Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#920 I See Roads

The relatively large snowfall in the Olympia region lately has led me to assess the efficacy of recent “traffic grant” toys installed by the various road departments.
I’m really happy about the Washington State D.O.T. road cams. You can go online and look at the road conditions at about anywhere along the I-5 corridor. I was able to see there was no snow in Tacoma the other day when there was 4 inches in Olympia. So since I had to go to Tacoma, I bulled through to Dupont, then it was clear sailing.
But while I was bulling through, I noticed a couple of things. First, traffic lights need to be set slower when it snows. By the time one skidder gets traction and gets going, the guy behind him has to hurry too much to make the light.
Which led me inexorably to my second first hand observation: Traffic islands suck. I suppose they don’t suck when they save people but they sucked for me personally when one of my first cornering attempts went out of control. I slid around a right turn and ended up straddling the narrow curb-thick traffic island meant to delineate the left turn lane of the street I was turning into.
I couldn’t back up so I straddled it for a hundred feet hoping like heck I wasn’t ripping something out of my undercarriage.
Speaking of under. Those pedestrian lights they embed in the pavement like a YouTube video? Cants see ‘em under four inches of snow.
And you know those stanchions that the pedestrians have to walk between to set off the lighted pavement crosswalk? The electric eyes in them are too sensitive. One where I live also flashes an upright sign. And the falling snow kept interrupting the beam of the electric eye and setting the damn thing off like a strobe.
It was so distracting I didn’t pace myself into the last of our recent great traffic improvements—the roundabout.
Or as I like to call it, the skating rink.
I’ll never see the expression “why don’t you take this baby for a spin?” quite the same again...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

#919 Land Parts

Lately it seems like all the local news stories are like a 3rd grade class on basic geography. Here in the great northwest we have it all. Like mountains, some of them volcanoes, some of which have craters and domes. And lakes, rivers, and most importantly, the Puget Sound.
“What is a sound?” visitors ask me.
“What have you heard?” I ask innocently.
Eventually I reel off the dictionary definition: a] a long broad inlet of the ocean generally parallel to the coast, or b] a long passage of water connecting two larger bodies (as a sea with the ocean) or separating a mainland and an island.
It’s also the air bladder of a fish.
Lately, we’ve heard about a couple of more exotic land parts in our local news—the Estuary and the Isthmus. The estuary stories are about reconverting Capitol Lake to its original riverine status. Way back when, before south sound sewers and such, we used to let everything run down and out the chutes of the Deschutes River and wash into the sound.
The tidal ebb and flow brought lots of interesting smells to the noses of the legislators up on the hill and the lovely reflection of the capitol dome we now have was a sodden, fetid, mud flat. The shifting patterns of the river’s outflow braided the mud pools bubbling with cholera, typhus, and lazily swimming brown trout.
An estuary.
The estuary flowed past that other piece of geography we’ve been hearing misnamed a lot. The isthmus. Because as one local dignitary pointed out, nothing can flow through an isthmus. An isthmus is by definition an unbroken narrow stretch of land that connects two larger landmasses.
When the river and the tide flowed, that area in Olympia was a peninsula.
And it still is, as only a mechanical lock inhibits the flow.
I think some folks just like to challenge us radio people with the word isthmus. You can’t seem to say it without affecting a lisp.
The trick is to leave out the TH sound altogether. So if you spell it phonetically you could say, quite seasonably, that it’s beginning to look a lot like is-mus.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

#918 Taint So Pure

The other day I was joking to a friend that they’ve finally solved the product problems they’ve been having in China. They’re now glazing their toys with melamine and thickening their milk with lead.
Okay, not so funny, but then I read this headline in a science magazine. “FDA tackles tainted drugs from China”
What? Drugs from China?
I read it fully expecting to see some expose about pesticides affecting the opium crop or something. Nope.
We import all sorts of pharmaceuticals from China.
That’s right. Drugs to fight illness and stuff. And the FDA is having to fight with the Chinese government so they’ll allow us to inspect their drug making facilities.
Incredible. I mean, the FDA in this country puts drug companies through such a vigorous colon-twisting it leaves them uncertain which orifice to poop out of. But we let un-inspected drugs in from China? Drugs we swallow and stuff?
And we can’t just say, “let us inspect them or we won’t buy them”? You can bet American drug factories are inspected at least as often as Armour meat-packing facilities.
And really, does it do any good to put the major drug developers through 10 years of clinical trials to determine if incremental doses will cause the ever popular bloating and diarrhea, if we then turn around and let people ingest a jolt of poison from a foreign factory?
Hey, I’m all for globalization. I like foreign cars. I love a plump summer squash from Chile in the middle of the winter. I’ll even go so far as to say I enjoy an occasional French fry.
But pharmaceuticals from a land so lacking in oversight that they allowed melamine to be added to their own baby formula?
So my next question, can you clearly see “Made in China” on your prescription label? Or only on the pharmacist’s giant jar?
Good news, though. Between 2002 and 2007 the FDA inspected 80 drug plants in China. Bad news. There are 714.
That we know of.
Who knows if some back yard apothecary isn’t cooking up a batch of Viagra next to where he’s melting down computer motherboards.
Lead in your pencil anyone?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

#917 Body Condo

There used to be this notion that the human body was kind of like a house. It was occupied by the brain and various other organs but they were all connected with the unique DNA of their family. A lovely American nuclear family metaphor.
Well it turns out the body is more like an apartment house, or maybe a group of condos. Everyone co-exists under the same architecture. To some extent we have to pay attention to the CCRs and Head of the Condo association or the Apartment manager. But we’re not all members of the same family.
That’s evident when you look in our gut. All sorts of species swim around down there. Most of them bacterial to be sure, but lots of our body processes take part on that cellular level. So, down in the laundry room it’s hard to tell the workers and condo residents from the guys who came in off the street to use the coin-op.
E-coli, fungus and yeast thrive in the warm moistness of our body condo. Even mitochondria, those little workhorses that do so much inside every cell, have distinct DNA lineages from the rest of the cell. Kind of like loyal family retainers or perhaps domestic pets.
Fetch my slippers, Mitochondria.
A recent transplant success lends credence to the theory we are sometimes a whole dwelling and sometimes a sum of our apartments.
Usually when you get a transplanted organ you have to take a whole array of immunosuppressive drugs or your body will send all its killer T-cells after the invading tissue. But in a recent transplant, the recipient also got a bone marrow transplant from the same donor. And the immune response was avoided.
So by having new bone marrow, new T-cells were made and added to the condo body’s security force. These T-cells could speak the same language as the new immigrant kidney in apartment 2-P. They could also speak the same language as the rest of the residents, and everybody just found a way to get along for the common good.
Peace and harmony and micro-cellular condo parties.
Tell the Super we need more beer fermented by the brothers of the yeast in our gut.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#916 Urine Trouble

Sometimes modern medicine doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going. Or whether you are. Because apparently, in their pursuit of the perfect colon, they are killing our kidneys.
Here’s the story. The FDA has announced it is going to require “black box” warnings on certain bowel cleansers prescribed by doctors for use by people preparatory to a colonoscopy. It turns out that in some cases, people who have used these bowel cleaners have suffered acute phosphate nephropathy.
Which is a fancy way of saying it damages your kidneys.
The bowel cleansers are known as oral sodium phosphate products or OSPs.
Urinary dysfunction expert, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said though the injuries were rare, "In some cases, these serious adverse events occurred in patients with no pre-existing health factors that would have put them at risk for developing kidney injury."
We cannot rule out, however, that some of these patients were dehydrated prior to ingestion of OSP products or they did not drink sufficient fluids after ingesting OSP products." Woodcock said in a statement.
So they’re hedging their bets. User error could have been a factor. Things are bad when you screw up a laxative. A whole new definition of pathetic. In this case, nephropathetic.
The FDA is saying that none of these products is bad when used in the lower laxative dose. The over-the-counter one I myself was instructed to use in my colonoscopy adventure, Fleet—which I still think is a good name for a fast acting laxative—was only a risk when used in the heightened dose used for bowel cleansing.
Bowel Cleansing. Sounds so gentle.
It’s not.
Bowel Explosion is more like it.
So it’s nice to know while I’m getting my bowel squeaky clean to save the Doc any unsettling close-ups of fecal matter, my kidneys are being destroyed.
“Well, Mr. Farmer, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is you’ll have to come in for dialysis twice a week.
“The good new is, no polyps. Your bowel is as clean as a sausage casing.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#915 Nuts to You

So science has proved it indisputably. There is nothing as beneficial as a handful of nuts. A handful of nuts can promote dietary health. A handful of nuts can ease metabolic syndrome.
And ultimately, a handful of nuts can make you feel good.
Who would have thought that the answer to a dieter’s dilemma is to reach out and grab a handful of nuts?
Here are the facts. A Spanish group did a study to determine whether the anecdotally reported effects of the Mediterranean diet could be improved. The Mediterranean diet consists of lots of cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, moderate consumption of fish and alcohol, and a low intake of dairy, meats, and sweets.
Dairy, meats, and sweets is the, um, American diet.
The Mediterranean diet all by itself lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a broad description for a group of health problems that includes abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high glucose—the quadruple whammy that leads to a quadruple bypass.
The study started with the Mediterranean diet and then enhanced use of different things by three groups. One was put on a low fat diet. One was given an extra liter of olive oil a week. And the other was encouraged to add 30 grams per day of mixed nuts to their diet.
No group lost weight. The olive oil group did better than the low fat Bluto diet, but the group that fared best was of the ones who really ended up loving their nuts. Because after one year the prevalence of metabolic syndrome dropped by 13.7 percent in the nutty group.
I’m inclined to believe the study, although Spain is one of the world’s largest exporters of nuts.
But 30 grams of nuts a day? That’s almost 11,000 grams a year. That’s some serious nut-grabbing. It’s like 11 of those giant nut jugs from Costco.
But hey, what a great Christmas idea. Give the gift of health to the ones you love. A big nut basket!
They’ll know you love them, because each and every day for the whole new year they can enjoy a handful of nuts.
America, ya gotta love it.

#914 TV Downer

A recent study concluded that the unhappier you are the more TV you’re likely to watch. That’s too bad. But true, because the more TV I watch the unhappier I get.
The study showed that people surveyed who view themselves as happy only watch 19 hours of TV a week while those who said they are unhappy watched 25 hours a week.
The other 6 hours must be the nightly news.
Does the extra 6 hours cause the depression? Or do people think that 6 extra hours helps them combat depression, loneliness, melancholy and isolation? Like, maybe 6 extra hours of Barney and Sponge Bob could help?
Maybe it’s the extra hours eating junk food in front of the tube and then getting depressed over putting on the extra pounds.
I can only conclude that the mild malaise I feel every day must be super happiness, as I watch TV a grand total of 8 hours a week.
But as we head into the economic depression, psychological depression becomes ever more important. Some thinkers predict this depression will be hard to see. All those iconic pictures we remember from the Great Depression of the 30s won’t happen. There won’t be crowds at ball games like the last depression because ball games cost too much these days. There won’t be long lines at soup kitchens because you can use food stamps at the ordinary supermarket. And other things they didn’t have in the 30s, like unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare will help.
But what will most likely still happen is people will find ways to eat cheaper and be entertained for less. The dollar menu at fast food places will be getting a thorough going over. And the cheapest entertainment will be the TV.
So the pictures of this economic depression will feature cellphone snapshots of people sitting in front of the TV eating junkfood. Getting more psychological depression as their watching time heads over the 26-hour mark.
Funny. I have pictures in my head of this exact thing. But it’s from sitcoms of 20 somethings going through their useless years.
Fast food, TV, sitting around doing nothing.
Is this a depression or NFL Sunday?
America, ya gotta love it.

#913 Only the Hits

They say that language says a lot about a culture, and can even influence that culture. I think our language predisposes us to violence.
I had this idea the other day when I was watching an ATM line grow. By the time people would finally arrive at the machine, they were so agitated they would be hitting the buttons. I remembered the old admonition of some computers to “strike key when ready.” They were ready to strike it all right.
I thought how many people would be relieved if I went along the line with a WiFi ATM scanner and sold them cash for a 10 percent premium. Scalping cash, I thought. What a concept.
And then I reflected on the whole notion of providing something for an exaggerated price being called scalping. A pretty vivid and gory image for a pocketbook transaction. And violent. To equate paying a little extra with having the top flap of skin on your head brutally sliced and ripped off seems a little extreme.
Ripped off. There’s another one. You’re not just wronged in a transaction. You’re ripped off.
Money’s bad enough. It’s worse when we talk about love. How about when you flirt with someone? You’re “hitting” on them. Why is attempting to make love to someone described as a violent act? He said she was hitting on him. Is hitting on a person a more negative version of flirting with someone?
I’ve heard it used so. But I’ve heard it used by Generation Text as a giggly fun sort of thing too. Still, the description remains one that conjures up violence.
Maybe you’re only hitting on someone if you run into them at a club.
And when that relationship that began with someone hitting on someone doesn’t take hold what do we say then? We say they didn’t hit it off. “Yeah, she was hitting on him but they didn’t hit it off.”
Perhaps it was because they didn’t like the same music. She was into indie rock and he liked only the hits.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

#912 Towed Whet

I’m sure there’s a discussion on this online somewhere. There are no new ideas under the sun. It’s remarkable what a versatile and confusing language we have.
Like the phrase “w(h)et your appetite.”
Because my brain doesn’t go out of its way to complexify things, I always thought the wet in w(h)et your appetite was spelled w-e-t. I figured it was like wet your whistle. You can’t whistle if your mouth is dry, so preparatory to emitting a toot, one licks one’s lips.
Thereby wetting one’s whistle.
Recently I saw it spelled w-h-e-t, as in sharpen. And that made a lot more sense appetite-wise. Of course you whet your appetite with a wine. It’s not that the wine is wet, it’s that the wine helps sharpen your taste.
My bad. Dull thinking. I need to whet my brain.
But recently I saw someone spell the phrase “to(w)ed the line” t-o-w-e-d- and not t-o-e-d. It seems to change the meaning completely.
I had first heard it used in what I assumed to be a description of a person following the rules. Make sure you toe the line or we’ll discipline you. Toe the line would be like keeping your toe on the starting line in a race. Toe the mark as it were. Stay within established boundaries and rules.
Maybe I took it from my kindergarten days when I was warned to color within the lines.
But this writer used the phrase differently, and used the base word t-o-w-, as in pull. It was in the context of every one pulling together. We’re aren’t going to make it if we don’t all tow the line. Now instead of a piece of advice about being a rule-following conformist it was an admonition to be a part of a team.
It could certainly be confusing to a foreigner trying to learn our language. Because broadly, they both mean to work together for the common good. Following the rules of society helps us all work together and working together helps ease the frictions in society that lead to rule-breaking and conflict.
So I guess it doesn’t matter how you spell it. Either way it’s a great feat.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

#911, WWW Ohio

Years back, when I was a wee lad, my parents would often pull my leg. I don’t think they had any sicker a sense of humor than anyone else, there is just something unfortunately gratifying about pulling the wool over the eyes of the innocent and trusting.
Witness Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.
In any event, my parents told me a story about how my mother hadn’t actually been born in the United States. “Wait a minute,” I had replied, for at four I knew where she was from, “she was born in Ohio.”
“But it wasn’t a state then,” they replied and went off smirking to each other.
A few years later, we revisited the subject after I had missed an important question on a school test about Ohio being the 17th state. I had been confident Ohio couldn’t be the 17th as Louisiana was the 18th and it was admitted in 1812.
After all, my parents were my parents; they had to be smarter than dumb old teachers.
My parents explained that the teachers were indeed dumb in this instance, as a paperwork snafu of some sort had rendered Ohio’s earlier claim to statehood invalid and it was retroactively made a state in 1953, thereby making my mother, who was born in the “territory” of Ohio in 1930, a non-native born American.
Or at least on par with someone from Puerto Rico or Guam.
My teacher remained unconvinced and I suffered the blight on my grade and “permanent record.”
And this is why I thank Google and the World Wide Web. Some 50 years later I am finally able to put this conflict to rest. I Googled in “Ohio Statehood mistake” and there it was.
My parents were right—sort of. A bill to retroactively admit Ohio was introduced to Congress in 1953. One interpretation of the protocol surrounding Ohio’s first admission to statehood did cast doubt on it. Other saw it as no problem. And since various presidents—required by the constitution to be born in the United States—were in fact born in Ohio between 1803 and 1953, the tendency was to let sleeping dogs lie.
And now, thanks to Google, so can I.
After I email the link to that teacher.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

#910 Cupness

The first question my first philosophy professor (a cool guy named Kevin O'Neil) ever asked was, “What is a cup?” He was talking about Platonic ideal forms, the way we seem to know what a cup is whether it’s a mug full of coffee or a small plastic glass full of juice or a weighted tippy-sippy container for a toddler.
He called the ideal, “cupness.”
Somehow we perceive “cupness” in all those various permutations. Plato postulated that sense of “cupness” came from perceiving in our subconscious an ideal world beyond our own, which contained perfect forms of all we come to know here on earth. Sort of.
It’s lucky Plato didn’t have to deal with the whims of today’s marketers. Because cups are more varied than ever. I was reading an ad the other day for a machine called the Keurig Personal Brewer. Sounds German and therefore well designed.
Keurig, Krupp, Touareg, Braun, farfegnugen.
In any event, this machine purports to make ideal “perfect” cups—of coffee. It does so in individual amounts. So if you’re having a coffee klatch, allow enough time for everyone’s coffee to be brewed. And keep ‘em rotating because each cup it brews is only 8 ounces.
Which is the ideal measuring cup cup. But try putting that amount in the big handled mug cups I use for coffee and 8 ounces looks pretty paltry. My morning mug of coffee actually measures out to 11 ounces. Nearly a cup and a half. But I still call it my morning cup of coffee.
You might say my ideal morning cup of coffee.
I’d have to use 2 Keurigs a morning. My Folgers coffee can is different. It promises 332 cups brewed from its can. But they are 6 ounce cups. So that means I get 166 of my mugs.
The Keurig individual “perfect” cups cost 30 dollars for sixty of them. That’s only 50 cents apiece, but with Folgers costing 10 dollars for 166 cups or 6 cents a piece, I get a lot more buzz for the buck.
6 versus 50.
I guess we can finally answer that other ancient philosophical question.
What price perfection?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#909 Techno-fogie

Some things change, some things stay the same. And the thing that seems to stay the same is human nature. You can put lipstick on a pig but you can’t cast pearls before it, or something like that.
We complain about the cellphone these days and it’s misdirected. Cellphones aren’t rude to people, people are rude to people.
I envision some person in the old west driving his wagon in the wagon train and annoying the holy hell out of the person behind him. Getting stuck in sand and holding up the train because he was talking to his wife in the back of the wagon on two empty cans and a string and failing to see what’s ahead of him on the road.
Flash forward a century and a half and that guy’s descendent is chatting merrily on her cellphone while she cuts you off in the fast lane.
I know I sound like a crotchety old techno-fogie but sometimes I think technological improvements just make it easier for us to be nasty to each other.
Junkmail stuffed mailboxes led to a spam-choked inmail boxes. And aside from the occasional anthrax terrorist, we never had to worry about getting a virus from opening regular snail-mail.
And I never had to worry about a company screwing me by making me buy something only to lose it if I didn’t use it. I could buy food in the amount I needed. I could buy power and gas as I used them. I didn’t buy a block of power and then lose what I don’t use at the end of a month.
That’s why I bought rollover minutes on my cellphone. I couldn’t bear the notion of buying minutes I’d never use. But now I have a huge backlog of rollover minutes. And they’re starting to expire.
So how about a way to sell your minutes on ebay? They’re working on a carbon credits system for carbon users and abusers. How about a “minute” credit system?
I could sell my unused rollovers to the highest bidder who’s really desperate for them, like that lipsticked roadhog holding up traffic.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

#908 Consumer Consequence

Well the word is in. We’re in a recession. Some important economic council has weighed all the indicators, surveyed all the indices and consulted all the crystal balls. And they all agree. The US economy is in a recession.
And it’s been going on since last January.
Well I’m glad we have this timely report. I’ll surely rush out and adjust my portfolio to accommodate the shifted economic horizon.
I’m glad after a year they finally decided to call it. “Housing bubble burst” and “credit freeze” and “economy cratering” were all getting so cumbersome to say. “Recession” is a so much cleaner and yes, economical word.
Only one problem: the engine that supposedly drives this vehicle we call the economy hasn’t been told. I’m talking about consumer confidence. Or in this case consumer unconsciousness. It doesn’t seem to be paying a whole heck of lot of attention to its shrinking 401ks and such.
Because people keep spending. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday as it’s often known—I think because of the color of commuters’ automobile exhaust as they idle their cars to keep warm outside of malls at 4 a.m.—was a huge success. Spending was up 3 percent from last year.
And, get this, last year was the top of the economy before it slid into recession, according to the learned council I mentioned earlier. December 2007 was the peak of the peak.
And consumers just spent 3% more than the peak of the peak.
Not only that. On Halloween, presumably in the valley of the valley, consumers still managed to spend 6 billion dollars on candy, costumes and decorations. All Hallow’s Eve was not the day of the dead economy.
So, I’m just saying, it seems to me the consequence of all this consumer confidence is that the consumers are ready and willing to do their part to juice the economy.
And the Wall Street who, as one wag put it, has predicted 50 of the last 10 recessions, needs to pull its head out and get speculating again.
Because there’s one sure thing you can bet on: The American consumer loves to spend.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

#907 Marshchokers

So I’m making fudge the other day, it’s that season again, and I couldn’t help being drawn to the ingredients listed on the marshmallow package.
There were a lot of them.
You’d think that, you know, they’re more or less puffed sugar, but that’s too simple for even the simplest of foods. So marshmallows also incorporate the dubious enhancement of “tetrasodium pyrophosphate as, so the package says, a “whipping aid.”
Well. That’s what always goes wrong with my meringue. I need to add a little tetrasodium pyrophosphate.
It’s a little scary though. “Pyro” means fire if I’m not mistaken. And phosphorous is that glow-in-the-dark stuff. Is this why you can be roasting a marshmallow, all perfect and light brown, and in the blink of an eye, it bursts into flame?
Like I said, scary. Scarier still is the red-bordered box next to the ingredients list on the package. It says, “Choking Warning.”
Now choking’s no joke but still, doesn't every food fit broadly under the category of choking hazard? I’d hate to see our litigious society eventually force us to label all food suchly.
The choking warning goes on to say, “Eat one at a time.” Oh yeah. Apparently stuffing your mouth with marshmallows can lead to choking. But really, the same can be said for raw broccoli florets.
Then they go on to recommend that the marshmallows be cut into bite size pieces for children under six. Those are going to be tough to stick on a stick come s’more time.
They also recommended behavioral parenting tips, with the admonition, “children should be seated and supervised while eating.” Because you know, children running around the house with mouths stuffed full of non-bite-sized marshmallows could choke.
I expect we’ll see a warning label on scissors soon. “Do not run with.”
And every scout leader will need a pack of stickers for the next time the troop makes s’mores around the campfire—warning stickers to be attached to the sticks you use to roast marshmallows.
They’ll read, “Caution: do not stick stick on or near face. You could poke your eye out.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

#906 Citi-bloop

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay about a new bill the bankcard company lobbyists pushed through congress. It limited bankruptcy protection for ordinary Joe-the-borrowers so they couldn’t default on their credit card bills.
It was still okay under the provisions of the bankruptcy bill for big companies to declare bankruptcy and pay their outstanding debts at pennies on the dollar. It was just the little guy who couldn’t enjoy the same loophole.
And loopholes form the afghan on which the map of our country is crocheted.
At the time, I pointed out that it was odd to offer legal protection to the bankcard companies, as they were at least complicit in the problem. By offering to skip payments and also keep the payments on bankcards artificially low, they were making it too easy for people to take on too much debt.
And not a day goes by that we don’t hear of a bankcard being offered and actually issued to dogs, children, and the occasional whacko in a loony bin.
Well old Joe Schmoe, who couldn’t get off the hook because he couldn’t declare bankruptcy on his credit card debt, he’s about to have another hook set in his pocketbook. Because Citigroup, one of the largest bankcard issuing companies in the world, just got bailed out by the federal government. Their bad debt is going to be guaranteed by none other than you and me, whether we have good credit or not. Our taxes, and more importantly, our children’s taxes are going to hedge Citigroup’s losses and their bad management.
Because you know, big companies can’t be allowed to fail. It’s not like they’re the only mom and pop store in a small town who got in over their head extending credit to the out of work neighbors that shopped there. And they had to over-borrow on their bankcard to pay their bills.
These people don’t deserve to declare bankruptcy, and they sure shouldn’t stand in line waiting for a federal bailout.
But little guys like them and us that Citigroup wasn’t afraid to cornhole 2 years ago? We’re going to bail out Citigroup today.
At least they could have kissed us first.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

#905 Contrasts

The other day I was reading The Week magazine and I came across three articles that made me shake my head at the variety of human endeavor. A study in human contrasts.
Kind of like how identical dog DNA can produce a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard.
The first article was on the folks over in Iran. Apparently one of their ministers was caught lying. He had overstated his education by saying he had received a doctorate degree from Oxford University. Perhaps the degree was in “advanced resume enhancement.”
In any event, the Iran parliament impeached him and fired him from his job.
If you think that’s harsh for a little fibbing, consider this. At about the same time across the ocean, in Columbia, 27 army officers and soldiers were also fired.
All they did was kill civilians.
Yep. Apparently, they randomly killed poor folks in order to pump up body count reports. Said they were guerillas when in fact they were just unlucky poor people.
Sort of an inflating their resume type of thing—but not with bodies of knowledge, with actual bodies of human beings.
So, innocent human beings killed by army officers and all the officers got was the unemployment line. No mention of a trial and prison or other punishment.
I guess because they claimed they were enemies even though they now know they weren’t enemies, their murder doesn’t count as murder.
Poor people get the shaft. If one of them had killed someone and lied about it, he’d lose his job—and his head.
The third story helped put things in perspective. There was a huge ballyhoo about the money spent on the presidential campaign this year. An unprecedented amount to elect the leader of the free world.
Or, judging by the stock market, at least the world that is currently going at a deep discount.
As it turns out, the presidential and congressional campaign expenditures combined came to 5.3 billion. But never fear, our priorities are clear.
We spent a full 6 billion on Halloween candy and decorations.
Halloween, where we defy death by eating food that makes us fat and kills us.
The ultimate study in contrasts.
America, ya gotta love it.

#904 Monet Tree

I learned a new word the other day, or at least paid attention to it for the first time. It’s been gradually seeping in to my consciousness and finally I went, “What? I never heard that word when I was a kid.”
The word is “monetize.” At first, because of how it was spelled, I though it meant painting something with little dabs of paint to make an impression like a picture. But it had nothing to do with Monet.
It means figuring out a way to produce money from something you already have, which is sitting there passively and unproductively not earning anything. They speak of it in the context of monetizing your website or monetizing your blog.
Because, you know, that’s the American way. You can’t just throw ideas out there for people to think about, you have to attach an income-earning component to it.
If you read newspapers online, you may have noticed some subtle changes in the last few years. Articles tend to be short and require you to go to the next page to continue or finish them. Really good articles seem to have a lot of pages. Likewise, you will see serialized articles or just multiple fun facts.
Recently The Olympian printed Cougar and Husky jokes. Each joke had one page for the setup and one page for the punchline. Each joke was printed separately. I nearly got carpal tunnel clicking them all. Each time you clicked on a new page, all the ads on that page counted your click. The electronic newspaper could then legitimately report that customers were exposed to your ad a given number of times.
The point was, they were monetizing their website better by multiplying tiny discreet page impressions to portray a picture of success. The Monet of money.
Tricky. But incredibly annoying to someone who just wanted to read some husky/cougar jokes, which, non-sports guy that I am, I thought were about slightly plump older women on the make.
I just hope we stop there. I hope they don’t find a way to monetize ordinary conversation.
Then again, I heard about someone offering ad-subsidized free texting....
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

#903 PED

Okay I admit it. I’m suffering from PED. P-E-D-.
No, it’s not Pre-Erectile Disorder. PED stands for something more insidious and devastating than an occasional bout of non-performance. I feel drained, limp, unable to face the future. It’s Post Election Depression.
PED is that malaise that settles on people and nations and, most importantly, comedians, following a news-filled and contentious election. There just doesn’t seem to be as much to talk about. Or it doesn’t seem as important. I mean, we were talking about electing the leader of the free world.
Now it’s back to graffiti attacks, missing dogs and a global financial apocalypse.
We don’t even have any gaffes to report. Darn. So I’ll trot out one that never did get reported during the campaign by the mainstream media. Which I found a little disconcerting. Their anti-intellectual bias was showing. I expect that from lowest common denominator Fox news, but the New York Times? This was their plum.
In one of his interviews about the financial crisis early on, it may have even been in the first nearly-suspended debate, John McCain said that Wall Streeters and Bankers had broken the “social contract” that Adam Smith talked about.
Woohoo. John. Look at the invisible hand. Adam Smith never once mentioned a Social Contract in “Wealth of Nations.” The Social Contract was the premier idea of Swiss Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who formulated it to counter the notions of Hobbes.
Not Calvin’s pet tiger Hobbes, but Thomas Hobbes, author of the opus “Leviathan” which talked about civilization and government being a thin skin stretched over the craven surly brutish greedy beast of true humanity.
You know, Wall Street.
Be that as it may, John McCain would be the first to say he was no philosophy student. But it’s still unusual that none of the gotcha media gaffe-grabbers would have pounced on this.
Oh well, the Straight Talk Express was doing some other furious twisting, turning, and generally erratic driving so there was plenty to report.
But you know, sharing that little election tidbit seems to have helped my P.E.D go away a little bit.
My resolve to stand up to the future is somehow firmer.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

#902 Garbanzo

I have a love affair with words. Occasionally I’ll just get off on the sound of them. Sometimes the sounds of them cause me to wander down verbal back alleys. Sometimes a particular word or phrase will suddenly achieve common parlance and its just exciting to say them over and over.
Like recently when the economy cratered and the government started talking about “injecting liquidity” into the market. I just love that term—“injecting liquidity.”
Sounds like someone is mainlining Southern Comfort. Or has a bottle of tequila plugged into his IV. Injecting liquidity also sounds like a process using one of those fancy cooking show food syringes. Chock full of melted butter and jammed into a pork loin.
Another of my favorite new terms is “fleeting expletives.” As in: Henry Paulson used a series of fleeting expletives, as he was frustrated in the process of injecting liquidity into the financial markets.
Fleeting Expletives. Sounds like a flasher of words. Whipping aside his verbal trench coat and giving you a brief glimpse of his naughty parts. Is that a dangling participle or are you just glad to conjugate my verbs?
Or maybe a college grunge band. “Ladies and gentleman, lets hear it for the Fleeting Expletives.”
Words can be powerful, and different words for the same thing can make you want to try them or deny them.
Like chickpeas. If you like peas, you might try them. Or you might think they are a vegetable dish you can only have with fried green tomatoes or steel magnolias. “Yeah, I’m going to watch Sleepless in Seattle on DVD so I’m stocking up on chick peas.”
Contrast that with their other name, Garbanzo Beans. Now all of a sudden they sound like something a person with a red nose and giant shoes might eat. “Hey Kids, here comes your favorite entertainer, Garbanzo the Clown!”
Or perhaps eating the beans gives you a case of the garbanzos. I’d say the f-word that refers to flatulence but I can’t use fleeting expletives on the radio. But you get the picture.
Garbanzo. Sounds like an explosion in your pants.
Injecting gas-idity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

#901 Funnygus

So I was reading this science fiction book not long ago and like most science fiction it had some ideas that were pretty cool. Like on this far-off planet they had used genetic engineering to create or modify trees into fuel trees.
Fuel trees weren’t like ours, where you just burn them, they were composed of enough fuel-making material where they could be rendered into liquid fuel. Which I assume was then burned like gasoline.
They also had trees engineered to make paper leaves to write on directly. Without the expensive pulp and rendering process we use to make paper now. Kind of cool.
I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if nature was more cooperative that way already? And low and behold, the next day I read this article about a fuel-making fungus.
That’s right, there’s this recently discovered fungus that in the process of digesting the stringy plant fiber cellulose, gasses off hydrocarbons. It breathes out vaporous fuel.
Which can then be siphoned off. You could have this stuff growing in factories as they do for baker’s yeast. It eats any cellulose. So it could be fed anything from switch grass to beauty bark. And we’d get oil.
We could actually eat our corn and fuel our cars with the cobs. Goodbye ethanol, hello fun-gas.
Get it? Fun-gas, like fungus...but with gas.
But I’m worried. I read another science fiction novel that speculated on the real fact of the largest organism in our world being a fungus that lives in an Oregon forest. It’s like 2200 acres or something like that.
It posed the question: If a fungus gets big enough, can it be intelligent?
Because, you know, fungi are everywhere. From your toenails to penguin tails. And they seem to grow better in warmer climates.
Now the fungal world is giving us hydrocarbon based fuel.
But if we burn that, don’t we still have to deal with global warming? It’s not drilling for oil that causes climate change, it’s burning it.
So out of the blue appears this wonderful fungus to help us warm the planet...
America, ya gotta love it.

#900 Pickled Facts

Sometimes the juxtaposition of things are jarring. They clash. I used to have a joke in my stand-up act about taste clashes. Like eating a green olive and chasing it with chocolate milk.
I actually saw such a thing on TV the other day. It was for Vlasic Classic Dill Pickles. A crispy pickle that a little girl was biting into had startled a woman at a nearby table. The Vlasic cartoon pickle bird apologized. The camera then showed the little girl with a pickle and a sandwich. What got my tastes buds to jarring was what the girl had next to her dill pickle.
A glass of orange juice.
Yow, I could just feel my tongue clench with piquancy.
As my brain clenches when I see certain facts. Like this statistic I saw the other day. The last part of the election seemed to be a lot about Obama’s tax raising and Joe the Plumber, who, as was promptly determined, would actually save money under the imaginary plan.
But it turns out Joe the Rich Guy, who actually would end up paying, voted 52% for Obama and 46% against. Nearly the same spread as the general electorate.
What gives? People making over $250,000 have higher concerns and priorities than a couple of bucks in taxes? More likely, it was just because they followed their beliefs first and let that trump any facts that may have jarred with it.
Like the other statistic I read. A recent poll indicated that 37% of Americans still believe Iraq was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction” when we invaded in 2003.
Donald Rumsfeld must be proud. Talk about persistence of delusion. But, you know, belief is a hard nut to crack. It’s like self-hypnotism. It’s powerful. I’ve seen hypnotized people eat a dill pickle and chase it with orange juice.
Me, I just believe that Obama is as humble as he says. The other day I heard he was getting ready to move into the White House and in the process of assembling his cabinet. And I thought, Wow, assembling his cabinet.
Our new president’s so humble, he even shops at IKEA....
America, ya gotta love it.

#899 Center? Right

I was reading an article by Karl Rove. He was offering encouragement to his fellow Republicans and warnings to the incoming administration. He joined the chorus of right wing commentators to tell Obama to remember that he was governing a “center-right” nation and should act accordingly.
It’s always nice when the losers give advice to the winner that just trounced them. I see it in sports all the time. They always interview the losing coach for advice on how the winning coach should conduct his next game.
I’m not sure where they get off calling the USA a center-right country. Seems to me they just spent the last 8 months calling Obama every leftwing pejorative in the book. More liberal than Ted Kennedy, they said at one point. They even spent the end game calling him a socialist over and over and over.
And yet the American people overwhelming said, “Well, you know, judging by the economy and who’s been in charge of it for the better part of last decade, we’ll take the guy that’s left.”
Rove said in the article not to despair, as Obama only got 3.1 points more than Gore in 2000 and 4.6 points more than Kerry in 2004. Gore had over 50% of the popular vote in 2000 so he kind of bent that a little—as Obama got 53% of the popular vote this year.
So it seems like more than center left to me.
The electoral spread is even more telling. Bush beat Gore by 271 to 266, a spread of 5 electoral votes. He beat Kerry 278 to 260, a spread of 18. Obama beat McCain 365 to 162.
A left leaning spread of 203.
If math is any indication, the country’s not just leaning left, it’s falling over.
Maybe voters don’t care what they are. 33% coming out of the polling places said they were conservative, compared to 22% who said they were liberal. So I guess it wasn’t about ideology. Maybe they just felt betrayed by “don’t tax and spend anyway” and “fox in charge of the henhouse” economics.
As a fiscal conservative myself, I can tell you, that’s no way to run a winning football team. America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

#898 Spellching

I think spell-check is ruining our ability to communicate. I have suddenly been assaulted with circulars announcing events that are riddled with riddles of what the heck these people meant.
Take bazaars. B-a-z-a-a-r-s are the type you put on for a bake sale, or bring out your crafts and stuff. Sometimes they are odd crafts. Sometimes they are so odd you could call them bizarre.
But if you screw up the spelling of one or the other, spell-check may recommend only one. And insist on it. You are none the wiser.
I got a circular for a “bizarre” (as in crazy) the other day, knew it was wrong and couldn’t for the life of me get spell-check to suggest the right spelling. I was reduced to thumbing through the “B” section in an actual printed dictionary.
I had forgotten how heavy and cumbersome they are. You could get some serious exercise and calorie-burning hefting around a dictionary at your desk.
That darn spell-check is making us all obese too.
The other words that are often a problem are the palate family. Palate of the mouth, palette of the painters, and pallet of the loading dock. All homophones, because they sound the same, but are different in spelling and meaning.
And if you spell it right but wrong the first time, spell-check won’t correct you. So I got a flier for a musical performance describing this conductor being like a painter and his musicians his palette, but they spelled it “palate” so it sounded like he was tasting or chewing them.
Another description in an auction list was supposed to say a “wine and cheese tasting experience guaranteed to satisfy your palate” but they spelled it palette p-a-l-e-t-t-e, so I immediately thought they’d be painting the walls with delicate tones of merlot and gouda.
Then there’s the sign I saw at a shipping place offering free pallets. You know, those slatted wooden things they stack stuff on. Except they spelled it “palate” as in the part of your mouth.
Sounded like a great deal on some obscure variety meat from the deli, like tongue or sweetbreads.
Very unpalatable if you ask me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

#897 I Have a Code

The big presidential transition is underway. It’s interesting in this day of sudden access and instant gratification that we have to wait 2 1/2 months for a new president to take office. Especially when we’ve been enduing a campaign to put him there for the last 22 months.
It’s like baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and then not being able to dive into them while they’re warm and gooshy.
You’ve gone to all the effort to bake those cookies, now you have to stay back and starve till they get cold and hard.
It’s not as bad as it used to be though. In the old days, new presidents didn’t take office till mid-March. Apparently, as we were on the brink of the last great depression, Herbert Hoover asked incoming President Roosevelt to make a joint statement on the economy to reassure the public. Roosevelt refused, saying, “It’s not my baby.”
The depression ensued.
I have a great deal of respect for Roosevelt, but I think that it probably wasn’t very presidential of him to choose that moment to engage in a little neener-neener.
Let’s hope this transition goes smoother.
One thing they’ve already transisted is the Obamas’ Secret Service code names. The President Elect is known as Renegade. Perhaps because he is such a change from the policies of the previous president. Lest you think, as I did, that “Renegade” could possibly be construed as unflattering, Obama had a say in its selection. The First Lady is known as Renaissance. The daughters are Rosebud and Radiance.
The code names are what the Secret Service whisper into their microphones to each other to announce movements of the principles. That would have been all well and good if no one knew about them. But obviously they aren’t very secret, so what’s the point?
If terrorists are monitoring radio traffic, do you think using the word “Renegade” is going to fool them—since you’ve previously broadcast it to the entire world?
Not that coming out of a big white house and getting into a limo with a bunch of guys surrounding you talking in their lapels isn’t a dead giveaway.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

#896 Parish the Word

So the other day I was confronted with my lack of Catholic-ness. Or is that Catholicity?
To be or not to be a Catholic was once a very big deal. When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1959, the right-wing commentators of the time wrung their hands about how he would promote the Catholic agenda. How he would be answerable to the Pope first and his country second. How dangerous it was to put a man in the White House who answered to a higher power.
Seems crazy today, especially since if a man running for president isn’t a Christian of some sort answering to a higher power, he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting elected.
Be that as it may, this weekend I was confronted with my Catholic ignorance. One of the people I was to introduce at an event was called an Abbot and the other had his title abbreviated “Fr.”
When it came time to bring the Abbot up to the stage, of course I wanted to yell out, Hey Abbotttttt! Like in the Abbot and Costello movies.
But I restrained myself.
The Fr. guy I wasn’t sure what to call. Because I didn’t know what Fr. stood for. Was it Friar, as in Friar Tuck? Was it some Latin abbreviation, short for fraternal, meaning Brother? Was it French, like Frere, as in Jacques fame? Doesn’t Frere Jacques mean Brother John?
Finally, after an exhausting Google search lasting 6 minutes, I was able to determine that Fr. was the abbreviation for Father. Obvious to you Catholics, completely obscure to a protestant raised in all protestant institutions.
Our Ministers were not addressed as Fathers. But they were Doctors of Divinity. As a kid I thought that meant they made that really good candy my granny brought over every Christmas.
I think a Catholic was in charge of a recent food bank event, though. His flier said to bring “nonparishable food.”
He spelled the perish part p-a-r-i-s-h-. So I guess, instead of telling us to bring food that wouldn’t go rotten, he was telling us to bring food that wouldn’t be accepted in a Catholic Parish.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

#895 Clusterfolk

A while back, I read a story about the growth of “politics specific” neighborhoods—people tending to cluster in areas with other people of the same political ilk.
Now it’s been going on forever that folks like to group in tribes. I suppose it’s natural that we gravitate toward people who are similar. Makes for less arguing over the back yard fence.
And with the way they are building houses closer and closer in the new urbanly dense developments, it’s more important than ever. It also explains why some developments have covenant restrictions against political yard signs.
I saw this clustering in its rawest form the other day at a high school job fair. Each grade level came into the job fair separately and the kids had about 50 minutes to interact with the various employers like myself.
A couple of interesting dynamics: When nobody was at my booth, no one would approach for a while. Then a couple of kids would come up, in a bold foray. As if that proved my booth was safe and or cool, about 10 more students would suddenly mob me.
But after about 20 minutes, most of the students stopped coming to all of the booths and coagulated into self-enclosed groups of 5 to 7 kids. Each group would form a rough circle and its members would interact.
The clotting of kids—a basic human trait.
It’s interesting to note in the macro-group sense, that the more densely populated regions of our country tend to be Democrat and the more rural areas tend to be Republican. Democrats like the social amenities tight-living provides. You don’t see a lot of support groups and soup kitchens in North Dakota.
On the other hand, Republicans tend to be more uncompromising and self-reliant, traits that don’t work well in densely packed neighborhoods. One of my conservative friends calls big crowds clusterfolks.
The space conservatives like to maintain from each other prevents conflict. Ain’t no one gonna tell them what to do. Especially big government.
You know, the kind of suspicious, interfering, big government that hires teachers who give out report cards with snarky comments like “does not play well with others.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#894 Puppies and Kitties

Sometimes I think people just aren’t thinking. In the pursuit to portray the good of one idea, they forget the other things people may see.
So it was the other day when I found myself driving behind a Fed-Ex truck. On the back of the truck was a drawing of a puppy. It was really cute. In fact, the entire cartoon was cute, in that it showed the puppy with a package in his mouth and a friendly look on his face, eager to deliver that package to you.
The message was clear. The folks at Fed-Ex were eager to fetch stuff for you and deliver it to your feet like a puppy with a newspaper. At least I think that’s what they meant.
I, of course, took it differently. Well, I thought, that explains the banged up package I got from them.
Including the tooth marks and residue of drool.
Because as anyone who has tried to train a non-dry mouth dog knows, having a canine grab your package and do anything with it involves copious amounts of dog spit and crushing.
So is the ulterior message that your package may sustain some damage if you use Fed-Ex?
Like I say, someone wasn’t thinking of the whole picture.
Another thing I saw that looks like it may not have been vetted any better than a recent VP candidate—a fancy kitty litter scoop.
There’s not much to say about it. It’s stainless steel. It’s got an elegant handle—altogether a top-notch quality device for fishing out feline feces and carrying it to a more permanent waste disposal container.
The problem is it’s too nice. I mean, wouldn’t it be a good idea if your pooper-scooper didn’t look like a fine implement that belonged in your kitchen?
I’m not sure I want my pooper-scooper to be dishwasher safe because I’m not sure I want it in the dishwasher.
And I don’t think when half-blind Aunt Mabel comes to visit and brings a chocolate cake, it’s a good idea to have a fancy crap spatula lying around.
America, ya gotta love it.

#893 Guacamousse

So I was looking at my conditioner bottle the other day. Specifically at its ingredients label. The name of the conditioner was Garnier Fructis so I should have expected something exotic.
The label was at great pains to point out that Garnier Fructis has a new “Sleek and Shine System.” The net effect of the “Sleek and Shine System” is to tame “frizz” so your hair stays “sleek” all day.
Well, Lord knows, with global warming and world hunger, it’s pretty important we keep our hair sleek.
I mention world hunger because the other thing Garnier Fructis does for your hair is supply it with nutrients. Or as they put it, “Nutritive Fruit Micro-oils.”
Yeah, good thing. If you can’t supply nutrients to starving children, by all means slather them on your hair.
They also add vitamins to your hair in the form of Vitamin B-3 and Vitamin B-6. As Vitamin B-6 is often mentioned in terms of mental health, I’m guessing it makes your hair more alert. That leaves me to conclude that Vitamin B-3 is the sleekness vitamin.
It always amazes me what we are willing to believe will affect the layered and stacked dead cells sprouting from our heads. The ingredient list shows they have also added extracts of lemon, apple, sugar cane and camellia. A veritable cornucopia of dead vegetative matter to add to your dead protein sprouts.
But they especially point out two Nutritive Fruit Micro-Oils —Apricot and Avocado oil. Apricots are really sticky so I hope they get the apricot oil from the pits. Maybe since they are no longer curing cancer, the company bought them up cheap and we can put them to good use on our limpid locks.
But what were they thinking with avocado? How did this even get suggested and tested? Did someone have a guacamole accident? Fell into a bowl of it at a party?
And when she rinsed it out said, “Wow, no frizzing!”
I hoping they’ll come out with a Guacamole Mousse.
I can take that to my next tailgate potluck, with a can of cheese wiz.
“Dude, this cheese and mousse action is tasty...and sleek.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

#892 The Name of the Game

Time to reflect on what I think is a huge lesson to be learned from the election and everyone singing sweet home Barack Obama.
He defied everything that Madison Avenue holds dear. All the experts in branding tell us that if you’re going to name something you should make it catchy, but keep it safe. Don’t name a meat loaf product, oh, let’s say, The Ptomaine Meatloaf. Don’t label a car “The Pontiac Crasher.”
But somehow Barack Hussein Obama rose above all that. And that is a huge achievement. From his history, it’s obvious he’s overcome some horrendous obstacles. His mixed race, his strange parental status, his cardoor ears.
And yet he made it to law school, developed an extraordinary intelligence and persisted all the way through Hillary’s minions.
I admit he took words less seriously than I thought he should. For a guy who was trying to duck the elitist label, using the word divisiveness in his final infomercial was a little problematic.
Especially when he pronounced it di-vih-siveness and not di-vy-siveness. I’m sure some people were as mystified by that word as I was when he said he wouldn’t allow CEOs to “game” the system.
He must have been reaching out to his younger supporters. The same ones who didn’t let his weird names get in the way of their adulation.
Barack Hussein Obama is bad enough to someone hoping to reach out to working class America. Musli-phobia is the new racism. A black man with a Muslim name, and not just any Muslim name, the name of the dictator that many Americans thunk was behind 911 thanks to the pre-war Bush propaganda machine.
That’s some serious we shall overcoming to do.
But he’s also got BO to deal with. That’s right, his initials are BO. As in “ooh, that guy smells.” A taunt he must have endured in Junior High a lot.
What did he do? He embraced it, told folks to Google MyBO, used it to direct them to his website, and created the internet nation that put him over the top financially.
Save the world with My BO...
Madison Avenue must be crashing like Wall Street did.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

#891 Lights Camera

So the other day I was driving up to an intersection. Suddenly there was a bright flash of light. I flinched and accidentally jerked my wheel.
The light was really bright. Blindingly so. Like when you get a flash of sunlight in someone’s rearview mirror and it leaves one of those spots in your eyes.
Anyhow, here I was partially blinded and beginning to jerk over into the lane next to me because I had reacted so violently to the flash and was spazing out. Fortunately, I was able to bring my car under control in time.
I’m just glad the guy in front of me hadn’t been as big a spaz as I was.
Traffic was pretty thick and eventually, after a couple more blinding flashes, I was able to determine that the source of these retina searing flares was the camera mounted to catch people running the red light.
I hope drivers more easily distracted than me don’t pile into each other at the intersection.
I had a friend show me a ticket he got because of one of those red light cameras. Funny thing. It had been sent to his wife. Because he had been driving her car. It noted the violation and then asked if she or someone else in her family had been driving the vehicle that day.
So the camera only catches the license plate and not a photo of the driver...
So what if you wanted to get someone in trouble? You could hotwire his car when he’s sleeping, take it for a joyride, run the red light, and get a ticket sent to him. He’d have all the hassle and have to pay the fine because he wouldn’t be able to convince anyone it wasn’t him in the car at the time of the infraction.
Oh sure, you’d run the risk of grand theft auto, but still, what a cool prank to do against someone you think is really annoying.
Anyone know where Tim Eyman lives?
I hear he wants to give red light photo fines to solve our traffic problems...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

#890 Elboil

I was pretty gullible as a kid. Heck I’m gullible now. And it’s my take-it-at-face-value initial impression that often makes it possible for me to be humorous. Or at least be laughed at.
Because I often see things the wrong way the first time. Years ago, I made fun of a sign over a car repair place advertising they had a certain car accessory. It said, “Gas Shocks!” My first thought really was, “Especially in mixed company!”
I saw it the “gas-as-flatulence” way before I saw it as the “gas-as-part-of-a-car-accessory” way.
Likewise, when I was growing up, my mother managed to confuse me a lot due to my innocent stupidity. She once told me there was no way I could get things "really clean" unless I applied a lot of elbow grease.
I was young and full of misguided impressions of the world. I had seen women on TV commercials rubbing lotion onto their hands and joints. I had felt my mother’s cold cream and hand lotion. I had also once poked my fingers in the semi-solid bacon grease she kept at room temperature in a cup in the kitchen.
Naturally I assumed this elbow grease stuff was something like that—off-white, kind of slimy, kind of slippery. I remember triumphantly running into the kitchen telling everyone I was ready to do some serious cleaning.
Then I showed them the boil on my elbow, shouting, “Elbow grease, elbow grease!” as I squeezed it out.
That’s when I learned why comedians call funny things gags.
I also remember being really paranoid about behind my ears. Ears were the place my mom had told me to never stick anything smaller than my elbow.
Ever the young scientist, I was always trying to contort myself so I could stick my elbow in my ear to compare.
In any event, my mom once told me it was dirty enough behind my ears to raise potatoes. She said I needed to get them "really clean." I was traumatized. From that point forward whenever I felt a little bump behind my ear, I was certain it was a potato about to sprout.
And I was totally panicked. I couldn’t get them "really clean," because I couldn’t get my elbow close enough to use elbow grease.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

#889 Vote-cabulary 2

There was more vocabulary that emerged from the voting process. The vote-cabulary if you will.
“Eloquent” was one of the big words used to describe Obama. It was used in both a good way, to talk about his nicely delivered speeches, and as a bad term, when put in air-quotes, to dismiss him as filled with hot air.
Balancing the new big words was a return to salt of the earth words like “you betcha” and “gotcha.” I’ve said “you betcha” for more years than I can remember. Now I’m self-conscious about it. Every time I hear myself say it, I think other people will think I’m making fun of or emulating Palin.
Another good colloquialism down the drain, dagnamit.
“Gotcha” was used to refer to journalism that snuck up on people’s blind sides. Or Joe-the-plumbers that rotorootered candidate meet-and-greets.
We also heard the words “cratered” and “tanked.” The economy “cratered” and McCain’s campaign “tanked.” On the flip side, the media was “in the tank” for Obama—who then helped “tank” McCain’s campaign further.
But never fear, because then there was “maverick,” a term probable chosen for its resonance with a TV show about go-it-alone self-reliant westerners. You know, “real” Americans.
Unfortunately, it was also a cheap Ford.
Personally, I had a Maverick in the 70s and it wasn’t that good a car—in the shop for one thing or another. And the steering and suspension were weird. I was always going all over the road.
Then the mavericks changed. One of them got tired of calling himself a maverick. Maybe one of his supporters told him they had owned one too. In any event, he suddenly became a “reformer.” The other one got called by a new word, as she went “rogue.” The downside of mavericks—turning rogue.
Isn’t that like a double negative though? Since a maverick’s already contrary, is a rogue maverick just back to normal?
If the description hadn’t first emerged from the Republican camp I’d suspect the liberal media of concocting it to make sly reference to the party’s symbol. Because before this, I’d only heard the term rogue applied to elephants.
And as the recent economy has shown, there’s nothing worse than an unrestrained elephant.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

#888 Vote-cabulary

When all is said and done, the presidential campaign of 2008 was incredibly successful in one regard. It taught us a bunch of new words.
It’s always interesting the vocabulary that emerges from the voting process. The vote-cabulary if you will.
I got to thinking about it the other day when I watched the 30-minute Obama infomercial. The McCain camp said it was “gauzy.” The Obama camp said it gave him “gravitas.” I assume the McCainiacs meant gauzy as in photographed through a soft lens, like a Playboy magazine shoot. It was an interesting reference.
And gravitas was one of those big words you hadn’t seen in common American usage. But it was all over the place in the media this year, partly because Obama looked so young and Palin so new.
I noticed in the Obamamercial that his hair was flecked with far more gray than I’ve ever seen. And it did seem to give him a more steadfast look. Wonder if he got it from a bottle.
Yeah, Clairol Gravitas for Men, just a touch of gray to bestow that look of age and wisdom.
Then there was the word “ideologue.” It was used in opposition to “pragmatist.” As near as I can figure, “ideologue” is a nice way of saying someone is pigheaded. They start with an idea and judge the world and all subsequent events from that idea.
Kind of like prejudice but with politics. Their world is driven by belief and not information on the ground.
Contrasted to that are pragmatists, who change their tactics based on new information and shift strategy accordingly.
In the last campaign, the ideologue called that flip-flopping.
As this was an important campaign based on the core philosophies of the economy, I also heard the word fundamental used a lot by both sides. It was nice.
The word basic has been overused in recent years. And basic is too basic. We needed a word that was both high-falutin and low down in these crucial times.
Fundamental is perfect.
Although for some reason, it always reminds me of a foundation garment.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

#887 War of the Words

The election is over.
It was a long, hard, and interesting push. Both campaigns got in their licks and both held back in some areas. Palin was supposedly chomping at the bit to mention Jeremiah Wright, but McCain wouldn’t go there.
Perhaps it was because he knew that if he pulled out that last stop, the Obama camp would unleash a torrent of information about Palin’s association with the anti-American Alaska secessionist party. Talk about pallin’ around with terrorists, how about Palin around with terrorists. These Alaska separatists had some “I hate America” slogans every bit as inflammatory as Jeremiah Wright.
It was an interesting tactic of the Obama campaign not to use the Alaska secessionists to bomb the William Ayers insinuations.
Towards the end of the campaign, there was an interesting flap though. You could see the Karl Rove tactic of turning your own things on your head and hitting you with them.
Like when the McCain campaign took a comment about “spreading” the wealth, turned it into a comment about “redistributing” the wealth, and from that started calling Obama a socialist.
Then in the debates, John McCain took Obama’s eloquence head on by insinuating that eloquence was suspect in some way. He did this by putting finger-waving air-quotes around the word.
After four years of the non-eloquence of Bush, it may not have been a good tactic to pick on someone who could string eight words together. Even more so, when his running mate seemed similarly challenged in the coherent sentence structure department.
And that was what the flap was about. One of the final Obama commercials showed McCain a couple of years ago, saying in his own words that he knew nothing about economics and would need to trust his future vice president for that. The commercial ends with a picture of Palin winking in her inimitable “you betcha” manner.
Immediately the roving right wing attack dogs started yelling, “Unfair!”
Yeah, she spent the last 8 weeks calling Obama an un-American terrorist elitist socialist and they showed a picture of her winking.
Unfair and Unbalanced, if you ask me.
America, ya gotta love it.

#886 Super Banker

Conspiracy theorists out there, try not to pay attention to who’s pulling the strings of power in the banking crises these days.
This whole credit mess is an amazing thing. It started with bad mortgages, sure, but then rapidly degenerated to a credit “freeze”, as the larger financial institutions refused to lend to one another.
The people who were telling us to trust the system, the bankers, suddenly didn’t trust each other. Institutions that were sending credit card offers to toddlers and dogs unexpectedly decided their fellow bankers were suspect.
And it was bad. Because every second of every day bankers and brokers lend each other short term credit. If Lehman Brothers wants to buy some shares of McDonalds they go to CitiBank and say, I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburglar today.
If they don’t lend, everything grinds to a halt. There’s a saying that sums it all up. Always use short-term credit responsibly. And that says it all because apparently our entire financial system was based on bankers giving each other payday loans.
I’ll borrow from you and pay you back when I get a loan from someone else. Hmm.
But here’s the conspiracy part. Goldman Sachs, one of the big brokerages on Wall Street in the thick of all, once had an employee who is now the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson. The current governor of New Jersey, where lots of Wall Streeters make their homes, is a former employee of Goldman Sachs. And the current young Turk who Henry Paulson tapped as a superbanker to dole out all the federal bailout bucks comes from, you guessed it, Goldman Sachs.
To those who believe in the international Jewish bankers’ conspiracy, don’t worry. The bailout supervisor has a totally un-Jewish name—Neel Kashkari. Ironically, like cash and carry but with K’s.
As some crazy folks in the blogosphere put it, “K’s like they use in names in Muslim countries.”
Indian Muslims from Jewish financial institutions in charge of federal redistribution of wealth?
Conspiracy theorists, it’s time to crack open your survivalist bomb shelter. The end of the world is nigh.
And just in time. Maybe you won’t have to pay your last bankcard bill...
America, ya gotta love it.

#885 Pumperdumper

Currently Washington and Wall Street are playing the blame game. How did the economy go in the tank? Bad lending? Bad borrowing? Crazy derivatives of bad loans that should never have been made to people who should never have applied for them?
Was it balloon payments? Personally, I’ve never let myself buy a balloon I couldn’t afford. The ones with helium can get over your head in no time.
But still, many of these questionable practices have been going on for decades—easy loaning Freddie and Fannie, hyper-leveraging Wall Streeters, poor people charging what they couldn’t afford.
It all depended on an extremely delicate balance of greed, just in time payments, and short-term loans. Anything could have tipped the balance.
And then came the game changer. I call it the great pumperdumper. Gas went up to 4 bucks a gallon.
When we got dumped on at the pump, our entire economy came crashing down. A credit-strapped nation already overspent, suddenly asked to spend an extra 30 bucks a week to get to and from work. Or more if they had an old car or a giant SUV. Then food prices went up, thanks to the extra cost of transporting everything, and corn ethanol crimping the crops. Just then, the adjustable rate mortgages kicked in. Did I mention a war and a federal deficit driving the interest rates up on those ARMs?
Goodbye American economy.
Any one of those things taken singly might have been absorbed. But the exploding effects of high priced fuel burned the pocketbooks of countless families on the edge.
Perhaps the worst is over. Gas prices are back to 2.45 a gallon. People can drive to work cheaply again. Unfortunately, many people don’t have jobs to drive to. A lot of businesses bit the big one in the crunch. More worrisome, there’s a huge mass of bewildered and angry unemployed mortgage brokers, investment counselors and bankers.
Poor folk are used to dealing with more downs than ups. I’m worried about the acute desperation of these first time unemployed.
I hope we don’t have white collar riots.
But hey, at least they’ll have cheap gas to make Molotov cocktails.
America, ya gotta love it.

#884 Re-SUV

The other day I was driving to work. I looked around me on the road and found my vision nearly obscured by large flat planes of metal and chrome. Huge vehicles surrounded me. I had one of those mental replays of déjà vu for some reason. Then I figured it out.
I was surrounded by SUVs.
All at once, I figured out what had been so strange about the last few months. I had unobstructed vision as I drove along. It had been as if I was driving in some foreign country or something. All the SUVs had left the road.
Now I couldn’t see again and for some reason I felt at home. It was if I had slid back into the depression on my favorite old mattress. As if I’d settled onto my home toilet after a weeklong vacation. I was back. And I could let go.
America was back. We were once again filling the road with lumbering SUVs. Yes, by gosh, gas is under three bucks a gallon.
How quickly we return to our habits. I just passed a pump the other day where the price said $2.75. I turned up my nose in scorn. I was confident there was a $2.69 down the road.
And there was. I looked at my gas gauge. A quarter of a tank. No problem, I’d wait. The price was bound to go down further.
And you know what? Lately I’ve been leaving my car idling to warm it up on cold mornings. Not the engine. The interior.
And I’ve been jackrabbit starting at intersections. I love that sensation of stomping on the accelerator. You can almost feel the fuel exploding in a decadent burst of useless power.
And I’ve been driving erratically on the freeway too. Squirting in and out of traffic. Braking hard, accelerating again for no reason.
And I’ve been going 80 and 85. On poorly inflated tires. With dirty spark plugs.
It’s like coming off a miserable diet.
Goodbye carrots and broccoli.
Hello chocolate cheesecake!
Hallelujah! Gas is cheap again!
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

#883 Generic Times

Back in the early eighties, around thirty years ago, we were coming off some pretty hard economic times. The Arab oil cartel had not long before inserted itself into our consciousness by throttling America’s throat with high oil prices.
Fortunately, America learned its lesson and vowed never again to be under the thumb of foreign oil.
Interest rates for home mortgages were at the unheard of highs of 12 percent or more. Inflation was in double digits too. Times were tough.
So America buckled down and got plain. We were told in the seventies to whip inflation now. It was still unwhipped by the early eighties but we had a better answer. Generic branding.
Generic products were just like regular products except the labels on the cans and boxes weren’t fancy. They were just white with black block letters.
If it were better generic stuff, it would have black cursive letters.
In any event, if you wanted a can of corn, you didn’t have to pay for all that fancy label artwork that had a picture of corn waving in a beautiful meadow somewhere. Nosiree, Joe Corn-eater bought his can of corn that just said CORN in black block letters and saved money in the bargain.
It was just corn goldurnit, take your fancy label-schmabel and stick it up your Madison Avenue New York Blue state elite artsy-fartsy backside.
We told the government to butt out, not bail out.
We just tightened our belts made from genuine American cow leather and ate boring FOOD and washed our laundry till it was grey with a box of detergent that just said DETERGENT and drank our beer that just said BEER on the label and rode that storm out.
Real Americans had endured tougher times and didn’t need no fancy labels to sugarcoat the fact that existence SUCKED, but you get by day to day with a little bit of hope, an occasional garage sale and a generic BEER.
You would never ever see a generic micro-brew.
Or a generic latte.
When the going got tough, the tough got...plain labeling.
America, ya gotta love it.

#882 Voter Charge

In the last decade, American wealth has concentrated in the hands of a very few people at the top of the economic spectrum.
You might say it’s been redistributed up there.
Taxation laws, loopholes and tax credits have made it possible for the enormously wealthy to get even more enormously wealthy. It’s true that the recent stock market crash has cut that wealth in half for many of these folks.
But they are still enormously wealthy, and not in any danger of losing more than three and a half of their seven homes.
Our economy goes through cycles. Many of those wealthy are now supporting Obama because they know this. They know they’ll make money off this next cycle as well. The next cycle will be more middle-class oriented. The middle-class, when it has money to spend, is the salvation of capitalism.
Marx’s predictions of the downfall of capitalism would have come true if the evil money barons of the 1800s had continued to starve their workers and treat them inhumanely with 16-hour workdays and child labor and sweatshops and all that.
Instead, unionization forced them to pay their laborers a little more and—voila—the middle class was born and became a consumer class. Laborers became customers for the capitalists’ products.
Those customers now need to get tax breaks of their own to prime the economic pump again.
As a testimony to the combined financial power of the middle class, the Obama campaign has earned more money than any campaign in history. And it’s done it mostly with 25 and 50 dollar contributions from the little guy.
“Bubble up” economics seems to work a lot better than “trickle down.” Especially when the trickle down doesn’t happen and gets outsourced overseas.
But here’s the biggest irony. In a time when the credit markets are frozen up, when banks won’t lend to each other because they don’t trust each other, the Obama campaign triumphed with millions of small contributions sent by little guys.
How did they send that money?
With their credit cards.
A testimony to the real American way—
If you want it, charge it!
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

#881 What’s in a Name

What’s in a name? Apparently a lot. I once had a girlfriend break up with me because of it.
“But why,” I said. She said it was because she was suffering from agoraphobia. “Fear of open spaces?” I asked.
“No, acrophobia.”
“Fear of heights?”
“No,” she finally enunciated, agriphobia—fear of farmers.”
As my last name is Farmer, it all made sense. I didn’t like her anyway. She mumbled. And didn’t like sowing seeds and stuff.
But tell me this—Why does the word adult sound so different when you say “adult mobile home park” and when you say “adult video store”? We get a whole different idea of adult don’t we? Or try this—“adult community” and “adult toys.”
I’m guessing different adults are involved.
The other day I saw some political candidate talking to “Joe Sixpack.”
And I thought, there’s a name to inspire patriotism.
Joe Sixpack, the iconic barcolounger-addicted lazy dude who hammers down a sixpack every game. Doesn’t matter the game, doesn’t matter the beer, just got that sixpack habit that keeps him glued to the TV sucking back brewskies.
Now really. Was this the guy out at Valley Forge suffering for the birth of our country? Was this the guy who went south in the Civil War and fought bravely to keep our nation together and stop the slavery of one man to another?
Or is this the guy who unconsciously flies the flag of the secessionist traitors to the Union and screams out a rebel yell as he chugalugs a forty?
And the big question—are you going to be able to get his fat keester up off the couch to vote?
Lastly—I heard an announcement for the Cub Scouts the other day and it occurred to me. You only get to be a human being for awhile in the organization, and it’s in the middle. You got your Cub Scout for the little kids. Then you’re a human Boy Scout and then you’re an Eagle Scout.
I suppose it’s a good idea. “Man Scout” sounds weird.
And who knows what an “adult” scout might be.
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

#880 Oil Used Up

As we’ve discussed before, sometimes it’s hard to be environmental¾like the whole corn ethanol thing. First, it seemed like a good idea to grow corn and make it into fuel.
Then fuel prices went through the roof and everybody planted fields of corn and demand got so high corn prices went up. No one could afford to buy corn and since nobody planted other foods, they were in short supply, so their prices went up and soon there was a global food prices crisis.
It seemed like such a good idea too.
So good the feds continue to subsidize it.
(They’ll need that quick thinking when they’re in charge of our banks.)
But I keep recycling, even though I find challenges. Like peanut butter containers. They don’t have a neck so I have to throw them away. Too bad. It’s such a huge piece of plastic to waste.
Of course I have to rinse them out. But rinsing a peanut butter container takes way too much water. And scrubbing it is so icky. And my scrubber thingy takes a lot of water to rinse out afterwards too.
Nuts to that.
Cooking oil bottles are the real challenge. The used cooking oil itself is perfect for the compost bin but how do you put it in without making the bin itself permanently gunky?
Ideally, I suppose I could use an old Starbucks cup or something but do I ever remember to save one to use as a used cooking oil container for my compost bin?
Recycling takes some thinking ahead.
And I’m still left with the challenge of rinsing out the original cooking oil bottle.
The answer, again, think ahead, and be patient. Soap and soak and shake. Add a small amount of dish soap to the cooking oil bottle. Fill with water. Soak for a while. Shake the bottle. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. Pour it out and add to the recycle bin.
It’s plastic. Plastic is made out of petroleum.
Maybe some day when we run out of corn we can melt it down for fuel.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

#879 Bloodsuckers

The other day I was talking with a friend about the Wall Street collapse and he uttered one short disparaging term: Bloodsuckers.
And I thought as I often do, how does the other person feel? In this case, how do bloodsuckers feel? I didn’t really care that much, it was just my automatic empathetic response.
My mom always told me not to criticize people until you walked a mile in their shoes and as I honor my mother and am also a quite the critical person, I have walked a lot of miles.
But it really got me thinking about the poor bloodsuckers in nature. As Halloween approaches, we will once again be flooded with negative stories of vampires and vampire-like creatures. The Discovery Channel will shower us with tales of leeches and vampire bats and other animal bloodsuckers.
But aren’t they actually just carnivores who have found a way to get their protein more resourcefully? Who are we, who kill the whole animal just to feast on its bloody flesh, to criticize the remarkable efficiency of vampires?
Think about it. We go to all the trouble of raising a big cow. Herd him all over the place. Cut off his testicles so his meat will be more tender, feed him, fill him full of hormones, spend a ton of time and money on the poor beast and then kill him for a few red, dripping, bloody hunks of flesh.
What a waste of an investment.
Imagine if we did the same thing to milk cows for an udder full of milk. The Maasai warriors in Africa had a better method. They rarely butchered their cows. Instead, they drank their blood.
Rich in protein and vitamins, and a great way to make gravy, their nothing like a fresh liter of blood.
Vampire bats are smart animals. They’re the ultimate sustainable recyclers. They don’t drink all your blood, why kill the human that leaks the crimson leg... vessel.
If we get over our misguided squeamishness, we got a great industry here. Milk cows and blood cows, sustainable protein.
They could put the bottles of blood in the dairy section.
Right next to the clotted cream.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

#878 Chimpskate

For many years I’ve tried to confront my inner cheapskate. Funny thing. It turns out he’s a chimpanzee.
A chimpskate.
Actually, the truth goes even further back evolutionarily.
He’s a monkey. And he’s hardwired in my genes.
I once told the story about how I went into a place to use a free gift certificate and they didn’t give me 20% off like they gave everyone else. I was getting the item free anyhow and yet I was upset I wasn’t getting it for 20 percent off of free.
I felt cheated enough never to go back to the place. I felt they should have treated my gift certificate just like cash. Since, after all, it was purchased with cash.
So recently I was reading this article on how monkeys trade. Trade is seen as a sophisticated human thing, but monkeys do it all the time.
The experiment was this: a monkey was offered three jello cubes by a researcher and then at the last second was only given two. The same monkey was offered one cube of jello by another researcher and at the last second was given an additional one. From that point forward, the monkey went to the researcher who offered the “bonus” cubes and not the one who “cheated” him out of a cube.
Even though in both cases the monkey ended up with two cubes of jello.
You and I would probably do the same thing. The one appears to be dishonest, offering us one thing and then taking it back. But the other appears to be generous, giving us something extra.
And we love something extra.
But here’s the really interesting thing. The pattern persisted with the monkeys even when their bonus guy only gave a bonus ever tenth transaction or so. Or any random number of transactions.
This while the cheating cuber consistently offered three then gave two. Just the mere chance of getting something for nothing was enough to keep the monkeys coming.
That’s why that gambling addiction is a monkey on your back.
You can’t keep your money in your pocket because there’s a casino in your genes.
America, ya gotta love it.

#877 Motor Voter

There was recently a charge by the McCain Campaign that Barack Obama once represented the registration organization ACORN in a lawsuit. This charge was meant to associate Obama with the group, recently in trouble with the State of Nevada for badly registering some folk. Unfortunately, Obama’s partner in the lawsuit that represented ACORN was the Federal Government.
Obama did work with ACORN but he did so with and on behalf of the US Justice Department, a little organization who defends the interests of, um, the United States of America.
A great example of how you can tell the truth and still not tell the truth. Kind makes you wonder if there’s an erratic driver on the Straight Talk Express these days.
And he doesn’t care what he drives over on his way to the election.
The lawsuit in question was to make the state of Illinois conform to their Motor Voter statute, which allows people to register to vote at their DMVs when they are getting a drivers license. Now some would argue that just because a person can drive to the polls doesn’t mean he or she should vote. A recent statistic seems to bear that out.
Because not all of them are good drivers.
And it seems that our Mail-in ballot system here in Thurston County has had another positive effect that our Auditor might want to run on next time she’s up for office. Saving lives.
A recent bit of research done by the University of Toronto shows that there is an 18% increase in fatal accidents on the election days. That’s worse than some three-day holidays. There is also an average of 800 extra accidents resulting in disabling injuries.
One possible reason is people rushing to polls along unfamiliar routes. I know when I voted, it was the only time I ever went to the Seventh Day Adventist church.
So what I’m saying here is our Auditor has had a big part in saving lives by helping to bring about the all mail-in voting.
Voting is a precious right that drives our democracy, but exercising it shouldn’t involve driving over others.
America, ya gotta love it.

#876 Face It

Science has been studying the power of expression. As in how the expressions on your face communicate all sorts of things to another person.
On the face of it, it’s a good idea. The hidden language of facial expression is such a fertile field for discovery even the great Charles Darwin studied it.
He wondered whether animal’s faces conveyed some of the same emotions humans did. The answer is, some. As you work your way up the evolutionary tree, facial muscles become more numerous and more complex.
Fish can convey limited expression. Calling someone a fish face often means they are cold and unmoving. And it’s true. Fish can mainly muster an “I’ve sucked a worm in my gills” sort of look. Don’t expect them to cock an eyebrow quizzically like a full-blown human.
One of the interesting facts discovered from facial research is that we all briefly imitate expressions we see on other people’s faces. We do this nearly from birth. It is this unconscious mimicry that many scientists think is the source of empathy.
We see someone smile, mimic his or her smile, and feel like smiling. We see someone frown and the same brief cascade of emotion passes through our subconscious. It is a great non-verbal bonding mechanism.
Researchers used MRIs to determine what was happening in the brain and were able to see that, indeed, people’s mimicry did promote emotional changes. A smile from one person really did make the smile sections and the associated positive emotion sections of another person’s brain fire up.
So then, they used botox. Botox, when administered cosmetically, freezes someone’s frown muscles. When someone frowns at a botox person, she can’t frown back. And she can’t even briefly mimic the frown on her own face or feel it inside her brain.
If everyone used botox, no one could frown or be angry.
Botox is the answer to world peace.
Then again, since botox people can’t feel disapproval, you wouldn’t want to have someone in charge of, oh, say, the US congress who’s facial muscles are frozen.
I wondered why I felt Nancy Pelosi didn’t communicate well.
I thought it was just because she looked like one of the characters in Finding Nemo...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

#875 Pigs Feet

I was reading an article the other day, which was lamenting the loss of variety meats and other rare cuts. “Variety meats” is that euphemistic term for offal and organs. Tripe, liver, heart, kidneys, those parts of the animal you cut off and usually don’t use except to grind it into dog food, mostly because it so closely resembles a part of a living thing.
The overwhelming popularity of sirloin and such is because it’s hard to equate a steak with a recognizable part on an animal. A New York strip or a rump roast bears little resemblance to either Times Square or an animal derriere.
For the gustatorily squeamish, this is a good thing. It allows them to eat a good hunk of protein without imagining the carnage for a slaughterhouse.
So a big cow tongue sitting on a platter has fallen from favor. And personally, I have no desire for either kidneys or liver as these organs play a large part in the bodies of humans and animals filtering out toxins. They are essentially poison strainers.
What better cut to boil up and snack on? Hmm¾this liver’s got some punch, was the cow an alcoholic?
As testimony to how far out of flavor-favor odd meats have fallen, one of the Irish dishes mentioned in the article I’d never heard of. Crubeens. Of course I’m not Irish so it’s not too surprising but the English name “pigs trotters” was no help. I first thought it was some bowel and sausage thing.
Nope, it’s pigs feet. Not ham hocks, which are essentially pigs’ wrists. I’ve had those. Crubeens are the actual feet. Bones and all.
According to crubeen aficionados they are the most flavorful part of a pig, both bacon-y and gelatinous, as one piggy epicure put it. Yum...cut me a slice of gelatinous.
I don’t know when I’ve heard a more appetizing description. My Mrs. Brown, this dish is so gelatinous, how did you get the peculiar mixture of sliminess and turgidity to such perfection?
I suppose for a guy that eats cuts of meat named after loins I shouldn’t be so particular.
But I’ll skip the trotters.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

#874 Right Left

If you have a friend who’s on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you and have been trying to bring him around for years there’s good news.
Give up.
It ain’t possible—conservatives and liberals see the world differently, on a genetic level. It’s hard wired. At least as long as we label conservatism and liberalism the way we do.
Not too long ago scientists demonstrated conservatives tend to see the world in absolutes, everything black and white. Liberals tend to see shades of gray, situational circumstances that may mitigate a state of affairs one way or the other depending on varying qualities.
That last description would drive a conservative crazy.
But University of Nebraska researchers have found another way the two types differ. Conservatives have more fear.
The researchers first surveyed a group of people about their opinions on capital punishment, government spending, the Iraq war, gay marriage, foreign aid—all hot button issues. That determined whom to call what.
They then exposed the people to a series of startling images, like a face covered in blood or a disgustingly gross fleshy wound with worms crawling in it.
Conservatives, as defined by the issue survey, had much stronger physiological responses, more sweating, eye-blinking, and so on. Liberals’ reactions were more relaxed. They didn’t perceive the same level of threat.
All that certainly makes sense for the survival of the species, or at least the tribe. You got to have a group of people who are more paranoid and a group who are more laid back. You can’t go running every time a coyote howls.
Or as the conservative might say, you have to have a group who is more alert rather than more complacent. Because sometimes the coyotes are closer than you think.
It takes two to march ahead—right, left, right, left...
Politics is like food. One man’s delicate aged meat is another man’s putrid poison.
So love your conservative friend anyway, he has pretty good qualities most of the time.
And if you’re a conservative, love your liberal, even if he is absolutely crazy.
America, ya gotta love it.

#873 Rinse Cycle

I’ve spoken before on how hard it is to be environmental. It gets even harder as we add water to the equation.
Fresh water is a diminishing resource. More so as global warming prevents snowfall in the mountains. Less snowfall, less snowpack to melt and run off into streams and recharge aquifers.
In the meantime we’re requiring more and more water to slake the thirst of the masses who’ve had too much salty junk food.
It’s got so bad that here in the rainy northwest we’re having to water our yards on odd and even days and the county is sending out circulars encouraging us to plant drought-resistant plants.
Oh well.
But it’s brought up an interesting dilemma. Rinse or don’t rinse? Especially my recyclables. The county waste guide says glass, cans, and plastic bottles should be rinsed out before you put them in the recycle bin. But rinsing wastes water.
The compost yard waste bin is anything goes, sort of. You can put moldy pizza boxes in it, but your dog poop has to be enclosed in a plastic bag and put in the trash. There to be sealed in a landfill for the next millennium.
Anyhow, I’m not sure about the rinse factor. How little can I rinse and save the aquifer and still make recycling acceptable? Some of those blue cheese salad dressing bottles take a lot of rinsing.
It’s hard. Not as hard as the whole bicycle thing though. I was looking at some of the new ones the other day. Man oh man, talk about technology. I’m thinking lots of burned coal industrial power went into making these things. Are they really that environmentally neutral? Rubber tires, carbon frames, hi tech aluminum shifters.
Whenever I need recycling advice, I turn to the ultimate make-do practitioners, bums. I saw one the other day driving the definitive enviro-vehicle. He must have got it at Goodwill. A recycled bicycle.
He had bought it again so he was re-buyin it. And he was recycling with it.
On his rebicycle.
America, ya gotta love it.