Wednesday, November 26, 2008

#898 Spellching

I think spell-check is ruining our ability to communicate. I have suddenly been assaulted with circulars announcing events that are riddled with riddles of what the heck these people meant.
Take bazaars. B-a-z-a-a-r-s are the type you put on for a bake sale, or bring out your crafts and stuff. Sometimes they are odd crafts. Sometimes they are so odd you could call them bizarre.
But if you screw up the spelling of one or the other, spell-check may recommend only one. And insist on it. You are none the wiser.
I got a circular for a “bizarre” (as in crazy) the other day, knew it was wrong and couldn’t for the life of me get spell-check to suggest the right spelling. I was reduced to thumbing through the “B” section in an actual printed dictionary.
I had forgotten how heavy and cumbersome they are. You could get some serious exercise and calorie-burning hefting around a dictionary at your desk.
That darn spell-check is making us all obese too.
The other words that are often a problem are the palate family. Palate of the mouth, palette of the painters, and pallet of the loading dock. All homophones, because they sound the same, but are different in spelling and meaning.
And if you spell it right but wrong the first time, spell-check won’t correct you. So I got a flier for a musical performance describing this conductor being like a painter and his musicians his palette, but they spelled it “palate” so it sounded like he was tasting or chewing them.
Another description in an auction list was supposed to say a “wine and cheese tasting experience guaranteed to satisfy your palate” but they spelled it palette p-a-l-e-t-t-e, so I immediately thought they’d be painting the walls with delicate tones of merlot and gouda.
Then there’s the sign I saw at a shipping place offering free pallets. You know, those slatted wooden things they stack stuff on. Except they spelled it “palate” as in the part of your mouth.
Sounded like a great deal on some obscure variety meat from the deli, like tongue or sweetbreads.
Very unpalatable if you ask me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

#897 I Have a Code

The big presidential transition is underway. It’s interesting in this day of sudden access and instant gratification that we have to wait 2 1/2 months for a new president to take office. Especially when we’ve been enduing a campaign to put him there for the last 22 months.
It’s like baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and then not being able to dive into them while they’re warm and gooshy.
You’ve gone to all the effort to bake those cookies, now you have to stay back and starve till they get cold and hard.
It’s not as bad as it used to be though. In the old days, new presidents didn’t take office till mid-March. Apparently, as we were on the brink of the last great depression, Herbert Hoover asked incoming President Roosevelt to make a joint statement on the economy to reassure the public. Roosevelt refused, saying, “It’s not my baby.”
The depression ensued.
I have a great deal of respect for Roosevelt, but I think that it probably wasn’t very presidential of him to choose that moment to engage in a little neener-neener.
Let’s hope this transition goes smoother.
One thing they’ve already transisted is the Obamas’ Secret Service code names. The President Elect is known as Renegade. Perhaps because he is such a change from the policies of the previous president. Lest you think, as I did, that “Renegade” could possibly be construed as unflattering, Obama had a say in its selection. The First Lady is known as Renaissance. The daughters are Rosebud and Radiance.
The code names are what the Secret Service whisper into their microphones to each other to announce movements of the principles. That would have been all well and good if no one knew about them. But obviously they aren’t very secret, so what’s the point?
If terrorists are monitoring radio traffic, do you think using the word “Renegade” is going to fool them—since you’ve previously broadcast it to the entire world?
Not that coming out of a big white house and getting into a limo with a bunch of guys surrounding you talking in their lapels isn’t a dead giveaway.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

#896 Parish the Word

So the other day I was confronted with my lack of Catholic-ness. Or is that Catholicity?
To be or not to be a Catholic was once a very big deal. When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1959, the right-wing commentators of the time wrung their hands about how he would promote the Catholic agenda. How he would be answerable to the Pope first and his country second. How dangerous it was to put a man in the White House who answered to a higher power.
Seems crazy today, especially since if a man running for president isn’t a Christian of some sort answering to a higher power, he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting elected.
Be that as it may, this weekend I was confronted with my Catholic ignorance. One of the people I was to introduce at an event was called an Abbot and the other had his title abbreviated “Fr.”
When it came time to bring the Abbot up to the stage, of course I wanted to yell out, Hey Abbotttttt! Like in the Abbot and Costello movies.
But I restrained myself.
The Fr. guy I wasn’t sure what to call. Because I didn’t know what Fr. stood for. Was it Friar, as in Friar Tuck? Was it some Latin abbreviation, short for fraternal, meaning Brother? Was it French, like Frere, as in Jacques fame? Doesn’t Frere Jacques mean Brother John?
Finally, after an exhausting Google search lasting 6 minutes, I was able to determine that Fr. was the abbreviation for Father. Obvious to you Catholics, completely obscure to a protestant raised in all protestant institutions.
Our Ministers were not addressed as Fathers. But they were Doctors of Divinity. As a kid I thought that meant they made that really good candy my granny brought over every Christmas.
I think a Catholic was in charge of a recent food bank event, though. His flier said to bring “nonparishable food.”
He spelled the perish part p-a-r-i-s-h-. So I guess, instead of telling us to bring food that wouldn’t go rotten, he was telling us to bring food that wouldn’t be accepted in a Catholic Parish.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

#895 Clusterfolk

A while back, I read a story about the growth of “politics specific” neighborhoods—people tending to cluster in areas with other people of the same political ilk.
Now it’s been going on forever that folks like to group in tribes. I suppose it’s natural that we gravitate toward people who are similar. Makes for less arguing over the back yard fence.
And with the way they are building houses closer and closer in the new urbanly dense developments, it’s more important than ever. It also explains why some developments have covenant restrictions against political yard signs.
I saw this clustering in its rawest form the other day at a high school job fair. Each grade level came into the job fair separately and the kids had about 50 minutes to interact with the various employers like myself.
A couple of interesting dynamics: When nobody was at my booth, no one would approach for a while. Then a couple of kids would come up, in a bold foray. As if that proved my booth was safe and or cool, about 10 more students would suddenly mob me.
But after about 20 minutes, most of the students stopped coming to all of the booths and coagulated into self-enclosed groups of 5 to 7 kids. Each group would form a rough circle and its members would interact.
The clotting of kids—a basic human trait.
It’s interesting to note in the macro-group sense, that the more densely populated regions of our country tend to be Democrat and the more rural areas tend to be Republican. Democrats like the social amenities tight-living provides. You don’t see a lot of support groups and soup kitchens in North Dakota.
On the other hand, Republicans tend to be more uncompromising and self-reliant, traits that don’t work well in densely packed neighborhoods. One of my conservative friends calls big crowds clusterfolks.
The space conservatives like to maintain from each other prevents conflict. Ain’t no one gonna tell them what to do. Especially big government.
You know, the kind of suspicious, interfering, big government that hires teachers who give out report cards with snarky comments like “does not play well with others.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#894 Puppies and Kitties

Sometimes I think people just aren’t thinking. In the pursuit to portray the good of one idea, they forget the other things people may see.
So it was the other day when I found myself driving behind a Fed-Ex truck. On the back of the truck was a drawing of a puppy. It was really cute. In fact, the entire cartoon was cute, in that it showed the puppy with a package in his mouth and a friendly look on his face, eager to deliver that package to you.
The message was clear. The folks at Fed-Ex were eager to fetch stuff for you and deliver it to your feet like a puppy with a newspaper. At least I think that’s what they meant.
I, of course, took it differently. Well, I thought, that explains the banged up package I got from them.
Including the tooth marks and residue of drool.
Because as anyone who has tried to train a non-dry mouth dog knows, having a canine grab your package and do anything with it involves copious amounts of dog spit and crushing.
So is the ulterior message that your package may sustain some damage if you use Fed-Ex?
Like I say, someone wasn’t thinking of the whole picture.
Another thing I saw that looks like it may not have been vetted any better than a recent VP candidate—a fancy kitty litter scoop.
There’s not much to say about it. It’s stainless steel. It’s got an elegant handle—altogether a top-notch quality device for fishing out feline feces and carrying it to a more permanent waste disposal container.
The problem is it’s too nice. I mean, wouldn’t it be a good idea if your pooper-scooper didn’t look like a fine implement that belonged in your kitchen?
I’m not sure I want my pooper-scooper to be dishwasher safe because I’m not sure I want it in the dishwasher.
And I don’t think when half-blind Aunt Mabel comes to visit and brings a chocolate cake, it’s a good idea to have a fancy crap spatula lying around.
America, ya gotta love it.

#893 Guacamousse

So I was looking at my conditioner bottle the other day. Specifically at its ingredients label. The name of the conditioner was Garnier Fructis so I should have expected something exotic.
The label was at great pains to point out that Garnier Fructis has a new “Sleek and Shine System.” The net effect of the “Sleek and Shine System” is to tame “frizz” so your hair stays “sleek” all day.
Well, Lord knows, with global warming and world hunger, it’s pretty important we keep our hair sleek.
I mention world hunger because the other thing Garnier Fructis does for your hair is supply it with nutrients. Or as they put it, “Nutritive Fruit Micro-oils.”
Yeah, good thing. If you can’t supply nutrients to starving children, by all means slather them on your hair.
They also add vitamins to your hair in the form of Vitamin B-3 and Vitamin B-6. As Vitamin B-6 is often mentioned in terms of mental health, I’m guessing it makes your hair more alert. That leaves me to conclude that Vitamin B-3 is the sleekness vitamin.
It always amazes me what we are willing to believe will affect the layered and stacked dead cells sprouting from our heads. The ingredient list shows they have also added extracts of lemon, apple, sugar cane and camellia. A veritable cornucopia of dead vegetative matter to add to your dead protein sprouts.
But they especially point out two Nutritive Fruit Micro-Oils —Apricot and Avocado oil. Apricots are really sticky so I hope they get the apricot oil from the pits. Maybe since they are no longer curing cancer, the company bought them up cheap and we can put them to good use on our limpid locks.
But what were they thinking with avocado? How did this even get suggested and tested? Did someone have a guacamole accident? Fell into a bowl of it at a party?
And when she rinsed it out said, “Wow, no frizzing!”
I hoping they’ll come out with a Guacamole Mousse.
I can take that to my next tailgate potluck, with a can of cheese wiz.
“Dude, this cheese and mousse action is tasty...and sleek.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

#892 The Name of the Game

Time to reflect on what I think is a huge lesson to be learned from the election and everyone singing sweet home Barack Obama.
He defied everything that Madison Avenue holds dear. All the experts in branding tell us that if you’re going to name something you should make it catchy, but keep it safe. Don’t name a meat loaf product, oh, let’s say, The Ptomaine Meatloaf. Don’t label a car “The Pontiac Crasher.”
But somehow Barack Hussein Obama rose above all that. And that is a huge achievement. From his history, it’s obvious he’s overcome some horrendous obstacles. His mixed race, his strange parental status, his cardoor ears.
And yet he made it to law school, developed an extraordinary intelligence and persisted all the way through Hillary’s minions.
I admit he took words less seriously than I thought he should. For a guy who was trying to duck the elitist label, using the word divisiveness in his final infomercial was a little problematic.
Especially when he pronounced it di-vih-siveness and not di-vy-siveness. I’m sure some people were as mystified by that word as I was when he said he wouldn’t allow CEOs to “game” the system.
He must have been reaching out to his younger supporters. The same ones who didn’t let his weird names get in the way of their adulation.
Barack Hussein Obama is bad enough to someone hoping to reach out to working class America. Musli-phobia is the new racism. A black man with a Muslim name, and not just any Muslim name, the name of the dictator that many Americans thunk was behind 911 thanks to the pre-war Bush propaganda machine.
That’s some serious we shall overcoming to do.
But he’s also got BO to deal with. That’s right, his initials are BO. As in “ooh, that guy smells.” A taunt he must have endured in Junior High a lot.
What did he do? He embraced it, told folks to Google MyBO, used it to direct them to his website, and created the internet nation that put him over the top financially.
Save the world with My BO...
Madison Avenue must be crashing like Wall Street did.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

#891 Lights Camera

So the other day I was driving up to an intersection. Suddenly there was a bright flash of light. I flinched and accidentally jerked my wheel.
The light was really bright. Blindingly so. Like when you get a flash of sunlight in someone’s rearview mirror and it leaves one of those spots in your eyes.
Anyhow, here I was partially blinded and beginning to jerk over into the lane next to me because I had reacted so violently to the flash and was spazing out. Fortunately, I was able to bring my car under control in time.
I’m just glad the guy in front of me hadn’t been as big a spaz as I was.
Traffic was pretty thick and eventually, after a couple more blinding flashes, I was able to determine that the source of these retina searing flares was the camera mounted to catch people running the red light.
I hope drivers more easily distracted than me don’t pile into each other at the intersection.
I had a friend show me a ticket he got because of one of those red light cameras. Funny thing. It had been sent to his wife. Because he had been driving her car. It noted the violation and then asked if she or someone else in her family had been driving the vehicle that day.
So the camera only catches the license plate and not a photo of the driver...
So what if you wanted to get someone in trouble? You could hotwire his car when he’s sleeping, take it for a joyride, run the red light, and get a ticket sent to him. He’d have all the hassle and have to pay the fine because he wouldn’t be able to convince anyone it wasn’t him in the car at the time of the infraction.
Oh sure, you’d run the risk of grand theft auto, but still, what a cool prank to do against someone you think is really annoying.
Anyone know where Tim Eyman lives?
I hear he wants to give red light photo fines to solve our traffic problems...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

#890 Elboil

I was pretty gullible as a kid. Heck I’m gullible now. And it’s my take-it-at-face-value initial impression that often makes it possible for me to be humorous. Or at least be laughed at.
Because I often see things the wrong way the first time. Years ago, I made fun of a sign over a car repair place advertising they had a certain car accessory. It said, “Gas Shocks!” My first thought really was, “Especially in mixed company!”
I saw it the “gas-as-flatulence” way before I saw it as the “gas-as-part-of-a-car-accessory” way.
Likewise, when I was growing up, my mother managed to confuse me a lot due to my innocent stupidity. She once told me there was no way I could get things "really clean" unless I applied a lot of elbow grease.
I was young and full of misguided impressions of the world. I had seen women on TV commercials rubbing lotion onto their hands and joints. I had felt my mother’s cold cream and hand lotion. I had also once poked my fingers in the semi-solid bacon grease she kept at room temperature in a cup in the kitchen.
Naturally I assumed this elbow grease stuff was something like that—off-white, kind of slimy, kind of slippery. I remember triumphantly running into the kitchen telling everyone I was ready to do some serious cleaning.
Then I showed them the boil on my elbow, shouting, “Elbow grease, elbow grease!” as I squeezed it out.
That’s when I learned why comedians call funny things gags.
I also remember being really paranoid about behind my ears. Ears were the place my mom had told me to never stick anything smaller than my elbow.
Ever the young scientist, I was always trying to contort myself so I could stick my elbow in my ear to compare.
In any event, my mom once told me it was dirty enough behind my ears to raise potatoes. She said I needed to get them "really clean." I was traumatized. From that point forward whenever I felt a little bump behind my ear, I was certain it was a potato about to sprout.
And I was totally panicked. I couldn’t get them "really clean," because I couldn’t get my elbow close enough to use elbow grease.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

#889 Vote-cabulary 2

There was more vocabulary that emerged from the voting process. The vote-cabulary if you will.
“Eloquent” was one of the big words used to describe Obama. It was used in both a good way, to talk about his nicely delivered speeches, and as a bad term, when put in air-quotes, to dismiss him as filled with hot air.
Balancing the new big words was a return to salt of the earth words like “you betcha” and “gotcha.” I’ve said “you betcha” for more years than I can remember. Now I’m self-conscious about it. Every time I hear myself say it, I think other people will think I’m making fun of or emulating Palin.
Another good colloquialism down the drain, dagnamit.
“Gotcha” was used to refer to journalism that snuck up on people’s blind sides. Or Joe-the-plumbers that rotorootered candidate meet-and-greets.
We also heard the words “cratered” and “tanked.” The economy “cratered” and McCain’s campaign “tanked.” On the flip side, the media was “in the tank” for Obama—who then helped “tank” McCain’s campaign further.
But never fear, because then there was “maverick,” a term probable chosen for its resonance with a TV show about go-it-alone self-reliant westerners. You know, “real” Americans.
Unfortunately, it was also a cheap Ford.
Personally, I had a Maverick in the 70s and it wasn’t that good a car—in the shop for one thing or another. And the steering and suspension were weird. I was always going all over the road.
Then the mavericks changed. One of them got tired of calling himself a maverick. Maybe one of his supporters told him they had owned one too. In any event, he suddenly became a “reformer.” The other one got called by a new word, as she went “rogue.” The downside of mavericks—turning rogue.
Isn’t that like a double negative though? Since a maverick’s already contrary, is a rogue maverick just back to normal?
If the description hadn’t first emerged from the Republican camp I’d suspect the liberal media of concocting it to make sly reference to the party’s symbol. Because before this, I’d only heard the term rogue applied to elephants.
And as the recent economy has shown, there’s nothing worse than an unrestrained elephant.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

#888 Vote-cabulary

When all is said and done, the presidential campaign of 2008 was incredibly successful in one regard. It taught us a bunch of new words.
It’s always interesting the vocabulary that emerges from the voting process. The vote-cabulary if you will.
I got to thinking about it the other day when I watched the 30-minute Obama infomercial. The McCain camp said it was “gauzy.” The Obama camp said it gave him “gravitas.” I assume the McCainiacs meant gauzy as in photographed through a soft lens, like a Playboy magazine shoot. It was an interesting reference.
And gravitas was one of those big words you hadn’t seen in common American usage. But it was all over the place in the media this year, partly because Obama looked so young and Palin so new.
I noticed in the Obamamercial that his hair was flecked with far more gray than I’ve ever seen. And it did seem to give him a more steadfast look. Wonder if he got it from a bottle.
Yeah, Clairol Gravitas for Men, just a touch of gray to bestow that look of age and wisdom.
Then there was the word “ideologue.” It was used in opposition to “pragmatist.” As near as I can figure, “ideologue” is a nice way of saying someone is pigheaded. They start with an idea and judge the world and all subsequent events from that idea.
Kind of like prejudice but with politics. Their world is driven by belief and not information on the ground.
Contrasted to that are pragmatists, who change their tactics based on new information and shift strategy accordingly.
In the last campaign, the ideologue called that flip-flopping.
As this was an important campaign based on the core philosophies of the economy, I also heard the word fundamental used a lot by both sides. It was nice.
The word basic has been overused in recent years. And basic is too basic. We needed a word that was both high-falutin and low down in these crucial times.
Fundamental is perfect.
Although for some reason, it always reminds me of a foundation garment.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

#887 War of the Words

The election is over.
It was a long, hard, and interesting push. Both campaigns got in their licks and both held back in some areas. Palin was supposedly chomping at the bit to mention Jeremiah Wright, but McCain wouldn’t go there.
Perhaps it was because he knew that if he pulled out that last stop, the Obama camp would unleash a torrent of information about Palin’s association with the anti-American Alaska secessionist party. Talk about pallin’ around with terrorists, how about Palin around with terrorists. These Alaska separatists had some “I hate America” slogans every bit as inflammatory as Jeremiah Wright.
It was an interesting tactic of the Obama campaign not to use the Alaska secessionists to bomb the William Ayers insinuations.
Towards the end of the campaign, there was an interesting flap though. You could see the Karl Rove tactic of turning your own things on your head and hitting you with them.
Like when the McCain campaign took a comment about “spreading” the wealth, turned it into a comment about “redistributing” the wealth, and from that started calling Obama a socialist.
Then in the debates, John McCain took Obama’s eloquence head on by insinuating that eloquence was suspect in some way. He did this by putting finger-waving air-quotes around the word.
After four years of the non-eloquence of Bush, it may not have been a good tactic to pick on someone who could string eight words together. Even more so, when his running mate seemed similarly challenged in the coherent sentence structure department.
And that was what the flap was about. One of the final Obama commercials showed McCain a couple of years ago, saying in his own words that he knew nothing about economics and would need to trust his future vice president for that. The commercial ends with a picture of Palin winking in her inimitable “you betcha” manner.
Immediately the roving right wing attack dogs started yelling, “Unfair!”
Yeah, she spent the last 8 weeks calling Obama an un-American terrorist elitist socialist and they showed a picture of her winking.
Unfair and Unbalanced, if you ask me.
America, ya gotta love it.

#886 Super Banker

Conspiracy theorists out there, try not to pay attention to who’s pulling the strings of power in the banking crises these days.
This whole credit mess is an amazing thing. It started with bad mortgages, sure, but then rapidly degenerated to a credit “freeze”, as the larger financial institutions refused to lend to one another.
The people who were telling us to trust the system, the bankers, suddenly didn’t trust each other. Institutions that were sending credit card offers to toddlers and dogs unexpectedly decided their fellow bankers were suspect.
And it was bad. Because every second of every day bankers and brokers lend each other short term credit. If Lehman Brothers wants to buy some shares of McDonalds they go to CitiBank and say, I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburglar today.
If they don’t lend, everything grinds to a halt. There’s a saying that sums it all up. Always use short-term credit responsibly. And that says it all because apparently our entire financial system was based on bankers giving each other payday loans.
I’ll borrow from you and pay you back when I get a loan from someone else. Hmm.
But here’s the conspiracy part. Goldman Sachs, one of the big brokerages on Wall Street in the thick of all, once had an employee who is now the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson. The current governor of New Jersey, where lots of Wall Streeters make their homes, is a former employee of Goldman Sachs. And the current young Turk who Henry Paulson tapped as a superbanker to dole out all the federal bailout bucks comes from, you guessed it, Goldman Sachs.
To those who believe in the international Jewish bankers’ conspiracy, don’t worry. The bailout supervisor has a totally un-Jewish name—Neel Kashkari. Ironically, like cash and carry but with K’s.
As some crazy folks in the blogosphere put it, “K’s like they use in names in Muslim countries.”
Indian Muslims from Jewish financial institutions in charge of federal redistribution of wealth?
Conspiracy theorists, it’s time to crack open your survivalist bomb shelter. The end of the world is nigh.
And just in time. Maybe you won’t have to pay your last bankcard bill...
America, ya gotta love it.

#885 Pumperdumper

Currently Washington and Wall Street are playing the blame game. How did the economy go in the tank? Bad lending? Bad borrowing? Crazy derivatives of bad loans that should never have been made to people who should never have applied for them?
Was it balloon payments? Personally, I’ve never let myself buy a balloon I couldn’t afford. The ones with helium can get over your head in no time.
But still, many of these questionable practices have been going on for decades—easy loaning Freddie and Fannie, hyper-leveraging Wall Streeters, poor people charging what they couldn’t afford.
It all depended on an extremely delicate balance of greed, just in time payments, and short-term loans. Anything could have tipped the balance.
And then came the game changer. I call it the great pumperdumper. Gas went up to 4 bucks a gallon.
When we got dumped on at the pump, our entire economy came crashing down. A credit-strapped nation already overspent, suddenly asked to spend an extra 30 bucks a week to get to and from work. Or more if they had an old car or a giant SUV. Then food prices went up, thanks to the extra cost of transporting everything, and corn ethanol crimping the crops. Just then, the adjustable rate mortgages kicked in. Did I mention a war and a federal deficit driving the interest rates up on those ARMs?
Goodbye American economy.
Any one of those things taken singly might have been absorbed. But the exploding effects of high priced fuel burned the pocketbooks of countless families on the edge.
Perhaps the worst is over. Gas prices are back to 2.45 a gallon. People can drive to work cheaply again. Unfortunately, many people don’t have jobs to drive to. A lot of businesses bit the big one in the crunch. More worrisome, there’s a huge mass of bewildered and angry unemployed mortgage brokers, investment counselors and bankers.
Poor folk are used to dealing with more downs than ups. I’m worried about the acute desperation of these first time unemployed.
I hope we don’t have white collar riots.
But hey, at least they’ll have cheap gas to make Molotov cocktails.
America, ya gotta love it.

#884 Re-SUV

The other day I was driving to work. I looked around me on the road and found my vision nearly obscured by large flat planes of metal and chrome. Huge vehicles surrounded me. I had one of those mental replays of déjà vu for some reason. Then I figured it out.
I was surrounded by SUVs.
All at once, I figured out what had been so strange about the last few months. I had unobstructed vision as I drove along. It had been as if I was driving in some foreign country or something. All the SUVs had left the road.
Now I couldn’t see again and for some reason I felt at home. It was if I had slid back into the depression on my favorite old mattress. As if I’d settled onto my home toilet after a weeklong vacation. I was back. And I could let go.
America was back. We were once again filling the road with lumbering SUVs. Yes, by gosh, gas is under three bucks a gallon.
How quickly we return to our habits. I just passed a pump the other day where the price said $2.75. I turned up my nose in scorn. I was confident there was a $2.69 down the road.
And there was. I looked at my gas gauge. A quarter of a tank. No problem, I’d wait. The price was bound to go down further.
And you know what? Lately I’ve been leaving my car idling to warm it up on cold mornings. Not the engine. The interior.
And I’ve been jackrabbit starting at intersections. I love that sensation of stomping on the accelerator. You can almost feel the fuel exploding in a decadent burst of useless power.
And I’ve been driving erratically on the freeway too. Squirting in and out of traffic. Braking hard, accelerating again for no reason.
And I’ve been going 80 and 85. On poorly inflated tires. With dirty spark plugs.
It’s like coming off a miserable diet.
Goodbye carrots and broccoli.
Hello chocolate cheesecake!
Hallelujah! Gas is cheap again!
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

#883 Generic Times

Back in the early eighties, around thirty years ago, we were coming off some pretty hard economic times. The Arab oil cartel had not long before inserted itself into our consciousness by throttling America’s throat with high oil prices.
Fortunately, America learned its lesson and vowed never again to be under the thumb of foreign oil.
Interest rates for home mortgages were at the unheard of highs of 12 percent or more. Inflation was in double digits too. Times were tough.
So America buckled down and got plain. We were told in the seventies to whip inflation now. It was still unwhipped by the early eighties but we had a better answer. Generic branding.
Generic products were just like regular products except the labels on the cans and boxes weren’t fancy. They were just white with black block letters.
If it were better generic stuff, it would have black cursive letters.
In any event, if you wanted a can of corn, you didn’t have to pay for all that fancy label artwork that had a picture of corn waving in a beautiful meadow somewhere. Nosiree, Joe Corn-eater bought his can of corn that just said CORN in black block letters and saved money in the bargain.
It was just corn goldurnit, take your fancy label-schmabel and stick it up your Madison Avenue New York Blue state elite artsy-fartsy backside.
We told the government to butt out, not bail out.
We just tightened our belts made from genuine American cow leather and ate boring FOOD and washed our laundry till it was grey with a box of detergent that just said DETERGENT and drank our beer that just said BEER on the label and rode that storm out.
Real Americans had endured tougher times and didn’t need no fancy labels to sugarcoat the fact that existence SUCKED, but you get by day to day with a little bit of hope, an occasional garage sale and a generic BEER.
You would never ever see a generic micro-brew.
Or a generic latte.
When the going got tough, the tough got...plain labeling.
America, ya gotta love it.

#882 Voter Charge

In the last decade, American wealth has concentrated in the hands of a very few people at the top of the economic spectrum.
You might say it’s been redistributed up there.
Taxation laws, loopholes and tax credits have made it possible for the enormously wealthy to get even more enormously wealthy. It’s true that the recent stock market crash has cut that wealth in half for many of these folks.
But they are still enormously wealthy, and not in any danger of losing more than three and a half of their seven homes.
Our economy goes through cycles. Many of those wealthy are now supporting Obama because they know this. They know they’ll make money off this next cycle as well. The next cycle will be more middle-class oriented. The middle-class, when it has money to spend, is the salvation of capitalism.
Marx’s predictions of the downfall of capitalism would have come true if the evil money barons of the 1800s had continued to starve their workers and treat them inhumanely with 16-hour workdays and child labor and sweatshops and all that.
Instead, unionization forced them to pay their laborers a little more and—voila—the middle class was born and became a consumer class. Laborers became customers for the capitalists’ products.
Those customers now need to get tax breaks of their own to prime the economic pump again.
As a testimony to the combined financial power of the middle class, the Obama campaign has earned more money than any campaign in history. And it’s done it mostly with 25 and 50 dollar contributions from the little guy.
“Bubble up” economics seems to work a lot better than “trickle down.” Especially when the trickle down doesn’t happen and gets outsourced overseas.
But here’s the biggest irony. In a time when the credit markets are frozen up, when banks won’t lend to each other because they don’t trust each other, the Obama campaign triumphed with millions of small contributions sent by little guys.
How did they send that money?
With their credit cards.
A testimony to the real American way—
If you want it, charge it!
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

#881 What’s in a Name

What’s in a name? Apparently a lot. I once had a girlfriend break up with me because of it.
“But why,” I said. She said it was because she was suffering from agoraphobia. “Fear of open spaces?” I asked.
“No, acrophobia.”
“Fear of heights?”
“No,” she finally enunciated, agriphobia—fear of farmers.”
As my last name is Farmer, it all made sense. I didn’t like her anyway. She mumbled. And didn’t like sowing seeds and stuff.
But tell me this—Why does the word adult sound so different when you say “adult mobile home park” and when you say “adult video store”? We get a whole different idea of adult don’t we? Or try this—“adult community” and “adult toys.”
I’m guessing different adults are involved.
The other day I saw some political candidate talking to “Joe Sixpack.”
And I thought, there’s a name to inspire patriotism.
Joe Sixpack, the iconic barcolounger-addicted lazy dude who hammers down a sixpack every game. Doesn’t matter the game, doesn’t matter the beer, just got that sixpack habit that keeps him glued to the TV sucking back brewskies.
Now really. Was this the guy out at Valley Forge suffering for the birth of our country? Was this the guy who went south in the Civil War and fought bravely to keep our nation together and stop the slavery of one man to another?
Or is this the guy who unconsciously flies the flag of the secessionist traitors to the Union and screams out a rebel yell as he chugalugs a forty?
And the big question—are you going to be able to get his fat keester up off the couch to vote?
Lastly—I heard an announcement for the Cub Scouts the other day and it occurred to me. You only get to be a human being for awhile in the organization, and it’s in the middle. You got your Cub Scout for the little kids. Then you’re a human Boy Scout and then you’re an Eagle Scout.
I suppose it’s a good idea. “Man Scout” sounds weird.
And who knows what an “adult” scout might be.
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

#880 Oil Used Up

As we’ve discussed before, sometimes it’s hard to be environmental¾like the whole corn ethanol thing. First, it seemed like a good idea to grow corn and make it into fuel.
Then fuel prices went through the roof and everybody planted fields of corn and demand got so high corn prices went up. No one could afford to buy corn and since nobody planted other foods, they were in short supply, so their prices went up and soon there was a global food prices crisis.
It seemed like such a good idea too.
So good the feds continue to subsidize it.
(They’ll need that quick thinking when they’re in charge of our banks.)
But I keep recycling, even though I find challenges. Like peanut butter containers. They don’t have a neck so I have to throw them away. Too bad. It’s such a huge piece of plastic to waste.
Of course I have to rinse them out. But rinsing a peanut butter container takes way too much water. And scrubbing it is so icky. And my scrubber thingy takes a lot of water to rinse out afterwards too.
Nuts to that.
Cooking oil bottles are the real challenge. The used cooking oil itself is perfect for the compost bin but how do you put it in without making the bin itself permanently gunky?
Ideally, I suppose I could use an old Starbucks cup or something but do I ever remember to save one to use as a used cooking oil container for my compost bin?
Recycling takes some thinking ahead.
And I’m still left with the challenge of rinsing out the original cooking oil bottle.
The answer, again, think ahead, and be patient. Soap and soak and shake. Add a small amount of dish soap to the cooking oil bottle. Fill with water. Soak for a while. Shake the bottle. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. Pour it out and add to the recycle bin.
It’s plastic. Plastic is made out of petroleum.
Maybe some day when we run out of corn we can melt it down for fuel.
America, ya gotta love it.