Saturday, June 23, 2007

Post #520

I use a lot of sunscreen. If I'm outside for more than 20 minutes without it, I end up looking like a 50/50 bar. Burned calves, burned neck or burned head if I forget to wear my hat. It's a social problem, since sunscreen is either greasy or spray-on lacquer that isn't very becoming in public. Lucky for me I don't spend a lot of time outside in situations where I'm wearing regular clothes. In those cases, I'm the first one to find the shade tree.
I have adopted the nickname Caucasian Man, given my fine white complexion and continual war with the sun. Caucasian Man has few superpowers. Forgetfulness and anxiety if I go outside without my sunscreen are two of them. Not exactly the stuff of comic books, but I'm more the blog type.
Sunscreen is one of the last high-end personal use products that we buy. I just bought a 5 ounce can of CVS brand Cooling mist SPF 45 that cost me eight bucks. They can charge eight bucks because they know that we know we need this stuff. Nevertheless, there are two odd things about paying eight bucks for sunscreen:
First, it doesn't matter if it's SPF 2 or SPF 50; the price is the same. Wouldn't you think that the price would at least be partially dependant on the level of protection? I would expect to pay half for SPF 15 that I paid for for SPF 45, but no. The price is totally determined by the size of the container.
Second, the sunscreen technology is very old. It isn't like the 1960s when all we had was Coppertone - SPF 0 with cocoa butter - stuff you could pan-fry a steak in; and it washed off like soap as soon as we ran into the water. At least this new stuff lasts through a 60-mile bike ride without re-applying. The downside is that I have to scrub with a brush to get the crap off me in the shower afterward, and I bring home every bug and piece of road dirt that sticks to my arms and legs. Anyway, you would think that the price would have come down like it has for CD players and cell phones. Nope. Eight bucks. Pay it or burn, white boy.
They tell us we need it, and damned if they aren't right. A half hour without it (sometimes in defiance - as though my mental state determines the level of UV radiation) and I wish I had coughed up the eight bucks, since future melanoma-head is not a reasonable exchange for the price of sunscreen today.
For eight bucks, I'm expecting the list of ingredients to include platinum dust or a secret code for a free blow-job, but no. The list of active ingredients is pretty short:
Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene and Oxybenzone
They could have put Oxymoron on the list and I wouldn't know what in Hell that was, either. It's amazing that it works at all. Spray some chemicals on your skin and you can stay outside for as long as you want without burning. There is also list of inactive ingredients. Do we really need inactive ingredients? For eight bucks, I don't want anything in the can that isn't doing something.
When I bought it, the CVS kid put it in a bag. A bag. I only bought the sunscreen. I didn't need a bag to bring it to the counter, what made him think I would need one to carry it home? Maybe the can is susceptible to sunlight? Before I could think or stop him, I was walking out with the can in my little plastic bag, wondering what the heck I was doing. Caucasian Man is funny that way.
I noticed that one of the warnings on the can says: Do not use near heat. That's a bit odd for something that is designed to be used in direct sunlight. I hope I don't spontaneously burst into flames. That would be ironic.
Tomorrow, around noon I'll be thanking the CVS people for making such a wonderful product and only charging me eight bucks - when they could have charged me twice that and I would have paid it for the sake of a case of sunburn.
Don't tell them I said that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Meet the new day, same as the old day

As some of you know, I have begun the slow, agonizing chore of searching for a new job. It joins car shopping and dental work as things that I see as necessary evils. A recent outing took me to an open house for a financial company.

So, who are these homeowners and what are their needs and goals? I’m glad you asked. The PowerPoint show told us that their average home value was $254,000, their average income was $125,000; they were between 29 and 42 years of age and their average amount of unsecured (credit card) debt was … ready … $70,000. That’s right. They owe more on their credit cards than the equity in their home.

So, our goal is to meet their needs by lending them money. That struck me as odd, since it sounds a lot like digging a hole to put the sand in. How can you help somebody get out of debt by loaning them money? They didn’t tell us, but they did tell us to expect to put in between 70 to 80 hours a week, working 9am to 9pm and weekends. For our time, they said we could expect to earn $120,000. Sounds nice, but when would I get to spend it?

It was at this time that I started looking around the room, and I noticed two things.
First, all the participants were men, and almost all of the company’s employees were men [there’s something manly about money-lending] all wearing that standard-issue dark blue suit and white shirt – except me, of course – big daddy. It struck me that if a one woman walked in wearing a red dress, and another walked in wearing the same thing, they would be apoplectic. Guys, however, can still function at full speed even though they are all wearing the exact same outfit. There’s something manly about a dark blue suit.

Secondly, all the participants were between the ages of 22 and 27. They are kids, fresh out of college and ripe for the picking. No home, no wife or children and no expectations for any, especially when the time demands of the job would make them very difficult to sustain. I also noticed in the two hours I was there that they didn’t say a word about benefits or vacation time. I’m thinking that vacation time is between 9:01pm and 8:59am, and you’d better not get sick.

Even though the company seemed to be honest and above reproach, there was a smell of snake oil in the air. Promises of big earnings, lots of work and supposedly everybody benefits make me wary of the people involved. I’m too old and cynical to believe all of that, which is probably why they go after kids. They target college students for the same reasons the evangelicals target kids. They can be molded to fit the company. I’m way too old and have way too many outside interests to even begin to think about working 80 hours a week, regardless of the pay. Somebody fresh out of college, however, is a sitting duck, and the perfect applicant for them.
Go get ‘em kids, and pray that your phone doesn’t ring with an incredible debt-consolidation offer. Of course, your advantage will be knowing what a scam it is – if you’re home to answer the phone.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You can call me stupid, but...

... I don't get this whole "illegal immigration" debate. If they are illegal, what are we debating?

... I don't get this stem cell bill veto, either. The president vetoed the latest bill, saying that "If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos."
I guess it's not OK for taxpayers to pay to destroy embryos, but it is OK for taxpayers to fund the war in Iraq, where actual walking, talking humans are being destroyed every day.

... I don't understand why automobile drivers in Pennsylvania (and other states) are required by law to wear seat belts, but motorcycle riders are not required to wear helmets.

... I don't understand why it is legal to sell tickets to events on web sites for exorbitant prices, yet so-called "scalpers" outside the actual event are arrested and/or chased off the property by police. Why is there a difference between selling tickets from a building or web site and selling them in person?
If you haven't noticed, several pro sports franchises are in cahoots with sites like Razorgator to sell their game tickets via the team's web site. The whole thing sounds shady to me - because it is. They try to tell us that the "fans" scoffed up the tickets when they went on sale, but those of us with a brain in our head know better.
Eagles vs. Cowboys on November 4? Tickets start at $211 and go to $901 for 50 yard line lower level.

... I don't get this Last Comic Standing show. I had it on for about three minutes tonight. I thought it was supposed to be a talent show for "unknown" comics. Arj Barker and Sabrina Matthews advanced to the next round. Both of them have had Comedy Central specials and have been headlining for a while, so what's the point? Last year, Louis C.K. was a finalist. Another headliner. They're already established comics, and very funny, but they are up against ... who exactly? When I see stuff like that, it makes me glad I haven't been paying attention. If I was standing in line to audition for this show and I saw Arj or Louis hanging around, I'd figure my chances of advancing were reduced by at least two. Stupid TV.

... I know exactly what the Phillies are going to do to us again this year. They are going to string us along until the middle of September and then - at the last minute - pull the rug out from under us in a sudden burst of losing. They are just good enough (or bad enough) to be in the race against mediocre talent, but as always, they will find a way to lose after they have sucked the life out of the fans once again.
You can call me stupid, but I have tickets for another half dozen games this year, right up until the final series against the Florida Marlin.
Editors note: Marlin is plural for marlin. There is no such word as Marlins and I refuse to call them by a non-existent word, no matter what it says on their uniforms.

... I am constantly amazed when something good happens to me. Last week, I bought a beautiful new 37" LCD TV for $1000 from Best Buy. On Sunday, the same set went on sale for $200 less than I paid for it. On Tuesday, I went to the store, receipt and ad in hand, expecting an argument - but no. Before I finished telling the customer service guy my tale, he had scanned my receipt, printed a "Price Match" receipt and credited my account for the 200 bucks. So, now I have a really cool LCD set for even less than what I already thought was a good price. Kudos to Best Buy. For the record, I sent them a nice e-mail.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sometimes there just aren't enough E's

I love a good snack. Life is good when snacks are good, and Cheez Doodles are good. Forget everything you learned about spelling or proper grammar - they're Cheez Doodles. Doodles made of cheez.
Wise is one of those eastern snack food companies that people out west pay to have shipped to them, like Tastykake's and Herr's chips. It seems that the northeast is the capital of snack foods. Everybody has to be good at something.
So, imagine my surprise when I picked these out of the snack food machine at work ...
There is no more pensive moment in one's life than that second or two between the time we press C1 and the little spiral thingy spins and we wait ... wait ... in hopes that the bag of Cheez Doodles will find its way to the trough below and not be hung-up in snack Purgatory ... the little spiral thingy still attached to a part of the bag ... clinging to hope against hope that its bag-life will not soon end. It is at that point that we seek out the largest person in the office to give the machine a brief, yet firm shake to jar loose the bag from its spiral thingy clutches. Hey, fifty cents is at stake here.
So, now that I have the bag, I notice that they are proclaimed the Cheeeeeziest ever! [5 e's and a giant exclamation point] cheese flavored corn snack. Now I'm thinking, "what sort of crap have I been eating for the last 15 years?" If they had this Cheeeeeziest technology, why were they holding it back? Maybe I shouldn't be so critical, since further bag reading leads me to the fact that there are 0g of trans fat. Three years ago I would have scoffed at the very notion of trans fat, now I'm overjoyed at zero grams, but I digress.
I scoffed down my doodles, and yes, they did appear to be the cheeeeeziest ever, but I have a short memory for cheeeeezy. Besides, I noticed that cheeeeez wasn't even the number one ingredient in the doodle, so I figure that there is more cheeeeez where that came from. Cheddar cheese is number four, behind corn meal, vegetable oil and whey.
Oh, gang at Wise, hear my plea. If you are withholding more cheeeeezy technology, stop messing with me. I can take more cheeeeez. Cheeeeez can move ahead of whey as far as I'm concerned. I want the cheeeeez.
Just give it to me.
Cheez Doodle haiku:
Pleez don't skimp on cheez.
It's my fondest snack food wish.
More cheez, less doodle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The softening of society, Part 1

Candy cigarettes predispose children who play with them to smoke the real things later, new research concludes. The look-alikes made of candy or gum are marketing and advertising tools that desensitize kids and open them moreso to the idea of smoking later on, says study leader Jonathan Klein of the University of Rochester. Candy cigarettes cannot be considered simply as candy, Klein said.
22 percent of current or former smokers had also regularly consumed candy cigarettes, while only 14 percent of those who have never smoked had eaten or played with candy cigarettes often or very often.
OK, Jon, count me in with the 14 percenters. Actually, 22 percent versus 14 percent sounds inconclusive to me, but then, I'm not a paid "study leader". When I was a kid (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I remember going to the little general store and buying giant bubble gum cigars. They even had little paper bands. I also bought little paper toy cigarettes that blew a little puff of "smoke" when I blew through it.
We had candy cigarettes in a little paper box. They were spearmint or peppermint flavored, and brittle. They snapped in half when we bit into them. I like candy, and luckily for me, I can tell the difference between candy and a cigarette. The candy ones had bubble gum inside or were hard and brittle like - umm - candy. I have never tried to light a Clark bar, and I don't smoke Butterfinger's. They're crispety, crunchety and peanut-buttery! Cigarettes are made from tobacco. It isn't that I'm so smart, it's just that I have keen senses of taste and smell. Add to that the fact that both my mom and dad smoked cigarettes, yet I do not. There's a study for ya.
I don't smoke and never have. Cigarette smoke repulses me and I don't care to be around people who smoke. Pipe smoke is slightly less offensive, and I really don't see the appeal of cigars, either.
I would ask Mr. Klein why we cannot consider candy to be simply candy. Perhaps the 25,887 adults you surveyed should have been asked additional questions, such as ... Are you easily persuaded by the opinions of others? Do you have a phallic fascination with having something in your mouth at all times? Or simply, do you like to smoke cigarettes?
If the answer to any or all of those questions is "yes", then maybe candy is just candy. If it wasn't, then I would probably be typing this with one hand and flicking a butt with the other.
Who pays for this crap? Maybe if we followed the money (as the saying goes) we could find out what the point of this is. Otherwise, it strikes me as yet another way that we over-protect kids, which I believe only serves to soften them to the harsh realities of life. Sadly, they (and we) won't know the full detrimental effects of such protectionism until they are well into adulthood and appear to be shocked, offended or disappointed by the things that the real world throws at them on a regular basis. Without mom and dad to protect them they will be forced to fend for themselves.
Candy cigarettes are the tip of the iceberg. These soft bastards have it easy. When I was a kid, we rode bicycles without helmets, rode in cars without seat belts, walked a mile to get the school bus - also without a seat belt, went in swimming 10 minutes after eating lunch, inhaled second-hand smoke in the front seat of mom's car, rode our bicycles behind the mosquito spray truck, played baseball without a cup, never washed our hands or used "anti-bacterial" goop, listened to Black Sabbath, watched TV from two feet away - including cigarette ads, ate Pixie Stix straight from the tube until our lips were blue and ... screw that Home Alone kid - we were the original Latchkey Kids.
So eat your candy cigarettes and shut up.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Weasels in their various forms

Here is tonight’s forecast from the good folks at Pretty boring stuff, eh? However, I’m still not sure whether I should take my umbrella, since there appears to be a slight chance of rain, even though I won't need it for more than an hour. Or maybe I should take my twenty percent umbrella, which works eighty percent of the time?
What meteorological phenomenon occurs between 4pm and 7pm to reduce the chance of rain to zero? C’mon, weather guessers; you know the chance at 4pm is zero, too. Your problem is that you want to hedge your bets, like those snow forecasts where you tell us that we will get between 2 and 6 inches of snow. That’s a big range. I won’t stay home for 2 inches, but I will for 6. Then, when we get 6 you tell us you were right. "See ... six inches, just like we said." Weasels.
Here’s a news flash: It ain’t gonna rain tonight. Zero chance. Not 10% or 20%. What in Hell is a 20% chance anyway? Either you think it’s going to rain or not.

Meanwhile, over in the south side of town, the local baseball squad, The Phillies, are fast becoming leaders in at least one thing – weasel moves. They have trouble winning a lot of games, but they sure can spin a marketing campaign.
This interesting offer came today:

4 Game Pack
The only way to purchase tickets to the sold-out Independence Blue Cross Fireworks game on June 29 or the WB Mason Phillies Delivery Truck giveaway on June 30 is with a Phillies 4 Game Pack.

So, is the game sold out or not? Apparently not, but if you want to go, they are going to squeeze you a little. If a family wants to take their kids to see the fireworks, they can cough up another $300 for three other games – which they probably don’t want to see – because God forbid they only want to see one game, especially if that game is sold out. Huh?
The sad (sadder) part is that this intimidating marketing technique must work, or else they wouldn’t use it. In baseball parlance, it’s called a Squeeze Play.
My question: What happens to the “sold out” tickets to the fireworks game if they don’t sell all the 4-game packs? Do they put them on sale as single-game tickets? If they do, then they would have to admit that the game was never really sold out to begin with - which it isn't, actually. Huh?
I say, put them in the tubes and shoot them out over center field along with a large group of people who run the team. Now there are some fireworks I’d pay to see.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Car-free Sunday

I was sort of rooting for Angel Cabrera to win the U.S. Open - sort of - until I saw him flick a cigarette butt on the 15th fairway during Sunday's final round. Did somebody pick it up? Until today, the only player I ever saw smoking on the course was Rosie Jones many years ago. Some habits are hard to break. The weird part of me (is there not a weird part?) was rooting for Bubba Watson, since he's left-handed, and I can use all the lefty's I can get if I'm ever going to take up this game. I find myself reversing all the advice I see on TV - right is left - and filing it in my head for future reference. Mickleson is a lost cause.
Tiger came up a little short, and I suppose most media outlets were praying for a Father's Day win for the expectant father, but sometimes you cannot plan history. The other thing that I found interesting is how TV can make a golfer look as though he is out there alone without a playing partner. Having come from the McDonald's Championship last week and watching while the leaders waited patiently for their also-ran partner to hole out, I was reminded of how TV coverage cuts to someone else playing another hole while the partner hits. It's one of those perspectives that one earns from seeing a game in person, and later on TV.
I also am fascinated by the logos that the players wear. Nike on Tiger's cap (and the TW logo on his caddy, which I figure is some sort of contract deal), PING on Cabrera's cap and a host of others who use the stuff for the exchange for the free advertising that the companies get on TV while the players are roaming the course.
I watched the tournament on Hi-Definition TV. I find myself a fully willing participant of the digital TV age. As you remember, last week my TV took a dump, so I quickly ran to Best Buy and chose an Insignia 37" LCD TV, with which I could not be happier. I signed up for digital cable, thinking that the digital experience would be all encompassing, but I quickly learned that something was missing. Once I started scrolling through the hundreds of channels, I found that the Hi-Def channels required an additional subscription. Figures.
So, I called Comcast and found that the HDTV package was a mere $5 a month. This gives me access to Hi-definition local channels, plus ESPN, TNT, Fox and several others - most of which will be fully realized once football season starts. Today, I watched the Phillies, part of the NASCAR on TNT, and the Open on NBC Hi-Def where I had a splendid view of dimpled golf balls in sand traps and sweat beads on Tiger's face. if you are TV shopping, I can highly recommend the LCD set and its accompanying Hi-Def cable set-up, which is worth much more than the five bucks they charge, but don't tell them that.
I did, however, have to go to Comcast and pick up a new box - roughly the size of a small car - to retrieve the HDTV signals. I got it home only to find that there was no power cord. That's pretty important, I thought, so back I went. The cord was waiting on the counter, as though the clerk figured, "He'll be back for this," so when I went back, I didn't even finish the sentence; "I didn't get a..." before I had the cord. Clowns.
I'm partial to the look of LCD TVs, even though a "well-informed" friend told me that DTV was the best - "The mirrors" and all - but I like the matte look of LCD, and there's no light reflection, which is a problem where I am. I had to get over my brand bias and go with the Best Buy Insignia brand. On the big wall at the store, it looked identical (if not a little better) than the Phillips or LG sets that were beside it, and $300 less. Now, I see they are for sale for $200 less than I paid last week. How much do you want to bet that I can't go back to Best Buy on Tuesday after work and get their low-price guarantee?
Car-free Sunday entered it's second weekend. The bike has been a blessing, and today I used it to ride to Subway for a lunch-time sandwich (before the U.S. Open and another disappointing Phillies game) and a late-day trip to the gym, 16.2 miles total - while the car sat still without using costly gasoline and generating a side benefit of helping me lose a few pounds and get a little healthier.
I fear that if I ever take up golf, I will have to take up smoking to calm my nerves, so maybe I'll stick with the bike.