Friday, August 29, 2008

#840 Funny Attack Dogs

The biggest problem with the left today is they don’t have their own pack of attack dogs. The attack dogs of the right have been one of the most successful public relations engines of the past 20 years.
By their continual snarling and barking about the supposedly liberal media, they’ve managed to make virtually every independent reporter skittish when it comes to a story where the folks on the right have clearly done something wrong. The, ahem, “liberal” media pretty much report it and move on. Gone are the days of dogging right wing presidents like Nixon till they resign.
The “liberal” media jumped in the attack dog pack and harried left wing presidents with travel agency scandals and what not.
But similar episodes by the current administration get a pass.
Like now. The ultra-righteous dogs of the right are silent. Clearly an injustice has been done. If it had been done to them, they would be howling to high heaven like a pack of jackals.
The offense? The Justice Department, a supposedly non-political organization, in charge of, you know, law and justice and stuff, illegally hired people based on their political affiliation. You had to be a Republican to get hired in the non-partisan Justice Department.
Now if I hired using that standard, I could be sued till I was screwed to the wall. I can’t interview a potential employee and even ask him what his political leanings are without fear of major legal repercussions.
Justice Department officials were doing it all the time. An investigation finally found it all out. But Attorney General Mukasey, who actually was a political appointment, decided not to prosecute.
At this point, if there was a liberal media, the attack dogs of the left would kick in and yammer, bark, and howl on some equivalent of Fox News.
But no, nary a whimper. The most the left has are a couple of comedy shows like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They just make us laugh, or at the very most get ironic.
Meanwhile the Attorney General defended his decision by saying, “Not every wrong or every violation of the law is a crime.” Imagine the outrage if one of Clinton’s appointees had said the same thing.
Still, it could be worse. The Justice Department officials only broke the law; they could have been lying about having sex.
America, ya gotta love it.

#839 Soy Sorry

The other day I was at an event and I saw this guy with a T-Shirt that had an interesting slogan printed on the back. It said, “Vegetarians Make Better Lovers.”
For some reason a zucchini popped into my brain.
But it was obvious the guy wasn’t up on the latest science. Or he’s been smart enough to stay away from soy.
Because in a recent study, scientists discovered that eating soy cuts a male’s sperm count in half. Ouch. I hate it when they use the term “cut”. It makes it sound like a bad soy slasher flick.
They should have said reduced by half.
Not that fertility is necessarily down for the count. Cutting, excuse me, reducing, sperm by half still leaves 40 million of the little swimmers as opposed to the usual 80. And, you know, it really only takes one Michael Phelps to get the gold.
But as Doctor Jorge Chavarro, the leader of the study, put it, “It suggests soy food could have some deleterious effect on the reproductive system and especially on sperm production.”
Doctor Chavarro, wasn’t he a Russian doctor of some sort? I guess he picked reproduction because he had to study soy’s effects somewhere my love.
The disturbing thing is, it turns out it doesn’t take much soy. The effect occurred with as little as one serving of soy per day. That’s like a bowl of miso soup.
That settles it. I’m not taking my next date to a teriyaki joint.
And as if I didn’t already have plenty of reasons to avoid soy lattes, I now have the threat of impotence hanging in there. My body has always been able to accept lactose and I try not to be intolerant generally, but some of the soy latte people seem just a touch bossy and pretentious.
Then again, I’m one of those guys that orders burgers with everything on it, not adding a little more of this ingredient and subtracting a touch of that. I have enough control in my life. I don’t need to micro-manage my food.
Except, of course, when I say so long to soy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

#838 Aging Thoughts

The other day I was reflecting on age. We live in such a fast paced, fast changing world that sometimes we are so busy just adapting we don’t have time to notice all the time that’s gone by.
No one likes to talk much about how old we’re getting. Such reflections are about as welcome as Brett Favre at a Wisconsin fondue party.
Like the other day, I heard that John McCain was 71 years old. Not long after that, I heard the Mick Jagger had turned 65.
Mick Jagger is only 6 years younger than John McCain. My lovely sister is younger than me than Mick Jagger is younger than John McCain.
When Mick Jagger was 17, John McCain was 23. When I went to college at 17, there were upperclassmen who were 23.
Why do I suddenly feel so old?
Back then, they hadn’t even invented light beer. I hate light beer. What’s the point? Light beer is like the original bottled water. As one wag put it, light beer is for people who don’t like the taste of beer but apparently do like to use the bathroom a lot.
Discussions about the bathroom seem to be more frequent as you age too. As frequent as the times you visit the bathroom. For lots of guys it’s bathroom math, where the frequency of number one and the infrequency of number two is a hard equation to solve.
Natures little jokes. The call of nature is insistently ringing one second and “caller on hold” the next.
The crossover point to middle age, the first and most important sign that you’re no longer a the top of the hill but starting your mad rush of downhill doom, is that the word fiber occupies more of your thoughts than the word sex.
Remember those hotties that used to wear granny dresses in the sixties. They’re grannies in their sixties now.
Oh well. The aging process ends eventually.
And as another wag put it, when I die I want to go quietly in my sleep like my grandfather.
Not screaming like the passengers in his car.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#837 Lauryl Lie

Sometimes the promise of something is more attractive than the result. It’s like the legend of Lorelei. She was a siren on the Rhine river who lured sailors to their deaths. The promise of her voice led them to doom.
So it is with the chemical lauryl sulfate. Yesterday, in my morning shower, as I was wiping my stinging eyes after an unfortunate shampoo miscue with my still asleep hands, I chanced to read the ingredients on my shampoo bottle. One of the first was lauryl sulfate.
Hmm, I thought, sounds like someone I dated in college. I wonder what this chemical does.
Answer: Lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent. It makes your shampoo work up into a fine lather. And it’s got some people with health concerns worked up into a lather too.
Seems lauryl sulfate is quite the irritant. They use it in experiments to first irritate an animal’s skin so later they can cure the irritation with something else. It not only causes tissue damage, it has actually been shown to destroy cells on the cornea.
Your cornea is that clear part on the front of your eye that you see through and that Lasik surgeons mess with.
But, you know, lauryl sulfate foams really well, so it’s in about every soap product there is. The shampoo people say it’s safe. Since occasional application and quick and thorough rinsing don’t leave it on your skin long enough to cause trouble.
But they take an interesting approach to the eye-sting issue. Instead of finding a way to make lauryl sulfate less damaging, or finding another foaming agent altogether, they add different chemicals to your shampoo to anesthetize your eye so you don’t feel the pain of the lauryl sulfate eating it away.
That’s like shooting up you hand with Novocain and then holding it over a fire. You may not feel it, but your hand isn’t any less crispy.
Wow. Marketing ingenuity at its best. Numbing your eyes so you don’t feel them being chemically singed.
All for foam.
In sailing, a lot of foam is usually a good sign that right below the surface there are rocks of doom.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

#836 Treaty Treatment

A disturbing thing happened recently and it has me wondering.
First a little boring history. If you remember from high school civics, our beloved Constitution was not the first document out of the box to help our struggling revolutionaries to a state of nationhood.
For quite a while, we were a nation of statehoods. Even today, the matter is a constant bone of contention. There are those who see states’ rights as a safeguard against an over-powerful federal government stepping on the little guy. Actually the safeguard usually results in states protecting their own institutional rights and budgets, but never mind.
The Articles of the Confederation, that first document of which I spoke, helped to coalesce the loose conglomeration of competing states. One of its many weaknesses was in the field of international trade and diplomacy. If Massachusetts made a treaty with Russia, Georgia didn’t have to follow suit, and so on.
Our international reputation suffered a lot of strain because of unequal tariffs and what not. The Constitution was supposed to fix all this.
Or so I believed at about the time I nodded off from my high school teacher’s droning lecture.
Well, I just read an article that totally woke me up. Seems a Mexican national was tried and convicted in Texas for the brutal slaying of two teenage girls.
He was recently executed. An international court was appalled, because the individual was denied access to his consulate, as per international treaty. US lawyers argued that the treaty did not bind Texas, or any individual states.
“Wait,” you say, “What about the Constitution?”
Well here’s the deal, the US Supreme Court agreed. The guy was executed forthwith.
This is the same Supreme Court that says those same sacrosanct states’ medical marijuana, assisted dying, and gay marriage statutes are trumped by the federal government.
But treaties? Apparently not. If Chris Gregoire wants to undo NAFTA, or ignore salmon fishing agreements with Canada, go for it.
So next time the Mexican state of Chihuahua treats some American rich kid like a dog and throws him in the slammer for 50 years for an ounce of pot, don’t expect too much help from the Mexican Federales.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

#835 Fossett and Ramsey

The rumor mills they is a spinning. Grinding the truth down to fine little unrecognizable meaty nuggets. Rendering it into a great big gossip patty.
The story? Pilot and inventor Steve Fossett faked his own death.
This rumor, like all of them, has the ring of truth, so will most likely spread like a wilderness wildfire set off by an exploding plane.
Remember, all successful lies are believable because they tap into our darkest secrets, fears, and emotions.
Like the JonBenet Ramsey case. We all wanted to believe the parents must have known. The facts didn’t make sense. She was found in a basement. There were no footprints outside the window. It must have been an inside job.
We all wanted to believe it was the parents because none of us wanted to believe a stranger could come into an upscale neighborhood and carry out a vicious slaying.
Well, we’ll have to start being scared again. The Boulder County DA says DNA tests using a new technique have cleared the Ramsey Family from any involvement in JonBenet’s death.
The DNA found on the body didn’t come from any family members.
The District Attorney apologized to the family for possibly contributing “to the public perception that (they) might have been involved in this crime”.
Well isn’t that just peachy. Reputation lynched by a miscast rope of aspersions. So sorry. No hard feelings. You can move back to Boulder now. What, the mom died? Oops.
This story, which should have been blaring headlines in every tabloid in the nation, was strangely absent from most of the media.
Perhaps because they are starting to tool up for the great Fossett conspiracy. Flying a light plane across the Nevada desert, wealthy adventurer and top-notch pilot Steve Fosset disappears. Search after search turns up not a scrap.
Rumor has it he had money and marital troubles. Like, um, about 80% of the population. A Civil Air Patrol person says very few law enforcement people buy the idea he disappeared.
They still have the Civil Air Patrol?
I think the truth is even more scary. His plane went down kind of close to Area 51
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

#834 Tree Swinging

Some things about human nature never change. And unfortunately, rudeness is among them. It’s a basic character trait that goes back to the days of our tree-swinging past.
What do you want to bet one of our chimp forbears was always holding up tree-traffic because he was pre-occupied with his pant-hooting or jay-swinging across other folks highways?
Rudeness has been very good about adapting to new technology.
There was a recent news story about more pedestrians being injured in traffic because they were texting and not paying attention. A comedian put it that of course they were being hit by drivers who were also texting.
Sadly, it’s probably true.
They talk about cellphones possibly causing cancer over the long term. There is no definitive study yet, but indications are that certain salivary gland cancers are more prevalent amongst cellphoners. I don’t know about you, but cancer of the salivary glands sounds not as horrific as other forms. Malfunctioning spit doesn’t quite gather up the same storm cloud of impending doom.
But it is interesting to note that blackberries, which are widely touted as anti-oxidants, cancer inhibitor, and spit-enhancing mouth-watering good, are being challenged by Blackberrys, the phone devices that can cause cancer of the salivaries.
Still, the sobering fact is the likelihood of death by cellphone is much greater from jaywalking while texting than it is from death by Blackberry.
Jaywalkers have the oblivious gene to the nth degree. Witness how no jaywalker ever takes the most direct route across the street. You’ve screeched to a halt to avoid killing him, then he repays the favor and prolongs your frustration by taking the longest possible time-consuming diagonal path.
This is rudeness DNA at work. It’s basic components are, the inability to empathize with others, a total lack of courtesy and a hyper-ability to be oblivious to social and physical surroundings.
It’s a wonder the gene has survived the Darwinian struggle. You’d think people with it would be killed off by now.
Then again, social niceties like fidelity, marriage, and consensual relations probably never stopped them from spreading lots of genes as they went swinging through the trees.
America, ya gotta love it.

#833 Where Angels Fear

Before there was the treadmill, there was the treadle. The treadle was an old-fashioned device that employed a mechanical action that powered all sorts of things. In third world countries, they still use treadles to power pumps to raise water out of deep wells.
Treadles were the original foot power where horsepower wasn’t available.
You may remember your grandma’s sewing machine. It likely had a treadle. Think of a treadmill, but you’re sitting down.
It was the basis of a children’s fable about the sewing industry, Handsew and Treadle.
Enter my idea to overcome childhood obesity. There has been much ado recently about another idea I once had that was overheard and stolen.
I’m always making smart-assy but insightful remarks about new things. I was one of the first people to use one of those foil-wrapped fingerwipe things they give out in BBQ and chicken places to clean a stain off a counter.
Let’s just say someone “swiped” that idea right away.
This time, I was watching someone wiggle around while they were doing a video road race using a Nintendo Wii. I said, gee, they should work it so you have to jump or do some other aerobic gyration to get ahead in this game. Wii-robicize was stolen and born.
My idea this time goes in a more mundane direction. Grand Theft Treadle. Make kids sitting down at their video games work a treadle to generate the power.
Most of today’s electronics are very power frugal anyhow. It’s not like the poor kid is going to have to pump enough energy to run your refrigerator.
Ideally, you’d want the video game to involve running so the player’s actions would kind of approximate the action on the screen. Or you could work out a pedal-treadle combo that could be used in some Grand Theft Bicycle type game.
Heck, let’s take the idea out in the city. Have WiFi hot spots be powered by treadles under the coffee tables.
Latte energized wired geeks firing up their laptops and using treadle power to surf the web.
The cure for obesity is just a step or two away.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

#832 Nach-atoes

In my last column, I wrote about oil and grease and even though the point was to rail against the big oil companies, I nonetheless found myself starting to get hungry.
That, my friends, is Pavlovian conditioning.
Just writing the words “oil and grease” rang the bell of thinking about food and the primitive parts of my brain started sending signals to my stomach. Oil and grease have very deep associations with us omnivores.
They contain fats, and for all the bad things you can say about fats, they are marvelous storehouses of energy. Fat packs in a ton more energy ounce for ounce than carbohydrates.
That’s why the smell of oil and grease can melt the strongest dietary resolve.
The health club where I work out is unfortunately placed. It is across the street from a Jack-in-the-Box. Not a morning goes by that I don’t emerge from the club, freshly aerobicized from an hour of racquetball, that I don’t run in to a cloud of tempting smells emanating from the Jack’s exhaust vent.
Here I’ve burned off all these calories, and my body is already vulnerable to the idea of replenishing that nourishment, and what does my nosy food-sensing organ encounter but a salacious steam pocket of freshly deep-fried hash browns and a big waft of Breakfast Jack.
There’s something about deep-fried potatoes that strums the deepest chord within us. Maybe a wash of nostalgia, when our teenage years were spent inhaling one continuous plate of french-fries.
So it is that when I saw an ad for Denny’s the other day I was struck by their newest menu creation, Potachos.
Genius. Combining the best caloric extravagances of greasy deep-fried potatoes and nachos. They are so obviously going for the late night youth crowd. Kids wanting to stay out who can’t go to bars, but are still on the prowl and oh so hungry.
Potachos is just the high octane fuel they need. Deep-fried kettle chips, sausage, bacon, peppers, onions, and lots of cheese cheese cheese. Oil, oil, and grease grease grease.
Lord, let my digestive system be 19 again for just one day.
America, ya gotta love it.

#831 Oil and Grease

Ya just gotta wonder sometimes if the oil companies used some grease to get the politicos to ease off. Last year at this time we were paying about 2.95 a gallon for gas. This year people are capering with joy because gas just went down to 3.95.
As my friend Bobby put it in Bobby’s Blog on “Operation-make-‘em-wish-for-four-dollar-a-gallon-gas is almost complete.”
Exxon just declared their biggest profits in history, 11.68 billion dollars. To people used to talking in trillions when it comes to the American economy as a whole, that may not seem like much. What’s 11 billion here or there? But that’s 11 billion of profits. They took in some serious coin. It works out to $1485.55 a second. That’s right folks, almost 1500 dollars a second.
Now there are certain political candidates out there that will try to tell you it’s the gas tax that’s causing the problem. Especially the additional gas tax working its way up to 9 whole cents a gallon passed by the state legislature—by, you know, a majority of votes of duly elected representatives.
That 9 cents a gallon, (compared to the dollar-plus a gallon the oil companies reamed us for) was to be used to improve transit and roads.
Well, here’s where the government screwed up. They taxed gas by the gallon, not by the price. It isn’t a sales tax in the conventional sense. It’s not based on a percentage of the price.
So whether the oil companies bend me over and make me pay an addition dollar a gallon or an additional dollar-fifty a gallon I still pay the government 9 cents.
So guess what? Now that me and everyone else are driving less because we can’t afford gas, we’re using fewer gallons and paying less tax, and the big state projects that are supposed to ease gridlock are being seriously underfunded.
So where, my friends, is the outrage being directed? At the duly elected 9 cents requestors, not the I’ll screw you whether you like it or not big oil bullies. That’s like blaming the chocolate sprinkles for all the calories in a half-and-half mocha
1500 dollars a second. That buys a lot of grease somewhere...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#830 Footsy Fish

I suppose it’s too depressing contemplating all the world’s ills; hunger, poverty, aids, typhoid and cholera, war. If we each spent every day worrying about it all, it would be hard to sleep.
And harder still to justify that pedicure.
I’ve never had a pedicure. I’ve never had a ped that’s sick.
But seriously, it’s always seemed like an almost criminal indulgence. Plus, I’m kind of ticklish when other people are handling my feet.
I mean, I think I could tolerate somebody footling my hands, but handling my feet...
Anyhow, I’ve heard about these pedicure places. I’ve even walked into a few and seen women in recliners leaning back, while their feet were first soaked and then worked on by people who were literally “underfoot” or “at their feet” or some other menial description.
It begs the question: Is doing a pedicure manual labor?
And those skilled foot technicians were working merrily away with a variety of pedicure tools, pedo-rasps and pedo-emery boards and pedo-files—to do everything in their power to undo what nature had apparently done for a reason. Remove callosities and horny old toenails.
Are calluses good or bad? Who cares? They are ugly to some. So they are removed.
But part of me thinks they perform some function. Why else would your body go to great lengths to develop them around the areas of your feet that wear most against the environment?
Be that as it may, never fear, a new callus remover is here—Flesh-eating fish.
When I first read about this, I had a vision of pampered ladies dipping their feet into vats of piranhas. But no, these fish are more like the cleaner fish you see in nature films hanging around the mouths of grouper.
They are the Garra rufa fish—known as “doctor fish” in Asian countries. They are tiny enough so a fish pedicure involves putting a hundred of them in a tub with your tootsies.
They then nibble off your calluses and dead skin.
Customers were skeptical, but say after one go around with the fish, they’re hooked.
Maybe when the fish are fattened up, we can feed them to the hungry.
America, ya gotta love it.

#829 Crash or Credit

I’m a capitalist. But I’m also an observer of humanity.
So I’m not for complete deregulation of everything in the market. Why? Capitalism is like a high-speed car. It can change its speed two ways. It can judiciously use brakes. Or it can crash into a wall.
Sometimes people are too exuberantly greedy for their own good. Those same exuberantly greedy folks tell people like me that no one is smart enough to regulate them. They maintain that government’s best place is out of business and that an invisible hands-off policy will naturally lead to the most profits and the healthiest market.
That is, they feel that way until things come crashing down.
Back in the first Bush administration, we had this big deal where the nation’s savings and loans were imploding because of unregulated and greedy lending practices.
Now arguably, Bush Senior had nothing to do with the debacle, even though one of his sons had his monkey hands stuck pretty deep in the cookie jar.
At that point, the “keep government out of business” shouters shouted to the government to help out. Essentially saying, we’ve gobbled so much we’re now choking on it, so please, big government, come in and Heimlich us.
The famous overtaxed taxpayer bore the burden. The same taxpayer the same greedy folks are always saying is taxed too much.
Gee. Why?
Now the housing industry lobbying organizations, who are always first to the battle lines when it comes to complaining about government interference, have managed to get that same government to help bail them out of the credit/housing crisis. A crisis brought on by, you guessed it, lack of regulation of the lending industry.
What is it about Bushes and bailouts? They wave the banner of deregulation and government non-interference and then interfere in the market with big government taxpayer’s bucks.
Somehow I think pre-interference would be cheaper than post-interference.
After the last great depression, the government got involved in the stock market and the Securities Exchange Commission was born. We used to have depressions with depressing regularity. Every 20 years or so. We haven’t had one in the last 70.
In other words, those government-installed SEC brakes have kept our stock car from crashing.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#828 Clumpster

I saw this commercial for a kitty litter product. A woman was on a roof trying to get her kitten and slipped. She slid off the steep roof, wailing all the while like a stepped-on kitten, and at the last moment saved herself by hanging on to the rain gutter.
The rain gutter gave way enough for her to hang in front of her window. She looked through the window and saw her kitty litter box, which she noticed had a large clump of cat stuff.
She then grabbed her clump scoop, removed the excrementory mass with one hand, and put it in what appeared to be a specialized kitty kaka disposal bucket. Do they call it a clumpster?
I have no cats, so I’m not privy to all the hygiene gyrations cat owners must perform to deal with the waste issue.
Or the issue of waste, as it were.
So I was disturbed that the lady was so positively impressed with the clumping properties of the litter, she interrupted her screaming as she was hanging on for dear life. I was alarmed the kitty litter box appeared to be on a kitchen table, making it high enough for her to reach through the window and scoop away.
The commercial focus, as near as I could figure, was premium clumping power. I suppose it’s a fair bet the cat does a little pre-clumping some of the time. Unless it has an alimentary ailment, it’s elementary that certain of its deposits are already clumpified.
It’s my own fault for watching the television while I was eating, but I feel somehow violated that I was subjected to a commercial making a big to-do about doo-doo, feline feces, and kitty clumps.
But worse, the commercial producer felt the necessity to actually fully reveal the clump in question, sitting serenely in the box, lightly dusted with kitty litter, like a sprinkling of crumbles on a cake donut.
And then to show it in all its clumpy glory perched nobly on the scoop on its way to the disposal bucket.
There are some things for which high definition TV is a bad idea.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

#827 Zed and Zen

I love contemplating words. Rooting out their meanings. Tracing their origins. Wondering about their beginnings. It gives me an almost zen-like state of awareness and joy.
Like contemplating how one letter changes zen to zed. A state of nirvana-like meditation to the English way to say the letter Z. We in America say “zee” when we pronounce the letter. For reasons totally unknown, Brits and Canadians refer to the letter as zed.
Sounds like a French father threatening to whip his child. Take heem out to dee zed.
Or contemplating words like “vision.” In a time when America needs a real vision for the future, everybody and his brother is coming up with ways to use the word vision in a less than visionary way.
The other day I heard about this enterprise that was being totally redone. Changed from beginning to end. Reworked and replanned and replaced. Or as they put it, revisioned.
Nice word. Unfortunately it sounds like they changed history too—as in a revisionist accounting of the civil war or something. Historians that don’t follow the common white patriarchal spin are disparagingly called revisionists by certain conservatives.
Or how all kinds of companies now feel it’s necessary to have both a mission statement and a vision statement. Why?
They look about the same to me. Can’t my mission be to follow my vision and can’t we put into one statement so we can get this boring retreat over with and get back to our jobs?
Do we really have to spend a day off site team-building and visioning when there’s urgent stuff we should be doing back at the office?
Here’s my vision, let’s get to work.
Finally, I saw a sign with what appeared to be vision statement on a store the other day. It said the place “guaranteed unmatched performance.”
Um, “unmatched” just means no one matches it. It doesn’t guarantee it’s good.
The current president’s incredibly low popularity ratings are unmatched too.
I guess his vision turned out to be cloudy.
I bet he’ll be happy to retire in a couple of months and catch a couple of zeds.
America, ya gotta love it.

#826 Zigzag

Most writers I know like to set challenges for themselves. How much they can write in a day perhaps, or alternate attempts at alliteration.
The test of writing is a joy in itself, but it’s made more enjoyable by having a little variety. The missionary position is okay, but every now and then, it’s fun to try a different, um, prayer.
So it is that for the last umpty-umpth number of essays, I have used a different letter of the alphabet as the first letter in the titles of the essays written for each month.
It helps increase my vocabulary. Also, it challenges me to contort whatever essay I’m writing to fit a word that has to start with a certain letter. It hasn’t always been easy.
The month when I used the letter “X” required that I make up a lot of words. Or at least drop the “E” from words that began with the sound “X”, such as exercise or extreme.
This last month I’ve been using the letter “Z”. It, too, has been a challenge. But it has been rewarding as well. I feel as if I’m totally prepared for the next time I play a game of scrabble.
I’ve learned words like zax, which is a tool used by slate roofers and word with an incredibly high scrabble score. I’ve also learned the word zarf, which I was able to apply to the finger-protecting sleeve thingy we put on paper cups of hot coffee.
And now I am about to use the word zigzag, which if you had asked me previously, I would have said was either a nonsense word or two words used to describe cigarette rolling papers favored by folks to whom zigzagging after a few puffs was an imminent prospect.
Oh sure, I have countless times talked about people zigzagging through traffic. Or a drunk having zigzagged down the sidewalk on his way to barf behind the dumpster.
However, I always assumed it was a slang word, like kitty-corner or foofy or whoopsy-do.
But no, it’s in the dictionary and it starts with “Z”.
And for this essay, that’s good enough for me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

#825 Zoom Zoom

Next time you see the airplanes go zoom zooming through the wild blue yonder, consider this. It’s traffic controllers that keep them from crash booming into each other.
And now there’s a shortage.
You may remember back in the Reagan years, when President Ron finally and momentously broke the backs of the unions by firing the nation’s air traffic controllers in one fell edict.
Big Business breathed a sigh of relief. They were on the way to less regulation and bigger profits. You know, like the mortgage business.
So the airplane business now has a shortage of trained air traffic controllers. Now I don’t know about you. Perhaps when you board a plane you don’t think about the people up in the tower directing traffic.
You might suppose that pilots are like drivers. Show them a road and they’ll pretty much work it out with an occasional stoplight and merging ramp.
Not so. Airplanes can’t turn on a dime. They need a little advance notice to move the lumbering beast they drive so it doesn’t plow into another lumbering beast. And they often can’t see the next beast down the airways because of visibility issues.
Clouds up there are, like, you know, flying fog.
All the more reason why this article I read disturbs me. Seems they are so desperate for new air traffic controllers that they are advertising on MySpace and reaching into high schools. The FAA says it will accept high school graduates into its three-month training program, then assign them to an air traffic control center for additional on-the-job training.
Three months?
It’s nice to know your air traffic controller gets less training than your Volkswagen mechanic.
But hey. I’d probably reach out to the kids too. Even though safety never seems like a number one priority to youth, the multi-tasking experience of manipulating multiple inputs with their video games, Ipods, cellphones and laptops, suits them perfectly for a job as an air traffic controller.
An old single-tasking fart like myself would have planes crashing like the economy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

#824 Zone of Gossip

I’ve used the word a lot. Perhaps you have too. In the traditional sense, scuttlebutt is a synonym for gossip, as are words like chitchat and tittle-tattle. Chitchat, tittle-tattle and scuttlebutt make gossip sound lighter and more harmless, than, say, slander.
I used the word scuttlebutt the other day and was hit by one of those “why have I never wondered about that?” moments that sent me scurrying to the etymology dictionary.
Or perhaps I should say scuttling.
Scuttlebutt, on the face of it, sounds like a crayfishing tail-dragging kind of behavior. As if the entity in question was some sort of injured horseshoe crab.
Scuttling, to me, doesn’t just invoke the image of hurrying out from under some impending doom, but hurrying in a clumsy manner. And scuttlebutt seems like sliding out on your keester.
So how did such a thing evolve into another word for gossip?
It all has to do with the water cooler. We all know that the gathering around the water cooler has been depicted as the gossip zone by countless writers, political cartoonists, and comedians, the place where rumormongering hits its peak. It seems it’s always been so.
It goes back to the other usage for the word scuttle. It refers to a part of a ship. Or at least an area. Scuttles are openings in the deck on a ship. You can also scuttle a ship by cutting holes in it to sink it.
“Butt” is the rear end of something, but back in old sailing times, it was also used as a synonym for barrel or cask. A scuttle cask was a cask with a hole cut in it so sailors could get water from it. The name eventually evolved to scuttlebutt.
The sailors would get their water from the scuttlebutt. And they would gather around it and trade yarns.
Yarns were called such because they always ended with old sailors saying yarr.
Just kidding.
Scuttlebutt eventually became synonymous with gossip. And the sailors invented the seagoing equivalent of gathering around the water cooler.
America, ya gotta love it.

#823 Zeitung

I was reading an article translated from a German newspaper the other day. The Paper was called “Something-or-another Zeitung.”
I decided to look it up in an English/German dictionary. Apparently, it’s quite a versatile German word, it can be translated as newspaper, paper, magazine and gazette.
Its base word Zeit, means, essentially, Time. So how does adding the suffix “-ung” change the word “time” to “newspaper”? Must be like we call some of our newspapers the Times. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, that sort of thing.
But what all of these Times, German and otherwise, have in common is an obsession with the American presidential race. We are heading into the final months of an exciting election between the red, the blue, the old, and the new. And, to quote Dylan, it looks like the Times they are a changing.
The battle is starting to get desperate. The other day I heard Bill O’Reilly railing from an empty UPS van whose driver had left his radio blaring. Blaring Bill was ranting about those dread dreadnaughts of the opposition in America’s culture wars, Dave Letterman and Jon Stewart. Huh? That Bill O’Reilly would be so parched for political punditry that he’s attacking comedians seemed a little pathetic.
But these are the trenches in the war for votes. Hardcore Jon Stewart watchers and hardcore O’Reilly fans will likely never agree. But those 10 percent of channel surfers are the swing voters that will carry the election.
So swing voters are once again the focus. Last election the specter of gay marrying terrorists swung them to the right. This year the right is vacillating between calling Obama elitist and calling his wife terrorist. The left is calling McCain more of the same, and saying he may be hell on terrorists, but you’ll have to wake him up from his post-earlybird dinner nap first.
Blue state and red state. Some say they’re fundamentally different. Actually, most of the people from the blue states, where there are cities, moved from the red states, where there are not.
They were once red staters, but they moved for some reason.
Maybe they just wanted a better selection of newspapers.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

#822 Zoeller Fuzzy Thinking

I understand full well that if you are a golfer, the following dissertation will seem stupid, ignorant, narrow-minded and oblivious to the captivating wonder which is golf—thinking fuzzier than a guy named Zoeller.
I am not a golfer. So the many things that golfers do are an utter mystery to me. My own early attempts at golf were complete failures. My ball kept getting stuck in the windmill.
Miniature golf, or putt putt golf, was designed to be hard, as in fixed. The balls were bad; the clubs were bent and the final free-game-winning hole crookeder than a carny with a crack habit. It was a frustrating game to play.
To outsiders, golf seems like an odd sport. I mean, come on, is there any other sport that allows you to redo a shot you don’t like and call it by a name that sounds like a hobo stew—Mulligan.
Oops, my club slipped, I’ll take some hobo stew on that one.
Likewise the notion that golfing is somehow communing with nature. Admittedly, it is communing with the outdoors. And granted, in areas where there were no trees it was a beautiful thing to surround nicely mowed lawns with little stands of woods.
But in the Northwest those lawns lie on areas carved out of the trees. So a golfers commune with nature first involves a rapacious rampage of destruction through same.
Golf is also an interesting sport because it appears to involve as many ways as possible to avoid what is often the point of sport, exercise.
It’s a rare golfer who actually carries his or her clubs from hole to hole. Most at least employ a rolling hand trailer sort of device. Many use a cart and so avoid walking as well.
That commune with nature allows you to drive in couple hundred yard spurts.
Carts typically seat 2 people and 2 giant bags. The giant bags contain highly engineered clubs with massive oversized heads designed to increase power without, um, effort.
And the point of the game? To have the lowest score. To swing your club the fewest possible times.
In fact, to reward you for doing less.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

#821 Zombie Texting

The other day I was waiting in line at a busy coffee shop. A young person was ahead of me and I noticed some movement in the area of his right hand.
It, his hand, was near his hip and he had a phone in it. The movement I detected was his thumb blazing across the little slider keypad thing.
He was texting.
Worse, he was touch-texting.
You remember touch-typing, where you type without looking at the keyboard? I’ve never been able to do it. So I felt doubly amazed that he was able to text and not look. But text he did.
And he managed to carry on a stilted conversation with his companion at the same time. The really amazing thing was he was doing it with his thumb.
I suppose you get dexterous that way handling the controllers of video games. Most people have no ability to manipulate their thumbs so accurately. We are lucky just to oppose with it every now and again. Complete no motions more complicated than a grasp.
Or possibly a clutch.
I’ve trained mine to bang an occasional space bar on my keyboard. When it comes to texting I’m as uncoordinated and ungraceful as a football player in high heels.
But these kids have trained it to perform like an extra index finger.
It makes sense. Look back to all the video game controllers they’ve had since birth. They require a deft touch with a thumb. Tiny toggles and joysticks, multiple buttons to slash maim or fire. Thumb like a zombie, pushing, pressing, sliding.
You don’t think it would be easy to do well at Grand Theft Auto, that amazing portrayal of digital despair, if you didn’t have agile thumbs, do you? The digital desolation would be hard to be destructive in without dexterous digits.
So now they can put that power to good use—texting in public places. Give them that feeling of a controller when they’re out in the bright lights of the real world. I’m thinking they do it because they feel shy and awkward around live, in-the-flesh people.
When it comes to handling social situations they’re all thumbs...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

#820 Zappuccino

There are more signs the economy continues to slow down.
Like the big story the other day about the pilot’s union filing a formal complaint with the FAA against the airlines. Seems the airlines are trying to save fuel costs two ways: Having pilots fly slower and cutting unnecessary weight—plastic dishes, less excess garbage, you know.
A good idea even in your own car. Are you still carrying around your winter chains in your trunk in August? Even with the weird weather aberrations brought on by global warming, I think it’s safe to store them in the garage.
Likewise the airlines are shucking their spare loads. Except one of those spare loads happens to be reserve fuel. Arguing that fuel weighs something and the way to save fuel is to carry less of it, the airline are forcing pilots to fly with what they feel are unsafe reserves.
Sometimes weather conditions force flights off track or planes are required to circle airports innumerable times because of back-ups and delays. Reserve fuel gets them their safely. The pilots want to be in charge of how much fuel to carry, and I’m with them.
What with the airlines’ record for over-booking flights, misfiguring ticket sales, losing baggage, and never arriving on time, do we want them to be making the judgment?
The other ominous cloud on the horizon of our economic storm is Starbucks. Formerly the darling of coffee addicts and corporate America, the Starbucks business model seemed recession proof.
Guess what? Surprisingly, when America is paying four dollars a gallon for gas they’re less likely to fork over four bucks a cup for coffee, fancy or otherwise. Something’s got to give.
Disposable income purchases depend on one thing—having disposable income.
Starbucks is having to close 600 outlets nationwide and is laying off 7% of its workforce. Talk about a downer.
They say the spinoffs of the housing slump led to all our other problems. I’m worried about the side effects of this great coffee depression.
Or at least slowing down. How can we rule the world without our buzz? Where is America going to get its competitive energy without it’s morning zappuccino?
America, ya gotta love it.