Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#1040 Rutabaga Riffin’

The other day, when I wrote a commentary about the demise of polka, I joked about rutabaga harvesting in the upper Midwest, and I had no idea what a rutabaga actually was.
But amazingly, I was right, they are grown in colder climes. They are a form of turnip. In Europe, they call them the Swedish turnip or just a swede.
“Swede” probably wouldn’t go so well around here. It seems like whatever the southwest Washington small town, from Oakville to Pe Ell to Lebam, there’s at least one guy named Swede. And judging by the ones I’ve met, not many of them would like being called a turnip.
Not that rutabaga would be an improvement.
Before pumpkins made it to the Scotland, rutabagas were carved out to make jack-o-lanterns, the traditional symbol of damned souls. There’s a culinary recommendation right there. Yeah, I’ll have the haggis, and a side of damned souls.
The soubriquet swede comes from the fact that the swede, or rutabaga, or yellow turnip, comes for the northern lands of Sweden and Finland. One day when some industrious farmer-inventor was tired of raking snow, he crossed two hardy vegetables, the cabbage and the regular turnip.
Oh boy. Yum. Let’s take two vegetables that already possess an acrid and nearly unpalatable taste and cross them for true perfection. Not as bad as Germany I suppose, who decided cooked cabbage alone didn’t stink up a kitchen enough, so they invented sauerkraut.
For the culinary courageous, the leaves of the rutabaga plant can also be eaten as a fresh vegetable. Yum again.
Strangely “rutabaga” has never achieved the status of being a good insult, although it’s a fun word to say. People can be dumb as a potato or be ill-tempered lemon-pusses but you never hear of someone being as stupid as a rutabaga.
Similarly, even though bananas have made it into popular songs like banana-bana-bo-bana, rutabagas have been neglected.
You don’t even see it in jokes. It’s like everyone just wants to turn up their noses at the whole thing. So how about this?
If you’re an Italian-American, why is an aggressive panhandler like a turnip? He’s a rude-a-begga...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

#1039 You’re Rogaine

Vanity is an interesting thing. Especially when it comes to men. Some things we don’t care about. Other things we care about a lot.
Like underwear and hair.
Recently, economists asserted that the state of men’s underwear is a great indicator of the direction of the economy. They were backed up by none other than the great Alan Greenspan, former revered head of the Fed, and self-confessed failure when it came to seeing how much personal greed can game the system.
His underwear insights bear repeating. Briefly, they go like this. Men’s skivvies are one of his least vain appurtenances. As no one sees them, their progressive rattiness is not a pressing concern. So if he has to make changes to his bottom line, underwear will be the first to fall.
Currently sales in underwear have stopped sliding. They seem to be tightly hugging a certain range. Economists tell us we can expect an economic turnaround only when underwear begins to creep back up.
Hey, maybe we can accelerate the creep if we force a run on thongs.
It’s on top that men expend their most worry. I saw an interesting ad for a hair growth product the other day, Rogaine Foam. They said the foam makes it “easier to use.”
What? Rubbing on lotion was tougher than rubbing on foam? It’s not like we’re installing our own hair plugs. We’re rubbing on some liquid. How lazy do they think we are? We may be vain but that doesn’t make us weak.
Still, a full head of hair leads men to amazing compromises. Like taking a drug whose original design was to shrink the prostate. When the drug first went into use, many men noticed an increase in head hair.
Nanoseconds later, a hair drug came out. The first drug was for prostate shrinkage and its side effect was hair growth. The second drug was for hair growth and its side effect was prostate shrinkage.
There are no side effects.
The real effect of both is less testosterone in your system. Testosterone causes both hair loss and prostate enlargement.
So vanity makes men who want to seem more manly emasculate themselves chemically.
Oh, the insanity of vanity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

#1038 Factory Qualification

I’ve always been fascinated by the way certain words roll off the tongue. How with just a simple turn of phrase you can imply so much.
The other day I was listening to a radio commercial. The key phrase that caught my attention was the term “factory quality.” As in, “we always use factory quality parts.”
What does that term mean? It’s been a long time since anyone made a part for anything mechanical outside of a factory. So isn’t just about any part factory quality? I mean, it just seems like a wide range of quality is involved here.
Now I know there are still some machinists left who will make a specialized part from scratch for custom applications. And you pay a premium to have that done.
There’s another word—premium. In this context, it means you are paying a lot more. So why is my insurance bill known as an insurance premium? Does that imply I’m paying more than I should?
And what is the discounted premium they offer from time to time? Is discounted premium the same thing as saying normal price? Yeah I marked it up 100% but its 50% off, so there you are.
And why are gifts I get from companies whose products I use frequently also known as premiums. I am confused.
Even more so because saying “factory quality” doesn’t really say anything at all. It’s like saying a place is having an inventory reduction sale. Don’t all sales lead to inventory reduction? It’s like having an open for business sale.
Or a store sign that says, “Open for Business.” What else would you be open for? I’m open to have you watch me sitting around. This store is for display only.
Why would any retailer have something “for display only?” I wonder, are they only taking orders on it or have I accidentally wandered into an art gallery?
I went to one of those once, but the art was for sale, so even though it was on display, it was available for a premium price. They said the price was higher because the items were hand-crafted.
Which, apparently, was the opposite of factory quality.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

#1037 Polka No More

A sad day has come upon the American music industry. Once a haven for the diverse strains of musical ethnicity, a true reflection of the melting pot which is our country, we are seeing more and more musical clumps strained out of the homogenized fluid we call popular music.
Where’s an Irish ditty when you need one, or a plaintive Welsh ballad? Where’s the soaring squeal of a cat being killed you can only mimic with a bagpipe?
These things are fading away.
Flamenco is being morphed to Hispanic techno-beats. Calypso is being drugged into reggae stupefaction. Russian balalaikas are being played by rock stars.
And now the final blow. The people that put on the Grammy’s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences have eliminated the category for “Best Polka Album”
Oh no! Say it isn’t so Joe.
No more category for best Polka album? Lawrence Welk is rolling over in his champagne-casketed grave. The bubble machine master would be appalled. If he was still alive, he’d one-and-a-two-and-a his baton on someone’s head.
Polka was the lifeblood of middle America, where oom-pah immigrants settled in for the grueling work of raising rutabagas and squeezing cheese curds. After a hard week, they’d like nothing more than to head to the rutabaga grange and unsling their accordions for a festive night of hopping around in lederhosen and dirndls to 2/4 time.
Much later, along came the te-le-vision and the charming Mr. Lawrence Welk, and the aging polkateers watched from their nursing home rec rooms as Mr. Wonnerful batoned a similarly aging troupe of polyester-clad performers through the tumultuous times of the syndicated Seventies.
He had died long before his reruns stopped, spawning rumors of Elvis-like sightings at convalescent hospitals and K-Marts.
That’s the essence of Polka. It doesn’t know when to quit.
Hey, aging America needs its music too. It can’t all be rock and roll, even if the Rolling Stones are a mossy old sixty plus.
Still, it’s incredibly ironic. The musical form most appreciated by the grandparent generation, no longer has a Grammy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

#1036 Pool Lute-ing

My challenge: Take two entirely separate short stories and tie them together in one essay.
The first story: In Verona, Italy, it seems there’s a certain balcony that has developed a reputation as the balcony from which the beautiful Juliet pined for her Romeo. A 13th Century mansion of the Cappello family, believed to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Capulet family, has long been a lover’s destination.
Now the Verona town council is allowing people to use the balcony for wedding ceremonies. One guy said, “We are doing this because we hope it will bring us good luck.”
Um. Considering what happened to the original couple, I might give that a second thought. Romeo and Juliet’s love flame burned out fairly quickly, what with the mutual suicide and all. Really, a flash in the pan as these things go.
They never made it to the put on 20 pounds and schlep around in ratty underwear stage.
It’s like the Honda Odyssey. Sounds like a great name for a car but really, the odyssey wasn’t a very pleasant trip for Odysseus, also known as Ulysses—filled with monsters and whirlpools and other dangerous stuff in the water.
Story two: Speaking of dangerous stuff in the water. As the Romeo balcony illustrates, sometimes people don’t think it through, but you know that if you can imagine it someone is already doing it.
In this case, in the pool. Forget about Romeo playing the lute as inspiration, crasser people are pol-lute-ing the pool with urination. A new study shows 20% of people admit to peeing in the pool.
There’s a water hazard even Ulysses didn’t have to face. Especially with his face underwater.
There’s other bad stuff too. Babies in soiled diapers, people who have just worked out and haven’t showered off their sweat, sick children shedding viruses, bacteria-laced phlegm. Chlorine can only do so much.
I always laughed at people who wore nose plugs, earplugs and goggles. Now I see the point.
Swimming in a pool can kill you as quickly as dropping off a balcony in Verona.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#1035 Screaming Poppycocks

Yesterday I wrote a piece that mentioned the snack food Screaming Yellow Zonkers. I asked if they still make Screaming Yellow Zonkers, and so afterwards I went researching to find out.
No they don’t. They were swallowed up by the food mega-giant Con-Agra and discontinued in 2007.
Zonkers have been zonked. Still, I was absolutely amazed that they had made it to 2007.
I found out other things too. My source Wikipedia article, in its wiki fashion, cross-referenced all kinds of other popcorn snack food that bore a resemblance to Screaming Yellow Zonkers. SYZ’s, by the way, were created to fill the niche of candy-coated corn lovers who didn’t like crackerjack peanuts mixed in.
The names for the other jacksnacks are interesting to folks who study word origins and revealing about our culture. They are Cracker Jack, Fiddle Faddle, Crunch and Munch, Poppycock and an obscure item called Yummy Doodlez.
Surprisingly, Yummy Doodlez had nothing to do with macaroni. Although it is postulated that Yummy Doodle was Yankee Doodle’s hunky younger brother who went on to join the Chippendales.
Screaming Yellow Zonkers owed its crazy name and marketing to the drug-infused zeitgeist of the Sixties. Crunch and Munch sounds like it had a similar origin. Whenever the word “munch” is in a food you have to think it’s got marijuana inspiring it somewhere.
Fiddle Faddle sounds like some kind of inconsequential food. Ah, it’s just some fiddle faddle. In fact, it’s low-end generic feel may have something to do with Con-Agra placing it in discount and drug stores.
Interestingly, most of the brands listed are owned by Con Agra, with the exception of Cracker Jack, which is the premium version of popcorny snacks.
But one of them has a very interesting name. Poppycock. Again, a name that sounds dismissive. Oh that’s fiddle faddle. Oh that’s poppycock.
It’s like the opposite of Cracker Jack. That was a crackerjack performance. Oh, that performance was poppycock.
Bad enough, but what’s worse is the term poppycock is actually an anglicized version of the Dutch "pappekak" which means, literally, “soft dung” or “diarrhea.”
I’m guessing it’s not the favorite snack food of people who study word origins...
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

#1034 Time Shuffles On

Time marches on they used to say. But soon the march turns to a walk, then a shuffle, then we stagger to our final doom.
But along the way we get to experience so much, and so much change. It’s great being part of one of the largest population bulges to age in a long time. Not to mention bulge with age while we’re at it. There are so many things to share and so many people to share it with.
If Facebook had hit the boomer generation the web would be clogged as we speak. Instead the cruise boats are filled with boomers clogging for their health.
That’s the next big rage. Forget jazzercise, forget square dancing for your health. There’ll be Dutch folk-dancing aerobics—clogger-cise.
We boomers got to see a lot. It’s funny then that some of our experiences are being turned into advertisements. We’re hearing aging rock bands cashing in on their one hit wonders to make commercial jingles.
Heck, the one-hit-wonders themselves are headlining at Memory Care facilities where they can get away with playing those same songs over and over and over. And no one complains.
Other outfits are cashing in on just the thought of remembered songs. Blue Oyster Cult’s signature tune has been turned into an ad slogan for people afraid of denture mending.
Don’t fear the repair.
I’m still waiting for a return to the acid-inspired slogans and products of the Sixties. Remember the days of the Flying Burrito Brothers? Now there was a name born in the bubbling cauldron of chemically boiling brain cells.
Or how about the great acid-inspired snack food? Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Do they still make Screaming Yellow Zonkers? Or is the world back to only Cracker Jacks? Worse, has the boring and neutrally-named Kettle Korn replaced them all?
With all the accent on baby boomer cosmetic repair and restoration though, it’s no wonder my mind has an occasional stumble.
I heard someone advertising “laser tag” the other day and my first thought was, what a great idea, a fun game—and it removes unwanted hair...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#1033 Cruddy Candy

Not long ago I was staffing a hole at a local golf tournament. So I bought one of those huge bags of assorted non-chocolate candies. Meltage being a big problem on hot days, getting candies other than the fun-size chocolate bars seemed a good idea.
The bag I got had all the favorites, Skittles, Tootsie Roll Pops, Laffy-Taffy, Jolly Ranchers, and the ever-popular Nerds—well-named, since they look suspiciously like candy-coated boogers.
After I poured all the candies out on the table, so golfers could grab what they wanted, I noticed that someone had done some pre-picking in the flavor selections. By which I mean the candy packer had mostly included less popular flavors in the assortment.
Take Laffy Taffy. Favorite flavors would be lime and cherry right? The “assortment” bag included 90% banana. Banana. One of three candy flavors that never ever taste like the fruit they supposedly represent.
Who likes banana? And which chemical taste wizard declared it even close. It tastes like a combination of burnt sugar and polypropylene. The only other flavor that’s worse is apple. I have never tasted an apple-flavored candy that tasted like any apple I’ve ever eaten, ripe, rotten, or sauced.
Why is it the artificial candy flavors we find toughest to create are the sweetest and most candy-like fruits in real life?
Anyhow, the bag was loaded with apple-flavored Jolly Ranchers. Which is not good because when I think rancher I think horse and when I think horse I don’t want to think apple in the same mental vicinity.
When I saw the majority of Nerd boxes I knew the also-ran cruddy candy conspiracy was real. The Nerds combined two of the unfavorable flavors with... apple-coated watermelon.
Have you ever tasted a watermelon candy that tasted remotely like a watermelon?
Maybe that’s a good thing. Because most of the Tootsie Roll Pops in the bag were, yep, you guessed it, watermelon-flavored Tootsie Pops. As Tootsie Pops have a separately flavored center, it set up the truly hideous taste combo. Chocolate Watermelon.
I tried it.
My tongue collapsed in horror and didn’t speak to me for a week.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#1032 Spell Worker

Every once in a while you see something and you say, what were they thinking? Or if they were thinking at all.
So it was not long ago. I was getting on the freeway and I drove by one of those temporary flashing road signs. Used to be you’d get the signs that were pre-printed. They were diamond shaped and yellow or bright orange with black lettering and they had been properly vetted by generations of sign makers.
They had great and arresting messages like “Stop,” “Yield,” and “Congestion Ahead.” That one always had me looking forward to a section of road that caused an allergy attack or something.
Then there were the reforms in gender reference signs. “Men Working” became “People Working” and then eventually just “Workers.” Which was actually more accurate, as often highway workers appeared to be not “working” at all, but standing around looking at a ditch or something.
Anyhow, this sign I saw was the new kind. It had those tiny lights that could be made to spell out whatever you want. Or misspell out as the case may be. Because the sign first flashed, “Pothole Repair Ahead,” and then flashed to a second message, which said, “Prepare to Stop.” Except it said p-r-e-p-a-i-r-. Just like repair but with a “p” on the front.
Hmm. Mathematically, the only kind of pre-pair is a single. Maybe a lonely highway worker was using the programmable signboard as his own personal want ad. Hoping some woman quick enough to figure it out would check out his orange-vested manhood on her way from zero to 60.
More likely, the sign programmer was a college intern suffering from the ravages of spellcheck dependency.
More evidence we are raising a whole generation of people who have never enjoyed the hefty mass of a good dictionary. And worse, have never needed to commit difficult words to memory.
Thanks to the squiggly red-lining fix that automatically singles out word mistakes, spellchecker addicts are totally unprepaired for a computerized device that requires spelling without it.
Caution: Non-Spellers Ahead...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#1031 Ex-Tradition

The other day I was sitting through a presentation at lunchtime, trying not to nod off with postprandial torpor. And as the presentation morphed painfully into what can only be described as a lecture, I reflected to myself that when I was in school, I had vowed never again to be subjected to this type of torture.
To be incarcerated in a polite prison of social expectation, when all I really wanted was to run free in a field of butterflies. My daydream shattered when I realized the field was filled with grass pollen and I was about to have an allergy attack.
Things change so quickly.
In any event, one of the great phrases I took from the presentation was an observation by the speaker. He was referring to the mix of students on his college campus and instead of saying he had a lot of older students, he said he had a lot of “non-traditionally aged” students. I kid you not, academic bureau-speak at its best. Non-traditionally aged.
But it’s so cool. I am not old anymore. I am non-traditionally aged. I’m not the negatively toned “youth-challenged.” I am not even the falsely upbeat “age-enhanced.” I am the carefully neutral “non-traditionally aged.”
But careful. It could be a slippery term. A baby in an assisted care facility is a non-traditionally aged occupant. A teenager in a daycare is non-traditionally aged.
Still, it works well to describe older people in younger people settings.
“Dude, your non-traditionally aged mom sure looked funny stage-diving.”
“Yeah, she’s having a very traditional mid-life crisis.”
New ways to call things to make them seem more positive are always odd. I heard a commercial the other day that talked about STI’s as opposed to STD’s. STI, I believe, means “sexually transmitted infection.” STD is the more traditional “sexually transmitted disease.” I suppose calling it STI takes away the negative implications of a disease and offers the potentially curable aspects of an infection. So people will seek out treatment.
To me it sounds like a sportier version of a car.
Like a candy-apple red convertible Ford Taurus STI.
For the non-traditionally aged driver.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

#1030 Earth Reach

Back before the turn of the century, we had this decade called the 90s. The Tech Nineties some called it, because during that time we had the tech bubble. The tech bubble, as you may remember, was characterized by soon-to-be-proved wrong expectations that everything computer and web related was guaranteed to bring in amazing investment returns.
Slackers were throwing together tech-related start-up ideas and venture capitalists were giving them money and the stock market was bidding up shares and no one had produced widget one.
Venture capital in internet startups was not quite credit default swaps but it occupied that same rarified realm of undistilled hope. So it was with amusement the other day that I reflected on who survived and who thrived.
Google for one. They saw that the biggest problem was going to be too many people on the web so they enabled the first internet “phone book” that really worked well. Except unlike a phone book, it turns the pages for you and points out the entry you’re probably looking for.
Or another analogy. Google is like a really good librarian. You can spend all day plying the Dewey Decimal system or you can ask the librarian. Google even helps with spelling. I just typed in a vaguely misspelled version of Dewey Decimal system and my spellchecker couldn’t suggest the right one. I typed the same garbled word in the Google search bar and Dewey, spelled d-e-w-e-y- came up right away.
Pretty cool, since one of the original search engine paradigms was the Dewey Decimal System, invented by none other than Melvil Dewey in 1876.
Even then, the name Melvil destined you to be a nerd.
I saw something else the other day that made me chuckle about the survivors of the tech bubble. It was on the website of Amazon dot com. Amazon was criticized and/or applauded early on for creating a huge company without having yet sold one book. Well they got around to it. There new tagline says it all.
Amazon dot com. Earth’s Biggest Selection.
Sounds like they plan to expand.
...Opening soon...on Mars...
Hey, if they let astronauts bring up Kindles, it may be closer than you think.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

#1029 Quaker Barrel

Time has a way of softening things. Like insults. It was devastating as a teenager to be called a nerd. Nowadays they have their own squad that services technology.
I saw a similar example the other day when I drove by a local gathering place for the Religious Society of Friends. That’s what it said on their sign out front, the Religious Society of Friends. As part of my mind was going “What the...?” the other part was going “Quakers.”
Just as that part was high five-ing itself, my eyes saw a word in parentheses under the title Religious Society of Friends. The word was Quakers.
Wow. The Friends put an insult of their church in parentheses on their own sign. They are friendly.
Because the word “Quakers,” although it has been around for 350 years, was originally an insult. It referred to the participants trembling or “quaking” with the presence of the Lord. Or what we in the sixties called a spaz attack.
This was similar to an insulting name for another religious group later on called the Shakers. When in a state of religious rapture, the Shakers didn’t so much quake as shake. The Shakers also made some great furniture in a distinctive straight and simple style. I seem to remember chairs you could hang on a wall for some reason.
Perhaps to get out of the way of fervent religious rolling around on the floor.
The Shakers got furniture. The Quakers got oats. But consider for a minute what God hath wrought. Here we have two Christian denominations, scorned early on for their outside-the-box behavior, and given snide names to dismiss and diminish them. And here one of them is today, 350 years later, embracing the name and putting it in parentheses on their signboards so everyone knows who they are.
Pretty cool. If you ask me, that takes more than oats, it takes grits—or possibly just grit.
It would be like some modern Pentecostal group embracing the name Holy Rollers. Or Bible Thumpers.
I’m not sure about Thumper furniture. It sounds a lot heavier than Ikea.
But I love the idea of Holy Rolled Oats.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#1028 New American Way

The other day I was thumbing through a news magazine and I saw an ad that floored me like I’d slipped on a bar of soap. It was from Amway. That’s right, world shattering. An actual advertisement in a national publication from Amway.
Amway, the king of Multi-Level Marketing. I remember meetings where I was told Amway would never ever ever stoop to advertising. That was the old way, not the Amway. Advertising was an expense for ninnies. Amway used the power of word of mouth and it delivered it personally.
That’s why you could make a million bucks with your own Amway distributorship. Or so they promised.
So it’s absolutely amazing to see Amway advertising. I always said back then that one key to looking legitimate was to advertise. People feel you have something on the ball just by seeing your advertisement. You seem more like a business. Like you’re playing the game.
Amway meetings of my era were almost like cult gatherings. Distributors with various designations based on gemstones. Mysterious circles and symbols shining on walls from overhead projectors. And lots of firm handshakes and televangelist smiles.
All to obscure an underlying structure that looked suspiciously like a pyramid. I wonder if Bernie Madoff ever went to an Amway meeting.
The audience was littered with Shaklee and Herbalife survivors, searching for a new shining way to wealth. Preferably effortless. And it seemed to be that the product itself was less important than the method you used to sell it. It wasn’t about the soap. It was about selling the soap.
That always seemed a little disconnected to me. If it was good soap and you advertised normally, and you backed up your product, why did you need 8 levels of distributors beneath you? Then again, I never understood credit default swaps.
The name Amway is a contraction of American Way. One of their big early sales cult methods was to invoke the fervor of patriotism. So the strangest thing about the ad I saw was its message.
It introduced “Amway Global.”
Dude, does this mean they’re going to outsource the construction of our pyramid?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

#1027 Say Cheesy

On the face of it, it’s one of those innocuous little stories that give folks a chuckle. The State of Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is using new facial recognition software for their drivers’ licenses and it doesn’t like smiles.
Smiles, particularly those showing teeth, mess up the program, so people getting driver’s licenses are told, when posing for their pictures, not to smile.
Ha Ha . Pretty funny. Driver’s Licenses are bad pictures anyhow, now you want us to grimace.
The reporter in the article commented snarkily that now driver’s licenses will look like mug shots. You know what? He’s absolutely on the money. If you are comparing two pictures with facial recognition software to determine if they are the same person, and if one of the pictures is a mug shot, chances are he or she won’t be smiling.
No one smiles for a mug shot.
And that’s the insidious side of this whole thing. Facial recognition software isn’t needed to issue a driver’s license. When you go to the DMV to get a license, they don’t compare your picture with all the other pictures they took in the past.
You could have grown a beard or a mustache, shaved your head, gained 75 pounds, or added glasses and bushy eyebrows. The point is you don’t have to look like you used to look.
So what are they using this facial recognition software for? When a police officer stops you and checks your I.D. he or she looks at the picture and compares it to your actual face.
When you use your I.D. to cash a check or get into a bar, it’s the same thing. It’s compared to your smiling face right then and there. All kinds of other security features to prevent fraud, like bar codes and holographs, are part of your license.
They’re telling us not to say cheese when they take our picture, but something else smells pretty cheesy is you ask me. Someone, somewhere, is putting together a database with actual pictures of us.
Which means we are all getting mug shots whether we’ve committed a crime or not.
Car 1984 where are you?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

#1026 Ideal Heritage

Never has a controversy in the Olympia area raged so long as with the proposed high-density high-rise development on the isthmus. It’s actually a peninsula, but we won’t go into that here.
For those against the development, it’s about protecting the great view for generations to come. It’s painted as virtually a crime against nature. Which is ironic, as the view in question includes an artificial lake filling with pollution and a ragtag collection of boathouses that to the uninformed viewer looks more like a tin shantytown.
Oh yeah, and on good days you can see the Olympic Mountains.
The sad thing? Downtown density is not just a move by a developer to make tons of bucks, it’s an example of what the Olympia area needs to do to protect other rural and pristine areas from development. Not only that, it’s an example of what we all need to do to save the planet.
Urban density is an efficient use of all environmental resources. And it minimizes those notorious carbon footprints we’ve heard so much about. So when many of the Don’t Wall off the Waterfront people talk protection of certain natural resources, they are preventing a much greater protection from happening.
If one were truly intent on preserving the heritage of our area for future generations, a step in the direction of reducing global warming may be an answer.
The other argument of the Don’t Wall off the Waterfolks was that the soon-to-be built Washington Heritage Center would lose its view. Sadly, the center recently lost its funding for construction.
So I say, when you break eggs, make lemonade.
Remodel that existing 9-story building on the isthmus into a new Washington Heritage Center and state office building. Build an observation dome on top. It will have a killer view of the Olympics and the Washington Capital Campus in all its glory. Then you can build the other proposed planet-saving buildings around it.
The beauty is that generations of the general public can ascend to the top of the new Heritage Center for free and get a panoramic view like never before.
And the planet will stay cooler.
So there will actually be a heritage.
America, ya gotta love it.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

#1025 Soapbox Cars

I like cars. Cars are cool because there are so many different traits about cars that are like our own. The creation reflects the creator. Cars are so human.
Like the way humans are such lemmings.
It seems whenever a car trend emerges, if it’s even moderately successful, all the other car companies immediately copy it. Every once in a while a manufacturer breaks out, but it’s not long before everyone else jumps on its bandwagon.
Used to be cars were relatively angular. Then, starting around the time of the Ford Taurus, every vehicle out there was shaped like a worn-down bar of soap.
Then came the mini-van. And then the SUV, and finally the new crossovers, which to me still sound like something you’d most likely see on a stage in Vegas.
For a while, car companies fell in love with astronomical names. Nova, Astra, Sunburst, Eclipse. Then there were the song part cars, the Sonatas and the Stanzas. Lately there’s been a return to Frenchy names, like the Entourage and the Rendezvous.
Can a car be an entourage and still be just one car? It seems like you should be driving a fleet or something. Check out my new Hyundai Entourage. What’s next, the Pontiac Posse?
And then a couple of years ago Toyota and Honda reintroduced the “boxy is cool” car, Honda with the Element, Toyota with the Scion Xb. It must have worked.
Because lately, Nissan has come out with the Cube, with an asymmetric window treatment that makes it look like an eyepatched pirate.
Not to be outdone, Kia just introduced its new “Soul.” Their ad tagline is, “Cookie good, cookie cutter bad.” As it’s at least the fourth in a series of box-like cars from different manufacturers, the cookie cutter reference is a little ironic.
The bad part is, when I first saw it on the road, the “O” in Soul looked like a “C.” So I thought it said Scul, possibly pronounced like s’cool, as in it’s cool. That would have been cool.
Fashion is fun, but practical is good too. So I understand worn down bars of soap.
But in these gas-challenged times, how aerodynamic are boxes?
America, ya gotta love it.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

#1024 Heart Burned

Way back when I was in high school, the type of person that we were told was the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, the avaricious predator we should most often avoid, was the drug dealer.
In “Reefer Madness” and similar government sponsored cautionary reels, the drug dealer was always depicted as a slimy, runny-nosed weasel, tricking the innocent and then running off with his ill-gotten profits. It was enough to give you insomnia, the nervous jitters, and heartburn.
Which brings me to an interesting subject. The other day my dad was telling me he was following the advice of his pharmacist and not his doctor. His doctor had prescribed him Nexium for his hiatal hernia.
Hiatal hernias are like an ulcer of the esophagus. The immediate culprit is acid from the stomach squirting back into the lower esophagus.
It’s part of that old prescription cycle. He takes medication to control his arthritis, one of the side effects of which is acid reflux, so he has to take another medication for that.
In any event, Nexium costs $200 for a 30-day supply. His pharmacist pointed out that over-the-counter Prilosec costs only $10 for the same amount. The only difference is, Prilosec contains half the dosage of Nexium. And here’s the really funny thing. They are both made by the drug company AstraZeneca.
The same AstraZeneca that comes on at the end of some drug commercials and says “if you can’t afford this medication AstraZeneca can help.”
Well yeah! Don’t charge ten times as much for the same thing.
So I wondered, what’s the extra profit for, a doctor kickback or something?
Then I found the answer. Last year the drug industry spent 73.9 billion dollars on marketing and administration. They spent only 28.8 billion on research and development.
“So here’s what we do,” says marketing and administration. “Let’s take this cheap Prilosec, double the dose so the feds can’t authorize it for over-the-counter, and raise the price 1000 percent. And then we give the customer the first time free...”
Now that’s a drug deal!
It’s nice to know drug dealers have finally found a socially acceptable niche.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

#1023 Corndog Culture

In a new book about the end of overeating, the author says the reason we overeat is that we’re addicted to some of the things we eat. He proposes we can’t just diet, we have to rehab our whole digestive tract. Actually we have to deprive our bodies of the rush we get from three main drugs—sugar, salt, and fat.
If you’re like me, you’ve cut down on one or the other. But American food purveyors and creators have made an effort to combine those ingredients in every popular food. That’s why they’re popular.
Think of the great food we love this time of year, fair food. Fair food is the summer equivalent of the groaning tables of indoor food we have during the winter holiday season.
Except in summer, we don’t carve a turkey breast. We heft a deep-fried turkey leg. Forget the pumpkin and pecan pies. It’s time for scones and elephant ears. How about those Jello marshmallow dishes? Strawberry shortcake. Mashed potatoes and gravy? Potato skin nachos.
Gravy and melted cheese sauce both enjoy the benefits of lots of salt and smooth finger-licking runniness.
Summertime also gives us the one food that is the epitome of American culinary culture. The corndog. Think of it as the pure heroin of the fast food hard drug spectrum.
First you take ground up bits of meat products you wouldn’t otherwise eat—lips, sphincters, ligaments, tendons, and nameless organs. Mix it all up and add lots of spices, salt, and sugar. Add chemicals, nitrates, nitrites, and various preservatives. Then stuff the meat into an intestinal tube.
Then you dip it in batter. The batter contains some arguably healthy ground up corn. Corn, the grain that masquerades as a vegetable. Add more sugar and salt to the batter and a little cholesterolly milk and egg to bind it to the corn meal.
Then deep-fry it in a hot bubbly vat of fat.
And the coop de grease, and American ingenuity at its best, put a stick in it to make it easy to gobble with one hand.
So your other hand can hold that salty, sweet, nut-topped, chocolate waffle cone.
Drugs anyone?
America, ya gotta love it.

#1022 Trick Finger

Works can be tricky. Especially when you mess with their spelling. Recently I wrote about Ben-Gay, the analgesic cream the relieves pain, and I learned that it is now called Bengay, with one word and the “G” in gay not capitalized. It also lost its hyphen somewhere in the process of joining with Ben.
So I wonder why they felt it necessary to minimize the gay in Ben-Gay. Was it simply because it was hard to spell? Did it sell less well in red states to the older clientele that was its main target? Or in the end, were they trying to slip in a more nefarious agenda?
Maybe they were simply trying to minimize confusion.
“I’m your day orderly at the eldercare home, Mr. Johnson. Do you like your new room? What’s that you’re rubbing on your joint?”
“That’s okay with me. Is that something for your arthritis?”
“Look, here at the assisted care facility, we don’t care what you used to be, Mr. Johnson, but we do care about what creams, analgesics, or medications you’re taking. So what is it?”
“Oh never mind, you old coot...I’m going to check on your roommate Mr. Dover...”
The other tricky thing about words is when you have a trick finger like I do. Sometimes when I’m tapping my keyboard the darn thing gets out of sync. It’s like I have dyslexic fingers or something.
When I intend to type in “for” I almost always type in “fro.” It makes fro an interesting read if I fail to catch it. Conversely, I type in “form” when I need to type “from.” But the other day I really almost blew it. I was writing an email inviting a person to attend a Lion’s Club charity event and I dyslexified the vowels in lions.
I ended up inviting her to come see the loins.
Yeah, and there will be a circus where they’ll have loin tricks. Not a good mistake. Thank goodness I wasn’t inviting her to see that Disney cartoon.
An invitation to join me at a special showing of the Loin King may have sent the wrong message.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

#1021 Vitamin Y

I’ve joked before about the changes brought about by post-middle age. You can learn a lot about what’s ahead at your health club. It’s easy to tell the mean age of a group of guys in the locker room.
A sure sign of pre-seniors is the discussion doesn’t center around sex so much as fiber.
Viagra briefly changed all that, but most of the guys went off that binge relatively quickly. Perhaps it was the light-headedness. Perhaps it was the hassle. Sex interfered with their golf.
Perhaps it was the other aches and pains they developed from too much exercise in that area. There’s no machine in the health club that isolates the pelvic muscle group. And throwing out a hip is no fun. Especially if it’s artificial to start with.
There’s this old guy in the locker room that got a new hip joint and now boasts to all his cronies he has an excuse to do everything half-assed.
This other guy felt like he was getting no effect from Viagra so why fork out the money. He was worried that his Viagra might be negatively interacting with his Lipitor. “Lipitor,” he said, “was supposed to eliminate the hardening of my arteries and...” then our looks of rapt curiosity made him trail off in his explanation.
Which is another subject of discussion. Do you want things that boost your testosterone, increase your sex drive and help you burn fat and lose weight? Or do you want to avoid testosterone precursors because too much testosterone causes hair loss and prostate enlargement?
The other big question seems to be, at what point are you supposed to get Men’s Formula One-a-Day vitamins or Senior Formula One-a-Day vitamins?
You also hear a lot of talk about various vitamin and mineral supplements. Most of the old guys could care less about creatine, it’s hard enough to move around, being muscle bound would make things worse. No, these guys would much rather discuss the relative merits of glucosamine. These ageing children of the sixties have gone from smoking joints to swollen joints.
The only drug they want is Ben-Gay.
America, ya gotta love it.