Thursday, July 31, 2008

#819 Zero Privacy

Recently, there have been a few lessons in the news about privacy in today’s electronic society. Actually, what I meant to say was lack of privacy.
The old adage has never been truer, if you want your purchase to remain secret, use cash. Electronic systems, from grocery store cards and internet purchases, to visa and debit card transactions are all potential mines for unscrupulous companies to gather your data.
Why does that phrase sound nearly obscene? I’m, um, heh heh, gathering his personal data. The unscrupulous stranger went about gathering her data—if you know what I mean.
Listen to this interesting news titbit. The Independent Adult Internet Market Research Company—yes, there is one—has reported a recent upturn in visits to, and upsurge in sales from, pornographic websites in recent weeks.
The sites attribute their sales expansion to people spending their economic stimulus payments. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what the government had in mind.
Then again, the government did call it a "stimulus" payment.
Maybe some folks just figure the gov’ment meant they should get stimulated with it.
But here’s a really spooky thing. A recent lawsuit against the company CompuCredit suggests that lenders are now considering types of purchases consumers make in assigning them a credit score.
Credit scores now affect just about everything you borrow, from cars to houses to credit cards, and the interest you pay for those loans.
But scores also affect things like insurance. Insurance companies can and do charge you higher rates if your credit score is low, arguing poor credit risks are also poor insurance risks.
So it’s possible your electronic purchase for let’s say, adult internet sites, or even using your credit card to buy lots of lattes or frivolous frappacinos, may affect your credit score.
Next time you have a cash emergency, don’t use the casino ATM, even if it’s closest and you’re acting fiscally prudent by saving gas. You could be affecting your home insurance rates and that 0% interest on your next family mini-van.
Because electronic transactions mean you have zero privacy.
Big Brother loves the cashless society.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

#818 Zinger Flinger

Hold on to your quality control. Word of mouth just got very dangerous. And it’s assisted by a new technology called MARMS.
That’s right, MARMS. As in smarmy. As in suspiciously attractive but liable to strike like a snake the minute your back is turned.
MARMS is a new technology on the boards with the Motorola cellphone people. The letters stand for Mobile Augmented Reality Messaging System. MARMS is like the help button in a computer program, but in the real world.
Say you’re in a restaurant. The built in GPS system in your phone can tell you where the best seat is. The phone can then suggest what is the best dish on the menu or if there are any special drinks. It can even tell you to avoid certain things.
Go spirit of adventure...
It does this by incorporating user reviews of the place in its database. It’s kind of like the navigator thing in your car, mining different information sources to plot your best route in real-time, but adding MySpace style social networking and Ebay style ratings.
So like I say. Watch your quality control. Because you know how it is. You can have a thousand good meals in a restaurant and never tell your friend. But one rude waiter or one bad cook and you tell the story for a week.
It is unfortunately the tendency of many of us, from newspapers to neighborhood gossips, to report the bad and salacious first and fail to make any effort to praise the good.
You can raise flocks of chickens and feed folks countless eggs. But let your cat kill one baby bird and you’re the talk of the town.
So keep your cat corralled, because as soon as MARMS goes into effect, you’re just a cellphone away from someone flinging your business a zinger.
It’s bad enough when the local newspaper gets a story wrong on the front page and only prints the retraction on D-4 next to the high colonic ads.
Once a bad review gets on the MARMS social network, you might as well close your doors and turn off the phone.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#817 Zooeructation

It’s tough being green. From mercury poisoning to cow burps unintended consequences are paving the good intentions road straight to global warming hell.
Take the compact florescent bulb debacle. Turns out CFLs all contain a tiny bit of mercury. So when they wear out after their extremely long lives, they can’t just be thrown away. Many anti-global warming folks, annoyed more by the hassle of saving the planet than by whether there’s a crisis at all, are merrily chortling over the green eggs on environmentalist’s faces and hamming it up as they put them down in front of congressional TV cameras.
Compounding it all is that the CFLs—which are legislated by congress to be in a certain amount of use by 2015—are made in China. Not content to poison our children with lead paint on toys, China, through its insidious placement of mercury in our compact florescent bulbs, seems devilishly intent on poisoning our landfills as well.
But at least using CFLs drastically reduces the carbon footprint of our power consumption. The same can’t be said for green cows.
The major environmental consequence of grain-fed beef is the massive power and industry it takes to grow that much corn. “Green” grass fed beef is tastier, has lower saturated fat, and is more fuel-efficient to produce. Only one problem; turns out grass fed beef causes even more methane to be released into the atmosphere than grain.
Cow farts had already been an issue with corn fed beef. But grass fed beef also produce an abundance of cow burps. Which means even more methane. Cow methane contributes 20% of the US greenhouse emission load. Methane traps atmospheric heat 20 times more effectively than plain carbon dioxide. A single cow is worse than a herd of cars.
Science thinks it has an answer. Genetically alter grass so it doesn’t cause cows to burp. Vegetarians are shaking their heads in disbelief. Genetically alter grass to prevent cow burps?
Can’t we all just order salad?
Or why not genetically alter grass to taste like meat and cut out the middle-beast?
Congress has its own answer to the cow burp issue.
Bring it up again and we’ll vote on it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

#816 Zither

Consider the Zither. A lovely musical instrument that appears to be named after the word sister, when rendered through Appalachian dental work. Or lack thereof.
Heeth my brother and theeze my zither.
The zither is a stringed instrument whose strings do not extend beyond the sounding box, putting it in the same family as other instruments which coincidentally include the Appalachian dulcimer.
The name comes in a roundabout way from kithara, an ancient Greek word. Kithara was also the word from which we get guitar.
You’ve probably seen one version of a zither known as an autoharp. You press buttons which mute all the strings that don’t make the chord you want, strum the rest and, voila, music.
A number of my elementary school teachers used them for sing-alongs in class. Our school couldn’t afford a piano.
To my ear the zither always seemed to make a mournful sound, steeped in pathos.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this, I suppose it’s just my way of getting what little knowledge I have of zithers off my mind.
Words with “ither,” like slither, zither, and wither seem tired, sad, and old somehow. And antique. When someone says come hither, you know what he or she means, even though most people don’t talk that way.
Most of us know how to dither. Even now you may be dithering as you read this.
A person who dithers sounds like some kind of pervert. Uh oh. He was caught dithering again.
In fact they are nothing worse than procrastinators. But at least they’re at work. They’ll most likely draw their pay and persist in their level of incompetence. And be prized for their stability. They will be appreciated for one good reason.
In a world where most people phone it in, they show up.
So they dither away their time, slither away at the end of the day, and wither away their life.
Accompanied by the soulful sound of a zither.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

#815 Zucchini-alis

I think the watermelon industry is trying to pull a fast one. Erecting a structure of mistruths to persuade the American male to eat more melons.
I don’t blame them. Sometimes the best thing you can do to pump up a sagging product line is find another market.
The craisin is a prime example. Cranberries essentially consist of two things, juice and husk. The juice sells pretty well. Whole cranberries continue their dominance of the Christmas dinner accessory plates.
But the empty husks were being sold for fodder, or worse—cranberry compost. Enter a clever person and an even cleverer name. “Craisin.” Dried, chewy cranberry husks were suddenly the newest snack craze in a health food focused society. They’re great on salads too. And “craisin” sounds crazy fun.
A whole heck of a lot more market-friendly than “empty husk.”
The melon people also needed help. Find a new set of customers to enjoy their product beyond the Fourth of July. It’s not like they can sell rinds. Or can they? And sell more melons too?
The answer?
Caution, consult your physician if your 4th of July dessert lasts longer than 4 hours.
A recent spate of news stories came from out of nowhere. Heretofore silent scientists were suddenly and suspiciously telling us that watermelon has, get this, Viagra-like effects.
A good set of melons has always been stimulating to certain males. But apparently it’s not just the sight of these plump orbs that cause the vaunted result. Watermelons contain a chemical called citrulline, which has the same vaso-dilating effects as Viagra.
Most of the chemical is in the rind, so we may actually see a new powdered rind supplement sometime soon.
Because the problem is, melons are diuretics. You have to eat a lot of watermelon for it to act like Viagra, but eating too much makes you want to go all right—to the bathroom.
Which, from a Viagra standpoint, sort of ruins the, um, mood.
And really, with the seeds, the stickiness, the mess, and taking up so much room in the refrigerator, watermelons are a lot of hassle.
I think I’ll wait for these scientists to come out with a similar use for zucchini.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

#814 Zecchino

Our pennies will never be zecchino. That’s right zecchino. Zecchino is the plural word for an Italian coin that was eventually degenerated into sequin.
Sequins, as you know, are those nearly worthless discs of shiny metal that belly dancers and teenage daughters affix to their clothing. The better quality garments have them affixed with thread.
The teenage garments, destined to be worn for less than a month, then consigned to the back-of-the-closet, fickle, fashion heap are affixed with glue. Not very good glue either. At least insofar as it sticks to the clothing it was originally intended to stick to.
It sticks well enough to the carpet, that many passes with a vacuum cleaner fail to suck it up.
In any event, our pennies will not suffer that fate as they are currently worth more than their face value. As are nickels. Pennies now cost about 1.26 cents to make.
That means they’re now worth four pennies to the nickel. Except nickels now cost around 8 cents. Damn.
But you can’t get that much for them. It’s against the law to melt down currency for the raw metal.
The U.S. Mint is complaining. Saying it’s impossible to continue this way. We are contributing to the national debt each time we mint money. Congressmen are wringing their hands. The press is in a frenzy and people are hoarding pennies in the mistaken assumption that copper prices are going to go through the roof.
If they only knew pennies were just 2% copper.
Real copper bootleggers are stealing people’s air conditioner compressors from their back yards to melt down.
I wonder if melting down air conditioners contributes to global warming.
But here’s the deal. It costs 1.25 cents to make a penny. So you lose a quarter-cent every time you make one. But it costs only 6 cents to make a dollar bill. Or 6 cents to make a thousand dollar bill. A thousand dollar bill makes a lot of cents.
So, um, print up a few extra of those.
You made your money back.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

#813 Zest

I once heard that the key to a happy life is having a zest for living. An enthusiasm, a passion for everything you do. Now is the time of year in the great northwest where many of us finally feel that way.
It’s so much easier to feel zesty when you’re not in the middle of forty days of unrelenting gray skies with the sun going down at 4:30. The zest we feel now feels like passion, the zest we try to feel in the winter feels like dried orange peel crumbs.
Where do you think that came from? Grating tiny bits of citrus fruit peel and calling it zest.
It’s one of those singular/plural sorts of words too. Like fish and deer and moose. You don’t hear about a bunch of zests. There’s no such thing as one flake of zest.
It sounds like some strange, futuristic, distillation of feelings created by science. Instead of an anti-depressant, you take a capsule of zest.
Or, “I need to talk to my failing baseball team, can I have two tablets of anger please, and then you’d better give my an understanding pill for later.”
Feelings are funny things. Especially the sixth sense. Those feelings you get that someone’s watching. You just looked over your shoulder didn’t you? Be honest. Okay, you just snuck a look just then.
I know you did. It’s part of our vast psychic connection.
Like when someone in the room starts yawning. It’s hard to resist the urge. It’s hard even now, and I just mentioned yawning. Or if I say the word head lice. Feel like scratching? Go ahead.
We are connected by common experience. And now we are connected by the web too. Everyday countless millions of us go out on the World Wide Web together. Connected by wires to what will soon be a gigantic brain.
I’m plugged in. An evolved psychic for the 21st century. I have an even more attuned sense like the one when we feel someone is watching us.
I can tell when someone is googling me.
And it makes me feel zesty.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#812 Zonk

Consider the word “zonk.” It functions as a word in a cartoon. Someone hits someone else and the sound effect balloon says zonk. Zonk, wham, bam, pow.
It does this well because it ends with a “K”. Most words that end with “K” in our language have a hard edge to them. Rock is a prime example. Brick another.
Bric without a “k”, even though it ends in a hard “c”, is nonetheless soft enough to be included in the term bric-a-brac, and as such, allowed to sit on tiny tables next to puffy chairs gathering dust in cluttered living rooms and parlors.
Brick with a “k” is used to build the foundations and walls of those parlors.
Words that end in “T” are kind of hard. Take the term nugget. A nugget of truth is seen as a hard kernel of truth. Gold nuggets are pretty hard as well, hard enough to sift out of the even softer sand and stay in the pan.
But nuggets are still a little softer than rocks. They also share almost every letter and most of the sound of the term nougat.
I spent way too much time as a youth trying to define in my own mind what nougat was. Numerous candy bars claimed to contain nougat. Yet to my uncultured tongue, the creamy center of a Milky Way differed significantly from the turgid texture of the interior of a Payday. Maybe the Payday’s load of nuts tricked my tongue into thinking the rest of the bar was firmer, but I don’t think so.
Today’s Milky Ways Bars are just as creamy and melt far faster than a Payday.
Nougat. It really is fun to say. Yet it’s always in a supporting roll. You never here anyone say, “Waiter, bring me more nougat.”
Finally, words that end in vowels tend to be softer. The more the vowels the softer it is. Like tissue. Just a breath of an object, light as air. Tissue. So elegant and refined.
Not, “I need a rag.”
But, “Someone please fetch me a tissue. It appears the zonked out neighbor child has smeared nougat on my bric-a-brac...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

#811 Ziti

I admit I get confused sometimes. I am never sure if scampi is a type of shrimp or a particular way to cook it. And if I really want to feel stupid I just have to dive into a plate of pasta.
Nothing makes you feel more humble than being outsmarted by starch.
For years I have been muddled by macaroni-like things. Maybe it was because spaghetti and elbow macaroni made up my entire early exposure to things noodular.
So I think I got penne and rotini. But then there’s cannelloni and manicotti. When served up they look the same. But cannelloni is a flat piece of pasta that’s rolled and stuffed, while manicotti comes as a pre-shaped tube.
A somewhat Freudian pre-shaped tube.
Which may explain the manicotti reference. Although in these gender neutral days maybe we should call it person-icotti.
So anyhow, it was with total befuddlement that I first encountered ziti. When I first had the dish it appeared to be some sort of baked penne thing. Not quite a casserole but heading there.
So naturally, I thought ziti was the name of the dish not the pasta. Then I was at a store and they were selling the pasta as ziti. And they didn’t look any different than penne.
What’s the deal? I thought. Did someone in the pasta factory see the news stories of the price of pennies going up and get confused?
So I looked it up. Ziti and penne are pretty much the same. Two words for small tubes of pasta that hold more sauce. Like manicotti, but after a swim in a cold pool.
Ziti is also the name of the dish, much like we refer to spaghetti as both the noodle and the entree.
Remember that noodle casserole they used to serve in the school cafeteria? It has a fancy Italian name too. It’s called mostaccioli.
There is an unfounded rumor that the biggest difference between mostaccioli and baked ziti is the amount of sauce used. Mostaccioli is served in the country with lots of sauce.
In urban areas, less sauce is used.
Or, as they say, just enough for the ziti.
America, ya gotta love it.

#810 Zarf

If someone were to have bet me five dollars yesterday that there was such a thing as a zarf I would have said no and lost the bet.
Paradoxically, it turns out I own one.
At the very least I would have thought the word zarf, if it existed, would be a comic book type of word, like bam and wham and pow.
Or perhaps a sound created when one’s sweaty thighs peel off a vinyl seat cushion on a hot day.
Or it was a word like scarf. Not the thing one wears sportily around one’s neck, the female equivalent of a tie, used to accessorize a drab outfit or give an old one new life.
But the process whereby one consumes food at a rapid and un-etiquette encumbered rate. As in scarfing one’s food. “Dude, I was scarfing down some Cheetos and nacho dip and I noticed your zarf.”
Or perhaps it had something to do with the purging urge. Also known as yarking. The Ptomaine twins—Ralph and Chuck. Clutching the thundermug. Bulemics buffet—the old Scarf and Barf.
Or, perhaps, the word used to describe barks from tiny dogs, as in, arf arf.
But no. All of these arf things, pedestrian in their nature, often involving the acts of digestion or its reverse, are the opposite of the elegance typified by a zarf.
For a zarf is, to quote the American Heritage dictionary, “a chalice-like holder for a hot coffee cup, usually made of ornamental metal.”
It comes from the Arabic word “zarf,” which means container. The one I have is a metal, filigreed framework with a tiny handle, which holds a small glass Turkish cup without a handle of its own.
I never knew it was a zarf.
But here’s a cool thing, the essence of a zarf derives from its ability to prevent a person from burning his fingers on a hot handleless coffee cup. So, by extension, that includes the cardboard sleeves they put over hot paper cups at Starbucks. This is going to be fun.
The next time the barista asks me if I want “room with that” I can say, “No, but I would like a zarf.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

#809 Zip Codeless

One of the many things in the last 20 years that has totally changed society is the mail that requires no zip code, email. It is a part of virtually everyone’s daily life. Not a day goes by that countless people around the world don’t waste hours of their time checking their email.
Not necessarily reading it, just obsessively checking it to see if there is anything to read.
What was once a rarity is now a ubiquity. So much so that people are having to turn into advertisers or headline writers just to get their emails read. The subject line of an email has become the single most important line in the composition.
It means whether an email gets answered or ignored.
For me, it determines whether the email gets read and dealt with right away, or pushed to the bottom of the e-heap. And God forbid an undealt with email goes below my event horizon.
My email program is set up to display the most recent 15 emails in its viewing window. I can scroll down to the rest of them but rarely do, and as the day wears on more and more dip below the horizon, consigned to the darkness of email night.
The email subject line is one of the few things standing between the sender and this ignominy. A good subject line will pique my interest, get the email read and if there’s a need for a response, get it done. But if it’s not read it’s dead.
It’s interesting to note that we still haven’t completely settled on a way to spell email. Some still spell it with a capital E. Some with a hyphen.
Personally I think it’s time we lost the hyphen, this word obviously has lots of usage.
Here’s a funny thing. You probably think the word email is new. Shortened from “electronic mail” into E dash mail into email.
True enough, in that sense.
But the word has actually been around since 1877. It was a type of pottery design pattern. The word derives from the French word for enamel.
So now you know.
Now go obsessively check and see if anyone sent you some enamel.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

#808 Zax and Pinnae

The other day I was reading a scientific article and the writer was pontificating about pinnae.
Pinnae, it turns out, is the scientific plural word for what the rest of us call ears. Those fleshy pieces of cartilage that stick out from the sides of our heads and which are also a favorite target for piercing and adornment.
“Pinnae” is one of those words that’s never caught on with the general public. Despite its obvious alliterative value, we don’t say we’re piercing our pinnae. The singular of the term, pinna, is so rare it’s not even in spellcheck.
Science feels the need to distinguish because they use the term “ear” for the whole system—outer, middle and inner. The outer ear is primarily the pinna. The middle ear has the tiny bones know as ossicles—the hammer the anvil and the stirrup, or in Latin, the malleus, incus and stapes.
The bones have these names because they vaguely resemble the shapes of anvils and hammers and such. But not really. The hammer looks more like a tadpole, or possibly a young guppie. The incus looks less like an anvil and more like a zax, a weird tool used by slate roofers, and the highest word score in scrabble.
These fanciful acts of description seem to conflict with the part of the scientific community that insists on saying pinnae when the mean ears.
The inner ear contains the cochlea, with jillions of tiny hairs which respond to vibrations.
In any event, the public has never bought, and will never buy into the whole pinnae thing. Having a mean nun in a story “box someone’s pinnae” just doesn’t resonate like having her “box someone’s ears.”
And would you lend someone a sympathetic pinna?
There’s something almost poetic about saying you’re going to the barbershop to get your ears lowered. Lowering your pinnae makes it sound like a petticoat deal.
And it’s occasionally fun, if cruel, to hear about folks having ears that stick out like cardoors.
Pinnae like cardoors just ain’t the same simile.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

#807 Zany Education

More news from the zany world of education.
Yesterday I wrote about the Fairfax Virginia high school that had abolished Valedictorianism because ranking students made some of them feel bad.
Let’s not mention how bad the Valedictorian felt when after four years of hard work, diligence, and effort he was told his award was abolished. Must have had his self esteem crushed like the hopes of a guy dying of thirst in the desert when the lake he’s laboriously crawled to turns out to be a mirage.
Other high schools apparently have different approaches to achievement. One school in Chicago gave a brand new car to a 12-year-old girl who had perfect attendance.
Critics question whether this may send the wrong message to student—spoiling her.
The girl asked if she could have another color.
Seriously, the critics say learning should be a reward in itself. The Public Schools chief isn’t backing down, and sees the lavish prize as a vital weapon in the fight against truancy.
Obviously they don’t fund their schools with levies.
I was one of those rare kids who had perfect attendance. I probably infected half my class with all the colds and flu I brought to school when my parents refused to let me laze off at home with my supposedly imaginary aches and pains.
A car? I got a pseudo parchment certificate with my name spelled wrong. But here’s the troubling thing. This kid didn’t get a car for being a good student.
She got it just for showing up.
On the other end, a kid at Tesoro High School in Orange County, California is being rewarded with 69 criminal counts for allegedly hacking into the schools computer system, where he changed all his grades to A’s. He wanted to get into a good college. All those video game cheat codes must have skewed his moral sense.
It looks like he may get a free ride too. To the poky.
The criminal count for altering his grade in one class may be dropped. Apparently he already had one A—in Computer Science.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

#806 Zenith of Intellect

Odd news from the world of education. A high school in Fairfax County, Virginia has taken the unusual step of totally abolishing the award of class Valedictorian.
I think they are trying to be too fair in Fairfax.
In eliminating the Valedictorian designation, they expressed the concern that ranking students makes some of them feel inferior. The one student who had a 4.0 will be called an “honor graduate” instead.
As you might expect, I have a problem with this. If you don’t reward someone for a job well done, what’s the incentive to do well? I would much rather drive on a bridge that someone who knew something built well than on a bridge where a lot of people who knew nothing about bridges tried their best.
Trying you best is a noble achievement, but actually achieving the best is more practical for a better functioning society.
It’s like my kid’s daycare. In order to protect their self-esteem when they played musical chairs, every kid always got a seat. If every one gets a seat in musical chairs, you’re just going around in circles.
But notice something else. The Fairfax school didn’t really achieve their stated purpose of taking away ranking. They still gave the kid a special designation—Honor Graduate. And he still got a 4.0 Grade Point Average. Which is like, you know, mathematical ranking. 4.0 is, um, indisputably 2 higher than 2.0.
2 being half as much as a 4 might make some feel inferior too. So why mince words with Valedictorian?
I also worry that this is another sign of anti-intellectualism in our society. Did Fairfax have a single quarterback on their football team? Or did they let everyone take a turn? Did they have a Prom Queen and Homecoming Princesses?
Let’s go ahead and award people highest honors for throwing a football or looking pretty, but gosh, let’s don’t reward someone for being smart. Everyone else may have his or her feelings hurt.
Then their parents will go out and buy “my detention kid beat up your honor student” bumper stickers.
America, ya gotta love it.

#805 Zeal of Freshness

I like picking up news from the fringes—the little articles that often go unnoticed amidst the bigger headlines blaring about death and destruction.
The smaller stories are still getting reported, you just have to work a little to find the pepper amongst the fly poo.
This may or may not be one of them. It remains to be seen whether anyone will pick up it’s significance. Obama is raking in twice as many contributions as McCain. No surprise there, he’s enormously popular. But it’s where he’s picking it up at that level that’s amazing.
Wall Street.
Yep, even though Obama is on record saying he will raise capital gains and corporate taxes, financial industry biggies have forked over with incredible zeal.
Wall Street wants change too. Or at least some spare change. Because they’re broke. Because there’s an underlying tax-like thing that’s draining every last drop out of the economy at large. It’s the shrinking value of the dollar.
It’s worth about 35% less now than it was when the Bush administration began the war in Iraq. Since then, they’ve lowered taxes and spent more money. Forget about “tax and spend.” It’s “don’t tax and spend anyway” that’s causing the problem.
Because by continuing to spend huge amounts on a war and not raising taxes to pay for it, our country has had to borrow money. And the folks that are lending us money are foreign countries. And the value of our currency has gone down as a direct result.
So tell me, if I were to suggest taxing you 15% so you’d have 85 cents left on every dollar or shrinking your dollar to 65 cents, which would you opt for?
Wall Street agrees. Plus, there’s a notion that Obama may help refuel the optimism of the 1990’s when, as one financial source put it, Bill Clinton led the largest economic expansion in history.
That’s back when Clinton pumped up consumer confidence and brought the egregious deficit spending of the Reagan/Bush years under control.
You know, when he was a fiscally conservative Democrat.
I don’t know about you, but the imagery of pump up seems so much better than trickle down...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

#804 X-Spam Junkie

Not long ago I installed spam filters on both my home and work computers.
And now I’m lonely.
I didn’t realize how much of my email was spam until it disappeared. I’d gotten so used to filtering through ad after ad for male enhancement; plea after plea to invest in penny stocks; entreaty after entreaty to lose weight with miracle herbs.
It had just become part of my routine.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt but the opposite is also true—repetition builds intimacy.
These spam people were like the annoying crows in the parking lot everyday at work. You don’t know them really. You don’t want to know them. But you get used to having them there. If they were gone, you’d miss them. They are a part of the big thing you call your life.
It’s like that guy on the corner bench in Tumwater. Everybody I talk to that drives on Capitol Way knows him. He used to be over by Fred Meyer. We ignore him, for the most part. He appears to be a bum, and he also appears to be a little crazy—talking to his imaginary friends.
But in a way he talks to us. Because if he was gone we’d all have a little empty place in our lives.
So it is with my spam. I understand now why old people seem to go through every piece of junkmail. And they seem to do it with far more reverence than younger people on the go.
Older folks treat each circular as actual correspondence with another human being. And with so many of their friends dead and gone, those occasional offers from Ed McMahon take on the weight of companionship.
Yes companionship. Junk mail fills a hole in their lives. They get addicted to it. Junkmail junkies. Because if it wasn’t for junkmail, they wouldn’t get no mail at all. Is it any wonder they send their scarce nickels and dimes to junkmail purveyors who ask them for help for sometimes bogus causes?
You help your friends, right?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

#803 X-Curtains

Apparently Alfred Hitchcock was right. Shower curtains can kill. Well maybe not kill directly, like a knife slashing through them, causing screaming and blood running down the drain.
But kill in the sense that accumulated chemicals in your system cause harm and possibly long term health consequences.
I’m talking about the recent study that shows that vinyl shower curtains sold nationwide contain seriously bad chemicals. Chemicals in the vinyl venting into the surrounding air cause the “new shower curtain smell.”
I know I know, I can see the universal throwing up your hands in disgust gesture now. What next? New Car smell. Probably.
It’s too bad. We are all totally jaded by this point. Items we’ve lived with for years suddenly being implicated in a host of ailments. We are so used to one study or another telling us something is no longer good for us we’re ready to jump into the deep end of the pool even though we know it has no water.
Shower curtains emit phthalates, used to soften the curtain. Phthalates have been implicated in reproductive system disorders. Uh oh, you may have to use extra Cialis in the shower.
They also contain toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Chemicals identified by the EPA as hazardous air pollutants. I once worked for an environmental testing company. Those chemicals were among the volatile organic compounds tested for when people wanted to buy a piece of land. If you bought the land and it was later found to contain those chemicals you were responsible for the expensive toxic cleanup. So you tested before you bought and got the seller to pay for it if you found something.
Bottom line, there’s a huge industry involved in cleaning up the chemicals that our vinyl shower curtains are infused with. One shower curtain tested was evaporating off 108 volatile organic compounds.
You know, it’s weird, I talked the other day about people in undeveloped countries not having allergies. I’m thinking they don’t have an abundance of water and, um, shower curtains either. Hmm.
What did Bugs Bunny’s gangster persona say when he was threatening death and mayhem?
“It’s curtains for you...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

#802 X-Small Talk

Global warming must be due to friction. The world is heating up because it’s changing so fast. I worry about some of the changes though. Like the increase in violence and the disappearance of small talk.
The other day I was reminded how violent our society had become. I heard a girl say someone had hit on her. Sometimes women come by me at social events and pop me one on the shoulder in what I assume is a flirtatious manner.
Is that what they mean when they say, “hitting on someone”?
Then I realized, they’re talking about what we used to call making a pass at someone. As in, he got so drunk at the Christmas party, he “made a pass at her”.
Now we would say he got so drunk he “hit on her”.
See? Even our casual imagery is violent.
And then there’s small talk. My dad and I love each other, but disagree on most things political. I like to get my news from a variety of free-range sources, he likes to have all his filtered and homogenized through the talk show spin machines.
He thinks they’re the four apostles. But instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it’s Michael, Bill, Rush and Sean.
So, in order to have conversations, we’ve constructed a carefully nuanced small talk pathway. You know, talk about what your doctor said, or retirement, or talk about the weather.
Now, it’s harder and harder not to stumble in a conversational pothole filled with politics. We don’t talk about retirement or we’ll go plummeting into the pit of doom of social security.
And we can’t talk about medical stuff anymore without talking about Medicare and prescription drugs and the cost for all of it. He’s horribly effected financially by the negative aspects of our health care system, but terrified of the bugaboo of socialized medicine, which he thinks “Universal Health Care” is a code word for.
That left us with using the safest small talk gambit on the planet—talking about the weather.
Then came global warming...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

#801 X-Twistoff

So I go to a lot of meetings. And seems like once or twice a week I go to a business having an open house. At these occasions it is customary for the business to give out notions. Little souvenirs that it is considered to be your obligation to take, and subsequently use.
I’ve noticed the freebie givers must believe we all have an obsession with bottles. Bottle openers are high up the freebie list.
I’ve also noticed that the businesses in question think we like our bottles so much we need to carry bottle openers around on our key chains. Virtually every bottle opener I’ve acquired has a loop, ring or chain meant to facilitate attachment to a bunch of keys.
I have too many keys already. If I added non-key devices to my keychain, my pockets would bulge more than the bounds of obscenity consider legal.
One of the bottle openers one of the places gave away is sitting on my desk. It is hard plastic and has a hole with a serrated rim that I suppose is designed to help with twist-off bottle caps.
So you don’t have to use your shirttail to save your delicate fingers, I guess.
It also has a metal-reinforced slot in the top where, if the twisting doesn’t work, you can just pop the bottle cap off. So if you have the tool to pop it off, why bother to twist it in the first place?
The other keychain-enabled opener is even more interesting. It’s a triangular shaft of metal with a bottle opening slot on the wide end. But it’s also curved into the unmistakable shape of a shoehorn.
Lots of beer drinkers I know change their shoes frequently enough to keep one of these on their keychain. And put up with a three-and-a-half inch shaft of stiff metal in their pockets.
I think the world would be simpler if we all had at least one key on our keychain that had an oversized head, just big enough to have a slot you could use as a bottle opener.
America, ya gotta love it.

#800 X-Hungry

I was watching a news program that featured a story on malnutrition. A nutritionist had come up with a concoction that brought kids back from the brink of death. It was hailed as a scientific breakthrough that was responsible for miraculous recoveries.
I’m thinking you can’t use the terms scientific breakthrough and miraculous recovery in the same sentence. A miracle is, by definition, outside the bounds of science.
Jesus wasn’t on a jet-ski in the Sea of Galilee.
In any event, the story unfolded about this scientific nutrition breakthrough. It’s basically an easy-to-store paste available in tubs or foil pouches. It requires no refrigeration and no water to reconstitute.
Both essential requirements in areas where water is scarce and Frigidaires scarcer.
It’s also fairly simple to manufacture, being a mixture of peanut butter, vitamins, powdered milk and sugar.
But what got me was the name. Plumpy’nut. I’m sorry, when I come up with a miracle scientific breakthrough I’m thinking I’m not going to name it like it was a cartoon character.
Plumpy’nut sounds like one of the Hamburglars, or possibly some nutsy overweight comic relief sidekick to a cartoon hero. “Quit your joking and shut your piehole, Plumpy’nut, we’ve got work to do.”
Sure, it plumps skinny kids up. And sure, it’s derived from peanuts, but I almost turned the TV channel because hearing the term Plumpy’nut emerge countless times from the serious new commentator’s lips was so disconcerting.
Imagine Walter Cronkite or Ted Koppel saying Plumpy’nut. Malnutrition is a serious subject. Anderson Cooper was a serious journalist reporting on it. “Plumpy’nut” didn’t fit.
He did ask one revealing question of a doctor in the small African country where the piece was filmed. “What about peanut allergies?”
“Not a problem,” the physician replied. “There are no peanut allergies in the underdeveloped world. And for the most part no allergies generally.”
I’ve heard this before. Apparently fighting off malaria, sleeping sickness and infections caused by malnutrition gives your body more important things to do than react to cat dander.
Plumpy’nut would probably come with a warning label here.
America, ya gotta love it.

#799 X-Snooze

I’ve never really appreciated the concept of snooze, and its technological ally the snooze alarm. When it comes to waking up in the morning, it’s either do it or don’t—and don’t is not an option.
I mean really, if I went to the trouble of setting an alarm, chances are I had a reason. That reason is just as important when the alarm goes off as it was when I clearheadedly set it.
At some point in my maturity, maybe it was the actual point I arrived in maturity, that logic became unassailable to my conscious, my unconscious, my subconscious and my dream avatar.
Alarm goes off, get up. Groan if you like, be grumpy if you like, but get the heck up and start your day. No one’s requiring you to embrace the damn thing, but roll out.
One of my kids was an expert in waking-up denial. He had two alarm clocks, one near his bed and one across the room. He also had a remarkable ability to be totally dead to the world when they went off.
His clocks succeeded in waking the rest of us very effectively.
So it is I get amused by alarm clock technology. The new ones on the market illustrate the snooze extremes. One clock has and infrared motion sensor. Wave an arm in its direction and it goes into snooze mode. Great, you can be lazy even when you’re sleeping.
One escalates its attempts to wake you, starting with an annoying buzzer, then flashing a strobe light. If that doesn’t work a vibrating attachment will force you out of bed.
And this one I like best: It’s called Clocky. Clocky has big balloon tires and runs away from you. At alarm time, Clocky rolls off your nightstand and “beeps and tweets like R2D2” until you catch it. The chase across your bedroom wakes you.
Unless, like my son, you sleep through it.
This is the same kid who could always rouse himself at an ungodly hour on a weekend to play paintball.
It’s like alcoholics but with slumber.
You can’t quit sleeping until you want to.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

#798 X-Results

Recently there have been a lot of scandals about Big Pharma faking results. Drugs killing people and stuff, tests done by the companies suppressing negative information, you know, big business gone bad.
Some of us fear big government, some of us fear big business, I’m just afraid of big. When people, customers, and taxpayers get reduced to statistical blips, bad things happen.
In any event, there was this story about a drug that was supposed to be given to people with strokes. The idea was it would bust up potential clots and cause less disability and death. The drug was tested and found to significantly reduce disability and death in post stroke patients.
Doctors started using it. People started dying.
Guess what? The drug was, by design, never tested on severe stroke victims. So the study results naturally reflected better outcomes since it studied better beginnings. A Band-Aid is going to work a lot better on a scratch than a six-inch gaping gash.
The other thing the study did was show results using an accepted technique known as Combination End Point reporting. And interestingly, this method depends on semantics and not science.
Specifically, the tortuous reasoning one can employ with the word “and.”
Remember when I said earlier that this drug significantly reduced disability and death. Well actually it reduced disability in a lot of mild stroke patients. It only killed a couple of them. But it reduced disability in far more of them than it killed.
So the drug company could truthfully say that the combined results of the two end points—death and disability—was that when both numbers were taken together, the drug reduced disability and death.
That’s like saying that statistically, the headlights on your car reduce darkness and your battery going dead.
Combined end points leave lots of drugs on the market. Like certain cholesterol drugs that reduced cholesterol but had no effect on coronary arterial plaque build-up.
The drug company could say the drug lowered cholesterol and plaque together.
One doctor put it best after a number of people died:
“Dying with corrected cholesterol is not a successful outcome.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

#797 X-Sense

The other day I was thumbing through a coupon catalogue for a hunting and fishing store.
I like the term “thumbing through.” It often refers to page turning. Yet I actually “finger through” a book or catalogue. Index finger on the top corner of the page, or at the very most a finger and thumb pinching sort of turn. I don’t remember ever exclusively using my thumb to turn a page.
Some of the outdoor products this place offered made no sense. One of them was this durable full-feature golf bag, with lots of pockets, back straps and extendable legs so it can stand on its own.
What’s a golf bag doing in an outdoor store that purports to specialize in hunting and fishing, you say? Maybe occasionally you have to combine hunting and golfing. Those pesky deer have been cropping a little too much of the golf course landscaping. The rough just isn’t as rough as it should be.
When you happen on a deer on the middle fairway, why, this bag’s just big enough to hold a different kind of iron. A shooting iron. Fire off that shot to the green and fire another one in the deer’s spleen.
That explains the other feature that first drew my eyes to this odd golf bag. It’s done in camo. That’s right, a camo golf bag. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it would be necessary to have your golf bag blend into the scenery. Shooting through the deer hazard had to be the reason.
Then it occurred to me—early morning stealth golfing. Camo bags… Camo golf outfit...... No greens fees!
But I’m still wondering about this other product I saw in the catalogue. It’s called a sit-on-top style Kayak. Excuse me, isn’t that a canoe?
The picture shows this shallow plastic shell. No tight hole to wedge your body into. And no tight hole to hold you in when you hit the class four rapids.
I have a suggestion on how to use the 50 dollars the coupon saves you.
Buy a life vest.
America, ya gotta love it.