Archive for July, 2011

Hacking scandal widens and deepens

July 21, 2011

Britain’s Parliament concluded two days of interrogations yesterday, trying to get to the bottom of a hacking scandal that has tainted Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire and threatened Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.

Investigators are hoping to find out how the now-defunct News of the World obtained access to material printed earlier this spring that proved highly offensive to the tabloid’s readers. It now appears that the ailing Murdoch, during a visit to the NOTW in March, hacked up a lung into an operating printing press, leading to unpleasant red and gray images appearing on newsstands throughout England the next day.

Parliamentarians summoned Murdoch and his son James to London on Tuesday to testify about the growing scandal. James said his father’s News Corporation had since “cleaned up our act, and the press” and would hold its reporters to rigorous new ethics standards going forward.

Rupert spoke infrequently during the session, but at one point noted that a painting of flowers on the wall of the meeting room was “pretty … very nice and pretty”. He appeared frail, disoriented and rumpled during his appearance, provoking one bystander to attempt to forcibly shave him.

Jonnie Marbles, charged by police with assault after applying a plate of shaving cream to Rupert’s wrinkled jowls, said he was just trying to make the doddering media magnate more presentable.

“I had to act quickly, before those stubbly cheeks made an even worse impression on the MPs,” Marbles said. “I had the Gillette Mach3 Turbo ready to go when his wife stopped me. Now it’s all this big misunderstanding.”

James Murdoch provided most of the testimony during the day-long session, but at one point deferred to another witness to speak of his father’s integrity.

“The Rupert I’ve come to know during my years of skateboarding and snowboarding would not intentionally cough up organs into high-speed manufacturing equipment,” said Shaun White, who came to be known as the “Flying Tomato” during his Winter Olympics appearance in 2010. “He’s a radical and righteous dude who has achieved major Big Air in the communications field.”

Snowboarder Shaun White

On Wednesday, it was Prime Minister Cameron’s turn to explain why his government allowed the scandal to develop, and why he had hired Andy Coulson, a former editor at News of the World, as his communications director.

It was a raucous session, similar to Parliament’s weekly “question time,” where MPs rudely hurl insults and accusations at each other in a virtual free-for-all. Cameron tried to cool tempers in the opposition Labour Party by bringing a big plate of cookies to legislators — “better than the pie you had yesterday,” he joked — but it failed to halt the stream of invectives directed at him.

“You suck, and you do it with precision and vigor,” shouted MP Nigel Adams.

“If the minister from Selby would allow me …” Cameron responded before being interrupted again.

“I would also point out that you’re ugly and so is your wife,” bellowed Glyn Davies of Gordon. “Why don’t you just go home and leave us alone?”

“I am here today to defend my …” Cameron interjected.

“Crikey, but you’re a stupid wanker,” noted MP David Laws.

Cameron tried to lay out a defense of the Conservative Party’s role in the hacking scandal, but could barely get a word in amidst catcalls and curses.

“You sound like some kind of ‘nancy boy’ with that accent of yours,” sniffed Nick Gibb of Littlehampton.

“Never mind the bollocks,” shouted Rotherham’s Denis MacShane. “We demand to see the queen! And Princess Kate too! And make sure she wears something tight. Kate, not the Queen.”

“I say, old chap,” yelled MP Graham Stewart. “You are what’s known in the parlance of the gutter as a ‘douchebag.'”

Power outage HAS to be reported

July 20, 2011

Last week’s thunderous downpour caught me driving down a rain-swollen highway near my home. I’ve seen bad storms before — monsoons in India, hurricanes in Miami, flooding so bad in Manila that other Philippine dangers like volcanoes, Islamist insurgencies and being mowed down by a colorful Jeepney seemed almost welcome. But this was rain beyond anything I had previously experienced.

I got about halfway between my home and destination when that familiar advice from the Weather Channel came into my head.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” they say of encounters with flash flooding. “Stay tuned for your ‘Local on the 8’s.'”

I wasn’t about to actually turn around, as I had just barely made it out of a dip in the road that was fast becoming a lake. Instead, I pulled into the parking lot at Starbucks to wait out the worst of the Venti-sized deluge. (Fortunately, and perhaps accidentally, they didn’t charge me for this.)

Soon the rain let up enough for me to finish my errands and get my sodden butt home. Walking in the door, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the power had gone out.

My wife Beth was just hanging up the phone.

“I called the utility department to report it and all I’m getting is a busy signal,” she said. “I don’t want to be late for work. Can you keep trying to get through?”

“Sure,” I lied.

Beth and I generally have an honest relationship, except when it comes to reporting power outages. She believes officials at the power company need to have their noses rubbed in it when our usually reliable source of electricity has gone down. I happen to believe that, if they don’t already know about the issue from the dozens of other people calling in (hence the busy signal), they’ll find out quickly enough without hearing it from me.

I feel bad enough already for the lowly government worker. Revenue cuts and the economy have ruined their sense of job security. Conservative pedagogues characterize them as lazy, hide-bound bureaucrats. Many of them spend their workdays becoming more familiar with noxious effluents — sewerage, trash, muddy stormwater, proclamations from the mayor — than anybody would want to be.

Surely they don’t want to hear my voice being the 99th caller to point out that “hey, you know that violent supercell that just blew through the area? It knocked out my power, and now I can’t watch reruns of ‘Two and a Half Men.’ You gonna fix it or what? How soon? And Charlie Sheen’s lady friend in that episode — did they end up getting married?”

I’ve already asked a lot of our municipal workers recently. The garbage bin we use to roll our household trash down to the curb each Thursday morning had its lid broken in two, so they had to bring out a replacement. Then there was the fire at our next-door neighbor’s house a few months back that city firefighters were kind enough to extinguish before it consumed our entire neighborhood.

So rather than wait 20 minutes for someone to finally answer the phone, then report something as obvious as the way lightning interacts poorly with power lines, I preferred to sit in the growing dimness and wait. I used my portable booklight to read. My son used the iPad. Our three cats conveniently interpreted the sudden dark as meaning it was time for dinner, and gathered around to stare at me.

Beth called from work and asked if I’d had any luck getting through to the utility company.

“No, not yet,” I said. It was technically the truth — it’s hard to get through when you don’t even try.

Another 45 minutes or so passed (or maybe it was three days — it’s hard to tell when all the clocks go blank) and I started to get weary of the gloom. Plus, it was getting hot. Plus, I was getting hungry and my wife had made it clear that no admission to the refrigerator was permitted during the outage.

It had now been at least two hours since the lights first flickered, and I was running out of diversions to keep me occupied. What the heck? I figured at last. I might as well give the city a call.

This time, the phone on the other end of the line rang only about a dozen times before it was picked up. An automated voice told me my “service problem” had been automatically recorded, and that activities were underway to address it.

I had my doubts about that, but at least I had made the effort. Now, if in fact our home had been the only one in this city of 65,000 to be knocked off the grid, it was officially noted in the public record.

And then something amazing happened. The lights came on. As did the TV, and the dishwasher, and the air conditioner. I had reached out to my local public servants with a reasonable request, and the request had been answered.

“Power back on,” I texted Beth triumphantly. “Called mayor personally to demand it.”

“Hah,” came the response.

It’s not exactly like I had somehow prevailed in that classic “you-can’t-fight-city-hall” scenario. What I did wasn’t exactly a “fight”; it was more like a polite request, given to a high-tech answering machine. But it felt good to know that it was still possible to live under a responsive government that actually did the stuff you asked it to.

And it felt good to have the AC back on, it felt good not to have to read any more, and it felt good to turn on the Weather Channel.

Cantor won’t compromise on compromise, or anything else

July 19, 2011

Negotiations on a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling continued to falter over the weekend as Tea Party favorite Rep. Eric Cantor sought to redefine the concept of compromise in meetings with President Obama.

Insiders say that Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, is objecting to every proposal floated by Democrats until he gets something to placate his far-right constituency.

“It’s ridiculous,” claimed one senator familiar with the closed-door sessions in a White House conference room. “This guy won’t let us turn up the air-conditioning without bargaining for one of his pet issues.”

Sources close to the negotiations say Cantor eventually agreed with the rest of the room that it was a little stuffy, and said he’d permit adjustment of the thermostat in return for an agreement to dismantle the Department of Education.

The Virginia conservative reflexively opposed even the most innocuous suggestions in the Saturday session until he could tie it to his plans for smaller government, no new taxes, and an end to the social safety net.

“The President made what I thought was a nice gesture by bringing bagels to the morning meeting,” a source said. “Cantor was all, like, ‘I would’ve preferred donuts. The American people have resoundingly shown that they also prefer donuts. If we have to eat bagels, I want estate taxes permanently reduced to zero.'”

Even some fellow Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner, appear to be annoyed by Cantor’s refusal to go along with any suggestion at all without gaining a quid pro quo.

“(Vice President) Biden was discussing revenue projections, and was using a black marker to illustrate a point on the whiteboard in the front of the room,” said a GOP congressional aide. “Cantor demanded use of a red or orange marker instead, and said he’d only accept black if Medicare was completely privatized. Boehner could clearly be heard muttering ‘Jesus’ under his breath, and then Cantor went off about it being an anti-Semitic slur.”

“I half-expected him to demand that Boehner convert to Judaism right then and there in return for not making the exchange public,” the source said.

The Saturday meeting had to adjourn by early afternoon when Cantor refused to agree to bathroom breaks unless participants adopted his plan to allow corporations to use the military to force consumers to buy their products.

“Those job-creators need help in increasing profits,” Cantor reportedly told his fellow negotiators. “I’m prepared to sit here all day in a puddle of my own urine if it will help get America back to work.”

Cantor has drawn criticism from some quarters for outlandish positions he has held in the past. After tornadoes devastated Joplin, Missouri, this spring, he said federal disaster aid should be offset by cuts to other programs. He spent up to $15,000 on an investment that would offer huge returns if government bonds defaulted. He claimed his office was shot at during the healthcare debate when it turned out to be a random gun misfiring.

But now that he’s regarded as the unofficial head of the Republican Party’s Tea Party wing, God forbid anybody should offer him any resistance.

What I did on my summer “vacation”

July 18, 2011

I’m back from the “vacation” that never was. I want to thank all my regular readers for tolerating the “revisited” posts of last week, and I want to assure you I’ll be posting new material for the foreseeable future.

I want to do these things, and I will.

I said last Monday that I’d be on vacation for the week because it was easier than explaining what I was really doing with my time. I was spending virtually all my eight hours at the office performing actual work, instead of killing time with internet browsing, playing Words With Friends, and writing my blog. And — I gotta tell you — all that productivity has me spent.

We brought in a “temp” worker and it was my job to train her how to proofread. Like many companies, mine is skeptical about the extent of this economic recovery and so prefers to augment its workforce without making a long-term commitment to someone who likes job security, benefits, respect, the occasional paid day off, decent pay, etc. So we call up the agency, and ask if they can send over someone who simulates humanity.

Actually, the person we got was quite good for being the lower form of life we call a “temp.” She was a recent college graduate, looking for her first real job. She was bright, quick, eager to learn and possessed excellent proofreading skills. She’d make a superior full-time addition to our staff, if only she had the patience to wait the several years it takes us to completely crush her spirit first and then hire her full time.

The five-day training agenda we planned had run out of steam by about Tuesday afternoon. I had failed to realize how pitifully simple my job had become, and how fast it could be taught to anyone with enough smarts to suppress a drool. I had enough exercises to get us through until mid-day Wednesday; then, it was either make her sit and read a 100-page prospectus cover to cover, or let her hang out like the rest of us.

“Let me get you internet access and show you the company intranet, and you can learn some more about what we do,” I suggested as I plopped her down in front of the terminal near where we keep the crossword puzzles.

She took the hint, and within moments was checking online coupon sites and trying to think of an eight-letter word for “impetuous.” As I said, she was a quick study.

Now freed of the obligation of molding a new knowledge worker to form the backbone of our burgeoning tech economy, I got to thinking about where I should’ve been in the middle of summer: on vacation, like I said I’d be.

For reasons I won’t go into now, I’ve had to suspend all vacation-going-on for the immediate future. I have a proud history of many exciting travel adventures over the years, despite the fact that my earliest trips took the form of an annual 22-hour drive each August from Miami to Pennsylvania, in an un-air-conditioned 1966 Mercury to visit un-air-conditioned relatives.

I’ve even kept a log over the years of the diverse destinations I’ve visited. 1982: The World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. 1985: a Caribbean cruise to Haiti (what was I thinking there?). 1988: Napa Valley and San Francisco. 1989: Biloxi, Mississippi (see Haiti comment). 1993: Disney World. 2004: Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2005: Another cruise, up the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Now, halfway through 2011, I’m looking at three-and-a-half years where I haven’t left a circle that extends 25 miles around my South Carolina home.

With the training complete and this past weekend upon me, I was ready to at least take a “mini-vacay” from the drudgery and the obligations that my life has become. Saturday was spent mostly catching up on sleep, though I did venture out for a scenic excursion to the York County Convenience Center (formerly known as the dump) to recycle some boxes. When my wife woke up mid-afternoon following a night working third shift, she announced she was meeting a friend from her knitting group for dinner. I could come along if I wanted (not likely) or I could spend a Saturday night alone and feeling sorry for myself.

I chose martyrdom, a very under-rated state of being as long as it doesn’t involve death.

When Beth came home, I vowed that I would spend the next day doing something “fun.” She encouraged me to follow through with that pledge, and I woke up the next morning committed to making Sunday into a “Funday.”

But how does a 57-year-old man have “fun”? What kind of impetuous serendipity is socially acceptable for an old guy like me?

I mentally reviewed some of my life’s unfulfilled goals to see if I might be able to squeeze one of them into a random day in July.

I’ve always wanted to travel to Paris. I went to Google Maps to calculate the driving distance, and received the message “we could not calculate directions between 348 Brookshadow Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29732 and Paris, France”. Seems there’s the tricky matter of traversing the Atlantic Ocean in a Honda Civic.

Okay, perhaps I could catch a flight to New York in time to enter the Yankee lineup and crush a game-winning walk-off grand slam. Nope, the Pinstripers were in Toronto for a four-game set.

Maybe I could become addicted to heroin. I’ve always been tempted by the life of addiction and despair that is the lot of the junkie. I could bliss out on the couch and dream I was traveling somewhere, maybe even through another dimension. Impossible, according to the CVS pharmacist who refused to hook me up.

So, instead of fun, I was once again going to have to settle for its ugly step-cousin “satisfaction.” I did several loads of laundry. I cleaned floors. I tackled some yardwork. I did pause long enough to lie on the couch and watch the British Open for a time, but this proved less-than-a-barrel-of-monkeys.

Around mid-afternoon, I gave up altogether and went for a two-mile run through the neighborhood. Jogging along the highway just outside my subidivision, I spotted some guys roughly my age who appeared to be having a grand time. One was tooling along in his convertible roadster. Another was towing a boat in the direction of nearby Lake Wylie. A couple of forty-somethings went roaring down the road on their motorcycles.

It dawned on me that the most feasible way to be amused at my age was by extension. The middle-aged male body is not up to the task of frolicking barefoot through grassy meadows or splashing merrily in the ocean surf. We tend to step on bees and we tend to drown. We need a mechanical device, preferably one with a loud motor, to do our fun-having for us.

When I arrived back home, I found the answer to my dilemma sitting right across the street. Drenching rains last week had caused damage to the bank of the creek, so the city brought in some heavy equipment to repair the grounds. Being Sunday, the combination bulldozer/excavator/earth-mover sat abandoned in the grass.

Here was my chance for fun. I clamored into the operator’s seat, fired up the steely beast and steam-rolled at speeds up to two miles-per-hour around the subdivision. The wind whipped through my hair and a thrill shot up my spine. What a fine romp I had before being arrested for theft of a motor vehicle, trespassing, public endangerment and driving without a license!

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Revisited: Life on the night shift

July 17, 2011

Observations from the late shift, after I spent a week working 8 p.m. till 4 a.m. in an ill-fated attempt to gather input from night workers on how to improve our production processes when all they want to talk about is how under-appreciated they are, how sleepy they are, and when are we going to do something about that guy who works in the corner and is always pissing people off:

  • Prepare to be sickened by your fellow workers and their choices for foods appropriate to the middle of the night. Since they’re already used to an evening schedule, they have no trouble at all eating pizza or popcorn or leftover fish at 3:30 in the morning. I tried to be a nice guy by bringing in a dozen Domino’s pizzas one night, ostensibly to encourage their participation in my suggestion-gathering project. My generosity yielded at least two proposals — one was my own, and involved never bringing that much garlic smell into your car if you ever expect to get rid of it; and the other was that I shouldn’t believe the new Domino’s advertising campaign, because their pizzas still taste like crap.
  • If you can hang on until about 2 in the morning without taking a break, you can accumulate your time for an hour-long power nap in your car. This is how most third-shifters spend their lunch period, and it’s surprising how few are found draped over their steering wheel with carbon monoxide poisoning the next morning. There are several important strategies to consider if you try this. Move your car away from the spots nearest the building entrance, so you don’t have co-workers pointing and laughing at your gaping, spittle-flecked maw. If you don’t want to lose that coveted parking space, simply encase your head in a paper bag, or sleep in the trunk. Tune your radio to the BBC World Service, so you can be soothed to sleep with English-accented reports on the European sovereign debt crisis. With our current heat wave, it was also essential to keep the car engine and air conditioner running throughout my nap. Be sure to place the transmission in park and set the brake, however. Due to my physically active sleep habits, I was tossing and turning and at one point, awakened to the gunning of the car motor when my foot slipped across the accelerator. You don’t want to wake up to find yourself barreling down the interstate with a bag draped over your face. This is certifiably unsafe.
  • Sleep masks, while effective at blocking out the daylight, work poorly for someone who, like me, is a restless sleeper. On successive attempts, I awoke with it draped over my head like a toupee, wrapped several times around my left ear and, most troubling of all, binding my throat to my genitals.
  • One afternoon, I awoke to find I had lost my pillowcase. I was pretty sure it was there when I went to bed around 6 a.m. but it was nowhere to be found seven hours later. I looked under the mattress, under the bed, in my pajamas — no sign of it. I did, however, have a disturbing fullness in my stomach, despite the fact I had snacked only lightly during the hours before I turned in. Fortunately, my wife revealed that she had laundered and failed to return the pillow case the previous evening, just in time for me to cancel the emergency intestinal surgery I had scheduled.
  • If you do find yourself with little appetite when you wake up, try my recipe for a wonderfully light beverage I call ”Air Coffee”: Add two tablespoons of coffee in the filter; pour fresh water into a separate measuring cup; turn on the coffeemaker; then carry the water down the hall while you use the bathroom. When you return a few minutes later, you’ll enjoy the faint smell of slightly burned coffee, a hot but empty coffee pot, and the distinct feeling you emptied the wrong liquid into the toilet.
  • Realize that on third shift, the world is upside-down: today is tomorrow, breakfast is dinner, day is night, and the employee to your left is watching TV telephonically with her husband. If your loved one is up by the time you get home, you’ll talk about something that needs to be done “tomorrow” but you really mean “today.” Mondays begin at 11 p.m. and don’t end until after you wake up well into Tuesday. When people arrive for work at midnight, you say “good morning” and when they leave at 8 a.m. you say “good night.” You tell your supervisor that you really like your job and that the hours don’t bother you at all, when in fact you want to kill him.
  • The topic of sleep becomes an all-consuming obsession for those who don’t get much. You’ll hear stories about the time in 1984 when a particular individual slept for seven-and-a-half hours straight, or reports that someone once had a dream. Monday conversations usually consist of a recounting of when and where weekend sessions of slumber took place (“I had the best nap during my daughter’s valedictorian address,” reported one mom. “I’m told I caught an 18-pound catfish out on the lake Saturday,” said one man. “And I tend to believe it because of the way I smelled.”) Any sign of rain portends what they call “good sleeping weather,” which I guess means they can wake up in the morning and not bother with a shower if they’ve slept in the yard.
  • If nothing else, the lack of sleep makes for a wonderful set of excuses to be used in all kinds of occasions. After just a day or two of staying awake all night and struggling through a few uneven naps during the day, you can get away with virtually any error in judgment. Accidentally get engaged to a Palin? You were so tired that maybe you did, though you didn’t mean it. Chair the board of an oil-spilling energy company? Sorry, but you were so groggy you forgot to consider basic safety regulations. Provoke a nuclear confrontation with North Korea? You didn’t think your argument at the corner market over getting the wrong change was going to escalate to quite that level.

Fortunately, there is assistance out there for those who have to work nights. A booklet titled “The ShiftWorkers Handbook,” published by the people at SyncroTech who espouse the patented ChronoCare approach to help the sleep-challenged, urges the frequent use of running two separate words together while keeping the second one capitalized as one method for managing your circadian rhythms. They also blame the arrival of indoor plumbing for the need for round-the-clock work, discuss “zeitgebers” as our body clock’s time cues that double as tasty German chocolate bars, how many people choose to work nights so they can hunt and fish during the day, and the need to be on guard for “penile tumescence” if you grab a quick catnap in public.

It also helps that the book is so useless and so boring that it’ll knock you right out.

Revisited: Oops. Quotes may have been taken out of context

July 16, 2011

A careful examination of a book produced by the God of Abraham appears to reveal rampant racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and a tone of general intolerance among top officials in His Administration.

Only days after a right-wing blogger meticulously dissected a speech by a Department of Agriculture official to show that a few sentences taken out of context appeared racist,  a similar examination of a book called “The Bible” shows a surprising contempt by the Creator for most of humanity.

The analysis of the book  looks not at the entire arc of the holy publication’s message.

“That would be way too hard and way too boring,” said Bart Andrewbreit, whose anti-religion blog first broke the story yesterday. “I thought people would get a truer sense of what’s being said here if I just used a few snapshots.”

What was released on the website was a painstaking edit of the book that forms the foundation for the Judeo-Christian faith. The snippets show not just hostility for the human race, but a sense of confusion and even occasional lunacy by the authors. The audience of the blessed narrative can be seen at several points to be cheering on the antagonism, resentment and outright aggression being spewed by the presenter.

Some of the highlights, recorded during perhaps a thousand years of ancient history by a variety of apostles, saints and men of God, can be read in the following outtakes.

“Your lamb shall be…goats.” Exodus

“Fat…fat…fat…fat…fatty….Moses.” Leviticus

“For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are…beasts.” Numbers

“Take careful heed to…act corruptly and…die.” Deuteronomy

“Jesus said…do not…be…a…flute player.” Matthew

“Jesus sat…on…Peter, James, John, and Andrew.” Mark

“Jesus…said to him…God…is…lame.” Luke

“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water…I…thirst.’ Jesus said to her…’No.’” John

“Now, Lord, look on the…feet. Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have…lied to me…They…are…unclean…and…a…shame…” Acts

“Are we … both Jews and Greeks?…Yes…certainly.” Romans

“God gave…neither…plants…nor…water…but…fire.” Corinthians

“If we live in…corruption…we…do…good.” Galatians

“For it is shameful to even speak of…your…wives.” Ephesians

“For we do not wrestle…God…but…I have sent…you for this very purpose.” Ephesians

“Jesus Christ… did not…do… things without complaining and disputing…Beware of dogs.” Colossians

“I saw … Man, clothed with a …  golden girdle. His hair was white as snow …  and His feet like fine brass, and … out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” Revelations

“Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight … with the sword of My mouth. …To him that overcometh will I give … a white stone. I know thy works, … Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because … that woman Jezebel. Behold, I will cast her into a bed… And I will kill her children with death.” Revelations

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” Revelations

“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals?’” Revelations

“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe.’” Revelations

“And thus I saw the horses … and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. …For their power is in their mouth. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it up … and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.” Revelations

“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: Also our couch is green.” Solomon

“My beloved … standeth behind our wall; He looketh in … the windows … Thy hair is as a flock of goats … Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes.” Solomon

When these clips were picked up the media, virtually all of humankind joined in a chorus of condemnation for the Almighty. He was asked to resign by His manager, who said the Office of the All-Powerful (OAP) had a zero tolerance policy toward hateful speech. God reluctantly complied with the request.

Later, after it was revealed that the quotes were taken out of context, and that the Bible actually represented a just and merciful guide to life and man’s relationship with his maker, God received an apology and was offered a new position in the department.

“Gee, I don’t know,” the Lord told Meredith Vierra on NBC’s Today Show. “They treated Me pretty shabby. It was shameful how fast everybody came down on Me so quickly before they could read the entire manuscript. I think I’m going to bask in the media spotlight for a few more days before I make My decision. Right now, I’m inclined to take early retirement.”

Revisited Website Review: NoNoHairRemoval.com

July 15, 2011

No no no no no no no no no no,
no no no no no no no no no no no no no no
Nobody can do the shake like I do
Nobody can do the boogaloo like I do
–”Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz (1968)

We’re at an awkward moment in the long history of humankind. We’ve mastered the land, inventing agriculture to free us from all that tedious hunting and gathering. We safely harvest critical resources from the sea (sort of). We fly through the air with the greatest of ease, the rocketpacks and balloons and zeppelins and superheroes nearly blotting out the sun at times.

And yet we still face this issue of unwanted hair. Fashion magazines have made it abundantly clear that hair is to exist only in a luxuriant and lustrous state flowing out of the top of our heads, and in smaller strips in and around the eye, on the brow and lash. Our ancestors from millennia past needed all kinds of body hair for protection from the elements, but now that we have condos and ballcaps and the cutest tops from TJ Maxx, the remaining fur is vestigial and has almost left our bodies entirely. Except for some embarrassing patches that we hope evolution will eventually get to, though frankly we have a date at 7 tonight and can’t wait much longer.

For these people, commerce has developed a number of caustic solutions and tiny gouging devices that will remove unwanted hair, if you don’t mind unbearable pain and a moderate fee. They work pretty well, as do most torture regimens eventually. However, the modern consumer longs for a more high-tech approach, i.e., one they can order over the internet.

So in today’s Website Review, I’m going to tell you about a product called the “no!no!’. Deliberately lower-cased to distinguish it from the industrial-strength “NO!NO!” being used at secret CIA rendition centers, the no!no! is a small machine offering “professional hair removal at home … finally, a pain-free long-term solution for hair removal!” Offering no hair and no pain, it virtually named itself.

Using the Thermicon™, a thermodynamic wire to transmit heat to each individual hair, the shaft becomes superheated, basically crystallizing the follicle. This both pulverizes the part of the hair that shows above the surface and cripples the cell communication below the skin that grew the hair in the first place. A buff, which comes “free” with your $284.40 purchase, then turns your skin from a bombed-out Dresden to a soft, barren desert. Self-tasering has never been so easy.

The home page of trynono.com is packed with moving graphics, pink backgrounds and a spray of bullet points that would make an armed and disgruntled former employee proud. The “smart skin solutions” people at parent company Radiancy tout the no!no! as “•cordless and convenient,” “•cord-free operation,”  ”•removes embarrassing facial hair too!” and  ”•great for men and women.” It’s InStyle magazine’s 2008 beauty product of the year, and has also been seen in Vogue, Shape and Self magazines, because that’s what happens when you pay them money to run your ads. There’s also a tease of some of the other heartfelt testimonials to follow elsewhere in the site:

“As someone who struggled with unwanted hair, it is so wonderful to sit here proud and hairless,” writes one satisfied customer. “Thank you no!no! for coming into my life!”

Under the “How It Works” section, there are more details about the three distinct processes involved in permanently mutating your pores. During “First Contact” (not to be confused with the 1996 Star Trek movie), a super-heated wire separates the hair shaft at the point of contact. At the “Crystallization” stage, the uppermost part of the hair becomes coarse and prickly, and you can stop at this point if you’re into that. Most, though, want to proceed to the “Disruption” phase, where the actual “miscommunication between bulge and root” takes place, slowing future hair growth. A phase four, as-yet undiscovered but certain to be announced in the next year or so, gives you fatal melanoma.

The overly punctuated “Why no!no!?” pulldown uses an easy-to-read spreadsheet to dissect the problem women everywhere face about what methods to use on their face. Current techniques all have their shortcomings. Short-term solutions like razors, depilatory creams and electric shavers get a “no” in the pain column but a “daily” in the frequency column and all kinds of nasty stuff in the “side effects” column including razor burn, cuts, odor and allergic reactions. For mid-term remedies like “epilation (rotary)” and the tasty-sounding “wax-sugaring,” you can trade painlessness for bi-monthly convenience, though now you’re also looking at burn potential, a mess, and a lot of time and money. The long-term effects of the laser include pain, skin inflammation, odor and a costly, long-term commitment, but on the plus side you’ll be recognized by most grocery store bar-code scanners.

The no!no! option is not a miracle cure and does require commitment. For your effort, you’ll “make the dream of less unwanted hair a reality.” The simple and pain-free technique involves “no pulling, tearing or scraping, just a slow, smooth slide”. There is something called the “hot blade” involved but it’s encased in a cate little handheld device (comes in pink or silver) that you can take with you almost anywhere. And, that convenience means you can no!no! “at home or wherever,” sitting on the side of your bed, after a workout at the gym, or while running for statewide office in California.

There are some Testimonials included in one section. Frankly, they’re rather lackluster. “I will definitely recommend this to girlfriends with thick, stubborn hair,” says one woman, about to find herself seriously defriended on Facebook. “I first saw no!no! in a magazine, then heard rave reviews from a friend,” says Kennedy of Omaha. “I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl. The no!no! did not disappoint. I love my no!no!” (Imagine this woman’s poor dog, trying to be a good boy but constantly hearing “no!no!”)

The best testimonial of all comes in a video format from “celebrity” Kassie DePaiva, a daytime TV star who loves her no!no! She prattles through about a dozen different 30-second clips showing her compensated enthusiasm for the product. “I’ve got a great body, it’s just the hair I don’t like,” she says. “I might’ve shaved in the morning but by 5 o’clock I’m doing a love scene and the actor says ‘gee, Kassie, do you ever shave your legs?’ I was mortified,” she confides. “It’s taken care of a huge issue in my life, a universal problem that people don’t want to talk about,” she adds. “The pain (before no!no!) stopped me from living,” she says. “I was tired of being the hairy girl I’ve been all my life.”

Finally, Kassie DePaiva has been liberated to pursue a Hollywood career that has her IMBD STARmeter rating up 22% in just the last week. After a long career on “One Life to Live,” she got her own show called “Knit & Crochet Today,” thanks in no small measure to her reduced bushiness. After being universally panned by critics — “she asks silly questions and makes comments I would expect from a ditsy teenager,” wrote one — she was canned, but not because wool-knit scarves and afghans didn’t glide smoothly across her skin.

The last piece I’ll cover is the standard “Frequently Asked Questions” section. “Does it really work?” is answered “Yes, it really works.” The question “Is the no!no! treatment safe?” brings the confusing but definitive response “Yes, no!no! is safe.” Someone asks “Can I use it with other hair removal products at the same time?” It seems you can throw the whole inventory of procedures at your upper lip if you want to — lasers, tweezers, waxes, acids, a make-out session with Zach Galifianakis — but these could interfere with no!no! benefits, so don’t come asking for your money back.

There’s a handy online order form for a deal that’s only available through June, so try to claw your way out of your hirsute prison and type on a computer if you can. They accept all major credit cards and you can make three easy payments. Obviously, certain billing information is also required but they’re polite enough to exclude a pulldown requiring you to categorize your hairiness on a scale that ranges from Alec Baldwin to Robin Williams to the Wolfman.

One final important point about the no!no! that’s contained in the fine print at the bottom of the website. “The no!no! is not recommended for use on the genitals.” I myself can’t imagine that possibility even entering my mind, though I understand that desperate people may consider desperate measures. My response to the thought, however, is much like those timeless words from the Human Beinz — “No no no no no no no no no no!”

Revisited Website Review: CompostingToilet.com

July 14, 2011

Sure, you recycle. Maybe you’re in a carpool or use public transportation. Perhaps you’re even part of that growing segment of the environmentally aware who have started skipping every other breath, thereby halving the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of your piehole.    

But what about that biggest of all contributors to your carbon footprint? (Hint: It’s not coming from your feet but about a third of your body length higher, and in the back).    

Unless you’re among the dedicated few who package their bodily wastes in sealable containers, patiently awaiting the opening of the Yucca Mountain Repository, you may not be doing enough to reduce your harmful impact on the planet. You could either die right now, and do us all a huge favor. Or you could invest in the green technology of a composting toilet.    

These modern miracles of sanitary convenience are now available through a company called Sun-Mar, subject of this week’s Website Review.    

Sun-Mar.com has a very busy home page, as one might expect of a firm dedicated to how you do your business. There are links and pulldowns out the ying-yang, far more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll try instead to focus on the product and the people standing behind it, who hopefully avert their eyes as we symbolically take their futuristic commodes for a whirl.    

There’s a great introductory video that explains how the water usage of conventional toilets has a tremendous negative impact on our oceans, streams and wetlands. We see scenes of Niagara Falls as we learn that up to 7 billion gallons of otherwise drinkable water is flushed down the crapper every day. This doesn’t have to be. With the waterless device patented exclusively by Sun-Mar, you can now rely on a three-step composting system to save our world’s precious lifeblood while enjoying the convenience of using the bathroom in almost any semi-private setting.    

“Install one anywhere plumbing is not available,” we’re told. “In your closet, your boat house, your country cabin, your barn, even in a guardbooth.”    

(So the next time you pull up to the turnpike toll-taker’s cubicle and it appears to be unattended, maybe you just need to wait a couple of minutes for the worker to rise up and appear.)    

The home page also contains a lengthy essay on the history of the composting toilet and the company that makes it. It was founded almost 40 years ago by Hardy Sundberg, an enterprising Canadian who gave the firm half its name. His first effort was a primitive device that used a large fan, a top-mounted heater and mechanical mixers to agitate and dry what is euphemistically called the “waste pile.” Presumably the size of an Oldsmobile, this beast used only a single compartment for the three required steps of composting, evaporation and finishing and had numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was an earth-shattering stench.    

A second generation introduced in 1977, breezily dubbed “The Tropic,” dried the waste matter with a heater sealed in a compartment in the base. This solved the challenge of keeping the “waste cake” moist, so it wouldn’t dry to the consistency of an “adobe brick.” (Somehow, the appeal of both baked birthday desserts and Southwestern-style architecture have suddenly become diminished). A third prototype a few years later saw the advent of the “Bio-drum,” which further isolated offending matter from the production process, and of the so-called “central composting toilet system” that allowed numerous seats to feed a single vat kept yards away from the bathroom. Even though odors were now completely controlled on site, this was the model for people who couldn’t bear the thought that decomposition was happening in the same room they were brushing their teeth.    

Under “The Company” pulldown, there are links to articles written in the popular press about the advantages of Sun-Mar’s toilet/composters. As you might expect, most have clever headlines hinting at the hilarity involved in passing solid matter from your digestive system. “This Toilet is On A Roll,” says The Globe and Mail newspaper. “When Nature Calls” is from CottageLink magazine, “Head of a Different Blend” is from DIY Boat Owner, and “People of the Loo” is a review in the Toronto Star. Perhaps most intriguing of all is “Introducing Audrey” from County Life, a 1991 article about “people who give their toilets affectionate names like Audrey or Puff the Magic Dragon. What will you call your Sun-Mar?” Personally, I’d go with “John”.    

In the “Products” section, you can read about all the variations possible in the 22 different models offered. A caption next to several photos encourages shoppers to “pick the category at right that best suits your needs,” even though the pictures are actually to the left. (Obviously, the layout artist didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground). There are low-flush models that use a small amount of water as well as completely dry systems. Some are electric, some are non-electric and a few are even solar-powered. There’s the luxurious ”family” model complete with a footstool, there’s the slightly smaller “compact,” and finally there’s the “spacesaver” for the tiniest butts and the tiniest rooms.    

All of them look pretty much like conventional toilets, though a little beefier around the base. In the “Technology” portion of the site, we learn more about what’s going on down there. Fresh waste, provided by the user, is combined with a peat-based bulking material, provided by Sun-Mar. These then begin an “aerobic breakdown” — which is a chemical process, not a hip-hop-inspired exercise routine – in the Bio-drum. This drum is periodically turned by a hand-crank to aerate the mixture. The 90-plus-percent of poop that is water recedes into an evaporating chamber while the solids gradually accumulate in a finishing drawer. Every three to four weeks, odor-free compost can be removed from this drawer and put into your garden, shared with your neighbors or, if you’re like me and can’t understand any of the previous paragraph, flushed down your regular toilet.   

This section also includes the Frequently Asked Questions, of which there are quite a few. Do I add any chemicals? No, you don’t. What happens in the winter? The compost freezes. Does the fiberglass used in the commode smell? You’re worried about how the fiberglass smells? Do animals harm the system? “Compost is not something that is attractive to animals,” though you might want to build an enclosure in case your local bears never heard that saying about what they do in the woods. Is the fan noisy? They’re not as bad as they used to be, “just another example of how we are always improving your composting toilet experience.” Should males still urinate outside? No. In fact, the liquid is beneficial to the composting process.   

Finally, we’ll look at a very impressive collection of satisfied customers in the “Testimonials” section. Jacquelyn Morgan, owner of an “Excel” model that I hope no one mistakes for a spreadsheet, writes that she thinks of the company “as friends.” Russ and Heather Bencharski have a Centrex 2000 that they claim works much better than the propane (!) toilet they used to own. James Mauger says of his Compact version that it costs a fraction of a well and septic system, and that “using the bathroom at night no longer involves shoes, a coat and a flashlight” (!!). 

Some people are so happy with their toilets that they’ve sent in pictures of them, though thankfully while they’re not in active use. Kathy Escott says her unit inspired her to write a “snappy poem” that informs guests how to use it. The “whole Ryan clan” gathered around their prized possession to offer toothy smiles and a thumbs-up on their model. Robert Gagnon of Quebec sent a simple photo with the inexplicable caption “Notre premiere testimoniaux en Francais!” I’ll pardon his French and assume the best, that he’s going to see a movie premier at Notre Dame. 

Sun-mar.com is a well-constructed if somewhat over-produced site that contains a lot of information on a subject that I always presumed the less we knew about, the better. I’m vaguely aware that what’s being flushed down the can today goes through a sewer to a treatment plant where it’s processed before eventually ending up in my morning coffee, but most of that happens out of sight. When that same process is occurring right there in my home, and instead of going into my coffee becomes part of a tomato sandwich I’ll eat later this summer, it’s somehow a bit more disconcerting. I definitely appreciate that there people who can stomach this concept and do it with a smile. However, I think I’ll choose to save myself costs starting at $1,400, and stay with my traditional dump. 

Proud owners Susan and Patrick Radtke stand next to their composting toilet, whom they call “Arthur”

Revisited Website Review: Jetpack.com

July 13, 2011

Yesterday was Ascension Day, the occasion on which the world’s Christians note the ascent of  a back-from-the-dead Jesus Christ into Heaven. I thought it might be a good opportunity to look into the state of the modern jetpack, and where you might be able to get one.  

Though the Gospel according to Mark makes little mention of a mechanically aided lift (other than a vague reference to “a mighty whooshing sound and the blessed fragrance of diesel”), it only stands to reason that He may have needed some powered assistance. It wasn’t until the Nazis strapped the Fieseler Fi 103 flying bomb to the back of an unfortunate “himmelsturmer” during World War II that modern technology made use of escaping gases that allowed a single user to fly.  

Ever the practical race, the Germans weren’t really looking for a short-cut to the afterlife. They simply wanted a way their engineering units could cross minefields or barbed wire obstacles that didn’t involve training for the long jump. After the war, the technology fell into the hands of the U.S., where test pilots offered a gracious “thanks but no thanks” to the prospect of developing the concept further.  

Although we’ve since seen jetpack demonstrations at spectacles like the Olympics and the 2005 confirmation hearings of chief justice John Roberts, most sources say the only current practical use of the machine is for astronauts doing extravehicular activity in space. A Mexican company reportedly offers a tested rocket belt package, though most who’ve seen the equipment call it more of a “backpack helicopter” (wonder how you say DUCK! in Spanish).  

Jetpack deniers and their can’t-do attitude fortunately haven’t been heard in far-away New Zealand. There, a small firm called Martin Jetpack is currently taking orders for what it calls the world’s first practical personal aircraft. I’m visiting martinjetpack.com to learn more about this breakthrough for this week’s Website Review.  

The home page for this domain is as sleek and futuristic as the six-foot-by-five-foot 535-pound device it offers. In other words, it’s a bit clunky. Clicking on the “See It Fly” video doesn’t do a lot to counter that first impression, as the short film of a guy wearing what looks like the rooftop HVAC unit at your office confirms. He’s flying just above the ground around a warehouse until the whole website freezes up about 45 seconds in. I only hope the same thing didn’t happen to the jetpack, or the pilot might have skinned his knee in a 3-foot plummet to earth.  

The pulldowns across the top of the page focus more on the company itself than its product. We learn that this particular jetpack design was first developed in 1981 by company founder Glenn Martin, a pharmaceutical salesman who wanted to get even higher than his painkiller samples could take him. He and his family turned what was a garage-based obsession into their life’s work.  

“I was Glenn’s first test pilot,” says wife Vanessa. “I used to run out to the garage, get strapped into the jetpack, test it, then rush back into the house to feed our seven-week-old son.”  

That son is now 16-year-old Harrison, who also works with the family business. He tells how he was “never able to tell my friends what my father did,” supposedly because it was a secret project though more likely he was just embarrassed.  

“My friends work in McDonald’s during the school holidays,” Harrison says. “I have a slightly more interesting job as a jetpack test pilot.”  

What he probably neglects to note, however, is that instead of making $5.35 an hour, he’s paid in Band-Aids.  

You can tell the Martin firm has evolved from those early days into a real company, because it now boasts a chief executive officer and a chairman of the board and everything. It appears most of the top leadership comes from a venture capital firm that has invested heavily in Martin. These bankers can focus on guiding the company through its start-up phase and ultimately bankrupting themselves and all their investors, freeing managing director Glenn to devote his energy and creative force into crashing actual hardware.  

The company page also shows a number of consultants and advisors and designers who help with boring esoterica like avionics. Most of these men are bald, except for engineer Stuart Holdaway, whose missing photo hints that he may have been killed.  

It’s the section of the home page titled “How Do I Buy One?” that draws most of my interest. Martin is “currently accepting enquiries (New Zealandish for inquiries) from commercial customers” and these can be placed through the website. “It is expected that early orders for sales to private individuals will commence late 2010 … We will contact you when pre-orders are being taken.” In other words, don’t hold your breath, unless you plan on flying one of these things over water.  

A small “News and Press” page carries links to articles about test flights and demonstrations that have sort-of wowed the public. One reporter noted after his demo that it felt like “I was carrying a small sports car on my back,” perhaps not exactly the kind of press the firm might’ve hoped for but probably a realistic assessment.  

It’s through a list of pulldowns on the left side of the home page that we get most of our information about the machinery itself. There’s a defensive diatribe titled “What Is a Jetpack?” that aims to address those who contend that a jetpack should weigh less than a quarter-ton and contain actual jets. A carefully parsed analysis of the words “what,” “is,” “a” and “jetpack” claims that there’s a disconnect between science, engineering and common usage, and that if you have a “very narrow view of what is a true jetpack,” then basically that’s your problem.  

“In the end we found that 95% of people call it a jetpack when they see it, so why fight that?” they conclude.  

In “How Do I Learn to Fly?” we see that a required training program will be included with the cost of the machine. You don’t have to have an FAA-recognized pilot’s license, just a really big helmet and some assistants wearing industrial-strength hearing protection. The safety overview notes that all flying entails a degree of risk and that aviation users from airline passengers to parachute jumpers must decide on the degree of danger they find acceptable for themselves. In the end, Martin claims the jetpack is safer than light helicopters because it has a “minimal avoidance curve” which, if you have to have an avoidance curve, is the kind to have.  

Speaking of technical mumbo-jumbo, we see on a specifications page that the first model the company will sell has features like an engine, a fuel tank, a carbon fiber composite structure and, worrisomely, an energy-absorbing undercarriage. It has a range of just over 31 miles at a maximum speed of 63 m.p.h. You have to weigh less than 240 pounds to actually get off the ground, though the morbidly obese still might consider purchasing one to help them off the couch.  

Finally, there’s a Frequently Asked Questions section. Doubts about stability of the aircraft seem to dominate, hinting again at its lack of authentic jetpackiness. There’s the kind of small but observable wobble you might expect from what are basically two really, really, really powerful fans, though with practice pilots can correct this. Asked “is it safe?” the responder notes the presence on the machine of a parachute, not exactly adequate for what would basically be like falling off a ladder. “How easy is it to fly?” Well, you have to know that “yaw” is more than a Southern greeting. “How do I buy one?” You’ll need to make a 10% deposit. “How much will they cost?” Probably about the same as a high-end car. 

“Are we all going to be flying to work on these?” seems like the most obvious question. Martin officials say modestly “some people will use these for work” and I’m imagining how well they might perform for the landscapers at my office park who current use leafblowers and instead could be hovering above the ground. Martin admits that most people will still prefer “the comfort of a car” and that current air traffic control systems don’t lend themselves well to commuting. A “highways in the sky” GPS-based system of 3D roads is at least ten years away, more if scientists can’t figure out how to create potholes in them. 

It’s really not that bad of a website; it’s just that the product it sells seems highly questionable. Since the people of New Zealand are often nicknamed “kiwis” after the chicken-sized flightless bird native to the islands, you’d think a company based there would take the hint, both about flightlessness and about the chicken part. But I guess the entrepreneurial spirit and long-held dreams about human flight make up for the difference. 

Admittedly, it’s a major inconvenience to fly halfway around the world to train for and pick up your jetpack in early 2011, and I wouldn’t want to begin contemplating getting it through airport security and onto a plane for your return trip home. However, if you can find a string of atolls across the south Pacific that are less than 31 miles apart, and you don’t mind having the great whites and other large sharks of the region nipping at your heels as you fly just above the waves, perhaps you could just fly the Martin jetpack back to your home. 

Jetpack pioneer Glenn Martin, apparently hauling a couple of garbage cans

Revisited Website Review: Chiropractic.com

July 12, 2011

 

I am taking my summer vacation this week. (Not really — I’ll explain more next week). Please enjoy this “best-of” series from my Website Reviews over the next four days.

“IN PAIN CALL TODAY” reads the unpunctuated sign outside Access Chiropractic Center, a small practice in my hometown of Rock Hill.

I’ve been in a few “pain calls” myself.

I remember the conference calls I used to have to join on a weekly basis as part of my membership in a company-wide “task force.” A group of us from several cities across the country were forced to tackle a variety of tasks in supposed betterment of corporate quality. One of these tasks was participation in an hour-long call each Wednesday.

Most of the session I’d sit there with the speakerphone on and a crossword puzzle in front of me, as the team leader prattled through an agenda of hare-brained but fortunately never-to-be-completed schemes. In some ways, it was not unlike working the night shift at a convenience store — long stretches of boredom relieved occasionally by the terror of being robbed or, in my case, having my name called for a response.

“Opera?” I’d reply, which was correct as a five-letter word for “musical play,” though not usually the answer the facilitator was looking for.

At best, I’d be able to transform the drudgery into a bit of amusement by turning the phone onto “mute” mode and making sarcastic remarks about the proceedings with a co-worker in the same room with me. That worked okay until one afternoon when we misread the “mute” indicator.

“So Davis, can you tell us all how me being a ‘raving lunatic’ will impact our project deadline?” Lana asked from her office in California.

Quickly I fixed the mute button and responded, “Maybe we’d finish faster if you were distracted by a shiny object?”

Or there was the time I was leading a call myself, with the object being to train a room full of Sri Lankans, listening from the other side of the world to my discourse on how to markup a financial document. They were a quiet, respectful group of students who rarely interrupted my monologue with any questions. Though it would’ve been nice if one of them had called back when the line went dead 15 minutes into my hour-long spiel.

I’m distracted into misreading Access Chiropractic’s sign as a way to pad this week’s Website Review of Dr. Jeffrey M. Muschik’s internet presence. It’s a site with only a few pages of pulldowns, which I’ll begin mocking in just a moment. I chose to include the sign in front of their Celanese Road storefront as part of their new-media promotional push just to flesh things out a little.

The home page for accesschiropracticcenter.com includes a nice picture of Dr. Muschik, a generic photo of him or somebody yanking on a small child’s hand under the heading “Affordable Family Care”, and some attractive credit card logos. (It’s not clear whether the hand-holding picture is meant to convey a general sense of caring, or represents an actual chiropractic manipulation). The introductory copy says the doctor provides Rock Hill residents with “safe, gentle and effective” chiropractic care, a revision of his earlier business plan for dangerous, rough and permanently paralyzing treatment that didn’t attract too many patients.

There’s a bulleted list of the services available from this office: neck pain, headaches, back pain, auto accidents, etc. Why anyone would want to contract for the acquisition of any of these afflictions is beyond me, but I’ve never been much of a believer in chiropractics anyway. In addition to decompression treatments, you can also obtain “pregnant patients, sports injuries and children” from this menu of products and services.

The backbone of the website is a page dedicated to details of the office operation. In addition to chiropractic treatment, the doctor also offers rehabilitation and massage. He keeps office hours Monday through Friday, which include a prolonged lunch break from noon to 3:30 p.m. during which I imagine Dr. Muschik goes home and lies down. Next to a photograph of the doctor rubbing the lower back of a prone but fully clothed man is the practice’s 11-point “no wait policy”. This has little to do with how long you’ll be leafing through Adjustments Today magazines in the waiting room. It’s more about automobile injuries, attorney referrals, car accidents and how close to the hospital the office is located (almost within walking distance – good for patients but not so great for the collision-obsessed doctor).

A biography of Dr. Muschik indicates that he’s a nice enough guy. He’s board-certified and licensed in South Carolina, a reassuring thing except for the South Carolina part. He was trained at the National University of Health Sciences in Illinois in the treatment and rehabilitation of physical injuries and advanced neurological diseases, as well as back and neck pain. He’s certified in CPR (in other words, he can press down on the front of your chest as well as on the back), he teaches youth coaches tactics in sports injury prevention, and is the official chiropractor for the Winthrop University soccer team. He is “consistently active within the community,” perhaps more than you can say about his hobbled patients whose activity levels are more subdued.

There’s a section about what to expect at your first appointment. After filling out some paperwork, your consultation with the doctor will begin. “In order to determine what your actual problem is, the doctor will ask you various questions related to your condition,” reads the page. I’m not sure if Dr. Muschik has shared this ground-breaking diagnostic innovation with others in the medical community, but I hope he can write a paper on the topic, perhaps during his extended lunch break. You may be given x-rays and you may receive same-day treatment, if the doctor can figure out which parts of your body to pummel, knead and squeeze. Prior to leaving, you’ll be given home-care instructions that may include ice or heat application and avoidance of certain activities.

Activities to be avoided do not include, not surprisingly, a follow-up appointment for another session. “Generally speaking, patients are seen again within 1-2 days” and, as I understand is the general pattern for chiropractic care, for every one to two weeks after that until the second coming of Christ. It’s easy to schedule another meeting with the doctor: “the fastest way is to contact our office,” advises the copywriter. I’m guessing he gave up doing this telepathically when the fortune teller that shared his duplex finally got that job with the census that she was angling for.

The only other feature worth noting on the website is a “limited time” coupon good for a free consultation. First-time patients can print this online offer to receive an evaluation “that’s a $50 value”. In our bargain-obsessed culture, I can understand showing up at the Bi-Lo grocery store with a “buy-one-get-one-free” offer on watermelons, or perhaps a dollar off the number 8 combo on Tuesdays only at Chick-fil-A (if your car has an cow-head antenna topper). But coming to the office of a medical professional with a coupon in hand just doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Lastly, I want to make an additional smart remark about the office sign in the photo at the top of this post. If you look closely in the upper left-hand corner, you’ll see the Access logo — a family of four that’s either very close to each other or else congenitally conjoined. I thought such a rare condition as the latter could only be repaired by 20-hour-long separation surgery, but if it’s something that chiropractics can take care of, I’m all in favor of the less-traumatic course of treatment.

Wonder if there’s a coupon for that. Buy one get three free, perhaps?