Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is The Economy In the Toilet? Or Vice-Versa?

To measure the economy, a lot of people look at the unemployment rate, the Dow Jones, the Gross Domestic product, or the number of contestants on Dancing With the Stars who are wearing last year’s shoes.

Not me. I measure the economy the same way I measure everything else: by conducting a thorough audit of the availability of different varieties of toilet seats.

Our household toilet seat has seen better days (and if you’re a toilet seat, that’s saying something). The enamel has worn through, resulting in the appearance of dark stains in places where it would seem unnatural that there should be stains.

It’s quite embarrassing, really.

So our weekly trip to town last night featured a stop at the Giant Home Improvement Warehouse of Last Resort, where there are some 30 or 40 different varieties of toilet seats available.

Knowing how important a toilet seat is – it’s where all the important thinking and reading gets done in our house – what should have been a two-minute purchase turned into a 45-minute affair.

Should I opt for the stain-resistant enamel? Enameled wood, natural wood, plain plastic, or plastic with pinstripes? Do I want the Quiet Close™ design?
Padded, or hard enough to leave a permanent dent in my derriere if I sit on it for more than 90 seconds?

Did you know they now make toilet seats with a “patented twist-off hinge” to make cleaning easier?

Fortunately, my eventual choice had to match the color and size of our current toilet, so that narrowed my choices somewhat.

I ended up getting the cheapest, flimsiest seat I could find, figuring that, for the price of the “twist-off” variety, I could by a new cheap seat every time we clean the bathroom.

Hey, at least I didn’t scrounge one out of the local dump, which is what my brother-in-law would have done.

When I got home, I remembered as a child visiting a hardware store with my dad, and noticing some of the novelty toilet seats they had for sale, including some clear plastic ones with barbed wire or playing cards embedded in them.

(Remind me in about six months that a playing-card toilet seat would be a perfect gift for my dad, who missed his calling as a riverboat gambler.)

Seeing this merchandise at such an impressionable age had a profound effect on my childhood development.

Nowadays, a search of will give you 100 different designs to choose from. I should have gotten the Decorative Polyresin Toilet Seat with Steer Head Skull. It would have cost me 44 clams, but it would have been so worth it.

After considering all of this, you have to agree that our economy is just fine. True, it has gotten worse of late, but as long as people can still make a living designing or decorating toilet seats, we have to keep things in perspective.

I guarantee you some of these toilet seats are not available in Uganda, which, not coincidentally, has an economy much inferior to ours by all other measures.

In fact, if our economy were single and on the dating scene, it would be buying the “extra large” Trojans, if you get my drift. Whereas Uganda’s economy is so insecure, it would be seeking something Ribbed for Her Pleasure.

Ours may still need a little stimulus now and then, but we’ve still got it where it counts.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Canoe Believe the Nerve of Some People?

It’s time for my semi-annual Chronicle of Things That Make Me Angry Enough To Wrestle a Rabid Porcupine.

Today, I have two items on my loathing list. First, as is customary: The Maine Legislature.

A new bill would require a $19 license for anyone over 16 to canoe or kayak on fresh water. Those already holding a fishing or hunting license would be exempt.

I’m angry at our lawmakers for not doing this a long time ago.

Anything that would discourage people from taking their kids out into nature marks progress in my book. Kids should remain safe indoors, playing Wii, where they can build their cardiovascular health by enjoying pretend outdoor sports.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Eberle (D-South Portland), believes the “non-consumptive user” of the outdoors should pay their fair share of protecting “the things that make Maine special.”

Absolutely! In fact, we should also require a license for other “non-consumptive users,” such as hikers and cross-country skiers.

Want to take a walk in the woods behind your house? Do you like to sit on a rock and listen to the sweet song of the black-caped chickadee while the leaves rustle in the breeze? Twenty dollars, please.

This bill sends a powerful message: only the small, pathetic minority of people who value the outdoors should pay for its restoration and protection.

There are a few misguided twerps who might suggest we are all impacted by the outdoors in some way, and that we should tax the people who directly threaten species and ruin the outdoors, instead of those who enjoy them with no impact.

Any lunatic who supports this position clearly has no grasp on reality. For starters, mills and developers have lobbyists, whereas kayakers do not.

Secondly, avoiding extra taxes on paper goods, hazardous chemicals, gasoline, and other products that lead to pollution will help the economy. The economy is the whole reason we’re talking about this anyway.

So pay up, you LL Bean-wearing yuppie hipsters, before even more of your precious little natural habitats succumb to the sweet steamroller of progress.

* * *

Every so often I have to go on and remind myself why I don’t bother to pay for television.

My wife’s favorite show used to be “Monk,” the series about the obsessive-compulsive detective played by Tony Shalhoub, and the San Francisco PD’s homicide unit, which couldn’t investigate its way out of a paper bag without him.

In recent years, the show has gotten way too predictable:

MONK (to pompous, detestable antagonist): “I know you did it.”

VILLAIN: “You have no proof.”

MONK (suddenly overpowering his crippling nervous insecurities): “No, but in a moment you are going to start talking about a piece of artwork in your house that has an obvious connection to the murder.”

DETECTIVES: “How does he DO it?!”

The comedic value of Monk’s affliction has gone down the toilet as well, ever since his spunky, no-nonsense assistant Sharona was written out of the show in favor of Natalie the doormat.

Sharona’s own character weaknesses and her take-no-crap approach served as the perfect foil to Monk’s self-absorbed impertinence. But the folks at USA Network must have thought they could improve their male audience demographic by replacing her with an ultra-submissive blonde with no depth of character.

What a fantastic example for young girls.

Another reason to shut off the TV and go outside.

Oh, wait… never mind.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mind Under Matter

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day… Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.”
-- Pink Floyd

(A band that existed before MySpace)

* * *

The most important, but probably least discussed, impact of the Internet on our society is the prevalence of “multi-tasking.”

Why, just while writing these first two paragraphs, I’ve already emailed my wife about dinner, set up some music to play on Pandora, and checked the weather forecast, and it hasn’t impacted the quality of my we had chicken last night, let’s go out for freezing rain.

The more in-touch you are with technological developments, the more you are training your brain to operate well, even with constant distraction and interruption… right?

Dr. John J. Medina has written a book called “Brain Rules,” debunking the theory that being able to “concentrate” on more than one thing at a time is a valuable skill.

“It’s a myth,” says Medina on his website, “Your brain is a sequential processor. It is simply switching tasks,” which adds transition time between thoughts, and thus, makes you about as efficient and effective as a hamster-powered meat grinder.

Medina ignores the fact that it is easy to make up for this lost efficiency by completing more tasks while you drive.

We’ve all heard stories about people reading magazines, applying make-up, or searching under the seat for that lost Chicken McNugget as they careen down the highway.

These are the people you always marvel at for how much they seem to get done in a day.

But we’re starting to see stories in the media lately about the dangers of text messaging while driving, or “driving while Intexticated,” especially by inexperienced drivers. It’s more hazardous, according to Medina, than drunk driving.

Bah. I’m all in favor of completing more tasks in less time. So what if it’s dangerous? Think of all the time you’ll save once you clear some room in your schedule by going to jail or dying.

But we have to get teens to stop texting behind the wheel.

It’s a huge waste of time.

If you’re going to pull your attention away from driving, you should at least do it for something productive and worthwhile, like studying for your geometry exam, or trying to get to second base with your girlfriend.

Thankfully, a group of researchers at the University of Utah has invented a car ignition device that can interfere with your teen’s cell phone signal.

It’s called the “Key2SafeDriving,” and once it’s on the market, it will give you the peace of mind of knowing you don’t have to teach your kids to make responsible choices on their own.

The device would still allow your teen to call home (“What’s your ATM pin again?”) or to call 911 (“my energy drink is wearing off and I can’t move”).

“Adult drivers cannot text or use a handheld cell phone,” the university says, “but the Key2SafeDriving system does allow them to talk using a hands-free cell phone – even though studies … indicate hands-free phones are just as distracting as handheld phones.”

The device may have its skeptics, but I say if it keeps only one or two young drivers from pawing at their iPhones while driving, so they can concentrate on some good old-fashioned daydreaming instead, it must be considered a success.