Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#920 I See Roads

The relatively large snowfall in the Olympia region lately has led me to assess the efficacy of recent “traffic grant” toys installed by the various road departments.
I’m really happy about the Washington State D.O.T. road cams. You can go online and look at the road conditions at about anywhere along the I-5 corridor. I was able to see there was no snow in Tacoma the other day when there was 4 inches in Olympia. So since I had to go to Tacoma, I bulled through to Dupont, then it was clear sailing.
But while I was bulling through, I noticed a couple of things. First, traffic lights need to be set slower when it snows. By the time one skidder gets traction and gets going, the guy behind him has to hurry too much to make the light.
Which led me inexorably to my second first hand observation: Traffic islands suck. I suppose they don’t suck when they save people but they sucked for me personally when one of my first cornering attempts went out of control. I slid around a right turn and ended up straddling the narrow curb-thick traffic island meant to delineate the left turn lane of the street I was turning into.
I couldn’t back up so I straddled it for a hundred feet hoping like heck I wasn’t ripping something out of my undercarriage.
Speaking of under. Those pedestrian lights they embed in the pavement like a YouTube video? Cants see ‘em under four inches of snow.
And you know those stanchions that the pedestrians have to walk between to set off the lighted pavement crosswalk? The electric eyes in them are too sensitive. One where I live also flashes an upright sign. And the falling snow kept interrupting the beam of the electric eye and setting the damn thing off like a strobe.
It was so distracting I didn’t pace myself into the last of our recent great traffic improvements—the roundabout.
Or as I like to call it, the skating rink.
I’ll never see the expression “why don’t you take this baby for a spin?” quite the same again...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

#919 Land Parts

Lately it seems like all the local news stories are like a 3rd grade class on basic geography. Here in the great northwest we have it all. Like mountains, some of them volcanoes, some of which have craters and domes. And lakes, rivers, and most importantly, the Puget Sound.
“What is a sound?” visitors ask me.
“What have you heard?” I ask innocently.
Eventually I reel off the dictionary definition: a] a long broad inlet of the ocean generally parallel to the coast, or b] a long passage of water connecting two larger bodies (as a sea with the ocean) or separating a mainland and an island.
It’s also the air bladder of a fish.
Lately, we’ve heard about a couple of more exotic land parts in our local news—the Estuary and the Isthmus. The estuary stories are about reconverting Capitol Lake to its original riverine status. Way back when, before south sound sewers and such, we used to let everything run down and out the chutes of the Deschutes River and wash into the sound.
The tidal ebb and flow brought lots of interesting smells to the noses of the legislators up on the hill and the lovely reflection of the capitol dome we now have was a sodden, fetid, mud flat. The shifting patterns of the river’s outflow braided the mud pools bubbling with cholera, typhus, and lazily swimming brown trout.
An estuary.
The estuary flowed past that other piece of geography we’ve been hearing misnamed a lot. The isthmus. Because as one local dignitary pointed out, nothing can flow through an isthmus. An isthmus is by definition an unbroken narrow stretch of land that connects two larger landmasses.
When the river and the tide flowed, that area in Olympia was a peninsula.
And it still is, as only a mechanical lock inhibits the flow.
I think some folks just like to challenge us radio people with the word isthmus. You can’t seem to say it without affecting a lisp.
The trick is to leave out the TH sound altogether. So if you spell it phonetically you could say, quite seasonably, that it’s beginning to look a lot like is-mus.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

#918 Taint So Pure

The other day I was joking to a friend that they’ve finally solved the product problems they’ve been having in China. They’re now glazing their toys with melamine and thickening their milk with lead.
Okay, not so funny, but then I read this headline in a science magazine. “FDA tackles tainted drugs from China”
What? Drugs from China?
I read it fully expecting to see some expose about pesticides affecting the opium crop or something. Nope.
We import all sorts of pharmaceuticals from China.
That’s right. Drugs to fight illness and stuff. And the FDA is having to fight with the Chinese government so they’ll allow us to inspect their drug making facilities.
Incredible. I mean, the FDA in this country puts drug companies through such a vigorous colon-twisting it leaves them uncertain which orifice to poop out of. But we let un-inspected drugs in from China? Drugs we swallow and stuff?
And we can’t just say, “let us inspect them or we won’t buy them”? You can bet American drug factories are inspected at least as often as Armour meat-packing facilities.
And really, does it do any good to put the major drug developers through 10 years of clinical trials to determine if incremental doses will cause the ever popular bloating and diarrhea, if we then turn around and let people ingest a jolt of poison from a foreign factory?
Hey, I’m all for globalization. I like foreign cars. I love a plump summer squash from Chile in the middle of the winter. I’ll even go so far as to say I enjoy an occasional French fry.
But pharmaceuticals from a land so lacking in oversight that they allowed melamine to be added to their own baby formula?
So my next question, can you clearly see “Made in China” on your prescription label? Or only on the pharmacist’s giant jar?
Good news, though. Between 2002 and 2007 the FDA inspected 80 drug plants in China. Bad news. There are 714.
That we know of.
Who knows if some back yard apothecary isn’t cooking up a batch of Viagra next to where he’s melting down computer motherboards.
Lead in your pencil anyone?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

#917 Body Condo

There used to be this notion that the human body was kind of like a house. It was occupied by the brain and various other organs but they were all connected with the unique DNA of their family. A lovely American nuclear family metaphor.
Well it turns out the body is more like an apartment house, or maybe a group of condos. Everyone co-exists under the same architecture. To some extent we have to pay attention to the CCRs and Head of the Condo association or the Apartment manager. But we’re not all members of the same family.
That’s evident when you look in our gut. All sorts of species swim around down there. Most of them bacterial to be sure, but lots of our body processes take part on that cellular level. So, down in the laundry room it’s hard to tell the workers and condo residents from the guys who came in off the street to use the coin-op.
E-coli, fungus and yeast thrive in the warm moistness of our body condo. Even mitochondria, those little workhorses that do so much inside every cell, have distinct DNA lineages from the rest of the cell. Kind of like loyal family retainers or perhaps domestic pets.
Fetch my slippers, Mitochondria.
A recent transplant success lends credence to the theory we are sometimes a whole dwelling and sometimes a sum of our apartments.
Usually when you get a transplanted organ you have to take a whole array of immunosuppressive drugs or your body will send all its killer T-cells after the invading tissue. But in a recent transplant, the recipient also got a bone marrow transplant from the same donor. And the immune response was avoided.
So by having new bone marrow, new T-cells were made and added to the condo body’s security force. These T-cells could speak the same language as the new immigrant kidney in apartment 2-P. They could also speak the same language as the rest of the residents, and everybody just found a way to get along for the common good.
Peace and harmony and micro-cellular condo parties.
Tell the Super we need more beer fermented by the brothers of the yeast in our gut.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#916 Urine Trouble

Sometimes modern medicine doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going. Or whether you are. Because apparently, in their pursuit of the perfect colon, they are killing our kidneys.
Here’s the story. The FDA has announced it is going to require “black box” warnings on certain bowel cleansers prescribed by doctors for use by people preparatory to a colonoscopy. It turns out that in some cases, people who have used these bowel cleaners have suffered acute phosphate nephropathy.
Which is a fancy way of saying it damages your kidneys.
The bowel cleansers are known as oral sodium phosphate products or OSPs.
Urinary dysfunction expert, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said though the injuries were rare, "In some cases, these serious adverse events occurred in patients with no pre-existing health factors that would have put them at risk for developing kidney injury."
We cannot rule out, however, that some of these patients were dehydrated prior to ingestion of OSP products or they did not drink sufficient fluids after ingesting OSP products." Woodcock said in a statement.
So they’re hedging their bets. User error could have been a factor. Things are bad when you screw up a laxative. A whole new definition of pathetic. In this case, nephropathetic.
The FDA is saying that none of these products is bad when used in the lower laxative dose. The over-the-counter one I myself was instructed to use in my colonoscopy adventure, Fleet—which I still think is a good name for a fast acting laxative—was only a risk when used in the heightened dose used for bowel cleansing.
Bowel Cleansing. Sounds so gentle.
It’s not.
Bowel Explosion is more like it.
So it’s nice to know while I’m getting my bowel squeaky clean to save the Doc any unsettling close-ups of fecal matter, my kidneys are being destroyed.
“Well, Mr. Farmer, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is you’ll have to come in for dialysis twice a week.
“The good new is, no polyps. Your bowel is as clean as a sausage casing.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#915 Nuts to You

So science has proved it indisputably. There is nothing as beneficial as a handful of nuts. A handful of nuts can promote dietary health. A handful of nuts can ease metabolic syndrome.
And ultimately, a handful of nuts can make you feel good.
Who would have thought that the answer to a dieter’s dilemma is to reach out and grab a handful of nuts?
Here are the facts. A Spanish group did a study to determine whether the anecdotally reported effects of the Mediterranean diet could be improved. The Mediterranean diet consists of lots of cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, moderate consumption of fish and alcohol, and a low intake of dairy, meats, and sweets.
Dairy, meats, and sweets is the, um, American diet.
The Mediterranean diet all by itself lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a broad description for a group of health problems that includes abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high glucose—the quadruple whammy that leads to a quadruple bypass.
The study started with the Mediterranean diet and then enhanced use of different things by three groups. One was put on a low fat diet. One was given an extra liter of olive oil a week. And the other was encouraged to add 30 grams per day of mixed nuts to their diet.
No group lost weight. The olive oil group did better than the low fat Bluto diet, but the group that fared best was of the ones who really ended up loving their nuts. Because after one year the prevalence of metabolic syndrome dropped by 13.7 percent in the nutty group.
I’m inclined to believe the study, although Spain is one of the world’s largest exporters of nuts.
But 30 grams of nuts a day? That’s almost 11,000 grams a year. That’s some serious nut-grabbing. It’s like 11 of those giant nut jugs from Costco.
But hey, what a great Christmas idea. Give the gift of health to the ones you love. A big nut basket!
They’ll know you love them, because each and every day for the whole new year they can enjoy a handful of nuts.
America, ya gotta love it.

#914 TV Downer

A recent study concluded that the unhappier you are the more TV you’re likely to watch. That’s too bad. But true, because the more TV I watch the unhappier I get.
The study showed that people surveyed who view themselves as happy only watch 19 hours of TV a week while those who said they are unhappy watched 25 hours a week.
The other 6 hours must be the nightly news.
Does the extra 6 hours cause the depression? Or do people think that 6 extra hours helps them combat depression, loneliness, melancholy and isolation? Like, maybe 6 extra hours of Barney and Sponge Bob could help?
Maybe it’s the extra hours eating junk food in front of the tube and then getting depressed over putting on the extra pounds.
I can only conclude that the mild malaise I feel every day must be super happiness, as I watch TV a grand total of 8 hours a week.
But as we head into the economic depression, psychological depression becomes ever more important. Some thinkers predict this depression will be hard to see. All those iconic pictures we remember from the Great Depression of the 30s won’t happen. There won’t be crowds at ball games like the last depression because ball games cost too much these days. There won’t be long lines at soup kitchens because you can use food stamps at the ordinary supermarket. And other things they didn’t have in the 30s, like unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare will help.
But what will most likely still happen is people will find ways to eat cheaper and be entertained for less. The dollar menu at fast food places will be getting a thorough going over. And the cheapest entertainment will be the TV.
So the pictures of this economic depression will feature cellphone snapshots of people sitting in front of the TV eating junkfood. Getting more psychological depression as their watching time heads over the 26-hour mark.
Funny. I have pictures in my head of this exact thing. But it’s from sitcoms of 20 somethings going through their useless years.
Fast food, TV, sitting around doing nothing.
Is this a depression or NFL Sunday?
America, ya gotta love it.

#913 Only the Hits

They say that language says a lot about a culture, and can even influence that culture. I think our language predisposes us to violence.
I had this idea the other day when I was watching an ATM line grow. By the time people would finally arrive at the machine, they were so agitated they would be hitting the buttons. I remembered the old admonition of some computers to “strike key when ready.” They were ready to strike it all right.
I thought how many people would be relieved if I went along the line with a WiFi ATM scanner and sold them cash for a 10 percent premium. Scalping cash, I thought. What a concept.
And then I reflected on the whole notion of providing something for an exaggerated price being called scalping. A pretty vivid and gory image for a pocketbook transaction. And violent. To equate paying a little extra with having the top flap of skin on your head brutally sliced and ripped off seems a little extreme.
Ripped off. There’s another one. You’re not just wronged in a transaction. You’re ripped off.
Money’s bad enough. It’s worse when we talk about love. How about when you flirt with someone? You’re “hitting” on them. Why is attempting to make love to someone described as a violent act? He said she was hitting on him. Is hitting on a person a more negative version of flirting with someone?
I’ve heard it used so. But I’ve heard it used by Generation Text as a giggly fun sort of thing too. Still, the description remains one that conjures up violence.
Maybe you’re only hitting on someone if you run into them at a club.
And when that relationship that began with someone hitting on someone doesn’t take hold what do we say then? We say they didn’t hit it off. “Yeah, she was hitting on him but they didn’t hit it off.”
Perhaps it was because they didn’t like the same music. She was into indie rock and he liked only the hits.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

#912 Towed Whet

I’m sure there’s a discussion on this online somewhere. There are no new ideas under the sun. It’s remarkable what a versatile and confusing language we have.
Like the phrase “w(h)et your appetite.”
Because my brain doesn’t go out of its way to complexify things, I always thought the wet in w(h)et your appetite was spelled w-e-t. I figured it was like wet your whistle. You can’t whistle if your mouth is dry, so preparatory to emitting a toot, one licks one’s lips.
Thereby wetting one’s whistle.
Recently I saw it spelled w-h-e-t, as in sharpen. And that made a lot more sense appetite-wise. Of course you whet your appetite with a wine. It’s not that the wine is wet, it’s that the wine helps sharpen your taste.
My bad. Dull thinking. I need to whet my brain.
But recently I saw someone spell the phrase “to(w)ed the line” t-o-w-e-d- and not t-o-e-d. It seems to change the meaning completely.
I had first heard it used in what I assumed to be a description of a person following the rules. Make sure you toe the line or we’ll discipline you. Toe the line would be like keeping your toe on the starting line in a race. Toe the mark as it were. Stay within established boundaries and rules.
Maybe I took it from my kindergarten days when I was warned to color within the lines.
But this writer used the phrase differently, and used the base word t-o-w-, as in pull. It was in the context of every one pulling together. We’re aren’t going to make it if we don’t all tow the line. Now instead of a piece of advice about being a rule-following conformist it was an admonition to be a part of a team.
It could certainly be confusing to a foreigner trying to learn our language. Because broadly, they both mean to work together for the common good. Following the rules of society helps us all work together and working together helps ease the frictions in society that lead to rule-breaking and conflict.
So I guess it doesn’t matter how you spell it. Either way it’s a great feat.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

#911, WWW Ohio

Years back, when I was a wee lad, my parents would often pull my leg. I don’t think they had any sicker a sense of humor than anyone else, there is just something unfortunately gratifying about pulling the wool over the eyes of the innocent and trusting.
Witness Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.
In any event, my parents told me a story about how my mother hadn’t actually been born in the United States. “Wait a minute,” I had replied, for at four I knew where she was from, “she was born in Ohio.”
“But it wasn’t a state then,” they replied and went off smirking to each other.
A few years later, we revisited the subject after I had missed an important question on a school test about Ohio being the 17th state. I had been confident Ohio couldn’t be the 17th as Louisiana was the 18th and it was admitted in 1812.
After all, my parents were my parents; they had to be smarter than dumb old teachers.
My parents explained that the teachers were indeed dumb in this instance, as a paperwork snafu of some sort had rendered Ohio’s earlier claim to statehood invalid and it was retroactively made a state in 1953, thereby making my mother, who was born in the “territory” of Ohio in 1930, a non-native born American.
Or at least on par with someone from Puerto Rico or Guam.
My teacher remained unconvinced and I suffered the blight on my grade and “permanent record.”
And this is why I thank Google and the World Wide Web. Some 50 years later I am finally able to put this conflict to rest. I Googled in “Ohio Statehood mistake” and there it was.
My parents were right—sort of. A bill to retroactively admit Ohio was introduced to Congress in 1953. One interpretation of the protocol surrounding Ohio’s first admission to statehood did cast doubt on it. Other saw it as no problem. And since various presidents—required by the constitution to be born in the United States—were in fact born in Ohio between 1803 and 1953, the tendency was to let sleeping dogs lie.
And now, thanks to Google, so can I.
After I email the link to that teacher.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

#910 Cupness

The first question my first philosophy professor (a cool guy named Kevin O'Neil) ever asked was, “What is a cup?” He was talking about Platonic ideal forms, the way we seem to know what a cup is whether it’s a mug full of coffee or a small plastic glass full of juice or a weighted tippy-sippy container for a toddler.
He called the ideal, “cupness.”
Somehow we perceive “cupness” in all those various permutations. Plato postulated that sense of “cupness” came from perceiving in our subconscious an ideal world beyond our own, which contained perfect forms of all we come to know here on earth. Sort of.
It’s lucky Plato didn’t have to deal with the whims of today’s marketers. Because cups are more varied than ever. I was reading an ad the other day for a machine called the Keurig Personal Brewer. Sounds German and therefore well designed.
Keurig, Krupp, Touareg, Braun, farfegnugen.
In any event, this machine purports to make ideal “perfect” cups—of coffee. It does so in individual amounts. So if you’re having a coffee klatch, allow enough time for everyone’s coffee to be brewed. And keep ‘em rotating because each cup it brews is only 8 ounces.
Which is the ideal measuring cup cup. But try putting that amount in the big handled mug cups I use for coffee and 8 ounces looks pretty paltry. My morning mug of coffee actually measures out to 11 ounces. Nearly a cup and a half. But I still call it my morning cup of coffee.
You might say my ideal morning cup of coffee.
I’d have to use 2 Keurigs a morning. My Folgers coffee can is different. It promises 332 cups brewed from its can. But they are 6 ounce cups. So that means I get 166 of my mugs.
The Keurig individual “perfect” cups cost 30 dollars for sixty of them. That’s only 50 cents apiece, but with Folgers costing 10 dollars for 166 cups or 6 cents a piece, I get a lot more buzz for the buck.
6 versus 50.
I guess we can finally answer that other ancient philosophical question.
What price perfection?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#909 Techno-fogie

Some things change, some things stay the same. And the thing that seems to stay the same is human nature. You can put lipstick on a pig but you can’t cast pearls before it, or something like that.
We complain about the cellphone these days and it’s misdirected. Cellphones aren’t rude to people, people are rude to people.
I envision some person in the old west driving his wagon in the wagon train and annoying the holy hell out of the person behind him. Getting stuck in sand and holding up the train because he was talking to his wife in the back of the wagon on two empty cans and a string and failing to see what’s ahead of him on the road.
Flash forward a century and a half and that guy’s descendent is chatting merrily on her cellphone while she cuts you off in the fast lane.
I know I sound like a crotchety old techno-fogie but sometimes I think technological improvements just make it easier for us to be nasty to each other.
Junkmail stuffed mailboxes led to a spam-choked inmail boxes. And aside from the occasional anthrax terrorist, we never had to worry about getting a virus from opening regular snail-mail.
And I never had to worry about a company screwing me by making me buy something only to lose it if I didn’t use it. I could buy food in the amount I needed. I could buy power and gas as I used them. I didn’t buy a block of power and then lose what I don’t use at the end of a month.
That’s why I bought rollover minutes on my cellphone. I couldn’t bear the notion of buying minutes I’d never use. But now I have a huge backlog of rollover minutes. And they’re starting to expire.
So how about a way to sell your minutes on ebay? They’re working on a carbon credits system for carbon users and abusers. How about a “minute” credit system?
I could sell my unused rollovers to the highest bidder who’s really desperate for them, like that lipsticked roadhog holding up traffic.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

#908 Consumer Consequence

Well the word is in. We’re in a recession. Some important economic council has weighed all the indicators, surveyed all the indices and consulted all the crystal balls. And they all agree. The US economy is in a recession.
And it’s been going on since last January.
Well I’m glad we have this timely report. I’ll surely rush out and adjust my portfolio to accommodate the shifted economic horizon.
I’m glad after a year they finally decided to call it. “Housing bubble burst” and “credit freeze” and “economy cratering” were all getting so cumbersome to say. “Recession” is a so much cleaner and yes, economical word.
Only one problem: the engine that supposedly drives this vehicle we call the economy hasn’t been told. I’m talking about consumer confidence. Or in this case consumer unconsciousness. It doesn’t seem to be paying a whole heck of lot of attention to its shrinking 401ks and such.
Because people keep spending. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday as it’s often known—I think because of the color of commuters’ automobile exhaust as they idle their cars to keep warm outside of malls at 4 a.m.—was a huge success. Spending was up 3 percent from last year.
And, get this, last year was the top of the economy before it slid into recession, according to the learned council I mentioned earlier. December 2007 was the peak of the peak.
And consumers just spent 3% more than the peak of the peak.
Not only that. On Halloween, presumably in the valley of the valley, consumers still managed to spend 6 billion dollars on candy, costumes and decorations. All Hallow’s Eve was not the day of the dead economy.
So, I’m just saying, it seems to me the consequence of all this consumer confidence is that the consumers are ready and willing to do their part to juice the economy.
And the Wall Street who, as one wag put it, has predicted 50 of the last 10 recessions, needs to pull its head out and get speculating again.
Because there’s one sure thing you can bet on: The American consumer loves to spend.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

#907 Marshchokers

So I’m making fudge the other day, it’s that season again, and I couldn’t help being drawn to the ingredients listed on the marshmallow package.
There were a lot of them.
You’d think that, you know, they’re more or less puffed sugar, but that’s too simple for even the simplest of foods. So marshmallows also incorporate the dubious enhancement of “tetrasodium pyrophosphate as, so the package says, a “whipping aid.”
Well. That’s what always goes wrong with my meringue. I need to add a little tetrasodium pyrophosphate.
It’s a little scary though. “Pyro” means fire if I’m not mistaken. And phosphorous is that glow-in-the-dark stuff. Is this why you can be roasting a marshmallow, all perfect and light brown, and in the blink of an eye, it bursts into flame?
Like I said, scary. Scarier still is the red-bordered box next to the ingredients list on the package. It says, “Choking Warning.”
Now choking’s no joke but still, doesn't every food fit broadly under the category of choking hazard? I’d hate to see our litigious society eventually force us to label all food suchly.
The choking warning goes on to say, “Eat one at a time.” Oh yeah. Apparently stuffing your mouth with marshmallows can lead to choking. But really, the same can be said for raw broccoli florets.
Then they go on to recommend that the marshmallows be cut into bite size pieces for children under six. Those are going to be tough to stick on a stick come s’more time.
They also recommended behavioral parenting tips, with the admonition, “children should be seated and supervised while eating.” Because you know, children running around the house with mouths stuffed full of non-bite-sized marshmallows could choke.
I expect we’ll see a warning label on scissors soon. “Do not run with.”
And every scout leader will need a pack of stickers for the next time the troop makes s’mores around the campfire—warning stickers to be attached to the sticks you use to roast marshmallows.
They’ll read, “Caution: do not stick stick on or near face. You could poke your eye out.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

#906 Citi-bloop

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay about a new bill the bankcard company lobbyists pushed through congress. It limited bankruptcy protection for ordinary Joe-the-borrowers so they couldn’t default on their credit card bills.
It was still okay under the provisions of the bankruptcy bill for big companies to declare bankruptcy and pay their outstanding debts at pennies on the dollar. It was just the little guy who couldn’t enjoy the same loophole.
And loopholes form the afghan on which the map of our country is crocheted.
At the time, I pointed out that it was odd to offer legal protection to the bankcard companies, as they were at least complicit in the problem. By offering to skip payments and also keep the payments on bankcards artificially low, they were making it too easy for people to take on too much debt.
And not a day goes by that we don’t hear of a bankcard being offered and actually issued to dogs, children, and the occasional whacko in a loony bin.
Well old Joe Schmoe, who couldn’t get off the hook because he couldn’t declare bankruptcy on his credit card debt, he’s about to have another hook set in his pocketbook. Because Citigroup, one of the largest bankcard issuing companies in the world, just got bailed out by the federal government. Their bad debt is going to be guaranteed by none other than you and me, whether we have good credit or not. Our taxes, and more importantly, our children’s taxes are going to hedge Citigroup’s losses and their bad management.
Because you know, big companies can’t be allowed to fail. It’s not like they’re the only mom and pop store in a small town who got in over their head extending credit to the out of work neighbors that shopped there. And they had to over-borrow on their bankcard to pay their bills.
These people don’t deserve to declare bankruptcy, and they sure shouldn’t stand in line waiting for a federal bailout.
But little guys like them and us that Citigroup wasn’t afraid to cornhole 2 years ago? We’re going to bail out Citigroup today.
At least they could have kissed us first.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

#905 Contrasts

The other day I was reading The Week magazine and I came across three articles that made me shake my head at the variety of human endeavor. A study in human contrasts.
Kind of like how identical dog DNA can produce a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard.
The first article was on the folks over in Iran. Apparently one of their ministers was caught lying. He had overstated his education by saying he had received a doctorate degree from Oxford University. Perhaps the degree was in “advanced resume enhancement.”
In any event, the Iran parliament impeached him and fired him from his job.
If you think that’s harsh for a little fibbing, consider this. At about the same time across the ocean, in Columbia, 27 army officers and soldiers were also fired.
All they did was kill civilians.
Yep. Apparently, they randomly killed poor folks in order to pump up body count reports. Said they were guerillas when in fact they were just unlucky poor people.
Sort of an inflating their resume type of thing—but not with bodies of knowledge, with actual bodies of human beings.
So, innocent human beings killed by army officers and all the officers got was the unemployment line. No mention of a trial and prison or other punishment.
I guess because they claimed they were enemies even though they now know they weren’t enemies, their murder doesn’t count as murder.
Poor people get the shaft. If one of them had killed someone and lied about it, he’d lose his job—and his head.
The third story helped put things in perspective. There was a huge ballyhoo about the money spent on the presidential campaign this year. An unprecedented amount to elect the leader of the free world.
Or, judging by the stock market, at least the world that is currently going at a deep discount.
As it turns out, the presidential and congressional campaign expenditures combined came to 5.3 billion. But never fear, our priorities are clear.
We spent a full 6 billion on Halloween candy and decorations.
Halloween, where we defy death by eating food that makes us fat and kills us.
The ultimate study in contrasts.
America, ya gotta love it.

#904 Monet Tree

I learned a new word the other day, or at least paid attention to it for the first time. It’s been gradually seeping in to my consciousness and finally I went, “What? I never heard that word when I was a kid.”
The word is “monetize.” At first, because of how it was spelled, I though it meant painting something with little dabs of paint to make an impression like a picture. But it had nothing to do with Monet.
It means figuring out a way to produce money from something you already have, which is sitting there passively and unproductively not earning anything. They speak of it in the context of monetizing your website or monetizing your blog.
Because, you know, that’s the American way. You can’t just throw ideas out there for people to think about, you have to attach an income-earning component to it.
If you read newspapers online, you may have noticed some subtle changes in the last few years. Articles tend to be short and require you to go to the next page to continue or finish them. Really good articles seem to have a lot of pages. Likewise, you will see serialized articles or just multiple fun facts.
Recently The Olympian printed Cougar and Husky jokes. Each joke had one page for the setup and one page for the punchline. Each joke was printed separately. I nearly got carpal tunnel clicking them all. Each time you clicked on a new page, all the ads on that page counted your click. The electronic newspaper could then legitimately report that customers were exposed to your ad a given number of times.
The point was, they were monetizing their website better by multiplying tiny discreet page impressions to portray a picture of success. The Monet of money.
Tricky. But incredibly annoying to someone who just wanted to read some husky/cougar jokes, which, non-sports guy that I am, I thought were about slightly plump older women on the make.
I just hope we stop there. I hope they don’t find a way to monetize ordinary conversation.
Then again, I heard about someone offering ad-subsidized free texting....
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

#903 PED

Okay I admit it. I’m suffering from PED. P-E-D-.
No, it’s not Pre-Erectile Disorder. PED stands for something more insidious and devastating than an occasional bout of non-performance. I feel drained, limp, unable to face the future. It’s Post Election Depression.
PED is that malaise that settles on people and nations and, most importantly, comedians, following a news-filled and contentious election. There just doesn’t seem to be as much to talk about. Or it doesn’t seem as important. I mean, we were talking about electing the leader of the free world.
Now it’s back to graffiti attacks, missing dogs and a global financial apocalypse.
We don’t even have any gaffes to report. Darn. So I’ll trot out one that never did get reported during the campaign by the mainstream media. Which I found a little disconcerting. Their anti-intellectual bias was showing. I expect that from lowest common denominator Fox news, but the New York Times? This was their plum.
In one of his interviews about the financial crisis early on, it may have even been in the first nearly-suspended debate, John McCain said that Wall Streeters and Bankers had broken the “social contract” that Adam Smith talked about.
Woohoo. John. Look at the invisible hand. Adam Smith never once mentioned a Social Contract in “Wealth of Nations.” The Social Contract was the premier idea of Swiss Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who formulated it to counter the notions of Hobbes.
Not Calvin’s pet tiger Hobbes, but Thomas Hobbes, author of the opus “Leviathan” which talked about civilization and government being a thin skin stretched over the craven surly brutish greedy beast of true humanity.
You know, Wall Street.
Be that as it may, John McCain would be the first to say he was no philosophy student. But it’s still unusual that none of the gotcha media gaffe-grabbers would have pounced on this.
Oh well, the Straight Talk Express was doing some other furious twisting, turning, and generally erratic driving so there was plenty to report.
But you know, sharing that little election tidbit seems to have helped my P.E.D go away a little bit.
My resolve to stand up to the future is somehow firmer.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

#902 Garbanzo

I have a love affair with words. Occasionally I’ll just get off on the sound of them. Sometimes the sounds of them cause me to wander down verbal back alleys. Sometimes a particular word or phrase will suddenly achieve common parlance and its just exciting to say them over and over.
Like recently when the economy cratered and the government started talking about “injecting liquidity” into the market. I just love that term—“injecting liquidity.”
Sounds like someone is mainlining Southern Comfort. Or has a bottle of tequila plugged into his IV. Injecting liquidity also sounds like a process using one of those fancy cooking show food syringes. Chock full of melted butter and jammed into a pork loin.
Another of my favorite new terms is “fleeting expletives.” As in: Henry Paulson used a series of fleeting expletives, as he was frustrated in the process of injecting liquidity into the financial markets.
Fleeting Expletives. Sounds like a flasher of words. Whipping aside his verbal trench coat and giving you a brief glimpse of his naughty parts. Is that a dangling participle or are you just glad to conjugate my verbs?
Or maybe a college grunge band. “Ladies and gentleman, lets hear it for the Fleeting Expletives.”
Words can be powerful, and different words for the same thing can make you want to try them or deny them.
Like chickpeas. If you like peas, you might try them. Or you might think they are a vegetable dish you can only have with fried green tomatoes or steel magnolias. “Yeah, I’m going to watch Sleepless in Seattle on DVD so I’m stocking up on chick peas.”
Contrast that with their other name, Garbanzo Beans. Now all of a sudden they sound like something a person with a red nose and giant shoes might eat. “Hey Kids, here comes your favorite entertainer, Garbanzo the Clown!”
Or perhaps eating the beans gives you a case of the garbanzos. I’d say the f-word that refers to flatulence but I can’t use fleeting expletives on the radio. But you get the picture.
Garbanzo. Sounds like an explosion in your pants.
Injecting gas-idity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

#901 Funnygus

So I was reading this science fiction book not long ago and like most science fiction it had some ideas that were pretty cool. Like on this far-off planet they had used genetic engineering to create or modify trees into fuel trees.
Fuel trees weren’t like ours, where you just burn them, they were composed of enough fuel-making material where they could be rendered into liquid fuel. Which I assume was then burned like gasoline.
They also had trees engineered to make paper leaves to write on directly. Without the expensive pulp and rendering process we use to make paper now. Kind of cool.
I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if nature was more cooperative that way already? And low and behold, the next day I read this article about a fuel-making fungus.
That’s right, there’s this recently discovered fungus that in the process of digesting the stringy plant fiber cellulose, gasses off hydrocarbons. It breathes out vaporous fuel.
Which can then be siphoned off. You could have this stuff growing in factories as they do for baker’s yeast. It eats any cellulose. So it could be fed anything from switch grass to beauty bark. And we’d get oil.
We could actually eat our corn and fuel our cars with the cobs. Goodbye ethanol, hello fun-gas.
Get it? Fun-gas, like fungus...but with gas.
But I’m worried. I read another science fiction novel that speculated on the real fact of the largest organism in our world being a fungus that lives in an Oregon forest. It’s like 2200 acres or something like that.
It posed the question: If a fungus gets big enough, can it be intelligent?
Because, you know, fungi are everywhere. From your toenails to penguin tails. And they seem to grow better in warmer climates.
Now the fungal world is giving us hydrocarbon based fuel.
But if we burn that, don’t we still have to deal with global warming? It’s not drilling for oil that causes climate change, it’s burning it.
So out of the blue appears this wonderful fungus to help us warm the planet...
America, ya gotta love it.

#900 Pickled Facts

Sometimes the juxtaposition of things are jarring. They clash. I used to have a joke in my stand-up act about taste clashes. Like eating a green olive and chasing it with chocolate milk.
I actually saw such a thing on TV the other day. It was for Vlasic Classic Dill Pickles. A crispy pickle that a little girl was biting into had startled a woman at a nearby table. The Vlasic cartoon pickle bird apologized. The camera then showed the little girl with a pickle and a sandwich. What got my tastes buds to jarring was what the girl had next to her dill pickle.
A glass of orange juice.
Yow, I could just feel my tongue clench with piquancy.
As my brain clenches when I see certain facts. Like this statistic I saw the other day. The last part of the election seemed to be a lot about Obama’s tax raising and Joe the Plumber, who, as was promptly determined, would actually save money under the imaginary plan.
But it turns out Joe the Rich Guy, who actually would end up paying, voted 52% for Obama and 46% against. Nearly the same spread as the general electorate.
What gives? People making over $250,000 have higher concerns and priorities than a couple of bucks in taxes? More likely, it was just because they followed their beliefs first and let that trump any facts that may have jarred with it.
Like the other statistic I read. A recent poll indicated that 37% of Americans still believe Iraq was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction” when we invaded in 2003.
Donald Rumsfeld must be proud. Talk about persistence of delusion. But, you know, belief is a hard nut to crack. It’s like self-hypnotism. It’s powerful. I’ve seen hypnotized people eat a dill pickle and chase it with orange juice.
Me, I just believe that Obama is as humble as he says. The other day I heard he was getting ready to move into the White House and in the process of assembling his cabinet. And I thought, Wow, assembling his cabinet.
Our new president’s so humble, he even shops at IKEA....
America, ya gotta love it.

#899 Center? Right

I was reading an article by Karl Rove. He was offering encouragement to his fellow Republicans and warnings to the incoming administration. He joined the chorus of right wing commentators to tell Obama to remember that he was governing a “center-right” nation and should act accordingly.
It’s always nice when the losers give advice to the winner that just trounced them. I see it in sports all the time. They always interview the losing coach for advice on how the winning coach should conduct his next game.
I’m not sure where they get off calling the USA a center-right country. Seems to me they just spent the last 8 months calling Obama every leftwing pejorative in the book. More liberal than Ted Kennedy, they said at one point. They even spent the end game calling him a socialist over and over and over.
And yet the American people overwhelming said, “Well, you know, judging by the economy and who’s been in charge of it for the better part of last decade, we’ll take the guy that’s left.”
Rove said in the article not to despair, as Obama only got 3.1 points more than Gore in 2000 and 4.6 points more than Kerry in 2004. Gore had over 50% of the popular vote in 2000 so he kind of bent that a little—as Obama got 53% of the popular vote this year.
So it seems like more than center left to me.
The electoral spread is even more telling. Bush beat Gore by 271 to 266, a spread of 5 electoral votes. He beat Kerry 278 to 260, a spread of 18. Obama beat McCain 365 to 162.
A left leaning spread of 203.
If math is any indication, the country’s not just leaning left, it’s falling over.
Maybe voters don’t care what they are. 33% coming out of the polling places said they were conservative, compared to 22% who said they were liberal. So I guess it wasn’t about ideology. Maybe they just felt betrayed by “don’t tax and spend anyway” and “fox in charge of the henhouse” economics.
As a fiscal conservative myself, I can tell you, that’s no way to run a winning football team. America, ya gotta love it.