Friday, May 30, 2008

#775 Odds and Ends

As you are aware by now if you’ve been exposed to this column for very long, I have a fascination with words. Sometimes I wonder why we use the ones we do. Sometimes I’m amazed at hidden meanings, sometimes a word’s accidental truth.
Like the other day when I wrote about the guy on the cellphone in the bathroom, or as my friend put it, the stall talker. I like that, it’s like a spoonerism of tall stalker.
Definitely something to be afraid of either way. A tall stalker or a stall talker.
But really, talking on your cellphone while you’re on the toilet is not what the phone company had in mind when they called them anytime minutes.
I had another person react to the article with an eeyew. Strangely, this person was female. Stranger still, when I first encountered the stall talker, I had thought to myself, this is what comes from having women go to the bathroom together. All of a sudden it’s okay for everyone to talk in the toi toi willy nilly.
So I’m reading the paper the other day and an article says some guy has been arrested for “manufacturing pot.” I thought, that’s an odd way to put it, don’t you grow pot? Manufacturing is taking raw materials from different sources and putting them together in a new and novel way.
Originally, it meant with your hands, the “manu” in manufacture coming from the Latin manus, meaning hand.
But that is, in fact, the crime on the books. Growing marijuana is “manufacturing” marijuana—a clever way of using a word to take away the natural and make it mean something more consciously criminal. He wasn’t growing a plant he was manufacturing a drug!
Lastly, in the unconscious bilingual weirdness department, I saw a can of chili recently. It was labeled, “Chili Con Carne with Beans.” “Carne” means meat. “Con” means with. So if we were to render it all in English, the label would read, “chili with meat with beans.”
I always eat mine with cheese with onions.
America, ya gotta love it.

#774 On the Potty Line

Maybe it’s the brain wave anomalies the latest research says they cause, because people with cellphones are doing weirder and weirder things.
Cellphones seem to gradually suck people’s social skills right out of their brains.
We first saw it with erratic driving. Later we saw it in supermarkets, as people would call spouses and ask inane questions. “Which red can of tomato sauce?”
Then we saw it walking. Two people walking downtown, each of them on a cellphone, talking to someone else altogether.
The other day I saw an interesting variation. The wife was on her phone talking. She and her husband approached their car, he to the passenger side, she to the driver’s side. She had the keys in her hand. She kept talking. He had two bags of groceries in his arms. She kept talking. He waited patiently by the passenger’s side door. She kept talking.
Waiting. Talking. Waiting. Talking.
Finally she looked at the keys in her hand, seemed to come out of a long dark mental tunnel, pressed a button on one key and let her husband in.
I encountered another one even weirder. I walked into a public restroom to the sound of loud talking. I was surprised to hear it was coming from a stall. At first I thought two yahoos had occupied adjoining stalls and were trading scatological remarks.
But no, the guy turned out to be alone, talking loud as people on cellphones do, oblivious to the social niceties and their surroundings. Another example of how cellphone brain damage seems to be getting worse.
Is there no privacy anymore? Is there no place people won’t take their phones?
It’s not like this piece of news he was dropping on his friend was so urgent. It was about how his friend should come down and sign up for a car show.
At least it was a car show competition and not a fierce game of Kerplunk.
Here’s a cellphone etiquette bonus. The next time you borrow someone’s phone, before you put it to your ear and mouth...
Remember this story.
America, ya gotta love it.

#773 One-Sided Torture

I was watching an interview of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia not long ago and I was struck by the man’s incredible arrogance.
It was like Rush Limbaugh had turned Italian.
I was surprised. You expect Supreme Court judges to be studious and deliberative and into weighing the pros and cons of a case. And most importantly, hearing other people out before they render an opinion.
Judge Tony was talking about his opinion that torture wasn’t cruel and unusual punishment. He had an interesting spin on it. He said that it wasn’t unconstitutional. Not because it wasn’t cruel and unusual.
But because torture wasn’t punishment.
You got to give him credit for taking the “it depends on what is is” approach. Hell, I thought he would split a different legal hair altogether by defining “cruel” or “unusual.” But no, he simply declared torture wasn’t punishment.
But what galled me most was his defense of this odd idea. “It’s my opinion,” he said. “And it happens to be right.”
Essentially, “I’m the Supreme Court Judge and I get to define words so neener neener.”
I suppose if the “opinion” was delivered with a certain amount of humility, it would have been easier to take. But it was done with the kind of self-satisfied smugness that made you want to apply electrodes to his scrotum.
There he sat, looking for all the world like a spoiled, overfed Nero, glibly directing the torching of Rome with his one-sided view of a dangerous practice.
“Fire? Fire’s not harmful. It’s useful. See, watch me cook these suspected terrorist Christians with it. How could it burn down a building? It’s my opinion and it happens to be right.”
The Nero analogy ain’t too far off by the way. Scalia’s staring to look like a bad Zero Mostel imitator.
Actually, I think scalia is an Italian word that means puffy.
By the way, if I was torturing you, and you gave me the information I wanted, I would reward you by stopping. If you didn’t I would, um, punish you by continuing.
That’s my opinion. It happens to be the one that’s left.
America, ya gotta love it.

#772 Old Phony

The other day, as I was slowing to a stop at an intersection because a yellow light was about to turn, an individual swerved around me and blew through the red.
In one of those moments of startlingly detailed clarity you have when fear-induced adrenalin squirts through your system, I observed the following: The individual was talking on a cellphone. Given. The individual was not fastened in with a seatbelt. Given. The child in his extended cab truck was.
There was also a flag on the gentleman’s bumper, indicating he had honor for his country and presumably a respect for its laws.
Ah, the hypocrisies we subject our children to. And the morals we unconsciously pass along. I wonder if the gentleman tells his kid to mind him and follow the household rules.
I remember a similar small hypocrisy when I was growing up: The “I’ve arrived safely” person-to-person call.
In the old days, long distance calls were far more expensive. So people didn’t just call people long distance willy nilly. They used the operator and they specified the call be “person-to-person.”
You were only charged if that person could come to the phone. The operator was a real human being who facilitated the call and asked for the person you were supposedly calling.
My parents would sometimes take long trips to visit relatives. After they returned, they would want to call and assure those relatives they had made it home safely. So, Mom and Dad, god-fearing law-abiding citizens in daily life, would call the relative’s number and make a person-to-person call, but specify the person they were calling as either their own name or a fictitious name that indicated their deceit.
“I’d like to place a person-to-person call to Ima Homesafe.”
No such person could come to the phone, of course, so they were never charged, but the relatives would get the “home safe” message.
This crime was supposedly “okay” because it was against Ma Bell, the monopolist gouger everyone loved to hate.
Strangely, when my parents first saw me pounding a Coca Cola machine to get it to render an unpaid-for Coke, they roundly upbraided me for thievery.
I have been sensitive to hypocrisy ever since.
America, ya gotta love it.

#771 Obituary

When they write the obituary for America, they’ll say, it’s not like they didn’t see it coming.
For years, I’ve been carrying on about aspects of American living that are unhealthy. Fast food, food additives, smoking, laziness, and the couch potato lifestyle. How fast food calories stay with you even more because you burn no calories in either the preparation or the clean-up of your meals.
And yet everyone secretly says, yeah but, people in the US are living longer, so it can’t be all bad. In the back of our minds we’ve held onto the notion that, oh sure, we may need a little tune-up, but by and large the car’s running just fine. The dials and meters make it seem like we’re about to explode and run into a ditch but it’s a good vehicle and a good road and that weird humming noise sounds too pleasant to be dangerous.
Well, things turned a corner and there’s a big ditch cut right across the road like a rip in an exploded artery. For the first time in a century, life expectancy in the US has fallen.
So far, it’s mostly in poor rural areas. Rich folk have access to health care and, thanks to advances in modern medicine, can buy off some of the effects of bad living.
But in southwestern Virginia, poor folk, especially poor women, are dying from the ravages of obesity, smoking and unhealthy habits. Lung cancer, diabetes and kidney failure have driven the life expectancy five years lower than it was in 1983.
I can hear you out there. What’s that got to do with me and my lack of exercise and passion for fast food? I’ve got health insurance.
Hey, you know, medical care is a good thing. Just like Band-Aids are a good product. But just because I can put on a Band-Aid, that doesn’t mean I go around cutting myself.
Here’s a sobering fact: The US ranks 41st in the world in life expectancy. That’s right, the wealthiest country in the world and we are 41st in life expectancy.
Right between Bosnia and Albania.
Thank God we beat Albania.
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

#770 Optional Beef

When it comes to variety, the good lord of commerce givith and the good lord taketh away. There are forty seven jillion coffee stands. But fast food places are conglomerating more than the fat congealing on their questionable meats.
Lately, Arby’s has managed to overwhelm and take control of Wendy’s. Old Dave would be appalled. The plan is to merge the two into the nation’s third largest fast food chain.
Please don’t.
The only reason I go to Wendy’s is so I can have a relatively different fast food experience. Wendy’s is the quality alternative, at least in most of their franchises. Witness the big deal they are making right now in their advertising about how their hamburger is never frozen.
Contrast that to Arby’s, whose beef is the ultimate in processing. The first time I saw the roast beef in an Arby’s sandwich was the first time I ever failed to recognize the texture and point of origin of a beef product.
Not that it tastes bad. It just doesn’t taste like it came off a roast of beef. A roast loaf maybe. But roast prime rib piled high is fundamentally different than a high pile of roast loaf.
To merge “never frozen” with “never fresh” will be a huge corporate undertaking. And if they keep the distinct brands of each they’re really not the nation’s third largest food chain are they?
McDonalds is McDonalds, Burger King is Burger King, Taco Bell/Pizza Hut is Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in the same building.
Which always scares me. I keep remembering the day I got an apple turnover in one of those vending machines at high school and it was stuffed with burrito filling. One of these days, I’m concerned I may get a spaghetti burrito or a pizza chalupa.
I mean, I’m all for world peace and culinary fusion and stuff, but merging the ethnicities of my Americanized fast food reminds me too much of how similar they taste already.
And now, with every fast food chain under heaven offering some version of a snack wrap for a buck-fitty we may as well give up.
Fifty flavors of coffee and one snack wrap.
America, ya gotta love it.

#769 Ordinator

When I first went to college we were still in an era when female people going to college were called co-eds. Co-ed had been shortened from “co-educational student” into a word in it’s own right.
On the face of it, it’s a gender-neutral term. Since both males and females were co-educationally engaged, one would think the term would apply to the non-fair gender as well.
But no. There are other things that are non-fair in life and who the term co-ed applied to was one of them. Unfortunately, it always seemed like the implication was that co-eds were not real eds, they were hangers on.
But it got me thinking about that whole “co” prefix. A comate is a mate, a companion. A co-writer is someone who writes something with another. If you are co-equal, you are equal with another.
When one has cohesion, one has stickiness between two things. Hesion being some Latin root word for affinity or something. We weren’t married, we were hesed.
But what about when I coerce someone? Does that mean we are both culpable in some way, that joining my powers of persuasion to his lack of powers of resistance ends up making us both to blame?
And if you can coerce, can you just erce?
Maybe it’s not “co” as in two people but “co” as in colossal. So coercing is a really big ercing.
The other day I was asked to be the coordinator of an event. I complied, but then never got a coworker—my fellow coordinator, to put it semi-redundantly.
Now don’t get me wrong. If they had asked me to head up a task force, or run an event, I would have gladly agreed. But since they ask me to be a coordinator, naturally I assumed I would be working with someone else.
If only because it’s so difficult telling someone I’m the “ordinator” of the event.
Who all’s in charge here?
That would be just me. I’m the, um, ordinator. I hope I can help you. I haven’t ordinated before.
And quite frankly I’m not even sure where they keep the ordin.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

#768 Overdrawn

I’m worried about the Dragon. China’s on the road to being the number one super power. Part of it has to do with the Walmartification of the US economy.
It’s hard to buy a manufactured product that’s not made in China, from lead fishing sinkers to lead toys. The Chinese have their hands in everything from instant soup to nuts and bolts.
In just one quarter of last year, their trade revenues grew by $154 billion.
Naturally, since they have some cash to spend, they are doing what every capitalistic super-economy likes to do, buying up other country’s economies. In the form of their national debt.
When our government borrows money it can’t just borrow it from itself. It borrows it from others. Unfortunately, the current administration’s policy of simultaneously waging a war and lowering taxes—previous administrations have raised taxes during a war—has left a huge budget shortfall.
Shortfall. Sounds like slightly more than a misstep doesn’t it? Not much of a fall at all. In this case, the shortfall is more like a fall off a cliff. The war that was promised to cost $60 billion total, is currently costing $12 billion a month.
It reminds of what historians say brought down the old USSR. An extended war in a Middle Eastern country.
So who is buying our debt? Which country is making it possible for us to overdraw our account and charge our national credit card to the max?
Can you say dragon?
Yep. About 40 percent of the current war debt is financed by China. And I find that just a little bit spooky. Recent domestic changes in bankruptcy law and mortgage implosions indicate creditors can get fire-breathing mean with debtors.
What if China forecloses?
There’s one twisted shaft of hope. It’s all a circle. As in debt as it is, the US government really can’t afford to send out those tax rebate economic stimulus checks.
But most of them will probably stimulate one business, Walmart. So all that money’s going back to China anyhow.
Maybe that’ll keep the dragon dozing for a while.
America, ya gotta love it.

#767 Obvious Prejudice

The long Democratic primary season has taught me sexism and racism are going strong.
Take wardrobe.
Hillary is saddled with the expectations for her sex. Barack can wear the same thing every day of the week—black suit, primary-colored tie, white shirt. He’s covered, for anywhere or anything, from a bowling alley to a church rally.
No one says cattily, “Oooh did you see that black suit he was wearing? It was the same one he wore a week ago Tuesday. And did you see his dress shirt. It was unbuttoned enough to show cleavage.”
Hillary faces time-wasting wardrobe decisions wherever she goes. Unfortunately it’s her own gender that’s the most vicious. Look at her hair. Look at her scarf—they are so passé.
Look at her PANTSUIT.
That word, my friend, defines the sexism. But tell me, what is different from the “pantsuit” Hillary wears and the “suit” that Barack wears? Aside from a few darts for a few extra curves, nothing. They both have a coat and matching pants. That’s what a suit is.
Oh no, you say, a suit for woman is a coat and skirt. Yeah, there’s a practical fashion choice when you’re dukeing it out with Putin or duck hunting in Pennsylvania.
Those skirts are so cozy and utilitarian. Just the thing to catch on your broken heel when you’re running from the monster and need your big brave man to save you.
Sexism is when the dialogue turns to what you’re wearing, not what you’re saying.
But Obama has it worse. Because racism is even more insidious. Barack is widely spoken of as the first Black candidate. And yet he is half white.
He is exactly as much white as he is black.
But it appears that in the American media if you are any percentage black you are considered black. Like one drop of food coloring in a big glass of milk, it’s no longer white, so it must be something other than white, and by implication, something less than pure. Talk about elitism.
Pantsuits and prejudice, this is a hell of an election.
I wonder what would happen if Barack put on a skirt...
America, ya gotta love it.

#766 Outcome

The other day I wrote about a supermarket conundrum. Conundrums are in the family Jeopardy aisle. Seriously, I had wondered the following: If I found stationary in the office supply aisle where would I find moving products?
A friend of mine, let’s call him Rick, wrote that he thought the moving products could be found in the laxative aisle. He then pointed out he thought “lax” was a term meaning not doing anything. So why would he want to buy a product that was doing nothing.
Spoken like a true wordmaster.
I replied that perhaps the marketers at Ex-lax knew what they were doing when they named their mover. “Ex” means the reverse of, or how something was formerly. Ex-football player for football player, exfoliate for foliage, exaggerate for aggerates, wait a minute...
Anyhow, Ex-lax seems like it means the reverse of lax. Or at least putting lax behind you. Like maybe you were once married to old Mr. Lax and now you’re moving on.
Still, like my friend, I’ve always wondered about the idea of calling a bowel mover a laxative. The implication is that it is relaxing the bowel. As if it was some kind of muscular tightness that’s at stake.
And that’s a myth. Laxatives are not paralytics or muscle relaxants, like Valium for voiding or curare for the colon.
Or anesthesia for the anus.
Most simply alter the colon chemically so it adds more water, loosening the feces, not the bowel. Then it’s a rush and flush potty party.
Others act differently. One product uses an ancient herbal ingredient know as Senna, a distant relative of the hair treatment henna. Dieter’s teas use Senna, because it both suppresses appetite and triggers bowel action. The diet double-whammy—starve and purge.
Senna is the main ingredient of Ex-lax. It works by actually stimulating the bowel, making its peristaltic contractions occur more frequently. Like a self-squeezing toothpaste tube.
In this action, it is indeed ex-lax or the reverse of relaxation.
It literally gets your bowel moving.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

#765, Operating Cuts

Imagine that you weren’t wasting anything in your budget every month. You were already cut to the bone. No lattes, no big screen flat panel TVs. No sprinkler system in your yard.
No clubhouse or golf course privileges.
You were spending what you had to spend—but you had to spend it. What if 16% of your income came from a fund voted on by your neighbors? You still earned the money; it just wasn’t absolutely guaranteed that your neighbors would pay it.
They might get PO’d at something. The big oil companies might raise the price of a gallon of gas by 40%. The value of their homes might go up—which they were happy about as long as they could sell it for a profit—but upset about when they found themselves between assessments when the bottom fell out of the real estate market.
So they took it out on you and slashed your income by 16%. Not for any good reason. Just because they felt like getting back at someone in the “system”.
So tell me. Could you live with 16% less? Really?
I heard some old guys talking at the club the other day. It showed me how people sometimes confuse blame.
“Hey,” said one of the guys, “‘they’ are raising the price of gas again.”
“Yeah,” said another “and ‘they’re’ raising property taxes too.”
“And I don’t have enough retirement because ‘they’ screwed me on Wall Street” chimed in a third.
“Yeah,” agreed a fourth, “‘They’ are trying to charge us more for schools too.”
In these guys’ minds the nebulous “they” were responsible for everything. So they were perfectly willing to sacrifice the future of our kids. It was the only place where they had a choice.
Cutting the school’s already slashed to the bone budget by 16%. Cutting off our country’s best hope to spite their face. Lazy thinking.
Do you care?
I do.
Sometimes we lose the things we care about the most because we’re too lazy also.
Too lazy to care enough to vote. We think, hey, I’ll relax and watch the tube. Someone else will do it. The levy always passes doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t vote for the kids?
Angry and hurt people looking to hurt someone back, that’s who.
If you care, show it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

#764 Orthographic

Maybe we just have a bunch of anal-retentive folks in charge of our orthography (that’s a fancy word for spelling). Because sometimes I wonder about our language. It seems like there are so many possibilities for words and yet we keep coming back to the same ones.
Not only that, we use them to describe different things.
Like heinie. According to my spellcheck, heinie isn’t even a legitimate word. And yet we use it to describe beer, Germans and derrieres.
The other day someone was giving me some static over my desire to stay in the same place. To, in a word, remain static. A static state implies that one isn’t moving.
Yet static on the radio is the most energetic thing going. Buzzing and rasping noises going every which way at a gajillion miles a second.
So why would a language use a word to describe standing still and stationary and then turn around and use the same word to describe moving sound waves?
Or is static the sound we hear when there are no sound waves on our radio? No signal coming through the ether.
It’s just the sound of empty.
My gosh, sounds like a hook for a lonesome country song.
“I used to hear yore sweet voice in me, now I just hear the sound of empty.”
Static is being stationary. So why is the stuff we write on stationary? Is it because when we write on it or print on it, it needs to be stationary for best results?
Then I guess when we move it someplace else it’s no longer stationary. It becomes either a memo or the mail.
I don’t know. All I’m sure of is, it’s always comforting going to the stationary aisle in the store. You know things are going to be in the same place.
And, let’s face it, a moving aisle is kind of scary.
I remember going to the store once when I was changing residences and asking the clerk where the moving products were.
She may have been being a smart ass when she said, “They were in aisle B, sir—last time I looked...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

#763 Odd Heinie

So the other day I was reading a book. There was a grizzled old character in it and he was talking about going off to war in the big one and fighting the heinies. It had been so long since I heard it, I’d forgotten that heinie was also an ethnic slur of Germans.
Ethnic slur, there’s a phrase for you. Made up of the negative word slur. Meaning slight, smear, or insult. But also something you do to your speech when you’re drunk or hit by a stroke or something.
It’s conceivable, say; that some old guy with one too many beers in him could actually insult some people while mushing his words drunkenly. Then he would slur a slur.
And what if the beer that fellow was drinking was actually Heineken? It’s makers actually encourage people in their advertising to use the nickname heinie to describe it.
Would that grizzled old fellow be confused if you sat at his table and asked the bartender to bring over some heinies?
And maybe that old coot would get drunker and drunker while he was imbibing his heinies and proceed to regale you with stories of the beer gardens in Bavaria after the war, where he caught the eye of some madchen who was looking for a quick ticket to the U.S. of A. And how after he brought her and her German bun in the oven back stateside they settled down to a life of bi-cultural arguments that the neighbors would often refer to as World War Three.
So it would be barely possible that he was the first one to equate the term heinie with a portion of the German female anatomy that was anything but tiny.
Which would eventually lead to the odd and yet somehow poetic scenario of this old complainer sitting in a bar slurring out a slur after he’d had one too many heinies, calling a German tourist a heinie, and having that angry fellow knock him on his heinie.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

#762 Over-packaged, Underfed

A friend of mine, let’s call her Judy, recently sent me an email with a group of pictures. The pictures were of various families from across the world and were ranked by the amount of money they spent on food in a week.
In each picture were the smiling members of the family. Arrayed around and in front of them were the actual food items they would consume in a week’s time. The top amount spent for food was for a German family of four that consumed over $500 worth. The bottom was a family of five from Chad that spent $1.23.
Of course, the quantity difference was appalling, but I noticed something else; there was a huge real difference in the variety of the food and in the quantity of manufactured and complex food.
We are a society that reaps the benefit of food complexity daily. Or perhaps benefit is not the right word. Like a fast food, sometimes that complexity overwhelms. Still I’d be willing to bet the family from Chad would appreciate a hot sauce packet or two.
If only to marvel that the wealth generated by western technology was squandered to design and package a quantity of food that amounts to no more than a tablespoon.
For it was in the packaging that the pictures of the various families differed most. The German family had cartons of frozen pizzas, cans of beer, bottles of water, boxes of breakfast cereal, cups of yogurt, tins of sardines, tubs of margarine, and numerous shrink-wrapped bunches of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Did you notice how many non-repeated words I just used for packaging? shrink-wrapped, cans, bottles, boxes, cartons, tins, and tubs. Hmmm.
By contrast, the Chad family had bulk stuff—in burlap bags. Dried rice, beans and lentils. Smaller cloth bags of nuts and what appeared to be dehydrated peppery vestiges of the capsicum family.
And, oh yeah, three small gourds.
Nothing like finishing off a meager plate of rice with a special dessert—half a gourd.
Anyone got a hot sauce packet?
America, ya gotta love it.

#761 Ingredients are Hot

Who knows what cancerous or hormone-altering evils really lurk in the murky world of our food additives? Recently I looked closely for the first time at a taco bell hot sauce packet.
There are no nutritional warnings on a taco bell hot sauce packet. I guess the government’s telling us we don’t have to be afraid of food when we eat it a tablespoon at a time.
But it’s amazing how many ingredients are listed in one little packet. There’s water, then what you’d expect from a hot condiment: tomato paste, Jalapeno, distilled vinegar, salt, chili pepper, dehydrated onion sugar and, um, modified food starch.
That one always gets me. What is the source of food starch? And how do they modify it? Sounds like a brainwashed potato.
Then there’s onion juice, spices, and chili seeds, instead of jalapeño and chili pepper. Then this odd one—brewers yeast extract. Are we making bread here? Excuse me. I thought I was looking at a hot sauce packet.
The next listing is even weirder. It says natural capsicum and tomato flavors. What the heck is a capsicum? Doesn’t sound natural.
From there the packet heads to more familiar additive territory, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, the ubiquitous preservatives found in every single manufactured food. And xanthan gum. This one always scares me. It too is in everything foodular and I have no idea why, or if it’s safe in the quantities that must have accumulated in my body after a lifetime of pre-packaged food.
I mean, there’s every chance it’s assembling into a toxic load, like dioxins and mercury in the fat of salmon, and I’d never know it until I went stark-raving mad and AK-47ed a McDonalds, or had a hyper-allergic reaction to peanuts or something.
The ingredients list finishes with garlic powder, lactic acid and a wonderful Mexican food flavor, soy sauce.
Last there’s yeast. Sort of. Yeast is a fungus. Nearly the simplest organism in the food chain. But we can’t even leave that alone. Because the final item is described as “autolyzed” yeast “extract.”
Someone get me an apple.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, May 09, 2008

#760 Ironic Food Pressure

We take food for granted. But as China’s emerging middle class puts pressure on the world’s food resources, that may change.
As people get more money they’re less content with a plate of rice and more inclined to want a slab of pork or beef. A pound of pork—and what’s more enjoyable than a pound of pork?—takes ten pounds of grain to produce. A pound of beef takes twenty. So every time you munch on a Quarter Pounder at Mickey D’s it’s like a cow buddy is sitting next to you eating five pounds of corn.
Now ask yourself if the same stomach space you’re devoting to the burger would hold five pounds of rice?
Here’s another thing, now that I got you depressed. Food-animal raising produces 22% of global greenhouse gases. Probably almost entirely do to cow flatulence. I’m thinking perhaps our bovine friends have found a way to exact a rather ironic revenge for the slaughter and carnage we’ve wreaked on them.
Death to our way of life by cow gas emissions. An alternative anti-energy source. A breaking wind farm.
They make 85% of our Artificial Christmas trees in mostly non-Christian China. 80% of our toys. 100% of the unsafe toys recalled, including Thomas the Tank Engine. And the most scary statistic of all, a Chinese factory worker would have to work 6 months to earn the cost of a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. That’s right, 6 months of long days to earn enough to buy one Thomas the Tank Engine set. Lead and all.
These sets can go up to 500 bucks but still, I’m guessing these poor folks are still pretty much in the plate of rice category. The price of which is about to triple thanks to worldwide hoarding and demand.
I remember one Christmas. All the rage in the home crafting set was making pillows stuffed with dry rice that you then heated in the microwave and laid on to ease neck and back pain.
You think those pillows would help with cramps from an empty stomach?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

#759 Insane Mob

What do hockey fans, hippies, and hip-hopping students have in common? They all share the H-word. Humanity.
Recently there was a bit of a fracas at the local institution of higher learning. Immediately, the handwringers were on the assault, blaming the liberal institution for letting their coddled kids get out of control.
The institution was The Evergreen State College, renowned nationwide for the excellence of its graduates, but, unfortunately, reviled locally by anyone who cares to listen.
It’s become something of a cottage industry in the local newspaper to print alarming stories about the college, and this recent incident was no exception. Naturally, I don’t condone the kids’ behavior, but perhaps we need to put it in context.
It seems that there was a hip-hop concert at the college. There was a personal endangerment issue. The sheriff was called. One of the performers incited the crowd, which was fairly loosened up at this point. They proceeded to riot a bit and bang up a police car. Then, if my memory serves me correctly, they overturned the vehicle and set it ablaze.
All of this action, according to local pundits, was due to Evergreen’s policy of promulgating the three L’s of educational Hell—leniency, licentiousness, and Liberalism. No god-fearing good person would ever turn over a PO-leese car and torch that sucker.
Unless it was a Canadian crowd who’s hockey team just won a Stanley Cup game, that is.
The Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley cup. Thousands of revelers thronged the streets of Montreal in celebration. Then, for no apparent reason, rocks started flying and some fires were set. All hell broke out, and at least 16 police cars were burned or smashed and 16 people arrested.
All this from ferociously mild-mannered Canadians, ladies and gentlemen. Normally the meekest folks on the planet.
Strangely, very few of them suffered from the handicap of a liberal arts education, and even fewer had emerged from an evaluation-based grading system that turned them into spawn of the devil.
They did share one quality with Evergreeners, which made them as susceptible to mob psychology as any of us.
They were human.
America, ya gotta love it.

#758 Inhuman Training

Perhaps it’s a mistake to overtune the human body. Maybe it’s better to leave a margin of schlubiness to take up unexpected twists, turns, and jolts. Let your small muscles stay loose in case you step in a gopher hole.
I thought about this the other day when I heard they took a major league pitcher out of a game because he was experiencing a “tightness in his thigh” That’s right, that’s how they put it, a “tightness in his thigh.”
Now perhaps his team’s monetary investment in him is so great they aren’t taking any chances, but “tightness in his thigh”? Come on. Any coach of any little leaguer would tell him to shake it off, zip up his whining, and get back in the game.
The next day the same team lost an outfielder because he had totally messed up his shoulder diving for a fly ball, and I thought further about the over-training hypothesis.
I once played racquetball with a guy who was in absolute peak physical condition. He worked out on weights, both machine and free range. He ran on a treadmill, rowed on a rowing machine, biked on a biking machine. He had prominent bulges, six-pack abs, glutes, pecs and delts up the yingyang.
But he was always spraining something. Or straining something, or twisting his knee or ankle, or pulling a hammy. The most worked out muscles he had were in his jaw from complaining all the time.
On the other hand, there’s the drunk that falls off the top of a building and survives to walk away, sleep it off, and be none the worse for wear the next morning.
Maybe what’s happening is the sports trainers are training athletes to isolate and improve the major muscle groups. Then doing their range of motion exercises on machines that are too linear. So all those small supplemental reaction muscles aren’t staying in balance to do their jobs.
They aren’t ready to pick up the slack when a groundskeeper leaves a dirt clod larger than a square centimeter on the pitchers mound.
I have to stop now. I’m experiencing a tightness in my typing fingers...
America, ya gotta love it.

#757 It’s What’s For Dinner

Suddenly everywhere I look it’s “Angus” beef. I’m not sure I get it.
When you have good lamb, it’s rare that they bother to identify the breed. Chicken is usually divided into either how it’s raised or how it’s cooked, free range or factory, broilers or fryers. Isn’t it fun when they name an animal by its ultimate cooking method?
I wonder if the topic of conversation among chickens in the chicken factories turns to their expected end. I mean, I suppose even their little chicken brains have a clue that they’re going to be killed sometime. So maybe their ultimate cooking method is kind of like our discussions of burial or cremation.
How did Pecky end up? They fried him.
How about Foghorn Leghorn? Oh, he was broiled—but they did bury his bones afterward¾in the landfill.
So anyhow, I’m not sure whether to be impressed or not with this Angus beef thing. What ever happened to choice and prime? I remember there was some controversy a few years back when the feds devalued the standards.
Prime grade cows were getting more rare. Meat didn’t have enough flavor from marbling or something. It is an odd function of our perception of good flavor that the more fat that’s mixed in the protein, the better it tastes.
The government was in the unenviable position of awarding meat its best designation that was actually the most plaque-inducing cholesterol-laden grade. So there was a push to make beef less fatty overall for, you know, health and stuff. And they upgraded “select” to “choice” and “choice” to “prime.”
“Select,” there’s a slippery word for you. This is “select” beef. Doesn’t sound like third place.
There are actually two lesser known and lesser quality beef grades as well, “cutter” and “canner.” They are what you usually find in burritos, frozen potpies, and other highly processed beef products. “Cutter” and “canner” is what most people refer to as “chewy” and “tasteless.”
Select is already the bottom of the edible barrel. Cutter and canner is the scum growing in the cracks.
Kind of like Angus beef—without the “g”...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

#756 Ingrained Priest

Sexism is an insidious and ingrained thing. The implication is someone can’t do something simply by virtue of her sex. Or his sex. A man can’t raise children. A woman can’t hold high office.
Or be a priest.
Recently the Pope was in the US. He was on a mission of peace and goodwill and apology to the victims or clerical abuse. The Catholic Church is conflicted. On the one hand, they say women can’t be priests.
On the other, they have to admit that apparently pedophiles can.
The American Catholic Church has broken from Rome on many issues, or at least sees differently than the Holy See over the sea.
One of them is birth control, which is the real issue behind global food shortages and global warming. One of them is Catholic sexism regarding female priests. The Pope maintains that the church has the long view of centuries and that perhaps it’s not a good idea to abandon all that tradition for the ephemeral nature of the modern.
His detractors point out that defending sexism by calling it tradition is sexism of the worst kind. It was the argument used by the South before the civil war to excuse slavery—with appropriate, centuries old, justifying Bible verses. It was the argument used during the civil rights movement by conservatives to justify separate water fountains and back-of-the-bus discrimination. It is the argument used by conservative Muslims to justify dressing females from head to foot in confining and uncomfortable clothing with hoods, veils, and other identity and self-esteem stripping accouterments.
And here is an example of our own tradition and prejudice all rolled into one uncomfortable package. We’re appalled when Muslims suppress their women. Yet we nod indulgently when the Pope talks of tradition and the priesthood.
Maybe it’s because sexism persists in the areas people secretly think most important. Europeans elect women to the highest office, but they don’t say much about the sexist Pope. Here in the US, we think female priests are a perfectly obvious choice, yet we’ve never elected a female president.
America, ya gotta love it.

#755 Infarction

I wrote recently about the tendency of fancy eating joints to plate their food in a “pile on presentation.” Starch on the bottom, then vegetable, entrée, sauce, and garnish.
Putting aside for a moment the notion that to pile on food invokes the concept of food as piles, it’s obvious the fancy-schmancy chefs had a mundane inspiration.
The common hamburger.
The hamburger was the original food pile. Starchy bun on the bottom, vegetile tomato and onion, then meat, special sauce and lettuce garnish. The hamburger food pile.
Well, Burger King has gone it one better. If by “better” you mean more calories, fat, salt, and artery-bursting ingredients. They call it the Steakhouse Burger and it’s “Loaded” variety weighs in at 970 calories.
These calories break down into 55 grams of fat, 22 of which is saturated, 2 grams of trans fat, 155 milligrams of cholesterol (bring your Lipitor through the drive-thru with you folks) 63 grams of carbs 46 grams of protein, and a whopping, blood pressure shooting, 2160 milligrams of sodium.
The nutritional information I got from the Burger King website doesn’t bother to give percentages of daily allowance for any of these components, but I’d be willing to bet if you were on a 950 calorie, weight-reducing diet this is your only meal of the day. And, bonus, two days worth of salt.
But it’s what the “Loaded” Steakhouse Burger is loaded with that’s so captivating. Oh sure, you got your A-1 Steak sauce, big thick meat patty, bun and cheese, and what looks in the picture to be lettuce and tomato. But in the loaded version, you also got bacon and something interesting—onion rings.
Sorry America, but onion rings do not count as a vegetable.
But on top of the onion rings is the coup-de-gras. That’s g-r-a-s, as in French fat. It’s mashed-potato topping—with real bacon and chives.
Mein Gott! This burger adds all the side dishes—onion rings and mashed potatoes—in the same accreted mass. Pile on food has reached a new pinnacle!
They deserve a plaque as thick as the stuff in your arteries...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

#754 In-digestion

“It all goes down the same pipe,” my mom used to say.
And now the food fashionistas have sided with my mom—what’s “in” in digestion. We’ve entered the era of “pile on presentation.”
The last couple of fancy banquet affairs I’ve gone to tell the story. First they put down your starch—potatoes, rice, risotto, whatever. Then they lay on your vegetable. Asparagus spears seem to be favorites, so they can criss-cross them artistically, and only manage to give you four or so. French cut green beans work as well.
Next comes your entrée. A chicken cutlet perhaps, although I doubt the pedestrian word cutlet even occurs to the master chef. In any event, it’s a slab of chicken, or a couple of slices of London broil or perhaps a filet if it’s a really fancy occasion, with a couple of shrimp orbiting the accreted food pile like aquatic electrons.
But a pile it is. All heaped up in the middle of a vast plate. Then the immense empty space between the pile and the plate edge is sprinkled with colorful spices, like a Jackson Pollack artistic tribute to spasticity.
And I hate it.
I’m well aware food should look pleasant if we wish it to taste pleasant. Give me a peeled shrimp, breaded into anonymity, anytime over the unpeeled variety—legs and feelers poking out everywhere to remind us we are eating insects of the sea.
But don’t serve me what you are trying to pass off as a food sculpture, especially when it’s really just a pile. Sticking a couple of asparagus spears between my taters and meat is not art; it’s like a kid playing with his food.
Maybe I don’t want my hollandaise touching my potato. Maybe I want to savor the delicate flavor of each dish without burdening it with the taste of its plate-mate.
“It all goes down the same pipe,” my mom used to say.
“Yeah,” I’d sass back, “but I don’t have to taste it down there.”
America, ya gotta love it.