Monday, December 31, 2007

#670 Yer Moniker

What’s in a name?
Apparently a lot. I read an article a while ago about “what to name your baby” books being among the most popular bestsellers out there.
There are even baby naming consulting services available. Special name-ologists, armed with reams of data, purport to guarantee their selection for your child’s name will lead him or her to success or fortune, or maybe just help them avoid being teased on the playground.
Now if they only add the numerological equivalents of the letters, throw in a little horoscope, and check the bumps on the baby’s head, every contingency should be covered.
Sadly, I’m pretty sure the person makes the name and not vice versa. Aloysius of Gonzaga got the Saint nod not because of his sure-to-be-picked-on-in-the-locker-room name. He made the name worthy of affixing to a big church by what he did.
But names do seem to fall into certain patterns. The other day we were separating a bunch of mail-in coupons and three names popped up in succession.
I wonder if you can figure out which the oldest person of the threesome was—Brandi, Tiffany or Phyllis.
That’s right, Phyllis it is.
Do you know anyone under 50 named Phyllis? It ought to have worked its way around to cool again. It starts with a P-H- and all, like the fat that’s not fat, phat.
So here’s a conundrum for you—or should I say co-name-drum? Why is no one nicknamed Steef? Spelled like and sounded like beef.
You should spell it S-t-e-p-h. Because it would be short for Stephen. Except when you spell it that way, most people think its short for Stephanie and pronounce it Steff.
But no, we always shorten Stephen, spelled S-t-e-p-h-e-n-, to Steve, spelled S-t-e-v-e-. From whence cometh the V-? It’s not short for stevedore. It’s short for Stephen.
And even though we pronounce Stephen with a V, unless we’re French or German and pronounce it correctly with a F, it still ain’t there in the word.
So it should be Steef. A perfectly good word for a name but never, ever, used.
Nicknames are funny that way. Maybe we should just call everybody the universal nickname.
America, ya gotta love it

Saturday, December 29, 2007

#669 Yucky Shaver

The other day I was pretty upset.
I found out something that I didn’t expect to find out.
I got this fortune cookie and the fortune said, “Your luck has been completely changed today.”
It really worried me, because my luck’s pretty good.
I mean, I have so much to be thankful for, a great job, great friends and acquaintances, lots of positive projects and organizations to be involved in. And now my luck is going to change?
Stupid fortune cookie.
I thought they were only supposed to give out good, upbeat fortunes. I don’t go to a Asian restaurant to have my paranoia about an approaching cataclysm of providence inflamed. “Your luck has been completely changed today” indeed.
Well there’s one thing I know I won’t have to be worry about being lucky enough to ever get.
A $250 electric razor.
As a bearded fellow, my entire shaving experience is reserved for a small portion of my neck, but if I did get one as a gift, I’d take it back for the cash. $250 is way beyond my acceptable price point for a shaving device.
It’s just not that important for me to be smooth.
I can live with a little bristly stubble if the alternative is me or someone else shelling out 250 bucks. I don’t care if it is a “Braun Pulsonic.”
Yep, it appears to be made by the same people as the kitchen appliance Braun.
That’s why when I first saw the ad for this I thought it was a new coffee maker. Maybe injects pulses of super-heated water through a special filtration system to deliver the perfect acid-free brew.
$250 might be an acceptable expenditure for a good cup of coffee.
But even though Braun promises in their ad that “...pulsonic technology provides over 10,000 micro-vibrations per minute to help expose and shave more hair with every stroke” my penny-pinching neck still finds 250 bucks hard to swallow.
I do wonder a bit about the possibly defrocked scientists laboring through the night in some top-secret lab developing “pulsonic technology” in time for the Christmas season...
I mean, think of the implications of micro-vibration enhanced shaving to the establishment of peace on earth.
Talk about a change of luck.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, December 28, 2007

#668 Yammer

Time to yammer and meander along the track of my mind again.
I’ve learned a few pearls of wisdom in my life, whether or not I ended up throwing them before swine, and one is that you should never, ever, bid on the grow lights at the police confiscation auction.
There are some things that are just plain dumb.
A possible corollary to this is, don’t drive around with the inside of your old Subaru wagon filled with smoke, a bumper sticker that says “Buy Hemp Products,” and not bother to notice you have a tail light as burnt out as you appear to be.
Of course, people like this are probably not going to follow such advice, they’ve already gone so far down that road of obliviousness the rest of us wonder if we share the same species designation.
Except insofar as, by and large, just being human means we are capable of an astonishing amount of self-delusion.
Take belief. It requires no grounding in reality or facts, although when the two occasionally coincide, facts and belief that is, the coincidence, while doing nothing to change the fact, makes the belief twice as strong.
At least so it appears from my own personal state of ignorance and self-delusion. I admit I have quite a few dim bulbs in the indoor farming operation of my brain.
Other people see lots of things I don’t. I’ve never been able to discern the fine line between a cult and a religion for instance.
Once you make the leap of faith how do you stop? Leaping is, by its very nature, an experience of leaving the ground. The control of if or when you come back down has been surrendered.
How do you suddenly say, okay, that’s too much faith—that’s just plain crazy? A goddess with six arms who’s in charge of both creation and destruction? Fire and brimstone blazing and a seven-headed beast destroying the world? Eight tiny reindeer?
Like I say, I’m not sure where the line is.
Then again, back in my track days, I never did well at the broad jump. I was always more of a runner than a leaper.
Cast out pearls are easier to find when you’re closer to the ground.
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, December 27, 2007

#667 Yummy for One

I’ve decided to challenge myself lately and go to all the restaurants I normally went to when I was married or on a date.
And go there alone.
Single people should not be condemned to fast food.
The biggest problem I see with the process is that nicer restaurants tend to be dark. And darkness makes it difficult to whip out a book and start reading.
Dark restaurants are designed for intimate conversation. Trading the secrets of one’s dreams and desires with someone you think might actually want to listen.
Dating is kind of like doing a mini-biographical essay in a one-on-one symposium. Or I suppose autobiographical is more like it.
Although if it’s auto as in automatic there’s often something sticky in the transmission.
In any event, those little novellas of intimacy are perfect for a dimly lit restaurant with tablecloths and wine and stuff. But hard to pull off without someone to talk to.
So you try bringing a real book.
If one were to bring a book to such a place it should be a hardcover, preferably with a sprung back so it stays open. Struggling with holding your paperback open, and reading, and juggling silverware, and eating, is not good form. Emily Post would surely have some advice.
But it would likely be “stay away.”
No singles and no babies, this is a “nice” restaurant.
A big hardback book may pass. But paperbacks definitely not, and God forbid you should bring a magazine.
I suppose a weighty periodical like the Wall Street Journal may convince some of your social worth despite the obvious ignominy of your singlehood, but large newspapers really don’t fit so well on tiny two-tops.
So I’ve taken the challenge and turned the tables on the whole process. Instead of sitting there timidly, I boldly look at the other sets of folk, observe their body language and amuse myself by predicting what they may be saying to one another.
And I don’t worry if I overhear interesting bits of conversation. The ebb and flow of conversation in the room always offers up disembodied, curious, and fascinating snippets.
It’s kind of like a book on tape.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

#666 Yahweh to Hell

This is “America Ya Gotta Love It” essay number 666. So naturally, my thoughts have turned apocalyptic.
There was once a great thinker who said something like we would not be beaten into giving up our freedom we would volunteer.
The trade off would be security, he said.
I think the trade off will be nothing more than sacrificing freedom to the god of convenience. Kind of a Yahweh to Hell.
The Book of Revelation talks of the mark of the beast. It is widely thought to be some variation of the number of the beast, which is 666. By this mark will other minions of the beast know one another. These minions are not necessarily overtly bad. They are just the unthinking go-along-to-get-along types. Your basic fall-guys that always end up paying the price for the evil of others.
I’ve always maintained, at least since there was such a thing, that the mark of the beast will be a Universal Product Code. Perhaps tattooed on everyone’s forehead. We can “boop” our I.D. and get stuff charged to our life.
I underestimated technology.
I hadn’t expected the RFID. The RFID is a little radio transmitter with a number in it. It functions passively, and is only activated when a reading device is nearby. There is a glowing website dedicated to the wonders and convenience of RFID at
It’s scary.
They are implanting RFIDs in groceries and other products. The goal is for a person to be able to walk through a checkout line with an entire cart full of groceries and have it instantly and completely totaled. You then flash your RFID thingie—which you volunteer to carry with you—at a cash point, everything is deducted from your bank account and off you go.
Never mind that a central database now knows what private goods you bought.
The RFID is also used in “family friendly” amusement parks. Children are equipped with RFID wristbands. The child has only to wave his or her wristband at a reader, and get on rides or get an ice cream or whatever, and it’s charged to the family account.
So how many juniors are going to get the equivalent of junk food room service? Family friendly indeed. As Las Vegas casino comp chargecard people know, the less cash you have to actually drag out as cash, the more you spend.
Still, the RFID is touted as a “safety” device. Any parent or any older sibling can go to any computer in the park and find his kid or kid brother.
There may be a RFID in your cellphone right now. Your big brother may be watching out for you.
I feel so safe.
Cause, you know, I trust the government and all. They always make completely wise decisions...
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification Device.
Or possibly it really stands for Revelation Fall-guy Idiot Detector.
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, December 20, 2007

#665 Yoga Back Hair

My sister and brother-in-law sent me a page from a décor store mail circular the other day.
Does anyone say the word circular any more? It was one of those words that troubled me as a child. I couldn’t figure out why people called them a circular when they were so obviously rectangular.
In any event, the page from this flyer was for personal products. This décor store also has lots of personal grooming aids. There are the type that are not quite in the Sharper Image category but not as strange as in a Lillian Vernon catalogue.
The products ranged from automatic ultrasonic jewelry and DVD cleaners to hair removal devices. One of the hair removal devices was called the Emjoi tweeze. It promised to “easily” remove female facial hair with an automatic tweezer system.
At no point did they use the word painlessly. I think the name Emjoi comes from the sound you make when your lips are pressed together in pain and you’re trying to tell someone “I’m emjoi-ing this...”
Because it really looked like a variation on the old Epilady twisted spring, catch-your-hair-and-rip-it-out method of the 80s.
I always thought they should have a smaller version for your nostrils and call it the epi-nasal. It could just reach in with pinpoint accuracy and twist your nostril hairs out.
But the feature “gift for him” in the circular was a product called “Mangroomer.” It showed a picture of a guy holding a 3 foot wand-like thing to his back in order to shave off his unsightly man hair.
Have we come so far from our masculinity in the effete 2000s that we now shave our back hair daily?
Cause it would have to be daily. A five o’clock shadow on your lats would play hell with your clothes. You’d be sandpapering holes in your T-shirts pretty quick.
And most electric shavers I know require some pretty positive pressure. So how would you get the angle for the pressure?
Of course, if you’re shaving your back hair you’re probably taking yoga.
The rest of us would be embarrassed at the chiropractor. Sorry doc, I threw my back out using my Mangroomer...
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

#664 Your Opinion

The other day there was a survey on TV viewing habits published that said more American families watch ice-skating than NASCAR.
Why would a survey come up with that result? People watch NASCAR all the time. Millions of dollars of advertising goes into NASCAR.
And that’s just for the funny-looking jumpsuits the drivers wear.
I don’t remember the last time I saw an ice skater in a glittery skintight unitard with the brand name Fritos wrapped around it. Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Boitano, sponsored by Cool Ranch Flavor Doritos of course.
It briefly occurred to me that a lot of people’s only exposure to a triple salchow is the Winter Olympics. And most of the time that’s only because they force you to watch ice-skating while you’re waiting for the luge competition.
So, if your were honest in a survey, you would have to report that you watched, um, ice dancing even though the real reason you were tuned in was to watch some luge rider miss a turn and go flying wildly into the crowd.
You got to admit, luge dudes are every bit as crazy as NASCAR drivers.
So, that’s one reason results of American “family” viewing habits are skewed. But I think there’s a larger reason.
It’s that surveys aren’t ever of everyone. No matter how supposedly scientific the random sample, it’s still not a complete sample.
It’s a survey of people who responded to the survey.
And right there, that cuts down your accuracy. Because it’s only a survey of responsive people.
Now truth is, most people I know are unresponsive.
Not as in dead, as in busy.
Too busy to take even five minutes to take a survey of American viewing habits, eating habits, buying habits, or yes, even sex habits.
A profile of your average respondent may be this. They tend to have a lot of time on their hands. They tend not to be suspicious. They tend to want to talk a lot. And if you give them a coupon, they’ll fill out a buyer’s survey or a diary.
So far I have my grandma.
I wonder if she likes NASCAR?
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

#663 Yearbook Counselor

The other day I went through the new phone book to see if any of the lawyer’s pictures had aged.
Or the lawyers in the pictures had aged.
The phonebook sometimes make me think there’s some vast juris-not-very-prudence afoot whereby lawyers sell their souls to the devil to appear eternally young, vigorous and ready to defend your interests.
It’s like a high school yearbook, and they all kind of look the same.
There’s lots of lawyers. That got me thinking about high school counselors and what they recommend their student charges get into.
My high school counselor and I never got along. In fact, by carefully listening to every thing she recommended I was supposedly capable of doing, which she had scientifically determined by glancing at my grades, my aptitude tests, my IQ tests and my “permanent record,” I was able to chart a course through life that has been rewarding, fulfilling and successful.
I did that but listening to her and then doing the opposite of everything she recommended.
I was a contrary cuss in my youth, and more, I resented that the only reason she was my counselor was that my last name started with “F.”
It was like some brokered marriage in India or something.
Here was the person upon whom my destiny supposedly rested. The guide to set me on the path of my future. And the only thing qualifying her for the job was my position in the alphabet.
We didn’t hit it off instantly. Anti-charisma as it were. A sudden and unexplainable mutual repulsion.
But hey, in those days could you ask for another counselor that you might feel actually had your best interests at heart—or that actually had a heart—and wasn’t some timeclock-punching functionary anxious to move on to the students who started with G?
Nope. Not as many choices then.
Like in every picture in my yearbook, the hair on boys is all the same and doesn’t go down past the top of their ears.
They sort of look like a bunch of lawyers.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, December 17, 2007

#662 Yule be Glad

The Holiday Season is here and that means it’s time to find the perfect gift for those you love. This holiday season I’m happy to spread joy with the first inaugural Funny Guy celebrity gift list.
If you’re a celebrity there’s no greater compliment than for a manufacturer to name a product after you.
Years later, long after your celebrity has faded away, when Us and Them and People haven’t had your face grace their cover for decades, when the National Enquirer doesn’t want to know anything about your tired old facelift, then you’ll be glad you let your agent talk you into putting your name on a product or line of merchandise.
Just ask Jaclyn Smith. Her agent was the best guardian angel of all. Today’s young K-Mart shopper hasn’t a clue she had anything to do with an invisible guy named Charlie.
So, celebrity gifts for 2007.
This one from the currently popular Angelina Jolie. It’s a whole line of gourmet food products, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheeses, etc. The most interesting product in the line bodes ill for her relationship with her current paramour though.
The tabloids will certainly step up the gossip when they hear about the “Brad Pitt-less Olive.”
Hate mismatching your all white gym socks? Michael Jackson takes a tasteless turn back to the limelight with a new product designed to keep track of the ones he favors—the below the ankle socks known as peds.
Tired of losing track of your peds in the dryer? Use Michael Jackson’s filing system—The Ped-o-file.
I told you it was in bad taste.
I think one big box store is taking a smart turn though. Remember what Martha Stewart and Jaclyn Smith did for K-mart.
They’re updating their stodgy image to a sassy new style and renaming their home décor store, Bed Bath and Beyonce.
And this next one is a winner from the get go. Who wouldn’t want to mount a tiny cooking device directly to their teeth?
No more messy raw food ever again. Make panninis in your mouth and put bling on your choppers too.
With George Foreman Grillz.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, December 14, 2007

#661 Yield Your Slot

I was walking downtown the other day and I chanced by the parking enforcement office.
Parking enforcement is one of those unsung hero type of jobs. If they weren’t there, people would bitch. And when they are there, people bitch.
Most people drive cars not cycles. So, as there is a limited amount of parking downtown, it is necessary to keep the parked cars cycling.
If I am looking for a parking place, I am only too glad that the guy with the place I covet has to yield it because he fears a parking violation enforcer. That same parking violation enforcer becomes my enemy once I occupy my slot.
Kind of a NIMBY thing. Now that I’m here, keep everyone else out before they ruin the neighborhood.
We are only human.
The Lord never said to Adam, “go forth and make sense.”
Parking enforcement suffers from what I call the tow truck syndrome. Most of the ads you see for tow trucks are the little signs on private parking lots saying you will be towed away if you park there.
Yet the signs have to strike that delicate balance between be stern enough to sound like they mean business and friendly enough so next time you’re in a ditch you’ll remember their name and give them a call.
A towing company who actually does tow your car away from a private lot will no doubt suffer your eternal opprobrium and can kiss you off as a customer for life.
No wonder tow truck companies always seem to be changing their names.
The downtown parking enforcement office has a fifteen-minute parking slot in front of it, by the way, so people can run in and out to pay their fines.
Why do I think it’s the one parking slot in all of downtown where they never write a violation?
In any event, as I went by, I saw this sign in the window. “In a hurry? Save time and pay your parking violation online.”
It was such a cheery and helpful sign. You almost forgot you could have saved even more time—if they didn’t write you the dang ticket to start with...
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, December 13, 2007

#660 Yarr Ear Swabbie

The Q-tip company is the caretaker of one of the most pervasive polite fictions of our age. Kind of a Santa Claus for adults. Because we all know Q-tips are “not to be inserted in your ear canal.”
Wink wink.
Long before this litigious period of our history the Q-tip manufacturer, cautioned users not to stick Q-tips into their ear canals.
Yet, you know and I know, that’s exactly what they do. How else to wipe loose that errant piece of earwax?
Oh sure, Q-tips are great for cleaning the convolutions of the exterior ear as well. But we all know what they’re really for.
Still, it’s a limited use¾and one they actually tell people not to do¾so how does the company push more product?
The ad agency for the new generation of Q-tip purveyors, the ear apparents as it were, have given us a list of other things that Q-tips are good for.
Broadening the category. Establishing a more horizontal product presence.
Some excerpts from the new packaging: “Q-tips have more cotton at the tip than any other cotton swab!” Apparently the product in question’s official name is not Q-tip but swab.
As in “swab the decks matie.” Or perhaps “clear the decks swabbie.”
These “swabs” are now the self-proclaimed “...Ultimate beauty tool... for safely and precisely applying, blending, touching up, and removing cosmetics.”
Throw away the brushes Estee Lauder, bring out the ear cleaners.
Even more great Q-tip ideas: “Baby care: Delicately care for sensitive areas.” On this blurb they show a picture of a giant Q-tip heading for a baby’s eye. Disturbingly, no adult appears to be holding it.
“Electronics: Clean and dust even hard to reach areas.” A picture shows keyboard cracks. Finally, a tool to remove Doritos crumbs.
And lastly, perhaps to justify the swab name, they suggest you use Q-tips—in their words—“for all household cleaning”.
Yeah, next time I have a century to mop the floor I’ll bust out the Q-tips. And let’s not forget that stubborn toilet ring.
Sometimes rebranding is stupid.
You just want to tell Madison Avenue to stick it in their ear...
America, ya gotta love it

#659 Visions

You know how you wander through life and every now and then, something just jumps out at you like a vision or something?
I was in Seattle visiting my brother. He had flown in for a convention. We were walking downtown and chanced upon a little pile of rubbish.
Little piles of rubbish are unfortunately not uncommon in major cities and almost always include the detritus of the homeless, or at least the debris of the temporarily-on-the-street people.
Such piles usually include a candy wrapper or three, but are never without an empty booze bottle of some sort, often two, at least one of which will most likely be a selection from the fortified wine department of your downtown mini-market.
This pile was of three latte cups. Yep. A triad of Starbucks containers—lids, mini-straws, and burn-preventative cup sleeves included. There appeared to be crumbs from either a scone or a biscotto as well.
“Look at that,” I remarked to my brother, “A bum rubbish pile featuring premium coffee litter—only in Seattle.”
Not long after that, I saw an interesting pink car coming down the road. It made think that maybe Mary Kay has come on hard times.
You may remember that in the Mary Kay heyday the prize you could win for being a super salesperson was a pink Cadillac.
You benefited by scoring a fine luxury ride and the organization benefited by having everyone notice this huge pink testimonial driving down the road.
All and sundry instantly identified both your successes and how potentially successful they too might be if they sold Mary Kay.
The car driving toward me the other day was pink all right.
But is was a Hyundai.
Hyundais are, of course, fine automobiles, but the contrast of a sensible, economical, small pink Hyundai and a giant, self-indulgent, luxurious pink Cadillac was enormous in my mind.
But hey, what do I know?
Maybe Mary Kay now has different increments of success. And you work your automotive way up to a Cadillac.
Or maybe Mary Kay is now into corporate responsibility, fuel savings, and conservation.
So the pink Hyundai is actually green.
America, ya gotta love it

#658 Vaguely Sleetish

So the other day it was sleeting.
I think.
To tell you the truth, what sleet is has always been a little vague in my brain. Unlike the Inuit, I never had the opportunity to find a reason to have over 2,000 words for snow.
I was a desert boy and snow was a rare and remarkable experience in my early life, notable purely for its existence, never mind that there were different types and gradations thereof. The difference between snow and not snow was like the difference between food and, oh, say, hunger. I worried about types of snow no more than a starving man cares about his next meal being vegetable, fruit, grain, or nut.
So my experience with sleet is largely deductive. It doesn’t appear to be a flake, therefore it must not be snow.
This deduction is largely based on how it hits my windshield. Fine grains of snow tend to blow off. Large, wet flakes tend to stick after splitching in a tacky fashion. The occasional quick splotches mixed with raindrops are assumed to be sleet.
I think of sleet as being more icy, but that really is no description at all. Snow is, after all, ice crystals.
I know that sleet is not as hard as hail, nor as noisy.
But still. Just the word sleet makes it sound as if it’s harder and edgier than snow.
When I hear other people identifying sleet, what they are talking about appears to be slush. Slush is definitely softer—and splitchier on my windshield.
But for them, slush seems to be a word reserved for what’s on the ground, after snow has melted. It’s often hidden beneath a hard crust of apparently powdery snow. Only to be revealed when you step on it, break through the crust, and have your ankles suddenly identify with flash-frozen salmon.
When I read about it in books, I used to imagine sleet as being these miniature flying ice splinters. Like tiny icicles ready to puncture with pinprick ferocity those foolish enough to go out into the sleet storm.
But now it appears sleet is nothing more than flying slush.
No more intimidating than Slurpees on the wing.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, December 10, 2007

#657 Violinters

So lately, I’ve been performing with a musical group. Unlike the garage bands I used to drum for in the 60s though, this is the real thing.
It’s got 18 pieces and many of them are, you know, band instruments. Woods and brass and stuff.
As the emcee for this group I’ve had occasion, after a particularly blistering solo, to yell out praise and name the instrument in question. Or, more accurately, the instrument player in the context of his instrument.
As in, let’s hear it for Pat Jeffries, trombonist.
And it got me thinking. Not all instruments have a straightforward word that a player of that instrument can identify himself with.
Trombone players do, Trombonist. Still, the more lyrical tromboner is not used, although if I was using the telephone, I would be a telephoner, not a telephonist.
Perhaps “tromboner” is reserved for the trombone player who makes a lot of errors. As when my grandmother chided my Uncle Wally for “pulling a boner” when he made a mistake.
Saxophoner is also not used, as the term saxophonist has established itself over the years. Funny, because the word sax player is also used, but we never here the term saxist.
Even before the musical equal rights amendment.
Interestingly, musical instrument players have never had to struggle with and revise gender specific words like chairman and fireman and stuff. Although some singers did have a little issue.
The “Frank Sinatra, Chairman of the Board” designation would have sounded a little less macho rendered as “Frank Sinatra, Chairperson of the Board.”
Drums have drummer and not drummist, while clarinets have clarinetists and not clarineters.
Cornet players are tough. Corneter sounds like someone wearing a crown and a cornetist sounds like a foot surgeon. Or is that cornist?
Oh well. I suppose there’s always bugler.
Banjo players I can’t figure at all. Banjist? Banjee-a-dor? Maybe if he shrieks too, he could be a screaming banjee.
A friend of mine came up with the best one. Banjinista. I like it. Sounds like a banjo playing latte maker.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

#656 Venture Capital

The other day we received a press release from a local police department that shows the hazards of relying on spellcheck.
A really advanced form of spellcheck ought to be contextcheck, in which the program checks words not just for the correct letter order that makes them a certain word, but also whether they appear in the correct context to make it the appropriate word to fit in the sentence.
These mistakes are always so much more fun when they come from an official document.
This one involves the word which could be loan, l-o-a-n, as in loaning you money, or lone, l-o-n-e, as in lone ranger.
The press release from the police said the following: “A male suspect entered the bar after closing hours, contacted the loan bartender and demanded the money in the cash register.”
Of course the whole point of this is that in the press release, the, ahem, information officer got the spelling of lone wrong. He wrote loan, l-o-a-n, instead of lone, l-o-n-e.
Which, instead of portraying the perpetrator as demanding cash from an individual who was alone, makes it seem as if the bartender was a special type whose job it was to actually lend money.
As in, give people cash when they ask.
So again, when the press release describes the event—the suspect demanding the loan bartender give him money—it sounds more like a transaction at the bank.
It’s what, I assume, “loan” bartenders are supposed to do. Hand out cash right? It’s just a loan though. The suspect needs to remember to pay it back, with interest.
Hey, maybe the perp figured it was some new spin on the payday loan business. With offices right in a bar.
Yeah, that’s it, get a little venture capital...
I can hear his defense lawyer now.
“Your honor, my client neither planned nor committed a robbery. As this press release makes clear, he was only engaging the loan executive at the bar in a lending transaction.
Perhaps the real crime here is that the bartender in charge of the loan failed to document it properly.”
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

#655 Vixen Vigaro

It’s the time of year for Christmas decorations again. Will they be mini-lights this year? Or will we return to old-fashioned big bulbs, standing anal-retentively up on the edges of roofs with perfect regularity?
The messy tumbling chaotic masses of icicle lights forgotten with the crazy self-indulgence of earlier times.
Who cares?
The newest rage in Christmas decorations is inflatable lawn ornaments. Big Frostys and Rudolphs, even sleighs complete with 8 tiny reindeer and that jolly old elf—so pretty at night with their internal lighting and full-blown joy.
And in the day, well, in the day, not so good.
Shapeless masses of limp plastic, noticeable mostly as blobs on the lawn.
A lot of Christmas decorations don’t look so good in the day. You got orange extension cords on roofs, wires dangling off bushes, and now, flaccid flaps of plastic. Like gigantic, colored prophylactics in need of a pharmaceutical assist.
Lawn ornament disorder? Drooping reindeer? Try Vigaro Viagra for your limp Vixen.
So I’m worried. You hear a lot about the tipping point lately.
“The tipping point” is the new way of saying critical mass. In the nuclear nineties critical mass was the way of describing when a thing finally hit the point where a chain reaction got underway.
The tipping point is like that. I think the reference comes from those Japanese garden things where a little bit of water drips into a hollow tube on an axis and when it fills up enough it tips over and the water all rushes out at once.
The point is, it only takes one little drop of water to send the contraption over the tipping point. Up until that drop, everything is fine.
So they talk about the tipping point in global warming being when we use that last little bit of greenhouse gas-producing power from a coal plant and the environment is finally and irrevocably, coastal flooded-ly, permafrost melted-ly, out of control.
And so I thought of the electrical power drawn by the little fans inflating flaccid Christmas lawn ornaments across the country.
And the tipping point the single fan that blows up the sagging Santa in my neighbor’s yard.
Merry Christmas.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, December 03, 2007

#654 View to the Future

So I got this fortune the other day. As you know, I’m always amused by the key to my destiny being housed in a random cheap cookie but I figure, you know, it beats tea laves.
I suppose there’s nothing intrinsically crazy about cookie clairvoyance compared to viewing the pattern of sodden leaves remaining in one’s teacup as a guide to the future.
A fortune cookie seems no less superstitious than many of the friendly pieces of pagan behavior we employ. Even the most Christian among us occasionally knocks on wood. Or throws salt over his shoulder for luck before scratching that one last lottery ticket.
So I guess it shouldn’t have been completely unpredictable when a person at an event I attended the other day stepped in some dog poo and proclaimed it was good luck.
“Doesn’t look so good to me,” I offered, as he used a stick to scrape the gooey mass from his sole. I admit, it was fortunate he was wearing biking shoes and his treads were not too crenulated.
Still, one would have to go far to include the words “good” and “luck” in that sequence to describes the process it was going to require to remove the excremental deposit.
“Oh yes,” he said, “my wife is Chinese and she says stepping in dog crap is lucky.”
I suppose it depends on your perspective. If I was, say, offered the choice of stepping off a cliff or stepping into dog crap, I’m sure I would see the latter alternative as an incredibly fortunate turn of events.
Given the ordinary course of walking in America however, poop-free stepping is my much-preferred alternative. I, in fact, thank my lucky stars when I manage to barely avoid fecal piles when out on a jog.
But that’s me. I tend to plod along carefully in life.
As my fortune cookie said, “You are not one to make quick rash decisions.”
As opposed to slow rash decisions of course, or quick cautious decisions.
As my cookie illustrates, Chinese and English are not always on the same page word-wise.
Maybe the guy’s wife, just maybe, said stepping in dog poop is yucky.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 30, 2007

#653 Vomit Roast

I need to talk about something I’m not even sure how to pronounce. Kopi Luwak.
It’s an Indonesian delicacy. “Kopi” stands for coffee, and “Luwak” is the local name for the Asian palm civet cat. It’s not really a cat, and not really a weasel either, but shares qualities of both.
What it also shares, apparently, is the ability to use its natural functions to render a really fine cup of coffee.
I originally heard about this phenomenon on the radio, but a brief Google query makes it apparent aficionados have long known of this bizarre coffee berry processing method. So much so that the coffee beans from an Asian civet cat sell for over $450 a pound.
More even than beans from monkeys. In Taiwan, coffee farmers harvest beans from Formosan rock monkeys.
The monkeys eat the coffee berries, but find the seeds give them indigestion, so they spit them up.
As in urp.
So harvesters pick through the puke to get the partially digested seeds, which they then lightly roast, and make into coffee beans worth a mere $56 a pound. The coffee is said to be a sweet, vanilla-scented brew.
Bottom line, we humans, apparently undaunted by things that cause monkeys indigestion, gather up the gooey seeds and make them into coffee.
So I wonder, who was the first person crazy enough to do this?
Let’s see. There’s some monkey puke. Hmm... Wonder if that would make a good latte?
Yeah I’ll have a monkey mocha please, with room for extra vomit.
But talk about bottom line, the civet cat thing is even worse. The civet cat berries are harvested from civet cat poop.
That’s right, upchuck ain’t good enough, these beans gotta travel all the way through. And because their trip was longer we’re going to charge even more.
Again, what individual first thought picking through cat poop for edible treats was a good idea?
Not the kind of parent I want on my kid’s Halloween route.
And that’s where I draw the line, bottom or otherwise.
No Java the Butt for me.
America, ya gotta love it

#652 Vegetation Misconduct

So the other day, I was reminded twice in one day of vegetables. And not the plant type either.
Well, actually it started with the plant type. A power company person was addressing an assembled body about the challenges faced by his team of power purveyors when it came to vegetation management.
Vegetation management.
It sounded so bureaucrat-eze, so gov-speak, that for a moment I forgot that the guy talking worked for a privately-held, for-profit company. Which supports my previous conviction that the larger an entity—public OR private—the more bureaucracy increases.
In any event, the term “vegetation management” had my twisted brain going two ways. In one Gary Larson section of my brain, I had a bunch of plants gathered around a conference table, each of them discussing various aspects of vegetile governance.
A committee of plants if you will.
A stately fir at the head of the table, dispensing conifer-like caution. A carrot posturing at one end, representing the tuber interests. A couple of flowers; an annual looking for short-term profit solutions and a perennial willing to reinvest for a further cycle of growth.
You get it, vegetation management.
The other half of my brain went to the brain dead—unfortunate individuals with no cerebral function needing long-term care and all the associate challenges.
Having the power company guy talking about emergency power to hospitals in one breath and vegetation management in the next led my brain down a dangerous path indeed.
Then, later that day, a news story sent me back down that same path. An individual was charged with abusing his caregiver privileges with helpless patients in a sordid way.
The newscaster said the guy was going to be charged with custodial misconduct.
Another bureaucratic phrase. It, of course, meant he used bad conduct with the people who were in his custody.
But “custodial misconduct”?
It sounds like he has a perverted fetish for a broom or something.
Or was caught red-handed, bleary-eyed and wrung out, after an unspeakable act with a mop.
America, ya gotta love it

#651 Vibrate

So I read an article the other day about lap dances. The scientific discussion purported to demonstrate that the movement of women who were ovulating was enhanced in such a way as to make them more attractive.
Like some vibrating dance of the bees thing that men responded to on some subconscious level.
Researchers kept track of lap dancers and the tips they made. Lap dancers who were ovulating and more fertile made more tips than lap dancers who weren’t. Those actually menstruating earned least of all. Women using birth control pills did lower across the board.
The highest tips earned by ovulating lap dancers were about $70 an hour—more than a teacher but less than a lawyer. From this the scientist involved concluded that attraction is based on movement not pheromones.
It’s not chemistry, it’s dance fever.
Okay, a couple of things.
How did this guy get this grant? This seems like one of those things conservative congressman are always holding up about the misuse of public funds for bizarre research.
Perhaps it was something concocted on the spur of the moment by a science professor caught running up too many topless bar bills on the university credit card.
Um, I’m, yeah... doing research... research on, um, how ovulation enhances procreative attractants by the facilitation of rhythmic and undulating motion through reproductive endocrine cycling. That’s it.
Sure Professor Lounge Lizard, works for me.
I suppose the tough part was getting lap dancers to give up valuable tip time to submit to expensive ovulation testing.
Maybe they just picked up a cheap thermometer.
The other thing is, I don’t get that dancing had anything to do with it. I mean, if it was dancing up on stage 12 feet away maybe the guy would have a couple of points to look at.
But these women were lap dancing. If there’s any place that pheromones would have an effect it would be in the up close and personal environment of a lap dance.
And finally, what’s the point? Returning to the Elvis-inspired admonitions of fifties’ hysterical preachers, thundering to young people that dancing leads to pregnancy?
Maybe those congressman could justify approving this research after all. Does it come with pictures?
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

#650 Verbose

I wrote recently about people who use meaningless phrases to describe things.
A corollary to that are people who use unconscious redundancies to fill space. I’m pretty sure the people have no idea they are doing what they’re doing. It’s as if they have a mental meter that tells them what they are about to say isn’t long enough and they have to throw in some filler to make the sentence look impressive.
Kind of like the produce section manager does with fruit—puts a box underneath to make the bin look full.
Or like when there’s not enough lips and sphincters for a sausage and they add sawdust.
Anyhow, I was at a meeting yesterday and three different people stood up and filled out their sentences with meaningless verbose sawdust.
One person stood up and was announcing her company and she said that they offered services to all commercial businesses.
Pardon me, but what other kinds of businesses are there?
Do not all business engage in commerce of some sort? Are not business and commerce virtually the same thing?
Or, as this lady might have put it, identically the same thing?
The next sawdust saying was from an individual who was praising another individual before he introduced him. The first individual went on for a while about the other guy’s good qualities and then said he would like to introduce his “fellow colleague.”
His fellow businessman perhaps, or his colleague in business. But not his fellow colleague.
Yes, I’d like to introduce a co-worker associate. He’s a real male man.
And the last one was less a redundancy than an over-the-top exaggerated hyperbole. This guy was describing how hard some group had worked and he said they put in “many countless hours.”
Oh yeah.
Many countless hours. Not just many. Not just countless. Many countless. Cause if they’re already countless why they’re that much more, right?
Like, um, double infinity.
Dude, we spent some time on this job, it was like eternity and half.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 26, 2007

#649 Vapid

You gotta wonder why people say certain things. I sometimes think it’s just to fill empty space. Maybe because we’re afraid of silence. So we utter vapid meaningless phrases as if they meant something.
A favorite of the sports crowd when a team is winning is to say, “This team really showed up ready to play.” As in, the Seahawks showed up ready to play.
Well I would hope so.
At about a million a piece a year, I’m just praying that’s enough incentive for a player to show up ready to play. I mean, you know, they play like 20 games or so. Don’t want to show up any other way.
Sorry coach, I’m not ready to play today. Could you call up Monday Night Football and tell them I’m not in the mood. Feeling a little punky you know, my girlfriends broke up with me.
Or this one. Stores use it. Inventory reduction sale. Woohoo. That’s descriptive as hell. Every sale is an inventory reduction sale. Every sale of every item reduces your inventory of items, therefore every sale is an inventory reduction sale.
You might as well say you’re having a “being in business” day. Hey everyone, we’re having an open for business sale and we’re ready to play.
Or this one. I saw it on a book jacket the other day. You know, those little blurbs they put on the cover to entice you to buy and read.
They are always partial quotes lifted from reviewers you never heard of: “Great!” “Awesome!” “A page turner.”
Yep, a page turner.
And what book isn’t? It’s a book for gosh sake—you have to turn the pages. What would these lazy linguists call it if it was a book on tape—a real tape spinner? Or if it was on CD, would it be a real laser tracker?
Tell me something meaningful. Go ahead and say it’s filled with so much suspense you can’t put it down.
If it’s a movie tell me I’ll be on the edge of my seat.
Don’t tell me it’s a real frame advancer.
America, ya gotta love it

Saturday, November 24, 2007

#648 Vent and Dust

A couple of breakthroughs from the world of psychology: Persnickety people don’t get Alzheimer’s, and dwelling on your feelings makes them worse.
First, the Felix and Oscar test. In a study done with 997 priests and nuns, those who originally scored higher on tests for “conscientiousness” were 89% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their less-meticulous peers. These are the people who control impulses, the study said.
Interestingly, autopsies done on those that died during the period of the study showed no decreased incidence of the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s in the Felix types.
The lead scientist proposes that the difference may be in the way persnickety people use their brains, relying more on the frontal areas, which deal with decision-making and planning. This makes them less vulnerable than people who use the lesion-prone more primitive parts of their brains.
Great, as if anal-retentive people weren’t already insufferable enough. Now we have to put up with the fastidious Felixs longer than the more likable befuddled Oscars.
The second science breakthrough involves a study that determined that discussing problems over and over can actually make them worse.
When the psychologist Amanda Rose studied various group-venting sessions of teenage girls, she found that the hours-long conversations were reinforcing depressing feelings, not eliminating them. “The more they talk about it, the more anxious and depressed they feel. Too much talk is too much of a good thing,” she said.
On the face of it, it makes sense. If I trip when I’m running and get some super road rash, it makes sense to go to a doctor to have him clean out the wound of all the gunk and rocks and bacteria and stuff.
It doesn’t make sense to go back every other day and have him reopen the wound and start rummaging around with his swab and scalpel and gouge me out all over again.
Before tomorrow’s research totally contradicts today’s, the lesson here seems to be pretty simple. Vent, and then get over it, possibly by conscientiously and fastidiously keeping your apartment as neat as a pin.
Or, talk less, dust more.
America, ya gotta love it

#647 Vaga-bond

I once wrote that a sure sign something was going out of fashion was that bums were wearing it.
I’d seen a freeway panhandler holding up a sign at an off-ramp who was wearing one of those eight-ball multicolored leather coats. It just screamed for a mullet to top it off.
How depressing, for a designer to see last season’s hit hitting the skids—on skid row.
Well I’m afraid the end has come for another popular chic accessory, because I saw a bum holding one at a freeway off-ramp the other day. It was a stewing dog. Yep, a bum and stewing dog, and really, it was a perfect fit.
A beautiful bond between vagrant and man’s best friend—a vaga-bond.
Just cute enough to evoke feelings of compassion—and hopefully a spare buck or two—and just small enough to be eminently portable. Perched in the top of a knapsack or rucksack, what the Australians call a matilda, the little dog would be a great companion at the billabong or hobo camp.
And in a pinch, well, you know, they don’t call them stewing dogs for nothing.
The term stewing dog, while descriptive, is often replaced with the term “dropkick dog” or even “ratdog” by those larger dog owners who scorn the whole miniature cutesy thing.
But I think it’s more accurate to refer to them as catdog. Because really, the niche they occupy is closer to that of the domestic house cat—without all the attitude.
They are small, they are cheaper to feed, they are carryable and, most importantly, they are cuddly. Something that can’t be said for willful felines who only seem to cuddle when they want too.
Like when they jump up on the kitchen counter and do the catwalk through the food you are preparing, tail held high, airing out their last trip to the litter box.
By far the best thing to be said about stewing dogs is they can’t jump high enough to get up on the kitchen counter and air out their bums.
America, ya gotta love it

#646 Voting Safety

So in the recent elections, our county did pretty well as far as voter turnout, thanks to our great Auditors office. 46% of the registered voters voted. Impressive.
Still, we must remember registered voters are not necessarily all of the potential voters. The number of registered voters in Thurston County is about 134,000. So the number of people that voted and decided on what you and me are going to put up with in the way of crime prevention and school levies and stuff was only about 62,000.
And since most measures and officials were decided with a slight margin that means about 32,000 folks were victorious with their point of view. Therefore, out of a population of 234,000 about 13.5 % made the decision.
Such is voluntary democracy. It’s a lot like a lot of volunteer organizations I’ve been a part of, where 20% of the people do 80% of the work.
There are shepherds and there are sheep. It’s nature’s way.
But as I was perusing the election results on the excellent Thurston County elections website—google Thurston County elections—I noticed one or two interesting things.
First, there are actually elections for Commissioners of Cemetery Districts. I’ve been a voter for years and I don’t remember ever voting for a Commissioner of a Cemetery District.
It must be one of those towards the bottom of the ballot where everyone always seems to run uncontested.
Can’t imagine a heated and contentious race for Cemetery Commissioner, can you? What are the issues? Hole depth? What to use for mole and gopher removal. Giving the staff a ghouls night out?
The ironic thing though, is Cemetery District One—it’s in Grand Mound.
Where else?
The other ironic thing about the election was the measure to reduce the supermajority requirement of school levies. In a levy election, the poor schools have to get 60% of the voter turnout in the last general election to raise a levy.
It’s tough. Almost nothing passes by 60% in our contentious society.
Anyhow, it looks like statewide the measure may be either accepted or rejected. By 51 to 49 percent.
A simple majority.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

#645 Vocation Time

So I was at this vocational job fair the other day. And I found out in no uncertain terms one of nature’s truths.
The young keep getting younger.
Man, young people are young these days.
But I got to hand it to them, they asked some hard questions. And some fun ones. A couple of them asked if I’d ever met anyone famous. I told them I’d met the Shipwreck Beads Pirate and they were pretty impressed.
Then I said I’d met Bob Hope and they said, who’s Bob Hope? Um, I stammered, suddenly befuddled, he was this old comedian that, um, died.
In advertising, we call it top of mind recognition. The Shipwreck Beads Pirate is yarring everyday. Bob Hope was crowded out by Ronald McDonald long ago.
The world has turned.
Like when I met Bob Hope, he was in Los Angeles International Airport. And he was in the loading gate waiting area swinging his trademark golf club.
You can’t bring golf clubs past the security screening area any more. Terrorists you know.
They’re devils with the ancient martial art of golf club swinging, Tai-stick, which involves lots of hooking and slicing with your club.
I’m sure you remember the character Casey, in Teenage Ninja Turtles, who first revealed the art to America.
Back to the job fair and the “have you ever met anybody famous” question. I answered to one polite young lady that I knew the guy who did America Ya Gotta Love It. She was thrilled.
When I revealed that he was also me she was beside herself, then proceeded to ask me if I really did only give out one piece of candy corn on Halloween. Just a joke, I said. I thought so, she replied knowingly.
Truth be told, I was the one who was nearly speechless. I was quite flattered; I had an image you, my target listener, and somehow it didn’t involve high school.
So thanks, in the end there’s only one job at the job fair that mattered. Making it your job to keep asking those hard questions.
Cause when you do, you’re making the world a better place.
America, ya gotta love it

#644 Vinyl Demise

I both love and hate the digital revolution. I love the fact that you can download a whole movie’s worth of data with a single keystroke.
I hate the way it’s degraded music quality.
The record companies are suffering because of illegal downloads but they’re also suffering because many folks just don’t plain care about sound quality.
Face it. An Mp3 is not a complete song. It’s like eating a grape peel. Some of the flavor remains but the juicy pulp is gone.
All the richness, all the variation, all the hours producers put into creating delicate tonal nuance. Gone and compressed, the living breathing body of the music gutted into a soulless corpse of beat and melody.
Yesterday I was at a rehearsal for a gig I’m emceeing with an 18-piece Big Band. The music I was listening to came from the 30s and the 40s but what really struck me was how complex and enjoyable an 18-piece band could be.
How rich and variable and satisfying to the ear. The subtle differences between clarinet and saxophone. How even when the various instruments played the same note the notes had a different texture.
And most importantly, how the ear can pick up those subtle differences.
Then my cellphone rang. And I was reminded of an article I read about digital music, the music industry, and the ubiquity of Mp3s.
As even further proof that most people don’t care about sound quality, one interesting side note in the article was that the biggest growth in music industry revenue is from ringtones.
One executive, when he’s suggesting a record deal, first asks himself if it can sell as a ringtone.
Wow... No wonder the LP has met its vinyl demise.
From Vinyl Album to CD to Mp3 to ringtone. From a fresh homemade burger to a super-sized flavorless value meal.
The tune we dance to in the 21st Century is: We’ll all accept less if we can get more of it.
Why fill your Ipod with rich, textured, full versions of your music?
A pod is, after all, an empty husk.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 19, 2007

#643 Very Warm

So a couple of new stories made me think maybe I can save everyone a lot of money with a simple idea.
The first story had to do with the City of Olympia’s response to global warming. Now before you get all anti-Olympia, hear me out. The City of Lacey has just gone 100% green power. The City of Bellingham won an award for green power restructuring, and people everywhere are putting in compact florescent bulbs to lower their carbon footprint.
Even if there’s no global warming, we all save power and are less dependent on foreign oil. Sounds win win to me.
Not that I don’t believe there’s global warming—there is—and the proof is popping up in my backyard. It’s called the California Golden Poppy.
When I moved here in 1971, there was no such thing. It was a flower of the semi-desert country where I grew up—in Southern California.
You know, where they now have massive wildfires from unusually dry conditions.
My backyard has poppies so thick they’re crowding out the thistle and the yarrow.
Okay, I need to do some weeding.
Suffice to say the Golden Poppy has found a new warmer home here in the great Northwest.
Anyhow, the City of Olympia had a “warming summit” to plan what to do with certain facilities when sea level rises here on the Sound.
Or I guess you could say when the Sound level rises.
I wonder if they’ll measure it in decibels.
Certain buildings, like the new Hands On Children’s Museum, would be at risk.
And then I read a news story that the Port of Olympia is about to dredge and widen the channel for big ships. Hasn’t been dredged in years, they say, and it’s due.
Certain people are up in arms about raking up the muck and destroying habitat and stuff.
That’s when I got my idea to save lots of money.
Here it is¾just wait. In another ten years the channel’s gonna be deeper anyhow.
The rise in Sound level, remember?
You can hear the writing on the wall.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 16, 2007

#642 Variety of Propriety

It’s funny how a little difference in perspective can change everything.
Take eating.
It is now considered appropriate by Emily Post for one to eat chicken with one’s hands at a social gathering. Emily Post, of course, is long dead, but some corporate entity—or possibly Abigail Van Buren’s daughter, is now carrying on her post mortem pronouncements.
Actually, it depends on the chicken. If one were to grab a portion of chicken cordon-bleu and stuff it into one’s mouth, or better yet, rip off a hunk with one’s exposed teeth, many in the etiquette business would quail visibly, go white as a starched sheet, and write a scathing letter in perfect cursive to Martha Stewart.
Cursive is the handwriting one uses when repressing a desire to use swear words. A variation on the frustration geeks felt in the earlier crash-prone days of computers, which ended up in the pointy thing that locked up and indicated a screen freeze being called a cursor.
In any event, manually handling food is not an option beyond certain types of bone-in chicken, like barbecued or fried.
However, the bone itself is not a license to gobble. Turkey legs are etiquettually forbidden, and tearing into a T-Bone it with one’s teeth is discouraged with an upturned nose as well.
Exposed teeth are generally frowned upon in the eating process, while smiling good-naturedly with them when the hostess plops corn-on-the-cob on your plate is okay.
Perhaps the tooth conundrum is at the heart of table manners. It is perfectly appropriate to stick a fork in one’s mouth—if one loads it with food and jams it completely inside. But it is not okay to use a fork to pick one’s teeth.
Arguably, your teeth are in your mouth and any cooties you are getting on your host’s fork are already present, so why you can’t wrestle some gristle loose from your teeth with that same fork is a mystery.
Perhaps I’ll jot a query to Miss Manners. Or perhaps ask my dentist when he has his entire hand in my mouth.
A difference in perspective can change everything.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

#641 Valuable Air

So I was at this meeting where they were talking about trade opportunities with China. One of the opportunities was tourism.
There are like some 50 million people that are expected to tourize the US from China in upcoming years.
One of the big appeals of our country is apparently that we have like, um, clean air. Whoda thunk it? All those tree huggers actually contributed a saleable commodity to our economy—fresh air.
Ecotourism in the US based on something we take for granted and breathe every day. So we need a tourist slogan to market Washington in China. We need a word that captures a clean and pleasing intake of breath.
There is none, so when I say ahhhh, picture taking in a deep and satisfying breath. Now you got it.
So we could say “Washington, Say Ahhhh.”
Or how about, “Washington, Come Breathe with us.”
Or we could highlight our relative emptiness compared to their crowded cities as well. “Washington, Room to Breathe.” I like it.
The other trade opportunity the delegation talked about was manufacturing assembly. In which they make the parts and we put them together.
This helps both economies, as they get the benefit of the money from the parts, it’s cheaper to ship the pieces and we get the benefit of our labor force putting stuff together while we get the parts cheaper than we would have normally.
Which I then left the meeting and put into immediate practice, as I am assembling these toy boxes for my radio station that each have about fifty pieces, with screws and cams and little wooden dowels and allen wrenches and stuff. Very mind numbing, very time consuming, but very cheap.
So I’m doing my little part to encourage world trade and assemble world peace—one piece at a time.
I felt like a college student putting together his first Ikea furniture suite. No sense of accomplishment because I wasn’t really building anything after all, just assembling.
And the biggest thing to show for it a bunch of allen wrench blisters.
But hey, at least we can breathe easier when it’s all done.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#640 Verbal Threesome

Three separate things today.
First, I have to tell this story, even though Halloween is long gone. October 31st, about 6 o’clock Halloween morning, the front doorbell rings. I answer it and there’s this kid on the porch. He has some funky looking beak strapped to his face and what look like wings.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked.
“The early bird!” he replies.
Isn’t that a great story? Too bad I made it up. I wish I had thought of it 18 years ago. I would have dressed up my son and sent him around the neighborhood.
Okay, new thought. I was listening to some birthday list on the radio the other day and they said it was Slash’s birthday. You’ve heard of Slash, from the group Guns and Roses.
I’m always a little impressed by the semi-nonsensical stage names our performers come up with—Sting, Bono, Slash, Cher...
I’m curious if they do that to absolutely preclude their ever running for a political office.
Ladies and Gentleman, may I present President,um, Sting.
Anyhow, I had to wonder about Slash. I’m sure people see the name as a menacing and dark sort of choice. Like slasher flicks and slashing action with a sword. Or slashing the air with a blistering cascade of guitar notes.
What if it really is his name? And his parents were like nerds that named their children after rarely-used characters on the keyboard? There would be Slash and his punctual brother Colon and their friendly older sister Ampersand who always brought people together. And their little sister Tilde with the wavy hair.
I figured it was a pretty fanciful notion and then I looked up some legal documents and it turns out Slash’s last name is Qwerty.
New thought. I don’t know where to go with this but it struck me the other day that those lonely fellows in the coffee shops spend an awful lot of time with their computers.
Touching them and doing key strokes and really embracing their companionship to the exclusion of all others.
And the word Wifi sounds uncomfortably close to the word wife...
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 12, 2007

#639 Juxtaposer

So I pose questions to myself about some things.
Like spiders.
This is the time of year when everywhere you turn you run into a spider web. Is it just the fog that makes us see them better? Or are there really more spiders out there?
If there are, why do they proliferate so much now? Seems to me most of the spider prey insects—mosquitoes and gnats and fruit flies— are really abundant in the spring.
Why, by the way, does gnat have a silent “g” and knot a silent “k”? And if you add a silent k to the word for young headlice “nit” you get something for old people to do, knit.
I once had a house that had a sound-muting ceiling covered with the popcorn stuff some worry may contain asbestos. All I really know is it contained a lot of opportunity for dust and cobwebs, that those tiny cob spiders build.
There is such a thing as a cob spider. It’s related to the black widow, actually, in case you ever want to win a bar bet on crannies of your house that need to be vacuumed.
And how come I never see cobwebs under my corn husk?
I also pose questions to myself about instruments like tongs. Does that make me a juxtaposer?
When they are in a buffet line, we call them tongs. When we are in a medical facility, we call them forceps. Sometimes we just call them pincers.
I’m not sure if the distinction emerges from the power with which the jaws of the pincer/tong/forceps close or what.
Maybe, in fact, it’s just a name based on use thing. If I need to pluck a grape from the fruit bowl or retrieve a stringless teabag I don’t suspect I’d like to ask someone to pass me the forceps.
And when I mount a dead spider in my insect collection box, forceps are far more delicate than tongs.
So why is it for-ceps when there are only two pincers on it?
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 09, 2007

#638 Jillion Germs

So the other day I was in a buffet line. I spend more time than I’d like to in buffet lines.
And not the all-you-can-eat places either; I do it in the service of community and the ultimate god of all things powerful and successful, networking.
In any event, I took some harsh looks from a prissy lady when I plucked a cherry tomato directly from the salad bowl. I replied to her look by gently and forcefully plucking a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl next to it.
Everyone always seems to ignore the grapes in favor of the melon and pineapple in buffet fruit bowls but hey, I feel they’re more than garnish and wine precursors, they should be appreciated as fruit in their own right.
The woman snuffed huffily after I had plucked the grapes and directed her withering glance at the tongs lying unused on the platter.
“Did you know,” I said, “that snuffers and snifflers who have diseases often sneeze into their hands and then use buffet tongs?” I raised my eyebrows mercilessly in what I hoped was a conversation-ending facial punctuation point.
It worked.
It was fun when we reached the end of the line and the coughing guy in front of her, who she was now suddenly aware of, grabbed the big tongs to lift out the barbecued chicken.
Think about it. Isn’t it a lot easier and a lot more hygienic to just grab a roll, than to grab a tong someone else has grabbed to grab a roll? We are dumb with politeness sometimes.
Why would we go to a place and use tongs to save us from catching diseases only to pass the tongs—and jillions of germs—from hand to dirty hand? In the meantime, shaking hands with I don’t know how many people as they come up and network through the line.
I’m surprised every businessperson in town isn’t chronically sick.
Then again, maybe all that germ passing makes them stronger than ever.
And I should be praising the buffet tong as the ultimate immune booster.
America, ya gotta love it

#637 Jumbo Kernel

The other day when I wrote about candy corn. I couldn’t help but wonder if they came from a candy cob of some sort.
I like the word cob. Starts in the throat and ends on the lips with no tonguing in between.
On the cob. Kind of a single use phrase. You don’t say something like, well he’s certainly feeling on the cob today.
But corn cobs themselves have a variety of uses. They once made great pipes when no clay or meerschaum was handy. Granny and her corncob pipe is an American icon.
Cobs were also used as feed for the pigs. Nowadays they use it to enhance ethanol.
And who could forget those tales from our grandparents about using corncobs in the outhouse. Whenever my grandma would see a commercial about “softer” toilet paper, she would huff in derision. All toilet paper was soft to her, compared to using a corncob as a hygiene device. Paper and loofa and brillo pad rolled into one convenient tool of nature.
Kind of turned the call of nature into a “youch.”
I wonder if they used those little corncob holders like they have at thanksgiving tables.
Those two-pronged dealies you poke into either end of the cob so you don’t burn your delicate fingers. We’ve softened a bit since medieval folk grabbed flaming haunches of meat and gulped them down.
Corn on the cob holders. Talk about a single use tool. Although I have employed them as toothpicks if I got a particularly gristly turkey leg.
Corn is great in other ways. It has a husk. Not a lot of our foods have a husk.
I like saying the word husk almost as much as I like saying cob. And you husk the corn of its husk. What a versatile word, that can be both verb and noun in the same sentence.
After you husk the husk and before you lay bare the cob, you must first remove the kernel.
Kernel, another wonderful word.
Husk, kernel, cob. A throaty threesome of rich language.
All from a slightly large piece of grass.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

#636 Joyful Giving

Halloween is the time of year when we institutionalize begging. Or at least give it our cultural complicit consent.
Running the risk of training future bums.
And when some of the big kids come to my door actually dressed as bums, the irony sets my shoe magnets spinning.
I’m always torn as to what to give the little beggars. Especially since some of them appear to be in high school. Candy ain’t cheap. And besides, today’s youth is struggling with an even greater obesity problem than their parents—so is it right to feed this Halloween festival of gluttony?
So I’ve decided to take a stand.
I give out Candy Corn.
Candy Corn has a number of things to recommend it. The individual pieces are small. It’s pure sugar and corn syrup, so its glycemic index is easy to compute for any children whose parents may have them on the Atkins Diet.
And it’s the closest thing to a vegetable offering the candy food family has. It’s always important to have a vegetable. Vegetarian candy eaters can appreciate what I’m saying.
Arguably, Candy Corn would qualify as a candy grain, but as I was growing up, my family always viewed corn as an acceptable vegetable. Especially on the cob.
The other thing I do is to help teach children about moderation and restraint. Lessons often forgotten in the helter-skelter greedy grab for booty most kids surrender to on Halloween.
The opposite of gluttony needs to be presented, so children can embrace its austere beauty.
So I not only give out Candy Corn. I give out one piece of Candy Corn per child. I believe it’s important for someone to take a firm stand in this wild and crazy time.
And I have found, much to my delight, that the children appreciate it. And when it doesn’t rain on Halloween, come All Saint’s Day morning I find they’ve donated acres of fresh toilet paper for me to harvest from my trees and shrubbery.
Last year, after I re-rolled it, I had enough to last me to Mardi Gras.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

#635 Jazzed

I lay awake last night concerned about an article I read.
It was about insomnia.
I once had insomnia so bad I dreamed about it. Nothing worse than dreaming you have insomnia. Dreaming that you’re lying awake really cuts into your rest.
And there is nothing for Freud to interpret. No trains or tunnels or stuff. Just awakeness.
Which wasn’t as bad as this weird dream I had. I didn’t know how to interpret it. I dreamed someone was putting teabags on my eyelids. Very strange, since as far as I know I’ve always been a confirmed coffee drinker.
I must have been asleep during the earlier part of the dream where I got the black eyes that necessitated the application of the teabags.
Maybe it was a dream about aging. Don’t teabags have something to do with wrinkles? Or is that cucumbers?
In any event, this article I read said insomnia doubles your chances of dying of a heart attack. A British scientist determined from a study of 10,000 civil servants that those who sleep five hours a night or less were much more likely to develop cardiovascular problems and die prematurely.
No word whether the midnight oil burners were also smoking cigarettes and dunkin’ donuts in their late night after-the-bars-close 24-restaurant coffee.
Seven to eight hours seems to be the optimum time for the brain and body to go about the process of physiological restitution and recovery.
But too much is too much too.
The study found that people who sleep more than eight hours also die at twice the normal rate.
So the recommendations appear to be: Don’t watch late night TV, it gets your brain all jazzed up. Similarly, unplug all your wires. Electronica inhibits drowsiness, except in my case where staring at the computer mid-afternoon sends me into a complete stupor.
Avoid stimulants. Don’t drink coffee after 3:00 pm. And one teabag is the stimulant equivalent of a half cup of coffee.
One comforting thing about the study; insomnia may double your chance of dying of a heart attack—
But at least you won’t die in your sleep...
America, ya gotta love it

#634 Jeremiad

Here’s my tale of woe. I don’t go to church because of my nose.
I know that seems like a weird reason, but when has reason had anything to do with church.
I don’t go because I can’t stand the smell. Oh, empty churches are moderately tolerable. Quite a few times I’ve gone into them to vote.
That’s one of the things I miss most about the new Washington vote entirely by mail experience. I don’t get to go into empty churches.
Empty churches have the musty smell you get from parishioners exuding the sweat of damnation and then having it dry out. And they have the smell that isn’t there, unlike most public places, where someone at one time or another has—there’s no easy way to say it—passed gas.
Passing gas leaves a residual “human” smell. Churches never seem to have it.
Although you would figure the great creator, since he fashioned all manner of human orifices and expulsions, would find the flatulence experience not particular blasphemous.
No more, I would say, than the matronly women that slather on the perfume before their visits to the house of the Lord. That’s another thing I’m not really sure of. Why they think God would be the least bit impressed with the latest eau-de-whatever.
I’m sure not.
I, for one, think there ought to be “perfume free” sections in restaurants. The whiff of some of these lady’s perfumes totally puts my nose and taste buds out of whack and destroys my dining experience.
And the cloud these women leave behind seems to linger for hours. A lady came into the station the other day and it about bowled me over. When she left, this floral miasma seemed to cling to every crack and cranny in the furniture.
The lady, I’m sure, hadn’t a clue. People adjust to things and, unless someone tells them, have no idea when they’re pouring it on too thick.
But when I walk into a church, it’s there like a poisonous fog.
To paraphrase a great and troubled songwriter, smells like middle-age spirit.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 02, 2007

#633 Jaunty Exec

Oh, the law of unintended consequences. What an interesting time it is when the world catches up to the best of intentions.
Recently I was glad when it was more or less decided that the City of Olympia was going to put its new city hall downtown. There was talk for a while that the new facility would be on Port property, pretty much right next to the sewage treatment plant.
Sorry, it’s not a good idea to put a governmental organization next to a sewage treatment plant.
If only because we’d never hear the end of jokes about excrementally bad judgment and hot air and every lower bodily function you can come up with to refer to government.
But like most things it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I still remember the corporate sigh of despair from the diet candy maker whose product for losing weight rapidly was called Ayds.
Talk about a downer.
One minute you have products in every drugstore and a great ad campaign and the next moment the public decides it doesn’t like spelling out H.I.V. all the time and the term “Aids” settles into the language as the way to refer to a devastating disease.
And then there were all the executive types. Used to be you could be called a Manager and you felt pretty special. Then you had to be called a President, or possibly an Executive Vice President. After that, you really weren’t anybody until you were called a CEO, a Chief Executive Officer.
Then people became Directors. Next step, Executive Director.
Finally, you had arrived. Your climb to the top of the top was rewarded with the title of Executive Director. The abbreviation ED fairly glistened on the brass plaque on your desk.
You had personalized license plates put on your Corvette convertible and your new $40,000 Harley, with the letters ED proclaiming to one and all your status in life.
And then the law of unintended consequences kicked in. The letters ED suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
Viagra came out.
Now, for some reason, whenever you ride your Harley, people snicker...
America, ya gotta love it

#632 Just Desserts

I worry sometimes that we are starting to neglect the basics in education. Maybe those hours youngsters used to sit parked in front of Sesame Street didn’t give them the cautionary morality of the classics.
A lot of the old fables and stories had a moral. A point, if you will, to instill in young folks the idea that something was either good or bad behavior and would likely have a consequence.
The three little pigs story is a good example. The pig that made his house of sticks had it blown down, the pig that made his house of brick is still pigging away, hoove-ing his snout at the big bad wolf.
I know, I know, wolves got a bad rap. Just cause they didn’t kowtow to that whole domestic thing like their piggy contemporaries, they have to be the bad guy in the story. The pigs, fattened up and destined for slaughter at the hands of the moral makers, are the “good” guys.
Anyhow, what brought this to mind was an event I took part in by a local chamber recently that was themed “The Midas Touch.” Everyone was supposed to wear gold and it was a big festive event. But it got me thinking.
The Midas touch was actually a bad thing.
These days we say it’s good. That Bill Gates, he’s got the Midas touch. Midas touch with stocks? That would be Warren Buffett. But the fable had ol’ Midas coming to a bad end.
He loved gold; he did everything in his power to acquire gold. He craved it so much he made some deal with the devil or a river sprite or something so that everything he touched turned to gold. He was delirious with pleasure.
And then he realized—his food turned to gold, his wine turned to gold and... You get the picture. Pretty soon he starved to death. His solid gold Devil’s-food cake inedible. What you would call just desserts.
So why am I thinking a certain muffler company founder didn’t read his Aesop’s tales...
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

#631 Joints and Crannies

Isn’t it odd how so many English words that refer to small things or places start with the letters CR?
You got your crack, which I think may have started it all. It goes all the way up to crevice and crevasse, which is essentially a big crack in a bigger thing, but still small by comparison to what it’s cracking.
Then you got your cranny, as in nooks and crannies. Which to me always sounds like a breakfast cereal or an Agatha Christie novel. Christie sounds like a CR small thing. And she did write mysteries know as cozies.
Then you got crooks. As in the crook of your elbow and also crooks and crannies. Or even the crook of granny’s elbow.
Then you got the feeling that comes from being in a tight place. Cramp.
As in, I feel cramped, not I feel cramps, although if cramps double you over, your whole body is suddenly like a crook in your elbow as your face moves towards your, you guessed it, crotch.
A crotch of wood is where two pieces join together tight. It closes the crack.
So, does craziness come from a cracked mind? People who are “crabby” certainly act as if they have a cramped mind. Or maybe their tiny cranium holds a brain with fewer creases than the many-folded cerebrums of normal people.
Tight places can cause mental problems—and physical too. I remember my parents keeping me in a crib way too long and it would drive me crazy when I got a crick in my neck.
I also remember crawling under the covers when my dad would have to fix the metal hinges on the overgrown cradle with a crimper.
Crimping my crib made me cringe.
And talk about narrow points of view. My grandmother would never crochet because she was too crotchety about my mom always telling her it was the perfect hobby for older folks.
Then she’d get out her butter crock and we’d have high tea from her meager menu of cranberries, crullers, and crumpets.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

#630 Junk Food

A long time a go, I’m pretty sure it was the eighties, they came out with chocolate-covered granola bars.
Granola bars were the australopithicus of today’s energy bars—primitive, but loaded with the supposedly healthy ingredients necessary to set us firmly on the road to walking upright.
They were supposed to be the alternative to candy bars. Even then, America was obsessing about junk food and still managing to find ways to get ever more obese.
I remember looking at the two healthy alternatives to Coke and candy bars and thinking, wow, Snapple and granola bars; this has got to be good for us all. Then I remember looking more closely and determining that Snapple, by using the simple expedient of labeling a bottle as two servings instead of one, masked the fact that it contained more sugar per ounce than Pepsi, 7up, or Coke.
And that the short story about the granola bars was they had just as much fat and, yes, sugar as did Snickers, Milky Way and the ever favorite O’Henry. I ranted in my stand-up comedy routine that a granola bar might as well be labeled Snickers.
Two steps forward, two steps back.
Snapple evolved into energy drinks and granola bars evolved into energy bars. Partly because it takes a lot of energy to move around all the extra bulk they’ve added to our collective cultural frame in the last 20 years.
And partly because “energy” is the new buzz-word.
Surprise; caffeine and sugar give you energy.
So when I heard an ad on the radio about the new Snickers “energy” bar I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was really just a matter of changing the packaging. And where you find it. Because the ad told us to look for it in the “energy bar aisle.”
We have arrived friend. Our supermarkets now devote a whole aisle designation to the energy bar category. And energy drinks as well.
But regardless of what they say, energy drinks are pretty much just un-carbonated pop or super-caffeinated pop. They ain’t healthy to gulp down.
That’s just a gulp fiction.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, October 29, 2007

#629 Jacked Up Vibe

I was driving behind a Pontiac “Vibe” the other day and I thought, does anyone actually say the word “vibe” anymore? And naming a car after the word?
It’s like when adults try to be hip to teenagers.
Hey young man. um, word up, or is it cowboy up, anyhow, you young fellers look mighty, um, bad, with those grill-thingies on your teeth. Yo. I’m think I’m going to pimp my Vibe. Do I use some forties? Are those the big wheels you hip cats are always knocking back?
You know what I mean. Kids always look at adults like that with that unnerving penetrating totally cold stare.
At least so I’m told.
I suppose a Vibe is better than an El Camino though. One of my good friends characterized the El Camino as the mullet of cars.
I like that. Broadening the mullet into an actual taste category. Kind of raises the white trash thing to true cultural status. Could inspire a TV show. Yeah, The Three Mullet-teers.
They could roam around the badly-paved backstreets, the sections of town that still lack sidewalks and have lots of junkyards and repo lots, and fight crime and stuff. And they’d be driving their festively-primered, jacked-up-in-the-rear-end El Camino.
They’re jacked up to prevent littering fines, you know. All the empty beer cans roll toward the front instead of out the tailgate net.
Cars do seem to be cultural reads on the people driving them these days. An extension, one supposes of their personality.
I read some conservative columnist the other day bemoaning some other person’s bumper sticker. The bumper sticker could have been taken two ways but the columnist assumed the reading of it was liberal because the person was driving a Prius.
Apparently Prius-es can only be owned by tree-hugger types.
Wow. Cars are politics.
Funny, in that same business publication was a big article on how to reap the benefits of “green” building.
Finally, the building industry had found way to embrace environmentalism. Cause green is the color of money...
Now that’s a good vibe...
America, ya gotta love it

#628 Judgment from your Lips

The effects of lead poisoning are pernicious. In America we’ve tried to eliminate lead from our daily lives.
We’ve forgone the convenience of lead toothpaste tubes that used to stay rolled up, we’ve abolished lead paint in children’s toys, more or less, and we’ve employed vast resources to remediate lead-based paint in the workplace.
Lead has been blamed for destroying the Roman Empire, whose innovation of lead pipes helped quench the thirst of its masses and apparently cause mental problems while it did so. Nero’s violin-ing may have been facilitated by lead poisoning.
In children, lead exposure can cause retardation and behavioral problems. Excess lead exposure in adults causes impairments in attention and executive function, short-term memory loss, confusion and fatigue. Typically, it does not affect language centers in the brain.
Impulsive, forgetful, confused, and talkative. Hmm.
So what a surprise recently when it was revealed that the most popular brands of lipstick contain lead.
Gee, I don’t suppose it’s a good idea to be constantly applying lead to the opening of your mouth, do you?
Not unless you want to go crazy.
Confusion, fatigue, impairment in judgment. Hey, sounds like hysteria—a great male doctor word that attributes all aberrant female behavior to the hysters, as in hysterectomy, as in ovaries. The implication being having ovaries (translation: being female) is responsible for craziness.
And all the time it was lipstick.
The lipstick makers poo poo the whole thing, this isn’t new news, they intone, it’s just trace amounts.
Sounds like the way they used to minimize the devastating effects of the first birth control pills. Women could suffer and die from “side effects”¾no problem¾as long as men got what they wanted.
And when men couldn’t, medical science would throw all its resources into inventing Viagra for them.
I know one thing. Just about every woman I’ve ever known that uses lipstick, uses it a lot. Applying and reapplying all day long.
Trace amounts add up. Like water from a lead pipe.
You mean we’ve been driving women crazy with make-up?
Holy Roman Empire Batman!!
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, October 25, 2007

#627 Juvenile Genius

So I read this interesting article the other day.
Turns out smart parents are making their children dumber.
Well, only the lazy well-intentioned ones.
We all know keeping up with kids and technology is the greatest problem today’s parents face. Next to hunger, world peace and global warming, of course.
That and time. Unfortunately, many two-income earning households don’t have the time their old-fashioned one-income parents did. Children often don’t get the one-on-one attention that really makes them thrive.
So it’s no wonder today’s parents try some technological shortcuts.
And hey, kids like technology, right? This is the society that feels like it has to technologize everything. Even the hallowed Barbie now doubles as an Mp3 player. That’s right, in case your kid gets tired of pretending to be the ultimate jet set consumer with frozen ankles, she can turn her doll into a audio device. No word whether she comes with earphones and a neck harness.
But it’s another example of the same problem. The power of active imagination compared to passive entertainment.
Like the “smart” kid DVDs. Parents spent hundreds of millions of dollars last year on videos like Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein, in the fond hope that the simple pictures and lessons about music, math and vocabulary would stimulate the babies’ brains and set them on the fast track to the ivy league.
University of Washington researches say it doesn’t work.
It’s like empty calories for the mind.
Not only that, it makes their minds worse. For every daily hour a child spent watching these videos the child understood an average of seven fewer words than babies who just played and interacted with older children or adults.
Interacting with the world is how babies learn. With blocks and toys and people. Babies watching videos just zone out.
Perhaps dreaming of the day when they can have their own remote.
Passively watching videos does to babies what it does to middle-aged adults after a big dinner.
Puts them in la-la land.
Might as well just crack open a beer for em while your at it.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

#626 Joint Appeal

Recently the CEO’s of companies like DuPont and General Electric practically begged Lawmakers to strictly regulate carbon emissions.
In a separate but somewhat related plea, the CEO of Wal-Mart and the leader of the Service Employees international Union jointly appealed for some form of Universal Health Care.
This is big news in a city where there are ten drug company lobbyists for every lawmaker.
And amazing when you consider not long ago anyone who mentioned global warming was contemptuously dismissed as a tree hugger and universal health care was the most spectacularly derailed initiative of the First Clinton Administration.
Has business suddenly gone all squishy-soft and liberal? Nope, they’re doing what they’ve always done—looking at the bottom line.
The more we learn about global warming the more business sees that if it goes unchecked, the economy at large will be devastated. Rising sea levels alone will have a huge impact on coastal cities, which also happen to be massive centers of commerce and trade.
And health care. Health care costs continue to rise, up 25% in just the last few years, and businesses and unions can no longer afford to provide coverage and still reap in the profits.
Universal insurance, where everyone is in the pool and the cost of the risk gets spread more evenly, makes dollars and sense with a capital S. Uninsured people have gone over the tipping point, but still place huge demands on the healthcare system, so we all end up paying for it anyhow.
It’s grown like a cancer into a cumbersome and far more inefficient system than any bureaucracy.
So CEOs are saying enough is enough, lawmakers. Quit rattling the bugaboos of “socialized medicine” and “scientists are wrong about the human effect of global warming” and get something done.
Will they? Probably not. Preventing fires takes political will and vision. Using long term thinking to clear out the underbrush. Not just waiting and then trying to put out the short-term fire after it’s blazing.
Because there’s nothing glorious and vote-getting about rototillers and bulldozers. But a nice new fire engine...
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

#625 Jeans and Genetics

Ah, fashion.
I was reading an article about some town in the south that was banning sagging trousers. Seems the powers that be had finally gotten sick of young men belting their capacious trousers around their knees, with possibly objectionable exposure, and were gosh darnit going to find a legislative solution.
That’ll just make it worse. The sag, while amazingly persistent to this point, is going to fade like acid-washed parachute pants.
Because they look ridiculous? No.
Because the young men are going to get tired living life with essentially no hands, because one is holding up their pants and one is holding their cellphone or adjusting their Ipod? No.
People are amazingly tolerant of discomfort if it’s a fashion statement. Look at pointy-toed high heels; the American woman’s answer to Chinese foot-binding.
Or the tight OP shorts from the seventies. Men wore the heck out of those, even though a hot day would often create a possibly illegal exposure situation too. OP shorts were not tasteful for men who wore boxers.
We are, myself included, crazy when it comes to fashion. Because it’s sexual plumage. Protest all you will about classic styles and practical this-and-that, it all comes down to displaying your personality through your clothes.
And that’s all about the mating ritual. Propagation of the species. Plumage.
And fortunately for the fashion industry, we are, unlike animals, not stuck with what we’re born with in the way of plumage.
We can acid wash it and we can distress it. We can brighten it to a rainbow of neon, or dull it to a muted palette of earth tones. We can Goth-black it or dress in a plain white sack and say we’re swearing off sex altogether. Any way you shake it we’re proclaiming our mate-ability.
Are we hip? Sex in a zip.
Are we boring? Sex then snoring.
Are we steady and reliable and conforming? Sex probably won’t happen in the morning.
Are we clever with accessorizing? Um, break out the toys.
Sagging jeans will fade, but sex genes? Fashion makes them permanent.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, October 22, 2007

#624 Just Obvious

I seem to be cursed with a sense of the obvious. Parts of my mind immediately jump to the retrospectively obvious conclusion. I say retrospectively because not everyone sees it as obvious, including me, until my twisted brain points it out.
Take this little news snippet. If China’s growth continues at its current pace, their consumer market will be the world’s second largest by 2015.
They already eat 32 percent of the world’s rice, use 47 percent of the cement, and smoke one out of every three cigarettes.
My first thought was, not for long. That kind of smoking ought to get their population to taper off real soon.
Or the other day I was driving behind a Dodge Ram.
I’m bopping along like I sometimes do, listening to music and unconsciously singing and muttering and I hear myself saying over and over: Which is it? Which is it?
So I ask: Why am I saying “which is it?”
I figure my subconscious is trying to tell me something, so I look around and finally focus on the vehicle in front of me with the competing logos that say Dodge and Ram.
And I see what my subconscious is saying. Which is it? Dodge or Ram, dodge or ram? Are you avoiding it or are you meeting it head on? Dodge... or ram?
The really sad thing is, I never saw something so completely obvious before. And my subconscious is twisted too.
The next day I’m driving downtown and they’ve put up a new one of those banners over State Street that tell people things they need to do like avoid bicyclists and steward salmon and stuff.
This sign says, “Help prevent flooding, rake a drain.” And I think, that’s a commendable enterprise.
Then I read the bottom of the banner and it says, “Public Works, Working for You.”
And my brain screams out, Not this time. If I rake a drain, I’m working for You.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, October 19, 2007

#623 Justice Beet

What is it about beets? People seem to hate ‘em.
They are almost always found in disproportionate numbers in donation bags for food drives. Worse even than canned peas.
So why is that? And more importantly, why do the people buy the beets in the first place?
Maybe they came with the place. A can so forlorn it was left behind by the last homeowners or renters. So, why did they buy the beets to start with.
I was reading a story recently about super vegetables and I expected to see beets and finally have a reason to open up that can that’s been sitting in my pantry for a decade. But no, I didn’t see a listing, though I should have.
Because they’re purple.
And because red, blue, and purple foods are now thought to be “superfoods” with an newly-identified cancer killing compound called anthocyanin.
It’s supposedly one powerful anti-oxidant.
The foods listed were eggplant, red cabbage, elderberries, bilberries, purple corn and chokeberries. Those are some scary-sounding foods.
The last time I saw purple corn I was on a trip that I don’t want to remember. And bilberries? What the heck is a bilberry? Sounds like a hickie someone named Monica gives.
And please, oh please, never try to feed me something called a chokeberry. Basic rule of survival, never eat things containing the word choke.
In lab tests with human cancer cells, anthocyanins halted the growth of tumors and killed 20 percent of their cells. Rats fed anthocyanin had 60 to 70 percent fewer tumors from colon cancer than those with regular rat chow.
Wow, they have rat chow now, Purina hits the lab market.
So you would think they would have at least mentioned beets in this article. But no. Forlorn and forgotten by science too.
I think the beet industry needs a new ad agency. The beet council or something.
It worked for milk. Modified cow sweat is now on every table in America.
Could Joe Normal resist the appeal? I can see slogan now: Don’t Turnip your nose, you can “Beet” cancer.
America, ya gotta love it