Archive for June, 2009

Fake News: Confusion reigns in Iran

June 30, 2009

TEHERAN, Iran (June 27) – Confusion continued to distort the news out of Iran this week as the predominance of Internet reporting and the lack of mainstream media coverage contributed to widespread misunderstanding of election results and their aftermath.

On Sunday, a partial recount of the June 12 presidential vote was apparently conducted, with officials verifying that two does indeed follow one and that six comes before seven but after five. The government-run election council had to verify with ruling mullahs that when you get to nine you have to switch over to a two-digit tabulating system, though this took only several hours to substantiate.

Confirmation still could not be had on why tens of thousands of Iranians had taken to the streets of this capital city in recent weeks, and what the government reaction was to that outpouring. Though there were unverified reports that soldiers and riot police were attacking the crowd, other indications were that the military was merely distributing samples of a new scent being marketed by the incumbent president. Much like kiosk workers are known to do at American malls, the soldiers were offering to spray the perfume and cologne – called Ah Maní du Jod – on passers-by. Only if pedestrians refused the fragrance were they beaten.

Meanwhile, defeated candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi was disputing earlier claims that he said he’d be willing to “become a martyr” to the cause of political reform.

“What I said is that I’d like to be a ‘marter,’ or merchant,” Mousavi told the Arabic language Al Jazeera news channel. “I’ve grown weary of this insurgency and would like to once again be a simple man of the bazaar. I definitely don’t want to be a sacrificial victim, that’s for sure.”

Other uncertainty on the volatile situation included the mistaken belief that the “clerics” were simply a group of administrative assistants who had to type up the results; that Ayatollah Khamenei (pronounced “hominy”) is a different bearded turbaned guy than Ayatollah Khomeini (pronounced “hoe-may-nee”), who died 20 years ago; and that the former president is actually Hashemi Rafsanjani, not New Jersey rocker “Rafsan” Johnny.

Western media were still trying to corroborate the assertion that citizens who gathered in public squares to demonstrate over the past two weeks were in fact the vanguard of a so-called “green revolution,” or whether that term simply described improved agricultural techniques in the developing world or perhaps a growing emphasis on renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

Miscellaneous Monday

June 29, 2009

There’s a handwritten sign recently posted in the shower room of the YMCA to which I belong. It’s next to the soap dispenser and it reads “THIS IS BLUE SOAP.”

Ever the skeptic, I put my hand under the dispenser, pressed the release button and, sure enough, a turquoise shade gel accumulated slowly in my palm. It seemed slippery and slightly transparent, and a few small bubbles showed around the edge. It was in fact soap, and it was in fact blue.

I’m not sure what the point of the sign was. I guess someone had questioned the liquid’s blueness or its soapiness, or maybe both, and the management felt compelled to clear the air of any doubt. I learned a valuable lesson that day on the folly of questioning authority. I’ve also learned to start bringing my own soap.

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Coverage of the death of Ed McMahon seems a little over-done now, don’t you think?

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One of the great things about people using wireless-equipped cafes as mobile offices is that you can poach on their privacy and get a tiny peek into other people’s worlds. No, I’m not stealing credit card numbers out of the ether. I’m just catching a glimpse of what’s on their laptop screens, and eavesdropping into cell phone conversations that aren’t being kept all that quiet in the first place.

In one recent example, I was sitting behind a young African-American man who I knew from previous conversations was an active member of the South Carolina Republican Party. When he got up to grab a coffee, I couldn’t help but see that his screen showed a page headlined “What’s on Chairman Steele’s Playlist?”

The chairman in question is national GOP chairman Michael Steele. He’s the guy who promised to inject some urban sensibilities into the party and then, a few weeks later, offered a cowering apology for referring to Rush Limbaugh as an entertainer. Not exactly an “urban” attitude, but whatever.

Anyway, this site was sponsoring a contest to guess which songs in several categories – gospel, pop, opera, hip-hop, R&B, country, blues, jazz, and old school – were on Steele’s music player. You also had to list his favorite black Republican musician, assuming you could name one (my pick would be Justin Timberlake.)

According to the rules, if you donate $5 to the party and you are “the first person to correctly guess the Chairman’s favorite artist in the most categories [you] will win lunch with Chairman Steele.” I filled in all fields but one with the name “Michael Jackson,” reserving opera for the towering voice of brother Tito, and was prepared to play until overwhelmed with guilt – not guilt that I’d be mocking the party, but that they’d use my $5 to buy a collar’s worth of Sarah Palin’s next designer ensemble.

Then, a few days later at another café, a young businesswoman within earshot held virtually the same conversation with several different coworkers via her BlackBerry phone. “Did I place that order last week for those ink cartridges?” “I know I placed that order. Am I going insane?” “You remember when I placed that order, right?” “I am positive I put that order in last week.” “Am I nuts?”

I didn’t stick around to hear the outcome of this crisis, but if she ever needs to order blue soap in bulk, I think I can set her up.

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Please tell me I didn’t see a Jonas Brother testifying before a Senate committee on C-Span the other day. And know this: if I ever see Miley Cyrus walking along the Rose Garden colonnade with President Obama and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I will turn in my Democratic Party membership card.

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Already, I hear that the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” is becoming a euphemism for cheating on one’s wife. Following Gov. Mark Sanford’s admission of marital infidelity, and news that his purported communion with the wilds of the Blue Ridge Mountains was actually the congregation of another kind, pundits are driving the new buzzwords home.

I can already the imagination the upcoming frank conversations in far too many broken homes around the country.

“Honey, there’s something I have to tell you,” says the husband.

“What is it dear?”

“I … I’ve been hiking. On a trail. Actually, I’ve been on the Appalachian Trail.”

“Dear! No! No, it can’t be. I can’t believe this.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I didn’t know how. I just couldn’t pick the right words until now.”

“Did you … Did you go all the way? All the way from Maine to Georgia?”

“Yes and, actually, her name is Maria, not Georgia. And I think you’d like her if you gave her a chance.”

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There’s a so-called dollar cinema house in our town showing movies that are a couple of months past prime theatrical release and just a week or two from coming out on DVD. It used to be one of the main theatres in town until the brand-new stadium seating place opened out by the mall. Now, it’s relegated to a smaller market.

Because it is set back so far back in its parking lot, it has one of those old-fashioned signs with manual lettering up against the main road. The display rows of the sign are arbitrarily divided into twos, so each of the eight films in the line-up is partnered immediately above or below a separate and unrelated movie. Occasionally, the name also has to be truncated to fit the space. This leads to some truly bizarre titles of movies that often sound better than what’s really playing.

Some recent examples:

Sex and … Marley and Me

Pineapple … Milk

Baby Mama … Wanted

Journey to Center of … Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Madagascar … High School

Rachel Getting … Australia

Iron Man … Mamma Mia

Nick and Norah’s … Quantum Solace

Curious Case of … Hannah Montana

27 Dresses … Wanted

Body of … Kung Fu Panda

Chronicles of … Love Guru

Forgetting Sarah … Slumdog

Horton Hears a … Mummy

Fast and Furious … Vicky Cristina

Monster Versus … W

Frost/Nixon … Hulk

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I must pause from my joking here at the end to recognize the passing of a monumental public figure the other day. His voice was like no other. His rapport with his audience was unprecedented. His agility in moving from one area to another was legendary. His plea to buy OxyClean was virtually irresistible.

To read more about the life of TV pitchman Billy Mays, take a look at

Governor Mark goes all in

June 28, 2009

This last piece of the series of email communications between S.C. Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress is all-Mark, including this misspellings and awkward phrasings. Note especially references to a “world wind tour”, a “full tank of love in the emotional bank account” and “I don’t want to put the genius back in the bottle.” He’s such a poet, yet he doesn’t know it.

From Mark to Maria:

It was indeed a long day. I am most jealous of your salad under the palm tree.

Three thoughts in one note now that I have a moment. One the travel schedule is about to get real busy (and this distresses me for the way it may well make it more difficult to get your notes over the next few weeks), two unfortunately all the feelings you describe are mutual, and three where do we go from here?

One, tomorrow leave at 5 am for New York and meetings. Will think about you on its streets and wish I was going to be there later in the month when you are there. Tomorrow night back to Philadelphia for the start of the National Governor’s Conference through the weekend. Back to Columbia for Tuesday and then on Wednesday, as I think I had told you, taking the family to China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Thailand and then back through Hong Kong on world wind tour. Few days home then to Bahamas for 5 days on a friends boat for the last break of the summer. The following weekend have been asked to spend it out in Aspen, Colorado with McCain — which has kicked up the whole VP talk all over again in the press back home.

Two, mutual feelings. I have been specializing in staying focused on decisions and actions of the head for a long time now — and you have my heart. You have oh so many attributes that pulls it in this direction. Do you really comprehend how beautiful your smile is? Have you been told lately how warm your eyes are and how they softly glow with the special nature of your soul. I remember Jenny, or someone close to me, once commenting that while my mom was pleasant and warm it was sad she had never accomplished anything of significance. I replied that they were wrong because she had the ultimate of all gifts — and that was the ability to love unconditionally. The rarest of all commodities in this world is love. It is that thing that we all yearn for at some level — to be simply loved unconditionally for nothing more than who we are — not what we can get, give or become. There are but 50 governors in my country and outside of the top spot, this is as high as you can go in the area I have invested the last 15 years of my life — my getting here came as no small measure because I had that foundation of love and support so critical to getting up in the morning and feeling you could give and risk because you already had a full tank of love in the emotional bank account. Since our first meeting there in a wind swept somewhat open air dance spot in Punta del Este, I felt that you had that same rare attribute. Above all else I love that inner beauty about you. That gift of yours is going to make a tremendous difference in (The State deleted sons’ names) life — and in anyone’s life who is blest to be touched by yours — you need to rest very comfortably in that fact. As I mentioned in our last visit, while I did not need love fifteen years ago — as the battle scars of life and aging and politics have worn on this has become a real need of mine. You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that is so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light — but hey, that would be going into the sexual details we spoke of at the steakhouse at dinner — and unlike you I would never do that!

Three and finally, while all the things above are all too true — at the same time we are in a hopelessly — or as you put it impossible — or how about combine and simply say hopelessly impossible situation of love. How in the world this lightening [sic] strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure. As I have said to you before I certainly had a special feeling about you from the first time we met, but these feelings were contained and I genuinely enjoyed our special friendship and the comparing of all too many personal notes (and yes this is true even if you did occasionally tantalize me with sexual details over the years!) — but it was all safe. Where we are is not. I have thought about it and in some ways feel I let you down in letting these complications come into a friendship that I hope will last till death. In all my life I have lived by a code of honor and at a variety of levels know I have crossed lines I would have never imagined. I wish I could wish it away, but this soul-mate feel I alluded too is real and in that regard I sure don’t want to be the person complicating your life. I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, “Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things”. In this regard it is action that goes well beyond the emotion of today or tomorrow and in this light I want to look for ways to show love in helping you to live a better — not more complicated life. I want to help (one of Maria’s sons) with film guys that might help his career, etc. I also don’t want you walking20away (sic) from some guy (I take it the younger guy you mentioned a t dinner) because of me — and what we both have to see as an impossible situation. I better stop now least this really sound like the Thornbirds — wherein I was always upset with Richard Chamberlain for not dropping his ambitions and running into Maggie’s arms. The bottom line is two fold, my heart wants me to get on a plane tonight and to be in your loving arms — my head is saying how do we put the Genie back in the bottle because I sure don’t want to be encumbering you, or your options or your life. Put differently, given I love you, I don’t want to be part of the reason you are having less than an ideal week in what sounds like a cool spot.

Lastly I also suspect I feel a little vulnerable because this is ground I have never certainly never covered before — so if you have pearls of wisdom on how we figure all this out please let me know … In the meantime please sleep soundly knowing that despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul. I love you … sleep tight. M

PS. I will make it a point in NY tomorrow to drop by a store and get that movie I promised to send your way … I am encouraged to know you will not keep it beside the bed least we have tangible evidence of two pathetic figures missing each other far too much to live a few thousand miles apart!

You have not brought complication or are not bringing complication to my life, on the contrary you’ve fullfiled (sic) me with happiness and made me aware how you can feel when you love somebody. I can think with my head but only feel with my heart so I can’t avoid it even knowing is hopelessly impossible. The guy is the one I told you ,just three years younger than me, but I am not in love and won’t fall in love with time so I have to continue my way … be alone for some time and if I am lucky enough will someday feel towards somebody, what I today feel for you. At least you made me realized it can happen.

I don’t know if I did understood (sic) well about what was unsafe or not safe. Before our mails use to have other contents … if you want to go back to that and don’t write love things and so on because is not safe for you it’s ok with me, i (sic) love you and by no way would do something that can harm you, so please let me know.

I don’t know how we figure all this out and I am not interested in knowing. I prefer to think we’ll see each other again somewhere sometime in this life and in next. Will be missing you till then… . .

Have a great trip with the ones you love … they are the kind of trips you will never forget and for your boys will be unworthable (sic) not only because of the places they will visit but for sharing all that time with you.

Send you millions of kisses that will last till we get in touch again. best wishes from the deepest of my heart.

P.S.: I don’t want to put the genius (sic) back in the bottle because I truly believe in freedom. I never gave you sexual details but now you don’t need to imagine you can close your eyes and just remember. I’ll do the same.

Actual emails from South Carolina to Argentina

June 27, 2009

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be reprinting the torrid email exchange between my governor, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, and his Argentinian mistress. (At least he was still governor last time I checked five minutes ago.)

From Mark to Maria:


You are glorious and I hope you really understand that. You do not need a therapist to help you figure your place in the world. You are special and unique and fabulous in a whole host of ways that are worth a much longer conversation. To be continued …

Have been having a few email problems as I am getting email through an aircard at the farm, where access to computer world is more than tough. Please let me know if you have gotten my last two eamils (sic) so I know it is working in getting to your part of the world …

Another glorious day outside. Hope you are doing well, and am anxious to hear about your week. Know that I miss you. Unbeleivably (sic) hard to imagine it has been a week. Please also send your mailing address as I want to send you an insignificant something next week when I am back in civilization that I think you might find interesting given our conversation.

Want to write an indepth note with some thoughts on our visit when I know you are getting these emails. Hugs and much love. M

From Maria to Mark:

I’am (sic) reading your last two mails sitting outside with a great seaview here in Ilhabela, a beautiful island near Sao Paulo. Have been thinking of you while watching the beautiful blue sea (a) great part of my day and remembering with a great smile on my face, the time we had spent together. As I told you before, you brought happiness and love to my life and (I) will take you forever in my heart. I wasn’t aware till we met last week, the strong feelings I had for you, and believe me, I haven’t felt this since I was in my teen ages, when afterwards I got married. I do love you, I can feel it in my heart, and although I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet again this has been the best that has happened to me in a long time You made me realized (sic) how you feel when you realy (sic) love somebody and how much you want to be beside the beloved. Last Friday I would had stayed embrassing (sic) and kissing you forever.

Don’t know why you think you bore me with the description of your farm. I am an urban girl but that doesn’t inhibit me from loving other things, specially if they are the ones you love. I was able to imagine the place with every single detail you wrote and had trassmitted (sic) me the love you have for your farm. It sounds to be a great and peaceful place and loved you had shared it with me.

Thanks for your beautiful words, I don’t know if I do need or not therapy but I have to find my new place in this new stage of my life. Life has been very generous with me and I want to return at least a little bit of what I have been given. I have time and think helping others who haven’t been as lucky as me will do me fine.

My address is (deleted by The State). It will be great finding at home once I am back, whatever you send me, I’ll keep it near my bed so as to feel you nearer.

Miss you so much… love you from the deepest of my heart. Sweet kisses.

From Mark to Maria:

Got back an hour ago to civilization and am now in Columbia after what was for me a glorious break from reality down at the farm. No phones ringing and tangible evidence of a day’s labors. Though I have started every day by 6 this morning woke at 4:30, I guess since my body knew it was the last day, and I went out and ran the excavator with lights until the sun came up. To me, and I suspect no one else on earth, there is something wonderful about listening to country music playing in the cab, air conditioner running, the hum of a huge diesel engine in the background, the tranquility that comes with being in a virtual wilderness of trees and marsh, the day breaking and vibrant pink coming alive in the morning clouds — and getting to build something with each scoop of dirt. It is admittedly weird but one of my more favorite ways of escaping the norms, constant phone calls and formalities that go with the office — and it probably fits with my weakness in doing rather than being — though you opened up a new chapter last week wherein I was happy and content just being. Last point worth further discussion. Afternoon projects had me outside and by days (sic) end I pretty much looked like a homeless person … but in this case a very content one. Enough about my love of heavy equipment and woods at sunrise …

While I was getting exhausted with one project after another at Coosaw work week, you were basking (I’m certain gloriously) on the beach..

Sounds great, hope to hear more about what sounds a great spot.

Will now finally get some sleep and write you a longer note with a few more profound thoughts tomorrow or Wednesday. In the meantime I send my love and hope you know I am thinking of you.. M

P.S. I do not want to raise expectations, when I say I will send something insignificant I promise I will do as I say! It wont (sic) be worthy of bedside placement … was just going to find the movie the Holiday as we had spoken of it last Thursday. Its music was pleasant and made me think of you — its mood and the notion of a holiday (wrapped up in our case over two days) certainly fit as well … (though our visit in some ways for me was as well less of a holiday than it was uncovering and realization of some things and feelings that again are worth longer conversation)

Had also hoped to find the cd of a song that played as I was flying home and also20made (sic) me think of you. Who knows if I can find the music … so all you may be stuck with is a long released movie — and if you put it by your bed I really be worried! Love you, good night and kisses back to you …

My love,

From Maria to Mark:

I decided to rent a car and went by myself to the other side of the Island where it is located one of the best hotels. It’s name is DPNY Hotel and I find it quite interesting. I had lunch there in a restaurant on the beach with great seaview. I sat under a palm and ate a mixed green salad with grilled abacaxi (pineapple) and honey. in the afternoon I sunbathe and read on the beach. I ve started here “The age of turbulence” from Alan Greenspan which I highly recomend (sic) you. At five I left back to the small town had a coffee with pao de queijo (cheese bread which is something tipycal (sic) from Brazl (sic) and it’s delicious) read some magazines, walked around and finally back to meu Pousada that is hotel.

In the Island is taking place the sailing week and Rolex competition and this was the reason for choosing the place and also why luckily I am most of the time by my own. It may sound bad but it’s how I feel it. As I told you I shouldn’t have done this trip but I would have felt worst if I wouldn’t have come because it was too over the date, he is a very nice guy, great heart … but unfortunately I am not in love with him … You are my love … something hard to believe even for myself as it’s also a kind of impossible love, not only because of distance but situation.

Sometimes you don’t choose things, they just happen … I can’t redirect my feelings and I am very happy with mine towards you. Hope you have had a good day, guess with much work.

Send you all my love and goodnight kisses. Sweet dreams from down south. I’ll dream with you.


Website Review:

June 26, 2009

Some of my earliest memories are related to smell. I remember the humid South Florida nights filled with the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine, going to church on Sunday morning past the orange processing plant, even the foul odor of the paper mills as we’d drive through Georgia headed north on summer vacation. While I’ve long lost other childhood memories (I only vaguely remember that my mother’s name started with an “M”), there’s something about aromas that sticks in your mind.

I think the sense of smell has this effect on us in part because it’s so hard to evade. You can avoid tasting dirt. You can avoid listening to the White Stripes. You can look away from the results of an auto accident. You can keep from touching your co-worker’s hair. But if you sense there’s something rotten in the air, there’s little you can do.

I’ve never understood why most people, when encountering a foul odor, choose to hold their nose. Our nostrils have evolved over the millennia into repulsive yet highly specialized passages designed to sort out the tiny molecules of stench we occasionally encounter. To breathe through your mouth instead of your nose in these situations is to bypass the elaborate network of filters that keeps offensive materials out of your body. Unless you have hairs and mucus in your mouth, you’re choosing to swallow these stinky atoms instead of plucking them discreetly out of your beak.

Attempts to scientifically quantify odor only began in the late 1800s, when Germany invented the “olfaktometrie” to analyze our sense of smell. Employing a panel of human noses as sensors, participants were presented with “sniffing ports” and asked to report the presence of odor. Ultimately, a measurement designated as the “European Odor Unit” was defined; it can today be used to determine the presence of not only Germans but the French and Dutch as well. There’s even an instrument known as the “nasal ranger” (see photo below) which will measure and quantify odor strength in the field, as well as get you arrested anywhere within 500 yards of a girl’s school.

Although an aroma’s strength can be identified, its quality is harder to pin down. Something called “hedonic assessment” attempts to place particular smells on a spectrum from extremely pleasant to extremely unpleasant, with data points along the way like “fragrant,” “caustic,” “disgusting” and “Burger King.” Whole industries have grown up around our desire to suppress or disguise particular odors. One such company is Glade, producer of sprays, infusions, oils and gels, and the subject of this week’s Website Review.

The homepage for shows gently floating icons representing berry, vanilla, spice, outdoor, floral and other scents, adjacent to a thirty-something woman reading a book and smelling her surroundings, her nostrils slightly flared in delight. When you move your mouse across her face, she asks “is ‘aah’ actually a word or just the sound of stress escaping from my day?” Depending on the chemicals in Glade’s products, it could also be what your doctor asks you to say as you’re examined for that mysterious pulmonary condition you’ve developed, though a recent report to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services seems to absolve the company.

Glade delivers its large variety of pleasant fragrances through several different media, but certainly the most advanced is the patented plug-in technology. First developed about 20 years ago, this marvel of unnecessary science gently warms a gel cartridge using an electrical outlet that might otherwise be wasted on less critical appliances like a refrigerator or home dialysis machine. Recent improvements to the design have recognized the explosion of electronics demands in the modern home with a plug-through outlet. The device has a little trouble staying hooked in place, however, inspiring the widely loved commercial jingle “plug it in, plug it in.” There’s also now a Plug-In that uses scented oil to treat larger rooms, like your basement or abattoir.

To address not only malodorous spaces but also those lacking a certain visual ambience, Glade has introduced out the Wisp flameless candle. The gadget combines continuous puffs of fragrance with a warm, flickering glow and virtually no risk of fire. This new offering is still struggling to gain acceptance in the marketplace, as evidenced by some of the questions the website attempts to answer, including “I don’t think my unit is puffing – what should I do?” and “can I turn the flickering glow off?”

The newest hi-tech advancement out of this SC Johnson company is the Sense & Spray product. Sort of a Wii for the redolent, it uses a motion sensor to detect the presence of odor creators and emit a blast of fragrance at them. Once this burst has been released, the device goes into a lock-out mode for 30 minutes, though there’s a manual override that can be launched should Uncle Phil decide he needs to return for another session on the can.

What I’d really like to see is a technology transfer with one of Glade’s sister companies, the makers of Off! insect repellant. They market a mosquito protection unit called the “Clip On,” which you’re able to strap onto your belt for a head-to-toe defense against biting bugs. Imagine being able to wear one of these that’s been crossed with the Sense & Spray – you could freely emit all kinds of stench during your daily activities and not to have to worry how it impacts your social life (not that I do anyway, but still). And having the added feature of a boost button that you could spritz at others would almost make this convenience rise to the level of a sport.

If there’s a particular aroma you’re looking for in any of the Glade product line, the website has a convenient “find-a-scent” feature, using one of those annoying word-prediction programs that guesses what you’re going to request and matches that to what they offer. So if you’re looking for “dog” smell you get “dewberry,” if you want “garbage” you get “garden,” if you want “office refrigerator” you get “orchid,” and “sewage treatment facility” offers you “stream, spa, strawberries and sweet pea.” Why would anybody want the smell of a spa?

Finally, I’ll mention a handy option that seems like just what we need is in this age of over-communication. Through the site, you can sign up for an automated reminder that your Plug-In or flameless candle could be in need of a refill. An email will be sent to an account of your choosing that Glade says “will let us help you keep that fresh, clean home feeling.” My concern would be that spam filters might wrongly think of this as a trivial communiqué and route it to the land of credit and appendage extenders. Surely it’s only a matter of time until the company enters the twenty-first century and instead sends you a tweet and a text message while automatically updating your Facebook page notifying your contacts that your house is starting to reek.

Nasal Ranger (not affiliated with the Lone Ranger)

Nasal Ranger (not affiliated with the Lone Ranger)

Finally proud that he’s my governor

June 25, 2009

Thank you, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, for ruining my post today. Also, too bad about how your ruined your life.

All day Wednesday, intriguing new details were emerging about your six-day disappearance from the governor’s mansion. First, you were hiking the Appalachian Trail by yourself because you needed to get away from the wife and kids on Father’s Day weekend so you could “write”. Then you were spotted by a reporter at the airport in Atlanta, where you confessed you had instead gone to Argentina, of all places, to recover from recent political battles against the federal government. Well, maybe he’d be announcing a new trade agreement bringing two of that nation’s leading exports – honey and sunflower seeds – to South Carolina. Think of the jobs that would generate.

Then, as I get ready to sit down and compose a piece speculating wildly about your adventures south of the border, I check the news to discover that suddenly it’s tango time! As was widely whispered, you’ve been unable to keep your empanadas safely stored in your gauchos (or is it the other way around?). Apparently preparing for a new career in a dinner theatre production of “Evita,” Sanford told a packed press conference that he had spent “the last five days of my life crying in Argentina.”

Then I read this account from The New York Times coverage of the speech:

Surrounded by more than 50 reporters, photographers, aides and spectators in the rotunda of the South Carolina statehouse, the governor spoke with a quiver in his voice and was visibly shaken, tearing up at times and rocking on his feet at the podium. It took him more than a few stumbling minutes to get to the crux of the matter.

“The bottom line is this. I have been unfaithful to my wife,” he said. “I developed a relationship with … a dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently, as I suspect these things do. But here, recently, over this last year, [it] developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence, I hurt her. I hurt you all, I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I would ask for y’all’s indulgence, not for me, but for Jenny and the boys.”

While I might be diametrically opposed to the right-wing governor’s policies, you can’t help but feel for the guy after reading that. Rocking on his feet at the podium? That’s so sad. Suddenly he sounds more like a fallible human being than a self-righteous model of morality.

So you’ll get no jokes from me about how “Miss South Carolina” went from a phrase of ridicule following last year’s Miss Teen USA pageant to a question for the absent governor. No cracks about how secret negotiations to bring a rare Argentinian puma to the Columbia Zoo were disrupted by a cougar. No gags about a South Carolina education that blurred the difference between all those “A” countries (Argentina, Appalachia, Alaska, etc.). No assertions that he was looking for political tips from the corpse of Juan Peron, or that he visited the Falkland Islands to study how he might defend his state from an invasion by Tennessee, or that he became a desaparecido, another of the forced disappearances that characterized the country’s Dirty War of the 1970s.

And, most importantly, no snarky remarks asking how would the leaderless state cope if it were suddenly devastated by an attack that left it in economic and social ruin, then noting that, no, wait, that happened while he was here.

(I’ve been jotting these things down all day – you can’t expect me just to throw them away).

I happen to have lived in South Carolina for the past 30 years, so maybe I’m just feeling protective of a fellow Sandlapper (no joke – that’s really what we’re called). Does he and fellow Republicans John Ensign, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, etc., deserve more shame than disgraced Democrats like John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer? Yes, because they get to have one more adjective attached to their names: “hypocrite”.

Still, you have to feel some positive reaction toward a man who traded conservatism, Dixie traditions and USC football for a yerba mate and a thick steak on the beach of Buenos Aires. If you’ve ever been to Columbia, you’ll know what I mean.

Arriving early to walk in the warehouse

June 24, 2009

In my extensive experience working in the corporate world, I’ve seen basically three kinds of interaction between site managers and their underlings.

Most common is the passing remark, usually done in a hallway, a breakroom or, God forbid, at the urinal. This typically addresses only the most trivial of subjects, usually the quality of the previous night’s sporting contest or the weather. “How about that game?” he’ll ask, to which the safest response is “that was some game” and an quickened pace of walking down the hall, or of peeing, or both.

A less frequent contact occurs when the department meeting is called. It’s a little like being in combat, in that you’re confronting two equally frightening options: either being bored by endless hours of ultimately pointless alert, or scared out of your skin by death-dealing action. Our most recent such assembly involved being told that a rumor which none of us had even heard was not in fact true. Which of course made us all believe that it was true, or else why would there be a meeting? Again using the wartime metaphor, this was like being on patrol in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and set upon by a squadron of costumed Disney characters. Boring, scary, and a bit confusing.

Finally, there’s the one-on-one sit-down. I’ve been in managerial positions a couple of times in my career, and I was always tempted to cynically manipulate this setting to get a slam-dunk on a dicey but ultimately minor issue. Ask your employee to see you “immediately,” close the door behind them, strike a serious posture, and request that they run across the street and get you a latte. They’ll be so relieved they aren’t in trouble that they’ll probably throw in a scone.

I had an encounter similar to this with my supervisor last week. He pulled a chair up next to me and said he had a question to ask. There were several night-shift people on vacation Friday night, and might I possibly come in early Saturday morning to pick up four hours of overtime. It would mean getting up on what would otherwise be a restful weekend, but it also meant some extra pay that I wasn’t about to turn down. I paused long enough to make him fully appreciate all that I meant to the department (about two beats), and said yes.

I’ve never really minded getting up early to go to work, preferring instead to focus on the fact it also means I’ll be going home early. My current everyday schedule requires me to be at my desk by 5 a.m., a luxury compared to recent years I spent arriving by 3, and this particular assignment that had me in by 2. I fool myself into thinking of these hours not as the middle of the night, but instead that very ethereal and special time of the pre-dawn when the temperature is cool, the air is still, and the convenience stores are robbed. I’d also like to believe I’m flying on a magic carpet and instead of work my destination is Paris of the 1920s, but you can only take self-deception so far.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I was able to complete my only project in about 90 minutes, yet had to wait around till 6 in case something else came along. Around 4 a.m. I slipped out of the office and into the adjacent warehouse, taking the opportunity to log a few thousand steps on the pedometer I’m wearing for this company-wide wellness effort (see The peoples of the warehouse world have too much common sense in their culture to be working at that time of day, so I had aisle after aisle of walking space in which to kill a half hour.

About half the lighting is turned off overnight, so the huge room had an eerie quality to it. The only sound was a loud mechanical hum which I was able to dismiss as merely the air conditioning rather than an imminent electrical short until I realized this space is not air-conditioned. There were other occasional beeps and groans I heard as I paced the floor so it required a conscious effort to keep my fears in check. I don’t mind things that go bump in the night as long as they’re not the sound of teetering shelves about to collapse on top of me.

I was equally nervous about the prospect of being seen engaging in such a suspicious behavior by anyone I might come across. There’s no video surveillance because there’s nothing in there worth stealing, unless you count a pallet of old proxy statements lurking in a dark corner that I temporarily mistook for a buffalo. The only other people in the building, as far as I knew, were some fellow office workers who were unlikely to be joining me. But they’d wonder if I’d suddenly gone Alzheimer’s should they happen across my improbable wandering, and the loss of their respect would be as devastating as a bison attack.

The walk was pretty boring so it didn’t take much to entertain me. I started reading some of the block-lettered signs that the warehouse clans post in an effort to communicate with each other. They reminded me of ancient cave drawings, though their all-cap sans-serif style and lack of punctuation was more primitive. “HOLD DO NOT TOUCH” read one, asking what seemed to be the impossible. “TAKE TO TEAM LEAD” read another. Yet a third said simply “DESTROY”. Okay, I thought, now I’m scared. I think I’ve walked enough.

As I headed back toward my office, I heard a distant conversation. The source of the almost sing-song discussion was between where I stood and the exit, so I had no choice other than to investigate. I got close enough to make out some of what was being said: “That foreman is a riggity dog and the line boss he’s a fool. Got a brand-new flattop haircut; lord, he thinks he’s cool,” I heard. “One of these days I’m going to blow my top and that sucker he’s gonna pay.”

Uh, oh. The threat of workplace violence was now in the air, and I had a responsibility as one who’s been through safety training to follow a strict protocol to report this threat. I ran through the list in my mind: Call the toll-free HRHelp line (a recent replacement to onsite human resources humans); enter 3 to report my site; enter 1 to report an urgent matter; say “yes” when asked if this is an emergency; say “I don’t know” when asked who else is involved; press 5 for potential violence; press star for a live operator; and say “that sucker’s gonna pay” when asked the nature of the threat.

This sounded like a lot of trouble to prevent a killing spree, so I decided instead to peek around a corner to learn a little more. What I found was both embarrassing and relieving. Somebody had left a radio on, and the country station was playing Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.”

All was well, and I could return safely to my desk. But as for the darkened warehouse, I’ll paraphrase Mr. Paycheck – “I ain’t walking here no more.”

Shoving epidemic in Washington; “quit it!” say officials

June 23, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 22) – FBI officials revealed yesterday they will begin criminal investigations into recent incidents involving top female officials who were thought to have tripped but may in fact have been shoved.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor fell and broke her ankle at LaGuardia Airport earlier this month, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shattered her elbow in a tumble last week at a State Department parking garage. Both incidents were at first reported to be accidents, but it’s now suspected that horseplay or hijinks by male colleagues could be to blame.

Investigators became suspicious of a more widespread plot after Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine narrowly avoided a fall over the weekend. She told agents that she discovered fellow Democrat Harry Reid sneaking up behind her on all fours shortly after Sen. Chris Dodd bumped into her in the Capitol dining room. She briefly stumbled before catching her balance and confronting the seven-term senator from Connecticut. A security camera recorded most of the scene.

“Quit it,” Snowe said to Dodd as she fell backward. “Stop being such a moron.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Dodd protested. “I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. You’re ugly.”

“Harry, what are you doing back there?” Snowe then said, turning to the Senate majority leader from Nevada.

“What are you talking about?” Reid responded. “I… I was just looking for a quarter that I dropped. I swear.”

Snowe then repeated her demand to “cut it out or I’m going to tell” before both Reid and Dodd ran giggling from the scene.

“We take these threats to the security of government leaders very seriously,” said FBI Special Agent Ronald Murray. “Boisterous childishness like this will not be tolerated. These Congressmen are old enough to know better and if they don’t knock it off, we’re going to report them. It’ll go on their permanent Congressional record.”

Contacted by reporters about the charges, Reid said the alleged incident was “all in fun” and that Maine’s senior senator “needs to lighten up a little. Jeez.” Dodd, who is currently shepherding the Obama Administration’s health insurance reform effort through the Senate, said Snowe was “stuck up and whining like a baby” and that her charges were “totally without merit.”

Dodd added that he wasn’t afraid of the FBI, whom he characterized as “stupid,” but later retracted that charge with the claim that he “thought it was opposite day.”

Meanwhile, the Congressional sergeant-at-arms office said it would be beefing up personal security for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski and California Senator Dianne Feinstein in the wake of the FBI’s announcement. These three legislators are at particular risk, a spokesperson for that office said, because “everyone knows they’re snobs.”

“They think they’re, like, really cool and stuff,” said the official, who declined to be named. “I’d shove ‘em myself if I weren’t legally charged with upholding the law.”

Grads, fads and dads

June 22, 2009

New grads face urgent matters

Following my son’s recent graduation from high school, he received a number of congratulatory notes from family, from friends, and from people who don’t even know us. Most of the latter were from business concerns seeking profits from newly minted graduates with all those crisp 100-dollar bills from Aunt Helen burning a hole in their pockets. But one he received was especially bizarre, writing not of rewards of this world but of the next.

South Carolina State Representative F.G. “Greg” Delleney, a Republican legislator from neighboring Chester County, used official state letterhead to send out his best wishes, and to offer a plug for his particular view of the firmament and man’s place in it. I’m reprinting the entire letter below, with a few comments of my own in bracketed italics:

Congratulations upon receiving your high school diploma. Graduating from high school is certainly a memorable milestone and great accomplishment. I know that your family and friends are extremely proud of you. [Note: Chester County, thanks in part to narrow-minded right-wingers like Rep. Delleney, is one of the poorest counties in South Carolina, which is saying a lot. High school graduation is about as far as most Chestonians get, with about 40% of the population reaching that lofty milestone.]

You will soon be faced with many decisions, choices and challenges as you begin a new and exciting chapter of your life. If you would indulge me, I might offer some advice. First, determine, as soon as possible, what you are going to do with your life. [Urgency in job choice is key in Chester. There’s only one McDonald’s and one Burger King in the whole county.] Once you make your decision, stay the course until you accomplish your goals [assistant night managers get to wear a tie]. Remember, this life is short. [Uh-oh. Here it comes.] However, you were created to live forever, and you will live on in eternity either in God’s presence or outside of His presence. The most important thing in this life is making sure you have the correct relationship with God. This is only possible if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. [Of all the thousands and thousands of religious constructs in the world, he has somehow managed to find the only one that’s right. Imagine that.] You can have that relationship by trusting Christ and turning your life over to Him. He will never leave you or fail you. He will be there for you in good times and bad times. He will always have a plan for your life. [Much like the South Carolina GOP, which wants you to avoid birth control, fear those who are different, get a big gun and, of course, vote Republican.] What is most important in this life is your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and being a good steward of not only your wealth but also of your time, health, talents and abilities [But don’t worry too much those wealth and health parts. Remember, you live in the rural South.]

I wish you all the best. [Well, some of it, anyway.]

Longing for TV of the past

Interesting conversation I overheard at work the other day. A few of the middle-aged ladies were lamenting the state of modern-day prime-time television, what with the sexual references and the language and the double entendres. They were longing for the simpler times of the past, when three TV networks guaranteed there’d be little deviation from a narrow selection of family values.

“Can you imagine what Petticoat Junction would be like on TV today?” one of them asked rhetorically. “Bobby Jo would be divorced, Betty Jo would be pregnant, Billy Jo would be living with her boyfriend, and they’d all be riding around on Segways.”

And they’d all probably be living in a town called Hooterville.

 News from inside The Slammer

While waiting in line at the local convenience store the other day, I listened in on a conversation between the two women in front of me. Ronnette and Darlene had similar frizzy blond hair, similarly overdone makeup on their overripe faces, and similar purchases – a Monster Khaos Energy Drink for Ronnette, a Full Throttle Fury for Darlene, and a pack of smokes for each.

They talked openly about visiting their prison-bound boyfriends in the week ahead and compared stories about their caseworkers. As they paid for their items, Darlene reached across the counter and grabbed a copy of The Slammer to add to her purchases.

For those of you who haven’t seen this publication, it struck me as a kind of non-digital Facebook for the trailer set. The Slammer describes itself as “an informative and entertaining weekly newspaper covering crime – up close and personal. The Slammer features ‘all crime, all the time’: breaking crime news, recent arrests, fugitives and the most wanted, sex offenders, deadbeat parents and more. See why everyone agrees that The Slammer is the most entertaining way to kill time.” The newsletter is jam-packed with mug shots, heights, weights, rap sheets and reward-for-capture amounts, and Darlene seemed eager to catch up with all her old friends.

The June 19 edition was a special Father’s Day issue. “This week we look at some fathers in prison who won’t be visited by their children because they killed them, and at some fathers’ sons who won’t receive a visit from ‘dead ol’ dad’ either.” There’s a center spread in the middle showing all manner of miscreants and their various crimes. One Philadelphia father is shown under the headline “No videogames where he’s going”; he was charged with hitting his daughter for messing with his Xbox. Under the heading “Hop on pop,” the story is told of a teenager who stabbed his father while he slept, then got mad at investigators who took the kid’s favorite boots as evidence.

It’s good to see such balanced coverage in an otherwise sensational periodical – there seem to be as many children who harmed their fathers as fathers who hurt their kids.

Along side the display of perpetrators is an informative blurb about how Father’s Day is celebrated around the world. “In Germany gangs of people get drunk and roam the streets while others go on man-only hikes,” writes The Slammer, almost longingly. “In Thailand, everybody dresses in yellow. In Italy, special breads are baked.”

With print journalism facing such difficult times these days, it’s good to see that publishers who find their special niche may be able to survive.

Some grand fatherly advice

June 21, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer replacement feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. In honor of Father’s Day, I’m re-posting some sound words of counsel I received from my grandfather shortly before he passed away. “Need more morphine,” he gasped. “And tell your grandmother that the squirrel who ate her oatmeal that time in 1967 was really your Uncle Ted.” He also offered some good advice about how to navigate through this complicated life, part of which is incorporated below.

Q. Whatever happened to the idea of keeping to the right? Most drivers observe this rule in their cars, but as soon as their feet hit the pavement, all memory of it vanishes. Our sidewalks, airports, grocery stores and shopping malls have become free-for-alls. People have crashed into me with their grocery carts as I made a right turn from one aisle to the next and they are making a left turn on the left side. If people will remember to stay to the right and pass on the left, they’ll see that these important rules of the road make all traffic move more smoothly. – Your Mother’s Busybody Neighbor

A. I couldn’t agree with you more. Perhaps together we can change the world.

There’s really not much difference at all between motor vehicles and what I call “pedestrian vehicles,” also known as “humans.” The windshield is like the eyes, the grill is like the mouth, the tires are like the legs, the headlights are like the headlights, and the tailpipe is like the you-know-what. Didn’t any of you people see the Disney movie “Cars”?

What we need to move toward now is fully equipping individuals with the accessories that automobiles have, so they can more easily obey the rules of the road. For example, we could attach turn signals to hip pockets so pedestrians could signal which way they’re turning. We could surgically implant an antenna in their heads so they don’t need to be distracted by their cell phones and music players. We could require everyone, instead of saying “hi” as they greet one another, to say “honk.”

The next time someone brushes against you with their shopping cart during one of these encounters, drop immediately to the floor and start yowling like a scorched cat. A store manager should arrive shortly with a specially equipped shopping cart into which you’ll be placed to be hauled out to the parking lot. There, this cart will be tied to the back of an ambulance and you’ll be taken to the nearest hospital. Meanwhile, the offender will be left in stunned silence before resuming their shop, hopefully noticing the great deal on frozen chicken breasts.