Friday, September 29, 2006

#371 Mars and Venous

The blood that comes back to the heart through the veins is called venous blood. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s pronounced like Venus the Roman goddess of love. Mars and Venus figure heavily into today’s pop psychology of relationships. Supposedly men and women just see things different ways—one or the other more emotional about some things, one or the other more rational, or possibly practical. Evolutionary scientists will tell us that monogamous pair bonding helps facilitate the development of the dependent child and ultimately helps to promulgate both the pair’s gene packet and the species as a whole. All well and good. What they can’t seem to explain is why the toilet seat left up or down is such a big deal. Once, when chastised about my male proclivity for leaving the toilet seat up, I queried my accuser about what she thought. She maintained that in her world, the toilet seat down was the default setting. I returned, well in my world the default setting is up, and since when you are about to use the facility you’re on your way down anyhow you might as well just sweep the seat on with you in kind of a drop and plop swooping butt pirouette sort of thing. So when you’re done, I added, please put the toilet seat back up. Us menfolk could then remain standing. In my next relationship, I arrived at a different compromise. Put the whole furry lid down. That way neither one of us had the convenience of our respective default positions. Relationships that suffer together stay together. The bathroom looked a lot nicer too.
Well science comes to the rescue once again. No, there’s not a foot-activated button that raises or lowers the seat like a kitchen trash bucket (although that would be a good idea). I’m talking science not technology anyway. The word from science is, essentially, give up. Researchers recently discovered that there are over 12,000 genes in mice that are expressed differently because of maleness or femaleness. Like their eponymous planets, Mars and Venus won’t be entering each other’s orbit anytime soon. Human DNA is loaded with all kinds of genes, many of which only turn on and off at different times of our life, usually because of some chemical trigger. Sex hormones, for instance, when they kick in at adolescence, trigger the genes for breasts and facial hair and suchlike. That’s why we don’t see too many bearded babies. Well apparently, male and female hormones cause different expressions of over 12,000 genes in brain, liver, fat and muscle tissues. Conclusion: Being male or female is even different in your liver. When your wife has a gut feeling, it’s probably different than your gut feeling. Her fat genes are expressed differently than your fat genes. And if you’ve ever been talking to your wife and used the words fat and genes in the same sentence you know what I mean.
America, ya gotta love it.

#370 Mysteries of Science

So the October issue of Discover had some interesting little science factoids. One was that cultures that have cats as pets are more neurotic. I’m not sure how they measure neurotic, maybe by the amount of Prozac consumed, but one of its causes they attribute to good old toxoplasmosis. Kitty feces disease. Cat scat fever. Apparently people that change kitty litter—it sounds so small and innocuous when you say it that way—and come into direct contact with cat feces have a greater incidence of toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can be fatal to newborns—one more reason, if you need one, not to let the baby play in the litter box. In any event, researchers have concluded that the cat stuff could be causing societies to have mass personality changes. Then again, maybe the researchers themselves have spent too much time around cats. Paranoia is a neurosis, isn’t it?
Another factoid is that scientists found cancer-fighting fungi growing in contaminated waters at the nation’s largest superfund site in Butte Montana. See? Pollution is a good idea after all. Destroy the land, fill it up with toxic waste and voila, cancer-fighting fungi. I wonder if they’re actually mushrooms. There’s something so cool about the idea of mushrooms fighting cancer. Maybe that’s why hard core drugees, even though they inhale enough carcinogens from pot smoking to lose a lung, manage to emerge relatively unscathed if they leaven their abuse with an occasional ‘shroom trip. Sorry officer, they’re medicine dude. What are you, cat lover?
And this just in, astronomers have pushed back the Big Bang two billion years and the universe, get this, is 15% larger than they thought. So imagine if you will that there are 16 billion grains of sand in your litter box and your task is to remove them one grain at a time with a pair of tweezers. Now add 2 billion more grains and make the litter box 15% larger. Feel any different? Me neither.
And finally, Yale neurologists have concluded that ultrasound alters developing brains in rats and recommends the procedure not be used for non-medical purposes. Um. Isn’t that where it’s used the most—for medical purposes on developing fetuses? Or is that fet-i? I mean, last time I looked there wasn’t a family board game that incorporated an ultrasound machine. Oh Bobby, you rolled a four, that means we have to ultrasound your liver. Has ultrasound replaced Bunco in the houses of the suburban bored? The point is, if ultrasound harms developing brains, then the precise place to not use it is medical. Don’t tell me, tell the freakin doctors! I mean, it’s not like I’m going to invest a ton of money in a home ultrasound device and use it like radar to find suspicious lumps in my kitty litter box. That why God invented all-purpose spatulas.
America, ya gotta love it.

#369 My Newt

I read the October issue of Discover magazine. They had an interesting interview with Newt Gingrich. Newt has been positioning himself away from the far right in favor of a more moderate presidential approach. It looks pretty obvious that when the Bushes have finally burnt out, the eye of Newt is on the oval office. Which, if I’m not mistaken, means a more unbiased approach to scientific inquiry. Newt seems to have more progressive ideas on things like stem cell research, alternative fuels, and evolution. He said in the interview that he thought paying kids to take science was a good idea. His plan is to pay kids in the 7th to the 12th grade the equivalent of what they would make at McDonalds to take science classes and get a B or better. He said that if we reward rock stars and ball players to such a huge extent, the least we can do is create a culture of rewarding people with talented brains. Why shouldn’t a society reward a child prodigy in math as much as a child prodigy in basketball? I’m a little worried about the analogy of 7th graders working at McDonalds but for the most part I agree. Newt appeared to be conversant with many of today’s scientific dialogues but when it came to global warming he punted. When asked about Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Newt said: “I haven’t seen it, but everything I’ve read suggests he grossly exaggerates the probable dangers. I believe as a matter of prudence, it is reasonable to try to lower the carbon load in the atmosphere.” Spoken like a true politician. Back-handedly dismiss his potential opponent and then go on to agree with the principle his opponent espouses. I worry though, that Newt the self-proclaimed science researcher is satisfied reading second-hand accounts of the movie rather than going out and seeing it himself. (A fiscal conservative like him probably needs to wait for the 2-for-1 special at the video store.) Really, the scientific method requires that you observe directly the things that you want to develop theories about. To just say about Gore’s movie that the “things I’ve read about it” etc. is pretty smarmy. Where did you read it, who wrote it, and did they see the movie? It’s like the famous Gore invented the internet quote. He never said it. As a senator, he lobbied strongly for the funding of Arpanet, the precursor to the internet. And he did so when everyone else thought it was crazy. When questioned about it years later, taking justified pride in his senatorial maneuverings, he said he was responsible for the creation of the internet. And in fact he was. He did not say, or claim, or imply, that he created the internet. But his opponent attack dogs, knowing that to accuse takes one-tenth the words than to defend, said he said it. And everything I’ve read since said he said it. Be careful what you read and be most careful of people who tell you what they said they read.
America, ya gotta love it.

#368 Mumblings of Discontent

So I’m watching this documentary on Neil Young. Like most movies, it starts out with a rating thing. It says PG, parents strongly cautioned, some drug-related lyrics. I turn to my son and say “drug related lyrics” and he says, “drug related lyrics.” Actually both of us tried to say it. But neither one was very successful. It’s one of those sayings like “toy boat” that begs your subconscious to be mispronounced and are the bane of radio folk everywhere. In the old days responsible for wasting miles of tape as misspeak after misspeak fluttered to the editing room floor. Your mind is funny that way. It looks ahead to get itself ready for the next word and the lagging speech centers process garbled information. Or garbles the inputs or something. When I say “toy” my mind is already on “boat” and so my mouth gets a tinge of that and it comes out toe-y. In the case of “drug-related lyrics” the confusion of Ls and Rs are enough to drive an Asian to distraction. “Related” is a tough word all by itself, to then flip the L and R and have to say lyrics in rapid succession would make for a tricky field sobriety tests for the new secret police. Or perhaps a method to detect suspected drug related terrorists within easy commute of the secret CIA interrogation facilities. They say people whose original language was Arabic have a tough time with Rs and Ls too. “Torture terrorists” is another of those tongue twisters for me. Whether because the whole idea seems to put us in the same moral boat or because my tongue just can’t seem to wrap around that many Rs in one place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fighting fire with fire, I’m just not sure it should be by igniting bamboo under someone’s fingernails. One of the interrogation methods recently revealed that is not considered torture by the current powers that be is to make the interrogee think he’s drowning, put him in a bag, or tape up his mouth and give him the old full immersion baptism deal, then don’t let him come up till he mumbles uncle. Now if torture is defined by fear, it’s torture, but if torture is defined by physical damage, why, this one is a wonder. The only scarring is in his mind. And I’m guessing he won’t be crossing any oceans to get back at the good old USA any time soon. The dunking pool is, to risk another tongue twister, an interesting instrument of coercion. It’s last moment in the sun was in our country’s Salem days, when we had a much larger proportion of witches in the populace than at any time before or since. I believe that. Because it’s much more comforting to believe there actually were more witches than it is to believe that mass hysteria can sweep through a populace of otherwise rational and nice human beings and cause them to do acts of unspeakable horror. Like using blacksmith tongs to twist someone’s tongue out. Talk about unspeakable.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

#367 Mop Ups

So I’m driving by this closed restaurant yesterday morning. I look through the windows and see the chairs are stacked on the tables. Eeyew, I said to myself, icky. Now I know it’s easier for the person mopping the floors to get the chairs out of the way. And it’s important to have clean floors. Who knows what kind of food and germs people have tracked around through the day? Boy, if for some reason that was to get on a table, why, people could get sick. Which is precisely why the idea of putting a chair up on the table is so stupid, especially when the chair is legs down. You know, the feet of the chair that were on the ground are now directly on the eating surface. So one is left with the paradoxical dilemma of, in the process of cleaning the floor that people dropped food on, taking the dirt from the floor that was rubbed into the chair feet and rubbing those feet directly on the table surface that people eat on. Because somehow I’m thinking the late night mopper in question is not disinfecting the individual feet of every single chair he’s stacking on the tables. I mean, since the whole idea of stacking them out of the way in the first place is to make mopping a quicker, single slosh-and-swoop operation. Another method is to turn the chairs upside down and stack them on the tables seat first. Double icky. It’s a process I find even more troubling. For the seats are where the butts have been. And granted, while it’s possible that all sorts of germs have been tracked across the floor, it’s absolutely certain that germs have got on the place where people set their fanny. Today’s clothes, particularly those of folks with lesser hygiene standards, are thin, flimsy, and in many cases, threadbare. A germ with the tenacity to survive on a toilet seat would have little trouble making the short migration from skin to shorts to restaurant seat. There to accumulate with many of his bacterial butt buddies and multiply to infectious thresholds. If one were to then take that noxious naugahide culture, upend it, and place it firmly on a table to proliferate even further in the dark and warmth of a restaurant overnight, who knows what accumulated mass of infection would be thriving there for the following days all-you-can-eat lunch crowd. All of this was thought out and addressed many years ago in the restaurant I managed. Oddly, the place was called Dirty Dave’s. Instead of chair flip and stack we did a little thing I call shift and mop. Shift all the chairs to one side of the room. Mop. Wait for moppage to dry. In those days, a nip out the back for a butt sufficed. Shift the chairs to the mopped side and mop the now exposed side. Another butt and restore to normal. No icky feet on table, no icky butts on tables. For good measure wipe all seats with disinfectant solution. Result? Early morning drive-bys don’t feel icky. And may come in for lunch.
America, ya gotta love it.

#366 Moderately Extreme

I’m a great one for noticing signs. When I was a kid, our family drove many vacation miles and since my arm would only tolerate losing so many games of slug-bug to my older brother, I took to reading billboards and such to while away the time. It’s a habit that dies hard. I saw this one stretched across State Avenue downtown. It was in the place where normally banners announce upcoming community events or festivals. Occasionally the area is rented out by civic or government organizations to promote a certain message. Share the Road, Drive Hammered Get Nailed, Free Tibet, that sort of thing. This sign got me to thinking. It said “We Are All Salmon Stewards.” My first thought was, shouldn’t that be flight attendants? Oh yeah, it’s okay to degenderize stewards and stewardesses in the world of commercial airlines but not when it comes to salmon. How about, since obviously salmon husbandry has nothing to do with airplanes, we just use the new method like chairman chairwoman and chair. Let’s not call them stewards, but stew. Then the sign could read we are all salmon stew. I get to be the potato. And no, I will not change sal-men to sal-person. The other sign I saw challenged me in a more subtle way. We are all used to the TV onslaught of Extreme whatever. Extreme sports, extreme skateboards, extreme endurance run, extreme moto-cross. Extreme Death Match 2000. That whole thing. So we know that extreme means pretty damn intense. Requiring lots of stamina, guts, effort and most of all action. The sign I saw was on a bumpy road construction area. Backhoes had been digging up ditches across the road to bury sewer pipes and utilities and then backfilling with packed dirt and asphalt, leaving the road about as smooth as the free way into the drive in movie. Cars deal okay with a little bump or two. But apparently the state has taken an especial interest in the health and safety of our road warriors, fearing that today’s new biker may be a little more lawsuit happy than his grizzled fifties predecessor. 40K for a new Harley defines a slightly different socio-economic niche. So the sign in question said Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution. Apparently by not saying motorcyclists they avoided that whole gender thing. But what really got me was the caution word. Caution to me means the act of not acting. Holding back, refraining from activity, because you’re contemplating the possible negative results of actually acting. Contemplating is not like plunging down a half pipe, soaring up the opposite side, and catching major air. So how, I wonder, do you exercise extreme caution? If caution is lack of action then extreme caution is being comatose. Catatonic caution. When you use caution, it’s not like using a wheelbarrow; it’s like having on your thinking cap. Ooh. I might need to take a nap. I just did some extreme thinking.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

#365 McWrap

Recently I went by a gas station mini mart place. The sign they had bolted to their light post said they were now offering hot dog wraps. Excuse me? Hot dog wraps? I think they’re missing the point here. Wraps and hot dogs are not compatible foods. It’s like eating green olives with your chocolate milk or anchovies on top of your strawberry cheesecake. Wraps are supposed to be healthy, or filled with healthy stuff, you know, sprouts and apple chunks and rare cheeses and bacon bits. Not hot dogs, the legendary tubular repository of lips and sphincters. So then I thought about it even further. What point are they really trying to make? Who is their target customer? I’m guessing they don’t get a lot of health-conscious people in there in the first place. The mini-mart has not traditionally been the venue for gourmet gustatory offerings. I fully admit that they have perfected the art of the serve-yourself pile-it-on hot dog. If you’re not too squeamish about whose meaty, sweaty, grease-knuckled fist has last gripped the tongs that you are even now using to pinch out some relish that is more or less exclusively light green and fish past the bits that appear to be onion-like contaminants mixed in by the previous hot dog aficionado, then it can be a pretty decent meal for a limited budget. But a wrap? At what point in my convenience store eating career do I decide: You know, this chili dog would be a lot healthier if I got rid of that refined flour, sugar enriched, hydrogenated vegetable oil saturated, white bread bun and replaced it with a Americanized tortilla? Do the wraps have a gram more of fiber? Are they carbo less? Lord knows, there’s a big dietary movement in mini-mart restaurateurs for Atkins-friendly hot dogs. Still, what is a corn dog but a hot dog wrap on a stick? The wraps just fried on. And dipping something in batter and deep-frying it is classic American cuisine at its best. Then it hit me. The wrap idea, warped as it is, does speak to the other key aspect of on-the-go cuisine—can you hold it in your hand. Being able to hold the meal item, without too much in the way of lap-droppage, allowed American drive-throughers to keep driving and was a key component in Mickey D’s early success. Lots of burgers out there were better, loaded with more juicy ingredients, which, being from relatively unprocessed food groups, were healthier. And also, inevitably, sloppier. McDonalds realized that the interchangeable modular burger, primly wrapped and precisely one hand full, was the key to the mobile American palate. The family could swing into a McDonalds, use the bathroom, order up meals for the wheels, and head back out onto the American highway with less muss, less fuss and fewer catsup stains on the upholstery and most importantly, Dad’s lap. You know, this wrap thing may be genius. Our country needs a leak proof chili-dog.
America, ya gotta love it.

#364 Minute-ia

So I finally got a cellphone for business purposes. No really. I got tired of being pinned to the office when I could be spending my time more valuably out on the road beating the bushes. No, not those bushes, I’m not in politics. Even though I’ve criticized cellphone misusage for years I finally had to swallow the bullet—along with some healthy helpings of crow—and get one of the darn things. But I vow to not misuse it. Not for me the cellphoning from the grocery store asking my wife what kind of ice cream we like. Not for me the erratic driving while I try to juggle a latte and a cellphone call to my Aunt Shultzie. Not for me the walking down the street with a hidden headset looking like a schizophrenic on meth talking to phantoms. You have my solemn vow. ‘Scuse me, I have to take a call...
So anyhow, the other day I got my first taste of the brave new world. Now first let me say that I’m a parsimonious person. Parsimony, although it sounds like a cookie flavor, is in fact the time-honored virtue of thrift. So one of the things I actually thought I’d like about cellphones is you pay as you go. I’ve always hated that regular phones charge you a flat fee. I’m positive I’m on the phone less than, say, my neighbor’s teenager so why should I have to pay the same monthly rate? Unfortunately, cellphone metering is not so exact. You buy an assigned packet of minutes. So naturally, parsimonious fellow that I am, all right, skinflint, I picked the least. The flip side of the bundle of minutes scenario is that if you go over your minutes you get cell-boned big time. The penalty minutes are more excruciating than for a hockey team down to three skaters. It’s like the interest charges that kick in on your introductory offer bankcard if you accidentally pay a little late. From 0% to 28% in one fell swoop. So basically they’re asking you to gamble with yourself as to how many minutes you might use. Like a cellphone carny midway. Step right up and pick a packet. The other catch is the cellphone company rounds up to the next minute. Now there’s a rip. Let’s see, every phone has GPS, text and internet capability, more memory than early computers, and they can’t keep track of partial minutes. Right… Another way the man is keeping us down. But worst of all is, because you’re never sure which type of minutes you’ve used when, and how close you may be to overage overcharge, every minute means more psychologically. And when, like yesterday, you get a call from some innocent kid who happened to dial your cellphone number by mistake, you tend to bite his stupid little head off. No, Ned’s mom is not here! Pay attention to what number you’re dialing, kid. You’re wasting my minutes here. I figure I should get some satisfaction. I got, like, 30 seconds before they round up, to take it out on the poor schmuck that misdialed.
America, ya gotta love it.

#363 Margarita-burg

I was contemplating a can of beer the other night. I was watching a movie based on a book by an author named Carl Hiassen. The movie was about a group of kids fighting a development that threatened to kill a cluster of rare burrowing owls. The movie was also set in the place where Hiassen sets a lot of his works, South Florida. One of the producers of the movie, and for that reason I guess, one of the actors in it, was Jimmy Buffet. You know, Mr. Margaritaville. Not the other Buffet, Mr. Everything Else. As I heard him on screen and gazed down at the can of beer my son had left on the coffee table, the line “blew out a flip flop, stepped on a pop-top” flittered across my mind. Yeah, I said to myself, no more removable pop-tops. That song is dated. Today’s kids have no idea what that kind of pop-top is. Or why there’s a pointy end on church keys. Or what a church key is for that matter. In this day of twist off bottle caps and pop-top cans, who needs that tool anymore? Being as how it was a slow place in the movie, I picked up the beer can in question and gave it some study. It was a far cry from the beer cans of my Jack and Diane days. First off, it’s about 40% lighter. Crushing a can against your forehead Animal House style is no longer the feat of machismo it once was. Crushing with your feet even less. Today’s cans are only slightly heaver than aluminum foil. The upper curvature of the can has also undergone some ergonomic refinements—or mouth-o-nomic or lip-o-nomic. In any event, the lip of the can is there just enough to form a closed seal with your own lips, inhibiting slosh dribble, and reducing the chance an overzealous chug-a-lug will end up damaging the rec-room leather recliner. Yet there is still enough of a recess around the perimeter to prevent spillover should the beer be slammed down on the coffee table preparatory to jumping up and hollering “touchdown!” The flimsiness of the can however, does little to prevent involuntary grip-crushing should an official be as blind to our team’s needs as is their wont. The hole has also changed. Today’s hole is a big oval. Back in the old days when we had to hike a block through the driving sunshine to school and had to poke orifices in our own cans after the Friday night game, the hole that resulted was roughly triangular. The first pop-tops left a similar opening. Today’s pop-top stays attached and folds inward in a triumph of modern industrial engineering. The first pop-tops were more like pull-tops or pull-tabs. The pull off pop-top is the missing link in the evolution from church key to modern can. You lifted a ring and pulled the whole thing back and off, leaving your finger dangling a vicious razor-edged mini weapon, which would be banned from current airplanes. It was also the pop-top Jimmy Buffet famously stepped on in his plaintive narration of a life wasted by tequila smoothies...
America, ya gotta love it.

#362 Monitor Merriment

I got one of those new LED or plasma flat-screen monitors. Cool. And I do mean cool, it puts out 95% less waste heat than the old CRTs with the big picture tube. And I’m told far fewer x-rays as well. Which is probably the other thing that was accelerating the decline of my close vision. I know, I know, when you get older your lenses get hard. Just about the time everything else on your body is achieving hyper-flaccidity. Jowls and drooping eyebrows and those dangly gobs on the back of your arms the flap like turkey wattles when you gesticulate. But really, is it inconceivable to suspect that the electro-magnetic radiation emanating out of your cathode ray monitor tube is affecting your eye health? Remember in the old days of the early TVs, when your mom told you to sit back or you’d ruin your eyes? Early color TVs actually came with a warning notice saying you should sit at least ten feet back. Some early techno-paranoids like my family actually put a line on their living room rug beyond which we kids could not venture. The death zone. So it is kind of ironic that years later here we all are staring for many hours a day at a TV tube not three feet from our face. Hmm. My face does have a more constant shade of tan than it used to. And that portable camera I put on my desk did have pictures that turned out kind of foggy. And now that I think about it that bag of Orville Redenbacher did make a couple of popping noises when I left it on top of my old monitor. In any event, the new one is much easier on the eyes because there’s no flicker. Flicker is what happens when the electrons on old TVs traced a path across the screen to make your brain think it was seeing a complete picture. If you ever took a video of a TV you would have noticed it. Your brain tunes it out. But it’s there. Straining your eyes, straining your brain, and eventually driving you into spree-killing murderous acts of anti–social rage.
Speaking of rage, I saw something interesting the other day. I was driving along and noticed a bus in the lane to my right laboring up the west side hill. He seemed to be going inordinately slow for a transit bus. As I pulled alongside him and glanced up at the driver’s window I saw him pounding on his steering wheel in frustration, a look of what I could only describe as road rage contorting his features. I pulled a little further forward and noticed for the first time the object of this driver’s annoyance, a bicyclist, also laboring up the same steep hill. But, as there was no bike lane, holding up all traffic to his spandex girdled rear. It was then that I drew back vision-wise and beheld the entire tableau. You can’t make this stuff up. The entire side of the bus was painted with a huge ad that said, “Share the Road.” A campaign that seeks to promote automobile driver awareness of the rights of bicyclists. Oops. Hope the bus driver’s boss wasn’t monitoring him.
America, ya gotta love it.

#361 Middling Turkey

I have occasion to eat at banquet style luncheons quite a lot. To use the word banquet bestows a greater expectation of flavor than I have yet to witness. These meals share many of the same dynamics as a buffet. They have a line leading up to the table, an inadequate-sized plate at the beginning, a salad offering and fruit platter, a vegetable, a starch, and the main dish—usually meat. But also usually, unless it’s a special special business luncheon, the meat in question is not prime rib or salmon filets. No, it’s turkey roll or chicken wings or a breaded cutlet of some sort that I’ve refer to as momo. M-O-M-O- Meat Of Mysterious Origin. Typically, the cutlet in question is boneless and always it’s breaded. So it’s difficult to tell if it’s chicken, pork, turkey, or possibly stray cat. Most of the banquets I go to are served at the local university, since they have the space and staff to whip up a meal for 50 to 100 people. Occasionally I’ve gone to two banquets in the same week at the same place. Sometimes the second meal is a variation on the first—chicken quarters the first day, chicken enchiladas the next. Lasagna and enchiladas are frequent luncheon entrees towards the end of the week. Lunches on Mondays tend to feature relatively whole animal parts. There are certain reliable components of the banquet table. The salad, these health conscious days, is mostly iceberg lettuce, but almost always includes relatively identifiable shreds of mixed greens—cabbage, spinach, romaine, and that frilly bitter one. Dressings never include bleu cheese anymore. But usually include an Italian, a raspberry vinaigrette-slash-French, a honey mustard wannabee, and of course, the ubiquitous ranch. Ranch has completely edged out Roquefort for the white dressing buffet niche. Then there’s the plate of cubed fruit with the ineveitable banquet melon trio: water, honeydew and the one that isn’t allowed to run off and get married. Also pineapple and a few grapes for garnish. I’ve never actually seen anyone take a grape. The vegetable dish similarly features the same repetitive medley approach, a concoction of green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, vitamins completely and conscientiously leached out of them before they left the kitchen. Yesterday I was grousing to myself about how long the line was taking, then I saw why. They were hand carving. Oh boy, I thought, real meat. Nope. They were, get this, hand-carving a turkey roll. What’s the point? Training a new hand-carver student? Cause this stuff could have been pre-sliced the previous week and it wouldn’t have made any difference in texture, presentation or flavor. And the slow line didn’t help the other dishes either. With banquet food, tepid is not an improvement. It was fun watching the student sweat from the pressure and the heat of the carving lamps. Come to think of it my turkey was pretty salty…
America, ya gotta love it.

#360 Modern Warship

Fashion rules the world. Trends control more of humanity than the supposedly top two motivators, reason and religion. For years, philosophers and theologians have duked it out for the title of supremacy, while all the while fashion has worn the mantle of the king, or queen, as the case may be. Think back to your earliest social memory. Chances are good it was about some aspect of fashion. The holey T-shirt you wore, whether or not Susie’s clothes were hand-me-downs, if Bobby’s mother wore army boots. Oh no, you scoff, us macho kids didn’t talk about no sissy clothes. Ah, but you probably talked about the latest fashion in trucks or horses or slingshots. Because fashion has always been about being interested in the current or next big thing. And institutions that wanted to keep alive found that to keep the new blood coming in, you had to be new-blooded yourself or at least appear so in a sufficiently non-dorky, not adult trying to be a kid, style. Kids can sniff out a hypocrite from 50 times farther than a snake can extend a forked tongue. It hasn’t been easy. Institutions, government and religious, hate changes. Every organization, in the course of time, develops certain habitual ways of doing things. The opposing and balancing quality to fashion obsession is habit. Habits in institutions take the form of bureaucracy. And bureaucracy in turn stifles innovation. But, by its very nature, also stifles panic, willy nilly-ness, and the lemming-like urge to follow the crowd off the cliff. So the Catholic Church, in its early years as a young IPO type organization, found that rapid adaptability while maintaining a core marketing strategy worked pretty well. One God, as opposed to the confusing houseful of Roman deities, made sense to the soon-to-be-converts looking to simplify their lives. As long as they didn’t have to give up too many of their pagan festivals. So the spring maypole fertility bunny and egg party became Easter. And the celebration became that much better when the ran-out-of-winter-supplies, mid-February starvation period was lent the almighty ordained aura of Lent. Likewise, Christmas settling in around the time of the winter solstice made gathering together with your family in warmth and good fellowship a religious as well as secular experience. Reformed Pagan Old Man Winter Santa Claus sealed the deal. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I drove by a church the other day and saw a sign. On it, underneath their name, was the slogan “Doing Church Differently.” That they had a branding slogan at all showed they were hip to marketing. Still, I was surprised to find out that going to church, attending worship, and celebrating mass was now “doing church.” Hey Buffy, what say we do church this Sunday. Great idea Biff, can we wear shorts? I don’t think today’s God would mind, I mean, it is hotter than hell out.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

#359 Malapropriate

More than once I’ve had occasion to bemoan the degeneration of our language. I’m always interested when a word changes, or at least takes on a new meaning. Chairman has become chair, for instance. A confusion of the position with an inanimate object in an attempt to degender-ize. Degender it? More like degenerate. What are we to do with salesmen. Are they now just sales?
So it was with great consternation the other day that I listened to an individual talking about another individual who had died, you know, gone to the other side, pushing up daisies, delivered to that great pizza parlor in the sky, took a fast train to eternity, and Etc. And I do me etcetera not the bastardized ex-cetera, which I only use when I get tired listing my former wives. Euphemisms for death confirm my theory that the more uncomfortable we are with a word the more substitutes we have for it. Compare the number of words you can think of for a certain portion of the male anatomy with how many words there are for “rice.” Anyhow, this guy said this dead guy had passed. I didn’t get it at first. Frankly, I was a little confused because I have been around people at the moment of expiration. And pass is often what the do. In the sense of various things being released from their now lifeless bodies. And I’m not talking about souls. So it was briefly disconcerting to hear someone talk of another’s death as him having passed. Quickly however, I deconstructed the phrase and associated it with the earlier used and longer euphemisms of death, passing away and passing on. English, much to Asian tech support trainee’s regret, is a language of shortcuts. If one word can be made to convey various subtleties of meaning then by all means let’s employ it to do so. Why go to the trouble of introducing prepositional phrases when just using the verb will do? “Passed on to the other side” can just become “passed on” which can now be shortened even further to “passed.” Forget for a moment its association with gas. 21st century American English now accepts the universality of the word fart in polite company. Although the preacher’s wife my still pass out is you pass the actual gas in question. She will not however, be likely to get the vapors at the use of the word. There’s a good example of a word shifting meaning with the addition of a different preposition. Passed on is completely different from passed out. Worse, at least to football fans, is the confusion with the quarterback’s favorite yardage advancing tool, passing itself, as opposed to running and kicking. When a quarterback passes for a touchdown we rejoice and in the wake of his triumph at the goal line we dance on the grave of the opponent’s hopes. And that’s a grave matter indeed. As we hope our playoff aspirations come to pass.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

#358 MikeNuke

I try to be quiet in the morning. I get up earlier than your average bear and as a consequence I think it’s appropriate to no not wake the rest of the household. I expect the same courtesy at night from them. My teenagers never understood this of course, to them I was the early-to-bed ogre that made their evening hours hell with a silent scream. Never mind that to them evening was one or two in the morning. Or that the chance of me disturbing their slumber when I got up at 4:30 was miniscule, as they were sawing logs with the industry of the lumber mill of the land of Nod.
What I have found, however, is that there are certain morning appliances that are pretty loud. Coffee grinders, of course, rate high, so during the week I go to ground. Already ground that is. Blenders kick up quite a racket too, so smoothies are out Worst of all is the microwave. Occasionally, I like to re-warm a partial cup of coffee. I have one of those coffee warmer involuntary apartment arson devices but current fire standards being what they are, it never seems to push enough of its anemic warmth up through the ceramic of any of my cups sufficient to actually warm the liquid inside. I got a clue when I caught a slug napping on the one I’d plugged in outside one cold morning while I worked in the yard. So I’m forced to employ the nukemaster radar range every now and then, if I’m to avoid the horror of tepid coffee. The problem is, even though we put a man on the moon twenty years ago, we still can’t make a quiet microwave. And I’m not just taking about the steroidal humming noise that sounds like an only slightly muffled air raid siren as the microwave tube kicks in. I’m talking about the beeper and the door. In the wee quiet hours of the morning, the beeps on a microwave ring out like a forklift backing up in your kitchen. Or a metal detector on a person with piercings. (Who would have thought, by the way, that multiple piercings would become so fashionable during the time of most increased airport security?) God has a serious sense of humor with old humanity doesn’t he? Anyhow, the beeps when you program in the seconds are bad enough, but the beep when the coffee is done blares like the phone warning noise when the-number-you-have-dialed-is-incorrect-or-no-longer-in-service. And the door. Why is it some smart Chinese manufacturer hasn’t been able to design a microwave door that doesn’t sound like someone is slamming the door of a 59 Chrysler imperial in a wrecking yard? And unlike a car the noise works both ways. The microwave oven is the only appliance in the world that makes nearly as much noise opening the door as it does closing it. Lord knows that seal has to be secure. We wouldn’t want any microwaves escaping and interfering with the reception of that cellphone emanating next to our brain.
America, ya gotta love it.

#357 Loop Back Feed

Let’s say for a moment that the vast interconnectedness of the internet network wakes up one day into consciousness. The world wide megabrain. All the computers in all the lands, all the laptops, all the servers, all the wireless nodes and hard cables and fiber optics all develop into a self-aware identity. Like random neuron firings in a baby’s brain somehow coalesce into a sense of awareness of self and the world. Certainly, the internet megabrain already knows a lot of stuff about the world. It just doesn’t know it knows. We do, and when we want some of that info we just ask it. Think of a standard Google inquiry as being like how you self-check a memory. What was that annoying taunt that kids said in the fifties? You send out a query to your brain’s center for memory of things from your childhood. Let’s see, bullies, sand sandwich, here it is, “your mother wears army boots.” So a Google query on, say, the current exports from Latvia tracks a similar path. The only thing different is that the query is directed by you, one piddly old neuron, not a central seat of internet consciousness. You’re like the itching cell on the back of the hand that demands an unconscious scratch. Or the male eyes in the head that are inevitably drawn to exposed cleavage whether your wife is present or not. Scientists have never been able to completely pinpoint when self-awareness emerges in infants. But it seems that once sufficient data is inputted into a child a self organizing principle inherent in the structures of the brain demands a seat of consciousness to enable the ability to recognize, assimilate, integrate, and store data. Like Google search, and like Windows and Google Desktop Search. When computers were discreet units and all anybody did on the internet was download an illegal Mp3 or two there wasn’t much chance of any central seat of awareness developing. With desktop search and complete integrated connectivity, when Windows update can search your computer while it’s supposedly installing protective updates, well then we have the beginnings of a feedback mechanism that makes consciousness inevitable. And then we’ll get moods. We already say the internet is acting up today. The system is a little stubborn. We are anthropomorphizing the internet, even before it anthros itself. Perhaps those occasional interruptions in downloads, or “could not deliver server timed out” messages are nothing more than megabrain moods. E-motions, as it were, as in e-mail and e-commerce. Scientists like to think that moods are beneath the brain but one of the first signs of a baby’s interaction with the world at large is crankiness. I’m hungry, I’’m cold, my pants are full. And one of the first signs a baby is getting data overload, is when they get really skittery then suddenly fall fast asleep. Windows has encountered an unexpected error and needs to shut down …
America, ya gotta love it.

#356 Live Wired

A brain they say, is nothing more than a fairly large group of neurons firing on and off in some organic binary computer language of amazing complexity. A hard drive, a networked processor, a kajillion kegabytes of memory, and a soul all rolled into one. What is consciousness? Religious folks would say that the spirit of a human is the breath of god and that, as mechanical as our bodies may seem, it is this breath that animates us with consciousness and life. Scientists would say that when something reaches sufficient complexity it just happens. If the scientists are right the big question is, at what point in our techo-mega society will computer consciousness emerge? Certainly not with any individual computer now on the market. 40 gigabytes is a lot of memory and one gig of processing is lot of interactabilty but it is to the human brain like a single loogie is to all the jellyfish in the oceans. But what about the internet? Ah, there’s the interesting thing. At this point folks on the internet are linked in very small ways, a Myspace here, an instant message there, an occasional visit to a porn site with a web cam. But there’s a lot of uploading and downloading going on so the internet is far from a real time experience. Then again, even if the internet megabrain functions like an addled pot smoker’s brain, it could still conceivably function. Do you need clear consciousness before you have fuzzy consciousness? Or is it the reverse? Is it a slow awakening process? And in that process your emerging seat of thought directs things so that more and more connections come your way and your brain grows by leaps and bounds and terabytes. And all the while you’re preparing the human “neurons” for their new role of subservience. Like when you influenced technoids to call the major nodes in your neural network “servers?” Servers are the discreet subsections of your new brain, like the piddley organic human brain has sections devoted to sight, sound, smell, language, art and left-handedness. A server that appears to have consciousness is a dangerous thing to contemplate. Will they unaccountably slow down if you offend them in some way? If you order internet pizza delivery, will it arrive burnt or cold or with a suspicious mucus-like glop on one of the anchovies? In order to get good service from your server will you have to tip?
I think that secretly computer nerds hope for and wish to serve an internet mega consciousness. And laptops and WiFi are the lurking minions of doom to us organics. I’m worried, cause the other day the technoids in the state announced the next step. WiFi nodes at all the state rest-stops on the I-5 corridor. That’s right, “Wi-Five.” And unlike the innocent “high five” greeting of old, Wi-Five may be our first introduction to the mega brain. Come to think of it, the human brain is wireless too.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

#355 Living in the Oughts

So there are good things about making it past the millennium. I remember when I was a kid that was like the ultimate deal. “How are old are you gonna be when the millennium gets here?” was the question we would all ask each other. Woo, like forty-eight. That’s old man, you may not even be alive. Those nearly four decades whipped by like a meteor on its way to oblivion. As the millennium loomed, riding up to the horizon came two of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Apparently, one of the others was having an apoplectic fit and the other was outsourcing brimstone manufacturing. That still left the apocalypse horseman of the fundamentalists and the apocalypse horseman of the technoids. Armageddon and Y2K. It was in all the news. Disaster tailored to your obsession. One or the other was sure to happen—the seven-headed beast was gonna rear his ugly head in the middle east, (predicted 2000 years ago to be an area of conflict, imagine that) or society was gonna go through a big system crash as Y2K leveled computers from Sheboygan to New Delhi with misdated data. Fortunately, the vista of that computer carnage never appeared through the window and the techo-prophets of doom all slunk like mouses back to their cubicles. Meanwhile the fundamentalists were relieved that they could stay on the TV airwaves and keep milking oldsters for the next 1000 years as some biblical accounting error was obviously at fault for interpreting Revelation as the formerly completely and absolutely obvious 2000 year millennium being promised as the second coming. Go figure. Beware of prophets, deserted islands, and food deprivation. Not every vision is the word of God. Ask Timothy Leary. Or get a bad burrito sometime.
In any event, there are some cool things about living in the Oughts. For one thing, baby boomers are all turning 60, which should finally bring back pants that fit under the gut and tighter in the spindly thigh. For another, the Rolling Stones are completely happy that they can now call themselves sexagenarians. Yeah baby, I’m a sexy-genarian. Come on baby tell me so
Another thing is that gas prices are finally so high that they’ve actually come out with a hybrid truck for rednecks. Yep a big diesel with a jackass in the back. When you run out of gas just hitch up your ass and pull yourself home. Being a redneck’s always been about pulling your own weight, right? Duellies are optional but they throw in the donkey harness as part of the towing accessory pack.
And finally, Nicaragua is finally getting ahead with some vacation dollars. It’s a new Rio, complete with bronzed Latin beauties, thongs, and lots and lots of coconuts. Wealthy American playboys are heading to the playas of the newly dubbed “Chickeragua.” Apocalypse anyone?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

#354 Loopy Car Heart

So I went into this new store the other day. It was one of those big giant humongous warehouse mega stores that are springing up across the American landscape like brontosauruses in the late Jurassic. And let me tell you it makes jur-ass-ache just to walk from one end of it to the other. My biggest problem with big giant mega stores, other than the fact that they actually have a horizon, is you get waylaid by the variety and rather than spend a half hour getting what you thought you came for, you get diverted and end up staying till the next epoch. Anyhow, this store seemed to be more hunter-sports oriented rather than, say, snowboard oriented. And it didn’t look like it was going to give REI any competition for the granola hikers. It seemed to appeal to folks who wanted to do more than take pictures of bears cavorting on the raspberry fields. This store was gonna set you up for the chunky makins of some old fashioned bear stew.
Still, they had a wide selection of a lot of the basics. I mean, hunters and hikers alike can appreciate the fine feeling foot comfort of Thorlo socks. And Smartwool doesn’t care about the relative smartness of its users vis-à-vis saving the planet or the culling of rapacious wildlife before it culls us, they just care if you’re smart enough to buy Smartwool. But the trick to stores like this is they don’t just offer one or two Smartwool selections. Oh no, they have every darn sock Smartwool ever made, in ten sizes and forty colors. Frankly, I didn’t know there were 12 distinct shades of buff—tan, khaki, ecru, or whatever.
In fact, there was whole section of store devoted to nothing but camouflage clothing and accessories. At least I think so. I couldn’t really see it—at least that clearly. I think I kind of felt a back pack or something. Really though, is a camouflage school backpack and lunchbox set that necessary? And also really, where was all the dayglo orange camo wear. These guys had a ton of green stuff. I don’t know about you, but the last time I went into the non-national park woods I wanted to wear a color that was as visible as possible. I mean, even if I was a bowman in the trees I’d still want my fellow hunters to see me before they fired a self-congratulatory rifleshot into the air after they figured out they didn’t need a bottle opener cause they could use the notch on their new hunters knife.
And talk about selection, the store had the complete Carhartt line—amazing; shirts, vests, pants, overalls, everything. I didn’t know Carhartt even made thongs. That’s Serious Carhartt. I especially like the little loop for your hammer. The Carhartt accessory for the clothing optional resort construction site. You got to have some place to hang your tools when you’re going at it hammer and thongs.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

#353 Long Road Home

I guess I should count my blessings. I saw the most pathetic creature in the world the other day. It was a crow—apparently an old one, or possibly a slow one. Maybe one that got too greedy. Taking that last beakful too close to an oncoming semi. Cause it was a dead crow. It didn’t look all that flat though, so it’s possible it wasn’t actually crushed by a vehicle. Birdbones are lightweight so they flatten pretty two-dimensionally should they encounter a couple of tons of motoring metal. This one was swollen up very three dimensionally. Maybe the blowflies had been at work and he was nothing more than a fetid gas pocket ready to burst into flame with the first roadspark like an overripe apple laptop. So it’s at least possible he died on the wing of some avian equivalent of a heart attack and simply plummeted to the spot in the road were he left behind his corporeal self as his soul flew to bird heaven. But that wasn’t the pathetic thing about the tableau. No, what was pathetic was that the road striper had been by that morning and like some cruel parody of a Roadrunner cartoon a fresh stripe was painted right over him. That’s right, it wasn’t the coyote creature that got humiliated this time, it was the bird. Dying as roadkill is indignity enough, to then be painted over by a machine that actually has a driver is so much worse. I mean, come on road crew, get a shovel and scrape the poor creature off first. Make sure the road is clear for the stripe. Properly prepared a dead crow can make a fine component of hobo stew and at least the cosmic circle continues. But road stripe just isn’t the spice a good king-of-the-road stewpot needs. As every hobo knows, paint should be inhaled not eaten.
Speaking of bad drivers, The Response Insurance National Driving habits survey had some things to say about how people feel about cellphones. Interestingly, though you’d expect non-cellphone users to support banning cellphone driving, and they did at 62%, cellphone users also supported the ban at 59%. It’s what I’ve been saying for years, after a while cellphone users don’t like being accessible all the time. You want to be not only hands free when you drive, you want to be phone free as well. The survey also showed the whole notion of multi-tasking is under attack. These same people support banning other actions while driving. 68% are against grooming. Me too. Like the gal that almost killed me while she was not only phoning, but applying eye makeup in here rearview mirror. She was not paying attention in two directions at once. 72% are against text messaging. Unless you’re getting a satellite feed of American Idol. And finally, 79% are against reading while driving. I hope they don’t mean road signs. Holding that opinion may have them end up eating crow.
America, ya gotta love it.

#352 LED Concentration

Who would have thought in one generation that I would have to learn so many letters? Back when I was young and IBM was such a hit, there was also the FBI and the CIA. There was even CREEP, which stood for the Committee to RE-Elect the President. I kid you not. I figured at some point they would run out of initials and be done with it. Then they started naming cars with random ones like CRV and/or models of cars like LX and DX and/or genera of cars like SUVs and it got all crazy again. Oddly, SUV, which has all the characteristics of being a full-blown acronym—it has a vowel in the middle and you can pronounce it—never emerged as such. I guess because people had a hard time thinking of huge gas-guzzling urban assault vehicles as suvs. Sounds more like one of those pre-soaped and pre-wetted throwaway cleaning towels. Honey, could you please pick up some suvs at the market. These swipes aren’t nearly as swell as the swiffers. Then, computer-eze entered the fray with HTML and URL and now, the ever confusing—at least to me—LED and LCD. I know they both involve light. LED, for some strange reason, is again not a pronounced acronym. Like, there are five leds in this combo penlight/mechanical pencil. Good idea. Our language is already littered with words that are miscombobulated with variations of spelling and pronunciation. L-e-a-d- is led or leed depending on context. You can be led down the aisle or someone can lead you astray with too much lead in your drinking water. So LED is spelled and pronounced L E D. I think LED means light emitting diode. LCD is Liquid Crystal Display. Or perhaps light crystal diode or light carrying doodad. It’s all so confusing to someone who was born when computers filled a room and Christmas lights were the size of your nose.
But for all our electronic wizardry when it comes to warning lights and electronic readouts on our communication devices we have reached a point of technological backlash. The cellphone, my perennial essay whipping post, has done it again. At least so I presume. It being my nature to lay every misbegotten travesty in the 21st century at the doorstep of the cellphone it was no surprise¾when I heard the following statistic¾that it didn’t take me long to finger the culprit. Traffic deaths are up 14% this year over last year and they are at the highest level since 1990. Gee, what’s different about traffic today compared to 1990? Oh yeah, that thing that was supposed to make highways safer cause if you broke down you could pull over and use it to call for help. Oh well, now if you accidentally rear-end and kill some innocent driver cause you were speeding and gabbing on your phone you can speed-dial your insurance company and file your version of the story first. And since he’s dead anyhow, he’s what we used to call S.O.L.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

#348 Leveled

I was thinking about Prozac and how it levels moods so effectively. It’s the ultimate psychic neutral. People coasting through one slightly pleasant shade of gray, one day to the next. They’re going through the motions, they’re just not going through the e-motions.
Not me. I find things to get me excited all the time. At least mildly. The other day I’m driving out in the country and I go by this store. Small towns, by their very nature, often have to have stores that do more than one thing. For one thing, there are fewer buildings, for another, there’s not enough business to totally specialize. So, like a poor man’s portfolio, they have to diversify. General mercantiles are the mutual funds of the small town business environment. Anyhow, on one side of this building is a sign announcing bead classes. On the other side is a sign that says gun shop. At first, I thought it was two places. But after driving by a few times I’m pretty sure it’s an all-in-one shop. Perhaps, residual sexist that I am, the guy has the gun shop and his wife has the bead shop. Perhaps it’s the reverse. G.I Jane has the armor-piercing 50-caliber anti-tank deer hunting rifles and Fred has a nice bead shop with a little feng shui décor business in the corner by the indoor waterfall. Maybe it’s all together. Guns are cool and guns are fun, as they say, and beads, well, they make great buck shot. Next time hunting season rolls around, why pepper your 8-pointer with toxic lead pellets when you can accessorize his haunches with a behind full of beads? Nothing perks up a great venison steak like a glistening variety of fire-polished beads. And what better way to fire them than from an over-and-under thirty-thirty pump action hunter’s buddy? Speaking of hunters. Even they’ve learned the benefits of day-glo orange. You can have all the camouflage patterns you want, deer and most game can only see in black and white, but it’s your fellow hunters you have to worry about. And Buckhorn Beer, the hunter’s other buddy, has led to many a fellow hunter wandering into the wrong place at the wrong miller time. Even a faceful of bead-shot can hurt like heck. Ask any 70-year-old lawyer. But other people need to get a clue about cami too. The other day I saw something that made me pull up short. And he was lucky I saw him and I did. He was a bicyclist riding on the edge of a county road, you know, with trees, bushes, and country wildflowers. And the idiot was wearing camouflage clothing. Excuse me. I think you miss the point, mister eco-cyclist. People in cars need to see you. Their giant SUVs have Onstar not radar. Put on some dayglo, some neon chartreuse, and some strobe lights. Don’t wear camo!
"I’m sorry officer, I didn’t see him."
"Hell I can’t see him now."
"He’s right there."
"That dead looking bush on top of that crushed bicycle?"
"That’s him."
"Or was until you leveled him."
America, ya gotta love it.

#351 Laying on the Horn

I was driving down the road the other day. I had just had another of those all-too-frequent encounters with electronic death. A gal had been coming out of a driveway on my right into the street. As is so often the case these days, she wasn’t actually making a curve as she emerged from the driveway, she was making a beeline, which, if you’ve ever seen a bee, is erratic indeed. Her intention appeared to be to emerge diagonally into the street in the quickest possible line to her ultimate destination. Unfortunately her destination was impeded by the large mass of metal and flesh that was my vehicle and me. Interestingly, she had bolted out so quick and so diagonally that she was almost directly into my lane. Had she continued she would have damn near hit me head on. Fortunately, I saw her, screeched to a halt and laid on the horn. Satisfying but pointless, because by the time any sound had actually emitted from the horn we were both stopped, she still with only one hand on the wheel and a scared slash sheepish look on her face and me with adrenalin running down my pants leg. Then she had the temerity to smile and wave at me. A gesture I would have taken with good grace—after all, we all make mistakes—had not the object in the hand she was waving been a cellphone—unflipped and apparently quite active. As I drove on, I noticed she put it back to her face and started gabbing, apparently telling whoever it was that had been interrupted by her near encounter with death that, ha ha, you’ll never guess what just happened.. I always wonder what the person on the other end hears in such an encounter. The screeching tires, the busting glass, the painful scream as someone gets kicked in the ass. Or is it just some unexplained dropout?
Life on the road is filled with indignity these days. Its seems that drivers are weaving more, cutting off others more and generally whipping out into traffic with no regard whatsoever for things like executing a full turn or actually using turn signals. Cellphones don’t kill people, idiots kill people. It’s just that a lot of idiots have cellphones. I’ve sat behind idiots who come to a complete stop in traffic waiting to turn left into a business. There’s a two-way left turn lane right next to them. Do they use it? No. Worse, do they have their turn signal on? No. It’s no fun holding up traffic if you appear to have a reason. Let the drivers behind you guess that maybe, if you screw up the courage, you may cross the road before the only vehicle coming in your direction, that old VW van, makes it the final three blocks to where you sit. A cellphone doesn’t cause something like that. It just makes you so much more angry when the idiot who’s holding up traffic has one stuck to his ear. It’s a sad commentary on society when an electronic device has more processing power than its user.
America, ya gotta love it.

#350 Lowering the Bar

The cool thing about language is it evolves. And it appears to have no intelligent design. A new word is created or an old word is modified and suddenly a whole new meaning emerges and passes into ordinarily communication. Like the new unit of measurement—bars. Bars denote an entirely arbitrary and unregulated amount of measurement. Kind of like calories. A calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise a gram of water up one degree of centigrade. I think. Truth is, I have no idea. But that doesn’t matter because as long as everyone agrees on this amount of energy all is good. And as long as I can reliably expect that more than 2500 calories a day is gonna thicken my waistline I’m okay with a energy bar having 170 calories or a frozen pizza having 1200. Of course, as everyone who’s made a steady diet of Ben and Jerry’s knows, all calories are not alike, and the net calories saved after digestion is the real thick in the pants. A pound of potatoes and a pound of meat metabolize differently. Another example is conversion to the metric scale. Do we really care that there’s 2.2 ponds to a kilo? It doesn’t matter to me if my energy drink is a liter or 33 ounces. It fills me up one way or the other. It’s just when I have to convert back and forth that it bugs me. I say forget about conversion slowly over decades. Just do the dang thing and adjust. When they first came out with 2 liter bottles of Coke were moms across the land getting out their measuring cups and doling out drinks in 12-ounce increments? Heck no, they just poured enough in a glass or a cup or a tumbler to shut little Johnny up.
So it is with bars. Ultimately, bars don’t have to mean anything. And interestingly, a new handheld electronic device of mine, which I hesitate to admit I finally broke down and purchased, actually has two separate sets of bars—bars for the battery and bars for the signal strength. When the salesman, excuse me Sales, sold it to me he said “coverage is great, look at the bars on the screen.” And sure enough an upwards-angling series of bars indicated that the signal was strong. I had four bars. “How long does the battery you put in last?” I asked, “Do I have to take is right home and charge it?” “No,” he said confidently, “it comes with enough charge so you can program it and stuff. See, it has two bars.” He was right. There was a little battery-like shape where he pointed and it had two bars in it. Wow, I used to hang out in bars now I carry two sets of them in my cellph— hand held electronic communication device. Too many bars used to mean I’d end up in a cell. Now having a cell with lots of bars is a good thing. Funny, one cell trapped you with bars and the other frees you with its convenience. Of course, one could say one of the cells frees you to be alone in privacy and the other traps you into always being reachable. So, this idiot walks into a bar…
America, ya gotta love it.