Friday, October 31, 2008

#879 Bloodsuckers

The other day I was talking with a friend about the Wall Street collapse and he uttered one short disparaging term: Bloodsuckers.
And I thought as I often do, how does the other person feel? In this case, how do bloodsuckers feel? I didn’t really care that much, it was just my automatic empathetic response.
My mom always told me not to criticize people until you walked a mile in their shoes and as I honor my mother and am also a quite the critical person, I have walked a lot of miles.
But it really got me thinking about the poor bloodsuckers in nature. As Halloween approaches, we will once again be flooded with negative stories of vampires and vampire-like creatures. The Discovery Channel will shower us with tales of leeches and vampire bats and other animal bloodsuckers.
But aren’t they actually just carnivores who have found a way to get their protein more resourcefully? Who are we, who kill the whole animal just to feast on its bloody flesh, to criticize the remarkable efficiency of vampires?
Think about it. We go to all the trouble of raising a big cow. Herd him all over the place. Cut off his testicles so his meat will be more tender, feed him, fill him full of hormones, spend a ton of time and money on the poor beast and then kill him for a few red, dripping, bloody hunks of flesh.
What a waste of an investment.
Imagine if we did the same thing to milk cows for an udder full of milk. The Maasai warriors in Africa had a better method. They rarely butchered their cows. Instead, they drank their blood.
Rich in protein and vitamins, and a great way to make gravy, their nothing like a fresh liter of blood.
Vampire bats are smart animals. They’re the ultimate sustainable recyclers. They don’t drink all your blood, why kill the human that leaks the crimson leg... vessel.
If we get over our misguided squeamishness, we got a great industry here. Milk cows and blood cows, sustainable protein.
They could put the bottles of blood in the dairy section.
Right next to the clotted cream.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

#878 Chimpskate

For many years I’ve tried to confront my inner cheapskate. Funny thing. It turns out he’s a chimpanzee.
A chimpskate.
Actually, the truth goes even further back evolutionarily.
He’s a monkey. And he’s hardwired in my genes.
I once told the story about how I went into a place to use a free gift certificate and they didn’t give me 20% off like they gave everyone else. I was getting the item free anyhow and yet I was upset I wasn’t getting it for 20 percent off of free.
I felt cheated enough never to go back to the place. I felt they should have treated my gift certificate just like cash. Since, after all, it was purchased with cash.
So recently I was reading this article on how monkeys trade. Trade is seen as a sophisticated human thing, but monkeys do it all the time.
The experiment was this: a monkey was offered three jello cubes by a researcher and then at the last second was only given two. The same monkey was offered one cube of jello by another researcher and at the last second was given an additional one. From that point forward, the monkey went to the researcher who offered the “bonus” cubes and not the one who “cheated” him out of a cube.
Even though in both cases the monkey ended up with two cubes of jello.
You and I would probably do the same thing. The one appears to be dishonest, offering us one thing and then taking it back. But the other appears to be generous, giving us something extra.
And we love something extra.
But here’s the really interesting thing. The pattern persisted with the monkeys even when their bonus guy only gave a bonus ever tenth transaction or so. Or any random number of transactions.
This while the cheating cuber consistently offered three then gave two. Just the mere chance of getting something for nothing was enough to keep the monkeys coming.
That’s why that gambling addiction is a monkey on your back.
You can’t keep your money in your pocket because there’s a casino in your genes.
America, ya gotta love it.

#877 Motor Voter

There was recently a charge by the McCain Campaign that Barack Obama once represented the registration organization ACORN in a lawsuit. This charge was meant to associate Obama with the group, recently in trouble with the State of Nevada for badly registering some folk. Unfortunately, Obama’s partner in the lawsuit that represented ACORN was the Federal Government.
Obama did work with ACORN but he did so with and on behalf of the US Justice Department, a little organization who defends the interests of, um, the United States of America.
A great example of how you can tell the truth and still not tell the truth. Kind makes you wonder if there’s an erratic driver on the Straight Talk Express these days.
And he doesn’t care what he drives over on his way to the election.
The lawsuit in question was to make the state of Illinois conform to their Motor Voter statute, which allows people to register to vote at their DMVs when they are getting a drivers license. Now some would argue that just because a person can drive to the polls doesn’t mean he or she should vote. A recent statistic seems to bear that out.
Because not all of them are good drivers.
And it seems that our Mail-in ballot system here in Thurston County has had another positive effect that our Auditor might want to run on next time she’s up for office. Saving lives.
A recent bit of research done by the University of Toronto shows that there is an 18% increase in fatal accidents on the election days. That’s worse than some three-day holidays. There is also an average of 800 extra accidents resulting in disabling injuries.
One possible reason is people rushing to polls along unfamiliar routes. I know when I voted, it was the only time I ever went to the Seventh Day Adventist church.
So what I’m saying here is our Auditor has had a big part in saving lives by helping to bring about the all mail-in voting.
Voting is a precious right that drives our democracy, but exercising it shouldn’t involve driving over others.
America, ya gotta love it.

#876 Face It

Science has been studying the power of expression. As in how the expressions on your face communicate all sorts of things to another person.
On the face of it, it’s a good idea. The hidden language of facial expression is such a fertile field for discovery even the great Charles Darwin studied it.
He wondered whether animal’s faces conveyed some of the same emotions humans did. The answer is, some. As you work your way up the evolutionary tree, facial muscles become more numerous and more complex.
Fish can convey limited expression. Calling someone a fish face often means they are cold and unmoving. And it’s true. Fish can mainly muster an “I’ve sucked a worm in my gills” sort of look. Don’t expect them to cock an eyebrow quizzically like a full-blown human.
One of the interesting facts discovered from facial research is that we all briefly imitate expressions we see on other people’s faces. We do this nearly from birth. It is this unconscious mimicry that many scientists think is the source of empathy.
We see someone smile, mimic his or her smile, and feel like smiling. We see someone frown and the same brief cascade of emotion passes through our subconscious. It is a great non-verbal bonding mechanism.
Researchers used MRIs to determine what was happening in the brain and were able to see that, indeed, people’s mimicry did promote emotional changes. A smile from one person really did make the smile sections and the associated positive emotion sections of another person’s brain fire up.
So then, they used botox. Botox, when administered cosmetically, freezes someone’s frown muscles. When someone frowns at a botox person, she can’t frown back. And she can’t even briefly mimic the frown on her own face or feel it inside her brain.
If everyone used botox, no one could frown or be angry.
Botox is the answer to world peace.
Then again, since botox people can’t feel disapproval, you wouldn’t want to have someone in charge of, oh, say, the US congress who’s facial muscles are frozen.
I wondered why I felt Nancy Pelosi didn’t communicate well.
I thought it was just because she looked like one of the characters in Finding Nemo...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

#875 Pigs Feet

I was reading an article the other day, which was lamenting the loss of variety meats and other rare cuts. “Variety meats” is that euphemistic term for offal and organs. Tripe, liver, heart, kidneys, those parts of the animal you cut off and usually don’t use except to grind it into dog food, mostly because it so closely resembles a part of a living thing.
The overwhelming popularity of sirloin and such is because it’s hard to equate a steak with a recognizable part on an animal. A New York strip or a rump roast bears little resemblance to either Times Square or an animal derriere.
For the gustatorily squeamish, this is a good thing. It allows them to eat a good hunk of protein without imagining the carnage for a slaughterhouse.
So a big cow tongue sitting on a platter has fallen from favor. And personally, I have no desire for either kidneys or liver as these organs play a large part in the bodies of humans and animals filtering out toxins. They are essentially poison strainers.
What better cut to boil up and snack on? Hmm¾this liver’s got some punch, was the cow an alcoholic?
As testimony to how far out of flavor-favor odd meats have fallen, one of the Irish dishes mentioned in the article I’d never heard of. Crubeens. Of course I’m not Irish so it’s not too surprising but the English name “pigs trotters” was no help. I first thought it was some bowel and sausage thing.
Nope, it’s pigs feet. Not ham hocks, which are essentially pigs’ wrists. I’ve had those. Crubeens are the actual feet. Bones and all.
According to crubeen aficionados they are the most flavorful part of a pig, both bacon-y and gelatinous, as one piggy epicure put it. Yum...cut me a slice of gelatinous.
I don’t know when I’ve heard a more appetizing description. My Mrs. Brown, this dish is so gelatinous, how did you get the peculiar mixture of sliminess and turgidity to such perfection?
I suppose for a guy that eats cuts of meat named after loins I shouldn’t be so particular.
But I’ll skip the trotters.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

#874 Right Left

If you have a friend who’s on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you and have been trying to bring him around for years there’s good news.
Give up.
It ain’t possible—conservatives and liberals see the world differently, on a genetic level. It’s hard wired. At least as long as we label conservatism and liberalism the way we do.
Not too long ago scientists demonstrated conservatives tend to see the world in absolutes, everything black and white. Liberals tend to see shades of gray, situational circumstances that may mitigate a state of affairs one way or the other depending on varying qualities.
That last description would drive a conservative crazy.
But University of Nebraska researchers have found another way the two types differ. Conservatives have more fear.
The researchers first surveyed a group of people about their opinions on capital punishment, government spending, the Iraq war, gay marriage, foreign aid—all hot button issues. That determined whom to call what.
They then exposed the people to a series of startling images, like a face covered in blood or a disgustingly gross fleshy wound with worms crawling in it.
Conservatives, as defined by the issue survey, had much stronger physiological responses, more sweating, eye-blinking, and so on. Liberals’ reactions were more relaxed. They didn’t perceive the same level of threat.
All that certainly makes sense for the survival of the species, or at least the tribe. You got to have a group of people who are more paranoid and a group who are more laid back. You can’t go running every time a coyote howls.
Or as the conservative might say, you have to have a group who is more alert rather than more complacent. Because sometimes the coyotes are closer than you think.
It takes two to march ahead—right, left, right, left...
Politics is like food. One man’s delicate aged meat is another man’s putrid poison.
So love your conservative friend anyway, he has pretty good qualities most of the time.
And if you’re a conservative, love your liberal, even if he is absolutely crazy.
America, ya gotta love it.

#873 Rinse Cycle

I’ve spoken before on how hard it is to be environmental. It gets even harder as we add water to the equation.
Fresh water is a diminishing resource. More so as global warming prevents snowfall in the mountains. Less snowfall, less snowpack to melt and run off into streams and recharge aquifers.
In the meantime we’re requiring more and more water to slake the thirst of the masses who’ve had too much salty junk food.
It’s got so bad that here in the rainy northwest we’re having to water our yards on odd and even days and the county is sending out circulars encouraging us to plant drought-resistant plants.
Oh well.
But it’s brought up an interesting dilemma. Rinse or don’t rinse? Especially my recyclables. The county waste guide says glass, cans, and plastic bottles should be rinsed out before you put them in the recycle bin. But rinsing wastes water.
The compost yard waste bin is anything goes, sort of. You can put moldy pizza boxes in it, but your dog poop has to be enclosed in a plastic bag and put in the trash. There to be sealed in a landfill for the next millennium.
Anyhow, I’m not sure about the rinse factor. How little can I rinse and save the aquifer and still make recycling acceptable? Some of those blue cheese salad dressing bottles take a lot of rinsing.
It’s hard. Not as hard as the whole bicycle thing though. I was looking at some of the new ones the other day. Man oh man, talk about technology. I’m thinking lots of burned coal industrial power went into making these things. Are they really that environmentally neutral? Rubber tires, carbon frames, hi tech aluminum shifters.
Whenever I need recycling advice, I turn to the ultimate make-do practitioners, bums. I saw one the other day driving the definitive enviro-vehicle. He must have got it at Goodwill. A recycled bicycle.
He had bought it again so he was re-buyin it. And he was recycling with it.
On his rebicycle.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

#872 Conservitation

Sometimes it’s hard to be environmental. It’s funny how the popularity of the environmental movement waxes and wanes.
But I gotta say I was one before there was one.
Maybe it’s because I’m a cheapskate. I was never into the throwaway society. Even today, I will reuse those thick plastic zip-lock freezer bags. Wash them out, dry them on my dishrack, use them again.
I’ve never liked seeing trash along the roadway. When I was a kid, I would pick it up and take it home to the garbage can. I also collected bottles too. Back then, they had the ultimate recyclable containers, glass. It didn’t take nearly the energy of aluminum to produce. You paid a deposit when you bought it full of something and you got the deposit back when you “recycled” the bottle.
Too much hassle though. Those lazybirds among us couldn’t be bothered with the inconvenience. The short-term thinkers prevailed. Instant gratification, instant soup in a throwaway Styrofoam container.
Everything was cool until they realized it really wasn’t being thrown away. The Styrofoam caused CFCs to stick around and breakdown the ozone layer, and all the other throwaway manufactured products left carbon lingering in the atmosphere too—a residual scrum of the industrial age, warming the planet and melting the icecaps.
All because people weren’t conservative. A true conservative realizes that ownership requires stewardship. You take care of your property is you want it to yield larger returns.
What conservative would chop apart his mansion with axes just to satisfy a short term urge to build a fire. What high class fat cat would walk through his big house tossing trash and half eaten food on the expensive carpet, or flinging empty cans in the hallway—adding poison gasses to his attic as he burned cheap coal in the basement generator to power his light bulbs all night long.
And yet all of us do the equivalent every day. Thoughtlessly squandering power and water as we throw stuff away.
The cheapskate, penny-pinching, miserly, conservative, environmentalist in me cringes from the waste.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

#871 Eat Free or Die

They say that single people die sooner. As I’m a single person that concerns me. Nothing like having a death sentence hanging around your neck to attract babes.
Naturally, I’ve given that disturbing fact a little consideration. Why would so many singlies kick the bucket so soon? They also say stress is the big killer in life. So maybe single folks have more stress.
There is one thing that ratchets up my stress load as a singleton. Coupons. That’s right, coupons.
Is it koo-pons or Q-pons the way? Is it coo because it’s cool to have them? Or Q because you take a cue to save some money?
All I know is the restaurant ones that say “buy one get one free” kill me. With frustration. It’s like getting half off but you can’t get the half off. They demand you have a date to get a deal. Let me take that back, they demand you be in a relationship to get a deal.
Because it’s a sure bet if you’re on your first few dates with a person, pulling put a “buy one get one free” coupon is not going to lead to more dates.
No one likes a cheapskate—even though stores are encouraging us to be cheapskates all the time.
But still, it’s a rip off. Single people are forced to do one of two things: Buy one get one free and overeat, thereby driving themselves to an earlier grave from obesity. Or enlist a bum to take advantage of the meal and get killed because we picked a psychopath.
And we’re not ahead on that anyway because we still only get to eat one meal for full price. Unless we convince ourselves we’re buying the meal for the bum in a charitable way and being rewarded with the free meal for ourselves.
Maybe that’s the answer. They also say the good feelings from charity lead to longevity.
Buy one for a bum, get oneself free—from an early grave.
Now that’s a coupon I can live with.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

#870 Lavender State

Here we go again Joe. This election’s got folks more excited than a jolt of Viagra. Everyone loves a good election.
But, like Viagra, it has drawbacks.
Some people seeing blue. Some people seeing red. Dangling chads. Polling difficulties.
And once again we’re subjected to endless analyses of what’s a red state and what’s a blue one. You know, it’s funny. If you put red and blue together, you get purple. And if you add the white of undecided to the mess, you get lavender. That’s right, what’s left when red, white, and blue are all mixed together is lavender.
Interesting, since one of the big election issues is gay marriage.
Last election it was real tiebreaker. The opposition this election is not so firm. The economy is once again front and center.
At the Vice Presidential debate the economy came up quite a bit. He was mild up to that point, but you could tell when he finally struck with his economic message, that Joe had been Biden his time. And that Sarah was Palin by comparison.
You know the ironic thing about red and blue states? Red states are typically rural and less densely packed. Why is that?
Because all the people who used to live there have moved away to blue states.
Blue states are typically the dense population centers. How did they get dense? Business people, typically Republican, built industries there that attracted labor.
So the Republicans created blue states. Which vote Democrat. The Republicans brought Democrats together to become an effective voting block against them. Now that’s bi-partisanship!
You might say they put the lead in the pencil that’s marking the ballot against them.
Supposedly a lot of those Democrats are having a hard time with Obama, because the media elite are falling into the Republican characterization of calling him elitist.
When someone on the right pulls him or herself up from poor beginnings, he or she’s a Horatio Alger type. When they do it on the left they’re elitist.
I wish Obama had a younger brother or cousin named Al to help him get out the southern vote.
Al Obama.
You may groan now.
Funny Guy on the Prowl, putting the pun in punditry.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

#869 AM/BM

The other day I was driving by one of those gas station convenience stores. I once explained to my son that back in the old days gas stations were places you could take your car for other things—oil, oil changes, light repairs, wiper blades.
At some point, the big oil companies felt that as long as they were promoting one type of gas they might as well try their hand at promoting the creation of another.
So they started to purvey cheap food. The mini-mart gas station was born. And I do mean gas station. It’s not just in the packaged selections they offer—Slim Jims, smoked nuts and cheese-wiz packs. They also got hot stuff—burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.
In fact, the other day I saw this one place offering all three together for only $2.59—a little less than 87 cents a piece! Think of the quality that must signify!
I long for the days of my youth when my digestive system could handle such an onslaught. Because now, it would kill me.
A mini-mart burger? Probably doesn’t have any “non-angry” beef in it. One of my younger friends told me if I do go in; make sure it’s when the burgers just come out of the microwave or whatever. You’d be surprised how much e-coli heat lamps fail to kill.
The burgers can’t be any worse than the quality of dogs. Hot dogs are already notorious for the use of lips and sphincters—on the lowest end of the meat product scale. I’m thinking an 87 cent dog has a lot of tail meat.
And the chicken sandwich? Can we hope it’s breaded beyond recognition and deep-fried to a tasteless gummable mass, somewhere in an industrial strength kitchen, thereby to kill its factory farm parasites?
Lastly, do not, I repeat, do not, use the open condiment containers. You do not want to know what was on the hand of the last person who handled the handle of the spoon.
He filled up his tank, emptied himself in the restroom, grabbed a mini-mart burger, and slathered on the condiments. All with the same hand.
Tiny foil packets are your friends.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

#868 Pulled Short

The market is like a cappuccino.
They talk about those frothy credit bubbles popping and how people feel. They’re starting to use the word that hasn’t been uttered in a long time.
Well I’m not worried. There won’t be a repeat of the 30s. They didn’t have any of the drugs we have for depression today.
I am worried about overreacting to this whole thing though, and creating regulations we don’t need that could constipate the market further. Like the other day, they suspended short selling. Fortunately, summer is over so not that many clothing retailers are selling shorts anyhow but this is a prime example of Washington sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong.
Before that, they said one of the problems that had reared its ugly head in the market was “naked short selling,” and that had to stop. Well I guess I agree with that. I’m not sure if naked shorts were part of the Emperors New Clothes investment bank or what, but the whole idea of naked people hopping around in packed stock exchanges has gotta create a whole different sort of panic.
But they need to back off a bit. The whole appeal of capitalism is risk and gain. If you didn’t have the prospect of losing your shirt, stuffing your pockets wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.
It’s just that the risk-takers need to invest in manufacturing companies again and start-up technology firms. Not just derivatives of derivatives. Trying to make money off transactions of trying to make money.
The ultimate blame rests on the speed of our culture. We are so entrenched in the instant gratification ethos these days. No one wants to wait thirty years for a turn on his or her investment.
They want it now and they want to be able to pick it up on their Blackberries, reinvest in another 24-hour hedge and move on to the next one. All while driving their Beemer down the freeway, answering three calls and texting in their cappuccino order to the drive-through barista.
Packed hard, pulled short, and full of frothy bubbles about to burst.
That’s depressing.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

#867 Faith in the Cards

People have asked me what my spin on the Wall Street apocalypse is and I’ve told them I figure everything will come back sooner or later. Don’t panic. Keep the faith.
Money is pretty much just a social agreement anyhow. It’s only mutual faith that allows us to exchanges pictures of our dead presidents for goats and bushels of potatoes instead of the goats and bushels of potatoes themselves.
They call it a stock market because it used to involve trading actual cows.
It’s funny that the genuine crisis behind the crisis, the tightening of credit markets, is where the real fear of panic is driving the push for an unprecedented bailout.
Banks and other institutions lend each other money every second. If one institution is no longer trustworthy, as evidenced by all the exploded companies that have now been revealed to be hiding billions in toxic mortgages, then other institutions don’t want to lend them money.
So they can’t pay their obligations to a third institution who then can’t pay his to a fourth and so on.
A house of cards often collapses if it’s just made up of jokers.
Selling the bad mortgages to the feds supposedly makes the institutions trustworthy again and other banks will lend to them and so on.
Kind of like giving the house of cards a new coat of hairspray to hold it up.
It’s funny that the panic is panic within the system of folks who always tell us the system is so good.
“The market is always right. Leave us alone. Deregulate us, have faith in the market.” So the first people to lose faith in the market are the same people who were always selling us on how we should have faith in the market.
Joe Schmoe out in the real world is scratching his head, using his Visa card to buy unaffordable gas and hoping his toxic adjustable rate mortgage doesn’t adjust up and throw him in the street.
Faith, yeah he’s got faith. He was using that faith when he bought that “real estate always goes up” “the market always works” snake oil the Wall Street card sharks sold him.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

#866 Senior Marketing

My mailbox is my old-fashioned window to the world. And I finally got something in it that makes sense. It was from a printed ad¾one of those nearly extinct things you see from time to time, usually about midweek, stuffing your mailbox.
Or wrapped in non-biodegradable plastic littering your front yard. I haven’t opened one of the driveway rolls for ages except to remove the plastic and rubber band so I can put the paper directly in the recycling bin. A process that does nothing but make me resent the organizations that dumped it unwanted in my driveway.
Yard spam, who needs it.
The mailbox stack gets a little more thorough exploration, as it sometimes contains a bill or postcard of real mail accidentally slipped in. It was in this process that I noted an example of a print ad ideally suited for its target market.
It was an ad for a hat and it was an ad for seniors.
I doubt the target for this ad would ever see it on the internet.
Offered was a tan baseball cap. The kind you see on every guy over the age or 65, protecting his wispy-haired head from the sun, and/or holding in his body heat.
The head is the number one radiator of body heat. Put on a hat, you feel warmer right away.
Anyhow, the gimmick was, the hat has embroidered on it a strident senior message. Or perhaps it’s a demand. “Don’t forget my senior discount,” it brays, announcing to one an all that you’re not only “entitled” to special treatment to the tune of 10 percent off, you’re cranky about it.
Now I’m all for senior discounts. I’ve taken one myself from time to time. But I try not to insist. It’s up to the company to offer it to me. It’s not my right.
“The hat pays for itself again and again,” the ad proclaims assertively, “Make sure to get the senior discount you’re entitled to at restaurants, movies, and stores.”
The price? $7.95 plus 3.95 shipping and handling.
Strangely, they didn’t offer a discount to seniors.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

#865 Double You

Initials and acronyms continue to bedevil us. And with texting and computers it’s worse than ever.
I’ve been reading over applications for job applicants lately and I can tell you, you probably won’t get the job if you use the initials LOL or BTW in your resume. Also, make sure you avoid the initials for World Tennis Federation. I’ve had upright uptight librarian preacher’s wife types use those initials without a clue.
What’s That Frances?
Another initial observation: Recently one of our gubernatorial candidates got in trouble for using “G.O.P. Party” to identify his party affiliation on the ballot. The Democrats sued him, because they did a poll, which indicated more people would vote against him if he declared openly that he was a Republican.
“G.O.P.” obscured that fact with some people. The Dems said “Republican” was a damaged brand because of the economy and such.
I think it’s really, really sad that people aren’t paying enough attention to know that G.O.P. and Republican are the same thing. Should these people be voting?
Then again, I feel even sadder that the candidate for governor doesn’t know that G.O.P. traditionally stands for Grand Old Party and so when he says he prefers the G.O.P. Party he’s actually saying he prefers the Grand Old Party Party. Maybe he goes down to the Automated Teller Machine Machine to get out money for beer before the party starts.
Maybe the extra votes he gets advocating the Grand Old Party Party is because those voters think he’s a party animal.
Let’s vote for the guy who’s in the Party Party, dude.
Third initial observation: When are people going to stop using “www” when they talk about a website address? Is there anything else to expect in a web address? Can’t we just assume the www except in rare circumstances?
It sounds like when we were kids, when we would say we were from 222 D Street, Olympia, Washington, USA, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way, the Universe.
Initially, I had a problem in grade school calling the darn letter a double U anyhow. It looked like a double V to me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

#864 Those Dirty Rats

Thinking about the cheesy Wall Street meltdown made me think of those dirty rats, the shameless profiteers, and that made me think of a new word, greed-i-teers, and that made me think of the Mickey Mouse Club.
What are you gonna lose when your mortgage payment adjusts up?
Well a couple of news stories show that rats are on people’s minds all over the place. Seems a Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia, Americas ally and nearly most repressive and regressive regime on earth, has denounced our beloved Mickey Mouse, labeling him one of Satan’s Soldiers.
The adorable rodent-slash-devil-in-disguise was ratted out by the cleric for trying to trick Muslim children into loving mice. He said according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases.
I’m guessing the Disneyland franchise won’t be granted in Riyadh anytime soon.
Let’s hope the rat fatwa doesn’t catch on. Because another news article showed a promising use for rats in war torn middle eastern regions, trained mine sniffers. Yep. Mine sniffers.
Turns out rats are very smart, and with sensitive enough noses to be trained to sniff for the explosive scent in land mines. And light enough to not trip them.
The trained dogs they were using didn’t always survive the trip. But the African giant pouched rat was just perfect. They are cheap to raise—they breed like, um, rats—and they easily learn to sniff TNT to get a reward.
A Belgian guy named Bart Weetjens has so far put together a contingent of 30 trained rats which he calls HeroRATS. I wonder if he calls one of them Mighty Mouse.
Anyhow, they are currently sweeping minefields in Mozambique and Tanzania. The good thing from some folks perspective is when you use rats to detects mines and they fail, you’ve blown up a couple of rats.
Which is what many countries are trying to do anyhow. And really, no worse than giving rats cancer to save humans.
Ethically, well, who knows, maybe we’ll have a cautionary movie called Planet of the Rats someday.
Probably won’t play in Saudi Arabia.
But Wall Street will love it.
America, ya gotta love it.

#863 Land of our Fathers

In my last essay, I suggested that the oil companies bail out Wall Street. They have sufficient capital to buy and hold the toxic mortgages until they become valuable again or the land underneath them does.
Once defaults happen on many of those mortgages, at least the oil companies would own all the land.
Then they could drill on it.
The idea has a lot of merit. First off, it’s cheaper for you and me. The government bailout plan requires every taxpayer to pony up the equivalent of 5200 bucks. Since that same government gave us 600 bucks last year this seems like what they used to call Indian giving—where you give something and then ask for it back.
The term “Indian giving” was never meant as a slam against Native Americans. It really referred to the endless contractual reversals of the federal Great Fathers who kept finding valuable stuff under treatied reservations.
Stuff like you know, oil.
In any event, a $4600 return on investment reaffirms the feds still know how to deal dirty.
So sell the mortgages to the oil companies. Then do one of two things with the land. Allow them to drill in the crackerbox developments where all the sub-primers defaulted.
(A derrick would make a nice cellphone tower so you’d have that problem covered too.)
The oil companies say new oil drilling is environmentally sensitive so why make them head off to the frozen wastes of Alaska where no one sees them.
Since it’s that clean, they can drill in our back yards.
Or...swap them acre for acre for offshore drilling rights.
My friend Rick had an even better idea. The tribal casinos have a ton of money they’re looking to invest. The money is just sitting around doing nothing. Have them form an investment pool and buy up all the mortgages.
Then the money gambled away by the descendents of the Great White Fathers will be used to buy up the land they stole from Native Americans so long ago.
Throw in a few strings of beads, and they could probably pick up Wall Street in the deal.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

#862 Oily Rescue

As I write this, Wall Street is having a bit of an apocalypse. The four horsemen of market correction have mowed down major firms like equine tanks.
Doom and gloom are everywhere, and the treasury department and the president have asked the American taxpayer to finance a 700 billion dollar bailout. But with a twist.
Secretary of the Treasury Paulson asked for complete discretion in funds distribution and no oversight and requirements of him by anybody.
Sounds good to me.
Bail out the big boys who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar with one too many cookies, and do so using taxpayer money dispensed by the treasury secretary that didn’t have a clue the crisis was coming.
Sure, why not?
This from an administration that was for deregulation and keeping all federal hands out of big business. The same administration who constantly touted the benefit of cutting taxes.
Now he wants to in effect raise our taxes and use them to get the government involved in propping up a big boondoggle. If you changed boondoggle to bureaucracy he’d sound like what he says is a liberal.
Well, I have a better solution. It’s common in the investment world for one company that has a lot of money to invest in badly run companies that are failing. They buy the tarnished stock at a discount, fix the company, and build the stock value back up, benefiting investors that held on.
These are market forces. They need no regulation or interference. The French call it laissez-faire economics, although it often seems laissez-unfair.
So who has a lot of capital right now after gouging us for the last 18 months? Um, the oil companies? Right. Huge profits. 1200 bucks a minute there for a while.
Here’s what the government could do—broker a deal with the oil companies to buy up all the toxic mortgages. Those mortgages that still go into default leave the oil companies with the underlying land. So now they just don’t own all the oil. They own all the land too.
Then they can drill on that.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

#861 Stuff Ads

The other day I grabbed a pen from the pile of writing instruments I keep neatly grouped on an ever-changing portion of my kitchen countertop. For the first time I looked at the writing on it. It had the name of a bank. Curious, I decided to go through the pile and see how many pens were from banks.
Quite a few.
Which reminds me. I heard this commercial from a dentist. He said he could do all kinds of extensive dentistry “in as few as one visit.”
Can there be as few as one? Doesn’t the word always mean more the one? I usually use it to mean three or more. Quite a few means many. You wouldn’t say as many as one visit.
Maybe he should just say he can do many days work in only one visit.
Where was I? Oh yeah, pens and stuff, the advertising involved in using promotional items. Until my epiphany the other day, I never seriously looked at an advertisement on a pen.
I’ve had giveaway pens I like. And frankly I’ve cadged more than one from the institutions that provided them.
But I was their customer already.
I didn’t open up a special account to get a pen. And I can’t say their name recognition in a subliminal sense ever tipped me to make an additional deposit or open an IRA.
The same with that other ubiquitous giveaway item—the key fob. Why do I care whether I have a key fob? What am I going to do with it?
I can use the ring, but my keys themselves are heavy enough already. The last thing I need is another lump of metal in my pocket setting off airport security.
And some of these puppies are pretty chunky. I look at it as I look at extraneous things in my car. Remove those snowchains in your trunk if it’s August. The extra weight is affecting your mileage.
Likewise the pointless poundage in my pocket from prodigious amounts of key fobbage—I don’t want waste the personal energy.
Not even as few as one calorie of it.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

#860 Milking Capital

As the sinkhole of Wall Street continues to suck every last little bit of retirement out of ordinary people’s pockets, the cries for regulation are growing.
Cry like a baby.
You can’t build a boat when you’re already drowning.
The time for regulation was long ago, when it looked like something might happen based on an analysis of the over-leveraged under-overseen market. But as the Arkansas hillbilly of yore explained to the traveler about why he didn’t fix his roof when it was sunny; the cabin doesn’t leak when it doesn’t rain.
The last few years have seen the deregulators dismantle acts created during the depression that might have prevented today’s debacle. So Wall Street has excelled at making money off money. Leverage off leverage, packaging and repackaging mortgages into securities of almost infinite derivation.
And making money off fees with every transaction.
Capitalism has the tendency to be like a self-cannibalizing snake; every now and then biting itself in the backside because it gets too greedy.
Unfortunately, it needs regulation because it gobbles up the rest of us poor schmucks too.
Regulation is a polarizing word. Some rise in anger when they hear it. Other embrace it. But the truth is we all fit somewhere on the spectrum between total anarchy and total totalitarianism. Between wildness and civilization. Laws are after all, regulations.
Think of them as ways to tweak the capitalist carburetor for maximum efficiency.
I heard someone say recently that we need to make money the old-fashioned way. The old-fashioned way to make money was to lend it to an entrepreneur who would then set up a factory and make something with it. Like a widget or a melamine plate.
Unfortunately, the old-fashioned way was ravaged by greed too. Like today’s China, when instead of making plates, farmers and dairies add that same melamine to their milk and baby formula to simulate protein content. Capitalism at its rawest. Doctor the product to make extra money.
Okay sure, we’ve poisoned a few babies.
But it’s better to let the industry regulate itself. The market will correct itself eventually—when there’s no one left alive to add in melamine.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

#859 Snort of Liberty

My sister Merry got something at work and she and my brother-in-law Paul had some questions about it.
It’s an air freshener thing. The kind you hang in your car by a string. Most people that use them make sure the scent is compatible with eau d’ cigarette butt.
But in this case it created some head scratching. Because the name of the thing was “Freedom Freshener.” Printed on the freshener was the word America. The background picture featured three flags waving bravely.
I always wonder how respectful to the flag it is to depict it on things like napkins and air fresheners and stuff that we eventfully toss in the trash.
In any event, Merry and Paul sent it to me with a letter headed by the statement, “I was wondering what freedom smelled like.” Now they know. They’re not sure, however, whether this device smells like freedom or is meant to freshen up your freedom.
Probably both. It’s meant to freshen it up if the smell of freedom is not unlike the stench of fear from the pants of Wall Street traders. Or perhaps the aroma of unregulated mortgage companies furiously making money hand over sweaty fist.
Or maybe the waft of panic as they run by on their way to the feds to bail them out.
Maybe it’s the smell of golden parachutes made from the melted down money stolen from everyone’s retirement. That’s some freedom smell that could sure use freshening. The kitty litter odor from the fat cats that trickled down on the rest of us.
Then again, the smell of freedom could be good. Maybe it’s the smell of amber waves of grain. Of purple mountains and purple sage and purple dinosaurs that love children. The Smell O’America in all its wide wonderful glory.
Maybe I should just check the package. Uh oh. The package says the smell of freedom, the scent of independence, the snort of liberty is...sweet balsam. that a native wood?
Wikipedia says, “Balsam is the resinous gum of the tree commiphora, native to southern Arabia.”
I’m thinking the scent company needs a geography lesson.
American pine would have been fine.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

#858 Rearview Thinking

So here’s a question. Or perhaps it’s a quandary. Maybe it’s just a plain query.
Why is it when you look in the rearview mirror at a car driving behind you, the license plate letters are reversed but the driver is still on the correct side of the car?
It occurred to me yesterday with that startling clarity of impending death. The driver behind me was looking in her rearview mirror to adjust her makeup. One hand, it was her right one, was adjusting her right eye makeup. The other hand was on the top of her steering wheel, but I could clearly see an open cellphone clutched in it.
I was just glancing at her because I was about to come to a rapid stop because the guy in front of me had stomped on his brakes for a bushy-tailed rodent of some sort scampering across the road.
It’s amazing all you can see when you’re about to become the gooey filling in an automobile sandwich.
And what an odd thought to have as what could have been my last one. Why are the letters on her license plate flip-flopped but she’s still on the correct side of the car?
Because maybe your last thought is the one that determines where you spend eternity. A good and loving thought ensures your entrance to a world of eternal bliss. A hateful and angry one a sure way to be cast into a lake of eternal fire.
Me condemned to an endless brainteaser. Forced to contemplate conundrums for time without end. Marginally mobile on a Mobius Strip of the mind, figure-eighting through eternity, sometimes right side up sometimes upside down, but never leaving the same surface.
An interesting idea. Your last thought the one with which you spend all eternity. It kind of makes you want to think happy thoughts doesn’t it?
Hmm. Next time I’m about to die in a crash I better not look in the mirror. I might accidentally see myself.
And that’s a hell of a view. Or a view of a hell.
America, ya gotta love it.