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?