Friday, December 24, 2010

2010: You Couldn’t Have Made Any Of It Up

January:  One of the deadliest earthquakes in recorded history levels Port Au Prince, Haiti; I would imagine things are pretty much back to normal down there by now.

February:  Olympic organizers plan well for a lack of snow in the Vancouver area by having it trucked in from 160 miles away; pleased with how well everything turned out, the IOC then awards the 2022 Winter Games to Houston, Texas... A magnitude 8.8 earthquake kills nearly 500 people in Chile; Americans complain that if you give one third-world country $100 million in earthquake relief, pretty soon all the other third-world countries want to have their own earthquakes.

March: For our anniversary, my wife and I decide to go on our third real “date” since we became parents five years ago; we end up napping through half of it.

April: An eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull (I think my spell check just exploded) spews ash all across Western Europe, grounding a lot of airplanes and prompting everyone to wonder why the Earth seems so darn mad at us lately... The Deepwater Horizon oil platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, BP assured the public that they’ll have everything tidied up right quick, nothing to see here.

May: President Obama nominates Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, prompting a whole lot of really creative and forward-thinking people to make fun of her appearance and question her sexuality... A horse named “Super Saver” wins the Kentucky Derby, no doubt starting a new tradition of thoroughbreds being named after corporate sponsors (my money is on Sears Auto Center in the next Preakness).

June: As it becomes apparent that no one knows how to stop the Gulf Oil Spill, which has the potential to become the worst environmental disaster in human history, with potentially apocalyptic ramifications for ecology, climate, and the economy, Americans decide to “do their part” by making sure their tires are properly inflated.

July:  The Obama Administration sues to block Arizona’s new immigration law, arguing that corrupt and inefficient border patrol is the federal government’s job, thank you very much.

August: Russia bans grain exports after the worst heat wave in 130 years destroys enough crops to cause a major food crisis; Fox News declares climate change a hoax... President Obama announces the end of combat operations in Iraq, though continued U.S. support and involvement will be necessary for a smooth transition; Americans decide to “do their part” by turning down thermostats one degree.

September:  Government lexicographers discover there is no word in the English language for the back of one’s knee... The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster finally ends as BP engineers manage to cap the well and declare it “effectively dead;” I’m sure things are pretty much back to normal down there by now.

October: The 33 miners trapped 2300 feet underground in Chile become national heroes after rescue workers pull them one by one through a precariously winding, narrow shaft to be greeted by their loving families and by President Sebastian Pinera, who instructed them to get the hell back to work... 200 million gallons of toxic sludge spill from an aluminum plant in Hungary; the plant manager who ignored warnings about the weakening reservoir is immediately chosen as the new director of FEMA.

November: A human stampede at a water festival in Cambodia kills 347 people, despite being dwarfed in size and intensity by the line outside Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

December: The world ends at midnight on the 31st.

Let’s hope I’m kidding.

Friday, December 17, 2010

We’re Not Racist, Just Brutally Insensitive

So they’re still going after those Indian mascots. This time, “they” are the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, a group of stuffed shirts in Augusta who apparently have nothing better to do than try to expose and eliminate tacit and subconscious racism.

As usual, my highly advanced brain has dreamed up a perfect compromise to satisfy everyone. But first, some background:

Those who object to nicknames like “Indians,” “Warriors,” and “Redskins” say they are offensive, unnecessary references to racial stereotypes.

They seriously need to get over it. So what if genocide wiped out 99% of your ancestors, and the dominant culture sees your once-proud heritage as a blur of drumming circles and slot machines? You don’t have to be so sensitive. You should be happy that white people want to “honor” your disappearing heritage by naming a high school team after a slang term for your scalped great-grandfather.

Those who want to keep the nicknames understand that any sort of change - even changes to arbitrary pretend nicknames that no one will remember or care about in 20 years - is a threat to the very fabric of our society.

The Lincoln County News quoted Wiscasset resident Ginny Cooper’s objection to getting rid of the “Redskin” moniker at her local high school:: “[We need] to have sense of humor about these things," she said. "Blacks are now negroes, Japs aren't yellow anymore, and I'm sick of it."

Bingo! You see, it’s not that we’re racist; we just don’t care how non-white people feel about our funny names for them.

Look, we don’t need to put honest, hardworking, community-minded Mainers through the agony of having to abandon allegiance to one cartoon character in favor of another. The only torture I can imagine that would be worse than that is... hm, I don’t know... maybe watching your entire village get slaughtered and burned by invaders from another continent.

A couple of years ago, Old Town High School switched from the “Indians” to the “Coyotes.” I’ve been to Old Town a couple of times since then, and nothing is the same. For one thing, they moved the City Hall down to Main Street, and the Old Town Canoe outlet store is way the hell out on Route 43. It’s as if a pestilence of depression has settled over the whole area.

And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous names that replace the discarded Indian names. Can anyone from Scarborough please tell me: what the hell is a “Red Storm?” There is no such thing. How does one dress up as a “Red Storm?”

Anyway, these pinko, politically-correct types are not going away, so let’s implement this brilliant compromise: Terms like “Indians” and “Warriors” do not have to refer to Native Americans. Why not keep the nicknames, and just change the logo?

Teams named “Warriors” should change their colors to green and black camouflage to honor veterans and soldiers. Their mascots should become uniformed Marines. Don’t for a second think this would somehow cheapen or dishonor the sacrifices of our troops, not if you’re unwilling to think the same thing of Native Americans.

Schools with “Indian” nicknames should change their mascots to yogis or telemarketers. You know, people who don’t mind being called “Indians” because they’re actually from India.

If you cling to the “Redskin” name, you might as well abandon all pretense and rename your teams “The Lynchmob.”

There. Problem solved. In the words of comedian John Hodgman, “you’re welcome.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yum... Wikileeks

Last week, I presented low-stress solutions on how to chintz out of this gift-giving season without feeling like a complete, low-class schmuck.

I’d like to take back everything I said, and instead recommend that you buy the book “In Defense of Food” for all your friends and relatives. Spend the $6.99 per copy at Amazon if you have to.

Author Michael Pollan insists that we are supposed to enjoy eating, and guides you into some basic principles that would result in a fully healthy and satisfying diet if you weren’t too lazy to change your habits.

So never mind.

But the book also details how the U.S. government twisted already-flawed science to appease industry, resulting in all sorts of dietary nastiness among the general population.

You see, back in the 1970s, scientists were noticing that people who ate a lot of animal products often wound up dead. Because death is one of those Undesirable Outcomes to be Avoided at All Cost, a federal advisory board wrote a report recommending that people eat less meat and cheese.

Predictably, the meat and dairy industries had a cow (ha!), and the panel whipped up some revisions, instead telling America to “choose meat, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.”

At the time, we all thought saturated fat was the evil substance causing all our problems. Lots of us switched to margarine and other replacements, only to learn later that they were loaded with trans-fats, which are way more hideous.

For some reason, people listen to the federal government about food, even though the government is clearly controlled either by whimsical overreactions to incomplete science or by corporations peddling “edible food-like substances.”

Pollan recounts how the FDA declared Frito Lay chips offer health benefits because (get ready for this) every moment you spend stuffing your mouth with polyunsaturated fats is a moment you’re not stuffing them with saturated fats.

In other words, the government would be happy to have me drinking soda and coffee all day, because, at least then, I wouldn’t be drinking used motor oil.

The most irritating part of all this how little the public knows/knew about it.

Did we see a NBC News “Fleecing of America” Expose on Frito Lay and the FDA? No way.

Where was Wikileaks when we needed them, when all those ranchers and dairy farmers lobbied to make sure they could keep making a living at the expense of public health?

If you’ve been following the news, you know that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is the world’s foremost persona non grata at the moment, having published thousands of classified documents purported to compromise security interests and political relationships for no clear benefit to mankind.

Yes, we found out that our government has some secret deal with some place called Yemen, wherein we kill off a bunch of people and they take the blame for it. And, it turns out, we actually do have military forces “engaged in combat operations” (why can’t we just say “fighting” anymore?) in Pakistan.

Assange’s wildly radical theory is that governments keeping secrets is generally a bad thing.

But now that these secrets have been exposed, do we really expect contrition? Promise never to do it again, cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my document shredder?

Or are we going to keep wringing our hands over health care costs while lobbyists infest the backrooms of bureaucracy to write our nutrition guidelines and labeling regulations to suit their profit margins, and we just fill our stomachs with whatever the hell they feel like making?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas

If you’re like me, your idea of “Working Out” means bringing your briefcase to Tim Horton’s.

If you’re like me, you have found yourself stranded in a blizzard because your Honda Civic, which has power windows, locks, steering, braking, and hundreds of other convenient bits of power, inexplicably lacks any sort of warning chime or buzzer or siren to alert you that you’ve left your headlights on.

But you are most like me if you find the Holiday Season a gauntlet of stressful brainstorming sessions and last-minute shopping excursions, followed by an unsatisfying letdown that results from feeling like maybe your brother-in-law doesn’t appreciate the meat grinder as you thought he would, given that he’s a vegetarian.

Well, this year, you won’t have that problem.

I have devised a perfect three-step system to rescue you from the normal December doldrums.

1.  Give until it feels good. You might have heard the phrase “give until it hurts.” Less popular is the phrase “give until it feels good.”

Abandon all reason in favor of that sweet euphoria that can only come from prioritizing someone else without any consideration for yourself, flinging fistfuls of $20 bills at random strangers until you’re flat broke.

If you don’t choose that third level, you might as well Bah-Humbug yourself back up that mountain above Whoville, or whatever.

But that still begs the question: what to give?

2.  Give something that matters. You know, actually matters.  Notice I didn’t say “matters to the recipient” or “matters to you.” As long as it matters to someone, somewhere on the globe, you can always say, “It’s the thought that counts.”

That relative who seems to have everything, who is impossible to buy for, deserves a $25 donation made in their name to the charity of their choice (even if it is some depraved cause like the Church of Scientology or Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

Think about it: if your house is already full of plastic crap imported from China, and you are living comfortably enough to buy whatever would be in a gift-giver’s budget anyway, what would feel better than knowing you inspired someone to help the less fortunate?

You can also go retro by giving something that took time, creativity, or ingenuity to make. This year I’m going to make soap. Nothing sends the perfect message to your filthy relatives than a box of soap on Christmas morning.

I also want to make cinnamon applesauce ornaments decorated with glitter glue and bits of ribbon, which will delight the whole family until your three-year-old niece eats one off the tree and has to be rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped.

What epitomizes the spirit of family giving this holiday season more than offering to drive someone to the emergency room?

No need for giant piles of expensive gifts to create cherished holiday memories. Keep it simple, that’s what I say.

   3. Sing modified carols to keep your spirits up. Example:

Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas.

Let Your Cart be Light.

From Now On Your Expenses Won’t be Out of Sight!

Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas.

So Your Nerves Don’t Fray.

From Now On Our Stresses Will Be Miles Away!

Here We Are as in Olden Days,

Crappy Gift Parades, Ignore.

Faithful Friends Who are Dear To Us

Don’t Want Your Wal-Mart Crap Any More.

Through the Years

We All Will Be Together,

If the Streets Are Plowed.

Hang a Homemade Ornament On the Highest Bough!

And Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas Now.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Only Voltron Can Save Us Now

The electric car has finally arrived.

In the next few months you’ll start seeing commercials for the Nissan Leaf, a vehicle whose future owners better damn well remember to plug in their cars at night, lest they be stranded when they get up the next morning.

The Leaf rolls on for 100 miles or so without needing gasoline. But then you’re done. It has no internal combustion back-up, and, therefore, virtually no chance of competing with the Chevy Volt, even though it will be about $7000 cheaper.

The Volt has a back-up gasoline engine, which the EPA expects to get a not-too-shabby 37 mpg on the highway. This is helpful, since the battery will only last about 40 miles. I’ve seen driveways longer than that.

But if you’re looking for measurable progress toward curing our “addiction to oil,” you have to feel encouraged. Even skeptics estimate that, based on today’s electricity and fuel prices, not having to buy gasoline will offset the higher sticker prices for these cars.

In other words, we’ve finally reached the point when an electric car costs about the same as an equivalent gasoline car, barring unforeseen engineering setbacks, such as battery explosions that could be seen from the moon.

Marketing remains the only remaining obstacle. All hope for consumer demand and future innovations in this area revolve around people actually wanting these two cars.

We’re not off to a great start here. The names do not exactly inspire confidence.

Cars represent freedom, power, and status. This is why the mini-van, and eventually the SUV, replaced the station wagon, even though the station wagon is way safer and more functional for the vast majority of consumers. But a station wagon isn’t going to climb some remote mesa in Utah, which Americans must do at least once a week, judging by Jeep commercials.

The “Leaf?” Come on.

Do we want a car that gets eaten by caterpillars? That some seven-year-old girl is pressing in a book for an art project? That is covering some Biblical character’s genitals?

No. We want a car like Chuck Norris, only less mechanical.

The Leaf is not this car. It looks like a Prius with love handles and a saggy rear end.

The name “Volt,” on the other hand, invokes power and coolness, as if you cannot possibly drive the car without wearing sunglasses. Its sharp and sporty design follows suit.

The name also reminds me of the cartoon “Voltron: Defender of the Universe,” which I used to watch when I was a wee lad. I barely remember it, but I know it involved five robotic lions from the planet Arus. The lions. each piloted by a brave and helpfully stereotyped “space explorer,” would fuse together, always at just at the right moment, to form a giant mega-robot named Voltron that would fight evil and stuff.

Wouldn’t you want to drive a car that could become the left ankle of a force of justice for the entire galaxy? I know I’d pay an extra few thousand on a down payment for that, especially considering today’s gas prices.

The only problem with the name “Volt” is that it has the word “Chevrolet” in front of it. The public has about as much confidence in GM’s ability to make a decent car as it has in Sarah Palin’s ability to reach the “Tournament of Champions” on Jeopardy.

So there you have it. The next major step in curbing greenhouse gases and reducing our dependence on foreign oil rests in the hands of a company so incompetent the government had to buy it out.

Bicycle, anyone?

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Save Money on Groceries

People in my life keep complaining that food is getting more and more expensive.

Granted, these are people with no actual information -- people who would no sooner research the pattern of beef and corn prices relative to inflation over the last 50 years than they would perform an unwarranted tonsillectomy on a gerbil -- are experts on how the average family suffers from an increasingly unreasonable grocery bill.

Yet as much as 50% of the food produced in this country goes to waste; we throw half of it away after it’s prepared, reports the New York Times.

When you add in the food we eat that we probably don’t need to eat (yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. Second Helping), that figure is probably closer to 90%.

A Cornell University study found that 93% of us admit to buying food we never use.

Yeah, we’re suffering, all right.

I checked the government’s Consumer Price Index, and discovered this shocking fact: what you spend depends on what you’re eating. Beef and dairy products did get more expensive last month. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and egg salad sandwiches dipped with root beer spilled on them have gotten cheaper.

Overall, food prices in the United States have increased 1.4 percent in the past year - a much slower rate of increase than energy (5.9 percent) or medical care (3.6 percent). Costs for clothing have actually decreased 1.2 percent, which explains why Lady Gaga’s meat dress is actually a status-grab.

Our sustenance comes to us more cheaply than anywhere else in the world. The average American spends about 10 percent of his or her income on food, compared to upwards of 75 percent for impoverished residents of certain Third-World countries, according to the Financial Times.

In other words, while you’re ordering that cheese-steak with ice cream for dessert, and complaining about the bill, some 13-year-old in Sri Lanka is spearing a pigeon for his only meal of the week.

If that perspective does not ease your querulous lamenting, I do have a few tips for saving money on groceries:

1.  Whenever you go to the grocery store, buy 29 gallons of milk.

Milk is always the first thing we run out of. It is the barometer of our grocery-buying habits. As long as we have milk, we don’t need groceries yet. And when we run out of milk, we go to the store.

The problem is, every time we go to the store, we spend $135, regardless of when we were last there and what may or may not be in the pantry at home.

So don’t let yourself run out of milk until you’ve run out of a lot of other stuff first. Freeze it, if necessary, so you don’t have any reason to go shopping for food until you’re desperate enough to eat some of your smaller household insects.

2.  Start a garden. Rumor has it you can make food appear out of the dirt. (Weird, huh?)  Find out how.

3.  Eat at restaurants all the time. Watch your grocery expenses plummet!

4.  Hawk coupons online. Gone are the days when you buy two extra copies of the Sunday paper so you can clip enough coupons to save the amount you spent on extra copies of the Sunday paper. Now, coupon aggregators, retailers, and manufacturers make it easy for old ladies like you to feel technologically savvy.

5.  It would not surprise me of gerbil tonsils are considered a delicacy in certain parts of Sri Lanka.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eschew the Cruise

You might have heard of the so-called “Nightmare Cruise,” Carnival’s 1,000-foot boat “Splendor” that drifted helpless in the Pacific Ocean last week after an engine fire. Power failed, toilets backed up, helicopters dropped emergency supplies of Pop Tarts and Spam, and, according to one passenger, “a lot of people were getting smashed off warm beer.”

Sounds like a typical week at my house, really. What’s the big deal?

After six tug boats towed the ship to San Diego, it became clear that this would become one of the most amusing and surreal mainstream news stories to appear in quite some time. Here are two actual quotes the Associated Press got from disembarking passengers:

“It was nothing like it was advertised in the brochure.” Hmmm... You don’t say?

“This could be the only cruise where people lost weight instead of gaining weight.” Sign me up!

A 42-year-old man was one of the first of the 4500 vacationers let off the ship because it was his birthday. So much for women and children first.

What kind of sociopathic twit looks around at their fellow passengers, including old ladies who had not been able to get their own food for days because elevators weren’t working, and says, “Can I go first? I’m turning 42 today.”

I have never been on a cruise. And I probably couldn’t go if I wanted to, either, because my wife can’t deal with feeling even remotely trapped. This is a woman who suffered a panic attack at Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” a mere 20 yards from the start of the ride because she thought there would be no way to get out if something went wrong. This was after we had already passed four clearly marked emergency exits.

So I can’t speak from experience regarding cruises. But I have seen “The Love Boat,” and I have watched a video on Youtube called “Pacific Sun Cruise Liner in Heavy Seas” (necessary viewing), which qualifies me as an authority on all maritime matters.

On a cruise, you’re isolated in the middle of nowhere with a few thousand other people who mainly want to get drunk. In other words, it’s just like living in rural Maine. You might as well just stay home and save money.

Oh, sure, cruises have swimming pools and live entertainment. So does Las Vegas, or even Boston. The advantage of those places is you can leave if something goes wrong, and the chances of drowning or being eaten by a shark are relatively small.

Granted, cruises are usually “all-inclusive.” Unlike visiting a major city, there is no need to figure out meals or transportation. Paying strangers to take care of all your basic needs appeals to a lot of people who apparently also can’t wait until they’re old and feeble enough to be admitted at an “Assisted Living” facility.

Cruise ships do occasionally stop at exotic ports, which are usually named “St. John.” But nobody dares disembark for fear that they’ll not have enough money to bribe the crack-dealing cab driver to not leave you with the sex traffickers.

So take it from me. Avoid any vacation that you cannot run from.

In fact, why don’t you come stay for a few days at my house. I’ve got Spam!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'm Lovin' Immortality

The liberal assault on American Values and our Sacred Traditions continues.

First they came for the traditional gender roles. I didn’t say anything because I hadn’t been born yet.

Then they came for school prayer. I didn’t say anything because I was in school, busy saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

Then they came for marriage. I didn’t say anything because I suspected that even if they did away with marriage, this woman would still be around every day to make sure I knew how clueless I was about everything; I just wouldn’t be able to call her my “wife.”

Now they’ve come for the Happy Meal, and that’s where I draw the line.

Growing up, the Happy Meal was the Holy Grail.

Its cheap plastic toy, usually broken or tossed aside within minutes of being opened, produced unparalleled thrills of anticipation.

There were always three or four different ones at a time, clearly displayed during my Saturday morning cartoons. Which one would it be? To get the same toy you received in your last Happy Meal was considered a complete rip-off.

This experience has united generations across the socio-economic, political, and racial spectra. It is more American than Apple Pie, given that most children have probably eaten way more Happy Meals than apple pies, unless you count those harmonica-styled ones McDonald’s sells in those little cardboard boxes, full of a disgusting, sticky goo that you can’t eat for 45 minutes because it was heated on the surface of the sun.

But now, the City of San Francisco, always at the forefront of chipping away at personal liberty and family values, is threatening to prohibit McDonald’s from putting toys in Happy Meals, at least until the food gets healthier.

The proposed law would prevent any restaurant from giving a toy with a meal that contains more than 600 calories and 640 milligrams of sodium. No more than 35% of the calories could come from fat.

Not surprisingly, this completely unreasonable idea makes the the folks at McDonald’s Grimace.

According to nutrition information provided at their corporate website, a cheeseburger Happy Meal with a carton of 1% milk provides about 600 calories (35% from fat).

In other words, the City of San Francisco is asking McDonald’s to keep their Happy Meals pretty much the same, at least in terms of caloric intake.

But then there’s the sodium. The Happy Meal described above carries 1000 grams, which is about 80% of the recommended daily amount for a five-year-old.

San Francisco officials want McDonald’s to cut way cut back on the salt. But where will all those Bay Area children get their sodium then? From peanuts? Please.

McDonald’s franchise owner Scott Rodrick said it best when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that the city’s Board of Supervisors, “just took the happy out of Happy Meal.”

Not to mention the preservatives. As numerous people (like Morgan Spurlock, maker of the film “SuperSize Me”) have shown, a Happy Meal can last at least a year in open air at room temperature without decomposing.

McDonald’s food does not go bad. Besides being a tremendous advantage for the corporation’s storage and delivery system, it means, as one Internet pundit noted, that I should have the parental right to give my children everlasting life by feeding them Happy Meals every single day.

Who can argue with that?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Important Lesson of Exploding Underwear

It feels good to get the last of my firewood split and stacked before October’s chilly breeze turns to November’s biting frost.

But that dog turd has other ideas.

As my splitting maul careens down toward that first unfortunate log, I slip on an ill-placed pile of poop.

My legs split. The log does not.

What should happen next is a drastic groin injury that leaves me whimpering on the ground until my wife comes out to check on me. I would tolerate her amused ridicule as long as she is prepared to deal with the firewood until I recover from surgery.

Instead, I manage to land on one knee to avoid serious injury. I was lucky.

My wood splitting area is a known dog defecation zone. I should have checked. I just was not using my noggin.

Such embarrassing moments keep us humble. I can accept their necessity.

But what if your underwear explodes?

I read about a woman in the early 1950s who bought a new netted underskirt made with nitrocellulose, a basic ingredient in gunpowder. She wore it to a New Year’s Eve party. One casual flick of a cigarette, and BOOM! She suddenly became the center of attention.

Oh, sure. It’s funny now. The woman, in her highly charred state, did not find it quite so amusing. Hers was one of several incidents that sparked (heh, heh) the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953.

That’s right: the government had to step in and make it illegal to sell highly combustible clothing.

After a series of lethal and disfiguring incidents.

It’s easy to look back now and see how stupid that was. Unthinkable nowadays, right?

If you believe that, I’ve got a yard full of dog turds to show you.

Remember in 2007, when a bunch of Thomas the Train toys were recalled because they contained lead? People who sent their trains back received an extra toy train as a complimentary gift.

How thoughtful of the distributor, RC2 Corp. Too bad the new toy train also contained lead.

You can’t possibly fire enough people to make up for such epic incompetence.

I read about all this stuff in a book called “Slow Death By Rubber Duck,” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. It describes “The Secret Danger of Everyday Things;” how toxic chemicals ubiquitously and invisibly inhabit just about everything in your house.

“From the time we get up from a good night’s sleep under our wrinkle-resistant sheets (treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde) to the time we go to bed after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us.”

The authors experimented on themselves, exposing their own bodies to mercury, phthalates, bromine, BPA, and bunches of other toxins widely available at the supermarket, proving that the human body does absorb this stuff - not just in massive, unrealistic quantities, but through normal use of common products.

They enumerate some steps you can take to protect yourself, but stress that public awareness and better regulation are the only long-term solutions.

Maybe 50 years from now, people will look back on how we dressed our kids in pajamas coated with poisonous flame-retardants and stored our food in chemical-leeching plastic containers, and wonder what the hell we were thinking.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ll make it that far. Our scientific knowledge and technological advancements truly are remarkable. But we don’t really know that much.

We know just enough to be dangerous.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Polishing the Dull Cutlery

After the Bangor Daily News endorsed Eliot Cutler, I got an impolite mailing from the Democratic Party. It painted Cutler as an Earth-raping tree pillager in bed with the oil companies.

I don’t know if this is true, but I do know it was a pretty weak attempt at a campaign flier.

To start with, they used a picture of Cutler smiling harmlessly. Granted, they darkened the picture, trying to make him look grainy and foreboding, but they failed to create the impression of a villain eager to spread black viscous slime all over our pristine coastline.

Most campaign attack ads use rather unflattering photos of the target. They dig around for a picture of him yelling maniacally, picking his nose, or at least frowning. You mean to tell me the Democrats could not find a single picture of Eliot Cutler frowning?

I saw Cutler at the Common Ground Fair. He was frowning all over the place. He frowned his way from the political action tent all the way over to the lamb-ka-bobs. Where was the Donkey photo sniper?

I tried to remain close to see if Cutler would notice that a likely voter was standing a few feet away, waiting to be persuaded. But he just kept frowning along, surrounded by a group of young supporters in white Cutler tee-shirts. The supporters were smiling, albeit nervously. I’m not sure they’d ever seen hippies before.

At any rate, the Democrats don’t really need to worry about the BDN endorsement. Cutler has the campaigning skills of a sea urchin.

Plus, in a different editorial, the BDN endorsed a moderate, rational approach to politics, and you can see how influential that was.

It is true; running a government is complicated and requires nuance and careful thought, rather than knee-jerk angry reactivity. But talk to the average voter about any divisive issue, and you’ll see that even the ones who think they’re rational are really just controlled by vague impulses and subconscious fear.

People are all wound up about Cutler working as a lobbyist for Chinese corporations, as if Chinese wealth is grown by exploitation, but ours is not. Meanwhile, they flock to Wal-Mart and fill their carts with stuff that was Made in China.

Hypocrisy springs eternal.

Then we have a recent CBS News poll showing that 61% of Americans think illegal immigration is a “very serious” problem. Republicans and Tea-Baggers lead the charge to close our borders.

They have no sense of irony. Illegal immigrant labor reduces the costs of goods and services in the U.S. by an average of 5%, according to the non-partisan National Research Council.

If someone proposed a 5% sales tax increase on everything sold in the United States, Republicans would have a fit the size of Great Britain. They’d raise a valiant defense against this assault on small business and corporate stockholders.

But I guess we can afford the extra expense if it means fewer people with brown skin hanging around.

Maybe the BDN is correct in noting that we should vote for someone who actually knows what’s going on, and that Cutler is the only candidate with an actual detailed plan to solve Maine’s fiscal problems.

But he’s still going to lose. And so will Mitchell. They do not have LePage’s edge, the proper outrage and intensity we look for in a candidate we expect to Change Everything.

Democrats: Stop putting out cheesy fliers. Save your money for 2012 and 2014.

And hire some more photo snipers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Take This Halloween Costume Advice and Shove It

When your kid reaches age five, is already smarter than you, an awkward mix of pride and shame antagonizes the ego. You could show a terrier a fire hydrant made of steak and he’d be less confused.

As a child, my Halloween costumes were a series of comic mishaps worthy of a much larger audience. If reality TV had existed back then, I might have been rich and famous.

My parents, God love them, were happy to oblige whatever crazy costume idea I came up with each year. This was exceedingly educational. Read on to partake of my wisdom.

Once I was a mummy. They wrapped me in about $60 worth of toilet paper, only to find that whenever I moved any limb at an angle of five degrees or more, the paper ripped. By the time I got to the car (we lived in the woods and had to drive to the suburbs for Trick-or-Treating) I had inadvertently
shredded the costume.


Then I went through a series of box-oriented costumes. One year I was a robot, the next, a birthday present. There might have been a jack-in-the-box mixed in there somewhere, as well; I’m not sure.

At any rate, my mother slaved for hours elaborately decorating large cardboard boxes in colored paper and tin foil, only to discover on Halloween night that the costume would not fit into our undersized Subaru station wagon.

You’d think we would have realized somewhere along the way that the whole box thing was a poor idea.

DO NOT MAKE A BOX COSTUME FOR YOUR CHILD unless you’re absolutely certain you won’t have to drive him or her anywhere for a while.

I vaguely remember my mother pressuring me to be a pirate one year. I must have been just a little tyke, but the idea of wearing an earring scared me to bits, partially because I imagined searing pain in my earlobe, and partially because boys did not wear earrings in those days unless they wanted to be picked on relentlessly.

It’s too bad that I felt the need, as a six-year-old with big plastic glasses, to assure everyone how manly I was by not wearing an earring. I might have had more fun.


Another year, when I was closer to adolescence, I got the idea of dressing as Johnny Paycheck, who sung the famous tune “Take This Job and Shove It.” Instead of saying “Trick or Treat” at every house, I wanted to say, “Take this Halloween Candy and Shove It.” Thankfully, I was talked out of that idea.

No matter how original and avant garde your child may feel, DO NOT PERMIT HIM TO DRESS AS A DISGRUNTLED COUNTRY MUSIC STAR. (But a gruntled country music star would be fine.)

Also, please resist the temptation to dress your child as a politician. Every year I see shorties running around in Regan masks and Bush masks and it makes me wonder if there’s been a robbery at Midget National Bank or something.

I admit, though, a Paul LePage costume would be pretty scary, but you’d have to instruct your child to curse at people after saying “Trick or Treat.” Then, if they don’t give the exact candy he wants, he should storm angrily away from the house.

My daughter, wiser than I ever was, is a bumblebee this year. If my ego can recover from the sting we’ll have a great time.