Tuesday, March 31, 2009

#978 The Ten Regulations

I was thinking the other day about human nature. And how we really seem to respond to the simplest strategies. Take regulations. Do we need them? Judging by some things I’ve seen recently, apparently so.
Will people respect them if they’re not enforced? Apparently not.
Back when society was forming, and the need was determined for some way to keep people from messing with each other, they came up with the original regulations. You may recall a little policy manual called the Ten Commandments.
It appears they were too complicated, so people continued using the one anti-regulation—“It’s not a crime until you get caught.” Also stated as, “Do what you can get away with.”
There’s an establishment downtown that has been working hard to accommodate their smokers while sort of following the “no smoking indoors” rules.
They did it by redefining indoors. They built an outdoor covered patio. And they put up side walls to block the wind. The roof is retractable, although I’ve never seen it retracted. And, key point here, the walls have a foot and a half of open space up in the transom triangle created by the sloping roof and the horizontal wall. Inside, the place is heated by outdoor propane heaters. So smokers can drink beer and smoke and stay warm.
It’s sort of within the law. It’s an interesting legal point determining when a semi-enclosed outdoor space becomes the inside of a building. Is it still outdoors if there’s a three-foot square space left in the wall? If so, can I save all that trouble and make it “outdoors” by simply breaking out a window?
I would add another regulation to the entrepreneur who thinks he’s getting away with something. A natural regulation of chemistry.
Carbon monoxide kills.
If you enclose space too much, carbon monoxide from outdoor propane heaters lingers. Forget about secondhand smoke causing cancer 20 years from now. You’ll have patrons keeling over and litigation today.
So maybe there’s another rule you should consider.
Share air with others as you would have them share air with you.
It may not be a golden rule but it’s bound to save you some lawsuit money.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

#977 Sidewalk Butting

So I was walking downtown the other day and I had to suddenly scrinch and dodge and nearly butt into another bunch of pedestrians. I hadn’t been paying attention and I wondered what was the cause of this abrupt constriction of traffic flow.
Then I saw it. A coffee shop/bar/restaurant had erected permanent poles and crossbars and cordoned off an area of the sidewalk in front of its establishment.
The sidewalk, normally about six to eight feet wide, was now half that. It was a perfect example of one person’s selfish interest inhibiting the interests of the other downtown merchants. It’s like the guy decided to park a big delivery truck outside his store and take up one lane of the street, but worse, he parked it there permanently.
What an effective shortsighted way to discourage downtown shopping. This, the same downtown that has worked hard to remove sitting idlers from lounging against walls and sticking their feet out into pedestrian flow.
So tell me, do the downtown merchants own the sidewalk in front of their stores? Is 4 feet of every frontage theirs to do with as they like, erecting permanent sunk-in-the-concrete poles and pylons, placing chairs and tables around, effectively increasing their square footage and seating capacity without increasing their rent?
Can they now place inflammable, combustible, and explosive propane heaters in that same space, belching carbon monoxide to the respiratory sensitive? Or can they openly defy the 25-foot rule and corral in all their personal smokers? Providing them a cloudy haven so they don’t wander down the street with their butts and their business. And what’s with the open containers of beer any other person on the un-cordoned sidewalk would be cited for?
The establishment itself pays the price of course. What potential non-smoker customer wants to run the gauntlet of hackers as he is forced to elbow his way to the entrance, fending off a noxious cloud of secondhand lung exhaust and butt squeezings?
Did I mention they inconvenienced me in my peaceful stroll down the sidewalk?
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

#976 Clash Clown

I was thinking recently about the Republican Party and what they need to do to get back in power. They are suffering the lowest approval rating with potential voters in decades. Part of it is the economy and the public’s general sense that it was the Republicans that got us into this mess.
Part of it is the current Republicans in congress offering the same old solution or lack thereof—“Cut Taxes and Let the Market Forces Work” is a mantra most of the voting public thinks is tired and old.
How do they put it? A stopped clock is right twice a day.
But it also doesn’t help when the public face of the party is an individual who has made most of his money by encouraging the fearful or hateful side of human nature.
My mom always taught me if you don’t have something nice to say about a person, don’t say anything at all. So I find it distasteful when I hear hatemongering.
The Conservative Political Action Committee recently held a convention. Lots of people spoke. Now CPAC is not the Republican Party, much as they’d like to be. But they wield a block of potential votes so Republican candidates want to be noticed by them. Mitt Romney appeared, whom, Republican voters, if you remember, roundly rejected. His opening statement was, “I have to hurry through this speech before I get arrested by the federal government for practicing capitalism.”
Funny. But really, was the current financial collapse brought about by too many arrests? Bernie Madoff turned himself in.
The other big speaker at the convention was the aforementioned hatemonger. He has 13 million listeners and so is much regarded by the shortsighted. By way of comparison, it took 66 million votes to win the last election.
The guy is an entertainer first. He makes his living making incendiary comments and dramatizing clashes of culture.
But, um, it’s hard to admire a fire juggler in a paper house.
The Republican Party is filled with good and decent people, and for it to grow, it needs to reach out to even more.
The clash clown’s got a long way to go to get to 66 million.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

#975 Slow Food Thinking

I was watching 60 Minutes the other night. They had this story about a lady who is at the head of the “slow food” movement. They advocate spending more time preparing your food, using organic ingredients and shopping from local farms to get the freshest possible flavor.
The 60 Minutes commentator told the slow movement lady that she had been labeled as elitist. “But,” the slow food lady replied, “I think everyone should eat organic.”
And I’m sorry, but the tone was not unlike a certain French culinary commentator suggesting the masses eat cake.
Still, I agree with a lot the lady said. Organic is better. Who knows what residues of what chemicals are causing cancers and other health problems? The government can’t even control peanuts, what’s the pesticide lobby slipping thorough?
And I have long been an advocate of taking the time to cook your meals at home rather than going out to restaurants. Where coincidentally, the service is often so poor, the food is slow and I might as well be cooking at home.
Part of my home cooking ethos is motivated by cheapness, and the other part is motivated by the theory that the more time you spend cooking and cleaning up, the more calories you burn off from the meal you are about to eat.
But this lady took it too far. She wouldn’t have a microwave, she said rather haughtily, and then proceeded to roast an egg over a open wood fire oven she had in her kitchen.
Excuse me, wood fire?
So how many of those could the average city support before we were all keeling over from air pollution?
Microwaves may use power, and that power may come from a coal burning plant. But at least the coal plant has some emission standards. An open wood fire belches all kinds of greenhouse gases and particulates into the atmosphere. That’s why we have burn bans.
Not too mention leveling all those forests.
So lady, find another way to roast your egg. In trying to get us to think about slow food, you’re the one that’s done some slow thinking.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#974 Dancing with the Hairs

Sometimes you wonder, what were they thinking? I heard the other day that ditched contestant, Melissa Rycroft, from the show “The Batchelor”, is going over to “Dancing with the Stars” for the remainder of the season. Apparently, she’s replacing Access Hollywood host Nancy O’Dell, who dropped out because of a knee injury.
So what’s the deal here? Do they have a limited pool of “real” people to use on reality TV? Is Melissa, who started as a real person, now enough of a celebrity as a result of her Batchelor fame to qualify as a celebrity replacement—as a star—now dancing with real people on the dance show? I’m confused.
Oh well. I guess she’s signed all the releases already so they saved on lawyers. Times are tough. Even cheap reality TV needs a way to get cheaper.
The other day I was looking through a list of businesses and I stumbled across one that got me into my “what were they thinking?” mode again. Apparently, it’s a styling salon. They’re known for their cutesy hair-oriented names.
This one is called “Little Shop of Hairs.”
I know they’re probably trying to come up with a clever sound-alike to “Little Shop of Horrors” but really. Do we want to conjure up the image of a horror movie when we talk about our styling salon?
This was a movie where a giant plant ate people. When I go to this shop, should I steer clear of the dieffenbachia in the waiting area? Maybe cringe away from the monkey plant hanging over the used magazine table?
And the name itself. Hairs. There is a huge qualitative difference between the word “hair” and the word “hairs.”
Hair is luxurious. Hairs are icky.
Hair is on your head. Hairs are in the sink.
Hair is a shiny mane. Hairs are things that sprout individually in unwanted places.
Hairs are ingrown. Hairs are candidates for electrolysis. Errant hairs are the legacy of a bad haircut. They slip under your collar and itch down your back and mingle with your back hairs.
Hairs give you the horrors.
What were they thinking?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

#973 Old Fortune

I was listening to the radio the other day and a commercial came on for an insurance company that’s recruiting. The announcer was extolling the virtues of the company and he said, by way of offering proof, that it was a Fortune 300 company.
And I thought, Fortune 300?
Is that all that’s left? This economy has really taken a toll—200 gone from the Fortune 500. Everybody’s either cut back or cutting down. What’s next? A Depressionized and green version of auto racing, the Indy 300?
Unemployment’s tough too. Ever wonder where all the bunnies went when they closed down the Playboy Clubs? International House of Pancakes. That’s why they changed the name to IHOP. Now though, they’ve hired so many low income seniors, they’re thinking of changing the name to I Shuffle.
I got a coupon from IHOP in the mail. There’s a place that has age discrimination down to a science. One Tuesday and Thursday nights kids eat free. On Monday and Wednesday nights Seniors buy one get one free. It’s actually the same deal as the kids because one kid gets one free meal for every adult meal purchase. It’s a great deal for seniors and kids and, by inviting them on separate nights, a great way to keep the two from annoying each other.
But the age that’s discriminated against is the sandwich generation. Us folks that are diapering our kids on one end and “depending” our folks on the other. We’re the ones that need a break on a meal.
Seen our 401-K’s recently? Stocks suck. I recently had this flash back to 8 years ago when there was this big movement to privatize Social Security. Sometimes I’m glad when government can’t decide to do something and moves so slow.
Who’d have thought the stock market would be in worse shape than the Social Security fund? Of course, Social Security pretty much works because we’re paying the IHoppers money that we’re taking in from us younger new workers. What do they call that?
Oh yeah, a Ponzi scheme.
I know he advised congress and the SEC, was Bernie Madoff giving the Social Security Administration advice too?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

#972 Phone Home

Years ago, when the big earthquake hit the Olympia area, I worked at a store downtown. We were a little technology challenged. Or so all the young folks in the stores around us thought. We had an old-fashioned landline phone. The kind that plugs into the wall and where the handset stays wired to the base unit.
All our neighbors had cell phones and wireless phones sending tiny radio waves to base stations, which were plugged into—the power grid. Guess which phone still worked when the power went out.
Flash forward. My visiting son shows me his new phone. It not only remembers numbers, it’s got all kinds of personal data, saved directions to places, and numerous applications, each with their own memories of stuff. He decides to play his old drum set down in the basement. In the process of vigorously ripping off a multi-drum blaze of stick flinging, he accidentally smacks his front pants pocket with one of the drumsticks.
A personal 8-point Richter earthquake for the phone nestled therein. All his memories are lost. And many of his phone numbers that he didn’t save to his sim card. Because the phone has two memory storage places. The basic sim card and the larger memory card that stores everything else. The phone is shattered. Worse. He is also incommunicado. Having got used to 24-hour anywhere availability, now his ride back to Seattle seems more scary to me.
And all that memory. In the old days, we would have written important numbers down in the phone book by the phone plugged into the wall. It would have taken an earthquake and a house fire to lose it.
Phone books are amazingly resistant to errant drumsticks.
Flash forward again. I’m wrangling with my cable company and they need to reboot my modem. And I realize: I almost have to have a cellphone to communicate with them if my cable connection crashes. Fragile Technology is forcing us to depend on more fragile technology.
The phone I’m using to talk to them is doubly vulnerable. It’s plugged in to the power system and it’s plugged into the cable modem. And they’ll all crash in an earthquake.
Maybe I’d better practice shouting...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

#971 Lying Cable

I had to call my cable company because of a malfunction in their equipment. Funny, they have no problem charging you to the last second on your usage. But if something goes out, do they ever send you a credit for your downtime?
Not long ago they upped my bill from my startup deal. They upped it mid-cycle so I get this extra bill for 2 weeks.
Lying cable.
Why does that sound so nasty?
I’m guessing I’m not alone in this bait and flip the switch deal and my evidence for that is their supposed attempts to look after customer service. When you call up their help line, nearly the first thing you hear is “In order to provide better customer service, this call may be monitored.”
You think, how nice, they’re eavesdropping to make sure they’re keeping their employees on the ball.
More on that later.
This time I got a really friendly women who tried the various things they try, pinging my modem, checking the lines, etc. She finally concludes we need to reboot my modem. And here’s where the dilemma emerges. My phone also comes through my cable system.
So how do I keep this nice customer service rep on the line? I want to, too. She’s been very helpful. For all their supposed monitoring, I’ve got some pretty rude service reps in the past.
Anyhow, she says since my phone’s through my modem I’m going to lose her when we reboot. “If your problems continue just call back.”
“Do you have an extension?” I ask, “I don’t want to go through all the same rigmarole with a new person.”
“Can’t do that,” she says.
“Can you call me back?” I ask.
“I can’t do that,” she says.
So much for customer service. Ahah, I thinks, now the monitoring makes more sense. They aren’t monitoring their employees. They’re monitoring the angry customers they’ve created with their frustrating, interrupted service and bait and switch tactics.
I’m guessing the only reason for this semi-anonymity is someone or someones must have chewed Comcast employees a new cable outlet in the past.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

#970 Driving Economics

I have to chuckle when I hear some folks talking about the economic crisis as if it started in the last 50 or so days of the new administration. Wall Street is screaming for attention. Wall Street is going down. The president needs to notice Wall Street, they say.
Um, let me see, the same Wall Street that’s lined up with their hands out for a massive bailout? The AIG Wall Street? The Bear Sterns Wall Street? Or maybe just the Citibank Wall Street. By the looks of things, the president had been paying too much attention to Wall Street.
The economy has been driven off a cliff. The folks that drove it over are long since bailed out. The poor schumck in the back seat who inherited this vehicle plunging to doom is trying frantically to find a parachute, or possibly glider wings. As he’s the corpse that will be found in the middle of the carnage at the bottom, he is likely to take the blame.
Already people are snidely saying the stock market has dropped 1500 points since Obama took office. Well yeah. You try arresting the momentum of a 30 trillion ton car in mid-plummet.
So here’s a little historical perspective on the hysterical invective. The stock market went down when Reagan was elected. They’re nervous ninnies who hate change. The stock market hated the New Deal. Not least because it started numerous regulatory agencies after the greedy profiteers plunged the country into depression.
The Dow Theory of the market says that for every sustained bull market the next bear market will take away half to two-thirds of the gains. Every period of irrational exuberance is followed by a period of irrational despair. The stock market in 1980 was sitting comfortably at 1000 points. The fundamentals were in place. Stocks weren’t valued by wildly speculative imaginings and bubble blowing derivatives.
The Dow topped and the bubble popped at 14000. It’s now around 7000. That’s half. Two-thirds will be around 5000. A lot of paper money is burning up.
But here’s an illuminating light at the end of the tunnel fact. During 2008, American companies still turned out a gross national product that was over twice as much as China.
So hang on.
That pain you feel may be some glider wings sprouting.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#969 Psychotimes

I worry that we are sliding too far down the slope of psychology and pharmacology in our culture. It’s gotten so even the rock songs are riddled with psycho-references. And everybody with the ability to watch Dr Phil or Oprah thinks they have the answer for your problem.
A world of amateur pseudo-psychiatrists, ready with a diagnosis and a prescription.
The other day I was privileged to be at a gathering honoring an author. I sat at a table which contained a lot of schoolteachers. I should clarify that—modern schoolteachers. I was doing my thing, which in public constitutes being a cut-up, entertaining folks, and making them laugh. I couldn’t help but notice that more than half the table wasn’t laughing at my antics and were instead giving me withering, stony stares.
That usually just makes me work even harder at making them laugh; I figure it’s my divine driven duty to lighten up peoples’ lives. But no, nothing worked. It finally occurred to me why. These were young modern teachers. I was their enemy.
It was my personality type.
I was the class clown. I was the disrupter. The one who destroyed their fragile classroom control. They were that type of teacher who had not yet learned they could be people and still have kids’ respect.
As they glared at me, I couldn’t help but think they were measuring me up for a dose of Ritalin.
Rock songs are getting too psychologically referential too. One singer in a recent song complains her relationship is so “dysfunctional.” Love and science, will the clinical ruin romance?
Another song mentions both “PMS” and “love bi-polar.” Used to be “emotional struggles” and “ups and downs.” Now it’s PMS and Bi-Polar. This is not a good trend. I want a relationship with a person, not a diagnosis.
I want to hear musicians say they got the blues. Can you imagine B.B. King wailing out that he’s suffering from clinical depression? Talk about a tough word to rhyme. You’d want to pull your hair out in frustration.
Excuse me; engage in self-depilation from an acute stress reaction.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#968 Spring Cleaning

Time to do some spring cleaning in the old joke idea closet. These are hard commentaries to write because I have to go so many different directions. I eventually develop that condition all authors hate. It’s far more excruciating than writers cramp.
Yep, I’m talking about segue fatigue...
Speaking of which.
I was driving by the old Safeway the other day. You know, the one they’re tearing down to make way for the new City Hall. One stop shopping for permits and such. Well, I noticed something odd. Though they’ve torn down the old building, they left up the old sign. Just blacked it out.
Olympia is like most hope-to-be beautiful cities. They have a pretty tough sign ordinance. So when new businesses move into an old place they usually try to find a way to grandfather in the now non-compliant sign they inherit.
It’s kind of cool to note the city doing that with this Safeway sign. Apparently, even the city doesn’t want to take on the city sign ordinance department.
In an entirely unrelated universe, my friend Bobby brought me an interesting cut-out from a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box. I guess they’re trying to make Mac and Cheese more healthy. The box description proclaimed that this was “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, made with 50% Whole Grain!”
Which raised the almost Zen-like conundrum: Can something be 50% whole?
On another note, I was reading some statistics that said the mobile home manufacturing industry employs a lot of migrant labor. What we are now calling guest workers. They build the walls and floors and what not. So I’m wondering. If a regular site-built wooden house gets carpenter ants, does a wooden mobile home get guest worker ants?
And lastly, in the incongruity department, a local tax service is using human directionals dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, one I saw the other day had a moustache. Verdigris green gown, spiked crown, and a moustache. He didn’t look so happy to be dressed up as a woman either, even if she was Lady Liberty.
When it came to suffocating ridiculousness of his costume, it looked like he was yearning to breathe free.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

#967 Textual Technology

I’m getting a little tired of technology inserting its presence into my life. I’m not talking about the sound of a chainsaw in the distance or the neighbor’s TV blaring down the street. I’m talking about communications directly from technology. Textual Technology.
In some ways it makes the world a better place for the hearing impaired. You can’t go anywhere these days without closed caption TVs silently announcing the news and sports. Even traffic lights are displaying complicated messages and countdown clocks.
But I don’t like communications from my stupid microwave. Like when it flashes a string of text after I warm something up in it. A little digital readout scrolls across the control panel just after the microwave dings. It says “Enjoy Your Meal.” But because communication depends on context as well, if I’m just having a cup of coffee it really makes me feel like a loser. Like the microwave is being snide or something.
The subtext of what it’s saying seems to be, “Thanks for putting my radar wave maker to such heavy use just so you could have a tepid cup of coffee, loser. Enjoy Your Meal.”
Or the other day I got an email from a friend of mine. He had sent it on his new Blackberry. So the Blackberry had to tell me so. The email said at the bottom, “Sent from my Blackberry Smartphone.” How pretentious, I thought. I teased my friend about it and he said he didn’t include the line, it must have been added automatically. How pretentious and presumptuous, I thought. And way to work in some free advertising.
Blackberries and Twitter and texting are all getting so out of hand. Witness all those members of congress twittering like schoolgirls during Obama’s Non-State of the Union address.
And young people. I swear. They never seem to look up and look people in the eye anymore. Ipod earbuds in their ears cutting them off, slider phones open, texting away.
Pretty soon, I expect they’ll start every morning in home room going: I text allegiance to the flag of the United States of...
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

#966 Obvious Oblivious

Sometimes you see something and you wonder: What were they thinking? Something that is so patently obvious and of which they are so obviously oblivious, you scratch your head hard enough to draw blood.
Case in point: The other day I was at a fancy coffee shop. I ordered tea. The barista carefully measured out the loose organic tea from a sealed glass jar and spooned it into one of those non-bleached diaper-like bags, for all I know handwoven by indigenous tribal members for full circle, fair trade wages. All was perfectly and environmentally correct and filled with a full measure of social conscience.
Then, to hold the teabag closed, she took out a cheap Bostich stapler and clunked down a staple in the end. With what appeared to be an ordinary riddled-with-toxic-impurities base metal staple.
What was she thinking?
Not long after that, I chanced to drive by a new apartment building going up. They named it with one of those Spanish or Latin sounding names. You know, like Vista del Sol or Buena del Mar or something. Except the name was Tabula Rasa. Which sounds nice and exotic, and familiar at the some time.
Except, it means “blank slate.”
Okay, maybe they meant that. Maybe it’s a place for starting over. Unfortunately it’s also a philosophical term used to describe the way certain philosophers and psychologists theorize the mind starts at birth—a blank slate¾upon which is then carved the experiences of your life that make you who you are.
And doubly unfortunately, the new apartment complex being created, named the Blank Slate, is a couple of doors down from an Alzheimer’s care facility. Where a different type of blank slate is being created.
What were they thinking?
And finally, I was driving behind a big manly truck the other day and I read this guy’s bumper stickers. One of them was an American flag with the obligatory “Love it or Leave it” slogan. The other one was a sticker that said “I Love my AK-47.”
Um, isn’t the AK-47 a Russian gun?
Way to put American gun makers out of work, dude.
What was he thinking?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

#965 Clicking Camels

In my son’s callow youth, he made the mistake of getting on the Camel Cigarette manufacturer’s mailing list. It was back when they were marketing to children with their cartoony Joe Camel character.
Nothing like a cigarette smoking “action figure” for bringing in the young trade.
Since my son moved out years ago, I am the one who periodically gets rather exotic mail from the makers of Camel Cigarettes. Let me tell you, these guys dump a ton of money into their direct mail ads. Folded and die cut with complicated edges, they have the finest stock, the glossiest finish, the deepest and most saturated inks.
All in all a first class operation for promoting slow and agonizing death.
It’s pretty obvious Camel hasn’t stopped targeting young smokers. It’s the classic advertising dilemma, when your product kills off your costumers, what do you do? Answer: Find new customers that aren’t dead yet.
Since they can’t use cartoon camels, they have to use the next best trick in young marketing, adding a techno-gimmick. In this case personalized mentholation. With a sound effect.
Yep. A little cartoon graphic on the fancy circular describes it. First, you pinch the filter, then you hear a “click,” then you get a burst of cool refreshing menthol. If you can’t control your smoking habit, you can at least take control of your actual cigarette—and instantly change the flavor!
Plus, you can hear a click just like your new Blackberry keyboard. It’s like texting yourself pure smoking satisfaction.
This idea will have the twitterers tweeting good news from here to the emphysema ward.
This mailer also gives a $1.50 coupon to help you try the new Camel Crush, in it’s stylish, black as death box. Is that “crush” as in love affair or “crush” as in when you’ve smoked so much your lungs feel like someone is sitting on your chest?
There’s also coupons for $3.40 off 2 packs or $5.00 off 3 packs. So you can save even more by really engraining your habit.
Sorry kids, the first one’s not free, but it’s as deeply discounted as the law will allow...
Are those noises clicks, or someone shaking coffin nails?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

#964 Disablers

The American Disabilities Act has mandated certain things in our public and private areas that are good. The height of electrical outlets in walls can create difficulties for people in wheelchairs, so there’s really no reason why new construction shouldn’t require a different-than-traditional plug placement.
Some things seemed like improvements, but thanks to the law of unintended consequences, ended up making things worse. Take the ends of sidewalks. The slope of the end of a sidewalk has to be carefully calculated or trouble results. But there’s no way to foresee and prevent every possible problem.
The other day I stopped my car and helped a woman whose electric wheelchair had high-centered on one of the sidewalk cutaways. It was one of the new single approach cutaway ramps that replaced the double approaches on corners a few years back. She had swung wide from the crosswalk to enter the ramp at that weird new angle and misjudged. The heavy electric wheelchair had high-centered and she was stuck.
But the other thing about these new approach-from-the-corner slopes is they’re bad for ordinary walkers too. As one of your feet lands 2 inches lower than the other, you’re left with a knee-twisting scenario. Especially when you add ice or snow.
Then you add those giant yellow Lego bumps that function as warning strips to the visually disabled. They are spaced just right to catch certain bicycle wheels and cause an involuntary stop and plummet over the handlebars. Or grab a high heel and bust an ankle.
But I suppose they’re better than the old way. My neighborhood has the former method, whereby the concrete was crosshatched at the ends of the sidewalk as you approached the ramp. It created just enough of a rough surface where your tires or cane or the soles of your shuffling feet could feel it.
Unfortunately, it also created a perfect place for moss to take hold and thrive. Now, when it rains or mists, the ends of sidewalks are treacherously slick. Which means more than one fall to hard cement with a brittle hipbone.
Thanks to the law of unintended consequences, we appear to be creating more disabled than we’re helping.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#963 Litteracy

I think it’s criminal. I wish there was a hotline I could call. I’m talking about the newspaper-like ad bundle that gets delivered every week.
Not the one that comes in the mail.
The one they unceremoniously dump in your yard.
Or driveway or shrubs. It ends up wherever because, unlike the paid newspaper to which you subscribe, you have no economic disincentive to hang over the head of the deliverer, who I assume is merely paid to unload a shipload of them all over town.
I have no kinder word to bestow on this advertising aberration than yard spam. Because spam it most certainly is. It is unasked for, unwanted, ugly, and it requires effort to remove it.
As I walk around the neighborhood, I can see this yard spam is universally reviled. Virtually all my neighbors leave it in their yards or driveways for days. Many of the bundles work their way out to the street. And they become, simply, litter.
As this mass of sodden ugliness is published by the local newspaper, it is doubly unfortunate. Newspapers were our last bastion of literacy. It’s extremely sad that they are now the premier purveyor of litter.
Litteracy with two t’s.
Criminal litter.
It’s also sad because newspapers are hurting. And they are cutting their own throat. No one likes these bundles of yard spam. Many folks probably don’t shop at the advertisers therein in protest, which hurts the newspaper’s revenues further. Plus, the newspaper company has all the expense of delivering trash whose intended recipient is so annoyed by it that they throw it instantly in the trash.
Well, not instantly. The eco-conscious like me must first strip away the rubber band and outer plastic in which the yardspam is encased. A covering which also prevents the yardspam from being peacefully biodegraded when it ends up in empty lots and ditches.
If you and I were to dump such a mess on the side of the road, we would be cited and fined for littering.
Why is the newspaper company exempt from such a citation?
Someone should call the criminal hotline and make sure they get a hot ticket.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 09, 2009

#962 Criminal Element

I’m no sociologist. I consider myself nothing more than a lowly cultural humorist. But I have a theory about the criminal element. A lot of crime involves a touch of sociopathy—the lack of a desire to conform with the norms of society, and even the niceties therein.
When I hear some conservative commentators talk, they often bemoan the craven actions of the hoi polloi. They act as if poor people are little better than animals. They’ll steal the shirt of your back. Look at all the mongrels down there breeding more shoplifters, etc.
They seem to think that the sociopathic urge to commit crime stops when one’s income increases. That putting on a shirt and tie means you will suddenly be possessed of this great morality.
As Bernie Madoff and other Wall Street crooks have proven over the years, from Neal Bush and the S&L crisis to Enron to now, this is simply not true. Rich and poor both have the criminal element.
I call that element screwon.
The element screwon is the fundamental building block of the molecule screwthem, which is a vital component of the DNA of the sociopath. It is the desire to screw everyone else for you own benefit. The heck with laws, the heck with the golden rule, the heck with SEC regulations.
Screwthem leads people to go for the main chance, and most importantly, do what they can get away with. To the sociopath, it’s not a crime till you get caught. So what if there’s a simple moral code?
It’s no surprise a lot of upper class sociopaths use churches. Churches are accepting and vulnerable places. The sociopaths, loaded with screwon, wear the moral mantle of the churches like a fox in sheep’s clothing.
Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, these people should have been expected. They did what they could get away with. The sad fact is, criminals exist in every population, every income level.
That’s why they put regulations on Wall Street. And that’s why some people stopped enforcing those regulations. Even the population of enforcers contains sociopaths.
And when enforcers are loaded with screwon, when it comes to doing their job, they screw off.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

#961 Tubular Diet

You got to hand it to doctors. They keep trying to come up with the ultimate diet solution. First there was telling people to eat less and exercise more. When that didn’t work, they tried all kinds of drugs to suppress appetite. Then they tried chemicals to block fat absorption, sometimes with dubious results.
Do they still make those potato chips that give you diarrhea?
Then on to mechanical methods—stomach stapling and the less drastic stomach rubber-banding, what I believe they call laparoscopic surgery.
Although technically, the stomach is above the lap.
So I suppose it was only a matter of time before they tried a stomach condom. Yep, stomach condom. Maybe they got the idea because, um, drug mules appeared to weigh less than your average American.
In any event, they came up with a clever device. They place something not unlike a tampon applicator down your throat. When it gets to the lower part of your stomach, it unfolds into a framework that anchors itself around the stomach outlet hole. At that point it deploys a tube of plastic, which unfurls into the first two feet of the small intestine.
Sounds like technology they learned from a Mars lander. I hope the plastic doesn’t have BPA or phathlates in it.
The tube is hollow, and all of the semi-digested food from your stomach now passes through it. The food at this point is a slurry known as chyme, so chances are good no chunks will block the tube.
To make sure of this, scientists have tested a miniature version on rats. Yes rats. Tiny tummy condoms in rats. This is the most amazing thing about science, that whenever we invent something medical, we first break out the imagineers and construct a teeny-tiny version for Mickey and his friends. If they give us the go ahead, it’s tummy condoms for everyone.
Testing on rats confirmed that the tube blocks absorption of nutrients in the first two feet of intestines, thereby lowering type 2 diabetes and reducing overall weight.
Wow. The answer to our dietary dilemma is a bad piece of slang from the eighties.
Totally tubular, dude.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

#960 Reference Madness

Time marches on. And it eventually meets its Waterloo. So I have a question. Do our young folks understand what “meeting your Waterloo” means anymore? Do the young people in England who call their bathrooms by the name “water closet” or “loo” think Waterloo is some reference to Napoleon falling down the toilet?
Things change so quickly these days and the subjects they teach kids need to be so much more technically relevant; do all of our cultural references still apply?
The other day I heard a radio DJ making reference to an upcoming thing on the program. He said it was “all stacked up and on the way.” Since no one stacks Mp3s in their iPods I’m not sure younger listeners got the reference. That’s at least two technologies back, because you never stacked CDs either.
Hell, even I don’t know what he meant. Was he referring to the way we used to put a stack of records on a spindle on a turntable? Each one would automatically drop down when the last one was done playing. Or was he referring to the stacks of 8-track cassettes radio stations used to use to keep songs, jingles, and commercials in order?
Or take the term DJ itself. It comes from “disc jockey.” I’ve seen DJs at weddings who don’t have a disc anywhere for them to jockey. They use all Mp3 files on their computerized systems. No discs whatsoever, compact or vinyl.
Do they still teach the Greek classics in school? All those morality fables that make points about human frailties and the capricious gods. Do they still tell the story of Narcissus?
I wrote something about Google alerts being the ultimate techno narcissistic tool and I had someone write in and ask me what I meant. He was apparently too caught up in his own life to check Wikipedia, where all our cultural references are stacked up. Just a click away for you mouse-jockeys.
If he had only gone there, he could have posted the story of the Waterloo-like defeat of his ignorance on his, um, narcissistic Facebook site.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

#959 Leftovers

I guess one of things we’re most familiar and most comfortable with is leftovers. They are a part of nearly everyone’s life. And the proof is there’s only one word for them.
It’s long been my contention that the more uncomfortable or embarrassed we are about a thing, the more words we have for it. Witness how many words we have for sex organs. The reason is the progressive euphemism. A euphemism will be developed for a thing. Then that euphemism is viewed as disgusting and another one will come from it and so on.
The word urinate was reduced to the word that starts with P and rhymes with sis, then it was reduced to pee, then that was child-i-fied to pee pee.
At least it’s easy to text now.
Especially since the word urinate is back in acceptable use.
The sex organs enjoy a disproportionate amount of words compared to other body parts. Yet there’s only one word for elbow. There is apparently nothing sexy about an elbow.
Penne pasta is Freudian and sexy.
Elbow macaroni not so much.
Maybe because we so often stir it in to leftovers.
Judging by the recent economic news, there are also endless words for the crashing economy. Depression, recession, collapse, uncertainty. Sounds like we don’t need a bailout, we need a drug. How about a liquid injection from a big pharmaceutical company?
Actually, that’s not so farfetched. Big Pharma is one of the few vibrant growth sectors in the market.
So follow your baby boomer urges, and put all your money in drugs.
Speaking of the economy, my friend Rick had a great solution for the national debt we’re about to stimulate. He pointed out since we were saddling our grandchildren with this massive debt burden we could only help them by “spreading it around a little,” to paraphrase the prez during his election campaign.
The solution? All our kids need to have octuplets. The more grandchildren, the less any one of them has to pay to bail us out today.
I’m comfortable with the idea. Because even though our generation will consume most of the good stuff, at least they’ll get the leftovers.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

#958 What It’s Not

People from foreign lands often have a hard time learning the quirks of the English language. And nowhere is that more evident than in our use of plural nouns.
It’s pretty easy to pick out a non-native speaker when he says things like “I went out and saw the deers in the forest. Deers and fishes always throw them.
Some words are even harder. Like “the blues.” Looks and sounds like an ordinary plural. Even has an ‘s’ on the end. But no one ever has one blue. “Hey Fred, you look a little unhappy.” “Yep, I’m feeling a blue today.”
Some plural nouns just can’t be made singular. But some people try. It might be one of those regional things. The other day I read something by an eastern writer. He was reporting how cold it was, so cold that someone had a snot on the end of his nose.
That’s right, a snot. As in a singular glob of some sort. I know what he’s talking about. I’ve seen it. Especially after a person has exercised a lot of exertion, like running a marathon or shoveling a sidewalk. But I’ve never called it a snot. I’ve called it a wad of snot or a glob of snot.
An undried booger.
Booger can be singular, or you can have a whole group of boogers. But snot is not singular, it’s a plural form. Like mucus. You don’t have a mucus on the end of your nose.
Or sleep. You have sleep in the corners of your eyes when you wake up in the morning that the sandman left. In the daytime, it’s a scrode. As in, “Hey dude, you got a scrode in your eye and it’s grossing me out.”
Or spit. It always has to be at least some spit. Spit filled his mouth. He spat out some spit. Saliva, as well—another bodily fluid that you can measure but has no singular unit you can refer to with a singular indefinite article.
A fingernail. A booger. A scab. Some saliva and some spit.
Or some mucus.
So when it comes to making it singular, it may seem like a wet booger, but it’s not.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

#957 Believe Reprieve

We are being constantly reminded about the state of the economy. Some days, Obama must hope for some other crisis to raise up into the headlights of the headlong rushing semi which is our media.
You can tell he’d much rather be engaged in the process of carving out the exemplary in a mundane world, but such higher aspirations to historical prowess keep getting muddled by that same mediocre reality.
He tries though. For the first couple of weeks of his administration it was appointment this and presidential edict to do that. Cabinet appointments, stem cell research, off-shore drilling, Guantanamo, he was throwing out press releases right and left. It seemed like a great strategy. Hell, even old Rod Blagojevich helped. Because he too assisted in what must have been Obama’s plan. Keep the bad economy news off the front page. Except to say he’s fixing it. Because the economy and its health is founded on one simple thing— Belief.
Yep belief.
Money doesn’t mean anything. It’s paper, data bits, and metal, and not very good metal at that. It’s a commonly agreed on principle of exchange guaranteed by the full faith of the United States Government. Faith, belief, delusion, they all amount to the same thing.
So the more we believe, the better we’ll be.
Whenever there’s an economic bubble-and-burst like we’ve had recently with the mortgage crises and credit crunch, I say to people who asked what happened, “Remember pogs?”
Bottle cap liners. Supposedly worth amazing amounts because they were collector’s items. People traded them with nearly religious frenzy. Beanie Babies? Magic Cards? All the same, all the temporary rage, all as substantial and blown away as so much smoke.
Obama’s media misdirection is to ease the fear and increase the belief to get things percolating again. People need to spend. Pent up demand will get us out. The stimulus plan will work if people believe it will work. Ya gotta believe for economic reprieve.
But when the critics proclaim they hope it will fail, that proclamation alone might make it so. Negativity has a disproportionate amount of power at this point.
So to paraphrase a once popular campaign slogan, “Spend Here Spend Now and Spend Often.”
America, ya gotta love it.