Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1323 I-magination

Sometimes I just think I have a problem with my imagination. Like not long ago when those giant sonic booms hit the South Sound. Lots of people were thrown into a total panic. 911 service in Pierce County was frozen up. People thought it was nuclear bombs, the end of the world.
I just thought someone had dropped a large piece of equipment at the rental place next door.
My imagination is just way too mundane sometimes. I did the same thing in the big February 2001 Olympia earthquake. Some of my acquaintances thought it was the millennial apocalypse come a couple of months late. I just thought it was a big truck rumbling by outside.
Either I wasn’t good about assuming God has calendar problems or it’s that old mundane imagination again. Maybe I’m just panic-inhibited. Some people are freaker-outers, some calm fatalists.
Still, I seem to have no problem imagining some things, like new ways to transport raw fish for sushi restaurant ideas. Sushi Boat and Sushi Train being taken, I still think Sushi Plane is a good idea. You haven’t lived till you’ve tried the Bonsai California Roll.
Or how about Sushi Canoe? You could get the Tidy Bowl man to be a spokesperson, and he could be paddling around in a sea of giant shrimp.
Or I have other imaginative ideas. Like pranks. Now that Amazon Kindle has wi-fi you could take one into the Barnes and Nobles coffee shop and use it to surf the web for free. Connect up and settle into a cozy Nook somewhere.
Or the sign I saw yesterday for cranio-sacral therapy. Cranio means head and sacral is your lower, um, back.
So is this therapy for acute head-up-your-rear disorder?
Now that’s something to imagine.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

1322 Soaring Sushi

I used to fear change. Especially those little machines at the grocery store checkout where your change spits out automatically. The load jangly noise always shocked the heck out of me when I was three years old.
But eventually I got used to it. Now I find it’s fun to sit back and watch how changing trends work their way through our culture.
Like a while back, it seemed like everybody and their brother was opening up a you-bake pizza place. Before that trend completely sorted out, along came the glut of teriyaki joints. You couldn’t drive anywhere in town without running into a cloud of charcoal chicken smoke. And it seemed like every teriyaki joint was named with some variation of happy, love, or joy.
Then nail places started springing up. Almost overnight, there was a storefront nail-painting place next to every Starbucks. I could have made a mint if I invested in a combination pizza teriyaki nail joint. Get your nails done while you wait for your chicken teriyaki pizza.
Lately, it’s sushi places you see getting in the swim. They’re everywhere. Some of them converted old Chinese restaurants trying to get on the bandwagon.
And bandwagon is right. Because it seems to me the key to success in the sushi business is to have the sushi delivered to the customer on some mode of transportation.
Like the Sushi Boat and the Sushi Train.
Hmmm.
How about the Sushi Plane?
That’s it. Have nylon fishing lines leading to every customer’s booth. Load the sushi and sashimi on those little balsa wood airplanes attached to the lines, like the Boy Scouts use in their modern version of the pinewood derby. Talk about presentation.
Fire up the little propellers and, voila, flying fish.
America, ya gotta love it.

1321 Inconvenient Coupons

Sometimes you wonder about coupons. It’s as if the advertising departments that produce them are charged with two missions, incite your interest, and then make sure you never actually use the coupon they’re offering you.
Why don’t they just print a straightforward ad?
Like those automatic coupon dispensers at the grocery store. After you’ve just bought the 10-gallon bottle of dish detergent, out comes a coupon for 2 dollars off your next purchase of the same 6-month supply. And it expires in 3 months.
Can’t I just get a refund now?
Or my favorite, the inconvenient complicated Costco Coupon Book. I just got mine in the mail. And it looks like they’ve finally changed their tune. Because they used to take time restrictions to excruciating lengths. But now the whole coupon book is valid for the whole period. Thank goodness.
Used to be, the coupons in it were valid only one week at a time. So if I wanted, say, a big screen TV, I had to wait until the last week. But if I wanted a deal on orange juice it was usually expired by the time I got around to opening the mail.
Staggering the weeks of availability was an exercise in frustration. So much so that I never even looked at the coupon book, knowing full well that when I decided to get something it would be the wrong week. The only time I actually used any of the coupons was when a friendly checker spotted a qualifying item in my cart and discounted it for me.
Technology could help I guess, but keying in a “coupon alert” on a smartphone seems a little excessive.
Not that I have a smartphone anyway. I missed the week they were on special.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

1320 Under Weather

How soon we forget. In the golden era of the sixties, when Woodstock ruled the air, there were many who felt we’d turned over a new leaf. To others it was simply about smoking it.
To a different group of people, righting social injustice was a violent affair. They reasoned the US Government was committing violence overseas and sending our sons to war, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, love children.
Or put something else in a pipe and blow it up.
The most radical among them did some pretty violent stuff in the pursuit of their goals of peace. Peace by sword is a recurring human endeavor.
These groups had catchy names, like the New Left, the SDS and the Weathermen. The Weathermen took their name from the Bob Dylan song Subterranean Homesick Blues, one of the original rap songs. It had the line in it, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The Weathermen used that line as a title to their manifesto, in which they spelled out the need to shake things up violently to bring about change.
To the truly peaceful elements of the Vietnam anti-war and civil rights movements, the Weathermen were pretty scary. Eventually, after a series of bombings, and the FBI hot on their tails, they went underground and starting calling themselves the Weather Underground.
Recently I found that name again, in a most surprising place, the internet. The name is being used by an organization whose goal is a single-minded dedication to one mission.
To report the weather.
Yep, the Weather Underground name is now a brand name for a company reporting the weather. How did that happen? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.
Not unlike our memories...
How soon we forget.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

1319 Stick-O-Chick

My lovely girlfriend recently gave me a small gift. It was a candy that’s been around since I was a kid. Candies that survive the test of time are always fun, but the origins of their names are often obscure. Necco Wafers are a good example. The letters n-e-c-c-o actually mean nothing. They stand for New England Candy Company.
I never knew or cared about that as a kid. I only found out this last year when I wondered about it for the first time. So I’m also wondering about this candy my girlfriend gave me.
It’s a Chick-O-Stick.
Chick-O-Sticks are like naked Butterfingers. They are actually shaped more like a finger than a Butterfinger is. But they aren’t coated with chocolate. So they’re this weird and not entirely appetizing orange shade.
The Chick-O-Stick bills itself as a “crunchy peanut butter and toasted coconut candy.” Does that mean the flavor drives you nuts twice over? Nothing like a couple of nuts to really enhance your eating experience.
But I have no idea why it would be named Chick-O-Stick. The thing is definitely a stick. Except the ingredients list names the portion size as “one roll” so the manufacturers appear to be less than sure.
But the Chick part is a total mystery. Whatever it is, it’s apparently “of the” Stick since that’s what an O in the middle of a name usually means. But that’s not a clue that helps much.
Chick often means baby chicken, but the roll certainly doesn’t look like any piece of chicken I’ve ever seen. The bumpy texture does bare a vague resemblance to exposed chicken bone marrow.
Yum.
I’m surprised the manufacturer has survived this long. Who would expect much from a name that invokes chicken-flavored candy?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

1318 Poli-vent

It’s primary time again and that means one thing. Lots more junkmail than usual. Area printers are big winners. The direct mail piece has got all the candidates trying to save shoe leather by not having to do quite as much doorbelling.
But remember candidates, there’s nothing like seeing you in person or getting to know you by hearing your voice on the radio.
Personally, I like meeting candidates at fairs and festivals. Nothing says Primary time like the sweet smell of curly fires. It was cool this year at Lakefair. They had the Democrat booth and the Republican booth right next to each other. Friends on both sides of the aisle called me over. “Come on Jerry, get a Demo-burger.” “Come on Funny Guy, have an all-American (Ya Gotta Love It) Republican hot dog.”
Think there’s some hidden meaning in the fact both sides offered up processed meat products? What is it they say about not wanting to see how laws or sausage are made? I’m guessing it’s true for ground beef and hot dogs too.
One thing I noticed though. One night I had Demo burgers, and with their pile of Walla Walla onions, I developed a case of really bad breath. The next night I had a Republo-dog. And it gave me gas.
Near as I could figure this was a lesson. A biological allegory. Politics makes you smelly at both ends.
By the way, lots of campaign signs have pictures on them of little boxes with check marks. I guess they’re trying to demonstrate to people how to vote. But they better hope no one actually votes like that on the real ballot. A check mark will get the vote disqualified.
The campaign signs should show a little filled-in oval.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

1317 Say What?

Occasionally I’ll see or hear something, be brought up a little short and say, “Say what?” Like the other day when someone said she had always been small for her size. As opposed to what?
Would she be small for her IQ? Perhaps small for her available time in the appointment we had. Small for her size, huh?
I’ve always been tall for my height.
Or the other day I saw a sign that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I was at a pet fair. Which, by the way, was kind of disappointing. It didn’t have any rides. I was hoping for something thrilling for my dog. Like a rover coaster or something.
Anyhow, the strange sign was for a company that was advertising they had “vegetarian” dog and cat food. Say what? Dogs I guess I understand, every dog I’ve ever had would eat anything. But cats? Cats are like the ultimate carnivores.
Somehow I can’t picture a cat being satisfied with a bowl of lentils. It would be like feeding a snake a mouse-sized lump of tofu. It’s just against nature.
I fully respect the philosophical position of vegetarians when it comes to inhumane mass-market meat foods. But animals have been eating animals since the dawn of evolution.
But it also made me think of a sign we’ll probably never see. Then again, since we’re human, we probably will. How about a diner called “Sam and Ella’s Factory Fresh Chicken.” They serve the famous breakfast called “Generations.” It’s grits, fried chicken and eggs.
Nope, people don’t think. Like this whole wiki-leaks thing. Say what? Weren’t the Wiki’s those cute fuzzy creatures in the second Star Wars movie?
I don’t even want to know what wiki-leaks are.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

1316 Squeezing Cents

Remember when your mom used to encourage you to pinch pennies? You had that little piggy bank. And she told you that old chestnut from Poor Richard, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
I always wondered why if he was so smart about money they called him Poor Richard.
Then again, I was always mystified by old time sayings. Like, “a stitch in time saves nine.” What the heck is that all about? I don’t know, but I feel fine.
Anyhow, it seems Mom was right. Little bits do add up, at least for the dollar store. That’s why they’re being sued. Actually, the company being sued is the “99 Cents Only Store.” And the reason they’re being sued is because they raised the price of their items to 99.99 cents.
Took a page from the gas pump book. Those nines add up. Clever. Eric Schiffer the chain’s CEO, says it’s a tiny tiny amount. But he had to admit that his company’s cash registers actually do round everything up when the item is scanned.
So even if he does say he’s only charging 99 ten-thousandth of a dollar more, his cash registers are charging the full penny. Isn’t Schiffer a German word that means mop-weasel? It’s something that just cleans out your pockets.
One of the lawyers for the plaintiffs summed up their legal strategy. “If they call themselves ‘99 cents Only’ it should be 99 cents.”
Makes sense to me.
Perhaps they should rebrand as “99 cent-ish.” Or “Barely Under a Buck.”
But here’s the amazing thing about pennies or in this case .99 pennies, adding up. That tiny tiny price hike netted his company $12 million dollars annually.
I’m guessing Eric Schiffer listened to his mom.
America, ya gotta love it.

1315 Picket’s Union

A corner may have been turned in the labor movement, and I’m not sure it’s a good one. Unions are doing what they’ve done for a long time—keeping people in jobs. In this case, they’re actually hiring thousands of people daily to stage protests outside business and government buildings.
Except these jobs have one very interesting feature. They are non-union.
Seems union pay is too high, even for unions. At least when it comes to paying pickets. Still, it’s sort of good news for people who can walk in circles and yell. Certainly an accessible entry-level skill set. And really, I suppose it’s no different than pro-business associations hiring paid signature gatherers for pro-business voter initiatives.
But it seems a little odd. Unions hiring non-union people to picket for union causes. Is it because the union members themselves would rather stay home? No word on if there are seniority rules with non-union picketers, or flextime, or if a picketer can work himself up from journeyman to master status. Not to mention medical and retirement benefits. And how about career advancement? How’d you like to walk in circles for 30 years? Talk about jobs that go nowhere...
These guys need to get a picketers union.
Union officials point out that the non-union picketers are being paid to raise issues common to all workers. Yeah, like working long hours, for low pay, in inhumane conditions. Like, say, outside in the humidity in Atlanta.
Where non-union picketers were recently hired for 8.50 an hour to picket for the Carpenters Union. A lot less than what you’d pay a carpenter. I wonder if they at least paid a carpenter to make the wooden picket signs.
Or maybe they out-sourced those overseas¾to save even more money...
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1314 Grave Crimes

Boy, I’d hate to be the Vatican. Seems like they just can’t catch a break lately. Part of their problem may be that the Catholic religion, as administered by the Vatican, has become like every other swollen bureaucracy. It’s filled with all kinds of conflicting and complex rules, regulations, and procedures.
Especially since they’ve come a ways from the simplicity of the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” says nothing about degrees of sin; cardinal, venial or otherwise.
So lately they caused another flap. Seems they attempted to define how bad certain types of bad were. Notably, how bad molestation of children by priests was.
Secular law treats molestation by figures of authority pretty harshly. And rightly so. These are people children are led to trust, not your ordinary creepy pervert off the street. Having a policeman or a teacher child predator is a horrible thing. Even more so a priest.
The Vatican revised its rules and now says it’s a “grave crime.” Critics call the designation too weak. Other critics are furious about something else. Because another newly-listed “grave crime” is the ordination of women. That’s right. The Vatican places pedophilia and women priests in the same category of sin. A woman becoming a priest is subject to the same procedures and punishments as sex abuse.
These guys need to get out more. That’s what comes of leaving behavioral rule-making to a bunch of celibate old men in a cloister.
Some are saying the new rule wasn’t voted that way but someone fudged the results.
If so, this is a cloister fudge of major proportions.
Should have run that one through an outside focus group. If they turn public opinion around on this one, it’ll be a miracle.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

1313 Suite Hotel

I was listening to an ad on the radio and it occurred to me that we’ve gone too deep on this branding thing. I’m not talking about when someone tries to trademark a name like “super bowl” or “super bowl Sunday.”
Or even a phrase. Like recently the guy who says “let’s get ready to rumble” won a lawsuit against a disc jockey who also used the phrase. That’s unsettling. I don’t want Snoop Dogg suing me every time I say “for shizzle,” nor do I want the Charlie Brown syndicate to sue Snoop Dog every time his name invokes the image of the dog Snoopy.
No, what I’m talking about today is when we say something so often it becomes the name-as-a-unit rather then its component parts. Like in the ad I heard on the radio. It was for Shilo Inns.
Shilo Inns is no doubt a wonderful place to stay. And the owner, who is also the announcer on the radio, makes them sound very inviting. Not least because he also sounds more like Tom Selleck than Tom Boddett.
But he, or his marketing department, is apparently now rebranding his fine place as “Shilo Inns Suites Hotels.” He says that expanded name about five times in his ad. It’s a little disconcerting. I mean, an inn is already that suite thing—and that hotel thing.
They may have forgotten that the Inn part of Shilo Inns is actually a concept on its own. So saying Shilo Inns Suites Hotels is pushing redundancy over and over to its repetitive limit again and again.
“Yeah, I went to Shilo Inns Suites Hotels, and then I went out to dinner in my automobile car vehicle and ate at a restaurant bistro cafĂ©.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

1312 Misspeak

I admit I don’t always get things right.
Like when it comes to my car. I had a guy ask me the other day if I ever rotated my tires, and I said, “What are you talking about? I rotate them every time I drive down the street.”
Likewise when he asked how often I changed my oil. “You’re supposed to change it?” I asked. “I thought I was always supposed to use 30-weight.”
“No,” he said, “change it out.”
“I never need to,” I said. “It must just burn off, because I always have to put new stuff in. I guess it changes itself.”
That’s the tricky thing about our language. Words like “change” and “rotate” can have subtle differences. Other languages have similar problems. When I took Spanish in school, I had difficulties.
First, because my name was Jerry, the teacher decided I should be called Geronimo. Pretty cool in one way, but hard to live up to in Junior High. That whole Indian raider thing doesn’t cut it in math class.
Later, I found out Geronimo comes from the name Hieronymus, as in Hieronymus Bosch, that guy that painted weird pictures of hell. He must have gone to my Junior High.
“Hieronymus” is Latin for “Sacred Name.” Which must be why when I came to school dressed in a loincloth and carrying a hand axe the principal yelled out, “Jesus!”
In any event, Spanish could be challenging. Like the word for Thursday is J-u-e-v-e-s jueves and the word for eggs is h-u-e-v-o-s- huevos. I’d always forget which was which, or worse, mumble them.
So later on when I went down to Acapulco I inevitably ordered scrambled Thursdays for breakfast. Or even worse, made an appointment with someone to meet me on an egg.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

1311 Distraction

Sometimes people get so caught up in new technological gizmos that they lose their common sense. It’s easy I suppose, why get a new toy if you don’t play with every bell and whistle?
But sometimes it’s a little weird.
Like this video I watched on a website. Before the main video would play there was a commercial. The commercial was framed in one of those interactive virtual TV windows. You know the ones, they include clickable buttons on the bottom to stop, pause, and control the volume. Anyhow, the commercial quit playing and this other button materialized in the lower right corner.
It said, “replay.”
Wow. Someone actually thought I’d want to replay the commercial that was getting in the way of seeing the video content I originally came to the site to see. That is one proud marketing firm. Sell it Baby!
Then there was the sign near the road at the Fire Station. It was one of those black electronic signs with bright red scrolling words. The kind of sign most city sign ordinances don’t allow on ordinary businesses.
It had this message cycling across it that said 3 million crashes a year were caused by distracted drivers. Funny, it got that message across using moving words and flashing lights.
Just the kind of thing that, um, distracts drivers.
And precisely the reason city sign ordinances forbid this kind of sign.
But hey, the Fire Department has a tight budget, and it wouldn’t be right if they only used their new multi-thousand dollar gizmo to tell us about burn bans.
And if you’re a distracted driver about to crash, what more cost-saving place than right in front of a fire station. They wouldn’t even have to fire up a truck.
Makes sense to me...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

1310 Mr. Dragon

We all have trigger foods. Those foods over which we can exercise no control. Put one in your mouth and a thousand follow. If only mine were rice.
But no, my personal downfall is Doritos. One chip and I’m off the wagon. I need to steer clear of them altogether or at worst, buy one of those little expensive-per-ounce 99-cent bags. At least then I stop when I hit the end of the bag.
Normally, any flavor Doritos is good enough to send me into a diet-busting caloric tailspin. The junkfood researchers at Frito-Lay must be among the highest paid in the business. But even the mighty can fall. The most recent Doritos flavor I ran across in a convenience store may lay a commercial egg.
The flavor is called “Mr. Dragon’s Fire Chips.”
First mistake. Never call any food product Mr. Anything. Sounds too much like a pet name for your, um, pet or something.
Second, the secret fire flavor of Mr. Dragon’s Fire Chips is horseradish-wasabi. Horseradish, love it as I do, is not hot and spicy Mexican salsa chili hot and spicy. It’s Japanese burn your nose with a hot poker spicy. Wasabi is not a corn chip flavor. It’s a perk up bland raw fish flavor. I get fish tacos. Sushi Tostadas? I don’t think so.
And unfortunately, wasabi is the wrong color too. The pictures of the chips on the bag and the actual chips in the bag are smudged and speckled with this scary green stuff. It looks unappetizingly like um, breadmold.
Yum.
And lastly, “Dorito-breath” is legend as a bad breath alternative. So is the old phrase “dragon breath.” Is the Frito-Lay marketing department ready to counter “Mr. Dragon Dorito-breath”?
Let the chips fall where they may.
America, ya gotta love it.

1309 Neglected Control

As I mentioned in an earlier essay, psychologists have determined what goes wrong with relationships. It turns out there are only two things that all arguments boil down to: One or other of the partners feels neglected or one or other of the partners feels controlled.
Sounds like they have it all figured out, right? Don’t control your spouse or lover, or don’t make him or her feel neglected.
Wrong.
Try as you might, you still have no control over how your partner feels. They’ll feel however they damn well please, and you aren’t going to control or neglect them out of it.
You could give your girlfriend flowers on a day when she really doesn’t want to be reminded of being in a couple, she wants to be her. Giving her flowers makes her feel like you’re trying to push her more deeply into the responsibilities of a relationship.
She feels controlled.
Here you were trying to make her happy and what she feels is you’re trying to make her do something, anything... So, feeling neglected yourself, you take flowers off the list of things to do. A couple of weeks from now, she feels neglected. Why don’t you ever give her flowers?
The whole situation could be reversed. It could be her that’s dusting your apartment or cleaning up your empty beer bottles. Bringing over doilies to spruce up the arms of your Barcolounger. She doesn’t want you to feel neglected, you feel controlled.
The point is, how a person feels often has little to do with what the other person does. Some relationships just leave you feeling vulnerable as a raw wound.
And whether the air on it is hot or cold, it’s still sensitive.
Better to have a healthy scar.
Get over it. Take control of your own feelings. So what if your heart looks like the mouth of a catch-and-release fish. You’re still swimming aren’t you?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

1308 Controlled Neglect

You’ll be happy to know that psychologists have once again determined what goes wrong with relationships. It used to be communication. It used to be arguing over money. For a while, it was about planetary dispositions.
But scientists are now telling us that all marital arguments, whether from Mars or Venus, come down to two things: One or other of the partners feels neglected, or one or other of the partners feels controlled.
And sometimes both, so be careful.
If you are going out to the tavern with the boys after work and don’t tell the wife, she’ll feel neglected because you didn’t take her and controlled because you directly affected her life negatively by not asking her.
It’s a slippery slope. She may tell you it’s because you spent the last food budget dollar on a brewsky, but what she’s really saying is that on Venus you would have bought that brewsky for her, after you asked if it was okay, so she didn’t feel controlled.
Likewise, if she plans a girls night out, it’s only natural you would feel she’s taking over the relationship by acting unilaterally and not at least asking you for your thoughts first, and neglecting you and all other Martians in the process by excluding men.
And yes, she does look fat in those jeans. Be sure not to neglect to tell her that as she leaves for the bar to do some innocent uncontrolled dancing.
Long Island Iced Teas do loosen up the dancing muscles so.
So it’s on you. The psychologists tell us you can you can make your relationships work by “demonstrating deference and expressing appreciation.”
Or you can just go have a beer with the boys.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

1307 Reusable Sickness Bags

My friend Rick told me he’d read an article about those reusable shopping bags. You know the ones; the point of them is to save the environment by using the same cloth bag over and over.
So every business gives them out at festivals and trade fairs. Reusable shopping bags have become the ultimate branding giveaway, replacing bottle openers, tiny flashlights, and even stress balls.
They are great to use. Not least because they are quite roomy and even more sturdy. You hardly ever have a reusable shopping bag blowout and end up with busted eggs on your kitchen floor.
Unfortunately, they’re also loaded with sickness. Yes sickness. A recent study concluded that 90% of reusable shopping bags were loaded with bacteria. It’s mostly from cross contamination, often from one shopping trip to the next.
That leaky chicken package dribbles salmonella juice onto the inside of the bag. That loosely-wrapped fresh hamburger oozes out a little e coli. Mix it with the fresh produce in the bottom of the bag and voila, who needs roughage?
The bottom’s bad too. You set those bags on the pad at the self-checkout area, then on your kitchen counter. I’ve seen some mighty hygiene-challenged people at the self-checkout counter. When they sneeze into their hand and wipe it on their pants, that’s a good clue.
It’s sad that the effort to help the sick environment is making many of us personally sicker. But my friend Rick suggested a good solution.
Disposable plastic liners. They have them at the store in the checkout area on little metal bars. They have handles, so you can hook them to the handles of your own bag.
And talk about convenient, when you get your groceries home, just throw the liner away.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

1306 Hella Bad

Not long ago I was hiking up around Mt Rainier and I chanced upon an odd plant. There were a bunch of them, they were about 2 feet tall, and they had these really interesting pleated leaves. They were almost like skunk cabbages, but not quite. If anything, they looked like something that should be in a tropical, not an alpine environment.
And they looked kind of succulent too, like maybe you could pull them up and cook them like asparagus, or render their roots into some kind of poi.
So much for gustatory intuition.
Turns out the darn things are deadly poisonous. I researched them on the interweb and found out they’re called “false hellebore.” And they aren’t hella boring let me tell you. They’re hella bad. Any part of the plant is bad to ingest.
But what I really liked was the warning I read on one website. The caution read: “Although a strong cardiac stimulant has been made from the roots, this highly toxic plant can cause birth defects, gastrointestinal distress, salivation, prostration, general paralysis, spasms, irregular heart beat, difficulties breathing, and death.”
I’m duly impressed. My goodness. Irregular heartbeat, birth defects, gastrointestinal distress, general paralysis, difficulty breathing and death. Those are enough to warn me off right there.
Although I’m not sure how I would manage to have sex to cause a birth defect in the next generation if I was generally paralyzed or, um, dead.
But the other two side effects are really scary. Prostration? You mean the plant may knock me on my keester? Lay me flat?
And it causes... salivation? You mean...I’ll get a bunch of spit in my mouth?
Run, run, this plant’s not just deadly—it makes you drool!
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

1305 A ON Prescience

It’s great to make these essays a little bit wry, and a touch sarcastic. One listener even called them snarky. Which to me always sounds like a shark with nasal congestion.
But occasionally I do a commentary that proves prophetic.
Last spring when the health reform bill passed, I went out on a silver lining and predicted that it would be a job creator. I asserted that the net effect of our complicated tax code is to employ 300,000 CPAs. They in turn employ about 5 people a piece, so those complex regulations lead to 1.8 million jobs, give or take a bean counter.
I then extrapolated that with the incredibly huge and complex health reform bill a new specialty would emerge. The CHI. Certified Healthcare Interpreter. Also spelled like the Chinese Chi, meaning good energy.
Talk about a prophet of profits.
A big company on Wall Street apparently agrees with me. They are AON. Since the other three-letter insurance company AIG took a nosedive back in the economic cratering when Goldman Sachs forced them to pay up on credit default swaps, AON is the world’s biggest insurance broker. They are now buying Hewitt Associates for 4.9 billion dollars, “to expand its division advising companies on employee pay and benefits.”
It turns out AON is making the move because Hewitt provides payroll and consulting services for about 3000 corporate clients and is expecting to see business spike because of employer uncertainty over the new health insurance law.
CHIs anyone?
But we still won’t be able to settle the old political dichotomy. Is this coming boon the result of intelligent government planning, or business adapting and figuring out a way to profit from annoying government interference?
I predict we’ll never know.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

1304 Heavy Thoughts

Sometimes scientists do the darndest things.
Like recently, psychologists at MIT figured out we give more weight to things that weigh more. The heavier it is, the seriouser we take it.
An interesting thing to find out. Put aside for a moment that we also found out that Massachusetts Institute of Technology has soft sciences like psychology. What is amazing is that they validated what we already know from our language.
Here’s what they did. They determined that feelings can be altered by tactile output and stimulation. Well hit me over the head and get my attention! Really?
In mock job interviews, they figured out that the interviewer viewed applicants more seriously if the interviewer held a heavier clipboard. Light clipboards made for light impressions.
(So if you want to impress a potential boss, print your resume on heavier paper.)
They also found that comfort plays a role. Car buyers were more likely to hang around and haggle if they were in comfortable chairs, more likely to buy and get it over with if they were in hard wooden ones.
The psychologists also concluded this helps explain the development of such metaphors as I’ve had a “rough” day, and making a “weighty” decision.
Well duh. That’s what a metaphor is—using a physical thing to invoke the framework of a feeling. If you ask me, these psychologists are mental lightweights. Us common folks have known for years how language structures our perceptions and our reality.
We’ve been carrying that serious load of knowledge for a long time. Ever since the sixties at least, when some nameless mental giant uttered that immortal phrase about carrying the weight of existence.
“That’s heavy, dude...”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

1303 Cap-socialism

Maybe the government isn’t that bad at business after all.
I know, the previous phrase is blasphemy to my righter-winged friends, and there are plenty of examples of government waste and inefficiency, but two recent ventures of the US into the world of business appear to have done fairly well.
The whole takeover of General Motors thing seems to have worked out. GM is back towards the top of the heap in worldwide sales. At least in China. Last year GM sold 1.21 million vehicles in China, a gain of over 50% from the previous year.
Maybe it helps to have the US Government State Department closing the deal. “Yeah, would you like to go in the back room and talk to my sales manager...Hillary?”
The figures are even more impressive because GM sold only 1.07 million vehicles in the US. They sold 140,000 more vehicles to the Chinese than to Americans.
I wonder what the proportion of SUVs was.
It makes me pretty confused about the whole political thing though. As far as I can tell, it appears our socialist business-owning government made a bunch of capitalist profit selling cars to communists.
Marx and Adam Smith are both rolling over in their graves.
In other good socialistic-capitalistic hybrid government news, the massive taxpayer stake in Citigroup is paying off. You may remember that during the depths of the economic cratering, and the subsequent bailout, the US acquired 7.7 billion shares of Citigroup stock in exchange for 45 billion dollars in Federal funds. Recently the US sold a bunch of them and managed to turn a profit of $2 Billion.
Buy low, sell high, the government is catching on.
Now if only they could figure out a way to invest every tax dollar more wisely.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

1302 Pampering

It’s no wonder the third world hates Western culture. In lands where they hike 10 miles a day just to get disease-laden water do you think they understand things like throwaway super-absorbent paper diapers? Probably not. They’ll probably understand the next item even less.
You can now go to Target and get designer Pampers. That’s right. They’re part of the new Cynthia Rowley collection. Wastestream-choking bunhuggers now feature pastels, stripes, madras, and ruffles.
I guess if they’re going to molder in the landfill for millennia, they may as well look good.
And Lord knows, we all love to pay extra for our throwaways. They retail for $15.99 for a package of 2 dozen, about $6.00 more than plain white. Who wouldn’t pay an extra quarter for style? So what if you go through a bunch of them a day.
And really, designer Pampers are about all they can do to change up Pamper style. It’s not like they can do low-rise or bikini briefs. And they found Pamper boxers just don’t cut the mustard.
Another reason third-worlders hate Westerners? The new Mercedes convertible. This is an amazingly indulgent automobile. It’s the comfortable convertible. Because it has two very anti-convertible features. One: An airfoil that rises above the front windshield to create an “air-cap” so riders in the front and back seats don’t get their hair mussed by the pesky wind. And two: Air vents in the seats’ headrests that blow warm air on your neck. Convertibles can get so chilly, you know.
You want to look cool in a convertible. Not feel that way.
A convertible that doesn’t feel like you’re driving a convertible. We have arrived.
When it comes to pampering, the West has it wrapped.
America, ya gotta love it.