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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

#622 Java the Hut

Ah Modern times. Not a day goes by some factoid doesn’t skitter across my desk like a rat on too many espressos.
I heard the other day that McDonalds is going to be carrying lattes. That’s right, the fifth horseman of the apocalypse has ridden down commercial lane. McDonalds is carrying fancy espresso drinks.
Guess they won’t be calling Starbucks the McDonalds of coffee anymore.
Seems Mickey Ds introduction of premium coffee last year was a resounding success. Finally, parents can take their whining kids in for a happy meal and a quick slide down the play area tubes, and sit back and enjoy a fine latte while they chat with friends on their cell while they do so.
Every echo-boomers dream, a cellphone, a latte, and buying the kids off with a happy meal. They didn’t make quality time like this in the 70s.
Now if only Pizza Hut would do it. They could call it Java the Hut.
And speaking of kids and how important they are, seems school education has taken a back seat to school vacation. Even though educational experts say hugely positive things about year-round school, America continues to hold on to its farm roots by kicking the kids to the curb every summer to fend for their intellectual selves.
Even while other countries surpass us in math, sciences, and technology.
Well, here’s another reason for our apparent obliviousness. It’s for commerce. Under pressure from the tourism industry, 11 states now require, that’s right, require, public school boards to start school no earlier than late August or early September.
Tourism interests say when schools open their doors in early August it discourages family vacations and reduces the student workforce in restaurants and resorts.
Wait a minute. Student workers aren’t on vacation anyway—they’re working—and they’d be going back to work at their school towns. Which would then have more part time workers at night.
And heck, with baseball season getting later and later and football earlier and earlier, I’d think the pizza delivery biz would need all that after-school help.
And who’s going to make lattes at college-town McDonalds?
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

#621 Joining Words

The other day was a slow news day. Not enough blood emerging from war, gang activities or Unabomber types.
So all the news outlets had stories about hyphens. Or rather, the removal of same.
The world is aghast—bumblebee is now one word!
Apparently, the Oxford English dictionary, the final noumpere of all things English, has decided to remove the hyphens from a number of words.
Yes, the innocence of these young compound words is finally lost. They are old enough and with enough usage to be de-hyphenated.
Removing the hyphen is apparently a fairly painless process. Oxford just does it. Oh, they claim it’s the people who do it already. The word email, for instance, used to be hyphenated, but the public refused to accept it as such.
Oxford blames the laziness of typing types. Seems emailers and others are too lazy to reach all the way up to the next row on the keyboard to tap a hyphen. Nestled up there, as it is, between the zero and the equals sign, why it might as well be a distant parking place at a health club.
Huh. I for one was remarking to myself the other day, as I went to various websites and typed in the @ sign for the jillinoth time, that that top rank left pinky finger key is seeing more use than ever in the 21st century.
The hyphen is too—when people make those handcrafted emoticons—the colon for the eyes, the close parenthesis thingie for the smiling mouth and, yes, the hyphen for the nose.
The hyphen makes a better sideways smiley-face nose, apparently, than it does a bridge between words that are not quite compound and not quite separate.
There are 16,000 words Oxford altered one way or the other. Ice cream is now two words, no hyphen, as is pot belly, test tube, and fig leaf.
Well yeah, I haven’t send a fig leaf hyphenated since Adam.
Words that became one are crybaby, logjam, and bumblebee.
I don’t ever remember hyphenating bumblebee.
Which may be why it’s become the buzz-word of this whole deal.
America, ya gotta love it

#620 Join the 21st

I think we are not entirely comfortable with the 21st century and the computer age. The vicissitudes of spam, email, and all things computerese cause daily flights and plummets of consternation.
I once spoke to a room full of people in which half of them were over 60. When someone told me he didn’t get an email I had sent, I remarked in a deadpan voice that it was probably because they didn’t deliver email on holidays. Just about everyone over sixty bought it.
I have a friend who had problems with his email. Or possibly his server, he wasn’t entirely sure. So he emailed himself to check it.
We thought that process was best described by the word email-sturbation.
Ultimately is can cause problems of its own. It can make the images in your monitor fade. Worse, if you use a PDA, it could make your palm pilot get hairy.
But one of the biggest threats facing the computer world is a disproportionate number of boys, as opposed to girls, buy computer video games.
The industry is worried.
Young girls make up a huge proportion of the whining-till-parents-buy-it consumer base. If the videogame industry could somehow capitalize on that...
There’s an online game now much favored by little girls that seems to be close. It’s about penguins or something.
The key appears to be that there’s a social aspect with other players. And apparently it also teaches little girls to shop.
Let’s hold on to those cultural stereotypes—fashion and shopping, the two biggest educational tools to prepare one for international diplomacy and scientific research.
Not that most shoot-em-up video games for boys are any better. Somehow racing around streets in stolen autos and rolling ladies of the evening is not what I would want for social training either. And the attempt to sweep girls in, with that one ill-conceived video game really wasn’t good at all. What was it called? Oh yeah, Grand Theft Rainbow Pony. I’m glad that idea didn’t fly.
Stealing and riding sparkly rainbow ponies while you blew away cops was far worse than a trip to the penguin equivalent of the Gap.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, October 15, 2007

#619 Jointed

I have a few disjointed observations today.
Is the opposite of disjointed, jointed?
He gave a disjointed presentation. He gave a jointed presentation? His thoughts were totally disjointed. His thoughts were totally jointed?
Makes sense I guess, but it doesn’t seem to work like being overwhelmed and, say, underwhelmed. I like the people who aren’t extremely impressed one way or the other—they’re just whelmed.
One thing that whelmed me recently was the ceiling fans in an old Catholic church in Spokane. I had been worrying at one point over the best direction a ceiling fan must go to push air down. This church I was in was about three stories tall in its nave, or possibly its narthex, I was never very good with medieval Catholic architecture. In any event, the fans were turning counterclockwise, from the perspective of me looking up at them.
I figure that solves the problem. If a huge room in hot Spokane has the fans turning that way, and if it has been decided by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which according to many, are the direct representatives of God on earth, then it’s good enough for me.
The only big building hot air specialists I would defer to more would be, um, congress.
Speaking of congress, or the potential thereof, I drove by this old hotel the other day and they had a sign out saying they were “Under New Management.” Right underneath that, it said “Karaoke.”
After some looking around, I figured they were sharing their sign with the restaurant lounge next door but my first thought was, cool. There’s a great new incentive to rent a room—built-in karaoke.
I’ve seen home karaoke parties that were lots of fun. Maybe this could be a new hotel amenity.
“Look honey, they got Magic Fingers in the bed, wall-mounted TV screen, Coffee Host plugged into the bathroom wall, and a well-stocked karaoke machine. I can sing hunka hunka burning love and we can get the ceiling fans spinning—if you know what I mean.
Hey, don’t look so whelmed...”
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, October 12, 2007

#618 Jittery Scan

Interesting news from the world of medicine. Seems a lady was left inside a CT scanner for hours.
The technician, apparently, went home.
This lady went to an oncology clinic in Tucson and was put in a CT scanner. What they sometimes call a CAT scan.
Which is no reason she should have been treated like cat litter.
Now understand, I am not the kind of person who likes being locked up in a tube, so this story really, really, fills me with horror.
After the technician placed her in the machine, he dimmed the lights and told her not to move for 25 minutes.
I am now twitching and jittery with imaginary torture.
I’ve got restless leg, arm, shoulder, and chest syndromes. Lay still for 25 minutes? Forget it. My CAT scan would look like one of those blurry, artsy-fartsy, fast motion photographs.
Besides, there’s nothing in the world that makes me itch behind my neck or on my face than to be told not to move my arms.
Anyhow, after a certain point, the lady felt like too much time had passed, but guess what, there’s no timer inside a CT scanner to let you know when you’re done.
Fancy that, a million dollar machine that doesn’t even have the simple technology of a tanning bed.
The 67-year-old lady called out, then screamed, then spent several hours trying to free herself from the machine. She finally managed to get sweated up enough to wriggle free.
Kind of a born again experience, I’m guessing.
She then called 911.
A physician who worked at the place said it wasn’t the first time this had happened and acted like it was no big deal.
I’m thinking if the lady died of an escape-from-the-CAT-Scanner-heart-attack his oncology clinic would be in hot water. Then again, maybe her not dying of cancer would improve his success statistic ratios.
I’m also thinking some rudimentary customer service training may be in order. Or at least one of those little checklists posted to the employee exit when they’re closing the clinic for the night.
Let’s see, lights... alarm... people in scanner...
America, ya gotta love it

#617 Jilt E-Management

A friend of mine had an unfortunate experience an internet acquaintance. One of those “Symphony-dot-com” things.
Or “Matchbox-Lonely.”
Anyhow, the guy presented himself as something other than what he was, and only after a bit of emotional commitment, some evasion, and then some detective work, was my friend able to determine that the guy was a fraud and a schmuck.
Fortunately, he lived across the country, so no incredibly bad social embarrassment resulted. I mean, the plus side of an e-jerk is he’s not like a guy you actually met in the flesh, fell for his line, and ended up trashing your name in the community before you found out he was seeing you on the side and happily married and stuff.
E-motional mistakes hurt, but really, the computer has got to be a little bit of a buffer.
Call me primitive, but I couldn’t get totally and completely emotional if I’ve never had the physical. If I don’t have that first kiss to test the waters, all the other stuff is just so much synchronized swimming without the pool.
So not long after, I chanced to walk by an internet café. Every table had only one person. The patrons all had their laptops open. It didn’t take much to imagine that they were engaged in some sort of e-hopefulness with a potential lover on the internet.
Not wanting to be hurt, they’d be cautious.
“Where are you from?”
“Um, the Northwest.”
“What do you like to do?”
“I like to go to internet cafes.”
“Me too.”
“Yeah, it’s nice to get out and be with live people.”
“Yeah, live people are cool.”
“What do you like to drink?”
“I like a double tall, with whip.”
“Me too, and room...”
And so on. The twist, of course, is that the whole thing could be happening with their potential e-lover sitting two tables down.
And they’d never know it.
A room full of prospective lovers, all of them sucked into the internet, and ignoring the real live people around them.
Who says technology doesn’t improve life?
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

#616 Query

The other day, I saw this article about Microsoft. Apparently, Microsoft Office 2007 is incompatible with its own Outlook Express.
But only in its spellchecker.
Because if you have Microsoft Office 2007 installed and use the spellchecker in Outlook Express it will only recognize French words.
Ordinary English words are tough, but you’re okay with avenue and boulevard and cul-de-sac. No word if the bug affects Microsoft Streets and Trips.
The article I read this in was one of those question and answer deals and the questioner said the spellchecker wouldn’t recognize words like “you” and “then” and “the.” He was in a real dither about it, or possibly a tizzy, it’s hard sometimes to distinguish, but my first thought was, if you’re having problems spelling “you” and “the” maybe a spellchecker is the least of your problems—in any language.
Our language borrows a lot from the French. Even in our hallowed all American game of baseball.
The other day I was listening to a news story about an umpire and I said to myself: Umpire. That’s a weird word. Umpire. It doesn’t sound like it comes from anything.
I mean, usually the suffix “pire” comes after something like a breathing word—inspire, expire, respire. Do umpires have something to do with the life and breath of baseball? Nope. Umpire barked out its first exclamation as a French word.
I put in a query to etymology dot com and found out the following. Umpire came from the word noumpere. Which meant non-par or unequal. Unequal as in odd man.
It had a legal sense, the odd man who broke the tie and settled a dispute. An arbitrator.
It drifted over to England way back when, where an arbitrator was sometimes called “a noumpere.”
Because of something called faulty separation, “a noumpere” degenerated into “an oumpere” which brightened, since English folk like longer vowels, into umpire.
And then shortened, since we hate spelling long words, into ump.
From arbitrator to ump. No wonder its hard to create English compatible spellcheckers.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

#615 Qualitative Analysis

Every now and then, I read a magazine called “The Week.” It’s a great summation of the week’s events told from the perspective of news snippets from other publications of every political persuasion, left, right, and indifferent.
Although I’m usually a little wary of snippet news analysis, thinking that there are, after all, some things that should be dealt with in depth, it’s still a great read.
Like this report they made about snippets themselves. Sound byte that is.
They point out that in 1968 the average length of a politician’s sound byte on television was 42 seconds. Today it is only eight.
I’m guessing TV watchers don’t vote on issues. Or at least issues spoken of at length by candidates.
The flip side of that, and the scary one, is that political advisors relentlessly coach their candidates to craft and guard each and every phrase they utter so it can’t be taken out of context and rendered into damaging fodder by the opposition. No wonder politicians seem to speak like party line automatons.
It’s like you can only find out what a politician really wants in a bathroom.
Which, by the way, is not far off either.
Speaking of in-depth analysis from a little snippet, recently researches analyzed a single teaspoon of wastewater from a sewage plant and determined what, and in what quantities, the people in the community were using in the way of drugs.
That’s right, a community urinalysis.
Is this a great country or what?
Officials then conducted similar tests in 10 cities and determined that there’s some serious, um, “stuff” going down people’s pipes.
(They were going for 11 cities but one of them had a brownout during the analysis.)
Some nuggets of discovery: Ecstasy and cocaine use went up on weekends while meth and prescription drug use stayed steady. Meth was used across the board in all the cities; cocaine was more prevalent in wealthier cities.
Scary that they can do that.
Personally, I feel invaded by this government cheekiness. What’s next? Are cities now going to install receptors just downstream of your sewer outlet?
Follow the toilet paper trail to big load of crack cocaine?
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, October 08, 2007

#614 Quotha

I was listening to a rock song the other day. Actually I was listening to a rock song that a big corporation bought the rights to so it could use it as a jingle for its business.
The song was “Taking care of Business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive.
I’m always confused on them. Were they the group with Jeff Lynne, future member of the Traveling Wilburys, or was that Electric Light Orchestra? BTO or ELO? I always get those initial groups confused.
Anyhow, I kind of wonder if Office Depot ever looked at the lyrics to the song “Taking Care of Business.”
Because, you know, it’s really not about taking care of business; it’s about slacking off.
Being lazy.
There’s the big repeated line in it that says, “I love to work at nothing all day.” Kind of a dead giveaway—even if you only listen to the chorus.
The first verse of the song talks about the stresses of going to work and then says, “If you ever get annoyed, look at me I’m self employed, I love to work at nothing all day.”
Then it proceeds to call working at nothing all day quote “taking care of business” unquote.
Get it? It’s like the lead singer plants his microphone in the holder and makes air quote marks every time he sings “taking care of business”.
If you know what I mean...
The next verse says “it’s the work that we avoid and we’re all self employed, we love to work at nothing all day” And on and on.
Comment here. First off, I’ve known a lot of self employed people, and they work harder than your average wage slave.
BTO doesn’t really get that, they’re too busy extolling the virtues of indolent slack-off rock star self-indulgence. But hey, you expect that from rock stars.
What you don’t expect is high-powered corporate marketing executives, known for their cutthroat business acumen, famous for reading between the lines of complex deals, forgetting or neglecting to read, um, the actual lines themselves. Of a song.
Not exactly taking care of business.
If you know what I mean...
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, October 05, 2007

#613 Questionable Data

Was a time, in this great country of ours, when the federal government led the way in basic research, and we got some pretty good stuff out of it.
Oh sure, there was the occasional million-dollar crescent wrench ordered by the army, but for the most part the independence from profit seeking kept drug safety and scientific analysis more theory driven and less market driven.
Government has its place. And perhaps one of those places is to protect the innocent. But with drug companies supplying all the scientific data...
I read a couple of stories recently that got me a little scared. One was about the drug Paxil. Turns out the drug company GlaxoSmithKline suppressed data that could have caused harm—to their pocketbooks.
As a result of a lawsuit by former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, that data is now available on the internet. It shows that children taking Paxil are twice as likely to have thoughts of suicide as those taking a placebo.
I’ve read a lot about this placebo drug. It’s versatile. And it’s almost as good as every other drug out there they compare it to. But for some reason I never see it in the stores.
Anyhow, unarmed with this data, doctors were prescribing Paxil willy-nilly to young folks in an apparent attempt to smooth the roiling waters of youth.
And what a surprise that a drug that was an antidepressant in adults encouraged suicidal thinking in kids.
Suicide, the ultimate antidepression.
This is the same medical community that gave us Ritalin, an amphetamine-like stimulant (also known as speed) to slow kids down.
I don’t know at whom I am madder. The drug companies for clouding data and pushing the stuff anyway, or the doctors for listening to them and putting kids at risk.
Because a lot of the blame is in the diagnoses.
Like this fact: we are, according to some doctors, experiencing a bi-polar epidemic. Between 1994 and 2003, the number of children diagnosed with bi-polar disorder jumped 4000 percent. No, that’s not a misspeak—4000 percent.
Hard to believe, except most of the kids are treated with, um, drugs—including anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, stimulants, and, yes, antidepressants.
Why am I suddenly feeling so depressed?
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, October 04, 2007

#612 Quick and Dead

So I moved into my new house.
It has been a study in accommodations.
A funny English word—accommodations. It can mean where you are staying, as in, the accommodations provided by the hotel were excellent.
Or it can mean how you are having to change, as in, I had to make accommodations for the stiffness of the mattress at the hotel.
A word that means both staying and changing.
Hmm. Sounds like a relationship.
In the course of moving in, I acquired my first pet at my new accommodations. His name is Sam.
Or was.
I am sorry to report Sam is now dead.
Sam was a fly. In the larger scheme of things, the lifespan of a fly is somewhat short. You’re lucky to get a couple of weeks out of ‘em.
So as pets go, it’s good to guard your heart. Don’t get too involved. I’ve been joking the last couple of days that Sam is on his last 6 legs and, at a fortnight, was well on his way to dipteral octogenarianism.
But I was still a little sad this morning when I looked at the kitchen window and saw him inert and lifeless in the sill. We didn’t share much Sam and I, but it was special.
He wouldn’t bother me as I raced around the house, cleaning this and repairing that, but when I’d finally sit down at the end of a long day of repairs, he’d buzz around me a couple of times and settle on my forehead for a lick of dried sweat.
As if to say, “Good job Funny Guy, see, the sweat of your brow sustains others.”
I developed no such relationship with the spider I killed the previous morning. Although, in respect for all things great and small, I congratulated him on living a good life as a spider and wished him a better place on the wheel on his return.
Who knows? Maybe my complement helped upgrade him to a beetle in his next reincarnation.
I hope the best for Sam as well.
Being a fly may not be hard, but he was the best damn fly I’ve ever called friend.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

#611 Quietus Solution

The big buzz word these days is actually two words: Carbon footprint. Ever since “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, folks left and right have been making a big fuss about going green and lowering their personal and business “carbon footprint”.
Corporations are purchasing green power. Municipal fleets are running on biodiesel. And every effort is being made to reduce carbon emissions and use renewable non-polluting products and energy.
Every little bit helps.
When people scoff at global warming I say, “So? If it isn’t happening, it’s still a good idea to do all of the above. We’ll run out of oil eventually, why not start to develop non-oil alternatives now?”
Better than being caught with our industrial age pants down.
So personally, one of the things I do to reduce my carbon footprint is to not walk through the ashes in my barbeque. If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on and crushed a briquette on the carpet you know what I mean.
Man. That’s one tough carbon footprint to reduce.
The other thing I’m doing is figuring out how to dispose of me when I’m gone. I’d like to be as eco-friendly in death as I have been in life, but the usual alternatives aren’t so good.
Like the problem India is having with traditional funeral pyres burning up to 1,000 pounds of wood and rendering 1 ton of carbon dioxide per person.
If I got cremated locally, I’d probably contribute no more to the atmospheric carbon load that a week’s worth of dinners at the teriyaki place, but still.
Every little bit hurts.
I could be buried, I suppose, but again, with all the urban overcrowding, it seems a selfish waste to have an eternal plot of prime real estate that could be used farming soybeans or something.
So I finally figured out what to do when I die.
Compost me.
Dig out my mercury fillings, rinse out my innards and throw me in the municipal compost bin. Stir in some leaves, banana peels, and rotten salad and let nature take its renewable course.
Talk about going green.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

#610 Quiet Eternal Rest

So the other day I’m driving by a cemetery. I had just come from one of those new urban density housing developments.
And I was struck by a revelation.
We’re having to pack people together more when they’re alive because we’re running out of room. How about when people are dead?
That old plot may just be taking up too much valuable real estate. Especially since cemeteries were once on the edge of towns and now the towns have grown up to surround them.
It had me worried. Then, as I kept driving I happened by this huge golf course. Green lawns as far as the eye could see.
And not a tombstone on ‘em.
I’m thinking maybe there’s a solution lurking near the surface of this one. The words “grass roots campaign” and “groundswell of public opinion” come to mind.
Or maybe even a new type of monumental hazard for a golf course.
But at least we have it better than the Hindus. Apparently, the traditional Hindu send off to the next life is with a funeral pyre. Word has it the demand for funeral pyres is deforesting India.
Yes, India still has forests.
It turns out burning a deceased individual in the traditional Hindu manner uses up about 600 to 1,000 pounds of wood. With 8 million Hindus jumping off the wheel a year that translates into 50 million trees annually.
That in turn means 500,000 tons of ashes to haul and 8 million tons of carbon dioxide. One ton of carbon dioxide per person.
As if global warning wasn’t bad enough, what with automobiles and cow flatulence, now we got to worry about burning Hindus too.
The Indian government actually offers environmentally friendly gas-powered crematoriums but only the poorest pass the torch that way. Most observant Hindus insist on wood.
Wouldn’t you, if your religion called for a special type of burial?
Before you scoff at the Hindus, remember that the Catholic management has been fighting birth control for centuries. And the population explosion is behind a lot of problems, from poverty to smog to global warming to urban overcrowding.
To, um, lack of space to bury people in the ground.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, October 01, 2007

#609 Queasy Latte

There was once a concoction that emerged from necessity. The necessity arose from the unfortunate fact that meat spoils.
Back in the days before refrigeration, meat spoiled more frequently and so various methods were devised to keep meat edible longer. Sausages and sausage-like things from chorizo to haggis were rendered by different world cultures as a way of preserving precious protein for a time when game was not in abundance.
Various spices and whatnot were added to disguise the flavor of nearly-turned meat. Vinegars, wines and distilled spirits contributed their dual effect of preserving and disinfecting. Strong spices like nutmeg, clove, mace and cinnamon, were particularly effective in masking “off” flavors.
I don’t know about you, but I can always tell. If the meat has gone over, no amount of cinnamon is going to disguise that wannabe liver taste from my palate.
One these mixtures began to include fruit and nuts. Then they added molasses. Today’s recipes for it often include finely chopped venison or beef sirloin, sometimes even ground beef.
It’s not necessary, by the way, to let the meat spoil first.
Other ingredients include raisins, chopped apple, fresh citrus peel, currants ,candied fruit, citron, brandy, rum, and if meat is absent, suet.
Ah suet, nothing like a nice layering of greasy animal fat to enhance any dish.
The concoction is then aged to deepen flavors—as if the meat wasn’t old enough to begin with.
So here’s the deal as I get it. You got your spoiled or spoiling meat, you add everything you can think of in the pantry, including apparently, old fruitcake.
Then you serve it up for the holidays. Maybe even in a pie.
What is this great culinary workaround?
And bonus, today’s mincemeat usually contains no meat.
What got me going on this was a sign I saw at an espresso stand. It was offering mincemeat lattes.
Eeyew. They may be totally vegetarian, but really. The idea of lattes associated in any way with the word meat...
“Here you go, sir, here’s your meat latte. Do you need room with that—for gravy?”
America, ya gotta love it

#608 Qunch

One thing that amazes me about the moving process is how flexible the body can be. I must have crushed my hands about five times this go around.
Something about moving furniture and boxes seems to make the hands more vulnerable to squishing. But they don’t really crunch, and they don’t really squish. They qunch.
Like the through-the-door qunch. You know what I mean. You’re straining with a piece of furniture and focusing all of your attention on just keeping it up. You neglect to notice that the size of the furniture is such that as you go through the door there is not enough room for the sharp edge of the couch you’re holding, the width of your hand, and extra space.
So the back of your hand qunches into the door jamb.
Your hand is suddenly suffering from DD—Davenport Demolition. Or possibly ASS—Acute Sofa Soreness.
This usually occurs when you are doing that final heave-ho to get it over a step and through, so significant momentum is applied to the bones of your hand as it is crushed.
You carry on with the large piece of furniture¾you have no choice, you have to hold up your end of the moving transaction¾but you are certain from the pain that it’s likely your entire set of exposed knuckles are scratched and bleeding, possibly festooned with large, dangling flaps of skin.
When you’ve finally set the furniture down, you sneak a look at your hand and are amazed. There is no bruise and no blood. You walk away and think, wow, the body sure is resilient.
You feel cocky, like only the cocky who have dodged the bullet can feel. The old guy’s still tough, you think.
The next morning you grab your glass off the nightstand and it falls to the floor. You can’t close your hand without excruciating pain.
And that day you’re scheduled to attend an event where you’ll be meeting a lot of new people.
Uh oh.
Forever after you’ll be branded as the guy with the wimpy handshake.
So you write this essay about qunching...
America, ya gotta love it

#607 Quasi-Moved

So I haven’t written for a week. I’ve been moving.
It’s been kind of weird, because instead of moving to a new place I’m moving back in to a place I lived in before. And I lived there for about ten years.
That means some things are different and some things are the same. My body keeps wanting to remember things and reality hasn’t entirely caught up.
When I lived in this place before, I had a clock on a certain area of a certain wall. So now, whenever I want to check the time, I automatically check that spot on the wall.
The funny thing is, in the last place I moved to, and hadn’t lived in for the previous ten years because I was in the house I just now moved back to, I had the same clock on a wall over there and went through the same automatic habitual checking thing.
Maybe it’s time to throw away the clock. If only because I won’t have to write another confusing sentence like that last one.
But it’s interesting what the body remembers. I find I can wander around in the dark just fine and still be able to find the light switches exactly where they are. Some of the light switches are in banks of three too.
And I can pick out the right switch in the bank without checking.
Kinesthetic memory, I think they call it. It kind of amazes me. Your body remembers. I’ve been typing for 40 years and I still hunt and peck.
But light switches in the dark? No problem.
One trick to remember when you’re moving around in the dark right after you moved. Watch out for random boxes. My light switch hands may be downright clairvoyant but my bruised shins are blind as can be.
Then again, I find myself circling around certain areas because a piece of furniture used to be there.
My shins totally remember the occasional table that occasionally had an edge like a knife. Or the ottoman that occupied its own empire in the family room.
Shin-esthetic memory I think they call that.
For things that don’t go bump in the night.
America, ya gotta love it

#606 Quality Communication

So I have this friend. He has all the latest technological gear. PDA blackberry thingies. One of his thingies has voice-activated stuff on it. It can access his email and read it aloud to him.
That’s right, it reads his email.
I suppose there will come a time in my life where it becomes important to be out driving and have to check my email so urgently I need to have it read out loud to me.
Although with some of the spam I get, I’m guessing it would be wise on such occasion to not have the proverbial preacher’s wife as a passenger.
Some of this spam is pretty graphic. I’m guessing she’d be less than interested in drugs that my increase the size of my, um, portfolio. A larger and better performing portfolio is the dream of every aging yuppie in America but there’s a time and a place for everything.
And the thing to remember with any wonder stock is, there’s always going to be a correction...and a downturn.
So anyhow, having my PDA read me my spam could be problematic.
My friend’s phone also has voice-activated texting. That means you can tell it to text and it will transform your spoken words into a text message.
It will also read texting that someone else sent you aloud.
So let’s see. You pick up your phone, tell it you want to text. You say a message aloud then tell it to send the message to another person.
The other person hears his phone ring, sees it’s a text and tells his phone to read the text aloud. He hears your message and replies in kind.
Okay, I think I got it. You have your voice transformed into the written word by incredibly expensive-to-develop software on a pretty darn expensive piece of hardware. You send your message to another person’s expensive hardware where his expensive software decodes it and reads the written message out loud to him.
Not only that, it reads it out loud in a cold, impersonal, inflectionless, easy-to-misunderstand computer voice.
Who says technology doesn’t make communication better?
Just calling someone and talking sounds so...primitive.
America, ya gotta love it

#605 Quaint Saints

It’s interesting going to a foreign country for a wedding.
Well, it wasn’t actually a foreign country, it was Spokane, Washington.
I kept expecting everything to be red. Cause people talk about Spokane being in the heart of the red side of the state.
That red and blue thing is funny. As near as I can tell, most democrats—normally represented by blue—are not particularly depressed. And most republicans—represented by the color red—are probably not entirely happy being spattered with the same color they once flung against Commies.
Calling a republican red was once tantamount to saying his mother wore army boots.
Which I saw a little of in Spokane. It was kind of odd there.
Spokane is a big city but it’s still a farm town. And farmers are, well, practical.
The Catholic Church we went to, St. Aloysius, showed some of that in its décor. It had all kinds of graven images in it that my protestant predecessors would have roundly condemned, but they were all different shapes and sizes.
In one section, oversized cupid angel thingies dwarfed a full-figured statue of Jesus. It was all unsymmetrical and disproportionate and stuff.
Pretty as the idols were, the mis-sizing made them look as if they’d been acquired at some two-for-one Catholic flea market; as if a bunch of parishes closed up and had a rummage sale or something. Maybe a big statue of the Virgin Mary with a “you haul it, you got it” sign draped around her neck.
A quaint and practical décor solution. And hey, a deal’s a deal.
The wedding itself began on a bad note when the priest led it off with the standard Catholic injunction against divorce (“what god put together let no man tear asunder”) then sat down and listened to the first bible verse reading—from the bride’s divorced mother. Oops. I guess they should have gone over that one in rehearsal.
To cap it all off, as we drove out of town, we saw this sign at a mattress place. It said, “Wedding gift? Diamonds may be forever, but you can’t consummate a marriage on one.”
Did I mention farmers are practical?
America, ya gotta love it

#604 Quirky Gift of Love

I spent a recent weekend driving back and forth to Spokane.
Or is that driving back to and forth from Spokane?
In any event, it was a lovely drive, made more so because I was with a lovely woman.
We went to a wedding and, as my girlfriend put it, it was odd to see it from an adult perspective. I mean, you go at it yourself when you’re young a few times, then your friends do it, and then suddenly it’s your friends’ kids who are doing it.
You look at their faces, so full of hope and stuff, so you skip the wise negative advice and offer best wishes instead. Their whole life is opening in front of them. Why slam the door shut early?
It starts with the wedding gift opening. Which opens the question of small appliance storage issues—like which amount of tiny apartment counter space do you allow which small appliance to occupy?
Then there are the small appliance exchange issues—how many salad shooters is it prudent to keep, how many should you take back? No, you can’t take back that one, Aunt Enid will be hurt.
Or quarrels over other odd gifts: Yes, that hand-crocheted afghan is ugly, but Aunt Myrtle wore her arthritic knuckles to the bulbous bone over it. We have to leave it out in case she visits.
Stuff like that. Inconsequential in the larger scheme of life, but the kind of things that strengthen the sinews of a marriage, help it knit together through the scar tissues of conflict.
Of course with today’s wedding registries many of these duplications are avoided, but there’s still the maverick relative out there who’s going to get what he wants to get, dadgummit, and the youngsters had damn well better get used to it. There’s a rebel in every crowd.
Or sometimes just a crazy Uncle.
Odd thing is, I had that guy in my first marriage and I still use the socket wrench set he gave as a gift today.
He was unable not to offer advice to me. With this leering grin on his face, he whispered in my ear, “Good tools last.”
America, ya gotta love it