Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#753 Interfearence

So, okay, I’m full of fear.
Fear of the interference of radio waves in our lives. Well, radar waves anyhow.
Here’s what got my paranoia bubbling like a bowl of chili in a microwave. Have you ever plopped a glop of chili out of a can like dog food? You know, you cut the top out of a can, then flip it over and start opening the can’s bottom. After a little while, air gets in and the whole mass glops into a bowl. Whole.
So you’ve got this can-shaped mass of meat-like stuff. It’s roughly the consistency of a brain. Now, just for giggles, put that in a microwave and see how many seconds it takes to bubble, melt, or explode. Got the image?
Okay, back to my paranoia. I called my son on my cordless phone the other day. As I’m sure you know, cordless phones work with short distance radio waves. The phone sends and receives signals to and from the base unit.
While I was talking, I put some cold pizza on a plate, took it over to the microwave oven and fired it up. Suddenly my ear was filled with static. The interference was so bad, my son couldn’t understand me. I immediately deduced that my supposedly shielded microwave was sending out radar beams into my phone.
So I walked away. And away. And away. Eventually I was able to talk without interference. 40 feet away from my microwave.
Forty feet before I was free from the interference.
Back to the can-shaped mass of chili in the microwave. Obviously, it doesn’t bubble outside the closed door. But still. Brain cells are pretty small and fragile.
Come to think of it, your reproductive cells are fragile too.
So I’m just saying. Even if you don’t have a pacemaker, you might want to think about strolling forty feet away next time you nuke some popcorn.
Unless you’re completely happy with the number and quality of your children...
Then again, the damage is probably done at this point.
Maybe I should let my microwave-induced Alzheimer’s take over and forget all about it.
America, ya gotta love it.

#752 Invest dot Pizza

I read the statistics appalled. The number of new claims for unemployment rose by 407,000 in the last week. Nearly half a million people out of jobs.
Even the white-collar folks are turning on each other. The mortgage bankers association is having trouble getting a mortgage on their new building in Washington, D.C. The bank wants more money down, and they’re also adding a bump to the interest rate.
What did the mortgage folks call it to the sub-primers? An adjustment? A correction? A reset?
You know chickens are slim pickin’s when the foxes start fighting in the henhouse.
But amidst all this negative news is a shining light of entrepreneurial optimism. A beacon of buoyancy, a shaft of radiant hope.
The power of pizza.
That’s right pizza, that quintessentially American food from Italy. But more important is the power to exploit the American obsession with pizza. All because on one man’s foresight, one man’s vision, one man’s dream.
14 years ago. The year was 1994. Our economy was surging with high tech. The internet was young, and full of wild schemes for instant success. entrepreneurs were bazillionaires and they hadn’t sold a single book. Google wasn’t even a spark in Page and Brin’s eye, much less a verb. We were in the midst of what came to be called the tech bubble.
After it popped.
But one man held on to his dream. He knew that one day, maybe not then, maybe not ten years from then, but one day, his little 20 dollar investment would pay off.
20 bucks bought Chris Clark a domain name. And he has nursed it ever since. Until today, 14 years from the inception of his startling clear vision, the payday has come. He sold his domain name for 2.6 million dollars.
The name of the domain? Pizza dot com.
That’s it, simple, accessible, even folks in other countries can grasp it immediately.
Pizza dot com. Dinner is only a click away.
Put it in your favorites, next to beer dot net and naughtymovies dot org, and you’ve got a world wide frat party.
Hope springs eternal.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

#751 Invisible Grams

Would you like cream in your coffee?
No, I’ll have some corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated soybean oil please.
Farfetched? Hardly. People indulge themselves daily in this pseudo-cream concoction. A staple in offices and restaurants worldwide, stable at room temperature for millennium, easy to transport, perfect for hiking, powdered cream substitute is the survivalist’s friend.
And here’s an interesting psychological fact. Yesterday, when I added some to my coffee it actually seemed to cool it like real cream too. No kidding. I was fully prepared to say the biggest advantage of fake cream powder was it didn’t chill your coffee when you added it like real cream. But my coffee felt cooler on my tongue. Maybe it was the taste of aluminum.
So, interested as I am in modern food chemistry, I looked closely at the nutrition and ingredients panel on the brand of powdered creamer I had.
There’s 10 calories in a teaspoon, none of them from fat, trans or otherwise. It has 0 grams of cholesterol and 0 grams of sodium. It contains 1 measly gram of carbohydrates and 0 grams of protein.
Which I find interesting since the second ingredient on the list is partially hydrogenated soybean oil. It’s another one of those “it’s not a full one gram so it’s 0 grams” evasions. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil would theoretically be a source of trans fat, fat, and protein but since there’s not enough to make a full gram in a teaspoon it doesn’t count.
Never mind than a microgram of LSD could send you on a one-day trip, 45% of a gram of trans fat is the official government FDA equivalent of nothing.
But that’s okay, because you also get presumably safe imaginary amounts of sodium caseinate and sodium silicoaluminate in your 0 grams of sodium.
The silicoaluminate, I’m told, prevents clumping.
Great, non-dairy kitty litter.
Silico means sand. Aluminate means, well, let’s just say aluminum from pans may not be the only Alzheimer’s point source for worry.
What’s wrong with Grandpa McCain, Mommy?
Creamer overdose.
Is he clumping?
Only in his brain.
America, ya gotta love it.

#750 Infant M&M’s

So not long ago I was walking though the supermarket and I ran across a display of Easter candy on sale. Among the Robin Eggs and Peeps were some bags of pastel-colored M&M’s. I snapped them up.
Half off? You bet.
I could care less Easter is passed. The great thing about M&M’s making seasonal varieties is that you find them on sale. And the greater thing is, whether they’re traditional, Halloween orange, or Easter pastel, they taste exactly alike.
Why do they still call them M&M’s though? They’re all the same. Just call them M’s…
There were a couple of disturbing things on the packaging. The whole thing was called a “Bunny Mix.” I’m always a little wary about bunnies and small pellet shaped items.
I raised bunnies in science class and, well, let’s just say pellets accrue.
The package also featured a picture of the M&M cartoon character known as Red, which is a large red M&M with arms, three-fingered hands, bare legs, and shoes. He also has eyes, eyebrows, and a mouth. The rest of him is an M&M—no hips, shoulders, butt, pants, shirt, or whatever. Just a round swollen disc.
In this rendition, he is holding what appears to be a gardening spade and wearing green, three-fingered gardening gloves. The side of his mouth is cracked open as if he is a New York wiseguy, and the words next to it say, “Springtime brings out my sensitive side.” Disturbingly, behind him are featureless pastel-colored M&M’s planted in flowerpots.
So two things: Is gardening only for sensitive folks? I mean, growing a field of ethanol-destined corn is gardening in a sense. Harvesting hops headed for the brewery is gardening.
So why is the macho M&M insinuating gardening is less than fully masculine?
Second. Why is an M&M only human when it has shoes, and plant-like when it’s in a pot?
Cause really, since the M&Ms in the flowerpot are smaller, it looks like Big Red is burying M&M babies.
A distinctly insensitive thing to do.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

#749 Intake Exhausted

If I were to ask you, which is the greater polluter, a giant gas guzzling SUV or a little two-stroke motorbike, you’d probably say the SUV.
Me too. I mean, just in terms of gas consumption alone, you’d figure the carbon footprint of an SUV has got to be a 14 quadruple E.
But guess what? The little two-stroke may be a midget, but it’s got humongous carbon feet. A single two-stroke engine produces pollution equivalent to 30 to 50 four-stroke automobiles. The 100 million motorcycles in Asia, half of them being the two-stroke variety, produce about 2.5 billion cars worth of smog.
Two-stroke engines aren’t just in Asia. They’re here too, in snowmobiles, jet skis, and outboard motors. As usual, the problem is short-term economics versus long-term damage. The thing is, two-strokes are cheap. And since they’re small, even though they burn gas inefficiently, they burn less gas per mile than a big honking SUV, so poor folks in developing countries like ‘em.
And rich folks in snowy woods and hog riders on the waters either don’t care or don’t have an alternative.
Enter Bryan Willson with an invention that’s putting out a good vibration. His company Envirofit sells a cheap retrofit kit for two-stroke engines. It reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 90% and increases fuel efficiency by 35%.
The problem with two strokes is they burn fuel inefficiently because it gets mixed with engine oil. That mix gets drawn into the cylinder as exhaust gases as expelled out and some of the uncombusted stuff is expelled out too. You can actually follow snowmobile tracks and see that oil on the snow. Oil that seeps into the soil and the water table. Polluting some of our most pristine areas.
This carbon footprint is the messy kind you literally track into the kitchen of your mountain cabin.
Willson’s retrofit kit replaces the carburetor and directs fuel directly into the cylinder. And it might actually catch on. Because it will pay off quickly enough in fuel savings for poor Asian cyclists to want to use it.
Let’s hope they don't use the extra money to save up for a giant SUV.
America, ya gotta love it.

#748 Inhale Income

So I was talking to a friend the other day who smokes. He mentioned in passing the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Aha, I thought, there’s a vast conspiracy afoot. Why does the cost of a pack of cigarettes seem so completely indexed to the cost of a gallon of gasoline?
Gas and Cigarettes, next to booze the two most heavily taxed commodities.
Folks in New York are facing a different pack of trouble. New York has thought, hey, we need more revenue for healthcare, so let’s target the unhealthy smokers again.
By the way, a recent study not funded by the tobacco industry indicated that the much-ballyhooed statistics that smokers add more to health care costs ignored a vital fact.
Smokers die a lot sooner.
And, in fact, cost less healthwise, because they don’t make it out to the eldercare years when Alzheimer’s, and the gradual breakdown of the body with kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis adds staggering costs.
But New York State is just focusing on short term revenue and proposing to tax cigarettes an additional $1.25 to $2.75 a pack. A New York City resident already pays $1.50 a pack city tax and 39 cents federal tax so in that smoky burg the average cost of cigarettes will likely be 9 dollars a pack.
At that price New York will be smoke free in a week.
Then where will all their revenue come from?
The truth is, the strategy will backfire quicker than an investment in a Middle Eastern war.
Can you say black market?
Historically, any time a product that is used by the masses has become price prohibitive, organized crime fires up an alternative. From moonshine to meth, bad habits are what keep the poor folk from rising up out of their economic chains.
If one of their habits gets to costing way too much, they are more than willing to become a criminal to smuggle it or have it smuggled to them.
And tax revenues will fall, the black market will grow, and disrespect for the law will become an even more dangerous and insidious habit.
America, ya gotta love it.

#747 Infertile Fabric

I was reading a science magazine and they had a small humorous article about a strange experiment done by an Egyptian researcher. Seems he determined that polyester pants affected ones ability to have sexual relations.
He thought it may be because the polyester sets up an electrostatic field next to the genitals and prevented arousal or something.
The article didn’t completely explain since its writer was intent on making a joke at the researcher’s expense. Because, to prove his hypothesis, the researcher dressed his rats in polyester pants. The article writer proposed that the rats’ dysfunction may have been directly related to how funny they looked in the little pants.
But the researcher dressed the rats in pants of not only polyester, but of cotton and wool too. So really, all his rats looked funny. But the ones in cotton and wool were still more successful sexually than those in polyester.
I read the article and one word came to my mind: Disco. Oh ho, I thinks, finally an explanation for the Bee Gees’ falsetto. Staying Alive indeed, but not as a species.
But that’s just disco snobbery. In the movie, John Travolta was depicted as quite the wolf, literally not in sheep’s clothing, as his white polyester suit got him lots of attention from the opposite sex.
My theory is that the rats in question, should they have been able to get out of the little pants and actually get, as they say, jiggy with it, may have been hampered by the polyester for a couple of reasons.
Maybe the polyester was harder to take off. Polyester doesn’t breathe as well. And rat claws may have snagged on its clammy surface. Dry, smooth, cotton and wool are easier for a rat to shuck. And pant-shucking speed is crucial to one night rat stands.
Or maybe the polyester led to chafing. Who’s in the mood when they’re chafed?
Perhaps if the researcher had used more modern polyester fabrications, like relatively breathable polar fleece, his results would have changed.
Okay. He should write a new grant.
Maybe the synthetic textile industry would kick in on this one.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

#746 Interdiction Priorities

So I was up at the courthouse the other day. I had to go up to take part in some county commissioner thing. And I noticed something odd. It’s not new, it’s just something I realized for the first time.
One of the three courthouse buildings houses the sheriff’s department, one building houses the courts and judges and one houses the administration. The one that holds the administration contains the offices of the county clerk, the county auditor, the county treasurer and the county assessor. It also has offices for all three county commissioners.
One building holds all the key upper county officials upon which depends the leadership of the county.
Then there’s the building that contains the courts and the judges. The judicial branch as opposed to the executive branch. Separation of powers physically as wells as constitutionally.
The judicial building has another feature the executive building doesn’t have. It has a security checkpoint. One of those screening things like in airports. Empty your keys and change in a tray, walk through an x-ray tunnel, have a magic wand waved over your bulges, you know. Terrorist protection.
So dumb guy that I am, I had one of those thoughts like I had when I was driving past the giant fence protecting Fort Lewis: Wait a minute. They’re the ones with guns. It’s us unarmed people that need a fence.
So it is with the courthouse buildings. Are they protecting the right people? I’ve got nothing against judges, but it seems to me if a terrorist was going to do something to cripple the county, interrupting its flow of traffic ticket processing would not have a serious effect.
So why would they want to bomb judges?
Someone’s protection priorities are skewed. The message here seems to be that the county executive officials are expendable. And the best way to keep the county going in the event of an attack is to keep our judges functioning.
We may not be able to process property taxes, but by golly, we can get a fine and community service out of a fender bender offender with a cellphone.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

#745 Insidious Copy, Right?

It doesn’t take much to set me off. To detect the insidious strangeness hiding beneath the ordinary.
The other night I was watching a DVD. It was a compilation of television show episodes. The disclaimer at the opening said, “Warning, the motion picture contained in this videodisc is protected under the...”
I better stop. In case the text of the copyright warning is copyrighted.
Anyhow, the strangeness feelers in my brain first twitched at the term motion picture. I’ve always seen “motion picture” as being synonymous with “movie.” Not a series of TV shows.
But when you stop to think about it, TV shows are pictures in motion as well. And when you stop to think about it even further, “motion picture” is a pretty primitive way of describing the process.
It’s like calling today’s movies “talkies.” Or moving pictures “movies.” It’s a throwback to the time when the norm vis-à-vis pictures was that they weren’t moving.
Look Ma, those pictures up on that there shiny flat thing is a-movin’!
My next twitch came when I saw the word contained—“the motion picture contained in this videodisc.” As if the videodisc was a bag and we pulled the moving pictures out of it. I suppose it’s true that the components of the movie are on the videodisc in the form of digitized pieces of information, which are then extracted to reconstitute moving pictures or images on a screen.
So in a sense the videodisc does contain the picture. As a CD contains a song.
But I would rather say it contains a record of the song or the record of the movie which can be read or decoded.
Still, you are copyrighting the motion picture and not the record. Like you copyright stories. A book definitely contains a story, which is separate from the book in some sense. A copyright of a story doesn’t change if the publisher prints it using a different font.
I just wish we had a more modern name than motion picture...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

#744 Involuntary Monetary

So, thanks, to Visa, I was just given the involuntary opportunity to participate in the specialized field of international currency market speculation.
You may remember recently that one of the crises in world financial markets brought about by the credit collapse was the monstrous malfunction of hedge funds. Hedge funds are supposed to be a strategy to make money on the market whether it goes up or down.
Except our recent hedgesters all bet on the same side of the market and went, to use the technical term, kerplooey.
Currency markets can sometimes be played the same way. Or they can be played like any risky stock purchase. Buy low sell high.
You hope.
If the dollar is on a more or less consistent downward slide and you’re, say, a gigantor financial institution like Visa, who processes millions of tiny transactions a day, the less dollars you have to pay today and can pay out tomorrow, when they are worth less, they better off you are.
So how to hedge your bets?
I got a notice from Visa that my supposedly “same-as-cash” debit card, backed by them, is no longer actually same as cash.
They are saying it’s their new right to pay me whatever favorable exchange rate they choose.
So say I went to Canada and bought a 10 Canadian dollar latte at the equivalent that day of 10 American dollars. If the next day the American dollar were to fall in value relative to the Canadian, such latte would now cost 10.50 American.
And Visa could pocket the difference. Risk free.
Pay Canada $10 on the day of the first transaction. Charge me $10.50 when they process it.
Because, according to this new “agreement” they sent, they don’t have to report the transaction and post it to my account until they are ready.
Bankcards have redefined the concept of “agreement” to mean “they agree I have no real choice in the matter.”
Actually I do. Get my cash exchanged for cash at the border. And the only Visa I’ll use in a foreign country is if one is attached to my passport.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

#743 Intransigent

Our culture is littered with intransigent artifacts.
We still say we dial the phone, even though phones haven’t had dials for decades. We “type” out messages when in fact we “tap” out messages on a keyboard. We talk about when a new record comes out when in fact it’s a CD.
I was reading an old book the other day and it mentioned a couple of early profitable stocks. One of them was GM and the other was AT&T. Most people can probably figure out GM is General Motors, an artifact from the time when cars were called motor coaches.
But how about AT&T. Any ideas? American Telephone and what? American Telephone and Telegraph.
The telegraph was an early device for tapping out messages using a code based on the English alphabet. WTF you say?
Yep. Early texting. Imagine teenagers using telegraphs and tapping Morse code to each other when they had a difficult question on a test in class.
Send out that SOS, ace the test, and when we think about the teacher’s face we’ll LOL.
So anyhow, what got me to thinking about this artifact thing, dude, was I was in Costco the other day and I chanced to look over at the eating area. Most specifically at the eating area tables.
The Tumwater Costco once had their eating area outdoors. It was very, very, cold. And, you know, there was weather and stuff. It took brave souls and stomachs to endure the discomfort long enough to bolt down a kosher dog.
So they remodeled and opened it back up indoors. But they didn’t buy new furniture. So the furniture they have now looks a little odd. Picnic tables indoors.
Which I suppose I could deal with except for one thing, they have umbrellas.
Seems like an artifact they could get rid of.
Unless patrons have complained of flying food bits from the enthusiastically eating picnickers at the next table. Churro dust perhaps, or mustard glops propelled from exploding frankfurters.
Still, I suppose it’s nice to have an umbrella, if only to protect from the unforgiving rays of that harsh fluorescent light.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

#742 Indignity

Politicians are beginning to annoy me. They’re encroaching on my territory.
I expect them to been seen in just about every arena of American life while they’re out on the stump. I know it’s important they appeal to the common person, that they show they’re the salt of the earth, that they roll up their sleeves and dig right in to BBQ, baked goods and now, apparently, bowling.
But what makes them think they’re comedians?
Lately it seems like part of the campaign circuit is to appear on the late night talk shows. I’m not sure when that became the norm, it seems like only a few years ago such behavior was considered unbecoming for candidates for the highest office in the land.
Maybe you’d see a scotch-tippled aging senator, but presidential candidates wouldn’t stoop to such indignity.
When they started to appear, the talk show hosts usually conducted a wooden, restrained conversation that did nothing to improve the public’s perception of either the candidate or the host.
Then the jokes started to creep in. An occasional one-liner slipped into the interview. The final zinger delivered by the presidential contender to the host’s obviously feigned delight. Obvious to me anyhow, who does that sort of humor thing a lot.
Audiences appeared to lap it up. Telling jokes was getting right up there with baby-kissing and posing with military folks as a vote getter.
And now they are doing whole bits. The other night I saw one of the candidates in a complete stand-up set piece. Trading one-liners with the host like they were in a joke-off in on The Last Comic Standing.
And, annoyingly, he was good. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, candidates see more audiences in a week than most comics see in a year. And hitting the cadences, emphasis points, and applause lines of a stump speech is not unlike honing a “tight twenty” in stand-up.
Still. I had a hard enough time with an actor being president. I’m not sure I’m ready for a comedian.
Should court jesters be kings?
Is having a buffoon in charge of the red button a good idea?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

#741 Infinite Language

One of the great things about the American language is how flexible it is. They call Latin a dead language because it never changes. No one is inventing any new Latin these days.
It’s fossilized, finalized, finis.
No one is going to come up with the Latin equivalent of “for shizzle”. But with American, new words keep popping up everyday.
What’s this “American” you say, don’t you mean English?
I think we’ve reached the point where we North Americans can lay claim to a new language, or at least one deserving of its own name. American and English are like horses and asses. Put ‘em together and the parts still fit, but try to breed ‘em and you get mules.
American is growing with entrepreneurial energy. Slang rapidly merging into the mainstream. Words quickly invented to cover new realities. “Cellphone” is a great example. “Spam” another. “Email.” “Texting” as a verb. Our language grows with new activities and whether I’m fat and sassy or chillin’ in the shade it’s all good dude.
Well, it’s not all good.
I heard a commercial the other day where the announcer said a battery had a “fer-miliar” name. Sorry. I won’t accept “fermiliar” any more than I will accept “Warshington.” Or doing the “warshing.”
Odd. Since our language easily accommodates the three pronunciations of debacle. DeBOCKel. DeBACKel and DEBickel. It’s also quite inclusive when it comes to the word Integral, allowing for both IN-tig-rul and In-TEG-rul.
This commercial with “fermiliar” in it also didn’t seem to know the meaning of the word trust. Or perhaps was employing the recent political and Madison Avenue strategy of “Assertive Hyperbole.”
Say some exaggeration firmly enough, often enough, and people won’t question you long enough for you to succeed a bit because of whatever lie it is you’re trying to foist on them.
The tag line of the fermiliar ad was, “Duracell. Trusted Everywhere.”
Hmmm. Last time I looked everywhere was big place—most likely with many sentient beings that have never seen Duracell anything.
Everywhere is, you know, like infinity, something no mind can comprehend—and no language can really describe.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

#740 Isle of Thule

One of the dangers of having a ferret-like mind like mine is sometimes you go chasing down some weird rabbit holes. Sometimes all the way to the tullies.
I suspect you know what I mean when I say “way out in the tullies.” It’s an expression we all learn early and it means pretty much the same as “way out in the sticks.” In fact, I always assumed tullies were sticks, or possibly some reed-like things that grew in marshes. Cattails in the swamp, or something like that.
The phrase “out in the tullies” always conjured up notions of desolation and the kind of landscape where you were likely to get bit by something poisonous while you died of thirst being swallowed by quicksand as swamp leeches drank your blood.
So one day while I was writing the word tullies I noticed that it redlined in my spellchecker. I looked it up in the online dictionaries and it wasn’t there. Not in the online etymology dictionary either. I finally Googled the word and an entry from wiki-answers came up asking people desperately if they knew the origin of the word.
So the matter rested until the other day when I read about a book based on the phrase Ultima Thule. For the first time I made the connection that thule was spelled the same as those pods outdoor types strap on top of their cars that hold skis and gear and what not.
The name of one of the podmakers is spelled the same as the last word it Ultima Thule, except it’s pronounced tool-ie. So I looked up Ultima Thule. One of the pronunciations is Ultima thoo-lie but one of the pronunciations is Ultima tool-ie.
Aha, I thinks, with one of those Koestler-ian eureka moments. I have discovered the origin of the tullies. Folk idiom has preserved Latin origins. Because the term Ultima Thule means “the ends of the earth.” Medieval geographers put in on their colorful maps next to the wind-blowing gargoyles and fearsome creatures of the unknown.
And used the term to refer to any place beyond the borders of the known world.
Sounds like the tullies to me.
Watch out for seamonsters in the rabbit holes.
America, ya gotta love it.

#739 Exposition on Bunting

“Bye Baby Bunting” was my first exposure—to the word bunting that is. But I have to confess, it was many years before I understood what it was bunting was. Call it a mental blind spot.
You know how you kind of move through life, picking and choosing some of what you learn about, having other things forced into your knowledge, and letting other things slip by into your vast depository of vague ignorance? So it was with bunting.
I knew that it sometimes surrounded stages and/or platforms. I remember reading about early political rallies. The stage was, more often than not, surrounded by bunting.
I believed the act of bunting was somehow separate from this. I doubted very much whether baseball players were circumnavigating stages, miming out the process of laying down a slow dribbler along the first or third base paths.
Still, because of the association with “bye baby bunting”, I was never sure what they were hanging around the stages. Diapers perhaps, certainly fabric of some sort. If they meant streamers, I figured they would have said streamers. Flags? Easy to identify as such.
I just like the sound of it now. Bunting. Bunting. Like something you do with your hips. Kind of like the seventy’s dance, the bump. Or maybe some kind of a party where everyone makes those cakes with holes in the middle. Let’s all go bundting.
But no. It’s strings of flags or flag-like material. That stuff they drape around American stages that is red, white, and blue. Flag-like, but not the actual flag, because pinning it like that would be disrespectful.
One definition of bunting is that it is the woven wool cloth from which flags are made. Thin enough to spread in the wind but not so thin as to be frayed by the wind.
Oh, and the baby bunting thing? Turns out bunting in that context refers to an infant sleeping bag, usually worn indoors during the day. Saves dealing with that whole pant, socks, and shoes thing.
Who needs shoes? It’s not like the little tyke will be running to first base or anything.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

#738 Extended Warnings

Sony is cutting into my bedtime.
I’ve just been subjected to the privilege of wasting time in three languages. In the process, the time I had scheduled to watch a movie before I went to bed was drastically extended.
So tell me, if you were bent on violating copyright laws, do you think that the warning at the beginning of a DVD would stop you?
Do you think it would stop you even more if it was printed in your own language?
Because obviously Sony does. And not only that, they appear to be worried that if you are prone to copyright violation you may also be prone to suing them as a corporation if the opinions expressed in the commentary section of one of their DVDs disagrees with your cheating copyright violating heart.
And I am upset. Because I have been forced to waste my valuable time watching three copyright violation warnings in three languages and three Sony disclaimers of responsibility for the statements of people in commentaries that they may or not agree with in three languages as well.
And worse. The valuable time I was wasting was time I had set aside to waste. And I was trying to waste it watching a movie.
It was bad enough when I had to watch these things in English. Then they added French. Okay, a little involuntarily French instruction is occasionally amusing. But then they added Spanish too.
So I’m worried. If this keeps up, we’ll have the entire Babel of the United Nations and dialects of dying languages from remote south sea archipelagos.
I’m all for inclusiveness, but really, is it so hard to produce a separate French and Spanish DVD?
Maybe they’re worried foreign exchange students are going to pirate U.S. movies back to their mother countries.
Here’s an even better solution. When the DVD starts up, have the first screen give you your choice of language in three languages. Whichever you choose, that’s the warning and disclaimer you get to watch.
Then I can schedule my leisure time better.
And I can sleep and/or dormir and/or sommeil on time
Yes Si Oui?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

#737 Eternal Resthome

So what’s the deal with old people and trees?
Lately it seems like I’ve encountered a lot of those vans from old folks homes. Excuse me, “retirement living communities.” When I was a young whippersnapper I worked in a “convalescent hospital.” We didn’t call them old folks homes then either.
It seemed kind of stupid. Convalescent home was wrong too. Convalescent is a word that implies people are recovering from an injury or sickness of some sort.
People don’t recover from old age.
So we’ve gone from “old folks home” to “convalescent hospital” to “rest home” to “retirement home” to “retirement living community.” With an assisted living facility thrown in. I’ve gotten older just reading the list.
In any event, as part of the “community” spirit most of these places have vans that take their tenants out into the community at large to shop, stroll in the park, and gamble at the casinos. Naturally, as is the case in the 21st century for any relatively large flat moving surface, the vans are plastered with advertisements for the name of the retirement community in question.
So I’ve noticed a number of oddly similar names on these vans. The Firs, Sequoia, Woodland—and there’ll all related to trees. Even the place called Eagle’s Landing is related.
Where do eagles land?
In a tree.
So what is it about old people and trees? Is it because they both have roots that stretch deep into the ground of the community? Is it because they both inspire notions of resolute strength and nobility?
Is it because they’ve got the bark on—an old phrase indicating rawness and no shilly-shallying namby-pamby tolerance for social niceties and BS. And a splintery disposition.
Is it because a wooded glade conjures up visions of peace and serenity?
Is it because they both creak in a windstorm?
Is it because they both break wind?
One unfortunate thing in our community, in the business white pages, you’ll find Woodland Retirement Community listed right before Woodlawn funeral home.
Shouldn’t that be Woodlawn Funeral Community?
Woodland woodlawn. Wow. Only two letters away from being planted… America, ya gotta love it.

#736 Effortless Veggie

So what is it with us Americans and our vegetables? Recently I’ve seen two new ads promoting vegetable eating.
And let me say, I applaud these companies’ efforts to do that. Veggies, fundamental to our omnivorous constitution, are ignored by millions of Americans, with dire dietary consequences like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
So the big question for our culture is, how do we break the fast food cycle? How do we make veggies taste better and/or easier to prepare? Go from Big Macs and Mac-and-cheese to a plate of carrots broccoli and spinach. Teach our kids good eating early?
Hidden Valley thinks it has the hidden answer.
Ranch Dressing.
They have this commercial out now that’s pretty clever. An Ice cream truck actually dispenses cones of vegetables, coated with ranch dressing. Little banana split-like trays of fresh vegetables are passed around, covered with ranch dressing that looks like creamy syrup.
The final scene shows kids running up to a picnic table with a giant five-gallon bowl of ranch dressing. Three kids simultaneously grab mini-carrots and celery sticks, plunge them into the bowl and then stuff them into their smiling mouths.
The message? Everybody’s happy with vegetables.
As long as we smother them in creamy sugar, salt and fat.
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and a spoonful of ranch can neutralize any qualms your fast food body feels about healthy eating—and neutralize any healthy results as well.
The second company attacks the effort end of the equation. Ziploc offers the new “Zip and Steam” vegetable bag. Pour in some small vegetables, zip them in the bag, pop the bag in the microwave and, voila, instantly steamed vegetables ready for a trip to the ranch.
And best of all, according to the commercial, no cleanup. Throw the bag away, just like a fast food container.
The bags are derived from petroleum products and headed for the planet-choking waste stream, but hey, at least I ate a steamed carrot that would have been twice as better for me raw.
And bonus, I didn’t burn off any valuable calories expending the effort to clean a dish.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

#735 Eeyew

Time changes so much. Circumstances alter. Knowledge illuminates. And suddenly the milk of a brilliant inspiration curdles into the lumps of an appalling lack of judgment.
Life turns things cheesy.
As I look back on my past, I am sometimes amazed at what I survived. When I look at some of those lapses of good sense I can only repeat what I hope is my epitaph: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
And so must the great Disney Corporation feel. My son recently said he was going down to Disneyland and we were trying to figure out, between our spotty memories, when we were there last. We remembered other times too, and the era and the feature Disney would rather forget.
It was a Tomorrowland spectacular. Produced by the great George Lucas. Directed by Francis Ford Coppala. Music by James Horner. An incredible technological breakthrough. Amazing special effects. Surround sound. And most of all, an unbelievable 3-D experience.
We believed the hype and went. The lines lasted all day, like they do at every new Disney attraction.
And, of course, the 3-D experience was ruined. By what always ruins 3-D—some tall fellow with a big head sitting right in front of me.
From my sight line, none of the really cool and surprising images could get through his noggin. I could only pray that someday I’d come back to an empty theatre to get the full effect.
Of course that wasn’t to be. Disney cancelled it. They’d made one crucial mistake. They had picked the hottest children’s pop star to be the main character in their movie.
And they named him Caption Eo.
Little did they know the Captain’s face would soon undergo some special effects work of its own. And little did they know it soon wouldn’t be considered good taste to mention this actor’s name and children’s better welfare in the same sentence.
The dancing gyrating captain of the screen eventually built a fantasyland of his own for kids. Because Michael Jackson loved the magic. And he loved the kids.
But that didn’t stop Captain Eo from becoming Captain Eeyew....
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

#734 Easy CD

I suppose petty thievery has pretty much ruined America. At least if you look at the wasted effort and man-hours involved in both its prevention and the consequences of that prevention on the daily lives of consumers.
Of course, in one sense a whole packaging industry has grown up that wouldn’t be around unless there was petty thievery, but I think that’s far outweighed by the personal inconvenience and frustration I feel each and every time I’m challenged to open a theft proof container.
The blisterpack I’ve almost gotten used to. For the first time in my life, I bought a pair of kitchen shears to do it. In the early years of blisterpack mania I tried to pry open the packaging, always worried that if it was too shredded a store might not take an item back.
I shouldn’t have bothered, intact packaging is no longer a prerequisite of item returnation—or perhaps that returnitude.
In any event, the packaging still destroyed any number of regular paper scissors. So now I grab my shears and savagely employ brute force. And dammit, I get the item open.
Not so CD cases. Oh, I can manage the external cellophane wrap. What continues to elude me is the talent necessary to peeling off the top strip of security tape.
I either accidentally break the jewel case at its freakishly delicate hinges, or crack the front from squeezing it too hard in frustration. I have only once in my life managed to remove the entire security strip in one piece.
I broke a cork off in a bottle of wine in celebration.
It’s amazing to me. We live in a society that will force a business doing remodeling to move their electrical sockets two inches lower so a wheelchair bound person doesn’t have to bend as far down. Yet we allow the ubiquity of a security tape on a CD case that even a person with small motor skill impairment can’t manage.
And how much worse for some poor person suffering from arthritis, who’s only looking for a little soothing music to help him or her forget the pain?
America, ya gotta love it.

#733 E-van-escent

I go to websites to see the previous night’s performances by late night comedians. I can’t possibly stay up that late these days, I think I totally burned out that end of the candle in my youth.
Still, I like hearing jokes written and delivered by professionals. I also like to watch the late night hosts so I know what jokes to avoid in my own essays.
The purpose in my pieces is to plumb the depths of the society’s aberrations other humorists ignore. Probing the little cultural crannies for dusty neglected nuggets of humor.
One of which is the mini-cyber commercial.
When you go to these late night show’s websites to click on a snippet of video you don’t get it for free. You are obligated to watch a small commercial first, before that video can be viewed.
You can’t fast forward through it or skip it altogether, like the movie previews on a DVD. You can’t even go away for thirty seconds and come back because these commercials are not bound by the time constraints by which commercials on the airwaves are bound. So there are no easy increments of 15, 30, or 60 seconds where you can find something else to do.
I saw one the other day that nagged at me. It was a commercial for a van. The Honda Odyssey van as it turned out.
I always thought that was a bad name for a vehicle. After all, at least in the version by Homer I waded through, the Odyssey was actually a bad trip. I mean, unless having your fellow travelers turned to pigs is your idea of family fun.
Anyhow, the name of the background song playing in the Honda van commercial was too evanescent for my brittle old brain to grasp. I’d almost have it, then, like a greased pig, it would slip away. It was vaguely Led Zeppelin-esque. Finally, it came to me. It was a song from the Seattle group Heart.
The name of the song is Barracuda.
Which, someone should probably point out to Honda, was a Chrysler product.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

#732 Eco-Hybrid

Sometimes I go online to watch highlights from the late night TV talk shows. When you do, you have to watch these little commercials before you can see the snippet of content you want. You also see them over and over.
So after I saw one recently for the umpty-umpth time, I was able to finally read the small print. It was interesting to me, especially in these gas-challenged times.
The commercial was for a Chevy Tahoe. The writing on the screen said the Two-Mode Chevy Tahoe Hybrid gets 50% better City Fuel Economy than the Non-Hybrid Tahoe. Now that’s original, I thought, a car company comparing one of its cars to itself in a different version.
Can’t be too full of praise or why would you ever want to buy the other one? But you still want to sell the first one too. A delicate commercial challenge.
In any event, the commercial video featured a guy riding a bike through the woods. No picture of the car at all. And the audio of the commercial left the impression that the gas savings would leave you money to enjoy the outdoors you were supposedly saving by buying green.
Then there was the small print I finally saw. It said the Tahoe Hybrid got 21 miles a gallon.
Oh my god.
And that’s 50% better than the non-hybrid?
You mean people were paying for a car that got only ten miles a gallon? So I’d be paying $3.50 just to drive one way to work? That’s a vente macchiato. A half dozen donuts.
3 bean burritos at Taco Bell. Where I’d probably get more gas.
These people driving big SUVs getting only 10 miles a gallon have got to be mad! It’s a wonder they aren’t doing an Exxon Tea Party in outright revolt over the price of gas!
You got hand to Chevy for coming out with a hybrid. But man, what an advertising challenge. Better make sure you only advertise where the people who already bought a non-hybrid aren’t likely to watch. These people are on the edge.
That “Chevy, an American Revolution” thing just might come true.
America, ya gotta love it.

#731 Energy Cents

Recently I heard a news report on the price of gas. Amid all the negative economic news is the fact that if you had diversified your portfolio and invested some of your nest egg in energy stocks you’d be better off now.
Not that a skosh of a slice of a smidgen of energy stocks in a mutual fund will offset the gaping hole in your pocketbook chewed out by the gulping goblin at the pump but, you know, every little bit helps.
Perhaps if the folks at Bear Stearns had been a little more perceptive in that regard. Offset a touch of that sub-prime greed with a little crude behavior.
Every salad dressing needs oil to balance the vinegar.
In any event, the price at the pump is now 73 cents a gallon more than it was at this time a year ago. 73 cents a gallon in just one year. Now, prone to math as I am, I did a little calculating. If I were to drive my relatively gas efficient car a normal amount every week, I would need to put in about 15 gallons.
I drive my car 52 weeks in the year. That means that the extra 73 cents I pay a gallon, if it were to hold from this point forward, (which, you know, me and Bear Stearns have nothing else to expect), means I would spend .73 times 15 times 52, which would be $569.40.
That pretty much shoots my $600 economic stimulus tax rebate. But hey, I’ll still have $30.60 left.
I’ll put it in a savings account at my bank to help bail them out on their sub-prime mortgage meltdown.
So I was thinking of Priuses, or Pri-ie, or whatever, and it occurred to me that the one car salesman I heard a while back that scorned them because the cost of replacing their batteries was more than the savings they got on gas, probably missed on his prediction.
Because that was back when gas was in the 2’s. At $3.60 and climbing, we’ll should congratulate Prius owners for showing amazing Prius Prescience.
Whodda thunk it? Wall Street Bankers crashing and burning. And persnickety Prius owners?
They’re the prophets that profit.
America, ya gotta love it.

#730 Eras of Age

Age sometimes divides people. Like in that old 60s maxim not to trust anyone over 30. I haven’t trusted myself for about 25 years now. And most of the time I’m right.
Although I question my judgment.
Anyhow, I saw this old recruitment commercial for the air force. One line in it was interesting. It said, “If you are between the ages of 19 and 26½ apply today.”
26½? Where did the get the ½? What possible difference could it make if you were 26½ or 27? Are your reaction times that severely impaired in just those 6 months that you couldn’t be a fighter pilot?
‘Cause after they retire, air force officers pilot commercial aircraft for decades.
But what was weird was hearing an official commercial voice saying “26 and a half.” Nobody says “and-a-half” after 19 or so. Everybody’s an even year after that.
Yeah, I’m 36 and a half. I can’t wait till my 37th birthday!
26½ is a year when young folks breed though. And it’s a particularly obnoxious year for rudeness as well. At least it seems to me when I’m in line behind one of them.
At my age, I hate lines. It’s funny, because I’m more patient about other things—the foibles of humanity, little kids stepping on my shoes, frisky dogs. But standing in line drives me up a wall.
Maybe because at my age you don’t want to waste what limited time you have left.
So I’m at the store and this 26-year-old jerk at the front of the line was holding up the whole process by talking on his headset. The clerk was gesturing for him to take his scratch ticket winnings and move on, but he was so wrapped up in his cell conversation he just stood there blocking the rest of us.
I suddenly felt better when I saw his main phone was stuffed in his front pants pocket. I’d just read this article about cellphones in front pants pockets causing sperm abnormalities.
With any luck, the rude bastard will wipe out his next generation of rude bastards.
Did I mention age has made me more cranky?
America, ya gotta love it.