Wednesday, August 30, 2006

#349 Lawyers and Dwarves

There was an interesting article poll taken by the Zogby firm— the newest rage in polling. Zogby has tried different approaches to capture the essence of Middle America. Polls show that 75% of people know that polls are only as good as the sample from which you take them. If you cherry pick your sample, you can pretty much guarantee the outcome, so consumers getting pretty savvy when it comes to believing or not believing any given poll. Personally, I’ve always viewed statistical analysis as a suspect science. The idea that 1000 people chosen at random can predict anything as esoteric as an election or who’s listening to a given radio station just doesn’t stand up. Here’s why: Suppose I randomly selected all the people that day and they all said they listened to Spirit 1- 0- Whatever. Who’s to say that I didn’t accidentally run into a Wednesday morning prayer group down at the Walmart or even an AA meeting just out for the night. And as for elections. Gimme a break. Even factoring out the dead felons in Seattle and the mysterious missing voting machines in Ohio, how can you possible predict the outcome of an election by polling a thousand people? Only if that same thousand people are voting. It would be like getting a thousand folks together and asking them to predict the weather for the next five days. Day one would be pretty accurate, after that, it’s all wishful thinking.
Enough philosophizing. (I’ve always wondered why they don’t offer a BS in philosophy. It sounds so appropriate.) In any event, the Zogby poll has found that 75% of Americans can name at least two of the seven dwarves but only 25% can name two of the justices of the Supreme Court. Me too, heck I can never remember anyone other than Diana Ross. Oh right, Supreme Court, well, there’s Scalia, Roberts and, um, Dopey. And who the heck are Zogby’s folks to start flinging around that dwarf epithet again anyhow? It’s “Vertically challenged mine workers” Zog-boy. The same poll goes on to say that 70% of Americans know who Harry Potter is but only 50% know that Tony Blair is the Prime Minister of Britain. My poll shows that only 20% of those even know what the Prime Minister does. The other 30% think he’s that guy in the English church with the tallest hat. Zogby’s poll indicates 60% of those polled know that Superman is from Krypton while only 30 percent know that Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. Looks like a trend. Dwarves, Harry Potter and Superman versus Justices, Prime Ministers and actual planets. Looks to me like these lame ass real things need to get their own comic books. Obviously, reality is in trouble. Someone needs to come up with a Supreme Court happy meal. Ooh Mommy, can I get the Clarence Thomas action figure? Sure Honey, oh look, he’s dressed like a pirate.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 28, 2006

#347 Lappa Lethargy

As I closed down my piece from yesterday and went about my business, it occurred to me that I couldn’t leave the burning laptop problem completely alone. Remember, Dell is recalling laptops cause they spontaneously combust. Somehow, the concept of tapping away on your laptop and having it burst into flame seemed scarier than, well, snakes on a plane. Especially if it explodes when you’re illegally downloading something. Metallica’s revenge, a flaming brimstone from hell to set a bonfire to your baggies. A flare to your flares. Leaving you with nothing but a flash in your ash. Or worse yet, how do you explain it if your laptop explodes while you’re engaged in committing that pirated music to a CD for a friend. Burning a copy indeed. The napster in my lapster busted a cap in my lap. My limewire is a live fire.
Enough of that. Time for some social commentary. Occasionally I listen to people win things on radio stations. And it makes me worried a little bit about the pharmocopic side effects to our culture. Some of the winners just don’t seem that excited. You would think that if they went to all the trouble of programming their speed-dial to have the station’s number and they went to the further trouble of actually calling when they ‘re told they’ll be a winner if they’re number 7, that the prize they are going for is actually something they want. And want bad enough to be mildly excited when and if they actually do win it. But no, some of these callers sound like they’re prozac-ed up to the topomax. Their wellbutrin has got them, well, neutral. About everything. I understand some people really need the benefits of certain drugs to get them through the day. But I sure wish the pharmo- conglomerates would come up with a mood leveler that doesn’t leave people emotional zombies. If I hear one more Stepford Wife call in for a free dinner certificate and act emotionally as if it was the equivalent of a slice of old baloney, I think I’ll give vent to my un-pharmacologically suppressed anger. I might actually, heaven forbid, scream. Maybe even pull out a hair or two. In my case a valuable and diminishing commodity not to be lightly sacrificed. Prozac may lower the whiner quotient in our society but it’s lowering the winner quotient as well. If winning doesn’t have an emotional payoff, then why try? And if you don’t try for happiness, is life really worth living? Perhaps that’s why supposedly emotionally level users of such drugs eventually end up checking out altogether. They’re not depressed. They’re not happy. They’re not anything. So what’s the point? Maybe calling in for a prize on a radio station is a call for help. See, they’re saying, I’m trying to find something to get excited about. And the right words are there. Unfortunately, they’re delivered in a dull emotionless monotone. woo. hoo. look at me…
America, ya gotta love it.

#346 Lappa Palooza

There was an interesting news story the other day. Apparently Dell, the big computer maker, is having to recall about a jillion laptop computers. Turns out their batteries run the risk of short circuiting or something and making your laptop explode into flames. Now maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that in Federal Way, exploding into flames has to occur at least 15 feet from a hot laptop. Or maybe I’m confusing some other news story. Pretty spooky when you get right down to it. I mean, I don’t suspect that many people actually put their laptops on their actual laps anymore, but still. The notion that a battery can cause a device to explode into flames is not too comforting in this techno-gadget dependent society of ours. If I was to be holding a cellphone to my face and it was to suddenly burst into a bonfire I’m pretty sure my provider would get a hot earful in return. Yeah, I really got burned by Verizon. And what about those little blue-light phones the wired folk attach to their ears. The hearing aids of the cellphone generation. They can’t hear you standing right in front of them but they can hear some guy across town. Imagine, if you will, the wonderful prospect of one of those annoying blue light social monstrosities flaring up, igniting their caked on hair products, and engulfing their head in a fireball. Can you hear me now? Sorry. Apparently I have issues with cellphones generally and that kind of cellphone in particular. I suppose God meant our hearing to be hands free that’s why he invented ears. It’s just that I still have problems with electronic devices dangling from them. I don’t even like Ipod earphones in polite company—an Ipod inferno even less.
Cause really, the notion of Blackberries blazing and cellphones singeing and laptops lighting up the laps of all and sundry is a real nightmare. Could this be the next point of weakness where the terrorists attack? The batteries, they say, came from Sony. Poor Dell, investing all kinds of time, money, and quality control in making sure the little electrons don’t leap out of teeny tiny nano etches in their chips and screw up their computers and to be undone by the most simple outsource in the world—the battery. What Homer Simpson did Sony put in quality control? Or what Osama? Perhaps this is only the first in a wave of terrorist techno threats. Contact solution and toothpaste as bombs. Batteries bursting into blazes. Laptops and cellphones and PDAs and digital cameras, Ipods and satellite phones and walkmans, all walking time bombs ready to blow up like a fanatical fundamentalist exploding the dynamite in his backpack and spattering horrified onlookers with pieces of Shiite.
And worse, every WiFi enabled coffee bar in the land. Filled with the cream of today’s techno youth playing video games. Doom anyone?
America, ya gotta love it.

#345 Kuppa Bud

Naming stuff has taken on a life of its own. I hadn’t realized until recently how much this commercialized process of the naming of sporting events and arenas has taken over American culture. You know that there’s been a paradigm shift when young people take for granted things that were a painful process you lived through. Like Pearl Harbor Day in my parent’s generation and John F. Kennedy’s assassination in mine. To the young folks John F. Kennedy is an Oliver Stone movie at best, and asking them where they were when JFK was shot is like, duh, I wasn’t born yet—get over it. So it was the other day when I was walking downtown in the Percival Landing area. I chanced to hear some kid up in front of me asking his parents how Budweiser got the naming rights to the bay. It took me a few minutes to figure out what he was talking about, but then it dawned on me. Oh yeah, Budd Bay. What with Key Arena and Safeco Field, I guess it made sense. And real close we have the city of Dupont. What’s next, Intel Inlet? I wonder if the kid thinks Rainer beer had anything to do with that mountain.
Is it some strange cosmic coincidence that certain words appear in the public consciousness at the same time? And they happen to sound not only similar but pretty good together. Like in the sentence, I was sitting back sipping a macchiato and taking a long pull on my macunudo. I suppose they’ve both been around for a while but only now has American culture embraced them to the point they’re on my radar. Macanudo. Macchiato. They could do a sitcom with working girls in Seattle. Macanudo, Macchiato, Hasslebeck incorporated.
And speaking of Seattle’s number one industry, I wonder if it would have done as well if it was called Shultz’s. Probably been bought out by some conglomerate from Oklahoma. So the other day I order an espresso again. The first time, years ago, I wasn’t ready for the flavor. I have a lot of bitter taste buds so a straight shot of undiluted espresso puckered me like a lemon enema. I decided maybe I was ready to give one a try again. It wasn’t bad. There just wasn’t much of it. Definitely a drink that you sip. Like a fine cognac but instead of a giant manly bulbous snifter you get this little tiny cup that you have no other choice but to demurely hold like Aunt Prissy’s antique china. So the mystery of the day: Why is it if you order a straight espresso, which is nothing more than a single shot of espresso dripped into a tiny cup, that it costs $1.75, but if you order a second shot, the second drippings are only 50 cents? Does it really cost a dollar and twenty-five cents to wash a cup? And what if you order it to go? Does it cost a buck and a quatta for a paper cup? The mystery of the second shot. Someone call Oliver Stone.
America, ya gotta love it.

#344 Koronered

It’s political season again. That means the inevitable forest of political signs festooning the landscape like so much Scotch Broom. And about as useful. I mean, I’m in advertising, yet I’ve never really seen how it is that inserting your name in an annoying way in front of someone’s consciousness is going to help you come election night. But I guess it works. Name recognition is the single most popular reason people vote for someone. That’s why incumbents always have a bit of an edge. When the folks shuffle into the election church, or wherever it is their polling place is set up, all that stress makes them rush to the familiarity of a name like a pilgrim from Mexico heading back to his home toilet. Familiarity breeds contempt they say, but it’s just the reverse when it comes to voting. Unless of course, you’ve had forty years of Democratic congressional rule and someone comes along with this new “Contract with America” thingy that sounds and looks and feels oh-so-good. Too bad it ended up smelling so bad. When will our elected leaders learn, the opposite of tax and spend is not don’t tax and spend anyhow? It’s don’t tax and don’t spend. Or, here’s a novel concept¾tax and spend correctly. I mean, you and I can’t afford to fix the road potholes by ourselves. And that Eyeman guy down the street sure as hell isn’t gonna turn loose any of his screaming Lincolns unless you force him too. But all of us together can build a mighty fine road. So anyhow, what got me to thinking about this whole thing was a political sign for the office of coroner. I’m not completely sure why the coroner should be an elected official in the first place. It seems like one of those county jobs, like Head Engineer, that would do just fine as an appointed position. Or better yet, something you got hired for after submitting a resume with related job experiences. Maybe be hired by the chief administrative officer when you demonstrated you had sufficient knowledge of the human anatomy. Who can carve a corpse in how many minutes flat? Are you up to date on the entire last season of every CSI? That sort of thing. But what is really weird is that it’s a partisan position. The sign I read said so and so for coroner, G.O.P. Is there a significant difference between a republican coroner and a democratic coroner? Does the R always start cutting from the right? Does the R just start cutting period without making sure it’s in the right place or at the right time? Does the D not cut until the corpus is completely bloated and overgrown with bureaucratic parasites? Maggots and blowflies of paper-pushing redundancy. I’m just not sure a coroner should be a partisan position. Then again, they sure cremated Kenneth Lay’s body in a hurry after he supposedly died of a sudden heart attack right before the threat of actually going to prison might have loosened his tongue about his high and mighty buddies. Hmmm.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

#343 Krusty Krumb

When I was talking about Propel Vitamin Water and its saturation into the soft drink market, I had to think—this whole vitamin thing is an American obsession too. And it’s funny how a drink that has vitamins added, but is still essentially sugar water, made the leap from soft drink to energy drink to vitamin sports supplement. So what you mean is, if I just call sugar water a sports supplement it is a sports supplement? It’s like when Wonder bread first came out. Wonder bread was one of the first products to take the best of the snake oil pitches of the previous century and wrap them in warm, fuzzy, mom-and-apple-pie malarkey. Wonder Bread, with its white wrapper and festive colorful balloons, was every kid’s dream bread. Made from finely milled flour with just a touch extra sugar added to bring that delicate sweetness that could turn an ordinary peanut butter and jelly sandwich into dessert. Woe to the poor child who carted a generic supermarket bakery bread sandwich to the lunchroom. Ugly and misshapen, such bread slices were like trolls compared to the pristine and glorious uniformity and whiteness of Wonder Bread, the princess of all breads. And lest mothers be suspicious Wonder Bread added vitamins. So just because it looked like a fluffy piece of bubble-headed non-nutritious nothing, why heck no, Mrs. Cleaver, this bread has added vitamins and helps build bodies in 12 ways. Judging by the waistlines of Americans today, one of those ways was obesity. “That kid’s growing like a weed on that Wonder Bread, June.” “Actually, Ward, I think he’s growing like a potato.” And adding vitamins to white bread is like teaching a debutante to talk dirty. It misses the point. Twinkies and Wonder Bread occupy one side of the American food chain and that’s okay. Put them under the category of indulgence and get on with it. The same for soft drinks. There is a lot of controversy about whether added vitamins do anything anyhow. For years, we’ve been told to eat fruits and vegetables. It’s pretty simple. We’re omnivores, we need to omni-eat. Yet we still want to have all desserts and add in those pesky little vitamins and minerals in something other than broccoli form. The funny thing is, like Wonder Bread, we often process the real vitamins out first. Whole wheat or multigrain bread has a lot of vitamins. And bumps and scars and chunky bits that make you think you got crunchy instead of smooth peanut butter. I look at it this way. Wonder Bread is to whole grain bread what baloney is to a slice of roast beef. Wonder and baloney each have shelf live of a millennium. And enough chemicals to manufacture a biological weapon. How can a vitamin possibly survive in that environment? Give me a slab of beef and a hunk of whole grain bread any day. Because life is lumpy, chunky and more often than not, a little bit crusty. Like me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

#342 Kross-Kulinary

America craves variety but it still craves the same stuff. We like our selection but only if we keep it within certain broad themes. Take ranch dressing. Ranch is today’s ketchup. Bland salad? Add ranch. Don’t like that icky blue cheese with your buffalo wings? How about ranch? Need to perk up a dull burger? Add ranch. Raw veggies too healthy for consumption? A spoonful of ranch helps the nutrition go down. Chill it in the refrigerator and its super-calorie-fridge-o-licious.
And so many brands of ranch to choose from too. Everyone has jumped on the ranch wagon, even Paul Newman. If only Butch Cassidy had had ranch what a different world this would be. Ranch is so ubiquitous that kids think scrambled eggs with ranch dressing is huevos rancheros. And talk about variations on the theme. There’s plain ranch, ranch with bacon, ranch with parmesan. You know the drill. If it’s a big seller, offer a tweak or two and really plumb the depths of the market. Have you tried the new ranch with artichoke hearts and picked asparagus? To die for. But not if you use diet ranch, it’ll be a bonanza to the hidden valleys of your arteries. Another new fad is Edamame. I first heard of it, surprisingly, from a McDonalds commercial. Whenever I heard the commercial I’d try to figure out what the announcer was saying. He was talking about an Asian salad so I had a clue but the word edamame is not one from our standard English language toolkit we get in elementary school so I would have lost the spelling bee for sure. My first challenge was to sound it out sufficiently so Google’s semi-spellcheck would offer me the right suggestion. After a few tries and some odd blogs, rock groups and vegan hippie mother diaries, I finally got close enough. It’s actually spelled e-d-a-m-a-m-e-. Turns out it’s the green vegetable more commonly known as the soybean. It’s harvested at the peak of ripening right before it reaches the "hardening" time. The word Edamame means "Beans on Branches," because it grows in clusters on bushy branches. To retain the freshness and its natural flavor, it is parboiled and quick-frozen. As you are probably aware, in East Asia the soybean has been used for over two thousand years as a major source of protein. Edamame is consumed as a snack, a vegetable dish, used in soups or processed into sweets. Mmm. Soybean candy. As a snack, the pods are lightly boiled in salted water, and then the seeds are squeezed directly from the pods into the mouth with the fingers. How do you like that? Now we all know about edamame. And we owe this enlightening cross-cultural culinary occurrence to that quintessential American institution, McDonalds. Another compliment to their international menu—Asian salads, Scotch McFlurries and French Fries. Mmm mmm. McDonalds french fries with ranch dressing...
America, ya gotta love it.

#341 Konfounding

America craves variety. It’s as if we’ve got on this “next new thing” whirligig and we’re spiraling out of control. The coffee shops were the beginning of the end. Before them people took their variety in stride. Every now and then Lucky Charms would introduce a new marshmallow shape or Trix would get a new color but for the most part, except for the Chevy model of the week, Americans were content with a boring 3 or 4 choices for every product. Then came Starbucks. And between lattes in four sizes, extra shots, soy, whip, and whatnot the compulsive variet-izer was born. Macciatos, frappacinos, crapaccinos, they all went down the drains of our faddish mouths like so much cheez wiz—which, by the way, now comes in spicy, jack and the ubiquitous ranch. Want a sell something food-ular? Just add ranch. So why am I not surprised that they’re dinkin with water. Water is available in any number of bottle shapes but the Summers Eve shape seems to be favored the most. A slightly rippled like a Michelin Man midriff top, a smooth area for the label and a stout indented bottom. Every type of spring, brook, or glacier-fed stream reference in the names. Costco and Western Family too. Why pay more? It’s all bottled in the same industrial facility. Presumably built over a clear mountain spring. But that wasn’t good enough. Now there’s Propel. Propel offers something different from just plain water. It’s water with vitamins. That’s right, taking a page from the Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways with added vitamins that we originally stripped out, Propel now adds vitamins to water. You’re not just hydrated; you’re supplementing your diet. Is this a great country or what? And the cool thing is you don’t have to put up with all that added sugar and, um, flavor that something as last week as Gatorade has. You’re a 21st Century fitness buff. You’ve got vitamin water. But surprise, surprise, vitamins are not totally inert. So the fitness water has to mask its taste and it does so by adding flavor. The one is my hand is berry flavor and now that I look at it more closely I see—What’s this? Propel is made by Gatorade! And as I look at the ingredients I see that although the big print says Fitness Water the fine print says Vitamin Enhanced Water Beverage and the even finer print lists the ingredients as water, sucrose syrup (another of the many names for sugar) citric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate (salt) potassium citrate (other salts) sucralose (artificial sugar), vitamin C, vitamin E, Vitamin B3, EDTA (a chemical preservative), vitamins B-5,6 and 12. It also says, refrigerate after opening. You know, that, um, water can spoil. So basically, Gatorade has doubled their profit by changing the label and selling you Gatorade that they’ve diluted by watering it down with water. Oh yeah, and they put it in a healthy blue plastic bottle.
America, ya gotta love it.

#340 Kountdown

I saw something new the other day. It was in Lacey so the technology has probably been around in bigger cities for a while. I’m not sure what to make of it. If, in fact, it is a sign the countdown to the apocalypse has already begun. Because it was a countdown clock too. But instead of being at the top of a New York building and getting ready to plummet a ball to the bottom or raise it to the top to celebrate the new year it was a clock that told you how much time you had left to cross the street. Yep, it was a crosswalk countdown clock. Now on the face of it, it’s not a bad idea. Oldsters who were too slow would know that not only was the red hand gonna start blinking but when. Nothing worse when you can’t move very fast than stepping off the curb and committing yourself when the green guy is shining smiley at you then after three steps seeing the red hand start to blink. It’s enough to bring on an infarction. Personally, I’ve always had a little trouble with the international crosswalk symbols anyhow. Why does a green guy with unresolved appendages signify walk, a red hand signify don’t walk, and a blinking red hand mean “run like hell”? And if we’re going to do this countdown thing lets do it where we got a fighting chance—for the drivers. A countdown to red clock would make yellow lights as fun as the start of a drag race. Yellow lights could become the newest urban sport. More fun than trying to get across the track before the crossing bar gets completely down. I once knew a comedian on the circuit, probably dead from cocaine use now. I never see him local and he never hit the big time. He had this bit about international crosswalk signs. Preferred the old written walk/don’t walk idea. Said the green guy was okay but the red hand was killing the heck out of our native American friends. So true, a raised spread-fingered hand can signify more than stop. And really, the digital resolution of the hand is pretty wimpy. What are there, like 12 LCDs depicting a crude hand? You can’t tell if its palm facing you or back of the hand facing you in some kind of come hither move or Victorian parade wave. I would think that a society that’s capable of inventing a countdown crosswalk could render a better hand. I mean, you got your diamond vision casino signs on the freeway that do full motion video, heck, even the car dealerships have full animation and special effects. Joe Normal has LCD big screen TVs. Isn’t it time our crosswalk signs got their technology up to the 21st century. Have a picture of a scolding school marm wagging her finger at you. Or a police officer with a whistle and a white glove. Or a flag person—should I call her a flag—waving a Stop sign back and forth. But a countdown clock? It seems too competitive. If I was a kid I’d be on the corner with my friends—daring them to run when the clock got down to two.
America, ya gotta love it.

#339 Kampchair

Remember in the old days when we used to go to a picnic in the park and sit on a blanket? I hated that. I never could seem to get comfortable. Sitting on the ground, even cross-legged yoga style, eventually stresses me in the small of my back. Is there a large of the back? Or a big of the back? Something about suspending your keester up off the ground, even if it’s only a few inches, makes sitting so much more comfortable. But I think there’s a limit. At least occasionally, we need to rough it a little bit. I also remember sitting my butt down on hard and splintery bleacher seats. Or even those rows of benches like they have at revivals. Simple planks with rudimentary legs at either end. Hard and with no back support. Make you want to jump up and shout the lord’s name to get kinks out. I was kind of glad when they came out with those seat back canvas thingies that unfold to give you a little something to lean back on. Still, I was conflicted, I didn’t take them to every one of my kid’s sports events. I didn’t want to seem like a total stadium wimp. So the other day when I was at the park for a concert thing, I looked out at the crowd and saw a whole lot of the those canvas and metal tube unfoldable camp chairs. You know the ones I mean, they fit in a narrow bag and then unfold like some transformer toy into this incredible simulation of a chair. Arms and legs and seat and back and all made out of lightweight canvas so you can truck it the whole block from your car to the ball field and not get tuckered. I have a couple myself. They beat the hell out of splintery bleachers and they are a great substitute for the pain in the grass which is sitting on the ground. Still, I saw a couple in the crowd which made me sit up straight. These chairs were the same fold apart aluminum tube and canvas; they had the same cupholders indented into their arms. But the had an added feature. You could lean back and a little footrest part would stick out as the back locked at an Adirondack recline position. That’s right, they were recliner camp chairs. Leanbacks of the outback. Barcoloungers of the woods. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hiked ten miles in a day, gathered wood, built a campfire, put on a pot of coffee with river water I pumped through a filter and thought to myself, this would be perfect if only I’d brought a barcolonger. They’ve got a winner. If they could work a rocking function and maybe a solar battery powered massager into the deal the campgrounds will be fuller than ever. Some suggestions: Install an umbrella to keep off the sun and some kind of fold out netting for the ‘skeeters. Better yet, saturate the whole thing with chemical bug repellent. Sew on a little warning sign to keep the teething babies and small dogs from chewing on it—those of them that can read anyhow.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

#338 Korn Oil

Ethanol is the gasoline-like substance they make from corn. Now personally, having been fueled by corn for decades, I think this is a great idea. If I can get around on a diet of corn oil French fries, Sugar Pops and Doritos I don’t know why my car shouldn’t have the same privilege, and if the fuel in question is actually more of a corn alcohol, well hell, it was good enough for my moonshining ancestors why not me? The TV show My Mother the Car was an allegorically accurate comment on American culture. It was the personal automobile the really fueled the urbanization of America. And the interstate highway system government program, started by a republican I might add, that was the biggest federal tax subsidy and boon to both private enterprise and the American worker that ever lived. Building the nations highways helped lift America out of the normal postwar economic doldrums that had plunged us into depression after World War One.
In any event a similar expenditure needs to be expended now if we are to lose our addiction to foreign oil. But it won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap. But then again neither is methadone. Critics say that ethanol corn fuel is no good because it costs 29% more energy to make than you get out of it. In other words transporting it, refining it, building refineries, and setting up a distribution infrastructure, uses 29% more energy than you get out of it. What the gas lobby critics fail to mention is that gasoline from petroleum cost 23% more energy to produce than you get out of it. And Corn fuel has some hidden energy savings if you figure in the corn mash that’s left over after the first squeezings. It’s used for cattle feed and other industrial farming benefits. A bigger difference between corn and oil is that when you burn ordinary oil you add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. You do when you burn corn oil too but its balanced out because when you grow corn you take tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Net net, there’s no extra carbo-loading to fatten up the green house effect. What? An energy resource that doesn’t add to global warming? Why if I was a smart government I’d start throwing some money behind this. A whole new distribution infrastructure has to be built. Oil pipelines can’t transport ethanol. Ethanol is ruined when it comes into contact with oil. Wasn’t there a big federal subsidy for certain oil pipelines a while back. I could be mistaken. In Brazil they’ve totally weaned themselves from foreign oil. All of their cars run on flex fuel which is 85% ethanol. And here’s the really ironic thing. Flex fuel engines were modeled after the first of their breed—the engine from the Ford Model T. Seems Ford originally designed his cars to run on ethanol. Oh Henry.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

#337 Kontainer

Did you ever notice that there were plenty of sports drinks before the energy drink came along. Gatorade and what not. Before Gatorade came in a million flavors and supposed uses. Then came Red Bull and the energy drink. Red Bull was unabashedly caffeine in mega doses. That caught on so out came Monster, Whoopass, Rockstar, and their ilk. Seems that non-sports people needed energy too. And the computer nerd who spent forty-seven hours at a stretch behind his monitor needed something catchier than coffee to keep him awake all night playing interactive role-playing games. His avatar got to have energy pellets, why shouldn’t he? The energy drink is the sports drink divorced from the sport. All that sweaty electrolyte stuff the sports drink was meant to replace now need not be shed or added back and the energy drink can concentrate on the two natural sources of energy, sugar and caffeine. Then each energy drink tried to bond with a specific consumer. If you don’t think they thought this whole thing out listen to this squib I retrieved from a website selling the new energy drink Mercury. “Proven brand building with the 18-24 market. Marketing is designed to make mercury a ‘discovery’ brand. 10-24 Singles reject mass marketing from big companies for ‘ownership’ of new products. Gatorade and SoBe both “discovery” brands initially...”
So you see, these things don’t just suddenly appear from nowhere, they’re made to appear from nowhere for “discovery” purposes. Then they delineate their product by color and most important, packaging, which, in the case of energy drinks, means bottle shape. I despair that we will ever have a recycle-based economy, so obsessive is America’s need for the new and different. I know that plastic bottles can’t be washed and refilled on an industrial scale. At least so they tell us. But think of all the man hours that must go into designing new bottle shapes, tooling up the equipment to mold the new plastic bottle shape and then the retooling necessary to configure bottle machine robots to recognize and manipulate the new bottle shape in the automatic bottling process. Can’t this energy be used somewhere else to better effect—working out the bugs in ethanol production perhaps, or designing some combination of individual transport and mass transit that people will use? Look at the containership container. It revolutionized shipping. Why? Because someone had the bright idea of always using the same size reusable container to ship everything. Now boats and trucks and trains can all use the same thing. What a concept, reusable interchangeable parts, the greatest American invention of the industrial age. You know, back when they got their energy from food. If you could only bottle wisdom...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

#336 Kinetic emetic

So the other day I was confronted with a new energy drink. Energy drinks are the newest in a long ling of drinkable products that American ingenuity foists upon our orally obsessed populace. This one contained the three important “ines.”—Taurine, Glutomine, Caffeine. Oh ho, I think I found the energy. That is the key to all of these supposed energy drinks of course, not their Vitamin B complex or amino acids, it’s their caffeine—in mega-doses. This energy drink was called Mercury. Okay. Mercury, you may remember, is the messenger god. Known for his quickness and his shifting and volatile nature, Mercury was the go to god whenever any one wanted something done or delivered. Mercury, or quicksilver, is also a versatile element. It’s the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and is used in everything from supposedly silver fillings to thermometers. It’s also incredibly toxic. It’s what hat makers used to use in the formation of felt hats back around the time of Alice in Wonderland, and was the origin of the stereotype of the “mad hatter.” I remember playing with drops of mercury on my hand in science class. Fortunately, I never got any brain damage from it. The lunatic was in the hall and when the band I was in started playing different tunes, I was out of there. The problem is that most of today’s youth are not up on the mythological classics and also that most of today’s youth have heard about the evil, toxic, and environmentally destructive effects of the element mercury. There’s been all the brouhaha in the news about schools spending beaucoup bucks having to retrofit mercury-infested thermostats. So one the face of it, an energy drink that is trying to brand itself with the 18-24 demographic may be in for an uphill battle. Because that same demographic has been exposed to far more negative press about the harmful effects of the element mercury than the beneficial buzz of Mercury the Roman God. Drinking mercury just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Of course that same youth has been exposed to all sorts of negative media blitzing about the evil effects of tobacco, booze, marijuana, and meth but it hasn’t seemed to have had much impact. So maybe I’m wrong here, maybe identifying yourself with something toxic or disgusting is exactly the way to brand with today’s youth. Maybe we’ll have an energy drink called “dog puke” sometime soon or “possum pee.” And really, the colors of these things just don’t look that appetizing. Your choices are asparagus urine yellow, hummingbird feeder red or Windex blue. And, oh yeah, there’s some sort of grayish, tea-brown shade that looks like someone backwashed chaw juice into a water glass. Which is close to one other use of Mercury in the old days. As an emetic. It was used to induce vomiting. Now there’s a niche market, an energy drink for bulimics.
America, ya gotta love it.

#335 Kernels of Wisdom

I saw this weird thing at an espresso place the other day. This guy was standing at the counter. He looked like he was from out of town. If I had to guess I’d say his name was Guido. He had a distinct Mafioso sort of look—sharp-creased dark suit, hat, sunglasses, pointy polished shoes. Not something you encounter often in summer in the northwest. He ordered a mocha. The barista asked if he would like it iced. He went very still for a moment.
Funny how the same word can mean so many different things.
One time I heard about the Nestles company firing a bunch of employees. A friend came up about the same time and said he had a staph infection. I guess Nestles thought they did too, I replied, but they fired em. You’ve no doubt heard that Nestles just bought out the Jenny Craig company. Is it Nestles again or is it still Nestle. Investors wanted something modern so they were like me. They lost their S in the stock market a while back. There seems to be something mildly unsavory about a candy company buying a weight loss company. Somehow it smacks of a corporate job security plan. Fatten em up slim em down, fatten em up slim em down, fatten em up slim em down. Next thing you know they’ll buy the Duncan Yoyo company. It’s like the windshield repair company that merged with the gravel truck company. Business is just a drive on the freeway away.
Jenny Craig always did well because they employed the referred lead strategy to great effect. Use people who have done well in the new regimen while they were still doing well to help recruit new folks. The before and after picture. Before the after after. Cinderella before the marriage. “Happily ever after” while the pumpkin’s still a carriage. It’s a great marketing ploy, word of mouth, even if it’s about stuff you put in your mouth, is very effective. Converts make the best missionaries. The people the churches send to the faraway tropical locations are the young, full of zeal, energetic recent converts, fresh from the purifying baptismal waters.
Speaking of the tropics, there’s a very small tropical disturbance affecting the weather this year. You know the big one, El Nino. And the slightly smaller and contrary one, El Nina. This very small one is called El Nano. Apparently Spanish for tiny.
Speaking of tiny, state sophomores had some tiny scores on this year’s WASL, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. What a horrible acronym, WASL. Must have been named by the same folks who brought us Say Wa. In any event, parents wanted to eliminate the WASL for a variety of reasons. They were against the test. Others wanted to keep the test. So they had a demonstration at the Capitol. They were protesting the anti-testing movement—the people who wanted the test iced.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

#334 Kommode

I was at a meeting the other day, functioning in my alternate identity as a member of the business community. I sometimes find it hard to shift through as many identities as I have but the biggest benefit to multiple personality disorder is you can be two places at once. I am by nature an introspective and retiring person, not so much outgoing as in-staying, the original wallflower, so when it comes to public functions the person you see is not necessarily the whole person. I’m not actually acting but I am putting on something of a show. I’ll stand outside a meeting for a few moments when I get there, take a deep breath, then set the personality to schmooze control and drive on in.
The cure for my terminal shyness seemed to be to take on a lot of public functions. Like the person who is afraid of water needs to jump in the pool. The more you survive the more the fear diminishes. If you don’t drown first. While I was at this meeting the leader of the meeting introduced herself as the “chair” of the organization. This didn’t completely surprise me because her predecessor when he conducted the meetings of the same organization for the previous year had also introduced himself as the “chair.” Now I know that we are squeamish about genderizing roles. I wholeheartedly agree with the need to de-male a lot of our language, but really there comes a time when we have to acknowledge that gender exists and tailor our words accordingly, or at the very least include an androgynous humanity to our roles. I mean really, all the foreign languages I took in high school even genderized their articles for gosh sake. “The” is not just “the” as it is in American. There’s a male “the” and a female “the” and a neuter “the.” “Los” Angeles is male “the” angels. “Las” Vegas is female “the” wells. But a chair is a chair. It ain’t even human. I’m comfortable with chairperson. I’m okay with chairman if it’s a man and chairwoman if it’s a woman. I am not comfortable with a person being a chair. Do mailmen now become mail. Letter carriers is a great alternative but I hope we aren’t in any risk of calling them just letters. Stewards and stewardesss are now fight attendants. Again, do we need to call them flights? And what about firefighters? We had fireman and firewomen, are they now just fire? There’s a fire, quick call the fire. So I just don’t think it’s a good idea to be calling people after inanimate objects. Seems to me you can accept the cumbersome chairperson, or degenderize the man in chairman by inflecting it as a neutered mun. Fire-mun sounds different than fireman. Chair-mun and not Chair-man. Worse the organization is question was the Chamber. Chamber has other meanings as well. Saying I am the chair of the chamber is like saying I am the toilet.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

#333 Kool Jerk

So the other day I was driving to work and what should I spy but a coffee stand. In case you just arrived from another planet, coffee stands are those semi-shack semi-kiosk drive-through places that have sprung up across the urban environment and taken over the architectural niche once occupied by photo huts. Ah, the ecology of commercialism. Seems we always need a drive-thru alternative in this great gasoline powered world of ours. Whatever we can get without exiting the confines of our moto-pod the better. Whether it’s to be eaten or drunk or just dry cleaned the fact that we can drive up and get it saves us all that annoyance of parking our car, turning it on and off, getting out of it, and, of course, running the risk of an encounter with that guy we just cut off without signaling as we zoomed into the drive-through place. Safe behind our car alarm and shatter proof glass, with the full dark tinting of course, so we can’t be recognized, our cocoon-like automobile saves us from the embarrassing responsibility of acting like decent human beings and courteous drivers. In the old days we used to have drive-through dairies. That was shortly after dairies stopped delivering to neighborhoods. Now that I see the delivery folks out there again can the drive-through milk joint be far behind. Someone once suggested to me that that would be a great idea. And I concur. One of the only times I have to emergency shop is when I’m out of milk. Hardly worth a full trip to Costco and certainly risky to try to only get milk at the supermarket. I think it would be a grand thing to pull to a coffee stand, order a latte, and a gallon of milk to go. But make sure you keep it simple. For quickness. That’s the point. Convenience stores used to keep their items more limited. Now they all seem to be infected with their own little case of urban sprawl. The inventory and the space to hold it grows and grows till suddenly, instead of a trim little bare essentials convenience store you have a mini-Wal-Mart. Not good. Sometimes you want a super-sized full meal deal, sometimes you only have time for a corndog, the original meal on a stick.
That’s what got me going on the coffee stand. The signboard said, stop in for a cool shake, and then it hit me. That’s why latte stands thrive, they occupy a very important structural position in the human psyche—the malt shop niche. The soda fountain niche. The act of making a machiato or a frappacino is structurally interchangeable with the act of making a strawberry shake or chocolate malt. Or even a cherry coke or a root bear float. The counter person does the same thing; they take an elaborate order for a specialized drink from you and make it up right before your eyes. “Barista” is nothing more than a fancy Italian name for...“soda jerk.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#332 Keck

Americans have an oral fixation. In direct proportion to the number of people giving up smoking there’s been an increase in the purchase of water bottles. Used to be, back in the day, there was an occasional Perrier person out there, sipping his expensive water with pinkie extended. Then for a while, when the actors needed something called action, America came around to the notion that hey, if Seinfeld can do it, so can I. Action is something actors do. It means they have something to fiddle with during a dramatic or comedic pause. The fiddling increases the dramatic or comedic tension. I have bad news (fiddle with bottle) Uncle Lenny barfed at the bar mitzvah. Used to be, action was accomplished with a cigarette, either taking a drag and blowing it out, or lighting it, or offering to someone else to light. TVs cigarette rules changed all that and the water bottle got a media boost. Now they’re everywhere and every stripe and brand. They’re all pure, they’re all from some spring we’ve never heard of, and they’re all most likely from the same place in New Jersey. The purity of your bottled mountain fed spring water is not guaranteed by any government body. In fact, your local tap water has to pass more stringent purity tests. Plus, there’s the addition to the trash stream of all these empty water bottles. I know this sounds stupid but I almost think pop bottles are better, at least someone gets an empty calorie or two for their efforts. I can understand water bottles in places where the homegrown water is infested with fecal coliforms and arsenic and stuff. But here in the Northwest? I’ve had visitors from all over rushing to my tap every time they’re in my home just to drink up the delicious real live honest to goodness artesian spring water that comes out at the turn of a handle.
And plastic bottles are far from cheap to manufacture. It’ll get worse. Plastic is made from petroleum. And petroleum is going up. True, the plastic water bottles are getting flimsier and municipalities are collecting them for recycle. But didn’t we have a bottle that was ultimately recyclable. All you had to do was wash it out. They called it glass. It was made out of sand. Maybe when the Arabs run out of oil they can go into the glass business. Cause it doesn’t have in any chemical breakdown products. How many of today’s exotic allergies and ailments do you think come from plastic chemical breakdown products being ingested with each water bottle swig? Plastic breaks down. That’s why all the runners use Nalgene bottles and not the old fashioned soft plastic water bottles from back when. Smell the inside of an old plastic pull-out-the-spout-with-your-teeth water bottle sometime. If you can smell something, it means there are some chemical particles that just got into your nose. I’m guessing it’s not from a mountain spring.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

#331 Kinetic Kids

We all like to think we’re multi-taskers. No one wants to admit that they really do perform best if they stick to one job at a time. I like to think of myself as a compartmentalist. Some would say I’m just mental. I find that if I open up too many mental windows at once my personal RAM soon gets overwhelmed with data I go into screen freeze mode. So I compartmentalize. I know that something needs to be done, but I shelve it away until a time when I can devote my full attention to it. I write an essay every morning. You may have heard it. America something. If I have an idea for the essay at some other point in the day, I do nothing more than jot it down and then get on with my life until the next morning. At which time I may or may not develop the idea. For that decision, I consult my subconscious, to see if the idea has ripened like a persimmon—or possibly festered like a boil—enough for it to be squoze out on the page. It’s funny that the people that seem to be the most adept at multi-tasking, the wired generation, are also the most adept at its opposite. When my teenagers are in multitasking mode they can listen to the radio, play a video game, surf the internet, and babble in the chatrooms, all at the same time they are supposedly doing a paper for school. But when they’re in the opposite mode, it’s a whole different story. I call them multi-slackers, cause they completely neglect to do many things simultaneously. Usually things I’ve asked them to. They’re always getting to it. They’re just about to start on that. The checks would have been in the mail but their dog ate it along with the homework they were doing last night while surfing the internet, chatting, and video game playing. Funny, the dog never manages to even nibble Grand Theft Auto.
This is the generation for whom was created and who mostly buy the newest mass market frenzy, the energy drink. Red Bull, Chronic, Rockstar and, oh yeah, Whoopass—which, of course, only comes in cans. So, you know, you can open up a can of whoopass. For all the energy drinks they consume they sure don’t seem to expend much of it on meaningful tasks, multi or otherwise. I understand that staying up till 3am and sleeping till two in the afternoon makes you feel a little logy and that an energy drink seems just the ticket. But if teenagers paid any attention at all to their diurnal rhythms, man, that would be a good energy source to tap into. But diurnal rhythms are one more example of bogus rules adults are always asking them to follow, so screw that. What do they know? They have to wake up early to go to jobs with multiple tasks they hate. And they sleep for their energy. We can get ours from a can. For only 3 bucks. Hey Mom, could you wake up and lend me some money for an energy drink? My friends and I are going to the all night movie.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

#330 Kitty Korner

Wisdom means pondering and coming to a measured conclusion. But wisdom is ill treated in this country. You can be wise as an owl but usually you’re wise like a donkey, as in wise ass. Sometimes for no apparent reason, you’re wise like a piece of ground, as in wise acre. So I was pondering the other day. Someone was giving directions to a place and they said it was kitty korner from another place. I’ve heard it both ways—kitty korner and catty corner. I always liked kitty corner better. We say “here kitty kitty,” not “here catty catty.” Catty Corner sounds funny, less like a direction than an attitude. One hardly ever says catty for anything other than remarks that one snippy person, usually female, makes about another. “Oh, she was so catty... and did you see those pedal pushers, they were so last year.” More importantly, how did the word evolve to indicate a direction? I think we can all agree that kitty korner means diagonal. When point A is kitty korner from point B, if we were to plot it on a flat plane we would see that point A forms a diagonal line with point B. If the line were to bisect an imaginary square then one could assume that two of the opposing right angles in that square would be bisected as well, forming two equal triangles and two 45 degree angles in each corner. Does kitty korner refer to the angle a cat takes when he gets a hair up his tail and decides to head in another direction? Or does it refer to a cat’s tendency to cut corners period. To dash across an open space like a jaywalker rather than patiently wait at an intersection, and cross with first one light and then the other? Why don’t we call jaywalkers catwalkers then? Why did we bring a blue jay into the whole mess? Other animal similes; stomping like an elephant, as slow as a turtle, squashed like a bug, like a bull in a china shop, all convey some instantly recognizable trait that we associate with that animal. Kitty korner sounds like the place where you’d find a cathouse. The problem is there’s no middle ground. Usually meanings have some flexibility in the words you use to convey them. In this case you’re either stuck sound overly nerdly and mathematical—Yes Bob’s Door Knobs is on the corner of Fifth and Main, diagonal from Jerry’s Laundry and Espresso—or annoyingly cutesy—Yes Bob’s Candle Shop is kitty korner from Jerry’s D├ęcor and Scrap. I feel uncomfortable using either. I hate like heck to say something is “kitty korner” from something else. “Diagonal” never seems to pop out of my non-math mind and “across from” can mean anything. So I’m left with doing hand gestures, genuflecting in the air like an autistic parson. Or a headsetted cellphoner on the opposite street corner. So now that we got kitty korner figured out, what does it mean when you have to take a dogleg to get someplace? The road has a dogleg in it they say. Yeah and I saw a dead possum too...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

#326 Kask Master

Along the lines of the renaming for no apparent purpose phenomena that we talked about yesterday is the naming incorrectly because you didn’t think it through phenomena. The organization that comes instantly to mind is the Hands On Children’s Museum. A great place, a great thing to take your kids to. A name that conjures up issues. Not the least of which that they could never have Michael Jackson as a guest entertainer. I saw a similar thing the other day as it drove by. It was a bus, apparently a bus that went from place to place and entertained children with some physical activities, possibly gymnastic. This I figured out upon reflection long after the bus had passed. The first impression I got was different and due to the first reaction to the name provoked by my own checkered past. When we were in high school our field biology instructor would take us out to the desert in these old cheyv carryalls. They were the precursors of the panel trucks we see today. Each of them could hold about 9 students. There were three. The instructor drove the one in the lead and an older student drove each of the two following vans. My brother drove the third one. He was older. He was 16. My instructor missed his planned turn and whipped his van around suddenly. The van behind him stopped dead in the road. My brother swerved around him and went off the road. The carryalls had a high center of gravity, my brother’s van tipped and then rolled completely over twice before coming to a stop upright at the bottom of the embankment. I remember seeing my classmates faces distorted with panic as they rolled around inside the van. There were no seatbelts. This was, like, 1967. Everyone survived. Shaken, stirred, and a few of them puking from the freefall. My instructor was white as a sheet. He survived too. He continued to teach, the carryalls continued to go out on science expeditions, students, including my brother and myself, continued to drive. At no point was a lawsuit filed. So you can imagine the trip down memory lane my mind took when I saw the sign on the side of the gaily-colored bus. It said “Kids in Motion Tumbling Bus. Yes, my still traumatized mind said, when that bus tumbles there’s gonna be kids in motion all right.
And who was the brilliant wordsmith that came up with the name “wine cask” to refer to wine boxes? Granted the idea of wine in a box conjures up notions of Ripple. Somehow a waxed cardboard container does not scream premium vintage. And how do you sniff the cork? But calling it a cask? I’m sorry, a cask is something large, like a barrel, and made out of wood. Cardboard does not qualify. And telling a friend at a party to go pick up an extra cask of wine ain’t gonna fly. Sounds way too much like cask-et. Not an image that’ll keep a party rolling. America, ya gotta love it.

#325 Kalifornia Standard

Sometimes the product positioning people go too far. Or maybe it’s just the copywriters. It seems like everyone has to be something they’re not and everything has to be something else. A lot of high flown language to no purpose. Around about the time janitors became custodial engineers and anything nodular became pasta, America turned down this alternative naming road from which there has yet to be an exit progression directional sequence.
I saw such the other day. We installed new windows in our home and I was peeling off the labels, I read one. It described the windows low-E properties and gave a few meaningless numbers. Like the energy ratings on appliances, unless there’s a calculator handy I have no idea how much it’s going to cost or save me. In any event, the fine print at the bottom said “This fenestration product has been certified by the manufacturer to meet the air infiltration requirements of section 116(a)1 California Energy standards.” California is the gold standard of environmental regulation. I just got a watermelon that proudly proclaimed it met the environmental standards of the state of Arizona. What is known as the lead standard—as in balloon, as in contaminated drinking water, as in deregulation. Well actually, there’s no “de” about it there was never any regulation to start with. The Arizona watermelon also referenced the EPA. Formally known as the Environmental Protection Agency, currently cheerfully deregulating under the sobriquet, “Enhance Profit Agency.”
I digress. When did a window become a fenestration product? And when did a draft become air infiltration? Hey Bob, nice fenestration product you got there. Do tell, Jerry you should see it protect against a cold air infiltration. Yeah right. The really sad thing is, the certification of the manufacturer was obtained from the National Fenestration Rating Council, the much ballyhooed NFRC. Not to be confused with the group who kidnapped Patty Hearst or the one who defends our God-given right to carry antitank weapons when we’re out killing grouse. My god, honey this here winda has been certified by the NFRC. And with this energy rating, if them commies to take it from me, my cold dead hands will be warmer.
I seem to remember from my 12 years of high school German that the word fenster was the German version of window. Or was he on the Addams Family? I also remember that fenestration was what people did when they wanted to open up holes in something—to perforate it. And I vaguely remember some story about two monks being thrown out a window by some protestants back in the religious wars of the 1600s. The historian reporting it said the monks were defenestrated. I guess this high-flown language stuff has actually been with us a long time.
America, ya gotta love it.