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.