Monday, August 30, 2004

Wait while my brain hemorrhages and leaks out my ears...

A West Side Story medley at the Republican Convention! What on earth were they thinking? Who was at that meeting? Have they even seen the show? It baffles. They even rewrote a line of the lyrics, so they had to realize it isn't the most all-fired flag-wavin' Broadway show ever written.

The lyrics as sung at the convention: "Everything free in America/I like to be in America"

A usually performed in the musical: "Everything free in America/For a small fee in America"

As you can see, there's a major shift in meaning and tone. "America" is not a patriotic tune. It is a sarcastic romp through the rampant poverty in an American territory. You'd think that would maybe not be something the Republicans would want to make us think about, even if they were going for an ethnically diverse musical number.

Food For Thought

Do cereal companies still end commercials with the tagline "[insert name of cereal] is an important part of this balanced breakfast"? In my many hours of cartoon watching as a youngster, all of the cold cereal ads ended that way. They always showed a bowl of cereal, glass of milk, glass of orange juice, and two slices of toast with butter. No matter if they were selling sugar-coated marshmallow cocoa-bombs, the cereal was "an important part of this balanced breakfast." Now, for fun, let's break down that balanced breakfast with the USDA's searchable nutrient database.

Cereal: 119 calories (that's Rice Krispies, but the calorie count is pretty average)
1/2 cup 1% milk, for cereal: 51 calories
8 ounce glass orange juice: 112 calories
8 ounce glass 1% milk: 102 calories
2 slices whole wheat toast: 138 calories
1 pat butter, unsalted: 38 calories

So the "balanced breakfast" weighs in at 558 calories, or 31% of the daily caloric needs of the average 4-6 year old. Also, it is 71 calories more than a sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffin. No wonder we're a chunky generation.

Time Warp

This week, we're switching from our broadband through our cable company to DSL through our phone company. SBC Yahoo! DSL sent us a letter notifying us of the following:
You should receive your SBC Yahoo! DSL equipment via UPS or Federal Express on
or before April 8, 1931. On April 8, 1931 you will want to install the
modem, the software, and the plug-in filters...You can install the equipment
before we complete all the work on our network, but please note that the SBC
Yahoo! DSL will not be accessible until April 8, 1931.

That is exactly how it is typed in the letter. They have informed us that our high speed internet will be connected approximately 73 years, 4 months and 22 days ago.

How on earth could the phone company have made such an egregious error as connecting our internet before the invention of the modern computer, let alone the internet? As amusing as it is, there is a very pedestrian explanation that, unfortunately, takes most of the funny out of their little snafu. In MM/DD/YY format, the date in the letter is 04/08/31. We are actually slated to be connected on 08/31/04.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Today's Political Rant

Robert Novak, the columnist who is fast becoming the media's chief douchebag, is at it again in this column. I've linked to it for you to judge for yourself. Novak interviewed Retired Rear Admiral William Schachte Jr. who seems to have a differing account of an incident involving John Kerry's first Purple Heart than the one Kerry presents. The primary differences, from what I can tell, are that Schachte says he was there and Kerry wounded himself, whereas Kerry says Schachte was not there and that the wound was not self-inflicted. I'm not paying too much attention to this because it is completely irrelevant to the process at hand, but that seems to be the gist of this particular facet of the argument over whether John Kerry really deserved the medals he was awarded (for my money, the Navy said he deserved them and since they're the ones giving out the medals, their judgment stands). However, I had to check one little tidbit of the retired Admiral's story because, well, with the Internet, I can. The final paragraph of the Novak column is as follows:
Schachte said he never has been contacted by or talked to anybody in the
Bush-Cheney campaign or any Republican organization. He said he has been a
political independent who votes for candidates of both parties.
However, if you go over to this website where you can look up contributions to political campaigns and look up "Schachte, William," you will find that he gave $500 to the election campaign of a South Carolina Republican and (wait for it) $1,000 to the campaign of a certain "Bush, George W" on 2/18/04. Now, the way campaigns work is that donors send campaigns money, and campaigns send donors thank-you notes. Now, I'm sure a "thanks" for the 10 C-notes" is not the kind of contact meant in the above quotation, but it is contact nonetheless. Whether this is intentional dishonesty, and if so if it extends to the rest of his statements is not for me to call. However, it is for Robert Novak to research statements like that, and the rest of the article, before he prints something that can be demonstrated as false by anyone with an internet connection and 10 minutes to kill.

I propose a statute of limitations on slingable mud in political campaigns. Unless something involves actual criminal charges being brought, I'd say anything more than about 25 years old should be deemed irrelevant to the process. To put the current fracas in perspective, two generations of the current electorate were not even of legal voting age when the Swift Boat incident in question occurred.

Media Rant of the Day

I'd like to lodge my objections to last week's Newsweek cover article, which is no longer up at the Newsweek site, discussing for the zillionth time the fact that Americans are overweight. The article starts off admitting that the current advice to "eat less, exercise more" is a bit simplistic in light of research showing how many factors other than "calories in" and "calories out" go into determining how much a person weighs. The magazine went on for probably 8 pages or so detailing the difficulties medical researchers have in understanding the complex mechanisms of human metabolism. The box inserts go into the weight loss success stories people have with liposuction, gastric bypass and Fen-Phen (notably absent is the success story of someone who ate less and exercised more). The article concludes by saying that, until researchers make more progress in figuring out the metabolic details of why some people eat Cheetos all day without gaining an ounce while others [like me] gain 5 pounds just driving by a Krispy Kreme, people should "eat less and exercise more."

Yes. All you need to do to be thin is eat less and exercise more. And all you need to do to be an expert in theoretical physics is to read the book.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Am I Really That Old?

Tonight, we took advantage of a Media Play promo to trade in 4 used DVDs for 1 new release DVD. Among the movies on the chopping block was The Three Musketeers (starring Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, and Chris O'Donnell). It was really hot back when I was about a sophomore in high school and girls drowned themselves in puddles of their own saliva over Chris O'Donnell. The perky high school girl doing our trade-in was astonished that I could even consider trading in a movie that has such a cult following at her school.

Cult following. That's what she said. Can I really be old enough that the movies that provided the soundtracks of my high school years are now "cult classics"? Also, they've moved on through the cycle of Guys Who Make Girls Drool. Hold on to your seat, Maggie. They're drooling over Kiefer Sutherland now.

For the record, I turned 26 earlier this month.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Funny Pages

The New York Times, which as ME points out does not have a comics page, ran this article detailing the trend in newspapers to downsize the funny pages. Downsizing basically takes two forms, sometimes at the same time: shrink the size of the strips down and/or reduce the number of strips run. Every time the editors cut a strip, the devoted readers of that strip come out in force to try to save it.

Editors tend to view the comics page as a big money-sucking hole, and they're not entirely wrong. The newspapers have to pay for each strip they run, up to hundreds of dollars a week depending on the strip. Funny pages don't have ads, which is where much of a paper's revenue comes from. And not only do they have to pay for all of the content without offsetting it with ad revenue, they have to spend the money in ink and newsprint to have the pages printed. The only redeeming feature, from a business perspective, is that people buy the papers to get their funnies.

Not so anymore. I keep up-to-date on all of my favorite funnies and have spent a total of $1 on newspapers in the past year. I have my favorite comics delivered to me by email through and I can get the ones I like without having to wade through the ones I don't find funny. I'm not squinting to read the shrunken print, nor do I risk having one of them cut. The irony is that the reason comics syndicates offer these free services is that newspapers still pay to run the strips in print.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Today is our first full day with Chakaal, the new kitten, a two month old (we think) white-and gray bundle of kitten energy. She is, as far as we know, the sole survivor of a litter that was thrown into a mudpuddle at a building site at a subdivision. Judging by the abrasion on her forehead, we think she landed face-first, but seems none the worse for her ordeal. We're not sure how long she was out there before she was rescued by a resident of the subdivision. Four of the six degrees of separation later, she's in our apartment.

She's named for a character in the Groo comic books. That Chakaal is a sexy, take-no-guff warrior woman in the grand tradition of Sergio Aragones art. Our Chakaal is a cute little ball of energy who takes no crap from either Sonja or Chessie even though Chessie is easily 8 times her size.

I've discovered something strange about people as I tell them how we came to acquire Chakaal. Some people who would not normally hurt a flea have expressed an urge to use shrimp forks to gouge the eyeballs out of the heads of whoever left her there. They also have some very creative ideas about where to throw them off a truck.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I Feel Safer. Really. Pass the Duct Tape.

It's official. Ted Kennedy is a terrorist. I am neither kidding nor making this up. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was put on the "no-fly" list and a ticket agent in Washington DC, proving that there is no racial profiling and not even a senior senator gets preferential treatment in airport security, denied him boarding on a plane from Washington to Boston.

As comforting as it is to find out that no one is above suspicion, this defies logic. If someone actually thought Ted Kennedy was a terrorist, is a U.S. Airways shuttle really the place he could do the most damage? Maybe, and I'm just guessing here, he might be more threatening to our homeland security on, say, the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he is the ranking member of the Seapower subcommittee and also sits on the Personnel subcommittee. How stupid do we think the terrorist organizations are that they would infiltrate the US Senate so that they could use their double agent to take down a puddle jumper over Maryland?

According to this AP article,
Kennedy says it took three calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to get
his name stricken from the list. The process took several weeks, in all.

Kinda makes you wonder what they think people should do when they are on the no-fly list in error and do not have the luxury of just calling up Tom Ridge and getting it fixed.

I Feel Safer. Really. Pass the Duct Tape.

It's official. Ted Kennedy is a terrorist. I am neither kidding nor making this up. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was put on the "no-fly" list and a ticket agent in Washington DC, proving that there is no racial profiling and not even a senior senator gets preferential treatment in airport security, denied him boarding on a plane from Washington to Boston.

As comforting as it is to find out that no one is above suspicion, this defies logic. If someone actually thought Ted Kennedy was a terrorist, is a U.S. Airways shuttle really the place he could do the most damage? Maybe, and I'm just guessing here, he might be more threatening to our homeland security on, say, the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he is the ranking member of the Seapower subcommittee and also sits on the Personnel subcommittee. How stupid do we think the terrorist organizations are that they would infiltrate the US Senate so that they could use their double agent to take down a puddle jumper over Maryland?

According to this AP article,
Kennedy says it took three calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to get
his name stricken from the list. The process took several weeks, in all.

Kinda makes you wonder what they think people should do when they are on the no-fly list in error and do not have the luxury of just calling up Tom Ridge and getting it fixed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Commercial Break

The latest commercial in the Beer Wars between Miller and Budweiser is a takeoff on the old Pepsi challenge. A bosomy babe in a painted-on dress goes around to bars offering men samples of two bottles of beer (whoa, there's a switch--women offering men drinks!). Invariably, the guy who is a dedicated fan of the one beer chooses the competitor when he can't see the labels. That, however, is not my point.

Too bad that Rainier and Busch are sitting out the Beer Wars, because a bear in Washington just wrote a perfect commercial. The bear strolled into the campground and, Yogi-style, raided the coolers. Rangers report the bear showed a definite preference, drinking 36 cans of Rainier and 1 can of Busch. None appear worried that the bear can read beer can labels to identify his preferred brand.

The AP article is over here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Some Days, Headlines Write Themselves

Here's an amusing Reuters article about a German truck driver who spilled 15 tons of fruit preserves on the A1 motorway. I think we can all guess the headline.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Say What?

I'm checking the date and, sure enough, the atomic clock says it is August 16, and on matters of time, the US Naval Observatory is always right. Now, I try not to repeat myself too much here, and last year, I made quite a bit of a to-do about people putting up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Still, I think this must be said:

It's August 16. Why did I walk past a big honkin' display of Halloween candy at the grocery store today? Watermelon and candy corn should not be in season at the same time.

Good grief, what are these people up to? No one takes 2 1/2 months to lay in a supply of Raisinets for the trickertreaters. No one. The candy companies start this now knowing full well that until October 28, we're buying bulk packs of Fun Size Milky Ways to snarf down ourselves while we catch up on our Xena reruns. Of course, if memory serves from the few times I ever went Trick or Treating (or neighborhood wasn't exactly the place to do that), even then, no one buys the little Snickers or Twix to give away. On October 29, people run out and buy a bag of Tootsie Rolls* or some other equally nasty blob of sugar to hand out to the kiddies.

*-Note to the Tootsie Roll Lovers of America Society: I respect your opinions as to the edibility of the Tootsie Roll, but as far as I'm concerned, it's like eating a carob-flavored pencil eraser.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Today's Entertainment Diversion

I'm sure you all have been enjoying reliving Saturday mornings of 1988/89 with the new DVD release of Garfield and Friends, which includes the original opening theme song and end credits, as well as some of the shorts that were hacked out when the show went into syndication on ABC Family. If you were really astute and were watching Saturday morning cartoons in the United States in 1988, you might have noticed something odd about the second 6-1/2 minute cartoon and short of each half-hour, specifically that they are not US Acres cartoons. Sure, they are the same cartoons we saw in 1988 under the title US Acres, but the title cards have them named Orson's Farm.

Fortunately, ME wrote most of the G&F cartoons, (and in later seasons to be covered in future G&F DVDs, was a producer). Over at this News From ME entry, he explains the title change (short version: that was how the shows were released outside the US). I'm not just plugging that link because the "question a number of folks have sent me" is verbatim from an email I personally sent him. Sure, that's part of the reason, but it is also an interesting examination of how American cartoons took care to avoid being labeled as American cartoons in overseas release.

Friday, August 13, 2004

All Depends on How You Look at It

This completely-unsurprising article in the New York Times points out that a full 1/3 of the Bush tax cuts went to the top 1% of the income-earners. Both sides of the aisle are going to spin the report to their advantage. The Democrats are going to point out that a disproportionate amount of the tax breaks went to the rich. True, sort of. More than 1% of the tax break went to the top 1%, but the top 1% pays more than 1% of the total tax collected. Meanwhile the Republicans are going to point out that the report cited also indicates that people in almost every tax bracket got a break. Also true, sort of. Keyword: "almost." It's a nice way of saying that some people got left out, but not a whole lot so we'll hope you don't notice them. "Almost" is like the word "virtually" in advertising. They are both positive ways of saying "not quite." Think about that next time you buy into a virtually foolproof plan or want virtually spotless dishes.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

My One And Only Word About Gov. McGreevey

I don't know how they do it. Here's a photo from New Jersey Governor McGreevey's resignation announcement news conference. The lady in the powder-blue suit is Mrs. McGreevey, and I don't know a thing about her except that she's standing there watching her husband admit to millions of people that he not only cheated on her, but cheated on her with another man. Whatever the gender of the "other woman," I don't see how these political wives manage to stand there and smile supportively while their husbands drag intensely personal marital business in front of the world. It seems to require a superhuman level of intestinal fortitude. I'll have the same awe for political husbands when a lady governor or senator or whatever is at the microphone confessing marital infidelity. I'll have even more awe when we stop having to hear these press conferences, either because politicians who attempt to legislate our collective morality stop sleeping around, or because we give them a personal life again. Personally, I'd prefer the former, but I'll take what I can get.

Random Navel Contemplation

Actually, I'm not contemplating my navel; I'm contemplating oatmeal cookies (which, now that I think of it, are not too far removed from the navel and the belly). All the goodness of oatmeal, but bound together by a blob of pure trans fat and refined sugar. The Crisco and oat bran are duking it out in my arteries as we speak.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Shameless Plea for Ballot Box Stuffing

Jones Soda is running a contest over at its website for photos to put on it new soda bottles. For those of you who don't know, Jones Soda is the company that brought you carbonated Turkey and Gravy flavored soda last November for those who want their turkey and Alka-Seltzer in one gulp. Their more-or-less traditional flavors include FuFu Berry and cream soda, and at one point they made a very nice ginger beer that I am not sure whether they still make or not. They sell the sodas exclusively in glass bottles with artsy photos on the label.

Now for the point. A very nice young lady named Claire has entered several photos in the contest.
Click here to see the giraffe,
click here for the yawning/growling bear,
click here for "Tree Shadow, And Me" (my favorite)
Click here for an unnamed bridge

Yes, these are blatant popularity contests that may or may not be based on the quality of the photographs. Be that as it may, Claire has a great eye for a moment and a photo, so this is more than a blatant plea for ballot-box stuffing. That's not to say this isn't a blatant call for people to click on over and give Claire's photos high marks. Why are you all still reading this and not over there voting right now?

May I One Day Have That Problem

Tonight, Elie and I went to dinner with a business acquaintance (the one whose writing project has caused me to neglect you my readers a bit lately). Midway through my second raspberry iced tea, he mentioned that he'd just taken a bath in the stock market, having lost $150,000 in the past two months. He tossed this tidbit out in much the same manner as I might mention that I had lost a sock in the dryer, and even joked about pulling all his investments and hiding the cash in his mattress until the markets turn around. By contrast, he let out a string of obscenities to put a longshoreman to shame when he noticed a pinky-nail sized speck of marinara sauce on his white shirt. You never know what some people will find important.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Easily Amused

Isn't technology grand? Either that or I need to get a hobby NOW. Thanks to the inventions of the barcode and the internet, it takes two clicks to find out exactly what is happening with a package I'm waiting for. It was picked up from the sender at 8:23 p.m. yesterday, and spent 42 minutes on a truck before being scanned at the FedEx sort facility in Woodbridge, New Jersey. The package "departed FedEx sort facility" 14 hours and 45 minutes later, presumably en route. Some people don't know that much about the whereabouts of their children.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Magic Beans

Remember that fairy tale about the kid who goes to town to sell the cow? Well, today, I took the rental Volvo back to the dealer to exchange it for our personal Volvo, which was in the shop getting an oil change and a couple of minor mechanical quirks worked out.

Now, it has taken the service department a couple months now to figure out why our driver's-side mirror readjusts itself skyward every time we open the driver's door, so I took the precaution of checking to see that the problem was fixed before I drove off. Good move on my part, because sure enough what they did to fix the problem seemed to have no effect on the actual problem, so the Volvo Service Manager agreed to see the car again on Thursday to take a better look at the issue. I put the date in my Palm, and turned the key in the ignition to drive off.


What better place to have your battery die than right there in the service bay? Mr. Volvo sheepishly arranged for me to get a gratis rental until they figure out why the battery holds a charge for 12 seconds at a time.

So this morning, I left home with a shiny black 2004 turbocharged Volvo, and came back with a beige Pontiac and these 3 magic beans.

Think About That At The Spa

At work, we just got in a pack of samples of new spa goops, including a couple packs of mud for mud wraps. The accompanying literature emphasizes that these are made from "fine European silts." You'd think I was the first person who considered what fine European bottom-feeders do in fine European silts.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Flip Flopper

Ahmed Chalabi, one of the "Special Guests of Mrs. Bush" at the 2004 State of the Union Address, has just become the subject to an arrest warrant for allegedly counterfeiting Iraqi currency. Oh, and he has been on the run from a conviction in absentia by a Jordanian court on fraud charges since 1991, which if you do the math, includes the date of 2004 State of the Union Address. Incidentally, it was a U.S.-appointed judge issuing the warrant.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Random Internet Stuff, and Grammar Rant

The Christian Science Monitor calls "A great way to waste time." I wouldn't call it waste. WordCount has indexed 86,800 words in the English language and ranked them according to frequency of usage in a representative sample of writings. It says some intruguing things about us.

Not surprisingly, "the" ranks #1, and nothing in the top 50 is likely to surprise anyone; they're all the "little" words--articles, pronouns, conjunctions--whose purposes lean more toward the grammatical rather than conveying the values of our culture. Incidentally, "I" outranks "you" by about 3 slots. We are a self-absorbed species. However, we are optimistic (#6133, whereas "pessimistic" is all the way down at 13,411) since "hope" is up at #543 and "dream" is at #2,167. "Love" is at #384, while "hate" is knocked down to #3107.

My campaign for the correct usage of "hopefully" may have some effect, since it is all the way down at #4,470. Next up: abolishing the phrase "a myriad of." Myriad ranks 15,542nd, and I see it used correctly about 1 in every 15,542 times. For the record, "myriad" is a noun meaning "10,000," not an adjective meaning an indefinite but large quantity.

Star Wars fans take note: Jedi made the list at #82,066.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Birthday Surprise

While we were in San Diego, Elie created the perfect birthday gift: personalized penguin artwork by the entire Groo Crew. For those who are new here, Groo is my favorite comic book. Groo is drawn by Sergio Aragones, written by Mark Evanier, lettered by Stan Sakai, and colored by Tom Luth, and all of them were at Comic Con. Elie stole around the convention behind my back and got each of the four of them to draw me a penguin. Sergio drew a penguin holding a flower with a grin on his beak and a heart over his head. Stan drew a hyper penguin jumping up and down and flapping his flippers, and also lettered "Happy Birthday, Janet!" at the top of the page. Mark drew a penguin waving his flipper, and even wrote personalized penguin dialog to go with it. Tom drew Rockhopper, his punk penguin character, and colored it in watercolors.

Elie then smuggled it home in his carry-on bag without me knowing and had it custom-framed in a turquoise frame that perfectly accents the colors in Sergio and Tom's penguins. It is absolutely beautiful, and I was so surprised. I have the most wonderful husband.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Tracy Empathy

I just started reading ME's next-to-most-recent book, Wertham Was Right, a collection of essays on various topics, many comic-book related and all hilarious. The first essay in the book is about a woman named Tracy who once worked for him. One of her tasks was to file his comic books. Anyone who thinks comics are for kids should take one look at the numbering systems on comics. No medium intended for children would randomly insert Issue #0 into the 500's, and at equally random intervals restart the numbering on a title so that Spiderman #1 is several entirely different comics.

Reading about Tracy's troubles with filing ME's comics called to mind the first time I tried to organize Elie's comic book collection. At the time, we had been together for just a couple months, and he was at work one night when I got the brilliant idea to surprise him by organizing his comic book collection. So that seemed like a good idea at the time. At the time, it was organized archaeologically in a green Rubbermaid about the size of a bathtub, back when it would fit in something the size of a bathtub. I figured you take the Batman comics and go 1-whatever, then move on to the Superman comics and stack them 1-whatever, and so on. Ah, silly, silly, naive me. That was right about the time I found out that there are something like 400 Batman series and no two comics in that entire tub had consecutive issue numbers. Several hours later, I surrendered. Organizing by title turned out to be prohibitively difficult, so I gave up and decided to just sort them out by superhero.

That would have worked, too, if it weren't for the damn crossovers. I wasted more energy trying to decide if Superman meets Wonder Woman should go in the Superman stack or the Wonder Woman stack. To top it all off, later I found out that Azrael, Agent of the Bat is sort of part of Batman. Yup, just try organizing even a small comic book collection and see if you still think these are meant for kids. Trust me, the kids have given up on following comics and are hacking your V-chip. It's easier.

Breaking In

Every so often, AOL Organizing offers nifty collections hints to help me organize my life, brought to me by Real Simple magazine. Today, they offered me hints for, and I quote, "How to break in" the following items, in this order:
1. Husband
2. Puppy
3. Blue jeans
4. Leather sandals
5. Knives
6. Butcher block
7. Wine
8. New house
9. Hotel room

I'd like to register my offense at item #1, and not just because it implies that husbands need more "breaking in" than wives. Having done it before, I'll admit that merging two households can be a bit of an undertaking, what with getting used to both people's little idiosyncrasies and resolving that ever-important question of crunchy or creamy (my advice: "his" and "hers" Skippy), but its on an entirely different level than keeping your steak knives sharp. Joining lives is an adjustment to be made by both sides. If you're looking for someone to fit around your every curve like a perfect pair of jeans, but a pair of Levis.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

How's this for Irony?

A cruise ship carrying 122 ecotourists ran aground off Alaska, spilling 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel and some wastewater. The current dissipated the fuel and wastewater before the spill could be contained and cleaned. I guess ecotourism isn't as ecologically-friendly as it used to be.

Here's the story from CNN.