. Who would have thought in 1971 that 35 years later we’d have to upgrade the concept of obese. Good job candy man. You not only can, you did.
America, ya gotta love it.

#236 Mind Control

I read an interesting statistic the other day. 10% of all 10-year-old boys are on Ritalin or similar drugs. That’s right. If we are to believe that doctors know what they are doing, 10% of all 10-year-old boys suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. A condition, by the way, that no other country in the world recognizes and no other country in the world prescribes drugs for. Of course, they don’t have the stress of sitting in a dull classroom while being a part of the world’s only remaining superpower. Take that France.
Seriously though, is it possible that we Americans are so different that 10% of our boy children are so out of control they need to be drugged 24/7? Pardon me if I beg to differ. I think we’re just lazy, teachers, doctors, and, most of all, parents. Now before my teacher friends get on my case, I know, it’s tough to teach. And it’s tough to keep a classroom of ten-year-olds under control without the threat of a humiliating trip to the principle’s office or, I can’t believe I’m saying this, corporal punishment. Having a firm talking-to to little Billy and putting him in timeout just doesn’t work when he holds the threat of suing you for ostracizing him and leaving permanent psychological damage. Especially when his parents, who are looking to avoid the hard work of parenting, and all the responsibility for the results of their poor parenting, that they are only too happy to drag you to court. Much easier to send little bully Billy to the school nurse and for her to talk to the parents and recommend a drug that will not only keep him numb at school but have the added benefit of keeping him zombie-like at home too. What negligent parent could resist? Add in a lazy doctor who prescribes drugs on demand and likes to follow the trends and what do you get? 10% of all 10-years-olds added in the statistics. I’m using the word add a lot aren’t I? That’s because everything adds up. And add is spelled a- d- d-...
It’s too bad. Because it’s all so unnatural. I was one of those incorrigible 10%. If I was a kid today I would be diagnosed a-d-d-. In my day, I was just rambunctious. I couldn’t stand sitting for hours on end in a restrictive classroom. It was, as I say, unnatural. You take a 10-year-old kid, full of vim and vinegar and enough energy to hover like a hummingbird, and you plunk him down in a regimented classroom, tell him to be quiet, and force his nose into a boring book. Hello! What’s the title of the book, “Recipe for Disaster?” So now, you have a natural kid in an unnatural environment. How do you get him to conform? Give him an unnatural drug. That’s the ticket, create a problem where there isn’t and then fix it with a pill. In my day they invented recess. How old-fashioned. Now, if the kids don’t mind, why, they must need mind control. A spoonful of Ritalin makes the lesson go down...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

#255 Life 3-D

Mark my words. I’m more prescient than even I can predict. A long time ago, when scratch lotto tickets first came out, I had this joke in my stand-up act about scratch and sniff lotto tickets. If you won, it smelled like a spring breeze, fresh money, or new cars. If you lost, it smelled like an overripe Sanican. That was 20 years ago. Guess what they now have? Scratch and sniff lotto tickets. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. I also predicted that a Hollywood couple would break up and the stock market would be volatile. And that somebody important would die. So take that Nostradamus.
Famous deaths, they say, come in threes. Recently we lost another character actor trio. Darren McGavin stalked into the night before Christmas story, Dennis Weaver limped off into the Mccloudy sunset, and Don Knotts said three’s company, wished Andy goodbye, and took his adams apple into that great rural farm district on high. Don, Darrin and Dennis, forget about death in threes, how about death THREE--D.... spooky...
Occult things always amaze me. As I’ve said before, I’m a Virgo so I don’t believe in all that horoscope nonsense, but I, like most people, love to go to Chinese restaurants and get my fortune. Kind of the reverse of most things. I mean, if you want a really good cup of coffee, generally it’s not going to be free at the gas station. You pay a little more at Olympia Coffee Roasting company or B& B. So why is it when you go into an Asian restaurant you put so much stock in a random cookie scribbling? Maybe it’s because you are prepped with a placemat that reorients your psychic senses. Gone is the western Arabic horoscope of centaurs and crabs. Exotic signs like Gemini and Aquarius and Capricorn—ah to be a twin or a water boy or a goat—are replaced by weird eastern signs like dragons and tigers and, oh yeah, pigs and rats. I like going to a Chinese place with someone who was born in 1960 or 1972 and having them find out their new sign is the rat. Especially if they’re born in August and have been lording it over everybody with that Leo thing. Worse from a self-esteem point of view is someone who’s born in late December of 1955. Ya got the double goat going there. Capricorn western goat and Chinese eastern goat. Can’t shuck that goat thing for nothing. I pity someone born of December 25th 1955. He’s a double zodiacal goat and he never gets Christmas presents and birthday presents separately. You ought to be allowed to voluntarily change your birth date to, like, June. You can change your name, why not your ability to actually have a birthday party that you don’t share with the individual who transformed western civilization. Merry Christmas Darrin, and oh, happy birthday. Were you the one on Bewitched...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

#251 Thumb Liquor

So I’m looking at the opinion page in the newspaper the other day. I was lucky because this was the day the editor was giving thumbs up and thumbs down to people. Now first let me say the whole thumbs up thumbs down thing has a checkered history. We most recently remember it from when Siskel and Ebert decided that’s the way to condemn or condone a movie. “Two thumbs up” meant you had at least two positive opinions of a movie to risk that $7.50 on. “Two thumbs down” watch out. There’d be some funky Ishtar going down in the city. Before that, in the early sixties, there was a movie by, I believe, a guy named William Castle. It may have been as early as the fifties, I’m not sure, all those blobs and things and giant grasshoppers and 60-foot men are kind of jumbled in my brain. What I do remember was the movie was called Mr. Sardonicus. Mr. Sardonicus was kind of a phantom of the opera sort of guy. He wore a mask to cover his facial disfigurement but he was really cruel. At the end of the movie the audience was asked to vote on which ending they preferred, his death or his redemption. This was in the days of 3-D glasses by the way. There was a giveaway for this movie too. When you paid for your ticket you were given a little card with a thumb on it. The thumb was coated with that radioactive glow in the dark stuff. If you wanted Mr. Sardonicus to live you held the thumb upright, if you wanted him to die you held the thumb down. For some reason the audience always voted thumbs down. Maybe it was for the lame movie itself. Maybe we are just a cruel and heartless populace, maybes little Gene Siskel was in the audience cheering them on. Before that, thumbs played a big part in the Roman gladiator kill the Christians era. The rabid audience would implore Caesar to kill or free the gladiatorial loser. Death by public acclaim. Talk about feeling unloved. So anyhow. I’m not at all sure the newspaper ought to be using such a barbaric gesture of death, murder, and condemnation but what the hell. Gotta do something to balance their liberal image. One of the entries was funny though. The editor was condemning businesses that served alcohol to minors. It then listed them with their names in capital letters. Oh the shame. Oh the humiliation. Then I read the last name on the list. At first, I missed it because it wasn’t capitalized. Funny, cause this is the state capital. And the offender who was caught in a sting operation selling liquor to minors? The state liquor store. Oh boy, If I was one of those business owners I’d be saying hey, if even your highly trained lifetime liquor sellers screw up, how am I supposed to do better with my barely over twenty-one nighttime help? I betcha they had a different idea about where to stick their thumbs.
America, ya gotta love it.

#235 F-Series

As I was almost run over by a monster truck the other day, I chanced to look at its brand marker on the lower right tailgate. It said F-something. Something pricked my mind. I remember a guy, whose advice and counsel I value very much, declaiming one day on the F-Series mentality. Or any truck series really. Seems the more powerful the truck, the bigger disdain these yahoos have for the rest of us poor sedan drivers. They’ll rumble up beside you, cut you off in traffic on a sudden lane switch, and sneer at you through their chaw-stained teeth, daring you to assert your right of way. Or they won’t look at you at all—as if you’re some kind of bug—while they shout into their cellphone and juggle their coffee cup full of tobaccy juice.
I read an article in the Seattle PI the other day about a scientific study done with bats. Apparently, bats with bigger testicles have smaller brains than bats with normal ones. According to FCC regulations, in any 2-minute essay I’m allowed one scientific use of that word so from this point on I’ll use a euphemism to describes the, um, boys. Let’s call them, oh, I don’t know, trucks. Seems that bat males with bigger trucks have them because on an evolutionary scale it gives them a better chance to reproduce and pass on their genes. Not pass out while they’re in their jeans, pass on their genes. As in chromosomes. The enquiring scientist who wanted to know said that it turns out size does matter. Bats with larger, um, trucks, had smaller brains, and showed less aptitude for complex reasoning skills, ability to multitask and capacity to negotiate through bat traffic while out on the nightly bug hunt. They also expressed a blatant disregard for the subtleties of a fine Washington merlot. In order to achieve such prodigious truck size, scientists explain there has to be a trade off. Both big brains and big trucks require an enormous physiological investment. That body energy has to come from somewhere. There are no free lunches. The interesting thing is that the bats that have developed larger trucks have done so as a result of evolutionary pressure engendered by loose bat women. Turns out that in bat species where the females are promiscuous, the male bats have bigger trucks. In bat species where the females are monogamous, males have smaller trucks and bigger brains. Perhaps so they can figure out how to keep their bat-wife happy when her bat clothes make her look fat. The big-trucked males have to get their big trucks because in mating competition, evolutionary survival becomes a matter of who can deliver the most cargo to the manufacturers of future bats. The bat with the truck that can move the most genetic cargo into the factory stands the best chance of having it be manufactured into another one in the, um, series.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

#234 I am not Furby

The other day we were cleaning some of the darker recesses of our house and we found something interesting: a Furby. At one time, no young girl’s household was complete without one of these annoying little furballs spouting his electronic nonsense at the oddest times. Many an occasion I nearly soiled my bloomers while I was doing laundry and the furboid started screaming for attention. “Oooh, Kah scared,” he would say if you turned out the light. “Boring!” He would yell if he didn’t get any attention. It was like having another preschooler around the house. Except you couldn’t use him to do anything productive. Hey, mow the freaking lawn furmeister, or I’ll give you some attention you won’t forget. I got yer attention right here... You know, parenting stuff. How strange were the nineties. Programmed response interactive furballs. From chia pet to nano-pet. Whatever happened to Lincoln Logs? And then it occurred to me.
The biggest difference between a Furby and me is I have more methods of inputting stimuli and a slightly wider array of responses. And, I believe I am independent of my knee jerk responses. But preprogrammed responses are not that much different from habits. If I always check the lock when I leave the house isn’t that nothing more than a established response to certain stimuli? When my attention jerks when the phone rings isn’t that the equivalent of Furby saying “Kah not like” every time I hold him upside down? But don’t I have free will, and rights? Funny thing, I got a voters’ pamphlet a couple of elections ago. The Secretary of State, in his little introductory letter, talked about how I should participate in the election because it was a big deal to be—his words, “granted the right to vote.” Now maybe it is if I’m a Furby. But I happen to be the descendant of a group of people who weren’t granted the right to vote. They fought and died to establish the idea that it was their right to vote, period. And they didn’t have to be white or a landowner or a member of the Anglican church in order to do so. It was their natural inalienable right. Then the Sec talked about exercising the privilege to vote. We can exercise our right. But it is not a privilege, like it was given to us by a king, or in the sense that it can be revoked by, say, a teacher when he puts you in detention for disrupting his class with a joke and he revokes your privilege to go to the dance. It can be revoked by your peers only if you commit a major crime against your society. Some would disagree.
And some don’t even think about it. They just vote for one party or the other automatically. Or vote because a single issue triggers a habitual response. I know my Furby is on the fence on the issue. Ungrateful little robot. And I just granted him new batteries, too.
America, ya gotta love it.

#232 Like a Grape

I heard an interesting factoid the other day. I’m not sure if its truth or one of those urban legends. Seems that the whole suicide bomber reward thing got lost in translation. How, you ask, could something get lost in translation in their own language? It could happen. Time changes things. There are a lot of disputed verses in the Bible, for instance, that hinge on how an ancient Hebrew word was translated into the Greek and then how it was translated into Latin and then into late medieval English. Ever tried to wade through Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales, or heck, even someone relatively late like Shakespeare? And they are all supposedly in English. I remember hearing a gal on one of those imported English shows on TV asking one of her friends to knock her up. What she meant was to phone her, but American viewers went, What? I had a friend who went over to England. When he left, we all called him by his name, Randy. When he came back, he insisted we call him Randall. Turns out when he was in England at a pub, he’d introduce himself to girls by going up and saying in perfect American, “Hi, I’m Randy.” More that once was he knocked around, in this sense meaning to slap until his ears rang like a telephone. Randy is the word that we in America equate with, um, a readiness to engage in, um, togetherness. Like a goat. So I can see how it’s possible for something to get lost in translation from the language of 800 A.D. to today. 1200 or so odd years can do a lot to language and meaning, fo’ shizzle.
Those of us who watch news-o-tainment believe that the reason it’s easy to get suicide bombers to die for their cause is because their religion promises them a wonderful reward in the afterlife. At least that’s what the news-o-tainment propagandists would have us believe. Folk wisdom doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be believable. So since we can’t conceive of anyone wanting to blow themselves up for hatred of their enemy or because they really feel it’s the only chance they have to take it to at least some of the people they perceive are their oppressors—because we can’t conceive of that kind of desperation—we think it must be due to something we do understand in American pie culture: teenage lust. And the teenage lust addressed in the putative promise of Allah is that if you blow yourself up for the cause, when you get to heaven you’ll be attended by 40 beautiful virgins. So that’s where the translation thing comes in. Apparently the appropriate text uses a word that doesn’t translate as “virgins” at all, but “white grapes.” That’s right, 40 white grapes. Youch. I’m guessing there’s a lot of disillusioned, disenchanted, and disappointed angry teenagers in the afterlife. Talk about grapes of wrath... America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

#231 CaNaDa

There’s an old joke. How did they name Canada? Two northerners sitting around and they’re throwing out letters for consideration. One says “C” eh? The other one says “N” eh? And the last one says “D”eh? We say we’re from America. The Canadians maintain we’re from “The States,” since they assert some claim to America as well. Right. Like any Italian mariners ever got close to their frozen wastes. Canadians seem a little strange. It’s not just because they say “eh” and GARage and aboat and oat. It’s not just because they have a great healthcare system. That all the big money U.S. medical lobbiests are always taking potshots at. Saying they have long lines and sub-standard care and etc. And yet, for all the supposedly horrendous medical costs Ford finds it more productive and profitable to build a plant there because the medical costs are taken out of the employees’ checks like social security not the employers’ bottom line. And let’s face it, Canadian prescription costs are cheap enough to tempt ordinarily law-abiding American senior citizens into the dangerous world of across the border drug smuggling. Cheap arthritis pills are more tempting than cocaine to these folks. Recreational highs got nothing on pain relief. The heat is on.
No, what’s most annoying about Canada is their weird sense of language. If you ever turn to the Canadian channel and watch, you notice that they take a long time to say stuff. Kind of go around the bend a little first. Repeat themselves in a subtly redundant way that sounds polished and snooty but is really just the timid utterance of a childlike culture that’s never really broken away from the apron stings of mother England. What can you expect? When they have a hot day it’s like 37 degrees, when we have a hot day it’s 100. Celsius and Fahrenheit just take you to a different temperature perspective. Our version is just naturally more hyped.
Anyhow, one example of how Canadians don’t get American language is when they name a sports team that is going to compete in one of our leagues. Like the Montreal Expos. Ooh. The fighting Expos, watch out, we might pull down our pants. Or the Toronto Blue Jays—don’t mess with us, we’ll poop on your windshield. Or the most recent in they just don’t get it Canadians team names: The Toronto Raptors. Had anyone except for a few scientists ever even heard the term “raptors” before Jurassic park? Is this the sort of name to grasp the public imagination? To get the fans all fired up? How about Dragons, or Thunderlizards? Raptors? It seems so needlessly scientific. And it’s this year’s Canadian expansion team from Manitoba—the fighting Homo Sapiens.
America, ya gotta love it.

#247 Wint-O-limpia

America isn’t watching TV. Or Cable either. Or I should say America is watching less and less of the same thing. The recent Oscars are a prime example. No blockbuster movies, lots of art films. Lots of films means less time to view any one. We are a busy people. With all of us in two wage-earner families, with many of us working 55-hour weeks, you’d think our nation was slaving in the company town. The fact that the new money look suspiciously like scrip doesn’t help. Where was I? Oh yeah, fragmentation of culture. The fact that there are so many entertainment options means that here in the age of mass communication there aren’t, paradoxically, as many mass favorites. We all have the option of sampling life a-la-carte. Buffet eating means we don’t have to share the same three dishes. The only thing we are connected to is our electronics. The image of a solo dancer wiggling down the street with nothing but his Ipod earphone cords to distinguish him from a sufferer of St Vitus is a clue to our problem. He’s not got Chorea, his electronics are from there. At least when we all listened to the Top 40 station we could boogie together. So I gotta admit, the chief reason I didn’t watch the Winter Olympics was because I didn’t have three hours to kill waiting for the luge run. Or staying tuned for that one aerobatic skier doing his hurricane. I wanted to watch what I wanted to watch now. I didn’t want to sit through an agonizing hour of figure-skating pratfalls and curling to get to the gatecrashers on the slalom. And what made it worse was since they were showing it in Primetime America, actual happening time Italy was nearly the previous day. TEVO, people would say, and it’s true. The footage was old anyhow; I might as well have TEVO’d the whole thing and skipped through to the best parts. Unfortunately, I don’t have TEVO. The less I have to pay for TV the better. But I have a better idea. There’s pay-per-view, PPV, why not pay-per-event, PPE. But make someone else pay. Here’s how it would work. The Olympics happened yesterday or an hour ago. A menu appears on my pay-per-event screen: Billy Kwan is up for his fourth heat in the unmatched pairs ice dancing event. Bodie Millertime is going downhill in a ball of flame. I elect to watch Bodie. I click the appropriate electronic box. I now render payment by sitting through a compete series of commercials featuring skis, beer, and ski-friendly chiropractors. Then I get to watch Bodie and the European winners. I benefit because I picked from an a-la-carte menu and now I can get back to the slopes myself. The advertisers benefit because they’ve absolutely pin-pointed their target demographic and don’t have to waste a lot of money showing beer commercials to ice dancers. Mark this, the future of TV is all about pepee, PPE, pay per event.
America, ya gotta love it.

#230 Lounge Less

I was reading a magazine and came across an ad for a new nutria-system nourishing weight loss program. The “before” and “after” pictures were so dramatically different you wanted to call for a DNA test. I always expect the “befores” to have frumpy overalls and the “afters” to have bikinis but they should at least try to get people with the same brow line. In any event, the ad proclaimed a new scientific breakthrough in weight loss. That gives you the benefits of a low-carb diet but you still enjoy the carbs. I confess, I was intrigued. Anything that promises all of the benefits and none of the price sounds completely believable to me. I mean, free ride, perpetual motion, gain without pain, absolutely, sign me up. The next line reiterated this astonishing promise. “Take the work out of weight loss,” it proclaimed. And then, “Get a week worth of food free!” Wow! Both free and no work. I’m ready to throw out my cardboard sign and give up my place at the freeway off-ramp. Turns out the work you save, by the way, is ordering your meals pre-prepared and delivered to your door. So it’s the cooking that you do less of. Damn, and that’s the only exercise you were getting.
See, I think the problem here is that urge we all have to get something for nothing. Even though everything we’ve ever been taught by experience indicates otherwise, we still hold out for the million dollar lottery. It’s no wonder lottery winners soon end up with screwed up lives. Something for nothing just ain’t natural. But hope, as they say, springs eternal and a skinny butt is an eternal spring of hope. The holy grail of the diet world, small butt and six-pack abs. It’s kind of funny. Look at the old James Bond movies when Sean Connery takes of his shirt. He’s hairy, first off, and his waist is a little thick. Back then, the word ab hadn’t even been invented. The physical model of ultimate manliness was longshoreman burliness, not Schwarzenegger ungirlyness.
But today we have abs, and, of course, all kinds of infomercials have pay-over-time gadgets that promise to chisel our stomachs like Michelangelo on steroids. I saw the newest on TV the other day. And its name absolutely captures the expectation-setting of today’s no-pain but-we-promise-gain-anyhow culture. It’s called the ab lounger. That’s right, lounge your way to perfect abs. It’s a modified chaise lounge that bends back like the broken ones you used to have on the back porch and bends forward into a full crunch—with mechanical assistance, so you don’t have to actually work at your ab lounging. The ab lounger. That sums it up to me. This machine exercises for you. Talk about convenience. And bonus, your butt will look smaller cause your wallet won’t have any of that bulging unsightly money left in it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

#228 This Bud’s For You

So I’m reading this article the other day. And it’s about taste buds. Old folks like me may remember from your school years that there are four main taste buds; sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. I always thought sweet got kind of short shrift there. No wonder we try to get more. We just want to balance out all the sour, bitter, and salt. But tongues are a reflection of life I guess. You gotta take the tons of bitter, sour, and salt with the tiny bit of the sweet. Well a few years back tongue researchers, taste-ologists, or whatever they’re called, found out we actually have another taste bud. And, I assume because it was discovered by a Japanese, um, linguist, the name for this taste bud is umami. As in: Ooh mommy, what’s that savory flavor? And, in fact, that’s what taste this taste bud craves: Savory. Oh boy, the BBQ taste bud, the charbroiled burger taste bud, the ketchup and salty French fries taste bud, the tomato sauce-laced chili Fritos taste bud. Hey Cletus, they got them a taste bud for spicy curly fries. Now everyone could understand how we could seriously appreciate the mellow flavor of oak cask-aged bourbon and hickory-smoked ham. Not to mention jerky. It wasn’t just salt. There was a savory flavor.
Well just when you thought things couldn’t get any better science has come up with an even newer taste bud. The fat bud. Yeah, that’s right, we got a special taste bud for fat. This explains a lot. Because no matter how cleverly fat-free foods are prepared, they never seem satisfying. In mice, fat buds apparently trigger the release of enzymes in the digestive system that prepare it to absorb the nutrients from fat when it makes it down the line. A similar mechanism in humans makes sense. Hunter/scavengers need high-calorie food to survive. And though it was rare for cave men to encounter Doritos in the wild, they nonetheless would have found it a nice food to help them stave of the cold of winter. Just because their equivalent of a Barcolounger was actually made out of bark doesn’t mean that enjoying a nice strip of bacon wasn’t in their evolutionary interest. If our tongues help us crave, consume, digest, and store high calorie fatty foods for times of starvation we’re ahead of the game. Of course, if the closest we come to starving is when we run out of Ben and Jerry’s before our midnight snack, chances are our society will go from the “spare tire” to the “whole Michelin man” body type in less than a generation. Still it explains a lot. I’ve long maintained that bacon is nature’s perfect food. Now I got the science to back me up. It’s got sweet, sour, salty, and a tech of bitter. And it sure as heck has savory and loads of fat as well. So I guess when people say they’re fat because of their glands it ain’t because they’re lying. Around or otherwise. It’s their tongue glands.
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

#227 Guns and Roses

The other day I was at a meeting where we were discussing potential sponsors for a charitable event. One of the folks suggested we go after one of those “lovers” supply stores. You know, the ones with marital aids and adult toys and such like. A couple of people on the fundraising committee expressed concern. As the names of the sponsors were to appear in the advertising, these members cautioned perhaps it wouldn’t be good for this business of questionable taste to be included. Fair enough, I suppose, maybe the Father Murphy Home for Impoverished Adolescents is not the appropriate recipient for the largesse of a store devoted to lovers, um, accessories.
The meeting proceeded and other less controversial names were thrown out. Finally, one of the members suggested the local gun shop. Yeah, other members chimed in. They were a business in the community. They appeared to be making money and would no doubt be interested in supporting a charitable cause, and etc. It was decided by acclaim that indeed this gun shop was worthy of going after for a charitable contribution. No thought was apparently given to whether anyone would be offended by a gun shop being a sponsor—maybe the society for the prevention of cruelty to Bambi or something. Or the 50% of folks polled in our country that are upset by our culture of violence and gun-toting hunters and their desire to slaughter innocent wildlife. Could be some of the same people, in fact, who think that stores that offer the promotion of love through marital aids deserve at least as much right to public acknowledgement as a store devoted to hunting down and killing.
Now before you come out to shoot me or drape me in lingerie remember I’m just reporting here. But it is odd. You got your sexy undies. Apparently it’s okay to have a Victoria’s Secret show on TV. Apparently, it’s okay to talk about sex in ordinary conversation. But we must be sure to refer to it in euphemisms lest little pitchers with big ears hear us. Or a more prudish adult should happen upon our conversation and—land of Goshen—be offended by an open and frank discussion of sexuality. Unless that discussion is Senator Bob Dole talking about erectile dysfunction in a TV ad during dinner hour.
And yet, it’s perfectly okay for that same child or schoolmarm to be subjected to an endless discussion of how many beers someone drank before they brought down a bear from the cab of their air conditioned pickup. And the bloody and gory story of where they actually lodged the bullet in said minding his own business ursine and how they skinned it out and which bloody parts they brought back and which parts they left to rot in the meadow for the coyotes and crows. Odd how we’re more comfortable with the expression of violence than the expression of love...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

#226 Foxy Lady

With the WB and UPN networks folding into each other like so much whipped egg white, the great Fox Network stands alone as the alternative to the former big three, CBS, NBC, and ABC. In fact, between them Fox Entertainment and Fox News now have a significant market share of semi-recumbent Americans. Stretched out in their recliners and remote surfing back and forth from the tasteless comedy of the Simpsons to the tasteless tragedy of bombastic news. One might say, if one were so inclined, that the Fox is guarding the henhouse of American culture. Kind of scary actually. I mean, when I was growing up the pompous-yet-titillating, scandal-mongering commentators were reserved for the low budget channels. And the soft porn, well, you had to get that from the guy down the street, I think his name was Jerry Springer.
But our diversion-challenged society eats it up on Fox entertainment and when they’re done they turn to the “news” for their gossip. Most Fox News programs are kind of like the political version of Entertainment Tonight and Jenny Jones combined. High visibility personalities, combative guests, and everyone wringing as many emotional towels as an attendant in a group therapy session.
And now Fox has garnered some big sports contracts as well. More football next year, more baseball, Nascar is right around the corner. So they got the big three: Sports-slash-violence, Entertainment-slash-titillation, and News-slash-outrage.
The voice of reason is whimpering quietly in the wind. Or perhaps it’s the wake created by the masses on their loud, turbulent, and bombastic roller coaster of emotion. Hey, e-motion is the closest motion to exercise they get. Unless their Barcoloungers have a built in vibrator.
The Japanese, according to my father, who was in Japan shortly after World War II, printed their newspapers in three levels of their pictographic language. Only the really educated people could read the top level, the middle folks the middle and the not so educated the lowest. The Japanese promoted a caste system based essentially on literacy. They knew that if the maxim “knowledge is power” was true, the obverse, “lack of knowledge is lack of power” is even more so.
Caesar said the two secrets to keeping a population docile and manageable are bread and circuses. Feed em and entertain em. A modern day Caesar may have substituted Doritos and the Superbowl. But hey. The world’s burying itself under its own trash, where there isn’t abject hunger there’s crushing obesity, fanatics of every stripe are ready to nuke each other into oblivion, what the heck, let’s get the Stones for a half time show. Let me please introduce myself...
America, ya gotta love it.

#225 What’s in a Name

Recently Warner Brothers and CBS announced they were closing down their respective struggling TV offshoots and merging them into one entity targeting the 18-24 demographic. TV companies that target the 18-24 demographic are struggling because they have to compete with so many other entertainment options for the young people’s attention—Ipods, Grand Theft Auto, online paintball and the internet generally. Older folks’ TV channels only have to compete with internet porn and karaoke. Even older folks networks simply have to compete with their viewers nodding off in the recliner. But it is a testimony to the perceived power of initials in branding that the name of the new network is called by two letters and two letters only. The network CBS is closing down is, or was, UPN. I don’t know what UPN stands for, when I first it heard it I thought, oh, that’s those channels at the other end of the spectrum you could only tune it with a really good Star Trekkie antennae. The other network that’s closing is WB. Initials bug me. I never knew what UPN meant and I didn’t care, like IBM, I wasn’t going to be confused. WB was a little more of a stretch. It sounded like it ought to be something. I remembered seeing it at the end of a movie or something. Eventually I realized that the company I knew of, and was comfortable with, as Warner Brothers had decided to initialize, to divorce themselves from their past or something. WB, which was Warner Brothers, is now a division of Time Warner, which was a merger of Time magazine and Warner Brothers Entertainment back in the corporate slash and burn era of the 80s and 90s, and Ted Turner was in there somewhere and so on and so on and where the heck is my Enron stock? Oh well. What’s in a name anyhow, a rose by any other name is just as sweet. Although I’ve never really subscribed to that theory either. If we had named roses yogurts or skanks I don’t think they would have caught on. I mean words kind of find their level. Giving your sweetheart a bouquet of fragrant skanks for Valentines Day just wouldn’t quite be the same. So what two intials did the branding mavens of corporate America decide to name the new channel that merges the best of 18-24 entertainment options? The wired, techno, Ipod generation? The WIFI users and downloaders and computer savvy laptop totting, cellphone digital picture texting, vampire slaying smallvillian Goths and geeks? CW. That’s right, they named the network CW. I guess cause C is for CBS and W is for Warner Brothers. But you know what partner? In the rest of America CW means country western. So they’re gonna be a lot of cowboys tuning in and complaining to there bible belt congressman about all those steamy teenage goings-on UPN and WB were famous for. What were they thinking? Was the name I-TV taken?
America, ya gotta love it.

#224 Tidbits

Just a couple of tidbits today. Starting with the word “tidbits” itself. Now, interestingly, my spellchecker has no problem with the spelling tidbits. “Tid” as in tiddlywinks and “bits” as in less than a whole bite. But from time to time I read a book from someone from the other English speaking countries and they use the term “titbits.” Now I’m not sure how they differ but I guess the British variation, being older, carries a bit more sense with it. If in fact “titbits” means anything, it most likely means the little bit of nursing fluid left over for the runt of the litter. Or, as those last cow squeezings that may be put to use in less than 10 gallon ways. Or, perhaps it refers to bits of cheese, obviously diary and therefore cow mammary in origin—udderly delicious, as they say. The first syllable of the word titbits has enjoyed a checkered past in this country. We have changed it to “teet” in polite company and most often when referring to animal manipulations. As in: The farmer squeezed the cows teet and out came a frothy fluid. When referring to human appurtenances the word takes on a more problematic usage. Certain cable channels use the syllable as a suffix, after the word man, and say it quire freely. Lately they have used the syllable in a stand-alone form, but only when uttered by a female. Usually, a term of more medical or general origin is used to refer to the chest region of the female anatomy. It’s a fair guess that our puritan origins are the cause. Particularly as Puritanism emerged during the Louis the XIV era, a period of both chest-baring and elaborate codpiece-enhanced fashions. Prudish Puritans started to suppress all reference to reproductive body parts. So when the plainly dressed, stark, homespun puritans came to the shores of America, the term tid emerged as a replacement for the more titillating term referred to earlier. I have no idea where we got to tiddlywinks from there. My dictionary says tiddly is an illicit grog shop from one of the medieval periods of prohibition, where they served beer and grog and big plates of food by wenches in various states of dishabille. Kind of like that place we have today that’s named after, um, owls. Wink wink.
That’s all on that bit. It occurred to me the other day there are some pluses and minuses to suffering as I do from a milder form of multiple personality disorder. A minus is that the biggest problem with multiple personality disorder is that you’re never sure which medication to take for whom. A plus is, you have a plausible excuse if you’re caught using the carpool lane. But the biggest problem with more than one person in your head is your points of view. Half empty or half full? Not that having more than one personality hasn’t given me an up kind of life. I’ve been stood up and held up and beat up...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

#223 Ham-Buggler

It’s Herbie meets the Nutty Professor meets Big Mama—a crazy bug that makes you fat. Scientists have just proven that the scourge of obesity that is girdling the planet is most likely caused by a virus. That’s right, put away your oldies Richard Simons, the latest weapon in the anti-weight campaign is the face mask. All the precaution we take to prevent against food borne illness can now be used to prevent food borne fatness.
But first the science: University of Wisconsin scientists have shown that a human virus can cause obesity in chickens, a strong suggestion that it could cause fat in people too. What put the Wisconsonians—or Wisconsonites—on the track was the glaringly obvious in retrospect notion that obesity stands alone among chronic diseases in the rapidity of its “spread.” If you plot it on a graph the inflationary upward curve looks very much like an infectious disease epidemic. It’s broadening on a massive scale. Forget about global warming, global widening is the most dangerous trend of the new century. Rising cholesterol levels are far more a danger than rising seal levels. Icebergs calving and floating into the sea lanes are much less hazard that all the humongous sunbathers misguided Greenpeacers have rolled back into the ocean.
The scientific findings indicate the culprit as being an adenovirus. And no less an authority than the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology—which is like the People magazine of the scientific world—has weighed in with this comment: “The nearly simultaneous increase in the prevalence of obesity in most countries of the world is difficult to explain by changes in food intake and exercise alone, and suggests that adenoviruses could have contributed.” Wow that’s a mouthful.
About 60 million adults in the U.S. alone are defined as obese. Total cost of obesity to the U.S. economy is estimated at 78.5 billion. Oddly, total junkfood sales are about 100 billion. So net-net we still tap the scale on the half-full side of the optimistic equation.
The Wisconsin researchers are toying with the idea of a vaccine. I’m pretty sure if they come up with one, there’ll be a lot of skinnier people out there that would love to buy more cheese. In the meantime, here are some basic cautionary steps from the food handlers manual that all young restaurant workers are supposed to pass a test on: Wash your hand frequently. Don’t sneeze into the salad bar and after washing, scrub your hands vigorously with a paper towel before returning to the food preparation area. Wouldn’t it be funny if McDonalds was blamed for all these years for making people fat when in fact it was their poorly-trained and poorly-hygiened teenage help that was spreading the Mc-fat germ. Two all beef patties special sauce ketchup pickles lettuce onion on a virus flecked bun. Supersize me indeed.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

#239 Al Jazeera! Gesundheit!

A while back, I was talking about Google, and how they had refused to turn over internet search data to the feds. I talked about how a trail of searches, for anthrax and bomb making and crime labs, may look bad to a hyper-security guy but was perfectly understandable when you saw that I was doing research for a novel I was writing. Farfetched? Hard to say. I did do the searches and I did write the detective novel, and as far as I know, I’m still not a terrorist. But the feds may not think so. The other day I went to Google News and I saw a headline that interested me so I clicked on the link. Up comes this news story. I read for a little bit and then my eyes are drawn to the masthead. I couldn’t help but notice that the news organization that was publishing the article was, um, al Jazeera. Spit, shizzle, and shinola! What have I done now?
I can imagine the consternation of anyone searching my searches, or perhaps looking across the internet for suspected links. If Google and Yahoo can get in trouble because in China they’re blocking internet links to websites with words like freedom and democracy and chatrooms discussing how involuntary organ donorship is wrong, how easy would it be for the sophisticated-electronic-monitoring federal government to come knocking on my door when I rang the hidden al Jazeera bell. Of course, everyone knows that reads National Geographic that al Jazeera is not a hotbed of terrorist plotting; they are an independent, Arab news station run out of Qatar. That said, they not always in agreement with the current administration and Fox News. And suspicion is nine-tenths of the law. When I was in the investment business, we had a list we were supposed to check before we accepted money. The list was of suspected terrorists, and the reason we were supposed to check it, was to make sure none of them were laundering money by giving it to a small investment firm and then taking it out again. The list had ten thousand names so it was a bear to check. Even harder was that practically every name on it started with Al, Ali, or Mustafa. Oh yeah and about 50% Mohammeds. That list at last count is up to 300,000. I’ve heard there is also a search engine that detects when someone spells out the letters Allah. Lucky my name isn’t Callahan.
The Patriot Act allows that if I’m even a suspected terrorist, I can be moved to Guantanamo bay for indefinite questioning—since once I am a suspected—not convicted—terrorist I have no legal rights. Like the right to hire a lawyer to prove I had written a book about terrorists and wasn’t one myself. You can bet that al Jazeera thing ain’t gonna look good on my internet resume. Maybe if I expressed an interest in investing in a company that’ll operate a major US port...
Dubai or not Dubai, that is the question...
America, ya gotta love it.

#241 Valen-ton

That emotional cataclysm we call Valentines day has passed again. And I’m glad. I really, really hate to be told where, when, and how I should be romantic—especially by the likes of card and candy manufacturers. Cards, flowers and candy—do they have an industry name of their own? The romance industry? No, that would most likely include adult toys as well. The caring industry? Nope, sounds too much like nurses and stuff. How about the relationship industry? Yeah. Here’s some flowers Honey, let’s go talk to Dr. Phil. In any event, it really frosts me when I have to turn on the fake romance every time around February 14th. What if I feel romantic on Martin Luther King’s birthday or St Patrick’s day? Where are all the heart-shaped candies then? Oh yeah, early-bird valentines on MLK, and closeouts on St Paddy’s. Nothing better with stale chocolate then green beer.
Speaking of odd holidays. It seems to me that a large portion of the Irish population is, or used to be, Catholic. And if I’m not mistaken St Paddy’s day happens between Ash Wednesday and Easter, so where’s the whole Lent abstinence thing? Or are they only supposed to give up meat? Lord knows, when I’m doing penance by giving up meat there’s nothing like a tall brewsky to ease the pain. According to one official Catholic website, penance is, after all, a state of mind, and physical discomfort need not be scrupulously observed. Well Hail Mary, we’ve come a long way since hair shirts and self-scourging.
Perhaps we should look for a deeper conspiracy to this whole Valentine thing. The closest thing secular America has to the Lent period of self-denial is the New Years resolution. Health clubs know that the time to get people signed up for a yearly contract is the week after Christmas gluttony, when scales across the nation are screaming in digital agony as they groan under the pressure of so much flaccid fat. Been there, done that, got the two ex t-shirt. It’s not a good year for plus-size America. We had Superbowl XL and Winter Olympics XX all in the same season. Well here’s the thing about a resolution. It takes 6 to 7 weeks to ingrain a new habit. Scientists have proved that six or seven weeks have to pass doing a new thing or stopping an old thing for it to stick. Breaking a habit is not just for fat nuns. You have to give it time. Your body has to adapt, you have to teach it a new way of achieving equilibrium and if you fall off the wagon before those 6 weeks have expired, you’ll stay off that wagon and it will be harder to summon the resolve to get back on it for a long time. Your body loves its habits. So I’m not suggesting there’s a candy industry conspiracy but, if I stop eating junk food on January 1st, February 14th is how many weeks later?
America, ya gotta love it.

#233 Yahoogle

I was reading a news article about Google standing up to the Feds. The same Feds who are currently directed by a political party whose declared agenda is that it wants no government interference in business. Privatize, they say, and get big government off the backs of American business. You know.
Anyhow, apparently big business Google has refused to turn over its search database to the NSA. Something about privacy. The NSA or one of those alphabet organizations of government spying—excuse me, surveillance—thinks it would be a good idea to track searches on Google to find terrorists’ home bases. They’ve asked Google to open up their records. Yahoo had already complied. You can bet I won’t use Yahoo again. Not because I’m a terrorist but because nobody has any right to monitor what I’m doing. No one has the right to monitor my calls and my conversations and yes my internet searches on the possibility that I may be a terrorist. Why? Because people are people, whether they work for the NSA or McDonalds, and I don’t want some government hack who’s maybe had a bad day deciding it was my plate he was going to hawk a figurative loogie into. Guess what? People are subject to mistakes, and yes, vendettas. So if some right-wing yahoo sees that I was checking the Al Gore website and decides, since he thinks Al is one step shy of a terrorist anyhow, let’s just string together an incriminating search trail and whisk me off to Guantanamo, what’s to stop him? Once I’m in Guantanamo I can’t get a lawyer—terrorists don’t have rights you know—and there I’ll sit. Or maybe the NSA operative is a left-winger and he sees I’ve gone to Bill O’Reilly’s t-shirt sale website and he figures Bill’s followers are one step shy of Tim McVeigh and he does the same thing. Farfetched? I don’t think so.
I’ve written two detective novels. In the course of my research on those novels I’ve done internet searches on skin contact lethal poisons, bomb making, fertilizer in the use thereof, FBI crime labs, DNA identification, anthrax, drilling methods, shipping and container requirements, dehydrating, and police tracking, All perfectly legitimate intellectual pursuits. But string em together and what do you got? Someone who’s very interested in crime detection and investigation, perhaps with the intent to avoid such. Someone who’s interested in various forms of dealing death, perhaps contact poisoning by firing a unregulated paintball gun, perhaps a dirty bomb that blows anthrax everywhere that could be shipped through the UPS, FedEx system where security is not as tight as the, ahem, going postal service. Hmmm. And now I’m about to post this on my blog. I’ve always wanted to see Cuba. And I hear Guantanamo’s nice this time of year.
America, ya gotta love it.