Archive for February, 2009

A look at the art of “feedback”

February 28, 2009

Assessing the performance of your fellow humans is a tricky business. Whether you’re offering praise, a generalized judgment, or what has come to be known as “feedback” (and what used to be called “yelling at someone”), you have to be cognizant of the recipient’s feelings and at the same time get your point across. The idea is to not only suggest how better work might be done the next time, but also to avoid embarrassing them.

When you’re a teacher who’s reporting on the progress of your impressionable young students, you’re likely to be bigger and stronger enough not to care what they think. Still, you have to temper your frankness with a measure of sensitivity, so as not to damage those fragile self-esteems. You also have to consider, especially in my part of the country, that their father may be an Ultimate Fighting Champion.

The public school system in this particular Southern state supplements its grades with a place in the progress report where teachers can offer “personalized” remarks. A comment code entered in the system triggers a pre-phrased assessment that’s meant to appear sincere but instead sounds computer-generated. They don’t even try to disguise this shortcut: next to the letter grade, the report will say something like “22. A delight to teach” or “17. Always focused and prepared.” At least that’s how they read for good students like my son. I imagine the lower part of the class gets stuff like “42. Needs to pay more attention” or “38. Must stop trying to knife me.”

When you’re working at the adult education level, you still have to be careful not to offend. I’ve done enough training in the corporate world to know that you have to promise trainees there are no wrong answers to have any hope of getting a response. “That’s one way to look at it” or “I see your point” are some of the acceptable replies, even if you ask what’s the capital of Michigan and they answer “twelve.” I once sat through a six-hour CPR class that incessantly stressed how heart-attack victims were by far your most likely subjects. When a question-and-answer summary was conducted at the end of class, we were asked what was the most common cause of death in America. “Car wrecks?” said the guy to my left.

As hard as it can be to tell someone they’re an idiot, it can be equally challenging to say something that’s positive and yet also rings true. I don’t know how many times I worked my hardest to do a good job on a particular project and heard nothing in response, while the next day I put forth a pitiful effort and drew rave reviews. You eventually reach the point where you realize there’s absolutely no predictable correlation going on.

Still, I’ve been on the other side enough to appreciate how hard it can be for management to rally the troops with hollow expressions of praise. So I do have some sympathy for what follows. It’s a collection of comments submitted by a reader who started detecting something of a canned flavor to all the appreciative emails his team was receiving from a top executive in his company. Read what follows and try not to wince.

–Thank you for the exceptional job you did on Wills. Thank you especially for your focus on quality with this work.
–Excellent feedback on Kaline!!! It is great to be known for quality and speed. That will keep our clients with us.
–Accurate and two days early!!! Thank you for your work and the excellent results for our clients on Drysdale. Keep up the great work.
–Thank you for getting the Tresh work completed quickly and accurately. Keep it going through the year.
–Excellent work producing Boyer quickly and accurately. Looking forward to more successes through the year.
–Thank you for jumping in during a tough spot on Orlando and letting us shine. Keep up the great work.
–Great quality and responsiveness!!! Terrific words to hear from our clients. Johns gives us a tremendous amount of work. I am so glad our sales team is “impressed” every day.
–Excellent work on Jake. Glad to see you exceeding our client’s needs.
–Exceptional work on Anderson! Thank you for delivering for our clients so that they can meet their goals. This will keep them coming back.
–What terrific feedback on Nicks. It shows teamwork and attention to detail. Exactly the ingredients we need to provide a perfect product to our clients.
–Excellent work on Howard. Thank you for helping to get this client finished on time. Very nicely done.
–Thank you for your speed and accuracy on Warfield. The client was able to finish their project on time. Excellent work!!!!
–Excellent work on Roberts. Keep the focus on quality and speed.
–Awesome work on the Stofa job. Thank you for your focus on quality and speed.
–Excellent work on George. Difficult work delivered on time and in great shape. We cannot ask for more than that.
–Thank you for your work on Roseboro. It is great to be known for speed and a high level of accuracy.
–Excellent work on Moose. The more you “make people’s day”, the more work we will receive. Thank you and keep up the great work.
–Thank you for your work on Morris. Keep up the great work. Good comments on the communication as well.
–Excellent turnaround and quality on the job that had to finish yesterday. This is why our clients keep coming back.
–Thank you for completing the Venus work on time. Excellent work and keep it going through the year.
–Thank you for the quick turnaround and high quality for the Henderson job.
–Excellent work exceeding expectations on Lucille. Thank you and keep up the great work.
–Thank you for completing Dawn in half of the time expected. I appreciate your focus on quality and speed.

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Getting the most for your healthcare costs

February 27, 2009

My son was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon and is now at home recovering from his Tuesday abdominal surgery. Doctors offered an excellent prognosis for him, meaning he actually might be pain-free or close to it for the first time in several years. We are thrilled with such an apparently positive outcome, and thank both those in the hospital as well as readers of this blog for their support and their thoughts.

Seeing a behemoth as much discussed as the American health care system from an inside perspective was quite a learning experience. I wrote on Wednesday about how impressive both the people and the technology were; now I guess it’s time to look at the dark side of that equation, which is the financial cost involved. Reading a news story on the day of the surgery about how health costs have now skyrocketed to over $8,000 annually per American put me into a hyper-cheap mindset as soon as my immediate concerns over the surgery had passed.

Right after leaving the OR recovery area, we were escorted to our home for the next 48 hours, a private room on the tenth floor of the Levine Children’s Hospital. Before we were even settled in, a volunteer and her “hospitality cart” appeared at the door, offering items such as toothbrushes, books and toiletries. Figuring we had surpassed our yearly cost allotment during my son’s first 15 minutes of surgery, I declined the hospitality, afraid it would show up on our bill in the form of a $65 deodorant stick. Assured it was actually free, we instead chose to load up.

That’s a strategy I continued over the next few days in an effort to counter my fear of what our ultimate costs are going to be. We have relatively good insurance by most measures (in other words, totally inadequate), but I’m sure we’ll still be paying quite a bit out of pocket. So, I made every effort to take full advantage of the offerings that did seem to be free.

I decided I would spend the night in the room with my son, since there was no double-occupancy add-on and the convertible couches looked relatively comfortable. The amenities in Room 10001 (we must’ve been in the Base 2 Annex of the hospital) were considerable. I’ve already talked about the in-house TV/movie system, hardly a Spectravision but still quite watchable for characters with their clothes on. There were a lot of recent releases on the movie channel and also some cable offerings of interest. I regret that I didn’t get a chance to check out the “Newborn Channel.” At first, I imagined a network of nothing but infant actors in a variety of drama, sitcom, sports, news and reality productions, though I later realized it was more likely intended as a how-to for new moms and dads.

Besides watching as much TV as possible, another way to recoup some of our charges was through the food service. I wasn’t so thoughtless as to filch nutrition from my ailing son – his bland mashed potatoes didn’t look that good anyway. My wife and I did, however, take full advantage of a family snack pantry halfway down the hall that had free soft drinks, cookies, puddings and cereals. There was also a high-tech coffeemaker in another common room that was complementary, and we received a number of $7 meal tickets redeemable in the downstairs café.

Say what you will about hospital food, the main cafeteria in major hospitals these days is on a par with food courts at the mall, except with slightly sicker patrons. There was a Sbarro’s, a Chick-fil-A and several grilles and a-la-carte stations. Though the food was a little overpriced it was quite tasty. There was the “Price Is Right” fun of trying to get your order as close as possible to multiples of seven without going over, since they wouldn’t give any change back for the tickets. Hopped up on cookies, pudding and free coffee, and appetite-impaired by both antiseptic and septic smells, we were even able to use a few extra tickets as we were checking out to purchase a take-home dinner.

Other comforts of the lodging experience weren’t quite as tangible, though I still tried to take full advantage. Public restrooms on the floor offered the kind of high-flow vortices you’d expect when half the patients in residence were afflicted with stomach ills, so I went to the bathroom as much as I possibly could. (The vacuum produced by some of these super-toilets could probably have performed their own gastrointestinal suction surgeries with a little supervision.) You could also freely pass gas anywhere on the wing and everyone understood or even encouraged you — and how could you even put a price on that?

The convertible bed where I slept during both nights of our stay was surprisingly comfortable. It was hard to attach the supplied bed linens to the Naugahydeous surface, and with my Restless Body Syndrome I’d almost slid out to the ledge by morning. The pillow was definitely sub-par, giving me a case of bed-hair that nearly required my own hospitalization, and yet I still got a much better night of sleep than I ever had on any transcontinental flight. And, as an added bonus, when I woke up, I wasn’t in India.

While we waited around for our discharge papers, I had a final surge of concern that I hadn’t thoughtlessly and selfishly contributed to spiralling healthcare costs quite enough. True, I had my surgically repaired first-born son, and that’s certainly worth more than all the money in the world. But still, as I looked around the room one last time, I wondered: Is there a market on eBay for the kind of disposable gloves being freely dispensed from the wall above the sink? I looked a little closer at the product. The packaging said they were “Ansell MicroTouch Nitrile new and improved, powder-free, latex-free medical examination gloves”. If adjectives counted for anything on the open market, these might be able to cover quite a bit of our costs.

Fake News Bulletin: Detainees crash into ocean

February 26, 2009

A jumbo jet carrying all the detainees who had been housed at Guantanamo Bay for the past seven years crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff earlier this morning.

At this point, there appears to be only a handful of survivors, including most of the crew who apparently opened their emergency parachutes upon impact to use as flotation devices. The pilot, six crew members and 11 guards were picked up shortly after the crash by a Coast Guard rescue vessel that just happened to be in the area.

It is believed that all the prisoners died in the crash.

“This is just an awful, awful tragedy,” said Defense Department spokesperson Ron Kilgore. “We felt like we were making real progress in resolving these cases, and then for this to happen, it’s just a terrible thing.”

The prisoners, taken in for alleged war crimes during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been in legal limbo for some time. The Obama Administration had already pledged to close the prison at the naval station on the eastern tip of Cuba within a year, but it was still uncertain where the detainees would go. Most were regarded as too dangerous to set free, there were few countries willing to take them, and a growing outcry in the U.S. made relocation to domestic prisons problematic.

“Frankly, we have no idea what we’re going to do with these guys,” said an unnamed source at the State Department as recently as last week. “There really seems to be no good solutions.”

The cause of the crash is unknown at this point, but one investigator speculated that a build-up of ice on some Canada geese which crashed through the engine may have severed hydraulic lines that then caused an oxygen tank in the cargo hold to explode. He also noted that one of the prisoners could’ve been wearing a sandal bomb and another could’ve had a 3-ounce bottle of inflammable liquid, or possibly mouthwash.

Officials offered various accounts of why all 378 prisoners had boarded the flight. One said they were “just giving them a break from the same old routine by flying them around the island on a sight-seeing trip.” Another insider said they had been assigned work duty to clean the interior of the jet when it accidentally took off, while a third spoke of a trip to Disney World “paying them back for all the torture and hardships and stuff.”

Administration press officer Jason Seals said a full investigation of the crash would take place, just as soon as the economy had revived and a proper study could be funded.

“It’s kind of funny how it worked out, if you think about it,” said Seals. “On one hand, it’s an unimaginable loss of life that will haunt us for a long time, but on the other, we didn’t know what we were going to do with them anyway, so that’s the positive side.”

“Like they say, ‘shit happens,’” Seals concluded.

Inside the gut of the healthcare system

February 25, 2009

First of all, a sincere thanks to everyone who sent well wishes to my son on his encounter with abdominal surgery. He’s doing very well on his first full day of recovery, and doctors are optimistic about a rapid improvement in his condition. We hope that he’ll be out of the hospital and back on his feet – or, more accurately, his favorite sofa — by Friday.

Surgeons spent about two hours yesterday morning exploring his interior laparascopically before locating a diseased section of the small intestine and removing a segment described improbably as the length of a foot-long hotdog, or about ten inches. While in the gastrointestinal neighborhood, they also yanked his appendix because, like the mountain to the mountain-climber, it was “there” and thus demanded surgical attention. The doctor later explained that future physicians would see the scar and believe the appendix had been removed and, if it wasn’t and they thought it was, they might misdiagnose a future malady, which made marginally more sense.

We’re staying at a splendid complex in Charlotte called the Levine Children’s Hospital, which is part of the Carolinas Medical Center. Levine is less than a year old, and sports all the bells and whistles you might expect from a medical construction project finished right before the recession hit. In fact, for our tastes, it sports a few too many bells and whistles, some of which are attached to a remote-control toy train that toots down the hall hourly to the delight of four-year-olds and the annoyance of 17-year-olds.

The entire hospital complex here is an intriguing mix of the latest in high-tech medical care and more down-to-earth systems with chronic problems. When my son was wheeled off to the operating room, my wife and I were taken to a special waiting room where we’d receive hourly updates on the details of the procedure. In addition, there was a big-screen video display that tracked the progress of each patient in each OR. It reminded me of an arrivals and departures board at the airport, with a color coding system indicating who was in pre-op, who was in “stage 3” (something to do with rocketry, I assume) and who was in post-operative recovery. The coding tactfully did not include a color for who had expired on the table or who got one of those cool stab-the-syringe-into-the-chest moves you see on TV. I think they personally inform you of those.

Contrast the elaborate video display with an ID tagging system that seems archaic at best. When we first arrived in admitting, my wife and I each received a printout bearing our crude photographic likeness, our status as “parents” (disturbingly set to expire at the end of the day) and a bar code that we would scan at various access points throughout the hospital. The printout is extremely poor, looking something like the rendering you get when you swipe a pencil on a piece of paper covering a penny and end up with a smeared imprint. There’s spare toner all over the place, making the bar code completely unreadable. So every time we go downstairs to visit the cafeteria, we’re not sure we’ll be back; there’s this one door where we’re halted until a hospital staff member comes along to let us through. I’ve waved the ID in as many different motions as I can imagine, which only leaves me looking foolish, not to mention hungry.

On the elaborate TV remote control in my son’s room, there’s a poorly placed red button between the “movie” and “TV” selection, summoning the emergency nurse when all you wanted to do was get that damn Hannah Montana movie off the screen. The IV pump keeping my son hydrated starts a different series of warning beeps every half hour or so, the different tones meaning the battery is low, the fluid bag is half-empty, or the med-evac helicopter is about to crash through our window. We’re never certain, so we call the nurse (or perhaps change the channel) just to be reassured. The relaxation screen-saver on one channel, showing a teeming tank of tropical fish, is actually a repetitive loop, not the live feed from Sea World I had imagined.

Of course, it’s really the human side of the business that’s far more important, and I have to give very high marks to all the staff and doctors working on our case. Our surgeon is a calm, cool customer by the name of Dr. Bambini, and he was ably assisted by anesthesiologist Brian May. Despite the fact the first sounds more like a vaudeville acrobat than a pediatric surgeon, and the second, I believe, was lead guitarist for the rock group Queen before drugs apparently lured him into his current field, both were consummate professionals in the treatment of my son. The rest of the staff, while well-intentioned, is sometimes a little less stellar.

There’s an unending rotation of individuals parading in and out of our room at all hours of the day and night, performing the various support services every bit as necessary as what the doctors do. (Not really). We met a new nurse yesterday afternoon who entered the room with a breezy “Hi, Cameron, how ya doin’?” We were immediately impressed by both her professionalism and manner until we realized neither of us was named Cameron. The receptionist in the OR waiting room came to tell us our son was out of surgery with the pronouncement “he’s done,” sparking some panicked nanoseconds before her broad smile told us she probably didn’t mean it quite like it sounded.

This cavalcade of health-care workers gets a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re awakened in the middle of the night by the latest visitors. Is this the vital-signs checker or the child-life services volunteer? Is this the nutrition person taking meal orders or a nurse’s assistant? Even if they do identify themselves fully, it still can be hard to keep them all straight, and you fall back on conventional stereotyping to determine what kind of person looks like what kind of worker. If you don’t, you may end up asking the two well-groomed guys in white coats for an unsoiled set of linens, or the tattooed woman with a tongue piercing and a blue smock for another dose of morphine. Though that might actually work out too.
When the woman from the admitting office stopped by to graciously welcome us and ask how we wanted to pay the $300 deductible, there was no mistaking her role. She offered to take a check, a credit card or a debit card, then walked away to inform us a few minutes later that the computer was down so she’d be back to try again later.
Which got me to thinking about what all of this exquisite technology and highly-trained care was going to cost us. Whatever it was, it would definitely be worth it to have our beloved son converted into a healthier teenager than when he arrived, but I won’t mind at all if Admitting Lady gets eternally stuck behind that door with the bad scanner.
In my next post, I’ll write more about costs and other interesting features of our visit into the heart (or should I say gut) of the American medical system.

My son’s in surgery

February 24, 2009

For the first time in ten weeks, I won’t be putting up a new humor post today. My 17-year-old son is in surgery at this moment to fix a stomach problem he’s been coping with for some time now. He was incredibly brave and poised as they wheeled him down the hall about a half hour ago — I think he’s glad they’re finally going to fix him up good. He’s a great kid.

I hope to be back with a fresh humor post in the next day or so. Wish us luck. Thanks.

It was just one of those days

February 23, 2009

I had one of those days late last week. I’d say it was a bad day, except that in this difficult age – with poverty and recession and war and the CW network – it’s hard to complain about a series of mishaps from which you emerge with your health and livelihood still intact. The tens of thousands of people being laid off today will have a bad day. The 150,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a bad day. Abraham Lincoln had a bad day when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. I merely had one of those days where you look up at that kitty in the “Hang in There, Baby” poster, let out a deep sigh, then rip the poster from the wall and tear it into a thousand pieces.

My ordeal was not a morning-to-midnight event but rather a 24-hour span that began around 3 p.m. Wednesday. I was just about finished with my daily treadmill session at the Y when I looked into the hallway. I saw a flesh-colored torso, sheared off at the hips and with the top of its skull blown away, lying on a rapidly moving gurney. My God, had there been some horrible elliptical machine accident? I rushed to the door to learn more, only to get a clearer look at what turned out to be a nude though otherwise unharmed “Resusci-Annie” figure. Annie, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a mannequin modified for use in CPR training. She’s supposed to be missing her legs and cranium. All she really needs to perform her function is a chest you can press your hands into and a gaping mouth, not unlike Jessica Simpson.

After my workout, I usually stop by my favorite café to do a little blogging before heading home for dinner. I was barely settled into my favorite spot when my cell phone rang. Only a very few people have my cell number, and fewer still like me enough to call it, so I was a little surprised. It turned out to be my boss from work. A take-home project I had agreed to start on two days ago was finally ready to begin and – oh, by the way, the deadline is still tomorrow morning. I was being asked to proofread and edit a 200-page Form 20-F. For those of you unfamiliar with financial filings, a 20-F is one of your least interesting reads, not quite on the skull-crushing level of a Schedule 14A but at least as bad as a Form 6-K or a Dan Brown novel. So my fate for the next eight hours was sealed.

I abandoned my writing and rushed home to begin work, and was probably driving a little too fast past the dog-walkers and assisted-livers from the nearby rest home strolling through my subdivision. I didn’t hit anybody but apparently came close enough to one neighbor just before wheeling into my driveway. “Hey,” he called out, “do you think you can drive a little slower through the neighborhood?” His tone was perfectly even and polite, and he made an entirely reasonable request. This annoyed me even more, yet how could I respond as negatively as I felt here in front of my own home? I mumbled a weak “yeah” and hurried into the house, fuming with irrational anger. By the time I figured out that the person I was mad at was me, he and his dog had already moved off into the darkness. No apology was possible.

I plunged into my project hoping it would distract me from my bone-headed motoring. The document described a Swiss manufacturer of farming and construction equipment. Their market was a challenging one in light of the global economic downturn yet their management team had been prudent with expenses except for this one $385 million credit swap default agreement, the first tranche of which was due in 2013, blah, blah, blah. We tend to think that staying awake, being a mental state rather than a physical one, is something we can control if we only have enough will power. But I’m here to tell you that the functioning brain is no competition for European-made bulldozers and threshers. I gave the document my best cursory glance and headed off to bed around 11:30.

At about 1:30 a.m., my telephone rang. It was Elaine from the office. “Can you come in early this morning?” she asked. I felt like saying “I already come in early,” since my normal arrival time is 5 a.m., but I knew that wasn’t the answer she was looking for. I stumbled out of bed and into the general direction of work.

In between the other projects that were waiting for me when I arrived around 3, I had to send off the results of my previous night’s work. We have some very sophisticated communications equipment in my office, including two digital scanners (DSP) that would capture my marks and upload them to the client. I would create a PDF on the DSP using OCR and the OGF. The perhaps-unfamiliar acronym here is the last one, which stands for Old Guy Frustrator. This is the mechanism – installed especially for me — that pulled too many pages through the first time, caused a jam the second time, and ultimately rendered a file with a thick vertical line down the middle of the copy. When I re-fed the pages into the second machine, I got basically the same results except this time the copy was too light. (Apparently the OGF is networked). In frustration, I messaged the people getting the proof that somewhere in the six files they had received, they’d be able to see all my edits somewhere.

As the workday wound toward a close, I had one last chore: call my health insurance provider and make sure some upcoming surgery was pre-approved. I had to listen carefully to the voicemail message because my available options had recently changed. (Imagine that!) When I finally got through to a human, she proved very helpful in explaining to me it would take just a few moments to call up my information because the computers were a little slow this afternoon. (Again, imagine that!) She was soon able to determine that I was talking to the “completely wrong” department, and transferred me over to someone else. A very pleasant musical hold – T. Pain, if I’m not mistaken – soon ended and I found myself discussing the merits of a system that had designated my surgeon as “out of network,” roughly the same status as sword-wielding barbarian. I was told a further review would be necessary before he could be accepted, then I was given a case number and told to call back in eight to ten business days. Assuming I was still alive.

Twenty-four hours had now passed since my frightening encounter with Resusci-Annie, and I was glad at last to call it a “day.”

The poetry of financial disclaimers

February 22, 2009

There’s a certain art and poetry to everyday life if you know where to look for it. One of the big differences, I believe, between happy people and sad people is that the happy among us are able to find joy and beauty in a bad situation. I often cite the great poet Raymond Stevens on this subject and his claim that “everything is beautiful in its own way/Like a starry summer night or a snow-covered winter’s day”.

 

In my real-life job working for a financial services company, I get to read a lot of writing that was never intended as anything more than stiff, informative prose: cash flow statements, auditors’ reports, etc. Occasionally, the author’s rhetoric will soar to unintended heights (perhaps while looking for a way to explain huge executive compensation packages, for example) but it’s usually pretty pedestrian stuff. Unless you can look at it a little differently.

 

The language that follows is a boilerplate disclaimer that appears in almost every financial document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With a little imagination, an italic font, and the right line breaks, however, it’s a work of art:

 

These statements are intended to enjoy

The protection of the safe harbor

For forward-looking statements provided

By the Securities Exchange Act.

These statements can be identified

By the use of the word or phrase

“well positioned,”

“expect,”

“expects”

or “would have”

in the statements

 

These forward-looking statements

Are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors,

Domestically and internationally,

Including general economic conditions,

The cost of goods,

Competitive pressures,

Geopolitical events and conditions,

Levels of unemployment,

Levels of consumer disposable income,

Changes in laws and regulations,

Consumer credit availability,

Inflation, consumer spending patterns and debt levels,

Currency exchange fluctuations, trade restrictions,

Changes in tariff and freight rates,

Changes in the costs of gasoline, diesel fuel, other energy,

Transportation, utilities, labor and health care,

Accident costs, casualty and other insurance costs,

Interest rate fluctuations, financial and capital market conditions,

Developments in litigation to which the company is a party,

Weather conditions,

Damage to the company’s facilities from natural disasters,

Regulatory matters and other risks

 

The company discusses certain of these factors more fully

In its additional filings with the SEC,

Including its last annual report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC,

And this release should be read

In conjunction with that annual report on Form 10-K,

Together with all of the company’s other filings,

Including current reports on Form 8-K,

Made with the SEC through the date of this release

 

The company urges you to consider

All of these risks, uncertainties and other factors

Carefully

In evaluating the forward-looking statements

Contained in this release

 

The forward-looking statements

Made in this release

Are made only as of the date of this release,

And the company undertakes no obligation

To update them to reflect

Subsequent events

Or circumstances

 

Drugs can be funny

February 21, 2009

Anyone who has watched much late-night television knows that drugs are funny. Just let the host mention “weed” or “roids” and listen to the audience howl. Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez jokes proliferate like octomoms on fertility drugs.

But are legal prescription drugs as funny as the illicit kind? I think so, and so do the writers on the hilarious “Colbert Report” in their frequent segment on Prescott Pharmaceuticals, the fake drug company in constant legal trouble (“the tingling tells you it’s working; the class action lawsuit tells you it’s Prescott”). Their line of medicines includes Vaxadrone, Vaxachub, Vaxascab and Vaxamaxx. It’s usually unclear what the intended effects are – something to do with 1980s 32-bit computing architecture, I imagine – but the side effects are absolutely riotous: vivid dreams of self-cannibalization, late onset albinoism, increased risk of vampire attack. Vaxadrine use is discouraged “if you plan to walk around.”

The items that follow are either brand or generic names from legitimate pharmaceutical giants. Either laugh along with me, or ask your doctor if one of these is right for you and, as Prescott advises, “if he says no, see another doctor.”

Accolate – for treatment of former Lutheran altar boys who continue to extinguish candle flames long past adolescence

Bambec – for the easily confused wild antlered mammal, such as the proverbial “deer stuck in headlights”

Zafirlukast – for inflammation of the pan flute

Faslodex – a high-speed computerized system for recording and maintaining business phone numbers

Modip – a flea treatment for dogs and cats that results in fur styles which resemble the leader of the Three Stooges

Gastroloc – an antidote to diarrhea

Avlocardyl retard – a California-grown salad and guacamole ingredient that can also be used to treat cognitive and learning disorders

Goserelin acetate – Canada Geese dropping refined into a film stock and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor

AscoTop – for treatment of pretentious English types who are too good to wear normal neckwear

Zomig Rapimelt – for treatment of ice-cream-induced brain freeze

Imigran – designed to turn illegal aliens into a bran fiber that can aid in digestion

Epzicom – a new Disney theme park designed for the treatment of patients with epilepsy

Bonviva – for the treatment of unusually annoying happy people

Twinrix – a rice cereal for fraternal twins

Rotarix – a rice cereal for plumbers

Integrilin – for treatment of the honest politician

Ipilimumab – for treatment of those who think they want to travel to India, but will realize when they get there that it wasn’t such a good idea

Baraclude – one ounce dropped in the ocean will eliminate vicious fish within a one-mile area

Aspergillosis – for treatment of green vegetable spears growing in the shaded parts of your body

Fablyn – an implant that provides instant fashion sense

Cymbalta – for the treatment of drum solos

Yentreve – a medication designed to get Barbra Streisand to appear in a quality movie

Humalog – for those who think going to the bathroom is funny

Survivin – for those interested in stayin’ alive

OpRA II – a cure for those who stay at home watching daytime television

 

Website review: Famous South Carolinians

February 20, 2009

In my website review of a few weeks back, I teased the good people and state of North Dakota, primarily for being a bleak barren winterscape but also because they considered the presence of a swimming pool to be a state attraction. It was all in good fun and hardly meant to offend, though readers from the Flickertail State contacted me to say … well … actually, I don’t have any readers in North Dakota. So screw you after all.

It did get me to thinking though about how people who live in glass houses should be foreclosed on for shear stupidity, and that they also shouldn’t throw stones. As a resident of South Carolina, whose unofficial motto is “thank God for Mississippi or we’d be last at everything,” I can honestly acknowledge that we have some serious image problems as well. I think it’s only fair that I examine these, primarily using the website that promotes tourism in the state, scprt.com.

Before we venture there, however, let me make an observation about U.S. states in general. Two things that North Dakota and South Carolina do have in common is an adjectival modifier in their names, and I believe it testifies to their lesser status. Think about other states that are easy to make fun of: there’s New Jersey, rather than just Jersey; West Virginia, rather than just Virginia (though Virginia is pretty laughable too); Rhode Island, rather than just Island. All of these, unlike powerful brands such as California, Texas and Hawaii, are commonly the butt of jokes. If I toss in Arid Zona, Mini Sota and Mass Achusetts, I’m obviously stretching to make a point, so I think I’ll return to my original subject.

The part of the website I’m going to focus on is a subsection in the “Facts and Figures – Help with Homework” that includes a list of famous South Carolinians.

There was a time about 20 years ago when there was a noticeable trend of bozos in the news who called the Palmetto State home, and I remember being vaguely embarrassed every time I met someone out of state and had to say where I was from (“originally Florida”). In the late eighties, we saw disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker, game-show manqué Vanna White, corrupt congressman John Jenrette, political assassin Lee Atwater and toothless tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry almost constantly in the news. White and Perry both made the website list, the former as the 300-pound defensive lineman who helped the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl in 1986 and the latter starring as Venus in the TV movie “Goddess of Love”.  (Or do I have that backwards? I always get former and latter confused.) Bakker, Jenrette and Atwater were conveniently overlooked.

Also on the website list are a number of other well-known Sandlappers from throughout history of at-best questionable integrity.

There’s the legendary U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, now remembered primarily for fathering a child with a black teenager while race-baiting his way to a third-place finish in the 1948 presidential race. The state web page fails to mention either of those milestones, of course, choosing instead to focus on his more intriguing stints as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Business Rights and Competition.

There’s Shoeless Joe Jackson, who is acknowledged to have conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series as a member of the Chicago Black Sox. Despite having been the Jose Canseco/Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds/Jason Giambi/Alex Rodriguez/Andy Pettite of his time, he’s more fondly remembered as the holder of the third-highest career batting average in baseball history and having once played a minor league game in his socks. Big deal; I used to play tennis in my bare feet.

There’s James Brown, cited as the “Godfather of Soul” and “Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” though understandably not as “High-Speed Police Evader While Carrying an Unlicensed Pistol” or “Wielder of Steak Knife Against an Electric Company Repairman.” There’s Leeza Gibbons, a South Carolina native best known for her role as host for “Entertainment Tonight” and her own talk show, “Leeza!” (My editor tells me that the exclamation point should be outside the quotes, since the excitement is mine, not the show’s.) And there’s Darius Rucker, lead singer and guitarist for the hottest band of March 13, 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish.

Not yet on the list are two names I look forward to seeing in the not-too-distant future.

First is current governor Republican Mark Sanford. A right-wing purist, Sanford was in the news just yesterday for finally entertaining the possibility that he might accept federal stimulus money that is due his desperately poor state despite the fact that he opposes the package in principle. He said he’d comb through the fine print of the recently passed bill trying to find anything that would benefit the people of South Carolina, despite claiming “it’s a horrible idea” and has “real bad” ramifications for the country and economy. He’s also been in a feud with the state’s employment security commission because they’ve been unable to match 200,000 jobless people with 40,000 vacancies, conveniently overlooking the fact that by gutting education funding, he’s made it virtually impossible for janitor Clem from the closed textile factory to get a job in genome sequencing research.

Sanford was briefly considered a potential vice-presidential candidate last summer until he opened his mouth-like orifice on national television. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him how the economic policies of John McCain would differ from what the Bush administration had proposed. Sanford replied: “Yea, I mean for instance take, you know, ummm, ahhh, take for instance the issue of, ahhh (knocks on table) I’m drawing a blank. I hate it when I do that, particularly on TV.” If he thought that was embarrassing, imagine the egg on his face when he’s unable to enunciate launch codes during a Russian missile attack should he ever become president.

 Secondly and, to this day, probably more famous than even the governor, is Lauren Caitlin Upton, former Miss Teen South Carolina. Lauren Caitlin is the blonde knockout who became a YouTube sensation when she mangled her question about why so many Americans couldn’t find the U.S. on a world map. As you probably recall, she responded that “U.S. Americans” had such trouble because they didn’t have maps and “I believe that our … education like such as … South Africa and … the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or… should help South Africa … so we will be able to build up our future, for our children.” If you realize that she was a student leader with a 3.5 GPA at her South Carolina high school, you can’t help but recognize the imprint of Gov. Sanford on her education.

Maybe the two of them could team up to make a run at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. If they ended up debating Sarah Palin, we could witness the end of the English language as we know it. And that would make all of us South Carolinians so proud.

 

 

Fake news from the economy

February 19, 2009

(DETROIT) Feb. 19 — The economic crisis grew even deeper this week as the Big Three automakers appeared to fall short in their efforts to restructure, and several more high-profile companies announced a new wave of job cuts.

Drafts of the plans being drawn up by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to show how they’re using bailout money approved in December to reorganize their business models were filed with Congress late Tuesday. Critics are already saying that Detroit is not going far enough to remake itself to face twenty-first century economic realities.

General Motors’ centerpiece involved reducing its brands from nine to four and retooling its plants to produce more of what the market seems to be demanding – specific motors rather than general ones.

“In the past, we have been guilty of building whatever motors we felt like on any given day, and hoping that someone somewhere would be interested in buying them,” said GM Chairman Richard Wagoner. “Lawn-mower motors one day, servo motors the next, then moped motors and Erector Set motors. We’re thinking now that if we build automobile motors more consistently, that might make better business sense. Then we could install them in all those surplus car bodies we have sitting around.”

Meanwhile, over at GM’s chief domestic rival, executives said their right-sizing efforts would include changing their name from “Ford” to “Third”.

“The math alone – reducing from four to three — tells you we’ll be able to save 25% on the expense side of our ledger,” said Ford CEO Alan Mulally. “To tell you the truth, we’d be happy to be third, instead of where we are now, which I think is somewhere in the twenties.”

Chrysler will also be announcing a name change, moving away from the “Christ sound” to something a little less ambitious. The firm will now be called Buddha-ler.

“If we can become one with a central consciousness, we stand a better chance of surviving in this difficult climate,” said Chrysler executive Bob Nardelli. “We’ll probably start by taking our portion of the bailout money and using it to ship all remaining PT Cruisers to a secluded cave high in the Himalayas.”

Meanwhile, a new round of layoff announcements seems certain to add to already-swollen unemployment roles.

Credit card giant American Express said it will pink-slip its entire corporate headquarters staff and replace workers with Roombas, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

Bank of America said that it will not only close every office west of the Mississippi, but that departing branch managers would also go out to whichever bank was next door and fire all those workers as well.

Starbucks said it has already down-sized its staff to a bare-bones level, and would now attempt to shed customers, using a strategy of over-priced coffee, under-cooked scones, and discontinuing limited-release items as soon as they caught on with the public, specifically the banana chocolate-chip coffee cake that one middle-aged blogger guy keeps asking for.

Cellular giant Verizon, well-known for its commercials featuring the nerdy guy backed up by hundreds of co-workers representing its support network, will dismiss all the commercial actors except for the front-man, who will carry on his shoulders one of those long poles with life-sized dummies attached.

 

WASHINGTON (Feb. 17) — Republican opposition to President Obama’s economic stimulus package remained strong this week, despite passage of the plan in Congress and the widespread desire of Americans to deal decisively with the current financial crisis.

With the new president in office less than a month, he continues his efforts to transcend “politics-as-usual” and the partisan atmosphere of Washington. But Republicans have grown impatient, waiting 29 whole days for the catastrophe of the two Bush terms to be repaired, and have become more adamant in their calls for resistance to Obama.

“The president thinks he’s addressing our problems with obvious solutions, but that’s just not the case,” said defeated Republican presidential candidate John McCain. “Conservatives among us see things a little differently.”

For example, McCain addressed Democratic assertions that the sky is blue by saying “you know, sometimes it’s more grey than blue, and at night it’s actually a dark black.”

“What we on earth are perceiving as blue is in fact the light refracting off of oxygen atoms and water vapor,” said the Arizona senator. “There’s really no blue there at all. I’ve flown Navy jets at high altitudes, and all I ever saw was clouds, enemy fire and the billowing white of my parachute as I ejected yet again from another plane shot out from under me.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell challenged what he called another common misperception among those in the majority party, that the Pope is Catholic.

“My Christian evangelical friends and I would challenge the notion that Catholicism is even a religion,” the cabbage-patch-esque Kentuckian said. “If it’s not, then how can they even have a pope? Just because there’s some guy speaking Latin and wandering around the Vatican in a Snuggie doesn’t mean he’s the infallible representative of God on Earth. I thought that was Rush.”

Suspiciously single South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham also spoke out to counter Democratic claims about the excretory habits of large mammals residing in the nation’s woodlands and national parks.

“They say a bear shits in the woods. I respectfully disagree,” the fiery but always dapper Republican said. “There is not one shred of scientific evidence that such a disgusting thing occurs with any regularity. And even if it did, the droppings of all other kinds of wildlife would substantially outweigh those of the bear, so their (Democrats’) claim is really a distraction more than anything.”

Newly elected Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele tried to sum up the sentiments of his GOP colleagues.

“It may look like we’re opposing everything Obama supports just for our own political posturing,” Steele told reporters, noting that if you stacked up dollar bills representing the size of the stimulus package, your arms would end up very, very tired. “It may seem like we care more about picking up some seats in the next Congress than we do about American society as we know it surviving. But that’s not true and you have to believe me. Remember, I’m a black guy.”