Thursday, December 26, 2013

2138 Chinese Nugget

I have a story to tell about what some fast food places call chicken nuggets and what some places call chicken littles. I think this time the sky really is falling.

There's a line in a Barenaked Ladies song that goes "Chickety China the Chinese chicken, have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin'". Which may explain my sense of dread about the story I read.

Seems the U.S. Department of Agriculture, normally our friends when it comes to protecting our food supply, are going to allow poultry that has been raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to be shipped to China, where they will "process" it and then ship it back to American consumers.

What could go wrong?

Just because there is virtually no food chain oversight in China--- where bribes and corruption enrich officials looking the other way, where in 2008, they were found to have laced baby formula with melamine, sickening thousands of babies and killing six, where lead paint-encrusted toys have been shipped countless times in unlabeled containers--- I'm sure there's a good reason to now place our trust in them.

Well, yeah. Money. It turns out this is a bid to open up Chinese markets to imports of our beef. A tit-for-tat as it were. Or a nit-for-nugget. And we're the nitwits doing it.

Another make-your-brain-stop-tickin' from an anger-engendered stroke fact: No U.S. chicken folk have rushed forward to take up the offer yet, but if they do you'll never know about it. Since the chickens will be slaughtered here and cooked before its return, companies won't be compelled to reveal its Asian vacation.

I've always been suspicious of chicken nuggets healthwise anyway. Lips, feet, sphincters, and non-free range chicken litter. Who knows, maybe melamine will be an improvement.

America, ya gotta love it.

2137 Egg-cessive

It's no secret, from you or the NSA, that I get a little impatient with the supposedly great innovations in today's culture. Because it seems like so many of them make us more lazy and self-indulgent.  

So when I saw this Egg Minder gadget in a magazine recently I was not impressed. The article said that the Egg Minder represents "an elegant solution to a common food waste problem." What does it do? It keeps track of which eggs are oldest in your refrigerator. And gosh, it even warns you when eggs have gone bad. 

It looks like an elegant open egg carton. Alongside each egg-shaped indentation is a blue LED that, when lit, marks the egg that has sat the longest. When you remove that egg the next oldest lights up and so on. There is, of course, a related smartphone app. Perhaps to phone you and the NSA when one of your eggs has gone over. The NSA is very interested in bad eggs. 

A little egg-cessive if you ask me. Don't regular egg cartons have freshness dates on them? I checked mine and yes, there's a date right there on the side. So I already know how old those eggs are. Even if I'm that persnickety, I could always grab a felt pen and write the date on each individual egg. Since I don't eat the shells, who cares?

Obviously the manufacturer of the Egg Minder has created a niche product for those refrigerator fashionistas who would be mortified to have the inside of their elegant ice box tainted with an actual cardboard egg carton. What next? Repackaging their milk cartons too?

Oh look Gisele, I have the new Milk Minder carafe. It calls me on my smartphone when it's empty. 

America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2136 Spyanator

I came across a couple of articles recently that got me thinking. They were both related to today's technology and the potential misuses of it by the NSA and other spying organizations.

As an aside, isn't it odd how we keep getting more and more revelations from Edward Snowden? It's almost like those serial novels that used to be published in newspapers. They helped increase circulation, and of course revenue, by forcing readers to keep coming back for more.

It's like someone is paying Snowden for each chunk of juicy spy gossip. First the NSA is spying on our emails. Ka-ching. Then on European leaders. Ka-ching. Then metadata on our phone travels. Ka-ching. Then hacking into fiber optic cables to steal data from Google, Apple, and other supposedly secure networks. Ka-ching.  

And now, (ka-ching) not content to spy on us in the real world, the NSA is spying on us in the virtual online alternative worlds, like World of Warcraft and other games. 

Because, you know, Al Qaeda members like communicating with each other as zombies and ogres. Hey, if we could convince them to only blow up stuff online our problems would be over. Someone find 40 virgin avatars.

So that's why another news item scared me. Qualcomm has come up with a new open source framework that will allow all sorts of regular platforms to communicate with each other. Cars, mobile devices, computers, and home appliances will soon be conversing seamlessly. The program will allow all those devices and more to discover, connect, and communicate with each other regardless of manufacturer.

Which means, guess what? A new way for the NSA to spy on us. Crimenentely, the spies are already in my World of Warcraft. Now they're in my refrigerator too?

Hide the hummus. 

America, ya gotta love it. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

2135 Sales Executive

I read an article recently that talked about the President's new actions regarding the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, aka Obamacare. The headline said: "Obama to make economic case for health care, pitch to young people."

It cast my mind back to 1980, when in fact I was pitching health insurance to young people. And usually being rejected soundly. Few people are reviled as much as insurance salesmen. 

Back in those days I sold life and health insurance, and if there are two things that are exceptionally hard to sell to young people and really, people generally, it's health insurance and life insurance. 

Partly because no one wants to believe they are going to get sick or die. Or if they do believe they're going to die, they could care less about what happens to their survivors. I actually heard the phrase, "Screw 'em, I'm dead" more than once.

As far as health insurance, people clung tenaciously to the idea that "it won't happen to me," until of course it did, then they wanted as much insurance as they could get. I think one of the often overlooked but possibly biggest resistances to a national health plan is that same "it won't happen to me" feeling magnified 300-millionfold. 

Folks don't want to pay for something that they may not but someone else definitely will use. Until of course they personally need it. I think that same impulse leads people to live next to flood prone rivers. The definition of humanity is a remarkable capacity to deny the obvious. 

But what struck me most about the headline was that Obama now finds himself in a strange role. One guaranteed to lower his approval ratings even lower. He's the Insurance Salesman-in-chief. 

America, ya gotta love it. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

2134 Chia Dynasty

Recently I saw something that made me scratch my head. It was an ad for a Chia Pet. I'm sure you remember Chia Pets. Those pottery bases that you put seeds on and then the seeds grow some weird plant material that looks like hair.

If the pottery base looks sufficiently like an animal and the furrows in which the seeds sprout are evenly distributed, it's like Hair Club for Men except Hair Club for Grotesque Looking Pet. 

The seeds used are actually called Chia seeds and are from the mint family. The plant itself was cultivated by the Aztec as a staple food crop.

So I guess at some point you could actually eat your Chia. That means vegetarians could harvest an edible plant from an animal shape. In some cases that might look good, as the terra cotta bases have been rendered in numerous animal-like shapes, among them Chia bulls, Chia pigs and Chia chickens. Yes, I said chi-chi-chi-chia chickens 

Speaking of which, they've also featured Chia celebrities, including Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. But that's not the weird thing I saw. Chias have evolved to mirror our culture, from the original ram to the aforementioned Chia Elmer Fudds. So this season, you guessed it,  Chia is hawking Duck Dynasty Chia Heads. 

Yep, Uncle Si and Willie, both known for their hirsute pursuits, are rendered in terra cotta, ready to be smeared with Chia paste and encouraged to sprout green hair and beards. Interestingly, as the Chia sprouts are green, it almost looks like Uncle Si's and Willie's hair is growing in camo. Miss Kay would be proud.

I should get them. My other famous Chia died. Too bad. I can tell you, there's no better conversation piece than a green hairy Newt Gingrich. 


America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2133 Grift Card

I saw a commercial for Walmart recently about how great they are when it comes to matching prices. The gist of the ad was that if you found an item that you'd bought at Walmart somewhere else priced for less, Walmart would make it up to you.

In the old days they called that a price guarantee. And in the old days stores that offered it would promise to refund the difference. You had to go to the trouble of buying the other item and producing the receipt or showing an actual printed ad to get it but at least you got the refund. 

Walmart has a new wrinkle. They promise to give you a gift card for the difference. Translation, they still keep your money. Yes, I overcharged you but here's a gift card for the amount I overcharged you that you can spend on some other item that I plan to overcharge you for. Sounds more like a grift card to me. 

BTW, studies show 27% of gift cards go unredeemed.  

Still, things are pretty tough in the discount biz these days. What with smartphones and all, and other retailers actually posting ads online for their discounts, I would think one of the biggest challenges Walmart faces is keeping their checkout lines as short and quick as possible. With folks always sticking their noses in their devices, the more waiting time they have in line, the more time they have to compare the price of what they have in their cart to a price online. And simply step out of line and not buy it in the first place. 

I plan to use my gift card to buy a new wallet. My last one got blown out holding all those unused gift cards. 

America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2132 Drone Home

Drones. The world is all abuzz about them. Not just because they're being used as weapons, but also because, not unlike the atom bomb, they're now being turned to peaceful uses.

Like personal shipping.

Yep, according to Jeff Bezos in a recent 60 Minutes interview, he intends to get you your Amazon Prime doodad in under 60 minutes. And he'll use a fleet of drones to do it. Gone will be the days when you have to wait 2 days, or even 24 hours, nervously whiling away the time between wish and gratification. With the Drones of Bezos humming on the horizon your satisfaction will make a bee-line for your home in less than an hour.

Of course, like all new technology, there'll be downsides. Drones can't carry much, in fact just one five-pound package at this point. So, unlike one delivery truck driving the streets carrying lots of packages, you'll have lots of drones carrying one package each. 

Imagine the noise come Christmas season. Talk about holiday buzz. 

But there's another contingent pretty happy about the deal. Deal hunters. And I mean literally hunters. My friend Kris predicts packages will be dropping from the sky as fast as marksmen can shoot them down.

Their new game will be drones. Game of Drones as it were. Drone Huntin' will be the equivalent of a Walmart redneck doorbuster stampede. Beer guzzling on their porches, decked out in holiday camo, duck-shooting presents for the kinfolk. Whatever they end up bringing down. It'll be as easy as shooting flying reindeer. 

"Hot damn Cletus, we's gonna have us a free Christmas, no matter what we get. But we's running low on bullets, have Willie or Uncle Si order us up some ammo quick. They got Ammo-zon Prime don't they?"

America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2131 Rangy

I was thinking about the word "range" recently. As in "Free Range."

I believe my first encounter, and confusion, with the word was when I heard it in the song, "Home on the Range." Where the deer and the antelope play and all that. 

I was confused because I had also heard the term in conjunction with where our family's meals were cooked. My mom called our stovetop "the range." I wasn't entirely sure where there was enough room for deer and antelope (whatever they were) to play on our cooktop.

Later, I learned the open range was where animals and cowboys roamed about seeking free fodder. I'm still not sure why the same word is used for both. 

Perhaps because there was a somewhat open flat space where food was involved. But that notion was shattered even later when we got our first microwave oven. It was called a "Radar Range." And was completely enclosed.

So today, when we use the term "free range" to describe an unenclosed situation, where animals are humanely allowed to roam free before we kill them and eat them, it's confusing again.

But "free range" does sound kind of cool. And because range still carries with it the cooking association it even sounds a little appetizing. Like it would be more savory somehow. Flavorful like you get when you cook on an open fire. When you say "free range beef" or "free range chicken" it almost gets those lips a smacking. 

Even when you say "free range chicken eggs" the flavorful association continues. It's when you get to free range chicken egg products that it starts to get weird. Like, um, "free range mayonnaise." Those bugs the chicken ate on the range not so appetizing anymore.

Or how about "free range meringue"? 

America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2130 Coin of the Realm

There's this thing called Bitcoin. From what I understand, it's basically a way of dealing in virtual money and/or using real money to purchase virtual money. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could use it as currency in alternative life universes online?

You want to get better at a particular virtual reality online video game and so you buy yourself some extra health points, or possibly magic. Or maybe even a bigger sword or temporary invulnerability so you can get past the pack of zombies and make it to the next level.

Money in this sense acting like a cheat code so you can move on and get more success, and more perks, even if you aren't that good at something. Wow. It could make virtual life more like real life. 

Bitcoin, the company that facilitates this semi-imaginary money, has been under fire from the feds recently because it's being used by some nefarious folks to launder money. The Treasury Department is worried. Because, you know, the South American drug cartels and remnants of the Cosa Nostra are so tech savvy and all. 

Anyhow, in a classic case of one hand of the federal government not knowing what the other is doing, lawyers for the Federal Election Commission are recommending the agency approve the virtual currency as "in-kind contributions to federal campaign committees." Political campaigns couldn't spend or donate the Bitcoins directly, only after they've been converted into U.S. dollars.  

So, back when I played role-playing games, you could build up extra life points if you did something really awesome in the game. Wouldn’t it be great if you could convert those points to Bitcoins?

I like the idea of killing mindless zombies to get my candidate elected. Congress so often acts like a pack of mindless zombies now. 

America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 06, 2013

2129 Gray Assault

Christmas Season is here, and with it the frenzy foisted upon us by herds of anxious shoppers. The people that are most motivated by the phrase "don't miss out."

This year many of the large retailers are, according to them, altruistically relieving the crunch of Black Friday shopping by opening on Thanksgiving Thursday. Well, thanks to them.

Thanks for creating the Black Friday frenzy in the first place. Thanks for inventing the term "doorbuster," only to see it actually come true as hysterically amped-up shoppers, having waited in the cold for hours for ridiculously low prices on two items, actually bust down doors in their mad dash to a discount, sometimes killing folks in the stampede.

The great Darwinian shopping extinctifier. Shop now while natural selection is best. Only the fittest survive...

So now, the doorbusters are being pushed back to 8:00 on Thanksgiving night. Or even 6:00 in some places. I'm sure next year it will be 4:00, then 2:00, then what the hey, really really early Thanksgiving morning, before the family sits down to turkey later that day. Stuffing their shopping bags before they stuff their bird. 

Sad, because retailers don't seem to get that the biggest thing that makes Black Friday work is anticipation, the suspense and delayed gratification created by the break of Thanksgiving. Encroach on that and it disappears faster than beer goggle beauty.

Besides, it's spending all day with your relatives on Thanksgiving that makes some folks want to get out early and shop in the first place.  Why be home with family when you can join a crowd of strangers in the cold and damp and bust down doors? 

A tough question. Morally it's not a black and white issue. Perhaps that's why some retailers are calling it Gray Thursday.

America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

2128 What a Tweet

Every now and then I'll read something or another and it’s like the world suddenly shifted when I wasn't looking.  

Case in point, I read on the webby-news about the recent accord between world powers over Iran's nuclear issue. This has been a three-decade long case of gridlock. It makes the congressional stalemates between dems and repubs look like spasmic spats between stoners.

So this was a momentous occasion. What was the lead line in the article? "Iran Foreign Minister Zarif announces on twitter feed that historic deal has been reached."

Really? A world-shattering treaty. A momentous historic occasion. A three-decade standoff unstood off. And it's first announced on twitter? Dare I ask? Was it a nuclear tweety?

Bet Twitter’s happy they're having their IPO right now.

The other weird thing in the article I read was from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. In which, if I may say, he really put the yahoo in Netanyahu. Not Yahoo as in the search engine. Yahoo as in country rube.

Because he said to the West that this was not a historic deal, it was a historic mistake. It was, quote: "Like giving Iran a Christmas Present." 

What's wrong with this picture? In the US this is about the time of year folks start warning about the "War on Christmas." And here we have the prime minister of Israel, who, when I last checked appeared to be a Jewish individual, talking about a Christmas gift to a country that is officially Islamic. 

Kind of gives hope for Peace on Earth right there. I wonder though, if the Messiah was born today, would the angels on high twitter?

“Hark,” the herald angels tweet. “Peace on Earth, that's really neat.” 

America, ya gotta love it. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

2127 Handful of Nuts

I read an article recently about the newest path to a healthy life: A handful of nuts.I'm not talking about a group of zany comedians. I'm talking about actual nuts. The kind you can hold in your hand, pop into your mouth, and gobble up.

Scientists have known for some time about the general health benefits of nuts; unsaturated fats, minerals, a great way to get protein. In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration actually said a fistful of nuts a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. The Heart Association recommends four servings of un-oiled unsalted nuts a week.

 But new research indicates there's an across the board benefit to nuts. And it doesn't matter what kind, from peanuts to Brazilians. Oiled, salted, raw, or even roasted, the health improvements are significant. Research showed those who consumed nuts every day were 20% less likely to die during the study period than those who didn't. Eating nuts lowered the death risk in direct proportion to consumption.

The risk of dying from heart disease dropped 29%. The risk of dying from cancer dropped 11% among those who had nuts 7 days a week compared to those who didn't.One final bonus, nut eaters stayed slimmer. Another reason to fly on cheap airlines. By serving their piddling little peanuts or a handful of some other nuts, they're promoting good health

In sum, you can be healthier, less heart attack prone, more cancer free, and less obese, all by having a daily handful of nuts. In fact, the author of the article said, "regular nut eaters were less likely to die from any cause."

Sorry, that sounds nuts. Any cause? I'm guessing none of the study participants were sentenced to death by hanging.

America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

2126 Neon Balls

I was thinking of balls recently. Specifically, tennis balls. I'd written a commentary about how you always see tennis balls stuck to the back feet of walkers. Walkers the devices that help walkers walk, not the walkers walking themselves.

You'd think by now someone would have invented something so people wouldn't have to go out and buy a walker, then right away accessorize it with extra balls.

Like getting a tablet computer and having to buy a keyboard. Oh, right.

The other annoying thing about the balls is their obnoxious neon green color. But I suppose it's not like they have a lot of options, tennis balls are pretty much always neon green these days. Chartreuse the color of choice for visibility reasons, I guess. Racquetballs come in red, black, or blue. But they don't have a hairy surface so we won't be seeing walkers with blue balls anytime soon.

When I was growing up tennis balls were white. In fact, white was the color for the whole sport, from tennis skirts to tennis shirts. Today's flamboyance may be a reaction to that. The fashion equivalent of the sexual revolution's reaction to Victorian prudery. 

Thus neon balls. 

Sad though, that a whole generation of tennis players has never seen a white ball. Nor been able to know when to retire a ball from the court because it got too dirty.

I'm thinking even dirty white balls would be a great accessory for walkers though. If only because you could then wash them, dye them, and garnish them in different colors. 

Neon green is so unseasonal. As we approach the holidays wouldn't it be nice to decorate grandpa's walker differently? Maybe use some of that holly adorning your walls. 

Deck the balls with walls of holly?

America, ya gotta love it. 

Monday, December 02, 2013

2125 Buck Up

As tragedy after tragedy involving guns unfolds in the news it kind of makes you wonder. So many of them are misguided. Literally.

Here's an interesting statistic I got from The Week magazine when I was looking up a story on Rand Paul: The number of Americans killed in all wars since 1775 is 1.17 million. The number of Americans killed by firearms, including suicides, since just 1968, is 1.38 million.

With friends likes us who needs enemies.

Many involve automatic or semi-automatic weapons with rapid fire capability. That may be a crucial piece to look at in solving at least part of the problem. Because even with large magazine rapid-fire technology lots of people survive. The truth is, most people aren't very good shots.
Case in point. Hunters. The other day before dawn I was looking out my back window and noticed my security lights had been triggered by something. I looked over near my apple tree and saw a young two-point buck standing there. He looked casually at the bright spotlight then proceeded to bend down and eat. Totally cocky and unconcerned. He appeared to be eating apple tree leaves, and I thought, go for it bucky, there's plenty of 'em. 

The thing is, if I’d had a rifle I could have had meat for the winter. He was only 20 feet away. Why didn't humans scare him? That reminded me of the previous Sunday morning when I was awakened by shots about 500 yards away in the nearby woods. 

Ah, I'd thought, hunting season, they'll stop soon. Nope, eventually 20 shots rang out. All from the same place. I think someone needs to take up a new hobby. 

So. My solution. Let folks keep their weapons. But just the ones they have to aim.  

America, ya gotta love it. 

2124 Walking Balls

Recently I was at the emergency ward. My father bumped his noggin and had to get stitches and such. Time slipped by slowly, as it does at such places. Each moment in itself absolutely interminable and then suddenly you look up and three hours of your life have disappeared.

After they looked at his head and rolled him in for a CAT scan to rule out internal bleeding, they returned him to the room for a while where we could kill time in relative peace and quiet.

Then, time to leave. A doctor came in, said everything was fine, and we were free to go. But first they wanted to stand up my dad and make sure he could walk with the aid of a walker. Which they then brought out. I was amazed.

Amazed because, though we were in a high-tech hospital, with computers and all kinds of electronic modern miracles everywhere, the walker they pulled out was a cheap aluminum fold up thing with, get this, tennis balls stuck to its rear feet.

I'm sure you've all seen such walkers, and even more expensive ones, being utilized by old people as they ambulate through public spaces. Elderfolks shuffling along, pushing their walkers in front of them, sometimes with front wheels spinning, but always with tennis balls sliding in the back. It seems so cruel in a way, since none of the folks in question is ever likely to play tennis again.

So here's my question. If everyone is going to put deflated drooping balls on their walkers anyhow, why doesn't the designer/manufacturer come up with a ball-oriented solution? Build it right into his product. Why does even a hospital resort to accessorizing the walkers with off-label after-market balls?

Which are now in your court, designers.    

America, ya gotta love it. 

2123 Facing Fashion

I read an interesting article recently on how the Chinese are handling their incredibly bad pollution. Unfortunately not so well. But they are facing up to it.  

In case you've been on another planet, China's two decades of runaway economic development and lack of restraint from any sort of pollution laws has created a horrible air quality crisis. Used to be Chinese millions got around on bicycles, but since the growth of their middle class more than 120 million vehicles are now cramming their roads and belching smog. 

Worse, just about all their energy needs come from dirty coal. China burns as much coal as the entire rest of the world. The coal cartel controls the coal committees too so goodbye breathable air. It's the perfect example of a government who pushes growth and capitalism that has no restraints. Without those two sides balancing each other even a simple freedom like taking a breath is compromised. 

But in a country where basic freedoms are still at issue it's hard for an environmental movement to take hold. So the only thing left is entrepreneurialism. The only freedom the government actually supports.

Enter the solution to Chinese pollution. Fashion. Yep, in order to breathe, millions of people are buying facemasks. And the companies that make them are making a killing. There's been a boom in fashion forward facemasks. Cause, you know, who wants to look like a surgeon. 

Some of the masks come with counterfeit designer logos, (why should China's counterfeit industry suffer) and some come with animal prints --- a choking panda perhaps. 

It creates some interesting social dynamics. Now when someone says your fashionable facemask is breathtaking, you can be rude and say no, it's for breathtaking.

And that's how China is facing the desolation of smog.   

America, ya gotta love it.