Friday, May 26, 2006

#266 List of Lint

Writing a daily column on the minutiae of American culture means there’s a lot of ideas that end up in my idea drawer and never quite come to flower. Some ideas take wing, and I can dash off a whole page before I even look up from the keyboard. Oh to be a touch typist. A kinesthetic keyboarder. One of these days, when I’m in the old folks home curled over like a question mark, I’ll be able to tell all my cronies it’s an occupational injury from tapping out all these tirades over the years. Rant Rictus? Harangue Hunch? In any event, some ideas just wither on the vine and start to collect in my drawer like so many lint balls, good for nothing but belly button insulation. Herewith a sample.
A friend of mine was going on about recording artists selling out to the establishment. He waxed emotional about all these supposedly non mass market musicians who were on record as refusing to compromise their artistic integrity in order to make a fast buck. He brought up the name Sean Puffy Diddy Combs. So, I asked, Hip Hop artist Puffy comb’s actions contradicted his earlier proclamations did he? My friend nodded. Perhaps knowing me too well. So you could say he was guilty of hip-hop-crisy? Like I say, Lint.
But there’s a country lint as well. Like when Tim McGraw and Nelly did their chart-topping duet last year. All the money men in both camps weren’t saying yippy-kye-yay so much as hip hop hooray. As far as I know only one person in his posse said whoa Nellie.
So I get this water bottle the other day. Normally I’m not a bottled water drinker. I hate to admit that our society has been reduced to the point where we have to produce incredible amounts of waste products and consume immeasurable amounts of energy in the construction of, and oil in the chemical composition of, little plastic bottles within which to put plain water. Is it barely possible that the manufacture of the water bottle itself contributes to the pollution that makes the water bottle necessary to hold water that is harvested from areas not chemically polluted by water bottle manufacture? Anyhow. The name of the water was Crystal Geyser. Neither a hip name, nor one I would hop to. Because first, when I think crystal I thing glass. The idea of glass shards in my drinking water is less than appealing. Second, are these people trying to use geyser synonymously with fountain? Cause I always thought a geyser was hot water. In fact, my dictionary says the word geyser comes from an Icelandic name of a certain hot spring in Iceland called “Geysir” which means, literally, gusher. The modern definition is “a spring from which columns of boiling water and steam gush into the air at intervals.”
Kind of like a cranky columnist spouting off.
America, ya gotta love it.

#299 Misery

I got burned twice yesterday. Funny, I’d treated the people nice. I was honest with them. I bargained in good faith for a certain result, all my cards on the table. In one burn the individual, intent on trying to secure a power base with a third party, went behind my back to try to make himself look better. Later in apology, he said, I’m always behind you. That’s what I’m afraid of, I said. Cause you appear to be holding a knife. In the other instance, an individual trying to get me to pay dues to an organization, promised me a certain amount of business, categorically. He said he was in complete control of the budget he was promising me. Then, through another party, coincidentally the backstabber mentioned above, he offered a lesser amount. Seems once he got the dues he felt since the bird was in hand he could now commence to choking. I should have known. So I blame myself. You’d figure after experiencing this sort of thing for my whole life I’d be a little more cautious when dealing with these people. I know it’s not politically correct to single out people just because of their religion, and far be it from me to put myself in a position where people say I’m prejudiced, but members of this religion sure seem to screw people a lot. They stick together too. Oh, I know him, they’ll say, we worship in the same place. It’s amazing how many of these people are in positions of money management too. Lots of accountants in this faith. And lots of actors truth be told. And it seems like every other upper cable channel has member after member of this religion cooking or singing or talking about financial strategies. And the Middle East? Fuggetaboutit. These people have caused more trouble in that part of the world than you can shake a believer at, for over 2000 years. The current conflict is no exception. Recently these same people even staged a big protest for what’s destined to be one of the most popular movies of all time. And Mel Gibson’s not even in it.
I’m talking about, you guessed it, Christians. But not all Christians—probably why I still get fooled and burned. I’m talking about blank check Christians. The ones that don’t get that whole Christ will forgive thing. On some twisted moral level they figure if they screw up, or screw someone, well, no big deal, they’ll just ask for forgiveness on Sunday. Never mind that Christ said, “Go and sin no more.” Or that hypocrisy is one of the biggest sins of all. What I really should have been thinking was what a friend once told me. Churches, he said, are like hospitals for sinners. So, if I was smart, anytime somebody went out of their way to tell me they were a Christian and how often they go to church I ought to think, uh oh, wear protection. Cause it’s really the equivalent of them telling me they have moral herpes. Did I mention a burning sensation?
America, ya gotta love it.

#284 My Dust

The other day I was rooting around the office and I chanced to spy an odd bit of technology. I was briefly overcome with a spasm of nausea as I was painfully reminded of the time I sunk my entire life fortune into Smith Corona stock. It was a typewriter. We keep one around because it’s still handy from time to time to type an address on an odd-shaped envelope. But what struck me the most about this piece of low-tech gear was what was on top of it, a dust cover. When was the last time you saw on of those? Pretty interesting. Seems there was a time in the fifties or sixties when there must have been a lot of dust in the world, or perhaps our society was obsessed with it, because I remember everything having dust covers. My aunt’s house had them on all kinds of stuff. Nana, as we called her, had plastic covers on the living room “good” furniture. A plastic runner down the middle of the wall-to-wall carpet. I remember what a big deal that was too. She had wall-to-wall carpet and not just braided rugs on her hardwood floor. Nana had dust covers on her lampshades and doilies under her lamps. Heck, even the salt and pepper shakers had little tailor-made dust covers. And the Tabasco bottle had a hand-crocheted serape and sombrero. Not appetizing, let me tell you, pouring red runny liquid out of what was presumed to be Mr. Tabasco’s head. But you know, when I think back on it, almost everything that was being protected form the ravages of dust was non-electronic. Oh sure, you could say an electric typewriter was kind of electronic but really, most of the moving parts are just plain mechanical. And it would take dust specks the size of dirt clods to jam the works.
So I was reading about the next wave in computer processing. How they’ve now figured out how to etch semiconductors or whatever down to nano-widths and how the biggest impediment to downsizing further is that the etches are so close together the least little micro-mote wafting through the air can jump the circuit. Like a wet shirtsleeve across my car battery poles. So I’m wondering. Why is it when we could finally use a pretty efficient dustcover that they’re no longer around. I mean, even with something as relatively simple as my keyboard. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a cover to leave over it when I’m not at my desk? At least to keep the rat excrement off from when the mice are eating the Ritz Bitz crumbs that fell out of my websurfing kids’ mouths. Judging by the occasional dust bunnies I see skittering across the hardwood floor and catching on the braided rug, I’d say dust is far from a distant memory. So, given the sensitivity of my computer how about we revive that old silent witness of hygiene paranoia. Now that atoms really are our friends we could make a teeny tiny dustcover and do some nano-protecting. Nana would be proud.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

#273 Less Mess

So the question is, do the people walking around with the little blue doogie poo bags really intend to use them? I have to think not. I think they are just for show. Look at me, their bags declare, I’m pet poo responsible. Here’s why. Dogs don’t so much answer the call of nature as have it on permanent speed-dial. Ready to hit “send”right after the stimulus of a meal. I’ve owned three dogs in my lifetime. Not at once, over their individual lifespans, and I have always been able to determine when they are going to go. Poo, that is, not to that great open field in the sky. The excretory event has always occurred within a half hour of the time they eat. Now maybe I’ve been blessed with not having anal retentive dogs. Come to think of it, they didn’t fold their laundry very neatly, but I’m not alone. Dogs, living as they do with less stress, consequently make it easy for us to have less mess. In perfect rhythm, you feed em, wait 30 minutes, relieve em. A backyard symphony, or at least one of Beethoven’s movements. So who do these poo-bag holders think they’re kidding? Because two things: One, why is it whenever I’m out on a walk in a public park and enter an area where the line of sight is obscured in every direction, that I see numerous piles of poo? And two, why are these people walking their dogs after they’ve eaten anyhow? Like my nocturnal neighbors. Surely there’s a better to time to take Spot for a stroll than well after dark. Doing their banking I call it, cause they’re always making late night deposits. My homeowners association had the county install doggie bag dispensers in our neighborhood. Don’t you think dog walkers know damn well they’re gonna do some squatting as well? If they really were responsible pet owners, wouldn’t they bring their own baggie?
Doggie bags have other issues. I suppose doggie bag is not a good name since that’s what I save from the restaurant, not what I retrieve from the neighbors lawn. Not that I’ve ever seen that happen either. My favorite socially irresponsible pet owner travesty is when someone takes his dog out for a walk so he won’t dirty in his own yard but leads little Fifi or giant Rex into leaving a pernicious pile on my front lawn. Is that neighborliness or what? It is a good idea to make the bags blue and opaque. I can see why the clear ones never caught on. But what is the protocol for greeting someone when they are carrying a bag full of doodle from their poodle. Do you offer to shake? If they have to shift the sack to free up a hand do you want too? Do you acknowledge the bag in any way? That’s a socially responsible bag of, um, stuff there Fred. Nice retrieval. I like it when I see an owner who has tucked an empty poo bag under his dogs collar. But I think clipping a full one on your collie’s collar borders on the cruel.
America, ya gotta love it.

#265 Lest We Forget

When I went to Canada recently, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a few cross dressers plying the streets of Victoria. I also noticed more than a few Muslim women in burqas. And it occurred to me. Is cross-dressing not as prevalent when the dress you cross to is less comfortable? I know, lots of women say nylons aren’t comfortable. That’s not what I mean. If clothes were just about comfort we’d all be wearing cotton flannel sacks. I mean comfortable in the sensuous sense—more silky and frilly and foofy. I’ve seen Asian cross dressers and all manner of European cross dressers. I even saw a movie once that featured a Native American cross dresser. But I don’t remember any Arabic transvestites. The word transvestite: “Trans” means “across” and “vest” comes from “vestire” meaning to dress or to clothe—like in vest or vestments if you’re more religious. Although bringing religion into a discussion of cross dressing is perhaps working at cross purposes and will make some people angry not to a say a little, um, miffed. Thought I was gonna say cross didn’t you. Anyhow, you don’t see a lot of Arabic guys hankering to hunker down in a burqa. Which proves their sexism. I figure if you’re forcing someone else to wear what you won’t yourself, well, that can’t be right. So the occasional western male who slips on a pair of pantyhose is actually striking a blow for equal rights. Enough about that.
What I really want to talk about today is initial offering discounts. I get really irritated when I hear an ad for a new company or service that is offering deep discounts to enroll new customers. Then the disclaimer: “Offer open to first time customers only special restrictions apply.” One of my most favorite disclaimer phrases, “special restriction apply.” Sorry sir, you once wore a burqa in Victoria you don’t qualify. So what ever happened to rewarding customer loyalty? “Hello, Mr. Funny Guy this is Qwest, you’ve been such a good customer for 25 years—why, that’s three company names and five branding statements ago in the corporate world—that we want to reward you with a free month of service, just for being a 25-year customer of Qwest-US West-AT&T.” Wouldn’t that be nice? But no, it’s the fickle newbies that get the discount. Like a new employee at the water cooler, brown-nosing the boss and sucking up to all and sundry, the newbie gloms the glory again. Us tried and true stalwarts, standing by through thick and thin, like a Hillary in a pickadillo field, suffer full price through offer after offer after new customer discount offer. Too bad. Cause old customer loyalty is priceless. They’ll shift on you Qwest. When the newer DSL pipes down the block your bandwidth will be playing a different tune. Because statistics show, the new customers are the quickest to cross over.
America, ya gotta love it.

#264 Last in Line

I went to Canada recently and I couldn’t help but notice that the alert color of the whole terrorism thing seems to have settled into a pale puce. What I’m about to tell you is knowledge at least as common as how to make a nuclear bomb but still, if you happen to notice a terrorist reading or listening to this, call the appropriate authorities. So just between you and me. In order to facilitate the ease of your international crossing a few tips: Dress nicely. It would help if you were over 45. A conservative haircut is a must. If you don’t have a tie on look like a person who would be comfortable wearing one. Walk on to the ferry. If you’re really intent on blowing yourself up, where you leave your car to its final resting place is of no concern. Nettled parking authorities don’t bill exploded corpses. Don’t rent a vehicle. Rental agencies have security like you wouldn’t believe. Getting into Canada is no problem. Apparently, their concern that a terrorist hiding in the United States is going to sneak into Canada and blow up a government building is less than their concern for fishing treaties. Coming from Canada is the big issue. Before I’m allowed to walk on the ferry I have to go through a small checkpoint in Victoria where I’m asked to produce my drivers license and birth certificate and declare whether I bought anything worth taxing. I give the customs agent an honest and open look and say no. At this point, I expect to be asked to put my little rolling suitcase up on the stainless steel counter. Nope. The line is long, the ferry can’t wait, and I’m through with a cursory peek at the birth certificate and a snide comment about the rendition of my drivers license picture. Hmm. I seem to remember an x-ray machine when I flew from Seattle to Spokane. I ride the ferry back, for the most part unnoticed by any ferry personnel. I buy a coffee and keep my bag close the whole time. Did I mention there were no sniffing dogs? At the other end, I get in line behind a couple of scruffy younger people. For contrast. A gal was having her bag groped by a female customs official. The customer was a little nettled, apparently at the custom-o who seemed to feel this was the time for a “random” check. The guy right in front of me was next. He had various bags, among them a soft sack slung from his back that looked like it contained gelignite. He looked vaguely middle eastern. She asked him a couple of questions and then passed him through. Then me, I gave her my best service club honest manly look and prepared to hoist my bag up. Nope. She took less time glancing at my I.D. than a bartender during happy hour on wet t-shirt night and then waved me on with a “have a nice day.” The guy ahead of me made a bee-line for the bathroom. He apparently had an urgent need to unload something. I moseyed out to the street. I wonder if Seattle has any large buildings?
America, ya gotta love it.

#293 Misguidance Counselor

So when I’m at this job fair at the community college I learned a couple of things. You could call it Hire Learning. Get it? Job. Hire. Across from my booth was one for the Washington State Department of Corrections. The odd thing was, they had a big sign on their display that said, “Volunteer Opportunities.” Okay, I understand the need for institutional volunteers, but somehow I hadn’t pictured a candy striper equivalent in a prison. Do they hold the prisoners clothes during a strip search? Hand out towels at the showers? Make coffee and cookies for the Friday Night showing of “The Longest Yard”? I also learned that most of the kids have taken recycling to heart. At least when it comes to their clothing. I saw more vintage clothing in 3 hours than you’d see all week in the real world. One of the kids had on a Guns & Roses T-Shirt—original version. Supposedly, Guns & Roses is supposedly touring again, though without many of the original members. I hear they’ve replaced that Slash guy with someone named Colon. I guess they still believe their guitar player should add punctuation to the band. It’s kind of sad though. You know you’ve sunk low when you are your own tribute band. Maybe they’ll play that Live and Let Die number. To me the ultimate low point in their original incarnation, a cover of a bad song by an ex-Beatle for a bad movie series whose previous songs and songwriters were the ultimate in pop schmaltz. Lots of money in the sell out business, I’m just not sure it fits with the dynamic of a hell-raising, rabble-rousing, rebellious rock and roll band. Welcome to the jungle.
And the college bathroom was weird. I guess restroom is a better term, there was no bath in it. I noticed a diagram of the building on the wall. Actually, being a verbal guy, what I noticed first was the sign above the diagram. It said in big bold letters, “Evacuation Routes.” For a minute I thought I’d wandered into the biology department’s excretory system lecture. I can handle my evacuation without a diagram, thank you very much. Then I saw it was an escape plan from the building and I was even more worried. None of the halls in the building proper had evacuation route signs. What was so special about this room that authorities thought I would be so panicked I would need a map out? Glancing nervously at the overhead beams, I evacuated quickly.
Finally, on my way to the college I’d stopped in at the courthouse. As I went back to my car, I noticed a line of cars stalking me, the lead car sniffing at my heel like a pathetic mongrel. He hovered as I pulled out of my slot, then pounced into the space. The most important lesson I learned that day, if you ever want to feel wanted, be about to pull out of a parking slot at the courthouse.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

#272 Less Ma-jest

A listener asked me something the other day. Naturally at the time he was talking. He asked if it was tough to find so many things to be angry about every day. Is that really how I come across? As an angry person? Cause I like to think I have positive things to say. I’m an idealist. So let’s look at positive stuff. Like I really like little doggie bag dispensers. I bemoan the fact that people find it necessary to walk their dogs and encourage them to plop in public—which can mean other people’s yards, community common areas, and public parks, but hey, a call of nature can’t always be put on hold. When my oldest was a toddler we got a puppy. So for a while he confused the words puppy and poopy. You might say he had a vowel movement. In any event, puppy or poopie bags are a good idea. Unfortunately the homeowners association in my neighborhood got tired of warning homeowners not to leave their pet excrement behind so felt it necessary to erect two of them at either end of the development. And even more unfortunately, that gave the sub-teenage vandals something to vandalize. Pushed over poles, bent boxes, and breeze blown bags strewn from here to the stormwater retention pond where late night adult vandals sneak in their yard waste. So, like I say, a positive thing—right up till the time you get humanity involved.
Another positive thing: I heard the other day that a child was found abandoned near a dumpster. The dumpster itself was inside a chain-link enclosure and locked. Hmm. Dumpster protected, child left out in the cold. Sometimes the human species as a whole is capable of mind-boggling priorities. Then the news story gave this information: A few years back the legislature passed a child abandonment amnesty law. If you take your child within 72 hours of birth to the hospital or police department, you can give it up and not be held accountable by any legal organization for abandonment or neglect. Kind of a “get out of parenthood free” card. The positive thing is, the poor children won’t be left near dumpsters or stormwater retention ponds. The negative thing is I never heard about this law. If I never heard of it, and I follow the legislature and the news a lot, then how can they expect the people who really need to take advantage of the service to know anything about it? It’s kind of a tough challenge to advertise. If you’re pregnant, and thinking of abandoning your child upon birth, you only have 72 hours. Where are they going to put the ad? Newspaper? Radio? Maybe signs on the dumpster. “Do not play on or around. Do not deposit babies. Place child in a hospital within 72 hours.” Yeah, and then one of those cartoon stick figure instruction signs—like they have on doggy bag dispensers...
America, ya gotta love it.

#282 Lie-Pods & Things

The other day I was watching this girl boogie down the road. Wires sprouted from the side of her head, presumably clinging to earphones lodged in the recesses of her ears. The wires connected to something hanging around her neck. It flopped out like a pendulum having convulsions, occasionally banging the young lass on the sternum but she was so wrapped up in the thumping beat inside her head that the potential bruising went unnoticed. I wondered how surprised she would have been to learn that the boogie-pod dangling from her neck, this symbol of freedom and individuality, was a direct descendent of the machine that imprisoned thousands of women from an earlier generation in inhumane office pools as they performed hours of mindless data transference. That’s right, the Ipod is the direct descendent of the Dictaphone. “Hey Brittany, nice Dictaphone.” “Yeah, it’s really cool Morgan, the digital readout has emoticons, I can put the entire catalogue of Shakira on it and it doesn’t fill up, it’s limewire compatible and I can actually listen to four songs before it runs out of battery.” “Wow they’ve really done a lot with crappy audio.” “Yeah and look at the new 2000 dollar set of wheels I put on my Nova.” “Cool Spinners.” “I know, it makes the car look like it’s going fast even when it’s standing still. And I can run all the way to McDonalds and back before my dad has to put the trickle charger on the battery.” “So you just kinda want to make it look like a hot rod.” “Yeah but I can’t afford any of that engine and performance stuff. I just want it to look hot. I call it my I-Rod.” “Sweet, I-Rod kind of like a hot rod but not hot.” “Yeah, but I still got the looks.” “You got the look.” “I got the look?” “You got the look.”
Who’da thunk it. Mp3 an intellectual descendant of the Dictaphone. Cut out the low-priority-to-human-hearing resonant bits, mush it all together and what do you got? An apple with a rotten core. But what a fine sweet lustrous skin. And as anyone who has a modern computer media player program knows, the skin is what’s in. The hell with nutritious full-bodied sound. Put a psychedelic light show on the computer screen and your song rocks. Well it’s all for the good, cause it put Mackie back in town. Mac is back and Apple is once again associated more with computers than dead insects. And with Macintosh on the re-emergence Bill and his Window boys are having to be a little more conciliatory, and as a result a lot of Mac stuff can now be used on the same computer as Windows. By having both operating systems on the same computer. Kind of Co-operating systems. Wow. If Mac and Windows cooperate and big box stores get drive-thru lanes for their mass market electronics, I can hear it now. “Can I help you sir?” “Yeah, I’ll have the McWindows value system.” “All right sir, would you like a fry-pod with that?”
America, ya gotta love it.

#287 Mucho Job-o

I went to a job fair yesterday. I went as an industry rep. It’s nice to see the crop of youngin’s we have coming up the pipe. As in natural for me in events like this, I sniff out patterns. Like I’ve determined that in every college setting there will be at least one guy who wears a cape—the wizard dude. He usually has long curly hair, he is either very slender and tall, or very portly. The only anachronism in his attire is an Ipod wire trailing back to his multiple-zippered nylon backpack. I noticed backpacks and capes are somewhat problematic when worn together. If the backpack is on the outside, it inhibits the free-flowing grace of motion that is the hallmark of the cape. If it’s worn on the inside you risk being confused with Quasimodo. I also noticed numerous youngsters wearing Ipods or Ipod equivalents. As the purpose of the fair was for the young people to ask about possible job openings, it seemed a little counter-productive to be listening to one’s personal hit bag. Ipod earphones may be small but it would be like expecting me to hire someone who walked in to my place of business with a big honking set of headphones on and a distant look in his eye like he was about to jump into an air guitar solo. Translation: Focus folks. Concentrate on the task at hand. If you want to ask about jobs, ask about jobs. If you want to listen to music, listen to music. The two together combine the worst features of rudeness and unemployment. Likewise cellphones; if it’s that important to talk to whoever it is on the other end of your damn phone, then have the courtesy to not come up to my booth and ask me a question and then hold up a finger as I start to reply because your telephone buddy is now talking. I don’t do three ways unless everyone is present. Another couple of interesting trade show job fair dynamics: If you want to talk to people stand up. The chances of engaging strangers in conversation increase tenfold when eyes are at a level. If you sit down people will look right over your head and act like you’re not there. And usually steal all your candy while they’re at it. Trade shows are a lot like adult trick or treat sessions. There’re always lots of giveaways and lots of candy. Interestingly, people seem to take candy in direct proportion to the size of the opening of the container in which the candy is offered. The lady next to me had an open basket of candy. I had a narrow jar. People would come up and take five or six pieces of candy from her and only one from me. She was also giving away a lot of pens when she had about fifty of them laid out. When she cut back to five hardly anyone took one. It seems that apparent abundance promotes gluttony. One things for sure, if I were out of work and hungry I’d go to every job fair I could. Then sell all my collected pens, magnets, and key chains on the corner and live on mints, chocolates and tootsie rolls...
America, ya gotta love it.

#286 More Lube Please

So the talk is, we’re soon to lose our postmark. Seems, against all reasonable assumptions to the contrary, it will be more efficient to send all of our mail to Tacoma to be sorted and then send it all back again. I wonder if the first item in the sorting process is to separate the Olympia mail from the Tacoma mail. Personally, I’m thinking it would have to be one efficient sorter to make up for the high cost of gas used in transporting truckloads of mail to Tacoma and truckloads of mail back to Olympia. I don’t know why it might seen more feasible to employ a few pensioners from Panorama City to do the job in their semi-retirement. How much could it cost? The single biggest expense of the postal service is its retirement fund. These people would already be retired so you wouldn’t have to kick that in. Pay them a little more than McDonalds or WalMart greeters and they would flock to be of service. I can see it now, a flock of seniors, long ears flapping, shuffling along with hips waddling like a penguin trying to hold in a suppository.
I remember this transportation thing from micro-economics. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the theory behind it, but I think it’s that you pay less for things that have been shipped from farther away and you pay more for local stuff—something about more competition in a bigger marketplace. I don’t remember. About a month into the class, I decided no one knows diddly when it comes to economics. It’s like being a meteorologist, you can master all the tools and have lots of expensive equipment and computers, and pose theories and make models till you’re blue in the face, but in the end you don’t really know if it’s going to rain till you feel drops on your nose.
The big current mystery is why the city of Bellingham, right down the street from the refineries at Anacortes, right down the pipeline from Alaska oil, has the highest gas prices in the state. Western Washington has one of the highest in the nation and we are arguably the least dependent on foreign oil. As usual, it has something to do with someone having someone else over a barrel. In this case the oil companies having us in a, shall we say, compromised position. Financial analysts say, appropriately, that the surest way to lower price is to lower demand. See classic economic theory referenced above. The problem we have, as a society that is completely dependent on oil, is that lowering demand is next to impossible. We’re kind of like the diabetic that decides to boycott his insulin manufacturer because prices are too high. He doesn’t have a lot of, as they say in the investment world, leverage. Supply and demand only works when you have a choice about the demand. So we get it in the end. And for some reason we’re all walking like penguins.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

#288 Mall Beware

Our new state tourism campaign features the resonating slogan, “Say Wa?” It’s been asked by many, how it is that the great and beautiful state of Washington, known for its beautiful mountains, its undulating wheat prairies, its surging rivers, and its wild coastline could end up being summarized by the vacant expression of a stoned out slacker. Say wa?? The answer is the focus group. Questionnaires were submitted to organizations who conducted focus groups. The results from the focus groups were collated, input from various committees was added and the result was a piece of sausage on a piece of white bread with a fake cream filling, with an adult’s perception of what they think a young person would respond to. To which I reply, remember when your mom shopped for you in junior high? You see, the idea is to get younger people traveling through Washington State. I guess the reliable stream of old people is just that, reliable, and there are only so many RV parks that zoning ordinances will allow. Or perhaps I’m overlooking something here. Perhaps the powers that be are going after the soon-to-be-retired boomer generation and looking to resonate with them with this “say wah” ex-hippie stoner thing. But the truth is likely something much simpler. And it’s happening nationwide—in every major policy decision and in every major trend in fashion, toys, software and movies. We are having our lives run by focus groups. It used to be polls, random samples, and trail balloons. Now it’s people hanging out in the mall. So I say, America, Mall Beware. Your fate is being carved by food court gluttons. Your future is being fashioned by people whose fashion sense is defined by baggy pants. The next big thing is being decided by someone who considers it a big deal to decide between clothing from The Gap and clothing from Old Navy. This is America’s dirty little secret. Focus groups are composed of people who are talked into going into a room at the mall, sitting down with a bunch of strangers and being asked questions by an interviewer after they’ve seen some lame video or an equally lame Powerpoint presentation. My opinions and the opinions of those like me, busy people who are engaged in their work, family, service organizations, and creative endeavors, never, ever, get in a focus group. Translation, most hardworking ordinary Americans are not the ones who end up propped on their capacious keesters eating free food and fielding leading questions from focus group facilitators. No, in this great golden age of consumer-driven marketing our destiny is being driven by mall hanger-outers. Many of whom don’t even know how to drive. Or were so stupid they had their driving licenses taken away for failure to appear violations. Which perhaps explains their being drawn to the expression, say wa?
America, ya gotta love it.

#261 Lost in Transocean

So there’s this sushi/teriyaki place. And they used to be named something else. I guess they decided they needed to change that name to grab a different customer. Maybe the old place had developed a bad taste in the mouths of patrons. So they got rid of the former Japanese name and replaced it with a pleasant-sounding American name. And since their restaurant was about seafood, their new name was Seaworld. Uh oh.
Rule of thumb, you should be very careful when you’re not dealing in your native language. See, the sea as in Seaworld is different from the sea as in seafood. Now granted Americans are a little weird when it comes to naming food. We say seafood to encompass everything in the water that’s even vaguely edible but we have no equivalent word for creatures of the solid earth. “Landfood” never caught on. And it’s also true that we Americans feel we have to be redundant when it comes to things from the briny depths. We say we are going to have a tuna fish sandwich or make tuna fish salad. We never feel impelled to designate the order of origin when it comes to, say, chicken. You havin’ the tunafish? I’m gonna get a chicken-bird sandwich. In the case of beef we are even more conflicted. When we want a sandwich crafted from the ground muscle and fat tissue of the noble steer, we don’t say we’re having a beefburger we say we’re having a hamburger. A real hamburger, that is, a burger crafted from pork, we call a sausage patty.
So I’m not blaming our Japanese restaurateurs for doing anything wrong. American is tricky. It’s just that the word “Seaworld” does no conjure up sushi to me. Or if it does, it isn’t pleasant. Every time I drive by the restaurant I have visions of Shamu being sliced into slivers with a sharp sashimi knife. Or Orcas gladly gallivanting to the guillotine, there to be beheaded breaded and cooked into Keiko katsu. Or dolphins frolicking in the pool and soaring through hoops, playful and pleasing to the eye and ear, only to be be rendered, plated, and playing to the palate. Flipper wasn’t meant for the little boats floating in front of the sushi chef. He was meant to be free. And he wasn’t meant for performing on command at Seaworld either, that aquatic Folsom that never had a even a finny Johnny Cash to relieve their monotony. As a kid, I loved to see the dolphins and the killer whales. But the truth is, even though they have a bigger jail cell and exercise yard than most detainees, the ocean is a mighty big place and Seaworld ain’t much of a world at all. You can argue over whether creatures that evolved with the spirit of the boundless waves welling inside them would have a hard time settling for a swimming pool. But you can bet they weren’t designed to have a beach ball on their nose.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

#259 Wa Me?

I received a direct mail piece from a bank the other day. I figured I’d better open it and then shred it, because they may have snuck in some blank checks. Turns out it’s an ad for something new Washington Mutual is offering, Free Checking. Gee, I’ve never seen banks offering free checking before (cough cough). I think I just got heavy metal poisoning from all that irony. But Washington Mutual has gone one better. They altered the name of their bank to give a name to their free checking. It’s now WaMu free checking. Say Wah?
Now perhaps Washington Mutual is just jumping on the new state tourism slogan in a craven attempt to exploit all the hard work, and thousands of hours of committee time, that led the State of Washington to decide on “Say Wa” as the slogan for their new tourism campaign. Better minds than mine have already decried and derided this choice—offering that “Say Wa” sounds like something seventies star Jimmy J. Walker might have shouted instead of DY-NO-Mite. Or a “boing” sort of exclamation a la Joanne Worley, or an 80s valley girl kind of “duh.” But apparently the State of Washington spent what little tourism dollars they had, tested their target audience, and finally agreed that “Say Wa” was the thing that resonated most with potential tourists to this fine land of ours. Proof of the maxim that the prognosis of all good ideas is death by committee. Apparently, the normal versatile modern syllable of acclaim, “dude,” was already taken. Too bad. I can certainly see some 30-something tourist standing up at Mt Rainier’s Paradise saying “dude” very meaningfully. Or perhaps looking out from Anacortes, Mt Baker in the background, eyes panning across the Sound to the San Juan Islands. “Dude” again. Or maybe facing into a gale off Westport, flying sand derma-brading the lesions of their California tan skin cancer, or staring across the baked and undulating Palouse, or beholding the awesome abilities of Man at the Grand Coulee Dam, or windsurfing through the mighty Columbia River Gorge. Dude Dude and DUDE. So, for me at least, “Say Dude” would be a lot better than the equivalent of “say duh,” excuse me “say wah.” But I wasn’t polled. Although I do feel like someone stuck something up somewhere.
So now Washington Mutual has come out with WaMu free checking. Is it just me or does WaMu sound like a killer whale? Something I would be likely to see at Seaworld. Or maybe the manufacturer of the Frisbee and the Hula Hoop. For some reason this name scares me. I don’t think I have the courage to walk into Washington Mutual and ask them to open me up a WaMu. I’d be afraid someone would give me a wedgie.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

#258 Dear De-Parted

Alistair Cook, famed Masterpiece Theatre host, died a little while ago of cancer. He was 95. Now I’m not sure that at age 95 you can say that anybody actually died of anything. I think at 90 everything automatically clicks over to the designation “natrual causes.” The natural cause? His body just plumb gave out. But his final curtain wasn’t his death. For that you need the rest...of the story.
Turns out Alistair and many others were involuntarily involved in an organ and tissue donation scam. A firm, dare I say corps-eration, named Biomedical Tissue Services apparently conspired with various funeral parlors in New York to steal bones, tendons, skin and suchlike. The funeral parlors would harvest the tissue—is the word lift appropriate here?—and sell it to Biomedical Tissue Services, who would then market it to hospitals and doctors for skin grafts, orthopedic procedures and dental implants. Connective tissue from the groin purloined. Finger bones palmed. Butt Bones boosted. Flesh pinched. Ovaries plundered and eggs poached. In America, not Nazi Germany. This is a lot worse than stealing golden teeth.
Now, granted, I’m a little slow, the first time I saw the name Biomedical Tissue Services, I thought they supplied special hospital toilet paper. But still, if I were a doctor about to receive tissue, I’m thinking a New Jersey fellow named Guido would not be my first source. Anything from anywhere in the portion of New Jersey abutting New York would not be the place I would go for body parts. Don’t these people watch TV? Repeat after me in your best Marlon Brando Godfather voice: “I got an offer you can’t refuse, really cheap body parts, I even got paperwork.” And there’s the rub. The companies faked paperwork for these bodies, saying cadavers were younger than they were, disease free, and in good working order. Kind of like that really cheap rebuilt alternator you bought once. So infections and complications ensued in the unknowing recipients. A man died from an infection after a diseased kneecap was implanted, Hepatitis C. sickened others. The funeral parlors and the tissue company stole bones and replaced them with PVC pipes in bodies to be buried. Thefts from bodies destined for cremation like Alistair Cook were easier to obscure. Relatives just got a short load of ashes. Which, fuel economy wise, was a notch on the plus side. Parts were shipped as far as Canada, Minnesota, Texas and Florida. Great. How many of those who died in New York wanted to retire in Florida? At least part of them got there. This is one of those places that needs more government oversight. Oh the indignity. Organ donation is a noble thing because it’s voluntary. But to find out your loved one was neither buried, nor cremated—but parted out...
America, ya gotta love it.

#257 Throwback Mountain

So I talk a lot about reading. Yes, I’m a throwback. I’m one of those people who still remembers the ancient art of reading. I just can’t get quit of it. I suppose I’m a throwback in other ways too, I don’t have a cellphone, I signal before I make a turn, and I say please and thank you. But there’s hope I will eventually get in tune with the 21st century. I did throw away my slide rule.
You could say I’m a compulsive reader. It’s how my mind occupies itself. When I was a little kid I used to drive my parents crazy when we’d go out in the car. At least until I could read. Then I found the wonderful world of billboards. Up until Ladybird’s highway beautification project, I was calm and content between reststops.
So I read billboards and store signs even today and since my mind has twisted since those halcyon days of youth, I see things oddly. Strange juxtapositions of signs and stuff. Like I notice that the poshest banks buy billboard advertising and most billboards are in really rundown sections of town. I notice that every bus and his buddy appear to have a bank billboard on them. Must be the new trend. Seems like if a big institution sees one of their competitors doing something they get a jones to do the same thing. Regardless of how ineffective. The new bandwagon is busses. Banks on busses. So which one of them stands out? If everybody’s doing it, it all fades into mediocrity.
Such is mass marketing. So anyhow, I’m driving down the road, I see this sign, and it says “Xin’s Exotic Nursery.” But it apparently shares a building with another business because right underneath the “Xin’s” is a sign that says “After Hours Adult Entertainment.” I read quickly so I get: “Xin’s Exotic Nursery After Hours Adult Entertainment.” That is exotic. Do they strip bark off the trees? Do Nude Topiaries? If you’re rowdy do they ask you to leave?
Then I saw this other place. It was a yoga place. Now I’m pretty sure yoga is grounded in Buddhism. That it’s a physical extension of meditation and the search for peace and enlightenment—a cure for the stresses of our driven western culture. Anyhow, the sign said: “Something or another yoga center, 10 years, Olympia’s first and oldest yoga center. Hmmm, sounds a little like an advertisement. And a little, um, entrepreneurial. One might even say competitive. What a concept, competitive Buddhism. Look out Christians, another lion has entered the arena.
And lastly, I was watching TV with the sound off and I saw an ad. It was for Cialis. It occurred to me for the first time what it is that’s always nagged me about that name. Cialis—It sounds like a citrus drink. Or a smoothie.
America, ya gotta love it.

#256 Shortfall shorthairs

So I’m reading this article. And it’s on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Now first off, let me say what triggered my interest were the words pension and corporation in the same title. You just don’t see that anymore. Since the Wall Street raiders of the eighties and nineties leaned down their companies to make them more attractive to stockholders you don’t see many pensions cluttering up the liabilities column. But I was wrong in my conclusion jumping as usual. Turns out the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation isn’t a company at all, it’s a federal agency. And its job is to guaranty the continuation of promised pension benefits to employees of companies who have gone belly-up. Belly-up is a stock market euphemism for bankruptcy. Not the sort of bankruptcy that you and I have, where we don’t have any money. The kind of bankruptcy that big corporations do, where they realign and restructure and pay all their top management million-dollar golden parachutes, their common stockholders zip, and issue pink slip to their now ex-employees worth one dollar and one free coffee drink at the local espresso stand. Talk about generosity, severance pay and a machiato.
The gist of the article was that the federal agency that guaranties continuations of pensions when companies go bankrupt is itself about to go bankrupt. It had 56.5 billion in assets to cover 79.2 billion in liabilities. As federal deficits go pretty paltry. They ought to be ashamed. Hmm. What’s wrong with this picture? If I had one third less assets than I had liabilities I would already be bankrupt and then some. The federal agency has just reached the worried stage.
But the reason they are where they are is not because of government bureaucratic mismanagement, it’s because the big companies who underfunded their pension plans during the good old days are now going B-K and dumping their pension liabilities on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. See, the companies were supposed to fund their own private pension plans and pay an insurance premium to the PDGC in case some unforeseen economic disaster came about. Turns out it was cheaper to pay the insurance premium to the PBGC, than it was to actually fund their pension plans. Or keep the pension plan money in a hands-off status when things got rough. When employees do finally get their benefits from the government agency they get less than they were originally promised by the private company. Betcha that’s a nice thing to find out after slaving 30 years for the same boss. Oh by the way, that pension thing I promised you to reward your loyalty and keep you from selling your skills to another company, just kidding, heh heh. Hope you got social security. Oh yeah Social Security. That’s the thing they want to privatize isn’t it?
America, ya gotta love it.

#254 ef bee eye

It occurred to me yesterday, while I was writing about government and the internet, how little I know about what they are capable of. Somewhere along the line, government isn’t going to be run by the inept baby-boomers that came to technology late in life. At some time, the hacker generation is going to be in a position turn their power to evil. You see, personally, I think it’s a little odd how long it takes me to even get on the internet these days. Kind of like in the sixties when J. Edgar Hoover was at the height of his paranoid crimes. Back then it took a little longer to connect the phone to the person you were calling when illegal wiretappers were online. Hmmm...
So I’m in the actual library the other day. I’m looking up a book. I look all over for the Dui Decimal card file and it’s just not there. There’re computer monitors everywhere but the only free ones are next to squalling kids or nodding homeless folks, come in to warm their hands against the CPU. I finally dart in at an open one and intuitively grasp what I need to know to look things up. Now here’s the thing. Back in the old days of Dui Decimal categorizing, if you didn’t find the card on the book you needed you could at least find two or three other cards on roughly the same subject next to them. Not so now. The book I wanted, called “The FBI Nobody Knows” by Fred Cook, had been in the library at one time but now was mysteriously “withdrawn.” When Fred Cook wrote this book in the sixties, he created quite a stir, much resentment and retaliation from J. Edgar Hoover, and generally blew the top off the illegal excesses of the “security”-checking FBI who had been harassing and vilifying ordinary citizens like you and me whenever J. personal-vendetta Edgar Hoover wanted. He cowed congressmen and senators and presidents. Fred Cook took him on. So, interested as I am in the abuse of power, I thought I’d give old Fred a read. History repeats itself to those who refuse to read it .
Nothing doing, Dui Decimal not present. So I couldn’t find the FBI section in the card file. I went over to the actual shelves. I refuse to believe computers, maybe there was a copy hiding on the shelves somewhere or I figured I could at least find the section. In the process, I discovered the section on presidents. And that was very interesting. There were like 4 books on Washington, 3 on Lincoln. 1 big one on James K. Polk, 2 Clintons and about 25 books on GW Bush Jr. Pro and Con. Amazing. Most of them had come out right before the last election. So the last election wasn’t all about talking heads. Someone took the time to write all that crap down. 25 Bush books. Jay leno would ask if he’d ever read that many? Anyhow I never did find the FBI. Maybe if just knew how to trace a back link on my blog...
America, ya gotta love it.

#253 GoogleFeds

Benjamin Franklin said, I paraphrase, that those who would sacrifice essential freedoms to gain a little security deserve neither. The point being, it is through not nurturing ours fears that we can enjoy our freedoms. Sky-diving is an exhilarating enterprise. Hanging from a rope not so much. Of course skydivers can be prudent, no one says you have to jump without a parachute or sell your ports to a foreign country. But tying everyone up and throwing them into sacks, while making our country more secure, will nonetheless cut down on productivity. Thomas Jefferson, another one of those founding father dudes, said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. I’m feeling a little patriotic today. To me it comes down to this; you descend to the level of the enemy or you take the high road. We beat the Soviet Union not because of Joe McCarthy and the red scare of the 50s but because of our free-wheeling unfettered economy and enthusiasm. Sure you need defense, you just need to set a shining example as well. Living in a lead barrel was one way to ride out the atomic fifties. But exuberantly sock hopping at the malt shop was better.
The Feds are going after Google to turn over internet records again. But there’s a new twist, foiled by their attempts to invoke the specter of national security, they’re now appealing to the moral outrage in all of us. This time they’re saying it’s about combating child pornography. The government is asking Google to turn over a “random” sample of search requests. Oh yeah, been there, done that. The first seemingly innocent step sets the path. Yeah, you’re Jewish how’s it gonna hurt to wear this red star on your chest? It’ll just help the administration with mobs and such. It’s for your own protection...
Personally, I think it’s a little odd how long it takes me to even get on the internet these days. Kind of like in the sixties when J. Edgar Hoover was at the height of his paranoid crimes. It took a little longer to connect the phone to the person you were calling when illegal wiretappers were online. Hmmm...
And now it turns out the goverment didn’t follow their own rules in their one high profile case against a confessed terrorist. So the judge threw a bunch of stuff out. She ruled that a prosecuting attorney violated federal rules when she sent trial transcripts to seven aviation witnesses, coached them on how to deflect defense attacks and lied to defense lawyers to prevent them from interviewing witnesses they wanted to call. The judge said the prosecutors actions and other government missteps had left the aviation evidence "irremediably contaminated.”
Remember how in that football movie, “The Longest Mile,” you hated the guard team because they had all the power and they still bent the rules in their direction. I mean heck, presumably they were the good guys right. Too bad those commie-pinko film makers took the side of the prisoners.
America, ya gotta love it.