Friday, April 28, 2006

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

I'm one of those wierdos that keeps score at baseball games. I write in a seemingly secret code things like CS2-6, F8 and I have learned to draw the letter K backward. When I cannot figure out what is going on (a frequent occurrence at Phillies games) I will note the initials ST in my scorebook, which stands for Stupid Thing. For instance, last week, Aaron Rowand got picked off of first base after the opposing pitcher faked a move to third, wheeled and threw to first. The oldest fake-out play in the book, and it almost never works. It's ST1-3 on my scorecard.
Our present state of affairs with gasoline has me puzzled. Seemingly intelligent people are doing strange things, all in the name of gasoline. If you're scoring at home, score these as ST.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Some California drivers are resorting to desperate measures to beat the surge in gas prices at the pump - deliberately running dry on the state's freeways and simply waiting for rescue. 20 trucks roam the busy freeways of Orange and Los Angeles counties as part of a publicly funded patrol that gives a free gallon of gas to drivers who have run out of fuel. It also offers other basic assistance to drivers whose vehicles have broken down.
People are now willing to sit on the side of the road and wait for a truck to deliver a gallon of gas, rather than fill their tank and continue to drive. Words fail me....Wait, no they don't. In exchange for the gallon of gas, they should be made to hand over their drivers' license. If they don't hand it over, they don't get the gasoline. Why? Because it's a publicly-funded program, so as they say, it's your tax dollars at work.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Though gasoline prices are soaring, President George W. Bush said on Friday he has no evidence that oil companies are illegally overcharging consumers at the pump. "I have no evidence that there is any rip-off taking place," Bush told reporters at the White House. "But it's the role of the Federal Trade Commission to assure me that my inclination and instinct is right," he added. Bush said consumers "expect to be treated fairly at the pump," but they must understand gasoline prices are high because of tight fuel supplies due to the lack of new refineries that can process crude oil into motor fuel.
Words fail him. First, he says that he has no evidence of a rip-off, then he talks about inclination and instincts. Which is it, inclination or evidence? They are two dramatically different things, and unless you are a narrow-minded Republican, you would know that. I have an inclination that the president is an idiot, and I know he's lying because he is speaking.
A fully assembled ethanol kit costs about $1,400, and Bill Sasher, who runs Dogwood Energy, says with the price of gasoline nudging toward $3 a gallon, business is booming. In the last two months, orders are up 300 percent. Sasher says that by filling 15 percent of your car's gas tank with ethanol - the corn-based alternative fuel - and the rest with gasoline, you can bring down the price-per-gallon from $3 to about $2.40. You can make about five gallons of ethanol every hour from his stills, and it's not very difficult, he says.
I hate to do this to you, but we're going to do some mathematics. This guy is selling kits for $1400 to save "about" 60 cents a gallon. The key to understanding his thinking is in knowing that you can only save the 60 cents on the part that you can add to your gasoline, which is 15% of the total.
You would pay for this at-home bomb kit after you have made 2,334 gallons of ethanol/gasoline, which would take a long time to add to your car. At 15 percent of a 20 gallon tank, the most you could add to your tank is 3 gallons, so you would have to use this thing for 778 tanks for it to be a break-even investment. Something tells me that there is a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment for everyone who buys this thing, but it is presumably after the check clears.
The cost doesn't include your time. Is your time worth anything? How about setting up a still in your yard or garage, collecting the ingredients (sugar, corn, water and yeast) and convincing your neighbors that your home will not explode? Any takers? Apparently so, and as David Hannum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute."
Don't fuck with me, I'm an accounting student.
Oh, I forgot one other thing about the kit. "You can make moonshine with it," Sasher concedes, before adding with a grin, "It's against the law, though."
That's great, moonshine is illegal, but constructing a refinery in your garage is legal. Who wants to go to Iceland with me?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Gas Caps and the Trash Bags (not the Rod Stewart song)

Item Number 1
Is Life on Earth Too Complicated? Read this and decide.

Today, we look at two annoyances of modern life, one of which I have had to deal with recently and the other that is a gnawing pain in my side. First, the automobile gas cap. Innocuous, you say? Au contraire.

After the gas jockey at Wawa – I was later to learn that they are officially known as gas jockeys – finished filling my tank with liquid gold, he spun the gas cap around so many times I thought I was under heavy machine gun fire, so I assumed the cap was on tightly. However, the next day, the dashboard light advised me to CHECK GAS CAP. Why, I wondered quietly to myself, would I have to check the gas cap? I know where it is.

No sooner did the gas cap light come on, that the CHECK ENGINE light came on as well. The owner’s manual tells me that the Gas Cap light makes the Engine light come on, which will make my turn signals blink uncontrollably, which will fog my windows and finally, the car will stop running altogether, saving me thousands of dollars in gasoline.

Now, I am riding around with the dashboard aglow, and just for fun, I decided to unbuckle my safety belt, so that I can have the full array of warning lights. Meanwhile, I’m squirting washer fluid for no reason other than to encourage the EMPTY WASHER FLUID light to join the party. At this point, I’ve unscrewed and replaced the gas cap so many times that the car has developed a rash, and yet, the lights remain lit.
Gratefully, this morning on the way to work, they went off. I’m assuming the bulbs blew out.

The issue here (is there one?) is – why does the simple act of filling the tank with gasoline have to be so complicated? It’s the only thing that we have to do, so you would think that it would be as simple as possible, but no. The owner’s manual has an entire section devoted to the art and science of the gas cap. How to unscrew it, how to insert the hose, how to replace the cap – one-quarter turn from the white arrow. Anything with the term “one-quarter turn” in it is unnecessarily complicated. Let the mechanics deal with one-quarter turns. As for me, I’m doing a full turn, whether you like it or not.
There, now I’m talking to my gas cap. I hope the Ford Motor Company will pay for my psychotherapy.
Item Number 2
The Amazing Disappearing Product (i.e. The Gnawing Pain)

I yearn for the good old days, when throwing out the trash meant setting a metal can out on the curb, brimming with a week’s worth of discarded memories and stale food. There was no such thing as a trash bag, and I never realized how happy I was that life was so simple. Now, trash goes into a bag, that goes into the dumpster that is trucked to the landfill. I loathe the trash bag and all for which it stands.

I have developed an irrational disdain for buying trash bags. In fact, I hate it. It’s hard enough to spend money, but to spend money on something whose expressed purpose is to be thrown away annoys me. I absolutely refuse (pun intended) to buy a box of more than ten bags. If you can go to Sam’s Club and buy the 5,000-count box, peace be with you. For me, it somehow lessens the pain if I only have to take ten of them home at a time, especially since I know none of them will survive the stay.

I try to get the maximum usage out of the bags by compressing as much trash as I can into the bag, and it’s holder, the plastic kitchen container. I will stress the container to the point that it’s puffing like a cartoon boiler under stress, until not even the scraps of yesterday’s cat food will fit into it. Then, and only then will I pull it out of the trash can – with its accompanying whissssssssh and the resultant air-vacuum that lifts the can off the floor – and carry it out to the dumpster. The bag looks like one of those Consumer Reports tests, with no air space, and barely enough slack to tie the ends together. It’s packed so tightly, you can read the ingredients on a cereal box. I burn 50 calories carrying it outside, and it is so heavy, that throwing it into the steel container makes the neighbors think there’s a thunderstorm approaching.
Then, I begrudgingly peel another bag out of the box. There are only nine left now, and soon, I will have to go back and lay out another $2.89 for bags that I use to throw the box away that they came in.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Idle Chatter

Let's say that you're a huge fan of that American Idol TV show. You like it so much that you know everything there is to know about the contestants, the songs they sing and their cute little personality quirks that make the show and its high drama such compelling television (so I hear).
You love the show so much, that you are willing to call in and cast your vote for your favorite performer, hoping that your support will thrust them over the top and into a career of singing and acting rivaled only by the last American Idol winner. You go to work the next day and complain that your favorite performer was somehow voted off, and you cannot believe how the guy who advanced made it as far as he did.
How, exactly do you know that your vote was counted? Who audits the seemingly thousands of calls coming in and reports the results to the throngs of viewers who would rather watch that show than eat? In short, why are you wasting your time?
Don't you think that the producers of the show would want a performer that they had control over to win and make the show look good so it could continue? They know who is going to win way before any of the votes are counted, I'd bet my retirement plan on it.
Perhaps I am advocating some sort of conspiracy theory, and I am accusing the Idol producers of rigging the show, but can you prove me wrong? Unless you have first-hand knowledge of the numbers, and can prove that the votes were counted as they came in, you cannot. The show, and its trance-like hold on the American public, is just too big to allow anyone to ruin it by squeaking through the process.
I think you could also say the same things about the last two presidential elections. Just substitute Diebold for "vote counter", Republican party for "Producer", and George W. Bush for "performer whom they control".
It's not too big a stretch, is it?

A Crime Against the Language

For some reason, my dentist has a television in his examining room. I think it is odd, but from what people tell me, it is becoming more common.
I was there today to have a real tooth filed down so that a steel and porcelain one could be inserted in its place - and there, on the TV is Regis and Kelly (it's a show and people, so I'm not sure how to punctuate it). For most of my visit, they were yammering on about something or other (which Regis has perfected as an art form) and, after the procaine was beginning to kick in, up pops Jenny McCarthy.
She wasn't there for her health, or mine. Rather, she was there to promote a new tome she allegedly penned called Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth (hardcover $18). I don't know exactly what the book is about because, for the duration of the interview, I had a live drill in my mouth. But, the thing I kept hearing over and over (apart from my muffled screams) was the word author.
Regis kept repeating it over and over, in that voice where he sounds surprised. "Look at you, you're an author!", "It's fantastic that you're an author." "Jenny, you're an author!" I heard the word author so many times that it began to lose its meaning, particularly where Jenny McCarthy is concerned.
Mind you, I have nothing against Jenny. She's cute, sort of funny and she will take her clothes off and let us look - so what's not to like? What I don't like is the use of the word author to refer to both Jenny McCarthy and Ernest Hemmingway or Susan Sontag or Ogden Nash or James Frey ... oh, uh ... bad example.
The point is, I don't think Regis would continually exclaim the word author if Stephen King was on the show. "Stephen, you're an author!" "Look at you, you're an author!" It doesn't fit somehow.
There should be another word for anyone who has done a Playboy video, appeared naked in a magazine or hosted a goofy television show besides "author". Entertainer, goofball, good-natured nut ... I don't know, just pick one and use it in the place of author when you are talking about how she relates to the book. Maybe Regis should have just said, "Jenny, you wrote a book!" allegedly Although, he still would have sounded surprised.
As for me, I'll wait for the video to come out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flavor Fave

Do you want the benefits of water without giving up taste? Of course you do, and if you’re anything like me, (I pity the fool) you’ll want to try the latest fanciful beverage from Aquafina, (literally “the end of water”) called Flavor Splash. It is described as a Naturally Flavored Water Beverage.

Right away, I have a problem with something called a water beverage, but I will set that aside for now, in lieu of another minor concern. Namely, what exactly is in this stuff?

First, I wanted to see what the natural flavors were. The label says “Citrus Blend”, so I wanted to check to see which citrus fruits … oops … Contains 0% juice. OK. So, what are the natural flavors, I wondered quietly to myself? Check the CONTAINS part of the label – there they are, ingredient number 2 – “Natural Flavors”. Oh.

So this stuff must be good for me, right? After all, I’m getting all the benefits of water. As far as Flavor Splash is concerned, those ‘benefits’ include Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Citrate, Sucralose, Phosphoric Acid, Calcium Disodium and Sodium Benzoate – to preserve freshness, protect flavor and fight the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. At least ‘filtered water’ is the first ingredient.

A check of the NUTRITION FACTS tells me that there are 2.5 servings per container. I drank the whole thing at once, so maybe I’m just a pig? Luckily, there are lots of zeroes, so you can multiply 2.5 times the zeroes to figure out the calories and carbs.

One of the zeroes is not sodium, and it seems like there’s a lot of sodium in those ingredients, although the label says “LOW SODIUM PER SERVING”. But, each serving contains 65mg of sodium (times 2.5) and all of a sudden we’ve consumed 162.5mg of sodium, or 9% of my recommended daily allowance. So maybe I should have had the point-five serving and put the rest aside until tomorrow, but if I did, then I wouldn’t be getting all the benefits of water. Why cheat myself out of benefits? (I wonder quietly to myself) But, how much sodium does real water have, like ... zero?
Hey … isn’t sodium supposed to make me thirsty? I need another bottle.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The New Gilded Age

Here is some food for thought from the current issue of Mother Jones magazine:

Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage has fallen 42% since its peak in 1968.
If the $5.15 hourly minimum wage had risen at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, it would now stand at $23.03.
Only the wealthiest 20% of Americans spend more on entertainment than on health care.
In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, an increase of 62% since 2002.
The $17,530 earned by the average Wal-Mart employee last year was $1,820 below the poverty line for a family of 4.
5 of America's 10 richest people are Wal-Mart heirs.
Public companies spend 10% of their earnings compensating their top 5 executives.
The bidder who won a round of golf with Tiger Woods for $30,100 at a 2004 Buick charity auction could deduct all but $200 for taxes.
Poor Americans spend one-quarter of their income on residential energy costs.
For performing in the Live8 concerts to "make poverty history", musicians each got gift bags worth up to $12,000.
And, a word of personal commentary:
Will future historians be studying the early 21st Century thinking about how power and privilege have led to demise similar to that of the early part of the 20th Century? As has been said before, time will tell. With any amount of good fortune, there will come a leader who will understand the peril of allowing society to drift so far out of control, and bring us back to a greater level of equality so that each of us can have the hope of realizing the American dream, rather than working a lifetime to help someone else realize theirs.

Bidding has ended for this item

After over 26,000 page views, bidding has ended for the ridiculous Jay Leno "naturally died" Easter egg. Gratefully, there were no bidders. If there is any justice, glaeser2006 should be forced to eat the allegedly 8-year old egg on national television.
That, I would pay to see.
My faith in society, damaged yesterday, is restored.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood

News Item:
A 76-year-old man claiming to be a doctor, went door-to-door in a Florida neighborhood offering free breast exams, and was charged with sexually assaulting two women who accepted the offer, police said on Thursday. One woman became suspicious after the man asked her to remove all her clothes and began conducting a purported genital exam without donning rubber gloves, investigators said. At least two women, both in their 30s, let him into their homes and he fondled and sexually assaulted them, the investigators said.
So, I guess the guy was 1 for 2 in the breast exam area? He only lost out on the second one after she "became suspicious" because he wasn't wearing rubber gloves? It seems as though he was pretty close to pulling that one off, too - so to speak.
Am I missing something, or is there a big opportunity out there for door-to-door breast examinations? Would I answer the door and accept a woman into my home if she promised to give me a free testicular cancer screening? Maybe, unless she was 76 years old and was not wearing rubber gloves. I'm sorry, but I can't get over the fact that apparently, the rubber gloves were his biggest impedement toward realizing his dream.
There are 143,500,000 women in the United States, so I suppose it is asking a lot to think that two of them would be smart enough not to let a 76-year old man into their home to give them a breast examination. Of course, on the other hand, what are the odds that out of that many people, this guy could find two who would let him into their home for such a thing? Although, after all, he was carrying a black bag, so that may have dereased his odds a little. It's just that I thought we had progressed as a society enough to have accomplished at least two things:
1 - We have provided ample opportunities for the fondling of women that, if you so desire, there are women who will allow you to do so without repercussion, and you are free to seek them out.
2 - Women, in the privacy of their homes, were raised intelligently enough to not allow a stranger into their home to fondle them, rubber gloves notwithstanding.
Once again, society has failed me.