Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#1216 Saying Things

I’m often fascinated by the words we use to supposedly communicate. We say, I “could of” gone to the store when we mean, I “could have” gone to the store. We say, he was suppose to speak correctly when we mean, he was supposed to speak correctly. We just get sloppy sometimes.
Like one of my pet peeves. I was at an educational event, and the speaker was a teacher. He was talking about a new school program meant to engage the kids called CAFÉ. He told us CAFÉ was the acronym C-A-F-E- and stood for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanded Vocabulary.
‘Scuse me, that’s CAFEV. Not a pretty acronym to be sure, but it does achieve that whole A for Accuracy thing you have in CAFÉ...
I should have expected it. This was also a teacher who used that grating word I hate more than any other, Ex-cetera.
You’re a teacher for gosh sake, it’s not Ex-cetera, no more than its Ex-spresso. It’s Et cetera. It means “and others.” If I was introducing my many ex-wives and forgot some of their names, I could use the term ex-cetera.
Surprising the guy’s grammarcheck didn’t catch it when he wrote his speech.
Mine caught me the day. I had typed in the phrase “free gift” and my grammar-check suggested I just say “gift.” And you know what? The computer was right. “Free gift” is a redundancy isn’t it? If it’s a gift, it dang well better be free.
Here you go honey, I got you this wonderful bouquet of flowers. That’ll be 19.99. Sort of takes away from the whole sense of what a gift is doesn’t it?
Such redundant stressing might have helped with my uncle. He never gave a gift that was quite free.
This is a gift for you. It’s free. So don’t go saying I never gave you anything. For free. Did I mention it’s free? Pay no attention to those strings attached. That’s just so it’s easier for me to hang onto your sense of obligation.
Feel free to get me a thank you card as soon as possible, and buy it, and send it, ex-cetera...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

#1215 Grenade Grinder

We dumb sometimes.
That’s my summary of the human race. Seems we all have our little blind spots. Whether through arrogance or inattention or being fogged by certain drugs, we just make stupid mistakes.
Take the hapless individual recently at the Yakima airport. Seems security screeners thought a shape in his baggage looked like a hand grenade. The young man was detained and kept off his flight. Military bomb experts were called in.
The shape appeared to be not a bomb after all. It was a marijuana grinder. But it did contain residue that, according to authorities, appeared to be marijuana. The man was detained further on drug charges.
Well at least he won’t get sent to Guantanamo. Unless they think he “appeared” to be trying to blow up the plane with happy smoke.
But this is so sad. What was he thinking? These days I never pack things in my luggage that look like hand grenades. Tah tah to those Leggs pantyhose gifts to my sister. And I certainly wouldn’t pack a pineapple.
And really, what were the pot paraphernalia people thinking? Make a ganja grinder that looks like a hand grenade? Don’t they assume addle-headed pot smokers travel? Do they make a bong that looks like a handgun?
I can see why the police say so often: “Thank goodness most criminals are so stupid.”
But regular people are a little light in the attentiveness too. Got a circular the other day that was sent out by a “Real Estate Professional.” And this person obviously forgot to check the right box in the automatic send-out selection form.
Because the circular said, “Daylight Savings Time is ending but... it’s always a good time to call me with any of your Real Estate needs.”
First off, It’s Daylight Saving Time not Daylight Savings Time. Secondly, it’s just now starting, not ending. And lastly, I don’t call people with my needs. I call people with my questions.
What I need is a real estate person with a better eye for detail and accuracy.
And maybe a free gift. A portable pepper grinder shaped like a grenade perhaps. “For all your travel needs...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

#1214 4-Give 4-Get

There’s an old saying, “what you give is what you get’” and I sometimes wonder if that’s the origin of for-giving and for-getting. Because it sure seems that when we forgive someone for something, we hasten the process of forgetting what they did.
And it seems like it’s about four times faster than otherwise.
I reflected on this because the other day I was talking with someone about a local politician who had suffered some legal and personal embarrassment. The first day the story broke it was the juiciest gossip nugget on the plate of the local media. But gradually, as the weekly news cycle has turned over, people aren’t as scandalized anymore. The person in question is working his way through the legal system and slowly returning to relative anonymity.
Which is to say the only newspaper camped on his front porch comes in a sheer plastic wrapper.
The 4-Give and 4-Get thing nagged me even further not long ago when I listened to Letterman’s Top Ten List on the radio. The list was delivered by none other than Illinois’ favorite helmet-head, Rod Blagojevich. And the subject was why he was worried about appearing on Donald Trump’s TV Show, Celebrity Apprentice.
When you think about it, this is an amazing confluence of American forgetfulness. Letterman, recently bathed in the scandal of infidelity and intern inappropriateness, Blagojevich, last year’s pariah, booted from his governorship for trying to trade a Senate seat for big bucks, and Donald Trump, amazing cult personality phoenix who continues to rise again and again from the ashes of his real estate investment scandals.
What is it that allows the public to repeatedly overlook and minimize their transgressions? It can’t just be their bad hair.
Ollie North, former felon and illegal arms dealer, had great hair. And Gordon Liddy, burglar, perjurer, and conceited and convicted criminal, didn’t have any hair at all.
Maybe it has less to do with hair than hats. As in the Mad Hatter. It’s not about higher morality at all. We don’t really forgive and forget, we just move on.
“Clean plates, clean plates!” we shout, and move down the table—to the next even juicier scandal.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

#1213 Hefty Loc

Thousands of years from now, future archeologists will turn to the landfills of the 20th and 21st centuries for clues about our culture.
And when they do, they will no doubt conclude that the single biggest symbol, of what we were and what we do, was the Hefty One-Zip plastic storage bag.
It is the epitome of our cultural development. A cheap plastic bag with a built-in plastic zipper on top. Because we need something to store stuff in. And it has to be convenient and catchy and quick.
And lord knows, it’s way too difficult to go to all the trouble of pressing the top of an ordinary ziplock bag together with our fingers. We want a fused-on built-in slider to zip that ziplock for us.
Worse, it’s likely we will never eat the leftover we are saving. And that the only green result of this plastic monstrosity’s carbon footprint intensive manufacturing is that the leftovers inside will turn green from mold, mildew or sundry refrigerator bacterial depredations.
Those sodden remains will be tossed, bag and all, and eventfully petrify for the future archeologist to try to figure out. Maybe his or her advanced chemical scanner will be able to determine the exact recipe of the desiccated tuna surprise inside.
But the bag itself will tell a larger story. The story of a culture that once invented the Lunchable, that over-packaged and segmented cracker, cheese and pudding holder that saved a generation of on-the-go single parents from having to expend all the effort of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for their children’s school lunch.
The story of a culture whose most amazing purveyor of packagability was Steve Jobs. Who repackaged our computers with ever-easier interfaces. From Macs and mouses and icons to click on, to iPods and iPhones and touchy-feely screens, to unfortunately named devices reminiscent of feminine hygiene products.
They were great at packaging, the archeologists might conclude, but not so good when it came to naming. IPads were bad enough, but why did they name a plastic bag so it sounds like overalls for the overweight?
Truly, the “Hefty One-Zip” takes the cake.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#1212 We are Them

Seems not a day goes by that us poor humans aren’t assaulted by one new virus or another. Pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. These things can wreak all sorts of havoc with the biological systems of every animal and plant and yet scientists really can’t agree whether they’re actually alive at all.
But they are the ultimate hitch-hikers and highjackers. Viruses hitch rides on the wind, blow into your mouth or lungs, swim through your blood, bury themselves in your cells, and highjack its replicating machinery. Eventually, the offspring leave on your breath or your feces or your snot and with one poo or atchoo, eschew all decency and invade the next host.
All from a little batch of inert chemicals.
Virus is a Latin word. It means poison or slimy. Ick, someone get the English word Kleenex.
Recently scientists have found that the virus connection is even closer than we think. Half of our entire DNA originally came from viruses, which most likely infected and embedded themselves in our sperm and egg cells.
Note to other scientists. Do not leave sperm and eggs cells lying around at the fertility clinic.
Scientists have also found that these embedded viruses are both good and bad. Some probably play a bad role in auto-immune disorders and cancers. But some do good, and are likely one of the factors that prevented your mom’s immune system for attacking you in utero.
A mother’s love can be a good thing. A mother’s immune system, not so hot. At least for the developing embryo.
So next time you have a cold, or some other virus that has you hugging the thundermug, while you’re already down on your knees, say a little prayer of thanks you’re alive to enjoy it.
You and viruses are closer than you think. Researchers are now exploring the idea that about a billion years ago a good-sized DNA-based virus coiled up in a bacteria cell, highjacked it and created the first cell nucleus.
And we all come from that virus.
We are them. And we think its fine.
Especially the slimy parts...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

#1211 Recall HVP

The headlines couldn’t have been scarier. “Massive HVP recall called, all of America affected!”
What? I thought. Am I that out of the loop? When did Toyota start making something called an HVP? Is that their hybrid? HVP—Hybrid Vehicle Prius?
Nope. As usual, the first conclusion my twisted mind jumps to was wrong. HVP has nothing to do with automobile accidents. Unless you’re eating gravy while you’re driving. Or perhaps a steaming bowl of chili drops onto your lap, oozes down to the accelerator and makes it stick at high speeds.
Because HVP stands for Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein. It’s used in sauces, gravies and all sorts of prepared food. It’s also available in dry sauce and gravy mixes. Just add water and, in this case, salmonella, for a truly explosive gustatory experience.
Yep, salmonella, our one bacteria friend with two friendly names. It’s Sam and Ella’s Gravy. You’ll be hugging the thundermug tonight.
What’s the difference between sauce and gravy by the way? Is it a thinness issue? Are sauces runnier than gravy? On a runny factor of one to ten, after five is a gravy?
That’s where eleven is a pudding.
I did love that they said they were “calling an HVP recall.” Calling a recall always sounds like I’m standing at echo canyon.
But it is serious. Most HVP is made in one plant. A place called Basic Food Flavors in, of all places, Las Vegas. Apparently not everything that happens in Vegas stays down in Vegas.
But what really got me upset was when I heard a couple of the actual foods involved. Like Pringles. That’s right, the anal retentive chips in a tube. And not just any of them. The Pringles Restaurant Cravers Cheeseburger potato crisps and the Pringles Family Faves Taco Night potato crisps.
What great names. You can tell the Pringles folks don’t advertise on the radio. “Pringles Restaurant Cravers Cheeseburger potato crisps,” gee whiz, add some hokey cliché and you got a 15-second ad right there.
How about this? Pringles Restaurant Cravers Cheeseburger potato crisps and Pringles Family Faves Taco Night potato crisps, vacation time, picnic time, fun time, now with salmonella, for the family that’s on the move and likes to get going...
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

#1210 Auto-bossy

Not long ago I had one of those modern technology moments. My computer was suddenly the boss of me. It was Monday morning and my computer had been turned off the previous night. Yes, I actually turn off my computer every night.
I come from a time when, except for the refrigerator, you turned your appliances off. The only thing you never turned off was your phone. So what does that say about me? I see my computer not as a communication lifeline but as an appliance.
Which made the Monday morning episode so much more annoying. Sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning, Microsoft decided to send out Windows updates. Complicating matters was another program I had installed on Sunday, which also got an update. It too decided Monday morning was a great time to install. And, in the final perfect storm, I had my automatic update install feature turned on.
The competing updates made my computer lock up in a massive auto-compu-cramp. It was impossible for me to use it for its normal morning tasks, like writing one of these commentaries.
I was frustrated to say the least. Locked out of my own appliance by a torrent of downloading and updating.
What if my car did that? “Sorry I was late to work, sir, I couldn’t get my Toyota going because it was updating its software...”
Later that day I actually had a discussion with my real boss about my annoying episode. He agreed, and reminded me that our computers constant need to reboot is another annoyance. Does your refrigerator do that?
My crisper isn’t working, I need to reboot my Frigidaire. I couldn’t shave this morning, my electric shaver needed to be rebooted. Sorry, no coffee for a while, my automatic drip coffee maker is updating its software.
That poor guy just had a heart attack at the wrong time. Who would have thought tachycardia would kick in right when his pacemaker was updating its software.
So, one more thing to add back into my tasks. Manually turn off “auto update.” At least tell it to prompt you and ask before it does the actual installation.
Show that appliance who’s boss.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

#1209 Choice Words

I like having a choice on things. With choice comes a sense of personal power. I may not always do anything with my choice; I just like to have it.
Like the other evening, I was at a restaurant and on a whim I decided to have a gourmet hamburger. The first thing the waitress asked was how I would like it done. I was overjoyed. I actually, really, honestly, had a choice to have a burger cooked my way.
Should I choose “rare,” dripping with juices and blood and flavor? My inner carnivore reared up with a roar. Should it be “medium rare,” still carnivorous but easier on the napkin usage?
I’d noticed the napkins in the place were cloth, which was great, as killing less trees was involved in my cow-killing meal, but not that great, as the napkins had an extra batch of starch from the commercial laundry and were incredibly stiff.
So stiff, the edges were sharp enough to give me a paper cut under my mustache.
So, no to the rare, possible to the medium rare. Maybe I should choose “well done.” Certainly the choice preferred by the e-coli paranoid among us. The safe, hygienic alternative when eating processed red meat.
Unfortunately, ultimate safety when eating what amounts to a cardiac infarction patty is not the reason we eat gourmet burgers. The most well done thing about a well-done burger is the flavor is well done in.
As in, retired for the evening.
So I finally settled on a choice. And the choice was “medium.” Less chance of bacteria, less messy and bloody, a compromise between flavor and safety.
In other words, not much of a choice at all.
It’s like asking would you like to be a great person or an utter failure.
Um, I’ll pick average.
Is that a good idea? I don’t know. As Napoleon said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”
On the other hand, at least when I’m obscure the wackos won’t get jealous and try to knock me off.
And I’ll be able to keep choosing the middle ground.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

#1208 Final Cocktails

Not long ago, as I was walking past a newspaper box, I glanced at a headline about the state changing it’s execution policy. Seems they are now offering prisoners executed by lethal injection only one chemical rather than a cocktail.
So is this a cost-cutting measure? I know the legislature is having to make hard choices, with the economy still in the crater. Since virtually our entire budget is based on sales tax, and since the economy tanked and there is no sales tax, they’re having to make some tough decisions.
Maybe they’re trying to prevent the embarrassment of what happened at an Oklahoma prison, when the local hospital decided to cut off the prison’s supply of lethal injection chemicals because an anti-death penalty group threatened a boycott.
So, is limiting the amount of chemicals we’re using to execute vicious threats to society a good idea? I mean, we don’t want them waking up later from an underdose on their way to the undertaker and going all horror movie on us.
But, my first thought when I saw the headline was, they inject prisoners with cocktails? I thought it was some dangerous household chemical they got from a hazo-house collection.
But a cocktail? And do they give the death row prisoner a final meal-like choice? “Yeah, I’ll have a Manhattan. I always liked the idea of going out in New York style.”
Or maybe the guy gets a salted lime squeezed through his hood and you inject him with tequila shooters. Arriba, that’s shooting up in style. Would you like reposado or anejo?
But hey, if they’re going to be injecting chemicals, and the prisoner has a choice, why wouldn’t he just choose a massive heroin overdose?
Which the state could save lots of money with by picking some up on the street. Maybe they already have a few kilos stashed at their drug-enforcement evidence warehouses.
Why not? The chemicals they use now are so boring and industrial. Sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and sodium chloride? They sound like the preservatives on a cereal box.
I’m guessing most death row inmates heading down that last road would choose to ride the horse.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

#1207 How You Take It

A word can be funny some times; totally changing meaning based on how you take it. Read can be “reed” or “red” depending on tense. Polish becomes polish depending on capitalization.
I see this every time I do a crossword puzzle. Crossword writers trick you with word meanings changed by context. So if you do too many crosswords your brain gets tuned in that direction.
I think I’m doing too many crosswords.
Recently I saw a sign on the back of a truck that said “Christian Counseling.” For some reason it sounded like a new form of rehab. Maybe because I had just seen another ad for a place that offered drug counseling. So my cross-worded mind naturally jumped to the conclusion Christian Counseling was for people addicted to Christianity. Some sort of evangelical intervention.
I had a similar experience when I was at a city hall the other day. It’s a big place, so they have signs out on the sidewalk to tell you which entrance to go in for various things. I started to go in one door and it said, “No weapons past this point.”
I backed up in a hurry. As a trained ninja in the deadly martial art of feng shui, my hands are registered weapons of decorating finesse.
I digress.
Anyhow, I went another way and saw this group of signs on a single pole. One said, “Parks and Recreation.” Underneath that, it said “Bill Paying”. Underneath that, it said “Violation”.
And I thought, wow, people come here to be violated?
It’s like a PR opportunity for tax protestors come true. “See, I told you the city was taxing us to death. They’re violating our rights. They even have a department dedicated to it. Right there on the sign, see. It says ‘violation.’”
Or like one of those adult services emporiums in Holland. “Yes I’d like the complete package please, nothing too exotic. A little domination perhaps and, oh, do you charge extra for violation?”
So I’m thinking, violation the infraction is a word too easy to cross with violation the activity.
Maybe it’s not a good sign for the city to put under Parks and Recreation.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Re-run #241 Valen-ton

That emotional cataclysm we call Valentines Day has passed again. And I’m glad. I really, really hate to be told where, when, and how I should be romantic—especially by the likes of card and candy manufacturers.
Cards, flowers and candy—do they have an industry name of their own? The romance industry? No, that would most likely include adult toys as well. The caring industry? Nope, sounds too much like nurses and stuff. How about the relationship industry? Yeah. Here’s some flowers Honey, let’s go talk to Dr. Phil.
In any event, it really frosts me when I have to turn on the fake romance every time February 14th rolls around. What if I feel romantic on Martin Luther King’s birthday, or St Patrick’s day? Where are all the heart-shaped candies then?
Oh yeah, early-bird valentines on MLK, and closeouts on St Paddy’s. Nothing better with stale chocolate then green beer.
Speaking of odd holidays. It seems to me that a large portion of the Irish population is, or used to be, Catholic. And if I’m not mistaken St. Paddy’s day happens between Ash Wednesday and Easter, so where’s that whole Lent abstinence thing?
Or are they only supposed to give up meat? Lord knows, when I’m doing penance by giving up meat there’s nothing like a tall brewsky to ease the pain.
According to one official Catholic website, penance is, after all, a state of mind, and physical discomfort need not be scrupulously observed. Well Hail Mary, we’ve come a long way since hair shirts and self-scourging.
Perhaps we should look for a deeper conspiracy to this whole Valentine thing. The closest thing secular America has to the Lent period of self-denial is the New Years resolution. Health clubs know that the time to get people signed up for a yearly contract is the week after Christmas gluttony, when scales across the nation are screaming in digital agony as they groan under the pressure of so much flaccid fat.
Been there, done that, got the two ex t-shirt.
It’s not a good year for plus-size America. We had Superbowl XXL and Winter Olympics XX all in the same season. Well here’s the thing about a resolution. It takes 6 to 7 weeks to ingrain a new habit. Scientists have proved that 6 or 7 weeks have to pass doing a new thing or stopping an old thing for it to stick.
Breaking a habit is not just for fat nuns.
You have to give it time. Your body has to adapt, you have to teach it a new way of achieving equilibrium, and if you fall off the wagon before those 6 weeks have expired, you’ll stay off that wagon and it will be harder to summon the resolve to get back on it for a long time. Your body loves its habits.
So I’m not suggesting there’s a candy industry conspiracy but, if I stop eating junk food on January 1st, February 14th is how many weeks later? America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

#1206 Peggy Earthquake

How is an earthquake like Peggy Fleming?
No, it’s not because an earthquake makes the “peggy thing” on the seismograph skate wildly. And no, it’s not because all the dust from an earthquake clogs people’s nostrils and encourages mucus secretion, so one could say they were “phlegm-ing.”
Nope, it’s because of the physics of ice-skating and centripetal force. We all know about centrifugal force. You learned that early, when, as a child, you were swung in a circle at the end of your arms by some adult figure.
A well-meaning yet not-capable-of-looking-ahead adult figure who, like mine, failed to account for the loss of friction engendered by sweaty child hands, and who then proved, quite noticeably, the power of centrifugal force as I went flying off onto the driveway.
No, centripetal force is the force of pulling in. As when an ice-skater spins in one of those fancy moves that make normal people dizzy and faint. And as when the ice-skater pulls in her arms and spins just a little bit faster as she becomes more compact.
That’s the Peggy Fleming part of my original question. The earthquake part is this: Apparently, the most recent 8.8 earthquake in Chile settled the earth a bit. Made it a little bit more compact. And since it’s now a little tighter and has drawn in its crustal plates a little closer, it is spinning faster.
The scientist who figured this out had a very tiny calculator, because the amount of time the earth is spinning faster is 1.26 microseconds. That’s right, our days are now 1.26 microseconds shorter.
A microsecond is a millionth of a second, by the way.
Great. As if time doesn’t fly fast enough when you get older. Now our days are really gonna zoom by. Shorter days, faster weeks, quicker years, 2012 will be here before we know it.
I wonder if the Mayans figured earthquakes into their fancy schmancy calendar. If you ask me, this is just one more reason their whole doomsday prediction thing is skating on thin ice.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

#1205 Good News Is

An interesting thing happened on Wednesday, February 24, 2010. An incredibly significant piece of legislation regarding health care passed the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. But wait, there’s something even more amazing. It passed with a huge outpouring of bipartisan support.
The vote was 406 to 19.
And here’s the really really amazing thing. No one heard about it. It was buried at the bottom of the news stack. I, a news junkie, had to find a rusty twisted spoon in the back of the bureau drawer and use a crumpled old folder of matches to smoke it out.
In what should have been one of the stories of the decade, a measure passing with enormous bipartisan support, we heard nary a whimper from our hallowed halls of journalism.
I guess because it didn’t involve hate, histrionics, and hysterical hair-pulling.
It was a boring and reasonable act. The House lifted the anti-trust exemption that insurance companies have enjoyed since 1945. Yes, I said anti-trust exemption. Since the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, insurance companies have been able to get together and legally fix prices, collude with one another, carve up territories and divide the market amongst themselves.
This has led to large insurance companies, with larger budgets than most states, to strong-arm said states into regulatory submission. Or else no other insurance company will service them. There has been no federal protection to turn too.
Imagine if a cable company had a monopoly to service an area without little or no regulation.
Oh yeah, right...
The public needs to know though, because the bill may be DOA at the Senate. The insurance companies have fewer people to buy there. So write your Senator.
Why? The Consumer Federation of America estimates the new competition fostered by removing the anti-trust exemption will save us 10 billion a year.
So there you have it, trust busting, a healthcare breakthrough, and an incredible act of bipartisanship, saving consumers 10 billion a year in a horribly strapped economy. And no front-page headline.
They used to say no news is good news.
Apparently these days it’s “good news is no news.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

#1204 Monopoly Return

Monopoly is more than just a game with a little fat cat pilfering the community chest. It’s a real life thing that can lead to lots of busted pocketbooks and poor service, whether you pass go or not.
I was reminded the other day of how government intervention can actually be helpful, like years ago when it broke up most monopolies.
I went into our local cable outlet to turn in my Digital Cable TV Box. I wanted to cancel it.
So, in an ever-declining cascade of customer service, they first made it difficult for me to cancel by saying I wouldn’t get any credit on my bill till I physically returned the box. The same one they delivered to me when I got the service.
When I went into the building, I was made to wait in a “wait here” area where there was no line until one of the three clerks doing nothing behind the bullet-proof glass protected counter deigned to notice me. There were also steel bars across their teller openings.
It looked like the visiting room at a prison. Funny, banks, where they have actual money to steal, are more open.
The glass was also smoked so you had to bend down in a supplicating position to talk to the clerk. “Help ya,” she snapped.
I love be referred to as “Ya.”
“I need to turn in my cable box,” I said.
How she then managed to compact the glaring of her eyes into the sound of her voice is one of those enduring human mysteries, “Name?”
I told her. She grunted, manipulated her mouse, tapped her keyboard and took the cable box. She yanked the cord out, tossed it in a bin, opened a door and threw the cable box onto a steel rack.
I hope I don’t get charged for a broken cable box.
She printed out a receipt and handed it to me. “The total doesn’t have anything to do with what you owe,” she said.
Apparently, her computer doesn’t do math. It just prints numbers with dollar signs next to them making it look like a total I owe.
All I knew was I wanted to get out of that stifling, negative attitude-permeated place in a hurry.
So to me the receipt was like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

#1203 A Yip of Tea

Yap yap yap. It’s all I hear when I turn on the TV. One commentator or another interviewing one or another tea partier, and all they do is yap yap yap.
Everyone is a total expert on what they don’t want, and no one has a solution. Less taxes, they say, but don’t cut my district’s services.
I read an interesting article the other day, in which the author advanced the theory that Tea Partiers are ex-hippies. Well not hippies, so much as Yippies. A recent poll indicated that the vast majority of people in the various Tea Party outbursts were white, middle-aged males.
That’s not a big surprise. Unemployment is highest among males and downsizing companies are often letting the oldsters go first. It’s also the group who lost the most from the 401k meltdown.
But the writer took the notion one step further. He pointed out how the Tea Party political tactics were very similar to the tactics used by the Yippies in the sixties—street theatre, shouting opponents down, creating media circi wherever they go.
Today’s group of disaffected anti-government males taking to the tea parties comes straight from the group of disaffected anti-government males that once took to the streets. The sixties’ activists who developed techniques to get noticed. Holding signs, being confrontational and, as I said before, making sure the media turned on their every little colorful gathering.
They wore the American flag as parts of their clothing back then too. But as I recall, they used a different kind of tea then when they had one of those there tea parties.
A tea with far more stems and seeds.
Amazing. Except this time, by the time we got to Woodstock, we were cranky. Too bad that recent tea party convention didn’t get quite as big as Woodstock. Then again, who wants to protest health care in the mud.
Anti-Vietnam war is one thing, but anti-universal health care is a little tougher sell.
But that still doesn’t stop them from doing what they do best— yapping.
From Yippies, to Yuppies, to Yappies.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#1202 Wall Street Undertaking

I’m all for Wall Street coming up with new and interesting ways to make us money. Can you use “interesting” as a word to describe the process of a 401k plummeting to the bottom of a roller coaster? And what fun we had with that whole innovative credit default swap shell game.
So it was with a sense of impending doom that I read about the latest hedge fund manager creation. It’s called a Life Partner Agreement. Here’s the principle. An investor approaches a retiree who has a life insurance policy. The investor offers the retiree an upfront chunk of cash and the promise to continue paying the premiums on the policy. The retiree gets money now. The investor gets the policy proceeds when the retiree dies.
If you are a smaller investor, you can join a fund, like Life Partner Holdings, and for a mere $50,000 buy into an investment pool.
The ghoul pool. Because it’s pretty spooky...
“High Net Worth” investors buying up the proceeds of life insurance from people on the edge—what a lovely undertaking. Are these the same retirees whose nest egg was just wiped out by the same Wall Street double-dealers? Since they can’t get by on their cat food money anymore, they have to sell out their death benefit.
Where’s the regulation? Because this violates a cardinal principle of life insurance—the principle of insurable interest. Someone can’t buy a life insurance policy on you unless they are your relative, or your boss and you’re a valuable employee. That’s so they won’t turn around as soon as the policy is in place and kill you.
So what happens when the Wall Street Underwriter undertakers decide paying your premiums is cutting into their bottom line, your earning ratio is about to go upside down, and you’ve outlived your profit potential?
Time for the Wall Street Death Squads.
Where’s Sarah Palin when we need her?
They wiped out your pension when they did all the Wall Street raiding in the eighties. They wiped out your 401k in the economic cratering of the oughts. Now they’re buying your live insurance in hopes you’ll die while you can still turn a profit.
Or else.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

#1201 Got Sand

I read this magazine article about how beer is good for your health. As I’ve commented before about how beer was the original energy drink, it made me perk up.
Let me refresh you too. Archeologists have determined that in the early days of civilization, primitive man’s first use of yeast was to make beer. Making bread came later. In what was widely viewed as the first instance of not just civilization but capitalism, they eventually learned to make bread from beer.
All that is old news. The new news is that beer is good for osteoporosis. Which is fortunate, because other aspects of the beer-drinking lifestyle, namely laying on the couch and doing nothing, are not good for bone density.
If you don’t exercise your muscles, they don’t provide pressure to your bones to increase bone density. That’s why doctors recommend weight training for oldsters.
Couch potatoes need some help. So it’s nice to know drinking beer is part of the solution. Turns out beer has lots of silicon in it, which increases bone density. Silicon is what sand is mostly made of.
So maybe when the bully was picking on that 99-pound weakling in the Charles Atlas matchbook ads he was doing the weakling a favor. Making him eat sand and all.
Instead of running off and signing up for a Charles Atlas muscle building course, the victim could have been saying, “Thank you, Mr. Bully sir, as you just gave my metabolism the opportunity to increase it’s bone density. And anthropologists have indicated it’s easier to attract the opposite sex for purposes of promulgation of the species if one has evidence of genetic health and vigor displayed by the erect posture promoted by bone density.”
The bully would have wandered off shaking his head—after pounding the smart-aleck weakling one more time in the sand for good measure.
There may be something to this, even in our language. The expression “that guy’s got sand” is a description of a person who is tough. And tough people aren’t known for brittle bones.
Then again, they also make glass out of sand.
Which is handy, since glass is the perfect container for beer.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

#1200 Doh-Nut

Not long ago I pulled into work. And as I got out of my car, this heavenly smell wafted into my nostrils. Ah, I thought, the new doughnut place is finally open. Because the smell was from the rich olfactory stimulators of burned fat and sugar.
Why is it the things that are worst for us smell so good? They go right to our most corruptest genes. Like we’re hard-wired for gustatory abandon and heading to coronary hell on a road of deep-fried indulgences.
Talk about original sin.
Smell a burger or French Fries frying, it thrills you to the core. Drive by a doughnut shop in the morning, your stomach growls like a wild animal. And don’t even get me going on the smell of freshly frying bacon. Combine frying and smoked pork products, someone buy me a prepaid gift card to the cardiologist...
The common spelling for doughnut now seems to be d-o-n-u-t-. In the old days, we actually spelled out the dough part. D-o-u-g-h-. But like spelling the “through” in drive-through t-h-r-u- we seem to have got lazy, either with our word processing or our sign makers. Maybe sign makers charge by the letter and d-o- donuts is just cheaper.
But doing the d-o- in donuts can make people unfamiliar with English pronounce it doo-nuts, as in Dudley Do-Right, so there’s a risk. Doo-nuts sounds a little like a doo-doo version of horse apples so you got to be careful.
Even with the original spelling I have trouble. I get the dough part. Doughnuts are, after all, deep-fried dough. But what twist of the imagination made the original word coiner call the result “nuts.” I’ve seen nuts on doughnuts, but I’ve never confused the taste of doughnuts with the flavor of any nut I’ve ever had the pleasure to savor.
Maybe it’s a behavioral nuts. Like when I smelled the doughnuts frying, my brain went “doh!” At the time, I thought to myself maybe that’s why we call them doh-nuts. They make you go “doh!” like Homer Simpson.
And by making you want to eat something sinfully delicious and bad for you, they make you go nuts like a Homer too.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

#1199 Laptop Viewing

Recently the Supreme Court ruled that police and other organizations could not use infrared and ultrasonic technology to view inside a person’s house. Just because we have the technological ability to see through walls, they said, doesn’t mean it’s right.
They said it was a violation of our constitutional right of privacy. This from a very conservative Supreme Court.
Scientists using infrared imaging and computers can now detect the presence of a tiny planet orbiting a star tens of light years from here. Since light travels 186,000 miles a second, it goes a whole bunch of miles in a year. If they can resolve an image getting that old and fuzzy, imagine what they could do to you and your wife in your bedroom.
Privacy is definitely a technological issue these days. All of our GPS cellphones actually have two-way GPS. If someone stole your phone, it could be found this way. Or if you were on the run from your stalking ex-girlfriend or boyfriend.
Let’s hope when the Chinese invade they don’t stop at Verizon first.
But it’s our own people invading our privacy we have to worry about the most. Like this school in Pennsylvania. They sent spies into teenagers’ bedrooms. Spies, as in “free laptops”. The school issued laptops to teenagers and then activated their webcams remotely. One of the parents sued when a teacher warned a student about not doing his homework because he was screwing around at home, and then backed up his threat with a webcam still.
Strangely, many of the students issued laptops were in a class that was reading George Orwell’s Big Brother opus. Would that we had such advanced technology in 1984. All we got to watch was MTV, which, fortunately, didn’t watch us back.
Not long ago I got a new computer at work and it had one of those little webcam lenses on the monitor. I taped a penny over it. Amazing how a simple alloy of copper and zinc can make you feel comfortable.
Too bad the Pennsylvania teenagers didn’t realize pennies make sense in more ways than one.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

#1198 Tea Teaser

As the 2012 Presidential campaign gets underway here in the first part of 2010, everybody seems to know what they don’t want and nobody knows what to give up to get it.
The Tea Party folks are pretty sure they don’t want taxes. But if they’ll have to give up Uncle Ned’s Social Security check and start paying for his living costs themselves they scream to high heaven.
They’re like most folks—anti big government unless that big government is giving them a check. Don’t mess with my Medicare, my dad shouts; in the same breath that he says Obamacare is socialism.
That’s just how we are. But I gotta say, I was a little let down after all the hype about the Tea Bagger convention in Nashville. First you had a lot of people pull out because the $500-plus ticket price was so steep. And because it went for a for-profit company.
Darn capitalists.
Second, there were only about 1,000 people there. 1,000 people and all that media hype? And according to the supposedly liberal press, this is a national movement of revolutionary proportions. And they only managed a thousand people?
I’ve emceed bigger cocktail parties.
Maybe tea isn’t that popular.
Then their big name speaker, Sarah Palin, charged those poor folks who can’t afford taxes a hundred thousand bucks just to see her.
Maybe she was hoping the hype would get her noticed in the other, more-established, conservative convention held right after. The CPAC convention. The most conservative political action committee the Republicans have.
With all the Tea Party furor, you’d have expected they would dominate the CPAC convention. If so, apparently they have spoken. 2012 could be Ron Paul’s year. He won the straw poll of favored candidates with 31%. Mitt Romney, who won the last 3 years, got 22%. And at a distant third was the voluntarily former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
The tea totals are in. The most conservative wing of a very conservative party gave her a mere 7% of the vote.
But don’t worry too much Sarah, as I recall, neither Mitt nor Ron nor Paul won the last presidential nomination, much less the election.
Still, it’s lucky that Fox job came through when it did.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

#1197 Sinister Gauche

Right after Lindsey Vonn won her first gold medal in the Winter Olympics I read an interesting news item that said, “Lindsey Vonn shrugged off a shin injury to deliver the gold...”
She shrugged off a shin injury? She must be really flexible.
But that got me thinking about body parts and how, unconsciously and linguistically, most cultures are against left-handed people. And how the leftists have burned it deep into our language.
One thing that set me off in this direction was when a friend was trying to remember what the French called the Left Bank. I said I thought it was Rive Gauche. Funny, that happened to be the right answer.
Unfortunately, Gauche also means other things. It means awkward or awry, as well as left. Gauche came from “gaucher” which means to tramp, reel, or walk clumsily. Thanks Frenchies.
And worse, according to the etymology dictionary, the English word “left” derives from the Old English and Germanic roots “loof,” meaning weak. “loof” derives from the word “lyft” which means weak, foolish, lameness, or paralysis.
Okay, I get it, when right-handed people have a stroke, the semi-paralyzed ones have to use their left hand, often badly. But really, what about us born lefties? We’re hardly stumbling around with one side in a permanent state of clumsy.
The bad meanings go all the way back to the Latins, who handed us this bias. Their word for “Right” was “Dexter,” from which we get the words dexterous and dexterity. But for “Left” it was “Sinister,” from which we get the word sinister, as in evil. Thank you Romans.
Funny, I believe Nero actually played the violin right-handed...
The English picked up on this too. In Heraldry, when they do those coats of arms deals, the indication “bend sinister” means illegitimacy.
So lefties aren’t just evil. They’re evil bastards.
You have to go even further back to the Greeks to get some relief. Their word for left is “aristeros,” which means “the better one,”
On the other hand, the dexterous Romans conquered them. And stole all their gods.
One of which, the Greek Atlas, shrugged...with both shoulders.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

#1196 Yare Forget

The other day I was contemplating how far we’ve come since the economy under the last administration got sucked down the drain at the bottom of a crater of unbelievable proportions, and I heard some commercial where this pirate guy was saying, “Give the scurvy dog a break, yarr...” and it got me wondering.
So I went to the dictionary and actually found the word y-a-r-e- sometimes pronounced yarr. That’s right, yarr. Like the pirates say. And here’s the interesting thing we seem to have forgot. (Our culture can be so forgetful.) Yare actually has a nautical origin.
It means, “responding easily, said of a sailing vessel, bright and lively.”
She’s a yare vessel, nimble and quick, yarr..
What a lovely and usable word. Yet now we only hear some distorted version of it when someone does a lame pirate imitation.
Such is the way of it. What’s bright and nimble often gets ignored. It’s over so quickly, and the people who do it make it look so easy, you never know how hard it is.
It’s like the personal trainer at the health club who reaches out and quickly grabs a 25 pound weight that’s about to bounce on your head. He’s able to do so because he’s trained for years to be good at what he does. He’s quick, he’s in shape, and he knows how things can go wrong at a health club.
Was the weight really going to hit your head and crush you? You’ll never know. You can’t prove a negative. But thanks to his quick thinking you never have to worry about it.
Did our last president save us from more terrorists? We’ll never know. Did our current president save us from an even more enormous economic apocalypse? We’ll never know that for sure either.
But it’s fair to say you can’t blame a guy too much for not getting fully out of a hole in one year that took the eight previous years to develop.
I don’t care what kind of vessel you have or whether it leans to the left or right, it’s damn hard sailing out of a whirlpool.
No matter how easy it looks, yarr.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

#1195 Randomizer

Sometimes my brain whirls around like some sort of bingo cage randomizer. A maelstrom of confusion until out pops a vagrant thought about this that or the other thing. Watch out for those other things.
Like the other day. I’m driving by this convenience store and they have a sign on it promoting a free-throw giveaway. But they have the word free-throw written as two words, free and throw. And my very first thought was they were giving away something like an afghan. A furniture accessory thingy that’s also called a throw.
This would have made a lot more sense if the store I was driving by was Bed Bath and Beyond. But it was a convenience store, known for selling Bud Light and Monster energy drinks. So do I have the secret subconscious soul of an interior decorator?
Maybe I should sign up at the community college for the mysterious martial art of feng shui.
Speaking of odd oriental things, I overheard a conversation between a couple of new-agers the other day and one of them was talking about having her chakras aligned. Can they do that? Is there a special therapist for it? Kind of like a chiropractor for your chakras. A chakra-practor perhaps?
And speaking of different paths to wisdom, I overheard another conversation between two apocalypsters about the Mayan calendar’s prediction of the end of the world in 2012. And I had to wonder about a couple of things.
One, if the Mayans were so smart, how come their civilization expired about 500 years ago? And B, the Romans, arguably a world conquering civilization with a lot of bright mathematicians and stuff, had some trouble with the Julian calendar. And one reason was our stupid year has 365 and 1/4 days plus a second or two.
So did the Mayans account for leap years? If not, we may have till about 2013. Good, maybe the housing market will bounce back by then and I can get out from underwater on my mortgage.
It’s awfully hard decorating a house that’s underwater during an apocalypse. Talk about a random pain in the chakra...
America, ya gotta love it.