Friday, March 28, 2008

#729 Eliot

So I suppose I should weigh in on the Eliot Spitzer debacle.
I read a comment that was unintentionally right on. It said, “Spitzer’s resignation ends a meteoric political career that at one point sparked talk of presidential ambitions.”
Since the career ended and since at the end it came crashing down, this sentence is correct. But the implication was that it was the end of the meteoric rise of his career. The career in question and the phrase “sparking talk of presidential ambitions” making the sentence indicate the meteor was on its way up.
Which, of course, it never is. Meteors fall, meteors come crashing down, meteors drop, flame out, and burn to cinders. Meteors do not rise. Rockets rise. Missiles rise. Volcanoes rise. Certain parts of the male anatomy rise—and cause a career to plummet like a meteor.
People ask, was it worth it? And that is the real point. Because for the life of me I can’t figure how it could be. Forget about the meteoric crash of his life and career, I’m talking about the 5000 bucks!
Maybe I just don’t value myself very well, but I can’t conceive of anything anyone could do to me that would be worth 5000 bucks. Maybe I just don’t value pleasure very much.
Or I don’t have a vivid enough imagination. There’s nothing I can think of that would be worth 5 G’s.
Oh, maybe it would be worth that much to stop something. Like waterboarding or pulling out my fingernails or some other incredible pain.
But pleasure? It’s not like I’m some 17-year-old boy lusting over pictures in a magazine that’s never had the opportunity to be with a real woman.
And it’s not like Eliot was either. Here’s a married guy with three kids, so presumably he’s got the basics covered. At what point do the add-ons amount to $5000 an hour?
Maybe I just don’t have the sensitive nerve endings people like Eliot do. I guess I’m just too much of a skin flint. Even on my skin.
America, ya gotta love it.

#728 En-buy-ronmental

America has turned a corner. I heard a news story the other day that proved it once and for all. The state has dedicated a certain amount of money to helping private industry create a number of “green collar” jobs by 2010.
That’s right, I said green collar.
I’m hoping they don’t mean that caked, slightly slimy, green collar I get on my gardening shirt. That combination of weeds, grass clippings and the late winter flu season’s mucoid deposits that is so crusty I can’t even shout it out.
Nah, it’s the new “green” branding. Everybody loves green. Puget Sound Energy is on the bandwagon for green energy sources. Cities are using only green power, and the building industry is rapidly throwing up green homes in areas recently denuded of 100-year-old formerly green trees.
Let’s hope they’re not using green lumber when they do it. Sheetrock nails will be popping out like St Paddy’s day green popcorn.
Poor St Paddy’s day. They once had a monopoly on green products. Green beer, green costumes. Getting green around the gills from too much green beer. Which combined to make their collars green too.
So a green collar job could be an Irish bartender I suppose. Especially if he makes his drunk patrons walk home instead of drive.
I see a lot of those involuntarily green former drunken drivers on bicycles these days. DUI folks who’ve had their license taken away but still need to get back and forth to work. They’re pretty easy to spot. Uncomfortable in the saddle and they just wear street clothes. You’ll never see a DUIey biker in spandex bike shorts.
For one thing, the outline of their stashed flask is all too visible.
Anyhow, this green stuff is pretty cool. Especially the way it’s been embraced by the business community. Who would have thought it would have grown up under a Republican administration that started out scorning everything environmental as a crazy business impediment thrown up by “tree huggers.”
Business has seen the profit potential of—dare I say it?—
And that most important green stuff under every green collar.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

#727 E-Cacophony

The internet may end up being the ultimate reproductive strategy for cleansing the species of idiots. Then again, it may just make more of them.
It’s always been the norm for people with a crazy streak of exhibitionism to embrace new technology. They could, say, go on public access TV and make a fool of themselves. Ham radio brought out the nerds. Cheap amplification brought out the garage bands.
Young and single people aired out their angst in hopes of attracting similar spirits. But the internet and things like YouTube and MySpace are littering the digitosphere with hours of mindless idiocy and florid displays of stupidity.
Forget about eHarmony, eCacophony is stridently flaunting the foibles of humanity.
Take, for instance, Carmen Kontur-Gronquist. The name Kontur is spelled not like the word for curve but like the way they badly spell names of cars. K-o-n-t-u-r-. At this point her judgment is already in question. If I had a name like Kontur I probably wouldn’t hyphenate it with the name Gronquist.
Kontur. Gronquist.
Anyhow, Carmen decided to post risqué photos of herself on MySpace. No problem there. It’s a free internet. The problem arose when certain internet viewers noticed that not only was Carmen on MySpace, she was also the mayor of their fine city of Arlington, Oregon.
She was apparently ousted from her Mayoral position forthwith.
I hesitate to think what would ensue if one of our local mayors were to feel similarly inclined to express his inner naughtiness in this regard. I mean, I’m all for full disclosure and complete transparency for the dealing of politicians. But not of the actual politicians themselves.
We want them to bear up under pressure—but not too bare.
But here’s the really unsettling thing. This woman was a mayor, and presumably smarter than the average bear. But her defense was the pictures she posted on the world wide web were meant to be private.
That’s my space, she explained, that’s why they call it MySpace.
I’m thinking we need some kind of “do you even have a clue?” test for people running for office.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

#726 Extra-maritile

Science has long involved itself in the study of the mating patterns of all sorts of species. Since Darwin, and the conclusion that species do things to insure the success of future generations, science has delved even deeper into the study of reproductive strategies—with sometimes interesting results.
Sex is preceded in many species by dances, gyrations and rituals of foreplay. Of these, it has been more or less determined that humans and only one other species engage in French kissing.
Or “Freedom kissing” as I like to call it every time the rightwing gets upset with the French.
I’m not sure what the scientists call it, Franco-osculation, or lingua-proxima, or tongus-touchimous, but I certainly know that it’s wrong to conclude all species but one fail to engage in it. After all, that assertion has to be limited by the fact that not all species have tongues.
I mean, maybe an amoeba actually does French kiss but on a blobular cellular level. Forming a temporary tongue and sticking it in a temporary mouth preparatory to splitting.
The other species that does it, by the way, is the white-fronted parrot. After the birds open their beaks and make contact with each other’s tongues, the male vomits on the female’s chest.
Apparently, parrots are the only other bulimics as well.
But I got to say, that’s the kind of thing to get me in the mood. Chest-chucking. Talk about a reproductive success strategy.
And speaking of which, here’s an interesting factoid. Genetic testing has determined that monogamy is rare too. Or at least fidelity. 99% of mammals never form lasting pair bonds, and those that do continue to bear illegitimate offspring, as many as 80% in the supposedly monogamous red fox.
The reason, scientists say, is that with every copulation the female increases the chances of getting access to better genes.
And these genes will make her look fat. As in pregnant with better offspring.
So monogamy ain’t common and even when it happens it’s filled with lying, cheating, and sleeping around.
And that’s the strangest thing of all.
Who would have thought scientists would ever agree with country western songwriters?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

#725 Enlarged Peer Pressure

The scene in the commercial is hauntingly familiar. A group of men, or perhaps they’re called a herd, engaged in numerous sporting endeavors.
The first scene shows them deep sea fishing. There are five of them. They appear to be robust, happy, full of life, vim, and vinegar. The next scene shows beautiful scenery and a curving road. Around the bend comes that same group of men, laughing, obviously sharing that camaraderie only a group of bosomless buddies can share.
They point out scenery to one another like little kids, some echo of the time they collected frogs together down by the creek with Tom and Huck.
The next scene shows the same men, but this time they’re roaring down a river in kayaks, grabbing the world of whitewater by the roostertail and exulting in victory—oars held high and fists shaking in the air.
This is life.
And these are men.
But wait. Something about this commercial is odd.
You’re ready for the last scene. You expect all of them to be crowding into a tavern and ordering a round of Bud Lite.
But no, a strange word is flashing on the TV screen.
It’s... Can it be? Yes. It’s...
This isn’t a beer commercial at all. It’s a commercial for a drug to shrink your prostate gland. Oh no!
That explains the other thing you noticed about this ad that is only now registering—all these men are middle-aged. They all have glasses and thinning gray hair.
But where are their families? Why is this group of aging adolescents still out grab-assing with each other? Biking and fishing and kayaking? Where are the kids? Where’s the wife?
Oh, she’s home, probably nagging someone.
And that’s the real truth the drug companies understand. The wife’s been after the husband for years to do something about his benign prostate enlargement. But he won’t listen to her.
But if his buddies do it, well that’s a-okay. Take one for the team? You bet.
For a certain type of guy, the drug companies know how to sell product. Peer pressure for prostate shrinkage.
Hey guys, whaddaya say we go out and knock back a couple of Flomax?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

#724 Ejectile Dysfunction

So the other night I was watching 60 Minutes. And during those 60 minutes what amazed me was how many ads for drugs were ejected into the ether.
Direct to consumer marketing by drug companies is the norm these days. And we all know companies buy ads for specific shows. So I guess it should be no surprise these drugs were targeted at aging baby boomers.
I was just amazed at how frequent the ads were.
More frequent, it seems, than the urge to urinate mentioned in so many of the ads.
Of the five ads I saw in the course of the hour, three of them were related to male hydraulics and plumbing—Flomax, Viagra and Cialis. One of the ads was for general allergy relief and one of the ads was for cholesterol reduction.
I always tune in for side effects when I see an ad for a new drug and so when the allergy one came on, I was all ears.
Turns out this new drug, when taken once a day to dry up the symptoms of allergy discomfort, can lead to either glaucoma or cataracts. This disclaimer was stated in a mild matter of fact tone, after painting the sniffles that the medication was meant to reduce in horrible terms of advanced suffering and misery.
So let’s see, sniffles or...BLINDNESS!
I may not be the brightest bulb in the nursery but I don’t think blindness is a preferred alternative to a runny nose.
Although that’s not the worst I suppose. One of the other drugs mentioned casually that one of it’s side effects, in rare cases, is death. So it’s nice to know if things get bad enough I can always administer self-euthanasia with Flomax.
The drug-induced upsurge in ad income attracted the sports division too. Right after the ad for frequent urination and death was the new Viagra approach.
They sponsored the CBS Sports Update with Greg Gumbel. And actually got naming rights as well. It was called the CBS-Viagra Sports Update.
I guess they had to do something to prop up sagging revenues.
America, ya gotta love it.

#723 Expectations

Robert the Intern came into the station the other day and said, “I think I have something for one of your funny man things. I just walked by these two people sitting in the park and one was saying to the other, ‘Was it supposed to be this sunny?’ Like they couldn’t enjoy a sunny day unless someone had proclaimed it beforehand.”
Obviously not native northwesterners, who by February will gladly sacrifice their Shih Tzu for 30 seconds of random sunlight. But it brings up an interesting point.
“Supposed to be” is not some edict from on high. At least if you’re not a cranky five year old who belts out “Those cookies are spost to be mine!” The word “supposed” in that rendering, has usually been contracted to the single syllable “spost.” And it is almost always delivered with that high intensity partial-whine/partial sulky demand, with a potential pout hovering on the emotional horizon.
Apparently, as we grow older, we still allow “supposed to be” to occupy that realm of factual certainty. As if instead of a consensus of guessing, it’s a command from the king.
“It’s supposed to be sunny,” as usually asserted, carries with it the expectation that it definitely will be sunny and if it isn’t there is grounds for complaint. “Supposed to be” means “should be.” But really, if you parse the phrase, you see that the word “supposed” is actually a word like “assumed” or “guessed” or at the very most “expected.”
“I suppose you can go to the store,” means I can picture your going to the store as one possible scenario of many that I would agree to. “I supposed it was a Lhasa Apso and not a Shih Tzu,” implies I wasn’t sure, and that was my best guess.
Take these two phrases. “He was supposed, by many, to be a good president.” And, “He was supposed to be a good president.” They really mean the same thing.
But dropping the “by many” somehow adds an element of disappointment and violation to the second sentence.
I don’t think we’re supposed to use “supposed” that way.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

#722 Enchante

Lately it seems everywhere I turn people are Frenchifying words. Perhaps it’s a consequence of Starbucks. Like how Dunkin Donuts has been satirizing them lately. Is it a Grande? Is it a Vente? Or can’t we just say Large and Extra Large? What Dunkin calls a weird mixture of French and Italian—Fre-talian.
I only know that my whole life I’ve pronounced ambience, am-bee-ence. And lately I hear people saying ahm-bee-ahnce.
Oh dear, this place has such a dark ahm-bee-ahnce, I feel like we’re in the midst of a film noir setting.
Likewise the word homage, which I’ve always rendered as ahmidge. Kind of like the Amish folk, you know, those quaint people who resist change¾that we pay homage too when we feel like cherishing their simpler society.
I’ve been a couple of places where people have pronounced it Oh-mahdge, with the stress on the last syllable. Let’s pay Oh-mahdge to the creator of this fine ahm-bee-ahnce.
These people seem to have developed a penchant for re-frenchifying words. Excuse me, that’s another one. Penchant. Recently I’ve been hearing it rendered as pahn-chahn.
I have a pahn-chahn for giving oh-madge to arteests that design rooms with a delightful ahm-bee-ahnce.
The truth is, all these words were French to start with. And all of them are appropriately pronounced with a French accent—if you’re in France.
But really, if we start re-frenchifying every word in the English language that started out in that grape-trodden country, we’d get totally confused. Not to mention developing a permanent suppressed honk-like noise in the back of our noses.
Here’s a little tip, the essence of developing a French accent is to say the word honk without the “K” at the end and sort of pinch off the “N” two inches back from your nostrils. Hahn Hahn Hahn.
Think pompous arrogant goose.
Anyhow. If we started the re-frenchification process, lots of words would have to be re-pronounced. Like Avenue. Boulevard. Cul-de-sac.
Oh well. You got to hand it to the French. It looks like when we had a hard time coming up with road names, they came through for us.
America, ya gotta love it.

#721 Ennui Oscar

Many people complained recently about the Oscars. More importantly, they voted with their remote controls by not watching in the first place.
Speculation abounded about why this was so. Was it the host? No, it was pretty much acknowledged that Jon Stewart helped what little market share they had.
Was it the writers’ strike? This was a favorite with many. The theory proposes that there was a groundswell of viewer skepticism and apprehension over the possible quality of the writing, predicated on the notion that weary, just-off-the-picket-line writers only had two weeks to prepare for the show.
I don’t buy it. This requires a level of sophisticated judgment most TV viewers just don’t employ. Hey Honey, let’s not watch the Oscars, the writers are probably so bushed, the jokes will be lame.
A small minority thinks it was because it’s a leap year. And all things that are weird in a leap year are attributable to the fact that it’s a leap year.
My theory is twofold. First, the Academy picked movies that no one even saw. And second, they picked movies that were almost universally depressing. I know they were art and I agree art should be challenging and stuff, but these are depressing times. The economy sucks, the war is dragging on, and congress is solving everything by pursuing Roger Clemons.
So movies need to be entertaining. They need to help us escape. They need to inspire and have fantasy and grandeur. Give us a Lord of the Rings. Give us a Sound of Music. Give us, gosh darnit, a Gigi.
Better yet, let’s grab Oscar watchers by the heartland—give us a Nascar Movie. That’ll bring out the viewers.
Nascar and Oscar. Have Ricky Bobby Will Farrell host. Dress all the presenters in clothes festooned with the logos and names of sponsors.
Then notch up the drama and anticipation. Make the finalists in every category footrace around an oval track on the big Oscar stage to determine the winner. I bet you’d see some fancy footwork from the contenders for “Best Sound Editing in a Short Documentary.”
Oscar and Nascar. It’s a natural.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

#720 Enunciate

So the other day I heard some people talking. And they said everything correctly, but they said those things differently than I say them.
And yet I understood them.
That’s what I like most about our language. It’s so flexible. It allows for variation and yet we still manage to communicate pretty well.
Except in marriages and relationships, of course, when the simplest communication seems to be conscientiously misconstrued.
The person I was talking to said she was going back to Lacey via Pacific Avenue. And she said it with the long “e” sound, vee-uh. I replied that I was going back vy-uh Martin Way. At first she looked at me like I was making fun of her, but then let it pass.
Truth is, vee-uh and vy-uh are both perfectly appropriate ways of saying the same thing. So don’t, as someone else said, try to lam-bast me for saying it wrong. I may have to lam-baste you in return.
Now lambaste is a particularly interesting term because you can not only spell it two ways, with or without a silent “e”, you can also pronounce it two ways, with or without a long “a”.
And here’s the really cool part—you can pronounce it with a long “a” even when you spell it without a silent “e”. Or if you choose, pronounce it with a short “a” and spell it with a silent “e”.
Not only that, it’s really cool to lambaste someone, because even though you’re chewing them out, it sounds like you might be buttering them up. Possibly like a lamb you need to keep moist when you put it back into the oven. Lambaste.
At a high temperature. Which, as you can see, I try to pronounce with all the syllables. Temp-er-a-ture. Not, as some do, in the more languid “temp-uh-chure.”
I’m not sure what the temp-uh-chure is outside, but it chure is nice and cumf-ter-bul. I often find myself mumbling the more casual cumf-ter-bul. Even though I prefer com-fort-a-ble with all the syllables enunciated.
That, at least, is one word that hardly ever gets the syllables mushed. Enunciate.
America, you’ve got to love it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

#719 Encrypted Ticket

Scalpers have destroyed the internet. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but it’s safe to say that the effect of scalpers overbuying tickets has made buying tickets online harder for regular people.
The other day I go to buy some tickets to a concert. I figure I’ll save myself the gas and buy online. I go to the Ticketmaster website and enter in the number of tickets I want. Then I enter in that I’m willing to pay for golden circle, and click on the “next” button.
The next screen features two scrawly words that are the internet’s new anti-scalper version of encrypting. Automatic computerized buyers aren’t supposed to be able to identify the words. They’re sort of scribbled and a line is running though them that really makes them hard to read.
I find out, after I’ve made a few mistakes, that they are case sensitive as well. Some of the words I can’t read accurately at all. Largely because the wavy line they have running through them cuts across a “c” sometimes and makes it look like a lower case “e” or an upper case C like an uppercase G and so on.
My question: If this encrypting method of squigglifying words is so effective, why are there two words on the screen?
Naturally, each mistake consumes expensive time I could be using more productively doing something else.
I finally get to the next page and it offers me two seats that suck. Down at the bottom it says, “Reserve these seats or give them up and try again?”
So that’s what I do. But I don’t get to just have their computer decide on two more tickets. I have to go back to the first screen and enter what and how many, back to the encrypting screen and decipher, and back to the next offer—which is two more seats that suck.
Again and again and again.
It’s gotta have something to do with scalpers. Not even the fee-sucking pirates at Ticketmaster would intentionally design something this inefficient.
So why don’t they have a real-time seating chart with what’s available?
And why am I suddenly playing a game of “Deal or No Deal?”
America, ya gotta love it.

#718 Alien Western Seeder

So I was reading a book not long ago in which tumbleweeds figured prominently. You know tumbleweeds. Those strange uprooted remnants of bushes that blow across deserted landscapes in old western movies.
The very symbol of desolation.
The quintessential image of the old west.
Especially when it comes to old western ghost towns. Or even just a bad day for good live western towns, when the scared citizens have gone inside to hunker down till the big shoot out between the hardcase forces of evil and the hard-jawed faces of good is over. When you think tumbleweed, you think old west.
Unless that west is older than 1877.
Yep, 1877, because that’s when the Russian thistle first made its alien invasive way onto the Great Plains. The plant, also known as salsola, first showed up in Bon Homme, South Dakota, apparently stowed away in some flax seed from the Ukraine. South Dakota was too harsh for growing flax, but by 1900, tumbleweeds had rolled all the way to the pacific.
The reason it tumbles, in case you’re wondering like I once was before Wikipedia, is because it breaks off from its roots in the fall and catches the wind to go out for a little rock and rolling, in the process scattering its seeds hither and yon.
The similarity to a young cowpoke, breaking from the roots of his family and drifting across the west, scattering little cowboys from hell to breakfast, appears to be an unconscious tumbleweed analogy in many a western picture show.
It’s certainly an interesting seed dispersal method.
They say Tumbleweed seeds are edible but difficult to collect in quantity. They are actually related to the amaranth family, one of which supplies that exotic seed you see in multigrain breads.
Yum. Tumbleweed bread. Do you have any moist butter? Tumbleweed bread’s so dry, it’s already toast.
But it is kind of cool how international our iconic American westerns turned out to be with a good American actor and Italian director filmed in a bad part of Spain and the ugly Russian thistle rolling around for effect.
America, ya gotta love it.

#717 Annoying Tone

I read this article that said British lawmakers are considering banning a device being used on young people that prevents loitering. Apparently, there’s this thing called the Mosquito that emits a high-pitched piercing sound that’s painfully annoying to young folk but can’t be heard by most people over the age of 25.
Since the device was introduced two years back, over 3500 stores, bars, etc have used it to prevent young people from loitering in the area. Those against the device question the motives of a society that would use a low-level sonic weapon on its children.
Oh, I don’t know.
Perhaps the kind of society where the children use tub-thumping monster ghetto blasters hammering obnoxious profanity-laden rap lyrics on its adults.
It’s sonic war out there folks. Battle of the sound systems. Drive down any street and hear the voices of the young—blaring hip-hop, twanging young country, fuzz-busting grunge. What’s a little high-pitched teen annoyer in all that cacophony?
But ya gotta wonder about the science. Who discovered this perfect annoying-to-teens tone? Was it an offshoot of dolphin sonar research? Did some enterprising scientist parse the sound waves of a nagging Mom’s tirade?
“Get up there and clean your room Billy, or you’re grounded. Why don’t you ever pick up your dishes? And your laundry is scattered everywhere. You’re as bad as your father. Do you want to grow up to be a lazy beer-guzzling couch potato like him??
The husband, meanwhile, is well passed 25 and now both physically and constitutionally able to screen out the high-pitched annoying undertone.
Really though. It bears some examination. What would be the evolutionary advantage, in the sense of propagation of the species? You’re so annoyed by a tone when you’re young that you want to vacate the premises and immune to it when you’re older. Immune in the sense that you don’t pay that much attention. Perhaps because by that time you’ve developed some discretion.
What emits a high-pitched sound that would warn away the ignorant young but doesn’t concern adults? Mosquitoes? Keening coyotes? Screeching Momma and Pappa primates making more monkeys?
Hey. Give us some privacy kid...
America, ya gotta love it.

#716 Attributes

I was having a conversation with my friend Bobby about the hiccup controversy and he said, “You know, that’s where the term cowboy-up comes from. It was originally hick-up.”
I get it. Cowboy-up without the hat. A just plain hiccup.
So I was thinking about cowboys and cowgirls on my way to the restroom, and that got me thinking about restroom designations using those names. Like in Mexican restaurants where they say Senor and Senorita.
Some places it gets totally confusing. I was in a plumbing supply house and the doors said, “Inside” and “Outside.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the bathroom or an exit.
Anyhow, that got me thinking about the international restroom signs. I remember when they first came out. I thought the handicapped one, where the silhouette individual is sitting down, was the one for females. It made sense. At that point I had only seen that one and the standing up silhouette figure.
I call the international silhouette figures Peds by the way. Because they’re like the ones on signs that say Ped Crossing.
I finally saw what I presume was the female Ped on what I assumed were the female facilities. I deduced that because it appeared to have on a skirt.
Naturally, I thought that was sexist as hell. Sex isn’t about clothing. Why should a man’s silhouette be depicted wearing only pants and a female’s only skirts?
And not a very fashionable skirt at that. A simple wedgelike number. For the most part a shapeless smock. Which, if you asked me, made the Ped-ette look a little fat.
So why should a skirt be the crucial difference? Give the Peds feet and put hers in high heels. Give the Ped guy a bulge for a beer gut.
I mean, if we’re talking average silhouette attributes...
Because what about guys that do wear dresses? What about Scots in kilts and Bedouins in robes?
These are international signs right?
It’s not much of a stretch to suppose the female silhouette looks like a guy wearing short chaps.
It’s only a matter of time before some hick up from the tullies saunters into the wrong outhouse...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

#715 Accidental Byways

There’s a certain amount of regionalism in how we speak. Before I moved to the northwest, I never heard the phrase “on accident.” Back where I came from—or back where I come from—the term was always “by accident.”
The preposition “by” gives the meaning that whatever it was that happened was brought about by some other power or entity, in this case the mysterious entity of chance. Accidental things could not be said to have been intentional, therefore they were acted upon by something outside oneself.
It happened “by” another force, it was not acting “on” another force.
Something could happen “on purpose” but not “on accident.” “On” implies that it was on your say so. On your honor. On your volition.
But one day, when my son was young, he very strongly maintained that something had happened “on accident.” As his mother or I had never uttered the phrase, I was pretty sure it had come from his peers.
Since that time, I have noted numerous native northwesterners saying the same thing. So, if you’re an FBI guy looking to pick out the possible terrorist from the natives, there’s another clue to add to your bag of tricks.
Another might be the term hiccup. H-i-c-c-u-p-.
Or possibly hiccough with an o-u-g-h-.
I grew up with hiccups. I thought the word to be largely imitative in origin. The word hiccup sounds awfully like the sound you make when you hiccup.
And then I read the word hicc-o-u-g-h- in a learned publication and I began to wonder. At first I assumed it was just one of those spelling alternatives that never got pronounced like Worcestershire and victuals being woostershur and vittles.
Then I heard someone actually say hiccough. Cuff not cup. Was me using the term hiccup a sign of my lower class upbringing? Was I giving myself away in upper social circles by saying hiccup and not hiccough?
And worse, was I hiccupping wrong in the first place? Should I be hic-cuffing?
No. Turns out the guy was wrong. When I confronted him he said he used the term hic-cuff on accident.
America, ya gotta love it.

#714 Appetizing

I watched The Oscars the other night. The union writers were back so they didn’t have to hire scabs. And it was cool because I could watch all the Superbowl commercials again, but without the ones for beer.
I don’t know why advertisers think Oscar watchers are so different demographically that they’d prefer to watch commercials for Diet Coke rather than beer.
Anyhow, among the McDonald’s bacon-ranch-fried-chicken sandwich and heart-healthy Diet Coke commercials there were a couple of commercials about some make-up that makes your eyes look better. They ads said, “...the signs of age come in the blink of an eye. The crepe-i-ness, the sagging...” and so on.
And I went, huh? Crepe-i-ness?
Is this someone with a regional accent saying crapiness?
And then I realized they were modifying the word crepe. Which to me was, quite frankly, a little creepy. When we age, our eyes are apparently going to look like some fancy French breakfast.
Stuffed with little brown-pupiled raisins perhaps, the eyeballs white as whipped cream, or strawberry red from the previous night’s debauchery.
Actually, I’m sure they mean that nearly translucent skin you get with age. The stuff on the back of your grandma’s hand that when you pinch it, stays the shape you pinched it into for awhile. The stuff that’s so thin and dry you can see the cholesterol-clogged veins underneath. It’s crepe-y.
I’ll never enjoy a French breakfast again.
Then again, enjoyable names for food are tough sometimes. I saw an ad recently for Smucker’s Uncrustables. Now when you have a name like Smuckers you’re already in dangerous territory as far as pleasant sounding syllables. So to call something Uncrustable...
Here’s the concept of this sandwich. You load two pieces of soft non-fibered non-nutritious white bread with peanut butter and jelly and then cut off the crusts and fuse the edges. Then you individually package it. Heck. What’s one more useless wrapper in the landfill?
But what’s worse is calling it uncrustable. It’s just horribly wrong from a poetic perspective. It’s not soothing, the word uncrustable. It’s not romantic or musical, uncrustable. It doesn’t sound like a food.
It sounds like an ointment.
To prevent scabs.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

#713 Ambling

In a recent essay, I was talking about how drug companies market directly to consumers these days. That got me thinking about how it used to be.
Your doctor would most likely say “…take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” knowing from his years of wisdom that most complaints were best cured by a little time and the body’s own tendency to heal itself. Occasionally, he would decide—for himself—whether you needed a drug. Then he’d write you a prescription.
The drugs all had mysterious chemical names—not fancy direct to consumer marketing names—and you could never figure them out as you looked at the Doc’s scrawled prescription when you took it to the pharmacist.
The pharmacist would hem and haw and often grumpily count out careful measures of whatever it was he thought the doctor had written. Sometimes he got clues to deciphering the Doctor’s poor penmanship by putting you through a little verbal diagnostic examination of his own. Redundancy at its best.
When you paid your bill, the doctor and the pharmacist usually had convenient terms. The drugs themselves weren’t super-mega drugs with millions of dollars of advertising behind them, and so were affordable enough you didn’t have to take out a payday loan to cover them.
By the way, when I wrote about those payday loans the other day, the term usury came up. I found out something interesting. Usury isn’t just a cool word that starts with a “u” you actually pronounce.
It currently means the practice of loaning money at exorbitant interest rates. But it used to mean the practice of loaning money with any interest rates.
And it was once a sin to loan money with interest. So, in the middle ages, only non-Christians could do it. Which lead to the story of the Merchant of Venice and pounds of flesh and stuff.
Shakespeare’s depiction of interest equivalent to losing a pound of flesh sounded scary.
Big Pharma should do some marketing research. If enough people have read The Merchant of Venice, “Usury” might make a good name for a diet pill...
America, ya gotta love it.

#712 Ambient Psychosis

Used to be you felt sick, went to your doctor, and he or she in his or her infinite wisdom recommended a course of action. Sometimes that course required drugs of some sort. In those days, the drug companies got doctors to use or recommend their drugs by giving the doctors lots of free samples. Not to mention parties, trips, and office furniture. Some people thought that was suspect.
Around the turn of this century drug companies started marketing directly to the ultimate consumers, the uninformed patients. The drug companies knew the overworked doctors were likely as not to cave in to direct requests from their complaining patients.
If only to get the whiners off their backs and out of their offices.
Now every TV and magazine is loaded with drug ads claming pain free, peaceful, unstressed, euphoric, tumescence.
So I saw this one drug that they claim keeps you alert, even when you’re exhausted. Sounds good doesn’t it?
What if you knew it can cause depression, anxiety, hallucinations, psychosis and suicidal thoughts? Doesn’t matter. Most people ignore side effects and fix their hopeful minds on the advertised effect.
There is no such thing as a side effect. All drugs have effects. Period.
The drug mentioned above is called Provigil and is marketed to combat excessive sleepiness.
Yep. Suicidal psychosis keeps me alert.
It gets worse. The other day in National Geographic, I actually found a coupon for a free week’s worth of Ambien. All I had to do was take it to my doctor for a prescription, then take it to my pharmacist, who would give me a week’s supply free.
One of Ambien side effects is interesting. I’ll use their words. “Sleepwalking, and eating or driving while not fully awake, with amnesia for the event, have been reported. If you experience any of these behaviors, report it to your physician immediately.”
Well if you had amnesia about it, how would you know?
Great. So now we have a country full of coupons for a free drug that creates zombies.
Maybe it’s time we went back to free furniture for doctors.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

#711 Accidental Loan

The banking industry has a love/hate relationship with the payday check cashing industry. On the one hand, they know that their bank loans have better chance of being paid on time thanks to check cashers. On the other hand, they envy the rates check cashers can charge.
Which, by the way, are drastically overstated. In every tirade I’ve read against the check-cashing companies they always roll in the fees as part of the overall interest rates cited. Why, they’ll say, that’s the equivalent of 400% a year!
The regular banks like to sniff their noses at the upstart check-cashing places. Which is funny because they are the ones that loan the money to check-cashing places to start with. You can bet they make their prescribed number of ounces on that ol’ pound of flesh.
And numerous “legitimate” banks, as they like to think of themselves, own stock in check-cashing places that helps prop up their corporate bottom line.
But here’s the most interesting thing. I once overdrew my checking account to the tune of five dollars. Yep. I accidentally borrowed five dollars from the bank. A bank I’d traded thousands and thousands of dollars with over the years. Which money they used freely to invest for greater returns—maybe even in check-cashing places.
Well not completely freely, they paid me a quarter percent interest for the privilege of using my money.
They also charged me $30 in overdraft fees for that $5.00 I accidentally borrowed. Which, if you use the math of payday detractors, is like what, 600% interest?
No you say, that’s a fee.
Fine, then it’s a fee for everyone and you can’t roll the check-cashers fee in as part of their interest equation.
Because for every $5.00 I borrowed, the bank would have kept dinging me another 30 bucks.
And don’t think the banks don’t know what a cash cow that is. The other day I saw this billboard from a bank and it said “sign up with us and get one free overdraft a year!”
Yeah, heh heh, the first time’s free...
That’s the other reason banks hate check-cashing places.
They’re losing the income from their exorbitant overdraft, um, fees.
America, ya gotta love it.