Archive for February, 2010

Fake News: Potholes are next big thing

February 18, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Feb. 17) — NASCAR racing officials are so happy with last weekend’s tight finish at the Daytona 500, caused in large part by having drivers slowed by a pothole that stopped the race several times, that they’re adding other everyday road nuisances to future events.

“Everybody’s been talking about what a bunch of rinky-dink amateurs we are to have our biggest race marred by a simple pothole,” said operations vice president John Lee. “That’s great publicity. Yee-haw.”

Weeks of rainy, cold weather in northeast Florida caused a 9-by-15-inch hole to be carved two inches into the Daytona Superspeedway’s surface. The biggest race on NASCAR’s calendar was stopped for over two hours while officials scrambled to fill the hole, mostly with discarded tobacco chaw. Now, events coordinators are looking to add other obstacles to generate more interest and sympathy among viewers who face daily frustrating commutes.

One idea is to put an elderly “hat driver” on the inside lane and have him drive 55 m.p.h. while stock cars race past him at three times that speed. Another concept would have a carful of young immigrants on the right side of the track making random, unsignaled turns. Some are even suggesting putting a left-turn-only lane to the pit area with a sensor in the pavement that only occasionally triggers the turn arrow.

“Drivers needing to pit may have to inch back and forth for several minutes to make the light change,” said Lee. “How exciting would that be?”

“I’ll be the ‘hat driver,'” volunteered 51-year-old veteran driver Mark Martin, peering through his steering wheel to see the road in front of him.

Other proposals being floated include having joggers dart out onto the track, awarding bonus points for striking kangaroos that would be loosed from the infield, and requiring any driver who crashed to block the course by waiting patiently outside his car for police to arrive.

“Ideally, only one car-width will be left open to get by, and all the other racers would slow to a crawl to see what happened,” Lee said. “One of the crash victims might be standing on the shoulder sobbing quietly into his cell phone, while the other scribbles out his insurance information leaned on the hood of his car. It’s something we can all relate to.”

To expand the audience of some races, officials are also considering installing a poorly labeled exit ramp that appears to lead to the garage area but in fact takes drivers into the parking lot of a nearby mall. The sight and sound of roaring Dodges zooming past startled young families could improve the demographic mix of typical race-watchers, at least among the families that aren’t run over first.

Lee said the more that Sunday afternoon auto races can remind the audience of the mind-numbing drudgery of spending up to 90 minutes a day creeping through traffic, the more Bojangles Bo’berry biscuits with extra cheese can be sold by race sponsors.

“We might even end up with a patch on drivers’ firesuits advertising the highway patrol,” said Lee, though he stopped short of suggesting that speeding racers be pulled over by police for going 168 in a 165-m.p.h. zone.

Olympic observations

February 17, 2010

♦ Wouldn’t it be great of one of the ski jumpers hid a jet pack under his uniform and, at the apex of his jump, lit the rocket and continued off into the distant sky?

♦ I’m not sure what “Nordic combined” is, but it sounds like an ill-conceived effort at reconciliation that Tiger Woods might attempt with his wife and another woman.

♦ Speaking of combined, I’d like to see a new winter sport that united figure skating and speed skating, in a graceful yet mad dash around the oval.

♦ The musical accompaniment used for figure skating would be a great addition to other sports as well. I just watched a heroic rendition of “Impossible Dream” in the mixed pairs competition that would sound so inspiring piped through the loud speakers at the luge course.

♦ Curling is too easy to make fun of. It strikes me as an innocent combination of shuffleboard, horseshoes, hopscotch and bowling, but done on ice. I like the frantic sweeping motion with the brooms, but wonder if the sport’s governing body should consider entering the twenty-first century and issue the curlers vacuum cleaners or Swiffles instead.

♦ That fatal crash during the luge training was truly horrible and could’ve been avoided with a more sensible track construction. Raising the walls higher is one suggested solution. They might consider raising them so high that the chute becomes totally enclosed, more of a tube. The spectators might not appreciate it, but race officials could assure them “I swear there’s a sliding competition going on in there somewhere.”

♦ One thing that the winter games is sadly missing is animal Olympians. We’re sadly reminded of this by the concurrent staging of the Westminster Dog Show in New York. Imagine the excitement of seeing a Staffordshire Bull Terrier launched from the ski jump, or the Standard Schnauzer strapped to a snowboard.

♦ If organizers want to see a giant leap in ratings, might I suggest outfitting the skaters with skis, and the skiers with skates.

♦ The choice of cross-country skiing and shooting for the biathlon seems so arbitrary. Shooting is actually the only sport in these Olympics that doesn’t involve slipping on frozen water, at least not if it’s done right. I think they should unstrap those silly rifles from their backs and substitute something that uses ice and is thus more appropriate for the dead of winter: perhaps margarita blending, or baby seal hunting, or scraping your car out of a snow drift using only a credit card.

♦ Here’s a new idea of a downhill event that could put the excitement back in Alpine skiing. Let’s see them race an oncoming avalanche.

♦ Anybody can do downhill skiing. How about some uphill skiing?

Fake News: Tea Party reaches out to the young

February 16, 2010

MIAMI, Fla. (Feb. 15) — Organizers of the conservative Tea Party movement are looking to the future by recruiting more young people to join the anti-government cause.    

One such example can be found in “Lady Ann and Lady Diane’s Teas,” a group of Libertarian 6-to-12-year-old girls who fondly recall an America where ladies could dress in gloves and pearls, enjoy tiny flower-shaped sandwiches and celebrate the days when Queen Victoria was president.    

“Dressing up is so much fun!” said chapter president Lady Diane. “In our party, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back to a time when only the gracious held power in this country. Each of our elegant soirees will provide an atmosphere of refinement and charm in which to rail against the socialist Obama and his Stalinist henchmen.”    

The collection of lace-bedecked young ladies espouse the same anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-stimulus position as the national Tea Party organization, but do so in a setting festively decorated with pink bow sashes, antique china plates, minks, wraps and fans.    

“It’s time to get the Washington bureaucrats out of office and let real Americans take their country back,” said a 7-year-old who identified herself only as Madelyn. “And while you’re up, I’d like another scone, if you please.”    

Unlike the boisterous crowds that often heckled congressmen during last summer’s town hall meetings, this new generation of arch-conservatives and white supremacists are mindful of the proper etiquette necessary to stage a reactionary coup with poise and style.    

“I just adore the old country roses and the Lady Carlyle fine English serving pieces,” said 11-year-old Addison. “And the sterling silver tongs would be just right to impale (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi.”    

Members are careful to stress that despite their fondness for all things crystal and gold-rimmed, they remain committed to the cause of a smaller government that stays out of private enterprise, offers no health care to its citizens, and detests all who are not as darling and precious as they are.    

“And we’re dead-set against any liberal reform of immigration law that lets more undesirables cross over our borders,” said Chloe, age 8. “Especially boys.”    

Dressed in a lovely hat with netted veil and carefully holding a tasty tea savory in one hand and a placard reading “No Publik Opshun” in the other, 10-year-old Caitlyn described herself as a former Republican who grew disenchanted over the party’s close relations with Wall Street.    

“I prefer a tea cozy, not a cozying up to the big banks,” the delightful little lady said.    

"Show us the birth certificate," demand (from left) Abigail, Hannah, Leah and another Abigail. "Or get the hell back to Kenya."

Monday, Monday … How could you?

February 15, 2010

TRUE STORY: A South Carolina woman making a late-night trip to the grocery store found herself locked in when the supermarket closed unexpectedly.    

“All of the sudden everybody was gone,” said Loris resident Cheryl Freeman of her visit to the local Food Lion. “When I got up to the front, I thought I saw [employees] leaving in a car. I watched them drive away.”    

Unable to open the exit doors and realizing she had left her cell phone at home, Freeman started looking for a phone in the store’s office. An alarm went off, and police responded quickly to the call.    

Freeman said the alarm, which she described as deafening and continuous, was the worst part of the incident.    

“It kept saying, ‘You’re in a restricted area.’ The police came, but we couldn’t communicate because that alarm was so horribly loud,” she said. “I was pretty upset, but didn’t tell anybody about it.”    

After the incident, Freeman said she considered moving from Loris back to her previous home in Myrtle Beach because “they never locked me in a store down there.”    


During a recent visit to a Taco Bell, I noticed a plaque on the wall listing the store manager as “Zena Bailey”. I thought this was a funny name, and started relating it to friends and family.    

To a person, every single individual ruined the story by asking the same deflating question: “Was it spelled with an ‘X’?”    

No, I had to admit with much discouragement. It was with a “Z”. 😦    


NPR was reporting a story last week about a transition in the top ranks of the Nigerian government.    

“The current president continues to receive medical treatment at a hospital in Saudi Arabia,” said the announcer. “The Nigerian senate yesterday approved a motion that would allow the temporary appointment of Goodluck Jonathan.”    

What? Did I hear that right? Sounds like a news writer jokingly inserted a farewell to his favorite intern into the live transcript.    

As it turns out, Goodluck Jonathan is former governor of Bayelsa, a member of the PDP ruling party, current vice president of the republic, and owner of the coolest name in political history.    

Nigeria is currently confronting some troubled times, and Jonathan will face a daunting task governing Africa’s largest country. I think we’d all want to offer him a hearty “best wishes!”    


The legacy of the Rev. Billy Graham is still a widespread presence in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. Though the frail and now-retired minister lives in the mountains west of here, there are plenty of namesake reminders in the city that residents take for granted, but must sound odd to visitors.    

Charlotte boasts a Billy Graham Parkway, the Billy Graham Library, and the headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. So it’s not that unusual to hear locals say things like:    

“The best way to the airport is to take Billy Graham.”    

“We were able to rent Billy Graham for both our wedding and reception.”    

“He’s got a good job. He’s part of Billy Graham.”    


My cats are getting more and more out of control around their meal times. I’m thinking of having them trained in photosynthesis so they can make their own damn food.    


Speaking of higher education, I saw a pickup truck in our area the other day that had three decals in the back window: one for Winthrop University, one for the University of Georgia, and one of the deer head silhouette frequently displayed by hunters. It made me wonder if there are colleges anywhere that offer a degree program in hunting. If so, they would probably call it something more academic, like the College of Wildlife Management and Assault.    

This same truck also had a bumper sticker for Ducks Unlimited. My son hadn’t heard of the organization, so I had to explain that, contrary the name, it was a group very much dedicated to limiting ducks.    


New locally owned restaurant opened in my hometown that seems even more doomed to failure than most. Its name: “Bats Barbecue”.    


Sometimes, instead of using the men’s room located just outside my office at work, I’ll hike across the warehouse to the highly-disinfected facilities used by the hourly temps. The cleaning solution used by the janitor there has a much more appealing smell, just the right mix of flowers and industrial solvents.    

This is how sad and pathetic my life has become.    


I finally got a chance to see “The Hurt Locker,” the Oscar-nominated film about an Army bomb squad operating in Iraq. Great movie.    

I was confused though by at least one part (not counting being unable to figure out why anyone would take a job even worse than mine). When the chunky guy in the high-collar jacket approaches a suspicious package, his fellow squad members call out the location of potential nearby dangers: “Possible sniper at 1 o’clock!” “Kid with a cell phone at 3 o’clock!” “Time for an MRE dinner at 7:30!”    

I’m not at all clear on how that works as a way to indicate location. I assume that “12 o’clock” is directly in front of me and that other points fan out accordingly. But if a guy to my right says there’s something at 9 o’clock, is that his 9 o’clock or mine? And what if one of us swivels?    

Seems to me a more common-sense direction would be something like “to your left” or “look out” or “you should’ve stayed in community college.”    


I’ve really enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics on TV so far. The Opening Ceremonies on Friday night were absolutely splendid, marred only slightly by interspersed clips of the Georgian luger being killed during his practice run.    

The Parade of Nations, during which the athletes enter the stadium smiling proudly and waving at the crowd, was a little dry, but not for lack of effort by the NBC executive in charge of figuring out where to insert the commercials. Each block of ads took up enough time to obscure the entrance of several national teams, and the network official had to figure which alphabetical chunk of participating countries were least interesting to American viewers.    

He couldn’t simply go by populations or team sizes, because of compelling story lines among small groups like the Cayman Islands and Vanuatu. Nations in the news also had to be included, so places like Iran and North Korea couldn’t be overlooked. Even usually boring lands like Canada had to be shown because, after all, they’re the Olympic host.    

So it came down to three different five-state groupings that were judged less interesting than appeals for more people to drink Red Bull: the Bahamas-Belarus-Belgium-Bermuda-Bosnia axis, the Kyrgyzstan-Latvia-Lebanon-Liechtenstein-Lithuania alliance and the San Marino-Senegal-Serbia-Slovakia-Slovenia coalition.    

Watch for some of these peoples to provoke a high-profile incident on the international stage in the near future, just to get their names out there. I predict San Marino and the Bahamas will join forces to invade Slovakia, then realize that they meant to attack Slovenia, and then figure, oh hell, what’s the difference?    


The composite sketch artist embodies two seemingly contrary interests: a desire to create skilled renderings of the human form and a yearning to hang out with crime victims.    

Sometimes, one proficiency is stronger than another, and you get a terrific portrait of shadow and color and light, but it looks more like an eighteenth-century aristocrat than the suspect in a triple shooting.    

Or sometimes, you end up with an amateurish portrayal that sends police off in search of animated cartoon characters.    

Two examples below exemplify some especially bad examples of composite sketch artistry.    

Be on the lookout for the Latino uncle of one of those big-eyed children from paintings of the 1960s.

This suspect is a recent skin-graft patient.

Revisited: Valentine’s cards for the holy

February 14, 2010

While doing research for a recent post about godly websites, I came across a selection of Valentine’s Day poems designed for those who tend to see all holidays through religious glasses. (Just wait to see what they’ve got cooked up for Washington’s Birthday next week). These sentiments in rhyme would fit just perfectly on that special card you present to your loved one today, though I guess they’d make some pretty good hymns too.

While the construction and meter and tone were all quite proper, I thought I could do just as good a job incorporating Holy imagery into messages suited for consenting adults. Let’s see what you think. Two of these poems were written by a legitimate Christian lyricist and two were written by me. See if you can tell which is which.

God’s Valentine Gift

God’s Valentine gift of love to us
Was not a bunch of flowers;
It wasn’t candy, or a book
To while away the hours.

His gift was to become a man,
So He could freely give
His sacrificial love for us,
So you and I could live.

He gave us sweet salvation, and
Instruction, good and true–
To love our friends and enemies
And love our Savior, too.

So as we give our Valentines,
Let’s thank our Lord and King;
The reason we have love to give
Is that He gave everything.


Way Better Than Your Spouse

When we awake to celebrate
This very special day
We look across the bed and see
The love we want to stay

But greater than that love is one
Who we can’t really see
We’re told He lives up in the sky
Near Alpha Centauri

The one we love on earth is dear
But we know they’ll end in death
They’re hardly perfect, that’s for sure
From here I smell their breath

But up above the loved one is
The one who wields the rod
For He demands devotion pure
I think they call him God

You Are Often In My Thoughts

Love is a command
That Christians are called to do;
Our Lord says “Love your God,
And love your neighbor, too.”

Some people are easy to love;
They are human rays of sun;
They light up every life,
And encourage everyone.

You are in that group,
So I sincerely want to say:
You are often in my thoughts;
Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Food of Love is Nutritious

My Valentine is special
She’s smart and pretty too
I like the way she does her hair
And the color of her shoe

Her eyes are like the stars that shine
Her ears are also nice
Her nose is pert, her brows are plucked
Her smell is like some spice

But these are things that don’t mean much
Unless you’re into one
Who spends the time God gave them
Forsaking Cinnabon

For eating too much high-fat food
Like cake and cream and cheeses
Will make them fat and gross to us
Unlike a certain Jesus

He kept His looks and kept His soul
He never tried to lose
The weight he gained from bread and fish
He was the King of Jews

In such a role he loved us all
The weak, the sick, the poor
We love him back as much we think
As we love the sacred ‘Smore

Revisited: Recipes for squirrel (garnish with tail)

February 13, 2010

Recently, in my guise as an advice columnist, I answered a question from a reader who was having trouble with squirrels trying to break into his house. More frightening than your typical 2 a.m. drug-inspired home invasion, this situation involved the furry yard-beasts chewing through various parts of the siding in an attempt to find shelter, food, girl squirrels or some paradisiacal combination of all three. The writer wanted to know what he could do to solve this problem. I gave a lame, tentative answer, but today I’ll elaborate.

Eat the squirrels.

How? For that answer, we turn to the outdoors columnist of my local newspaper. Keep two facts in mind as you read the following: (1) “dressing” the squirrel does not involve putting on cute little outfits but rather involves dismembering him; and (2) if you think removing the grey glands from behind the legs is really going to make a difference in how palatable the meal is, you better think again. Also, when the columnist says the broth “can” be used to make a delicious gravy, he is speaking in theory.

You must acknowledge that some of the names commonly used for squirrels aren’t exactly appealing when it comes to looking at them as table fare. Consuming critters known as bushytails or tree rats doesn’t put one’s salivary glands into overdrive. Then again, neither does goose liver, the basic ingredient in the gourmet delicacy pate de foie gras.

Yet as a reader recently noted, and as fond memories regularly remind me, properly prepared squirrel makes wonderful eating. Moreover, this is the time of year when squirrel hunting is one of only a handful of sporting activities which can be pursued with expectations of a high likelihood of success. So, with those thoughts in mind, why not take to the woods, bring home a mess of squirrels, and get ready for some mighty fine moments at the table?

I’ll leave obtaining the basic ingredients for the recipes which follow up to readers’ gumption, but drawing on a lifetime of dining on squirrel meat, along with the experience gained through writing a number of game cookbooks with my wife, I can offer some guidance when it comes to preparing this game delicacy.

As with any successful game cooking, the key first step involves dressing and handling the meat. Look at it any way you wish – squirrels are difficult to clean. The best way is to make a slit around the tail and a bit of a cut along the back hams and then shuck off the whole hide, following that with removal of the entrails. Alternatively, you can start in the middle and peel away toward both ends.

The keys are to get every bit of hair, along with any fat, off the carcass. Also, probe in under the animal’s front legs and remove the gray-colored glands found there (this is often overlooked). Once you have the carcass clean, and cut into pieces if desired, soak in a pan of cold water to which a bit of salt has been added for a half hour or so. Once you remove the meat, rinse it, and pat-dry, it’s ready for preparation. What follows are a few recipes suggesting ways to turn squirrel into scrumptious feasts.


Place dressed squirrel in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add soda, and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and rinse squirrel well under running water, rubbing to remove soda. Return to pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Place squirrel in a baking dish, dot with butter, and bake at 350 degrees until browned and crusty. The broth left from cooking the squirrel can be used to make a delicious gravy.


Saute flour-coated squirrel in butter until browned. Then cover squirrel with onion slices and sprinkle with salt and paprika. Pour sour cream over squirrel. Cover and simmer for an hour or until tender.


Mix flour, salt and pepper and place in a paper or plastic bag. Beat egg well and place in a shallow dish. Drop squirrel in flour bag, shake to coat, remove, and then dip in egg mixture. Return to flour bag and shake to coat well. Heat canola oil in large skillet and quickly brown squirrel. Then place browned squirrel in a roasting pan at 250 degrees for approximately 90 minutes or until tender.


Sprinkle squirrel pieces with salt and place in a Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover completely. Add onion, celery and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until squirrel is tender and readily separates from the bones. Remove squirrel, saving broth. Let meat cool and then remove from bones. Measure broth back into pot. Add water if needed to make four cups of liquid. Return squirrel to pot. Cut kielbasa into quarter-inch slices and add to pot along with rice, and then stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until most of broth is absorbed into rice or until rice grains are fluffy and tender.

Eat me

Website Review:

February 12, 2010

The road to enlightenment and inner peace isn’t typically paved with chuckles. When you think of the great philosopher-prophets of New Age theology like Gandhi, Yanni, Deepak Chopra and Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, you don’t usually find yourself doubled over in laughter.  

Okay, maybe with Yogi, but that’s only because of his name.  

The pursuit of a more perfect soul is serious business. Yoga enthusiasts grimace with what we’d call pain (and they’d call something like “unblocked chakras”) as they contort themselves through their daily routine. Tai-chi-ers make everybody who watches them bust out chortling, yet they remain inwardly calm and completely unamused by their dance of pointlessness. Practitioners of transcendental meditation won’t even look you in the eye, much less offer a twinkle. You might be able to get away with putting whipped cream on their hair or marking up their faces with a Sharpie for your own amusement, though they won’t be particularly impressed.  

But there is one organization late to arrive on the mysticism scene who turns this self-serious attitude on its head, then hoots derisively as its shirt bunches around its neck revealing a paunchy underbelly. Laughter Yoga International was founded in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria to combine the relaxing invigoration of yoga with the joyous release of glee via chuckling and chortling. I visited his website at to do this week’s Website Review.  

Dr. Kataria’s tittering bald head is all over the home page of this site: in the banner logo where he’s laughing at a black guy, an Asian guy and a white woman, in the opening of a creepy video clip about quietly laughing alone while the rest of his temple sleeps, and all over the training DVDs and CDs he offers for sale. (Most of these are pretty expensive, but an audio titled “Ho Ho Ha Ha Grounding Dance” can be had for as little as $19.95).  

A segment of the home page called “Laughter Yoga News” cycles through about ten late-breaking updates of how virtually the entire world is now giggling its way through twists and bends and restorative inversions. At the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi, young Muslims take time out from their military drills to yoga and laugh. In Iran, the city government of Tehran has sponsored so many “laughing clubs” that they now claim 17,000 members. A huge crowd of segregated men and women in Mumbai form a hooting chorus of derision that circles the camera as if staging a scene from a Bollywood production of “Alice in Wonderland.”  

But it’s not just America’s sworn enemies in the worldwide war on terror who are laughing their way to sunnier dispositions and improved blood flow. Laughing clubs have sprouted up in places as diverse as Bulgaria, Boston and even Singapore, where Dr. Kataria recently attended the World Toilet Organization (WTO) summit and doubtless had convention-goers doubled over with all the obvious opportunities for bathroom humor. Even Staunton, Va., is making preparations for World Laughter Day later this spring. The annual holiday, set for the first Sunday each May, will make an awkward complement to the more-established Mother’s Day; I can’t imagine most moms appreciating being honored by their children with gales of laughter instead of cards and a buffet brunch.  

A recounting of the history of Laughter Yoga traces its origins to a gathering Dr. Kataria had in a park 15 years ago. It was a simple idea, combining yogic breathing (traditionally called “Pranayama”) with unconditional laughter (known for centuries as “Hahahaha”) into an exercise routine that became a complete well-being workout. The doctor documented this merger in a book titled “Laugh for No Reason” and soon there were over 6,000 social laughter clubs in about 60 countries. The “Laughter Movement” was now on the march, a dedicated army that could launch a show of force anywhere in the world to baffle and bemuse the unconverted.  

Dr. Kataria uses his medical background to discuss the biology of laughter. “Clapping in rhythm, chanting ‘ho ho ha ha’ in unison, and positive affirmations like ‘very good very good yaay’ helps the brain to develop new neuronal connections to produce happy neuropeptides,” he writes. Even if what you’re laughing at isn’t really funny (say, Jay Leno), the body doesn’t recognize the insincerity and still triggers positive chemical reactions. When you add yogic breathing to the equation — Kataria notes that it’s “difficult to survive if we stop breathing for even a few minutes” — you can achieve a “Life Energy Force that flows into the body from cosmic energy fields.”  

Laughter yoga is now spreading its reach through a variety of avenues supported by this website. Readers are told how to set up a local club: “Make sure it has adequate ventilation and toilet facilities … be careful you won’t disturb your neighbors as clubs can get very noisy … is the floor suitable for falling down?” There are online laughter clubs available through, with the two most popular shows hosted by “Miss Lafalot” and “Laughing Lady Amy.” (For some reason, I’d love to see those two wrestle). There are telephone laughter clubs where you can join into conference calls and snigger along with dozens of fellow chuckleheads. There’s even a Skype Laughter Club that allows you hoot and cackle right into someone’s virtual face.  

In the “Ask Dr. K” pulldown, one reader addresses what would appear to be a fundamental conundrum of the movement. Its headquarters is located in Mumbai, India, one of the world’s poorest and most over-populated cities. I’ve been to Mumbai on business several times and — believe me — it’s no laughing matter.  

“What do you say to those who criticize you for not focusing on serious issues? How can you laugh when you see so much poverty? When so many people are hungry and sleeping in the road, how can laughter yoga solve this problem?”  

Dr. Kataria basically dodges the question, agreeing “we cannot ask poor people who have no food to laugh” while speculating that “if we make rich people laugh they will definitely look after poor people,” and hopefully not just as a source of jokes.  

Another humorless writer asks “what does your philosophy say about how we should respond to the horrific terrorist attacks on Mumbai where you lived?” The doctor says that even then he didn’t stop the laughter clubs from meeting, though “we did not feel like laughing when hundreds of people had lost their lives” so instead they simply gathered in a park to breathe and stretch (hopefully after the last gunman was finally hunted down, since breathing and stretching people make such an easy target). Terrorists and non-terrorists “all breathe in the same environment, so in a way we’re connected through breathing. I appealed to laughter lovers around the world to close their eyes and breathe for those who have lost their lives during these attacks.” True, the victims won’t be able to do much breathing for themselves, but that mystically projected assistance can’t really do much practical help.  

Regardless of the many troubles we face these days in such a cruel and complicated world, I think there’s definitely something to be said for the merits of this “global movement for health, joy and world peace.” I love a good laugh as much as the next person, and there are plenty of these (though most are unintentional) to be found on this website. The video images of Dr. Kataria staring into his laptop and demonstrating how he’s learned to quietly laugh by himself for his early-morning constitutional is pretty hilarious, though I would contend that his muffled guffaws sound more like asthmatic wheezing than anything else. Still, he makes a compelling case for optimism and community, and I would urge others to join in this movement by visiting this website and laughing heartily at Dr. Kataria and his whacky philosophy.  

What's so funny? Why it's you, my good doctor.

Fake News: Ketchup packages recalled (fondly)

February 11, 2010

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Feb. 10) — H.J. Heinz Co. announced a recall yesterday of 807 trillion single-serve ketchup packets being distributed through fast-food outlets around the world. Company officials said the foil containers were not dangerous, but instead represented a minor inconvenience that on-the-go consumers of burgers and fries had endured for over 40 years.  

“In the current climate of corporate responsibility, we are committed to doing the right thing,” said Dave Ciesinski, vice president of Heinz Ketchup. “We are not about to let Toyota and Domino’s Pizza be the only ones out there telling the public what a load of crap their product line has been up till now. Our condiments and sauces have sucked every bit as much.”  

The new ketchup pack is shaped like a shallow cup and will serve as a “breakthrough dual-function container.” The top can be peeled back for dipping, or the end can be torn off for squeezing, and it holds three times as much ketchup as before.  

“The packet has long been the bane of our consumers,” Ciesinski said. “At least that’s what we’re telling them now. Frankly, most people never gave the product a second thought until we brought it up. Then, they were like all ‘we want something that’s easier to use in the car.'”  

A team of designers at Heinz spent the last several years giving focus groups actual road tests of the now grievously old-fashioned packages. The company bought a used minivan to study what each person in the vehicle needed. Passengers wanted the choice of squeezing or dunking. Moms requested a single pack that contained enough ketchup for the meal and didn’t spurt onto clothes so easily. Drivers yearned for something they could sit on the armrest, and for everybody in the back seat to shut the hell up so they could concentrate on driving while simultaneously talking on the phone, checking their hair in the mirror and eating french fries.  

The most important feature for teens — the ability to stomp on the packet and make it squirt ketchup across the sidewalk — remains unchanged.  

The old squeeze-only parcels, first introduced in 1968, were designed for people who preferred to tear the metallic wrapping with their teeth and then, when that failed, stop at the nearest dollar store to buy a pair of cheap scissors to cut it open. Ciesinski said that design was also carefully considered before its release, and may have been right for its time.  

“Where we failed was actually in a slight over-design,” he said. “The ragged perforations on the top and bottom edges always numbered exactly 57, in keeping with our ‘Heinz 57’ branding theme. But the public didn’t seem to appreciate this, especially as life became more and more hectic and people no longer took the time to count the notches.”  

Ciesinski said Heinz was now in the process of trying to “catch up” with the demands of the modern consumer.  

“Ha, ha,” he added.  

A bloodied victim of the now-recalled Heinz ketchup packet


One occupation I’m still waiting to see profiled on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” series is corporate public relations writer. While I understand the allure of watching episodes about worm dung farmers, avian vomitologists and bologna makers, it’s the wordsmiths who create company press releases that for me hold the most appalling fascination. You imagine they have to stop at least several times during the average workday just to shower.  

I was reminded of this lower life form while researching the ketchup article above. Rather than attempting to satirize the actual story that ran on the business pages last week, I was seriously tempted just to reprint the actual release.  

What the heck; I’ll do it anyway:  

(Business Wire) — Whether you’re a dipper, a squeezer, or a health-minded ketchup lover, Heinz is giving everyone more ways to enjoy America’s Favorite Ketchup.  

Today, Heinz announced three ketchup innovations in response to consumer demand: Heinz Dip & Squeeze™, with a breakthrough dual-function ketchup package for the foodservice industry that promises to make eating on-the-go more fun and convenient; a reduction in sodium across its base ketchup line to support consumers’ desire for lower-sodium products; and the launch of Simply Heinz™ Tomato Ketchup, made with sugar, for the retail market.  

“For more than a century, product and packaging innovation based on a thorough understanding of what consumers want has been a critical part of the great success of Heinz Ketchup,” said William R. Johnson, H.J. Heinz Company Chairman, President and CEO. “Heinz Ketchup’s Dip & Squeeze product is just the latest milestone in our long history of packaging innovation. From the first plastic ketchup bottle to Top-Down™ and Fridge Door Fit™, Heinz continues to lead the industry in ketchup packaging innovation.”  

To Dip or Squeeze?  

A true packaging breakthrough, the Heinz Dip & Squeeze dual-function package gives ketchup lovers two ways to enjoy Heinz Ketchup: either peel back the lid for easy dipping, or tear off the tip to squeeze onto favorite foods. The new package holds three times as much Heinz Ketchup as the traditional packet.  

That means more ketchup when it’s wanted and where it’s wanted with less mess and a better overall dining experience. Now, busy Americans have a portable, clean and versatile package that makes it easier and more fun to dip or squeeze Heinz Ketchup no matter where they are.  

“Americans love Heinz Ketchup, and now the Dip & Squeeze product makes it easier and more fun for them to enjoy it on-the-go,” said Dave Ciesinski, Vice President of Heinz Ketchup. “From dipping nuggets and fries to squeezing ketchup on hamburgers or eggs, the Heinz Dip & Squeeze product gives consumers more flexibility, so they can have fun and enjoy eating Heinz Ketchup on whatever and wherever they want.”  

The new Heinz Dip & Squeeze product marks the first ketchup packet makeover for the foodservice industry in 42 years. In the past, on-the-go eaters have struggled to open multiple ketchup packets while worrying about making a mess.  

More Choices  

Heinz also is extending its range of lifestyle-driven products available in retail to include Simply Heinz Tomato Ketchup, which is made with sugar, instead of high fructose corn sweetener. The product will be available in 32-oz. and 15-oz. ketchup bottles beginning in March. This new addition extends Heinz Ketchup’s range of lifestyle products, which also includes Heinz® Organic Ketchup, Heinz® Hot & Spicy Ketchup, Heinz® No Salt Added Ketchup and Heinz® Reduced Sugar Ketchup. As the leading ketchup producer in the U.S., Heinz is passionate about providing its consumers with choices that fit a diverse array of lifestyles and dietary needs.  

Now with Lower Sodium  

To help in the effort to reduce consumers’ sodium intake, Heinz will reduce sodium by 15 percent in its core line of ketchup beginning this summer.  

“As the largest producer of ketchup in the U.S., Heinz is dedicated to meeting the growing consumer demand for better-for-you products, particularly with lower sodium,” said Idamarie Laquatra, Director of Global Nutrition, Heinz. “Heinz Ketchup is proud to provide consumers with lower sodium ketchup with the great taste that Americans expect.”  

This reduction in sodium will make Heinz Ketchup the lowest-sodium, nationally available ketchup in the U.S. So, whether people are on the go, eating out or at home, they will be enjoying the same great taste of Heinz Ketchup they love, with less sodium.  

Sharing the Love  

To give America’s ketchup lovers a place to express their love of ketchup, Heinz Ketchup is launching a Facebook fan page. The destination is a place for enthusiasts to share stories, videos, photos – anything and everything related to Heinz Ketchup. Fans of the Heinz Ketchup Facebook page also will be the first to receive exclusive news on new products and innovations, including the latest details on the launch of Heinz Dip & Squeeze.

Vaguely remembering the joys of cooking

February 10, 2010

I was already in bed and mostly asleep when my son had the sudden urge for an omelet. He’s not been feeling well lately, so I was glad he had an appetite and more than happy to venture into the kitchen for an attempt at cooking.

Problem was, I had already taken a sleeping pill. My doctor-prescribed Ambien was cutting in with a vengeance as I stumbled down the hallway and into the light. I’ve read the pharmacists’ warnings about the dangers of “sleep-driving,” “sleep-eating,” “sleep-investing” and “sleep-presidenting” while using the drug, but I didn’t remember anything about hazards of cooking under the influence of this hypno-sedative. I should’ve known better, though. I’m dangerous enough in the kitchen when I’m stone-cold sober, so you can imagine the high state of alert my household assumed as I fired up the grill.

Even the cats kept their distance. We’ve all heard the stories about wild animals sensing earthquakes and other natural calamities before they happen. I guess the same applies to domestic pets who see me holding a cooking implement.

Rob didn’t need anything fancy, just a simple cheese omelet. I’m not sure I’d ever made an omelet before, though I remember hearing somewhere that it involved eggs, a frying pan and the application of heat. Throwing cheese into the mix couldn’t complicate the process that much. It was basically a matter of lumping four things together in approximately the correct order.

I knew enough to set the burner for “on” and to spray the pan with Pan (obvious even to me). I cracked two eggs into a bowl and stirred them vigorously until they only vaguely resembled mucus. The pan appeared hot by now, so I poured the egg in and waited for an omelet to appear.

As the yellow blob started smoking, I figured I should poke at it with a stick or something. I saw a tool that looked like an ice-scraper in my wife’s collection of utensils — I learned later this was the much-talked-about “spatula” — and began turning the egg over onto itself so it would be receiving an even amount of heat. What had started out looking like a proto-omelet had now devolved into scrambled eggs. I sprinkled in the grated cheese and called Rob over, warning him first that the scene could be disturbing to sensitive viewers.

“It’s not really an omelet, is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know, it looks okay to me,” Rob said generously. “It smells good.”

“I think I’m going to call it a ‘scromblet,'” I joked. “Half scrambled eggs, half omelet.”

“Sounds like something from McDonald’s,” Rob said. “Except they would have to call it the ‘McScromblet.'”

“And they’d have to drop it on the floor before they served it to anybody,” I added. “I think they have that as a rule.”

My history of food preparation is not anything to be proud of, so this latest chapter hardly injured my self-esteem. My mother was an excellent cook while I was growing up, so I never learned much more than how to assemble a glass of milk. Every other recipe had basically a two-step set of instructions: (1) yell “Ma!” and (2) add “I’m hungry.”

When I went off to college, I relied mostly on the university meal plan for my nutrients. I’d occasionally get inventive by enrobing my french fries in tartar sauce, or dropping a dollop of chocolate ice cream into my coffee, but other than that I basically ate what was issued to me.

After I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment, it was Ragu and rigatoni that became my bread and butter (bread and butter became my salad). I didn’t own a strainer so I’d slosh the excess water out of the pasta as best I could before adding the canned tomato sauce. The result was a little damp but not bad if you ate it with your eyes closed while imagining that spaghetti soup was a thing. For a change of pace, I’d occasionally set an open can of Dinty Moore beef stew directly on the burner (an earlier experiment using a still-sealed can ended disastrously). This saved on dirty dishes while adding a distinctive metallic flair to a flavor-challenged mass of potatoes and beef and, I hope, carrots. It also put some nice burn stains on the label that I could imagine were Dinty’s sideburns.

When I settled down into married life, I was blessed to find myself with not only a wife who was a fine cook, but also a modern new appliance called the microwave oven. The latter had a revolutionary impact on my food preparation skills, as I soon discovered that virtually everything tasted better after being heated to several thousand degrees. Potato salad, bagels and ice cream were among my favorites to irradiate. Leftovers of the excellent meals my wife prepared could also be warmed quickly, though to this day Beth and I disagree on the best way to do this. She insists that everything be reheated in five-second increments, with careful testing of the food after each cycle. I’d rather go with the automatic five minutes for everything, and if solid transforms into liquid and then into gas, so much better for my calorie-counting.

The birth of my son in 1991 stimulated my provider instincts to the point where I nearly lactated. I wanted to participate in his meal times as much as possible. However I learned that burning-hot strained vegetables were offensive on so many levels that I’d do better to stick to the snacks. When he was old enough for solids, I used to carve apples into thin oval slices, then fashion letters out of these so I could create fun phrases of encouragement. “Good boy,” I wrote once, and another time “eat apple”. The need to choose circular letters limited my messages significantly, but at least I was doing something I knew how to do, even if it was more like type-setting than cooking.

Now my son will soon be leaving home so I cherish the last few opportunities to cook for him, even in an Ambien-induced haze. I’d prize the remembrance of Monday night’s well-intentioned attempt to create a nourishing late-night meal for him, if the sleeping aid hadn’t wiped my memory clean. I only vaguely recalled anything about it at all the next day because of the eggy coagulates still sitting in the sink.

If only I could’ve shaped the scromblet into letters reading “food,” I might’ve made something I could be proud of. Maybe even the cats would eat it, assuming they can spell.

Fake News: Palin says she’s not a palm reader

February 9, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 7) — Sarah Palin yesterday defended herself against accusations that she consulted a “cheat sheet” written on her hand during an appearance at the conservative Tea Party convention.

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us beautiful, like butterflies,” Palin told reporters in a brief meeting at the airport, lifting her shirt and twisting to look at her lower back. “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. Turn your wounds into wisdom.”

Palin appeared uncharacteristically demure at the impromptu press conference, frequently glancing down at her clothing, limbs and shoes. She responded slowly and deliberately to questions, but denied she was reading her answers.

“Property of the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department,” she said. “I’m with Stupid. Charlotte Observer 10K and Marathon, April 13, 2003. This is my boyfriend’s shirt.”

After blasting President Obama for relying on a teleprompter during his speeches, Palin denied it was hypocritical of her to be glancing at notes scribbled on her palm in a session immediately following her keynote address Saturday night. She insisted she was merely speaking “off the cuff” and “to label my actions otherwise was false.”

“Made in the Republic of the Philippines. Machine wash cold with similar colors,” the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee said. “When needed, tumble dry low but remove promptly.”

Palin extended her leg forward at one point and appeared ready to make a comment about being kicked while she was down, or perhaps staying ahead of the pack. Already changed into casual wear for her flight back to Alaska, she had on the same running shoes that she wore during a recent profile in Runner’s World magazine.

“Upper: leather/nylon. Upper lining: nylon,” she told the crowd of journalists. “Adidas — the brand with three stripes.”

Glancing at her wrist to indicate it was time to board the private jet provided by Fox News, the former Alaska governor offered one final observation on the controversy.

“Timex Ironman triathlon,” she said. “Start, lap, reset.”

Do not dry clean if decorated