Archive for January, 2009

The New York Times goes potty-mouth

January 31, 2009

While I personally regard The New York Times as the world’s greatest newspaper, there are others who substitute nicknames different than the traditional “Grey Lady” or “The Paper of Record.” They may call it “Home of the Eastern Elite” or simply “Those Jewish Guys.” These are politically driven criticisms that I won’t dignify with a response, other than to say that those people are rednecks.

I understand how certain recent changes have been made necessary by market demands on the financial side of newspapers. The design has changed to acknowledge that it’s now possible to produce color on a printing press. Advertisements recently made their way onto the bottom of the front page.

But what’s possibly most challenging for loyal readers is how the editorial content has had to change with the times and with the tastes of younger readers. Though not nearly as outrageous in their titillation as other media — see tomorrow’s post about America Online’s “front page” — the Times is venturing into subjects I’d expect to see in underground elementary school newspapers, if such things existed.

The following is an article the Times ran recently that’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about.


CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

“It’s pronounced ‘PENNIS-tun,’” Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, said over the telephone, rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: “p-e-n” — pause — “i-s-t-o-n-e.”

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

“Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honored tradition in this country,” Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London. Ed Hurst, a co-author, with Rob Bailey, of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK,” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here — said that many such communities were established hundreds of years ago and that their names were not rude at the time.

“Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude,” Mr. Hurst said in an interview.

Mr. Bailey, who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire, and Mr. Hurst got the idea for the books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road, in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water. But it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

“If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn’t deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name,” Mr. Hurst said. “People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers. And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television ad featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed Mr. Jones’s car breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Mr. Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say “crap” in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name “Crapstone,” though it is unclear what that is. Theories put forth by various residents the other day included “place of the rocks,” “a kind of twisting of the original word,” “something to do with the soil” and “something to do with Sir Francis Drake,” who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said that she no longer thought about the “crap” in “Crapstone.”

Still, when strangers ask where she’s from, she admitted, “I just say I live near Plymouth.”

* * *

For those as bored as I am by the prospect of the Arizona Cardinals playing in the Super Bowl tomorrow, I’ll be live-blogging during the game (or as much of it as I can stay awake for). I’m sure I’ll be making a lot of rude, sarcastic comments, if that’s your thing. Watch this space starting a little before the game begins around 6 p.m. For those who miss it, I’ll compile a summary to be posted on Monday morning. I look forward to “seeing” you there.


Website review:

January 30, 2009

I consider myself to be a pretty experienced traveler. I’ve been to England, Germany, Asia, the Philippines, Alaska and all over the Caribbean. In this country, I’ve been to all the major cities except Los Angeles. The only wide swath of territory I’ve missed are the so-called “flyover states” west of the Mississippi.

I’ve never gone to North Dakota and, frankly, I can’t imagine a scenario where I will. Of all the Dakotas, I’d rank it only my third favorite: behind the more populous South Dakota but also trailing the mythical East Dakota (when you’re a Dakota, imaginary is often better than real). I’ve heard claims made that North Dakota is the gateway to the Wild Wild West, though any time you hear something referred to as the “gateway” to something else, that just means it’s next to it, not part of it. I was once the gateway to Bill Clinton when he campaigned in my area for president in 1992, though I’d hardly put that on my resume, for a number of reasons. If I check my atlas, North Dakota could at best call itself the gateway to the Upper Midwest.

Fortunately, in this the age of the Internet, I don’t have to make a half-dozen flight connections all for the pleasure of ending up in Fargo. I just have to search for “North Dakota travel” and there I am at the official website of that frigid state’s tourism division – this week’s choice for a website review.

As you might guess, the home page features a collage of photographs, all of them featuring snow. There’s a couple wearing oversized sweaters snuggled up to their mugs of cocoa while leaning on the side of their log cabin. There’s a guy on a snowmobile, and there’s a view of a balcony in the woods where it looks like someone has fallen. I don’t know if this is the slide they put up just for winter, though from what I hear it could just as easily be a scene from June.

Next, a little history is probably in order. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed the order granting North Dakota statehood. Nothing significant has happened since.

“Dakota” is derived from the Sioux word for “friend.” North Dakota ranks number one in the U.S. in a variety of agricultural categories, including durum wheat, all dry edible beans, canola, flaxseed, all dry edible peas, lentils and navy beans. (I’m not sure how many friends you’d have left after eating such a flatulence-inducing diet, but I imagine at 40 below you’ll take whatever warmth you can get). The official beverage is milk, the official dance is square, the official fossil is petrified wood, and the official fruit is the chokecherry.

The tagline for the travel site seems to be “North Dakota: Legendary.” To quote further: “you ask, ‘what is there to do in North Dakota?’ and we answer, ‘what ISN’T there to do?’ The options are as diverse as the imagination. Some like to hunt, either for antiques or big game. Others enjoy howling, at a comedy club or while camping. Then there are the trails.” Let me pause to catch my breath before we look at some of the more memorable sites, events and activities throughout the state.

According to the “what to do” section, there are 606 statewide attractions. Neither space nor interstate commerce laws against using the Internet for fraud will permit me to describe them all. However, I can report that there is an albino buffalo, a 9/11 memorial site with a girder from the World Trade Center, a number of swimming pools, and a Celebrity Walk of Fame with signatures and handprints of notables including Debbie Reynolds, Maury Wills and the band KISS (rumor has it their handprints in cement were the result of a drug-induced fall rather than anything intentional). There’s also the David Thompson State Historic Site, a monument to the pioneer explorer who mapped the Missouri-Knife River area and later went on to basketball stardom at North Carolina State. And let’s not forget the Enchanted Highway, featuring metal sculptures including “The World’s Largest Tin Family” and “Grasshoppers in the Field.” Also there’s a batting cage called “Field of Swings,” a game warden museum and the geographical center of North America.

Not only are there places to see but there are things to do, as listed in the events section of the site: A Wine Tasting, Cabin Fever Days, ShiverFest, Quilt Til You Drop, the Dakota Bull Session (a three-day gathering of former military members), and A Cowboy and His Horse (“learn about the Old West from local cowboy Lyle K. Glass”). There’s also a production of the hit musical “Cats,” but I’ve got one of those in my back yard, so that’s hardly a big deal.

The website is not the only evidence that North Dakota has entered the digital age with the kind of enthusiasm its residents usually reserve for dying of hypothermia. The state is also mentioned on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. It’s seen in the background of at least several You Tube videos. And there’s also a blog, with one posting that seems to sum up what for many visitors is the typical North Dakota experience:

“I arrived just two hours before the start of what would become the biggest early November blizzard in the last 20 years. I traveled to the state to hunt whitetail and waterfowl for six days. The snow forced me to spend the night in Bismarck, since the interstates were shut down, but I spent a pleasant evening at the Expressway Inn and was able to get on the road by 10 a.m. the next day.”

In North Dakota, they don’t believe that getting there is half the journey. When explorers Lewis and Clark arrived, they stopped and spent the winter (not a bad choice when you consider they could have proceeded on to Montana). And, as the tourism office concludes proudly, “Theodore Roosevelt visited twice before he became president.” Twice.

* * *

For those as bored as I am by the prospect of the Arizona Cardinals playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, I’ll be live-blogging during the game (or as much of it as I can stay awake for). I’m sure I’ll be making a lot of rude, sarcastic comments, if that’s your thing. Watch this space starting a little before the game begin around 6 p.m. For those who miss it, I’ll compile a summary to be posted on Monday morning. I look forward to “seeing” you there.

You want my advice? (Pt. 16)

January 29, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a twice weekly feature (Tuesdays and Thursdays) of I look at questions of ethics, manners, faith, technology, geopolitics, science, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader with a really stupid, really boring science question.

Q. With talk of rising seas, what could happen to the rivers that flow into the oceans? Will they reverse flow? Will rising seas back up into freshwater lakes? And what happens to our groundwater should saltwater flow backward into it? – Getting Thirsty Just Thinking About It

A. Finally … a hydrology question. Our readers have been waiting forever.

Though I’m an expert in many fields (taxidermy, thoracic surgery, the Dave Clark Five, the Ming Dynasty), this is one area where I’m a bit of an amateur. I’ve never studied the subject formally but rather have approached it as an all-consuming hobby, primarily through my quest to drown as many fire ants with boiling hot water as I can. (It’s fun to put a stick in the middle and watch a few lucky creatures survive, only to realize later their world has been wiped out.) So let’s see what the professionals have to say on the subject.

Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia. For example, in about 4000 B.C. the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural productivity of previously barren lands. Aqueducts were built by the Greeks and Romans, while the history of China shows they built irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to build complex irrigation works in Sri Lanka, and are also known for invention of the valve pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs which still function.

All of which has nothing to do with your question, especially that part about whatever the hell a “valve pit” is. I predict that when the seas rise that rivers will indeed reverse their flow and the seas will back up into freshwater lakes, just as you’ve postulated. Our groundwater will be rendered too saline to drink, which doesn’t bother me because I only drink Pepsi anyway.

It’s basically just an end-of-the-world scenario, and nothing to worry your little head about.


Let’s recognize the underappreciated breakroom

January 28, 2009

When he grows weary of his heavy labor and seeks a few moments of rest and reflection, the American worker is able to turn to a quiet refuge of solitude where he charges his batteries before re-entering the global economy with renewed vigor. These are the hallowed halls of the corporate breakroom.

The origins of the breakroom may be lost in the mists of time, but we can imagine how ancient hunter-gatherers might take a few moments from their huntering-gathering to rest under a sprawling fruit tree. With the modern marvel known as the vending machine still eons in the future, they had no coin slots that would lead them to refreshment. Instead, they’d nudge the trunk of the tree with their brawny shoulders and hope that an apple or pear might fall at their feet. As is the case for us, their modern cousins, sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes, instead of fruit they’d get a bird’s egg or a dead raccoon. What are you gonna do?

As societies moved to an agrarian and eventually an industrial economy, the breakroom evolved with the times. In the sweatshops of eighteenth-century England, the 14 hours of toil spent every day tending the steam-powered orphan press would be broken into manageable chunks by the occasional moments spent chained by your overseer in a quiet corner for trying to steal some steam. The apples of yesteryear and the SunChips of tomorrow may have been replaced by  badger-sized rats, yet still it was good to catch your breath.

Today, we have advantages and comforts unimagined by our forefathers. As an example I’m familiar with, I’ll describe the breakroom at the office where I work.

The room is painted a shade of ecru/tan/beige/off-white that is the closest thing possible in the visible spectrum to no color at all. I’m not sure of the room’s dimensions, but if people were laid end-to-end on the floor (which only happens during third shift), I’d imagine it’s roughly twenty by forty feet. There are maybe eight or ten nondescript grey tables each surrounded by a random mix of plastic and cloth-covered chairs.

However, it’s what’s around the edges of this quiet corner of the corporate world that draws in the tired workers of both the office and the warehouse. Primarily, there are the vending machines: one that contains mostly snack foods such as candy, cookies and chips; one that was intended to hold actual meals of sandwiches and salads but now offers only instant oatmeal, cup-o-soup and plastic orange juice containers with some type of dark sludge in the bottom; and one each for Coke and Pepsi products, still sadly segregated in these otherwise diverse times. You can tell all the machines host a lot of traffic by the sticky notes affixed to their fronts, bearing messages like “you owe Jane in accounting 85 cents” and “I found a roach in my Snickers!!!”

Almost as important as the vending machines are the appliances used to make their products more palatable. We have two microwave ovens, one splattered with hardened sweet residues and the other with savories, so your cooking won’t be too badly mis-flavored if you choose the right one. There’s a toaster oven that neither toasts nor ovens, though it will provide a measure of warmth to your food. There’s an ice machine where you can immerse your hands when they get tired of typing (at least that’s what I think it’s for). There’s a refrigerator for those who choose to bring their meals from home, as long as they heed the warning sign on the door: “Absolutely no pizza boxes or two-liter bottles – they WILL be thrown away.” We used to have a coffeemaker but the warehouse people ruined it for everybody by using up all the artificial creamer and never replacing it, the jerks.

As for entertainment, besides watching people bang their fists on the vending machines, there’s a television perched in one corner with its endless loop of Headline News. We also have a bookshelf generously stocked with a surprising variety of paperbacks and magazines that makes it appear we’re a more literate crowd than we actually are. There’s a single window that looks out onto the parking lot, a clock with hands that make a 360-degree circuit every hour, and those intriguing walls I mentioned earlier. Those last three features draw as much attention as the more stimulating options the later it gets in the day; people working on overtime seem to have an especially keen interest in the walls.

Finally, I’ll mention the internal communications centers of the room, a couple of bulletin boards. One of these contains information being communicated by management about health, legal and other employment-related issues, as well as copies of recent emails sent out by headquarters, including the one explaining how we can afford to buy a company in Brazil but no employee hams for the holidays. The other board is a forum for people wanting to get messages out to their fellow workers. There are a few rules – nothing allowed that promotes commercial or for-profit enterprises, all postings must be approved by site management, they can be up for only ten days before being removed – but otherwise it’s the kind of wide-open space that our brave patriot ancestors earned for us when freedom of speech was first established in this country. When I checked the board yesterday, it showed a newspaper clipping of a record catfish catch, an article about how much trouble you can get in if you tell the health insurance people you don’t smoke but you really do, advice to wipe down all surfaces during cold and flu season and, inexplicably, a large map of the United States. (I think it fell out of one of the National Geographic magazines.)

It’s a warm and welcoming place where we while away our 15 minutes of paid break time twice a day. While it may not be for everyone – like the people who choose to sit in their cars or the coworker I discovered doing some bizarre exercise routine in the darkened training room next door – it can be a special “happy place” for those who need a break.


You want my advice? (Pt. 15)

January 27, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a twice weekly feature (Tuesdays and Thursdays) of I look at questions of ethics, manners, faith, technology, geopolitics, design, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader with a possible new-product idea.

Q. I am a registered nurse three days a week at a hospital and a bartender one day a week at a country club. I am about to launch an all-natural premium margarita mix and want to include on the label that it is endorsed by a nurse – me. Ethical? — An Entrepre-Nurse

A. Sure, why not? It should be fairly obvious to potential buyers that the mix is not intended to be used in a medicinal way and, while I don’t necessarily think the “AS ENDORSED BY A NURSE” tagline is going to be driving buyers to your product, I don’t think it’s unethical. The only potential for misinterpretation might come at the hands of dumb college frat boys who think they’ll be able to binge drink without any ill effects.

I admire your ambition in trying to bring something like this to market, and wondered if you have thought at all about the reverse synergy of capitalizing on your medical connections to make something that would appeal to the country-club set. You could do a line of pre-mixed drinks that were infused with various medicines you have access to at the hospital. Maybe a “Vodka Collins with Ritalin” for those wanting to focus in on improving their tennis forehand, or a “Cosmopolitan with Ortho Tri-Cyclen Patch” for the desperate housewives on the nineteenth hole concerned about their birth control. You could even do something as simple as a band-aid or aspirin, put it into hospital-style packaging, and charge $25 a piece like they do on the insurance claims. Or you could do a line of congealed, room-temperature entrees and casseroles and sell them as Hospital Cafeteria Healthy Meals.

By the way, I also think it’s ethical that you cut me in for a percentage of the profits if any of these ideas work out.

Thoughts on death and dying

January 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking lately about death and dying, and there are a few things I don’t like about it.


Obituaries, for one. I find myself being drawn to reading the obituaries in the local paper, since I’m more likely to find people I know hanging out on that page than in sections like sports, weddings or commodities futures. As my young son used to observe as we’d drive past a cemetery – “that’s where the dead people live” – I think it’s time for us to take a fresh look at the concept of death notices.


Currently we get to read all about how old people were, who some of their survivors were, and which email address condolences can be sent to. We’re told that they “passed,” “departed this life,” “were funeralized” or “went to be with [their] Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” but are given few other details. Sure, some notices may say that the departed passed “peacefully but unexpectedly” or “after a courageous fight.” That doesn’t really tell us enough. What we don’t get to hear, unless we’re good at reading between the lines, is what everyone really wants to know – the cause of death. If, in lieu of flowers, mourners are asked to make a donation to the National Skydiving Association, there’s a decent chance that the dead guy fell 10,000 feet out of an airplane. If they were employed by Johnson’s Crushing and Hacking, Inc., it’s a fairly safe bet they were killed in an industrial accident.


I think it’s a shame that the dead and their family members have to be ashamed of the way in which they left this earth for realms unknown. We have a much better understanding these days of what’s involved in the cessation of bodily functions, and it’s usually not anything to be particularly embarrassed about. My face might be red (before turning ashen) if it’s reported that I died trying to hold down a mattress in the back of a speeding pickup truck before the mattress became airborne. But at least everyone would know I was the kind of guy to help move a friend to his new apartment.


Then there’s the issue of what to do if your passing is going to take a while. No one wants to die of a lingering, painful illness, though I can’t say for sure I’d prefer the quick and easy death involved in a head-on train impact. You hear people saying they don’t want to spend their last days lying in a hospital bed hooked up to all manner of mechanical intervention to keep them alive. “I’d rather be home with my family,” they say, conveniently forgetting the smell of the cat box, the annoying telephone solicitations and how far ten steps to the bathroom seems when you’re no longer the most continent person in the home.


Before I’m discharged to my cluttered, dusty bedroom, I’d want to know more about which particular machines I’d be hooked up to if I stayed in the hospital. Might there be morphine involved? High-definition satellite television? The ability to pee without having to get out of bed? Talk about being treated and released. I’d be tempted to sign up for that now if I didn’t have to start paying for four years of college education this fall.


Speaking of early enrollment, I read a science fiction story once where members of the aging population were given the opportunity to end their lives sooner rather than later in return for a cash reward, a fabulous vacation and a pain-free passing. The short-term expense to society would be offset by the decades in which the fading individual was not eating their meals on wheels and using up other social services that might be better dedicated to those who could chase down their own food. I think this proposal should be given serious consideration. Put me down for spending a week in a hot tub on cruise ship eating prime rib with Anne Hathaway.


There’s one important consideration to reconcile before this can become a workable public policy: how you would create the least difficult death. Humanity has had a long history of failing to figure out the easiest way to go, if you can use execution methods as any example. The intentionally cruel attempts of ancient peoples – stoning, crucifixion, being fed to whatever wildlife was handy and hungry – gave way in recent centuries to progressively more user-friendly methods. The guillotine, gallows, electric chair and lethal injection were all thought at one time or another to be humane choices, though I don’t think any are quite my cup of poisoned tea. I think more research is needed to figure the fastest way out, and might I suggest the cast of the movie “Twilight” as possible volunteers in this study.


Finally, there’s the question of the afterlife. Most organized religions regard self-destruction as a sin, probably because it can make such a serious dent in their membership rolls. If you get to the other side legitimately and have lived a relatively good life, most creeds will give you a pass to a magnificent paradise featuring angels, harps, virgins, clouds, cows, gods with lots of extra arms, and all your dead relatives, though presumably the grumpy ones will have found other accommodations. If you’ve sinned or, in the Southern Baptist tradition, done a disco dance, you instead are consigned to a hell that will likely include at least one Bee Gee as well as a lot of other horrible stuff.


I honestly don’t know what waits for me in the Great Beyond. My best guess is that it’s eons and eons of nothingness, kind of like what the A&E channel has become. It’s only because we have such difficulty imagining what that void would feel like that we’ve come up with all these elaborate afterlife scenarios. Since they can’t all have it right, and because I hesitate to cast my lot with a randomly chosen sect (with my luck I’d get Zoroastrianism, which preaches a final purgation of evil from the Earth through a tidal wave of molten metal — ouch!), I prefer to think that you get whatever it is you believed in while you were alive.



And for me, that’s where Anne Hathaway comes in again.

A visit to the neutraceutical aisle

January 25, 2009

Last weekend I wrote about some of the strangely-named — and downright strange — grocery items I found in my neighborhood organic health food store. Yesterday, I wandered through what traditional stores would call their HBC section (health, beauty and cosmetics) but this store would have to call their USB section (unguents, salves and balms). Here are some of the items I found:

Candex Yeast Management System – I know yeast are living creatures, however I doubt they really need a manager. If they do, I know several from my work that I can recommend.

Super Digestaway – I’d imagine this is for people who feel their food is staying in their gastrointestinal tract for too long, and would prefer to see it expelled only moments after it is eaten.

Colon Green – I can understand the importance of an environmentally correct colon, and I hope that’s what this product delivers. If instead it actually turns your colon green, that is something I would not want, no matter how many glaciers melt as a result.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root Extract – Whatever this product is, it single-handedly broke the spellcheck function in my word processing program. It now stops on every single word and instead of offering “suggestions,” that field is simply headlined “huh?”

Intestinal Bowel Support – I hope this isn’t what it sounds like: a contraption of harnesses and trusses.

Parasite Formula – Like several of the products listed here, I’m not sure if this formula fights the title character or is comprised of it.

Gigartina Red Marine Algae (5 strains) – For those situations where four strains aren’t enough.

Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Living Oils – I’m guessing these do NOT include gasoline, motor oil, heating oil, etc.

Fucothin (concentrated Fucoxanthin) – For consumers ready to say to society “screw your impossible body images and screw your xanthin as well.”

Show Me the Whey – It’s so clever, you have to buy it, regardless if your diet is whey-deficient or whey-cool.

Hemp Shake – Not yet available at Burger King, fortunately.

Goatein (goat’s milk protein) – Stimulates those follicle-producing glands on your chin and upper lip in a way that will produce a strong, healthy goatee.

Host Defense – Something you take before going to a party thrown by your pushy neighbor?

MucoStop – If mucus has already been produced in overabundance, I wouldn’t want it to stop; I’d want it to MucoGo, into a tissue, into the garbage and into the landfill.

Super Lysine+ FizzSticks – Imagine the disappointment of young children who instead were expecting fish sticks.

Organic Motherwort – Just because “organic” and “mother” are in the name does not make up for the fact that “wort” is there too.

Quai Dong – I wouldn’t buy this product simply because I’d be afraid that a mis-type dropped the “l” from “quail.”

IP-6 and Inositol Plus Maitake and Cat’s Claw – When IP-6 and Inositol and Maitake are simply not enough, it’s time to get out the nail clippers and call Harriet in from the other room.

Bone Up – Please, please, please, let this product be for sufferers of osteoporosis and not for middle-aged men.

Ultimate Eye Formula – Again, I’m not sure if this is something that purports to help your vision, or is simply made of eyes.

Holy Basil – St. Basil was one of the group of great oriental theologians to whom, under God, we owe our right belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation, and also the chief organizer of ascetic community life in the East. When he died in 329 A.D., he was freeze-dried, ground up and sold as a spice.

Inflatrol – Can be used both on your tires and on your gut.

Calming Kit for Kids – This is an organic collection of Benadryl, vodka and cough syrup with codeine.

Confidence and Daydream Remedy – These are two different products sold for use with children. I assume the former boosts confidence and the latter suppresses daydreaming, but I could have it backwards.

Gummy Omegalicious – Another product for kids, most of whom are smart enough to see past the “gummy” and the “licious” to find that key ingredient of fish oil hiding in the middle.

Ubiquinol – It’s the herbal treatment for everything!

Guggul and Red Yeast Rice – Guggul is the resin from a tree from India. Why you would want to ruin perfectly good red yeast rice with it is beyond me.

Ditch the Itch Bar – This label is pasted on the product sideways and I originally read it as “Ditch the Bitch Bar,” believing it to be some kind of soap that would repel an estranged loved one. That actually sounds like a more useful product than this anti-itching formula. You can relieve an itch by scratching it with your fingernails but you can’t … Wait a minute, I guess you could.

Superhazel – Sounds like a mash-up of two sitcoms from the 1960s, where the sassy maid and the suburban witch become one, and madcap antics ensue.

Licefreeee! Lice Killing Hair Gel – For those kids who want to be fashion-forward and parasite-free at the same time.

Bone, Flesh and Cartilage – Are these things enhanced if you take this product, or is that what it’s made of? We need to know.

More celebs to rewrite history

January 24, 2009

Film actor Tom Cruise revealed last week that he had a childhood dream of killing Adolph Hitler. While on a world tour promoting his new movie “Valkyrie,” Cruise told reporters he regretted that time travel was not available for him to show up in 1930’s Europe and personally take out the Nazi leader responsible for the deaths of millions.

“I always wanted to kill Hitler, I hated him,” Cruise, 46, said. “As a child studying history and looking at documents, I wondered, ‘why didn’t someone stand up and try to stop it?’”

News of the Hollywood star’s desire to transcend the laws of time and space in an effort to preemptively remove the brutal German tyrant represented a new high-water mark among celebrity do-gooders. No longer content to adopt Third World children and raise funds to fight disease, today’s idols won’t limit themselves to what’s physically possible as they aspire to help humankind and promote their vanity projects.

Here’s a look at what other kinds of murderous retro-vengeance are on the minds and lips of the stars:

Kirsten Dunst: “When I was a very young girl, probably not more than two or three years old, I harbored a desire to kill (Hall of Fame Detroit Tiger) Ty Cobb. He was a very racist, very mean man. He may have held the all-time base-stealing record for decades, but he did it with a cleats-up style that injured many a second baseman. I really, really hated him.”

Bruce Willis: “I’ve always had a very strong distaste for the Chinese Cultural Revolution that led to the deaths of uncounted thousands. I’m not saying I’d want to kill (then-Chinese leader) Mao Tse-Tung because he did some good things to fight the Japanese during World War II. I’d just like to have been on hand to advise him against some of the more heavy-handed aspects of his efforts to overhaul his society.”

Marg Helgenberger: “Given half the chance, I’d put fifteenth president James Buchanan on my hit list. He did virtually nothing to head off what everyone could tell was going to become all-out civil war, plus he was our only bachelor president. He was a real bungler, and we’d all be better off today if his sorry ass had been eliminated before his 1856 election.”

Carson Daly: “For me, it kind of depends on how far back in time I could go. If there was no limit, I’d want to kill Alexander the Great. His reputation, as the nickname implies, is that he was an enormous political and military talent. Though he did bring Western culture as far east as India, he was very pushy about it, killing many tens of thousands of innocent people. If, however, I’m limited to just the last century or so, I’d kill (Russian tyrant) Josef Stalin.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman: “Rather than bring physical harm to flawed-but-human creatures, I’d go back to 1935 to prevent so much devastation from the Labor Day hurricane that ravaged the Florida Keys. I’m not naïve enough to think I could’ve prevented formation of the storm, but I do think I could use my histrionic acting style to warn many hundreds of residents to move to higher ground.”

Meryl Streep: “I’d kill Vlad the Impaler and I’d do it with my bare hands. Even though he was the basis for the great dramatic character of Dracula, that whole impaling thing just rubs me the wrong way.”

Roger Moore: “I’d kill Ivan the Terrible. He was just terrible – what more can you say?”

Rene Russo: “I’m not sure I’d go so far as to kill him (Oliver Cromwell), but I’d definitely do something to seriously hamper his more vicious tendencies. While I sympathize with his anti-royalist tendencies, there were more constructive ways to achieve the ascent of the Parliamentarians without all the fighting and executions.”

Dennis Quaid: “I’d kill either (Roman emperors) Caligula or Nero, I’m not sure which. Caligula was mad, so I guess you could say he had something of a medical excuse for his virtual ruin of Rome. Nero, though, you know he fiddled while Rome burned. That’s very un-cool.”

Orlando Bloom: “There’s not one individual I could name, because I was never very good at history, but I’d definitely want to do something to prevent the Spanish Inquisition. I’m a big believer in freedom of religion, so you can imagine how I feel about the idea of Catholics burning alleged heretics alive. By the way, watch for the upcoming release of my film ‘Elizabethtown,’ coming to DVD on January 31.”

John Mayer: “I know Tom Cruise is already taking care of Hitler, so I’d say I’d want to kill (Italian fascist) Benito Mussolini. He would’ve been as bad as Hitler if he had the skills, but things just didn’t quite work out for him.”

Osama bin Laden: “I’d go back in time to kill the mother and father of Mike Meyers. That ‘Love Guru’ movie absolutely sucked.”

Website review:

January 23, 2009

There’s probably no consumer product I’ve consumed more of in my life than Pepsi-Cola. For at least the last 40 years, it’s been my everyday drink of choice – preferred over water, over beer, over tea and over coffee. Especially preferred over ice, with a straw, in a tall frosty glass. A quick calculation shows that I’ve probably spent close to $10,000 on the corn-syrup-infused soft drink over the years. I’ve downed 438,000 ounces, which amounts to over 5 million calories, which adds up to about 5,000 pounds of added bulk, roughly the weight of a modern supertanker. It also means I’ve consumed more than a million milligrams of sodium – enough to build my own salt mine.

My love affair with Pepsi began as a youth in the 1960s. It was the ultimate treat my parents could get me at the end of the day. I occasionally strayed to other brands of cola, specifically RC Cola which at the time was the only drink to come in a 16-ounce bottle. Like many, I experimented during college, trying now-defunct brands such as Jamaica Cola, Chek Cola and the poorly-conceived Ebola Cola. Pepsi’s arch-enemy, whose name I shall not allow my fingers to type, is my choice only when there’s no other choice.

There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get after about the fourth or fifth gulp, when the carbonation in your gut reaches critical mass and that gentle eruption of flavor flows back into your sinuses and, if you’re lucky, stops there. It’s “the taste that beats the others cold” and “the choice of a new generation,” to quote slogans the company has used since its creation in the nineteenth century. I’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give. Let’s see what some of that is by visiting the website.

The first inclination for any consumer visiting this site, after considering the home page request to make suggestions to our new president about how to Help Refresh America (I think I can guess at least one), is to find out what it is that makes Pepsi so tasty. I know there’s water and I suspect there’s sugar, but what else gives it that special bite? Well, there’s caramel color, phosphoric acid, caffeine, sodium benzoate, potassium, citric acid and “natural flavors.” I know what caffeine is, I imagine citric acid comes from fruit, and I read somewhere that phosphorous can make you glow, all of which are good things. And who can dispute the wholesomeness of natural flavors? I can practically taste the dirt in a freshly opened can of soda.

In the “yesterday and today” section, we learn that Pepsi was invented in 1898 by Caleb Bradham and was originally called “Brad’s Drink,” a clever name that survived for days. It was created, Bradham said, to aid digestion. He said it tasted good and was good for you, unlike certain other colas I could name who bred a generation of cocaine fiends. We see a whirlwind of Pepsi logos circling the computer screen and eating up display memory before being shown the new container design. This is introduced with inspired words we could just as easily have heard during President Obama’s inaugural address: “We’re looking forward without losing sight of our past. We celebrate tomorrow, but honor yesterday. Today, we introduce the new face of our future.” Be assured, however, that “the taste remains the same” and only the marketing campaign changes.

Wandering around the site a little more, I see a part that issues “false rumor alerts,” where the company gets a chance to address concerns that the drink is made from the liquefied remains of slaughtered Amazon natives (completely untrue). The only entry here is a rather benign story about a patriotic can Pepsi allegedly produced with an edited version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Creating a patriotic can hardly seems scandalous; I can only assume that the abridged Pledge was the point of concern, maybe something about the “Republic of Richard Stanz” preparing for an attack on the American homeland.

We also see the obligatory corporate interest in protecting the environment in the form of the Pepsi Eco Challenge. I thought this might be a specific effort to restore balance to the biosphere – maybe planting a new tree for every plastic bottle cap that’s properly disposed of. Instead, it’s some vague “New Pepsi Challenge,” designed to recreate the excitement of that time the company dared consumers to choose among competing cola brands. “Today we heed a different call and face a different challenge, one that cuts across brands, companies, industries, even continents – the challenge of environmental stewardship, protecting our planet’s resources for generations to come.” I expected perhaps a call to pursue renewable stores of potassium or an end to our nation’s reliance on unfriendly suppliers of benzoate, but couldn’t find it.

It was fun to view the company’s current TV ad campaign, the “Pepsi Pass,” in which every generation is shown refreshing the world. We see Pepsi first being served at an old-time soda fountain, then the drink is successively passed to a 1920s flapper, soldiers celebrating the end of World War II, teenage drag-racers, hippies, a streaker, disco dancers, break dancers, Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall, and finally modern concert-goers. Most historians credit the pressure of Ronald Reagan’s military build-up in combination with decades of economic stagnation for the collapse of the Eastern bloc. As a loyal Pepsi drinker, I’m glad to see the truth finally told: the gassy fullness caused by drinking too much requires you to vigorously move around to get relief, and the Germans chose to get their exercise by dismantling the symbol of communism.

Finally, I did a quick review of all the current Pepsi products on the market. I barely survived the emotional roller coaster that was the rise and fall of Crystal Pepsi in the 1990s, so I was glad to see that the diversification of my favorite soft drink is still robust. We now have regular Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Caffeine-Free Pepsi, Diet Caffeine-Free Pepsi, Pepsi Max (with extra caffiene), Diet Pepsi Max, Pepsi One (with one calorie, for those who can’t stand zero-calorie drinks) and an orchard of fruit-flavored Pepsi’s, including cherry, lime, vanilla, cherry and vanilla, and caramel cream. It’s only a matter of time until we see Pepsi with Chicken Broth and Green Pepsi, with broccoli, kale, cabbage and algae.

I’m sure they’ll be wonderful. I plan to drink many thousands and thousands of ounces.


You want my advice? (Pt. 14)

January 22, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a twice weekly feature (Tuesdays and Thursdays) of I look at questions of ethics, manners, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from an elderly reader wondering about his medications.

Q. I’m an 83-year-old man and am medicated pretty well. I walk sometimes but otherwise get little exercise. Recently, I started having bad cramps at night and my legs are getting weak. Please advise me. – Old Man

A. You’ve come to the right place. I’m a 55-year-old man and am also “medicated pretty well,” if you know what I mean.

Have you ever tried Simvostat, sometimes known as “Simmies” or “Vo-vo”? It’s a drug designed to lower your cholesterol but, man, I gotta tell you, that stuff sends me totally flying. If you’re at all into mad hallucinations, this is for you. After I dose myself (don’t take with grapefruit), I’ll just lay back and stare at the clouds. Sometimes they form themselves into the Face of God and speak to me, while other times all I can see are flying monkeys and these transluscent fish that just laugh and laugh. It’s so cool, AND it’s gotten my cholesterol down to 135.

Another high I can recommend is Lorzepam, often called “Zeps” or “Lordy Lorzy” on the streets. This is ostensibly a sleep medication, but if you can manage to keep yourself awake, the effect is similar to surgical anesthesia. You’re just drifting, drifting – it feels like your brain is buzzing. If you do fall asleep, beware that side effects may include amnesia with no memory for the event, such as sleep-driving, sleep-eating and sleep-robbing-convenience-stores.

The last medication that I would “highly” recommend is something called Flomax. This is frequently prescribed to men of a certain age who may have trouble “going” or else find themselves going “all the time.” Flomax isn’t in generic form yet, so you might also ask for pharmaceutical equivalents such as Peezalot, WeeBegone or Pissanpiss. Besides fixing your prostate, this stuff makes your face literally vibrate and gives you incredible incentive to get things done (mostly involving urinals). If you need to stay up late to study for a test or prepare a presentation for work, this is the junk you want.

As for bad cramps and leg weakness, I think you’ll forget all about these problems – not to mention the names of close family members – if you try any of the above-recommended drugs. Have fun, dude.