Friday, April 28, 2006

#250 Beta Master

America has a love affair with mediocrity. We have almost never, given the choice of the final two candidates, elected the smarter one president. We eat at McDonalds, even when the mom and pop burger joint next door has better product and better flavor. Starbucks isn’t the best coffee around, it’s just the best-marketed coffee around. We say a product in its testing phase is the beta version. I’m curious about the origin of that designation—it’s not finished yet, it has some bugs, it’s the beta version. We’re having people use it and test it (for free) and get back to us with feedback about how it could be better. Why “beta?” You’d think the first version would be alpha. Greek A,B,Cs: Alpha, Beta, Gamma. Is there any relation to how the Beta video format tanked so badly? If they had tested it better first with the general public they never would have gone to market? The videotape wars of the eighties saw VHS, not Beta, emerge the master. Beta was clearly technically superior, yet the mushy video of VHS caught on cause it was faster to market, cheaper and yes, mediocre with a capital M. The capital M being marketing. Not the capital M in Mac. But the same capital M used by Microsoft. Microsoft knew that despite a few bugs you need to get a new and flashy product out there and if you had to steal something like, say, icon-based interfaces, why, you’d could just lift them from the competition. Your icons are intuitive too, and you can’t copyright intuition right? The new Windows could be strapped over the top of MS-DOS and the computer challenged public could care less. Until they got the dreaded blue screen and their computer locked up tighter than a lug nut on an old wheel. Then just say the next version would be that much beta, excuse me, better. Then charge them for the new one, and then charge them for the upgrade, and the fix, and the fix of the upgrade and soon Mac would be back there clunking along with perfect computer and a 1% market share cause all the Windows-based performance-challenged PCs would be clogging up everyone’s office already. So what brought Mac back? Another example of American mediocre ingenuity. The Ipod. The Ipod is catchy, it’s cool, and when all is said and done, it’s Mp3. Which, in a nutshell, is crappy audio. But it’s fast crappy audio. You can upload it and download it and generally consume it like a Big Mac in a drive-thru lane. The other Big Mac, Apple, finally caught on. In order to be a successful company you have to appeal to the masses. And the masses, unfortunately, have mass taste. Take the highs and the lows and the in-betweens and you have average. Remember what that was in school? If you’ve always wondered why the public tests the B version instead of the A version, now you know. The market version is the C version. C comes after B. And C is average.
America, ya gotta love it.

#249 Don’t leave Home

The other day I was paying my American Express bill. At one time owning an American Express card was a mark of distinction. They were one of the first pre-Starbucks companies to really play on that whole snooty thing. Not everyone can own one they’d sniff, you have to be special to be accepted by American Express. Then they went through a period where you owned one not just for the prestige but because it was essential. “Don’t leave home without it,” they’d say, or Karl Malden would, and you’d make sure to pack your American Express card before you ventured on the Streets of San Francisco. Then Visa came out with their “and they don’t take American Express” attack ads. American Express implied in return that if they didn’t take American Express they weren’t worth shopping at. American Express portrayed themselves as only issuing cards to ultra-responsible credit users. And they shored that notion up by demanding complete payment at the end of every billing cycle. Every American Express account was paid in full at the end of every month. Kind of like the first debit card. Unfortunately, someone then invented debit cards and so the incentive to own a card that you paid off every month lost its one delineating factor. You might as well have a Visa debit card. Besides, sometimes you wanted to shop at Joe’s small town meat market. And maybe he didn’t want to pay the hefty Amex merchant fee. So by the time I got my card it was issued by Costco. Talk about prestige. I got it because they gave me a rebate on the shopping I was already doing. And my picture is on the back so assuming the clerk looks at it identity theft is minimal.
But I’m worried that American Express has fallen too far from its once lofty heights. As I was paying my bill the other day I got a paper cut on one of those flap ads on their return envelope. Flap ads always flop with me anyway. This flap appeared to be a $152 check. Closer examination revealed it was a “discount voucher.” Even closer examination revealed it was an “UP TO” discount voucher. My American Express purchases supposedly qualified me to save “up to” $152 if I purchased a maximum of 12 items, each of them for only $9.97. $9.97 is such a better deal then 9.99. The items in question, based on what I’ve seen offered by traveling gimmick salesman who prowl businesses hawking them by hand, were worth about 9.97 total, 3-dollar batteries included. You know, emergency flashers, personal groomers, mini-laser-levelers. China’s finest. All of this underwritten by American Express, the amounts charged to my American Express bill. So their target customer seems to have changed. I mean, most of the upper crust I know would be willing to spend up to 12.99 on a really nice Barbeque-Pro thermometer fork.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

#278 Lazy Daze

I sometimes wonder if we are already entering into that laziness as a culture thing that brought Rome down after a mere 8 or 10 centuries. Are we soon to be soaking in public baths and having our grapes peeled for us? I mean remote controls are bad enough. But do we really need to extend the hours at the post office on tax day. Consider this year. We had an extra 2 days to do taxes. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m at the stage in my life where I’m pretty well certain that tax day is always around 15th of April. It’s hyped in all the media. It’s the only thing comedians talk about, you can’t help but overhear conversation about it if you have any connection with humanity whatsoever. So why the big rush on the 15th? Or in this years case, the 17th? Just because the government says you have till 11:59 on tax day, you don’t have to wait that long. Say you owe taxes. Say you’re paying by check. Does it really matter if you put the taxes in at five o’clock or midnight? Do you think there are IRS employees poised at the mailboxes ready to rip open tax returns and run directly to the bank, or E-F-T- your check before you even have time to get back home? Not likely. Gosh, you got a good day till your check makes it to Ogden or Sacramento or wherever and if it’s in the pile with the other last minute filers it’ll be a least a couple of days before it clears the bank. So why the heck wait till the last second? Again, just cause the government says you have till midnight, it’s not a requirement.
For many years I worked in retail and I noticed an interesting phenomenon. No matter when your posted hours of closing were, you always had people coming in at five minutes to close. If you closed at 9:00 they came in a 8:55. If you closed at 6:00 they came in at 5:55. If you closed at 5:00, they came in at 4:55. It used to bug the heck out of me. Why couldn’t people be more sympathetic? Did I show up at their widget factory five minutes before they were about to get off shift and make it impossible for them to go home? But I finally learned something. These were the last minute people. They would always put off action till the last possible second. And they will be at the post office five minutes before it closes no matter when. So let the poor postal workers have normal day on the 15th. We are an odd society. We will get up at the crack of dawn on the day after thanksgiving to be the first in line to spend a small fortune on a doorbuster sale but linger till the bitter end to fork over a few bucks to the gov’mint come tax day. And our government, in the form of the semi-autonomous postal service, accommodates us. And also, in the process, incurs all kinds of extra labor costs that can only be paid with, yep, more taxes. Buck up America. Peel your own grapes. Early.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

#246 Vespuccia the Beautiful

I’ve often wondered how that small turn of fate left us with the beautiful name for the land if which we live. America. It wasn’t at all necessary that we would get it. No one in ancient Greek times talked about hitching up a bunch of slaves to a trireme and rowing to America. Atlantis maybe, away across the ocean, was where they wanted to be, wanted to be. And you know, even with that India mistake ol’ Columbus had a fair shot of having the western hemisphere continents end up as the eponymous Columbia. In fact, early in our nation’s history the name Columbia was seriously proposed. Instead, old Columbus ended up with a couple of colleges, a river, and a town in Ohio. Even so, Columbia would have been a better alternative than some—Cortez-ia, as an example or, Ponce de Leon-ica. There were plenty of explorers plying the western waves by the time Amerigo Vespucci began his journeys. But the name America stuck along with the name for its inhabitants, Indians, much to the consternation of the real Indians whom we even today distinguish by calling them “East Indians.”
But if you stop to think about it, how often is it we name something after someone’s first name. We go to Lincoln, Nebraska not Abraham, Nebraska. People live in Washington State, they only go to concerts in George. But I suppose in the old days they did things that way—you got your Maryland and your Elizabethtown, and yes, your Georgetown. But still, naming two continents and nicknaming the world’s largest superpower after the first name of some itinerant Italian self-promoter seems a bit of a stretch. I should be happy, if this guy had more political pull with cartographers, we could have ended up with his last name, Vespucci. Our fine land would be known as Vespuccia. Sounds like one of the lands in Gulliver’s Travels. We got your Lilliputia with little people bent on bureaucratic minutia, your 60 foot tall Brobdingnagians and your Vespuccia, where everyone runs each other down at Walmart Christmas sales.
What a change a name could make. We’d be the United States of Vespuccia. Sounds a lot more Italian. He’d be as Vespuccian as apple pie. We’d sing Vespuccia the Beautiful and God Bless Vespuccia. We’d have the North Vespuccian Free Trade Agreement, and its acronym would be hard to pronounce. NVFTA. There’d be Native Vespuccians and Latin Vespuccians and African Vespuccians The Guess Who would sing Vespuccian Woman, get away from me-ee. Chevrolet ads would say Chevy, the Heart of Vespuccia. There’d be the giant mega conglomerate financial institution Bank of Vespuccia. And people with slow dial-ups would curse V-O-L- Vespuccia On Line. You know, the more I think about the name change the more I think—
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

#245 Misnamer

You see a lot of people throwing around the term misnomer to mean an erroneous description. Funny, I always thought it was using a wrong name. It’s a misnomer to calling Broke Back Mountain a movie about homosexuals, it’s a movie about the universality of love, they say. Actually, it would be more accurate to say: it’s a misnomer to say Brokeback is a “homosexual” movie it should be called a “love” movie. Using the “abouts” confuses that whole naming thing. I think calling a misnomer a description is a misnomer. It’s mis-naming something. Like, say, the term Indian giver.
I’ve always wondered a little at the inherent racism in this term. The act of “Indian giving” is supposedly the act of taking something back after you’ve given it. An act some might confuse with the whole sharing thing. If we, say, share a peace pipe, we pass it back and forth, each of us partaking in the same devil weed. Perhaps the lighter skinned one of us gets addicted to it and passes it along to our European friends, eventually destroying 8% of our population through lung cancer, emphysema, elevated triglycerides, and heart disease. At some point, healthy Euros catch on that they’re sucking in secondhand devil weed fumes and dying too, and banish their smoking compadres to where? To the reservations, of course, where they can smoke to their failing hearts content while they gamble with chips and their life in the great tobacco lottery of health. It doesn’t seem to me that the Indians are taking that back. It is, of course, ironic that even though we gave then alcohol and it devastated their population, they were able to return the favor with a more insidious addiction, one whose process of dealing death was all the more painful. And now, in a more direct version of the process, certain Indian reservations—excuse me, misnomer—Native American sovereign nations are producing their own tobacco products for sale and consumption, thereby avoiding the stiff federal tax on tobacco products, causing state and federal revenues to decline and encouraging white folks discouraged by the high cost of cigarette to smoke more and more cheaply. So the Native guerilla warriors deal out a double whammy, more cancer-ridden conquering Euros and a poorer great white father government as well.
Even calling Indians “Indians” is a misnomer. And what arrogance to name an entire group of people after a bonehead error. Columbus didn’t discover the Indies, and these folks weren’t Indians. Even Columbus eventually knew he’d made a mistake. But using the term “Indian giver” smacks of bigotry. I mean, just look at all the land treaties the conquering Euros hammered out with the indigenous tribes. Now who was it that actually did the giving and the taking back?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

#271 Less in More

Narrowing roads and creating bike lanes in an apparent nod to the needs of non-road tax paying bicyclists isn’t all our city parents have been up to. There are decorative traffic islands. Decorative traffic islands are all the rage in the road departments these days. I suppose it’s the nature of bureaucracies to keep people working, even when there’s nothing to do, so if that means a little traffic-obstructing make-work plan, so be it. Take a perfectly good road, where you can turn easily into a house or store and then clot it up with an attractive firetruck-repellent decorative traffic island. I’m not sure what the purpose is for the ones I’ve seen going up lately. I can’t see how they make traffic better. It certainly doesn’t help it any while the construction is going on. And ultimately, their aesthetic qualities were minimized by safety concerns. That’s because traffic islands appear to be designed by committee. Or worse, a joint committee. Regular committees represent in-department diverse concerns. Joint committees enjoy both that impediment to efficiency, and the further impediment of a different department’s committee concerns. I suppose it’s fitting you get as many impediments as possible in the planning phase of building something who’s sole purpose seems to be to function as an impediment in its execution phase. Poor joint committee planners. That means they have two of them, you know who I mean, the self-important like-to-hear-myself-talk yappers. They always seem to be on any committee I’ve ever been on. They like nothing more than the sound of their voice and drone on and on about excruciatingly small meaningless ramifications to the larger issue under discussion. Until now, I never thought it was contagious.
Here’s why I think traffic islands miss the point. First off, they not only block access, they also block vision. Especially when they put trees on ‘em. A great place for kids to dart out from. Or a cat hopped up on antifreeze. Second, once they pour the curbs and fill in the soil and plant the trees or shrubs it’s beautiful. For about ten minutes. Then they put a big, ugly as sin, yellow sign up in front of the formerly attractive foliage. The sign has an arrow, which directs people around the island. I sometimes think all the cities must have got a deal on around-the-traffic-island directional signs. And had to build islands to use them. So the beautification department agrees on the design of the island and the safety department insists on putting up an ugly warning sign so drivers won’t crash into it. And neither one of them has the sense to paint the curbs reflective yellow so you don’t accidentally run up onto them on one of our wet, blinding, rainy nights. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned, traffic-directing, non-vision obstructing, reflective-in-the-rain, turtles? We were so happy together.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

#270 Left of Way

For years and years, ever since we started carving trails through the wilderness, it has been the sometimes problematic responsibility of civil institutions to make the passage of traffic easier. Widen the trails into roads, smooth out the washboards with cobbles, smooth out the cobble with macadam, straighten the hairpin turns, blast out the mountain to get the grade level, and so on. At a certain point, in the cities, curb building became at least as important as road building and with the curbs, sidewalks. “Share the road,” that fine ideal of all social planners, turned out to be like hoping for world enlightenment, Humans are ignorant and selfish cusses, and to ask a guy in a two-ton automobile to share the road with a pedestrian was like asking Godzilla to share the forest with Bambi. So for a while after that, peace prevailed in the cities. Sidewalks and curbs were for pedestrians and skateboarders and wider multilane roads were for cars, hummers, and emergency vehicles. It ought to be a condition of taking office that city council members and road planner committees be required to negotiate a fire truck through a congested city street in time to save a child on the second story of a burning turn-of-the-century building. Anyhow, as I said, a fragile peace prevailed. Then another type of traveler entered the fray—the bicyclist. The goal of the bicyclist is a noble one: Break the yoke of dependency to fossil fuel and the internal combustion engine. All well and good. Unfortunately the infrastructure of the US road system is almost exclusively underwritten by the proceeds of gasoline tax. Youch. That horn you hear honking is from a dilemma. How do you take money from one hand to expedite traffic and then bite it by making roads less usable for its paying customers? Let’s see, this 30-cent a gallon tax you paid for your gasoline, we’re going to take it and restrict your freedom of movement, slow you down so you’ll burn even more gas and make even more pollution, all so we can put in a bike lane for what at last count appears to be about 42 people.
Now I have ridden my bicycle down to downtown. I take the main drag as far as I can and then cut over to the first parallel side street. I do that because I once made the mistake of trying all the traffic in the area south of the Capitol. People turning left and right, and belching busses, and Capitol tour people from out of town looking every which way except where they are about to run me under their bumper. Now the less traveled route is indeed for me. But even back then I put it in perspective. I remembered this picture I saw of a city street in India. One road, barely a middle line. Lots of bicycles. And trucks, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, chickens, pedestrians, busses, and, oh yeah, cows. Pretty sure I didn’t actually see a bike lane.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

#269 Laws have Mercy

When I was reading the article about the lady who poisoned her neighbor’s cats I was struck by how willing people were to believe that the lady was an ogre. The article was written from the assumption that anyone who would kill cats was of necessity in the same class of psychopath as Ted Bundy or Charles Manson. There was only one line in the entire article that was at all sympathetic and it was hearsay. The lady‘s friend said “...she loves people and she loves animals...yes the cats did die but she didn’t mean for it to happen.” Sympathetic yes, unfortunately it sounds like the drunker driver defense: “He didn’t mean to wipe out that busload of kids he was accidentally drunk.” I think the salient fact here is that the lady did indeed put out chicken soaked in antifreeze. Why? Perhaps she was annoyed with the whole pet-ism thing. It’s okay for cats to roam but not dogs. What if her neighbor’s pack of three pit bulls were always roaming into her yard? My dog got loose once. He managed to trap and kill a neighbor’s cat in an empty lot. Even though neither of the animals was on its own turf, I got fined. “How come,” I asked the animal control officer, “the cat was loose too.” There was a leash law for dogs. So I have a question that the news story didn’t address in all its animal cruelty hand-wringing. How many times had she asked the neighbor to keep his kitties out of her yard? I don’t know about you, but when a pack of crazy cats comes stalking onto my porch, I feel threatened.
Nonetheless, everyone I’ve told this story to instantly assumes the lady was a despicable wicked cat killer. No possible motive on earth could be sufficient to justify poisoning poor pussies, even if they were pooping in her pansies, scratching up her screen door, or shredding her summer hyacinth on a nightly basis. Well, let’s examine the non-fatal reasons she may have had. (1) She thought it was cold outside and wanted to help the cats warm up. It appears to work for bums. She’d heard about alcoholic bums drinking antifreeze on a cold winter night and apparently surviving. (2) She wanted to deter the cats from their trespassing ways and she didn’t think it would kill them. She only wanted to give them a taste of bad medicine. Aversion therapy is rarely painless. But with dumb animals it’s often more effective that horse-whisperer type training techniques. Hitting a puppy on the nose with a newspaper, rubbing his nose in his poo and etc are long-standing aversion techniques. Perhaps the lady figured antifreeze would taste so terrible the cats would never come back. (3) It was an accident. Noticing that her neglectful neighbor’s cats were always scratching themselves, she tried to help. Tragically, she was a poor reader. She thought the bottle said anti-fleas.
America, ya gotta love it.

#268 Laws of the Wild

This lady was just convicted for poisoning her neighbor’s cat. The prosecutor first charged the lady with a felony with strict criminal penalties. Then the case got bogged down because no one could prove she intended the cat to suffer. The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. The prosecutor in the case didn’t think the lady should spend any time behind bars but the judge gave her 30 days anyhow. My question, what if the neighbor’s pet had been a pit bull? And what if the judge hadn’t been a cat lover?
Now before cat lovers flood the station with calls, let’s review the facts. The lady didn’t trap the cat and feed it poison. She didn’t put poison in the cat owner’s yard. She soaked some chicken in antifreeze and put it on her own back porch. And the neighbor’s cat, scratch that, the neighbors three cats invaded her territory and gobbled up her science experiment. That’s right, three cats, roaming around without their owner, no sign of a broken leash, trespassing where they didn’t belong, came up on someone else’s porch, who happens to be soaking some chicken in antifreeze and letting it ferment—kind of like kim chi—and purloin and eat that toxic brew. And the poor lady who owns the house gets thirty days in jail. Forget about smokers in bars, this is a serious property rights issue here. Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal rights group, is all for the jail time. “We worked very hard to get a felony law in this state,” a spokesperson said, “and we want them to enforce it when people transgress this line of decency.” So tell me, where is this line of decency?
It’s a long established tradition that a homeowner can rid his yard and home of pests. It’s okay to put slug bait in your garden. Snails and slugs and slow-moving dachshunds beware. It’s okay to spray termite poison around your house and up on your wooden porch. Termites are living things too. My kid had a pet mouse. It’s okay to poison rats. So when is a pet a pest? I once had a neighbor, very nice person, loved cats. All 13 of em. He let the cats loose all day and night and cats, being cats roamed. Usually they would roam into my front window boxes and take a kitty litter in to my petunias. This was right by my window of course so when I would open it to catch a sweet summer breeze it would be sullied by the sour scent of cat anus. I asked the neighbor to control his cats. I implored the neighbor to control his cats. I trapped his cats and took them to the pound who then gave the neighbor back his cats. I put cayenne pepper in the window boxes. I finally closed the window till the neighbor moved. I never thought of anti-freeze. I read that the scent and flavor of antifreeze attracts dogs and cats all by itself. I guess the lady really didn’t want the cats to suffer. Or she wouldn’t have wasted all that good chicken. America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

#262 Lost in Vegas

The other day we were talking about re-branding. That’s the new marketing phrase for reinventing yourself. You might say reinventing has been re-branded. The concept works like this. Company gets old and stale, company reinvents itself with new image, new buyers respond to new energy, old buyers are given new reason to buy old stuff and third world laborers stay busy on new surge of American outsourcing. Scratch that. Lots of American ingenuity stays right here. I mean, how many countries in the world have a vigorous pet vitamin industry? Take that France.
Re-branding or repositioning can be very successful. Think Madonna or Trix. Every time Madonna’s sales fell, out trotted a new and even more flagrant Madonna. When flagrancy hit the stratosphere ceiling, back bounced down-home-mom Madonna and so on. Meanwhile, contemporary Cyndi Lauper languished on the edge of the wrestling ring. She and Andy Kaufman each having made a more esoteric and ultimately non-mass market marketing move. Trix simply started adding new colors, flavors, or shapes. Does anyone even remember what the original three true colors of Trix were? For years, it was just three colors shining through. Then they realized that sales spiked every time they introduced a new color or shape and it’s been Trix-o-phrenia ever since.
So recently, our dear friends in vacationland have been reinventing—excuse me—re-branding themselves again. Las Vegas is no longer the Bring the Whole Family Vacationland. Now, What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas. Not, I’m guessing, a family friendly phrase. Unless they’re offering you the freedom to beat your kids. Or leave them in a locked hotel room while you go out and gamble all night. It’s funny, way back when they first started building roller coasters and stratosphere rides I thought it was a bit of a stretch. Does anyone go to Las Vegas because they want to be with their family? Isn’t it the self-indulgent get-away-from-your-family kind of vacation? I mean, the main drag is called the strip for gosh sakes. Try explaining that to a pubescent boy. Hey, Ralphie what say we go ride the New York New York roller coaster, then go down to the strip for some cotton candy and talk to greasy guys handing out pamphlets to topless joints. Yeah right. Not my brand of family.
Now it’s What Happens in Las Vegas stays in Vegas. Seemingly encouraging one to sin to one’s heart’s content and no one will ever be the wiser—a license to thrill, a duty free shop in the airport to heaven.
Just one question. When they say What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas do they mean along with my money?
America, ya gotta love it.

#263 Lost in Time

Among the many regional variations in our language is the term daylight saving time. But it’s hard for me to say. We always said daylight “savings” time growing up. I was from a farm family—that group of people daylight saving time is said to be helping. By the way, the daylight saving time website says that the “saving” in daylight saving time is a verbal adjective. It modifies the word “time.” It’s like saying it’s cow milking time or hair splitting time. You don’t say it’s grammarian chokings time. You say it’s insufferable know-it-all choking time. So, daylight saving time, invented by Benjamin Franklin, was originally created to take advantage of the longer days of summer by moving the clock forward in such a way that it was lighter further into the night. What was eight o’clock in the evening and light would now be nine o’clock and light. Eight o’clock would be lighter. Here in the great Northwest, that means that at 10 o’clock when you’re, say, trying to go to sleep, it’s still annoyingly light out there. Measurements were done and it turned out that indeed, there were energy savings by having to burn less candles and watt-ever at the end of the day because even though it was darker at the beginning of the day, less people were up to be discomfited by that darkness. The only people that were fool enough to get up at 4:30 were radio disc jockeys, essay writers, dedicated runners, and, um, farmers. Before I address that, here’s the funny thing; time is an entirely arbitrary system of measurement. We could have 100-minute hours and no one would care—once they got used to it. It would make a lot more sense too, a microwave could count back continuously and not skip from 100 to 59. So a recent study done on daylight savings—excuse me—saving time is a little telling. It concluded that daylight saving time actually saved energy throughout the year. Even in the winter. Having that extra smidgen of light on shank of the day conserved energy in December as well, just not as much. Well why the heck shift back and forth then? Us three people that wake up early are used to waking up in the dark anyhow. We’re used to the shortening and lengthening of the days by season. And the late risers they don’t care. In the northwest winter, you can sleep in till nine and still get up at the crack of dawn. So why complicate matters? I mean jeez, the only reason I keep the clutter of my appliance operating manuals around is because I can’t remember how to reset the clocks in ‘em twice a year.
And the farmers? They get screwed no matter what. They have to go to bed when it’s still light, cause guess what? The chickens and the pigs get up the same time anyhow. Go figure. Chickens and pigs not reading clocks. It ain’t natural...
America, ya gotta love it.

#260 Wi-fidelity

The other day I was at a coffee shop. An internet café. A Wi-Fi enabled nexus of conviviality. In it were geeks, Goths, and aspiring writers of various ages and descriptions. The vast majority of them were sitting at the little two-people tables once reserved for cocktail lounges. Sadly, one of the chairs was always empty. Not to worry though, all these folks had a companion, their laptop. Now there was a day where it was considered bad form to manipulate your laptop in public, but now it’s all the rage. People whip out their keyboards and whack away like there’s no one else in the world. So my big question is, why do they have to come out in public to do it? See, when I write, I do so at home, my coffee pot is close, and the environment is such that I can control the temperature, the noise and the stray canines. In Wi-Fi joints you have to work really hard to tune out all that extraneous stuff. Ergo, there must be a deeper reason. Perhaps companionship? These folks are just asking for it. They are there, not to get that important final paper done, or hack out that news story right before deadline, or even email that special resume to They are there to be seen doing all those things. See, I have technology. See, I’m connected. See, I just plunked down 1000 bucks on this super laptop so I can look like I have a life. I suppose it’s no different than shelling out 30 grand for a big-wheeled tuck and cruising up and down Main Street trolling for chicks. Both are modern mating displays. Everyone’s looking for someone. But in a way the Wi-Fi version’s a little pathetic. You go into one of these places and the first thing you are struck with is the noise. By which I mean, the lack of it. The silence is deafening, punctuated only by the clack of the keyboards and the occasional sibilant hiss of the espresso machine. Togetherness in not on the internet café menu.
So here’s a modern mating tip or two. 1) Try not to be too obvious a poser. When someone gets the right angle on your laptop try not to A: be playing a game of solitaire—much, much too lonely looking or B: be surfing the Wi-Fi waves to porn sites. 2) Don’t get too big a laptop. Size is not everything. Accessibility is important. Say you’re Supergeek, and a ravishing Goth chick with a two-way plunks down in the empty chair at your table. How ya gonna chat her up if you’re both craning over the top of your mega monitor? You could call her on her cellphone with your vonage and text across the table, but really, lip to lip has its strengths in that whole mating thing. 3) Accessorize properly. I saw this lady the other day. She was apparently writing her novel. Nothing on the table but a machiato and a laptop. The only thing out of place was the pencil behind her ear. Hmm. Seems like mating is for survival of the species, not survival of the specious...

America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

#244 Miscells

So people say to me, Funny Guy, you sure wander around in your essays a lot and I reply, how about those Seattle Supersonics? Truth is, I never know where these pieces are going until I’ve arrived. And there is so much to visit in this great and wonderful land that sometimes wandering is the only way to get there. So, at the risk of making a description like a bad analogy in a cold mine, let’s get on with today’s miscellaneous bullet points, or as I like to shorten it, m-i-s-c-e-l-l-s- miscells. Yeah.
Bullet point: Over 50% of all new college students polled think it would be extremely unusual if two people stayed together for their entire married lives. Those same students have been raised by one or four parents themselves and view the Beaver Cleaver parental paradigm as downright odd. They have had a hand in their own upbringing and have helped craft the household rules by which they have grown up. 70% of all new college students have cellphones. Between classes, at meals, and in the dorm, they are constantly connected. To whom? To their parents. College administrators and teachers have found that the “hovercraft” or “helicopter” parent is there 24/seven for the kid to call and ask for advice on life’s minutiae—what to wear, what menu choices to make, whether to study or go to the dance. The final decision is often made by the student, but only after extended consultation with the parent. If the parent is unavailable by phone, the child will text or email them, or a friend or relative from home. The cellphone is their electronic apron string. Preventer of existential angst and last bastion against homesick loneliness. Is this good for America? Are we raising a generation of the wired—and the coddled? Are we ever again going to see a coddlege graduate unless we remove the scourge of cellphones from the face of the earth? College administrators call these kids millennials, as they came of age at the millennium. You probably remember that whole big party-slash-Y2K thing. Apparently our hyper-parented kids were growing up then. This may be the new social dichotomy of the next generation. Kids that were parented too much and kids that weren’t parented enough.
Bullet point: Some people question whether our culture is patriarchal, saying there’s no sexism left, we got rid of that in the sixties. Why then is there no female equivalent to the term “patronage”? As in, the employee benefited from his bosses patronage, or the Metropolitan Museum enjoyed the patronage of its benefactors. Why is there no matronage? The college student got a new cellphone for his freshperson year from his mom and so benefited from her matronage. Just a hypothetical question thingy.
And speaking of Supersonics, you know you’re team is doing bad when the scalper outside the arena is selling tickets for less than the box office...
America, ya gotta love it.

#243 A Merkin

In a quick follow-up to my last essay, in which I dealt with the new Free Range Chicken Broth, one of my listeners asked if it’s true that McDonalds is going ahead with a plan to put out Free Range McNuggets. Remember, you heard it here first. It will happen. McDonalds is a trend-meister and if they sniff public sentiment shifting in the free range direction, you can bet they’ll have a fast food product exploiting it in no time. And it’ll keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold with out destroying the ozone layer this go around.
Funny how trends emerge. Ten years ago if I had seen an ad in the paper for free range chicken broth I would have assumed that one: the product was for the stove top, and two: it was complimentary. Maybe a come-on by Swanson to promote their new range-top chicken broth. Swanson, ever your dietary friend. Low salt, no fat, kosher, and free range, soon we’re going to pop open the can and nothing will pour out. And speaking of words slipping into new usage. Been to the theater lately? Every third slide in the ad show before the previews start says those three special words: “Silence Your Cellphone!” Sounds like a command at a Nazi prison camp, or a demand from a frustrated London mayor. Silence him! It’s so final or fatal. I guess the more genteel and polite “please turn off your cellphone” wasn’t working. So on the one hand the theaters compromised, they no longer tell you to turn them completely off, but on the other hand they got more insistent about it, Silence them or die! The annoying thing is, last time I went to the theater, the guy next to me had his phone out and was text messaging something and the annoying glowing screen on his unit was distracting as hell.
As you know by now words fascinate me. And what fascinates me even more is how words evolve, there own little Darwinian survival of the fittest thing going on right before our eyes. The other day some one said something I agree with and I replied, “Right on!” Big phrase from the sixties. And only a slight difference from the English “Right-O” but how differently we visualize the people speaking them. An English fop and a Black Panther. Kind of like the spread between Eldridge Cleaver and Beaver Cleaver.
So it is with the term Al Jazeera. Pardon me, but I always feel like replying with, “Gesundheit!” Yeah, yeah, I’ll be sure to not put that joke into a cartoon. And I’m always torn with the drug company’s name Merck. Reminds me of an abbreviated form of the word for a toupee for the nether regions, once worn by prostitutes. Back in medieval times people wore wigs in different places on their bodies cause they shaved all their hairy regions to eliminate lice. The down under wig was called a merkin. I guess Australia hadn’t been discovered yet.
A merkin, ya gotta love it.