Saturday, May 31, 2008

A dreary Saturday

We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
- Carl Sagan
I'm hearing a lot of whining about the current state of energy prices and their related articles like food and anything that has to be moved like airplanes and fat people. Gasoline is close to $3.90 a gallon here and I still see a lot of people driving like mental patients on holiday and single people in vehicles that could carry a soccer team. I wonder what it will take to get people to change their wasteful lifestyle, then I realize that we're a "morbidly obese" society and nothing that made us that way got us to change, so I suppose it's going to be business as usual and we'll just keep complaining.
CBS is showing ultimate fighting in prime time Saturday night. It's either a reaction to the dearth of programming in the wake of the writers' strike or a comment on the slow death of civilization. I'm thinking the latter. I'll be interested to see the ratings numbers, since it's on versus the NHL finals (on NBC) and stuff like Cops on Fox and a movie on ABC ("The Rookie"). It's beyond me why people would go out of their way to watch people beat each other up, but there are a lot of things that people do that are beyond me, so I suppose watching TV shows where guys beat each other senseless is at the bottom of the list.
Chief among them:
I've never understood the fascination with giant vehicles. Every time I see an H3 on the road, I'm tempted to ask the driver, "So, what branch of the military are you with?"
I still see people wandering out of the grocery store with carts full of plastic bags. I'm guessing they all go in the trash, since they're putting them in those giant vehicles.
I see a lot of people walking around with things in their ears. Bluetooth devices aired to cellular phones, as though they're going to miss an important phone call while they're shopping for underwear. Face it folks, you aren't that important. Miss a call once in a while. It's good for your soul.
Networks keep producing dopey "reality" shows, and supposedly we keep watching them. I think the genre jumped the shark a long time ago, but now I see that The Food Network has the "Next Food Network Star" coming, as though somebody on The Food Network is a star. Get a grip.
I still hear people saying that they don't want to talk about something because, "I don't want to jinx it", as though what they say has a profound effect on reality. If that were true, you wouldn't be as stupid as you are and your life would have turned out differently because your wishes would be realized. That's harsh, eh?
I went through a health screening last week. I was chastised for consuming sandwiches for lunch. "Those things are loaded with sodium!" I was told, as though I was smoking cigarettes or something. I wondered why a society that is supposed to be concerned with our health would allow such horrible substances to be sold. If processed meats are the downfall of our health, then perhaps the FDA should ban them from being sold and protect us from ourselves. Either we should be able to choose our fate or have it foist upon us. Take that logic to its extreme and you will legalize all drugs because the consumer's right to decide will dictate the market. If I am allowed to consume processed meat in sandwich form (and it's bad for my blood pressure) then why aren't I allowed to consume anything else I wish to consume? They'll sell me cigarettes if I want to buy them but I can't smoke marijuana because it is "illegal".

Friday, May 30, 2008

She's no Cy Young, but he's no Mariah Carey, either.

For those of you who may not know (or care), I think Mariah Carey is the hottest woman on the planet. The fact that she cannot throw a baseball (in 4-inch heels, no less) does nothing to change my opinion of her.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Funkin' Gonuts

BOSTON - Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism. The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled over the past weekend because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."
Seriously. Sometimes, I think people have too much time on their hands and too much influence. Rachel Ray - security threat.
Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves have come to symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.
Michelle Malkin. You remember her. She's the nut that made Absolut pull its ad because she thought it depicted the southwest as part of Mexico. It prompted a dozen calls. A dozen, and they caved. This time, all Malkin had to do was bark loud enough to make noise.
A statement issued Wednesday by Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc., however, said the scarf had a paisley design, and was selected by a stylist for the advertising shoot.
"Absolutely no symbolism was intended," the company said
But they pulled the ad anyway, thereby giving right-wing nutjobs like Malkin even more influence on American society. Maybe Malkin is the terrorist?
Malkin, in a posting following up on last week's column, said of Dunkin's decision to pull the ad, "It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists."
I think it's pathetic that an American company can be influenced by one person to the extent that they pull an ad because one person found a problem with it. I think it is a symptom of a bigger problem that exists in America that we have media people with an agenda who can make a name for themselves by pressuring companies to change something that the vast majority of people didn't recognize as a problem until they exerted their political viewpoint.
What a stupid world.

Schadenfreude. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - and you can't beat 'em.

Schadenfreude is enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else. German philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno defined it as "the largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate".

The Chinese call it xìngzāi lèhuò, or 幸災樂禍 - an old idiom that directly translates to "enjoying other's calamity and laughing at other's misfortune".
Yesterday, we discussed (well, I discussed) the opportunity in power tools brought about by the newfound gas-siphoning habit. Now, we will discuss (I will discuss) another opportunity to take advantage of the coming apocalypse. Spam. It's more than junk e-mail.
Hormel foods. What? What's a Hormel, you may ask. Hormel makes Spam, a breakfast treat enjoyed by millions of people who don't otherwise care about what they're putting into their body. So, why not take advantage of others' hardships and make some dough on that pasty meat-filler product? Ticket symbol: HRL.

Sales of Spam — that much maligned meat — are rising as consumers are turning more to lunch meats and other lower-cost foods to extend their already stretched food budgets. Food prices are increasing faster than they've risen since 1990, at 4 percent in the U.S. last year, according to the Agriculture Department. Spam's maker, Hormel Foods Corp., reported last week that it saw strong sales of Spam in the second quarter, helping push up its profits 14 percent. According to sales information coming from Hormel, provided by The Nielsen Company, Spam sales were up 10.6 percent in the 12-week period ending May 3.
Since you've probably missed the boat on the rise of McDonald's stock and have probably taken a hit over the big chill that has hit high-end retailers like Starbucks, Whole Foods Markets and Sharper Image, here is the next big thing, as they say. Schadenfreude.

Screw the hoi polloi. We're all doomed, so why not make a few bucks while the ship is sinking? They say you can't take it with you, but at least you can count it on the way down. The higher food and energy prices become, the more things "regular" people like us are going to have to sacrifice to keep our heads above water, which means paying the mortgage and cable TV.

People like Dick Cheney have made a fancy living off the lower class struggles, so why shouldn't you get in on the party? The higher prices get, the more popular junk like Spam and fast food will become. 99-cent value meals will be the new caviar. Hoards of families will flock to the local fast food joint or the bargain aisle of the supermarket and let the cholesterol and fat be damned. The kids gotta eat. How long do you think we can stretch $30,000 a year when it takes fifty bucks to fill the gas tank and $300 a month to heat the place? Think about it. It ain't pretty, and neither is Spam.

We're already the fattest people on the planet, and the rising costs of energy and food will do nothing to stem that tide, so why not take advantage of others' distress? Spam is 170 calories per serving and 140 of them come from fat. You do the math. Next on the list will be cholesterol drugs (Pfizer) and health care (Humana) But, one crisis at at time.

To be fair, that "suffering" and "other's calamity" involves me too, but I still ain't eating Spam.

Well, I'm off. It seems Tide needs my help. I received a distressed e-mail: In an effort to help Tide better meet your needs, you're invited to take a brief, 5 to 10 minute survey regarding your opinions and feelings about laundry. Your answers will be completely confidential. That's nice. I wouldn't want my innermost feelings about laundry to be plastered all over the Internet.

Let's keep my dryer sheet habit between us, OK?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Black gold. Texas tea.

I check every morning when I go to the parking lot to get in my car to go to work. Since I live in a condo, and my place is on the opposite side of the parking lot (thanks, ex-wife) it's impossible to know if someone has been fiddling with my car while I sleep. So far, I've not noticed that there is anything missing.
The soaring price of crude oil has turned gas tanks into a cache of valuable booty, and repair shops have replaced several tanks punctured or drilled by thieves thirsting for the nearly $4-a-gallon fuel inside. "That's the new fad," said Dale Forton, the co-owner of Dearborn Auto Tech in Detroit. "I'd never seen it before gas got up this high."
While gas station drive-off's and siphoning are far more common methods of stealing gas, reports of tank and line puncturing are starting to trickle into police departments and repair shops across the country.

"Gas is liquid gold these days, and has been for the last year-and-a-half," Troy Police Lt. Gerry Scherlinck said. "I would anticipate seeing more of these kinds of incidents as the price continues to go up."

More on that later...
Of course, maybe I'm not looking in the right place. I come from the generation who merely siphoned gas during the oil embargo of the late 1970s when gasoline was ... gasp ... over 60 cents a gallon. Now, they're using power tools...

Denver Police Detective John White sees this "new way of siphoning gas" as a bigger problem.
"What made this particular method so dangerous and concerning for us was the way in which they were doing it - using cordless drills to puncture holes in these tanks," he said of the rash of cases his department has investigated this spring. "The heat, friction generated could have easily sparked a fire. It just made for a dangerous situation for the suspects and the Tank puncturing has yet to reach the radar screens of law enforcement organizations such as the National Sheriffs' Association, or the Automotive Service Association, a group that represents independent garage operators community
The cost of replacing a metal tank on passenger vehicles is between $300 and $400, and the plastic tank common on newer vehicles would be at least $500.
Now ... a little math.
For the record (as if that matters) 1 gallon of gasoline weighs 8.66 pounds, or (for argument's sake) 140 ounces. Gold is $907 an ounce, and at $4 a gallon that makes gasoline 3 cents an ounce - or not quite "liquid gold".
The quote about gasoline being "liquid gold" might be a bit of an exaggeration (might?) but it's certainly easier to find, so one would think that the lack of effort and the relative simplicity of acquiring it would make up for some of the price. Plus the fact that gasoline is ... well ... useful in everyday life and gold is ... well ... not. While we're at it, how much is bottled water per gallon? Never mind.
Maybe stealing gasoline ain't that bad an idea? Buy some Sears stock and pass the power drill.
Meanwhile, keep your eyes on that puddle beneath your car.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A memorable Memorial Day.

"The new Indiana Jones movie opened this weekend. Indy's not much of a treasure hunter anymore. In the new movie, he goes out to his mailbox to look for his stimulus check."
- David Letterman

I know you’re dying to know, so the official mileage count from Monday’s bike ride was 76 miles. To put it in perspective (if that’s possible) it’s roughly the distance between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio or from Baltimore, Maryland to Wilmington, Delaware. Of course, that means I’d be stuck in Dayton or Wilmington, which would make the return trip both agonizing and necessary.
I know you already think I’m a little nutty, so I don’t feel the need to explain. I suppose misery loves company, as do bike riders. We had a 5-man group pushing and pulling each other along. It was a nice ride through some of southern New Jersey’s farmland, most of which is downwind from the nuclear plant. It was my longest ride of the season, and the first in some warm weather. The temperature got into the low 80s and even with a liberal dousing of sunscreen, I still wound up with some patchy sunburn which I can’t be sure is from the sun or the radiation.
We don’t ride continuously, as though that makes any more sense to you. We work in a few little stops along the way to discuss the route and make plans, with one lengthy stop in the little town of Quinton (near Salem) to re-load the water bottles and allow our joints to stiffen. We left at 8:45am and arrived back at the starting point a little after 1:00pm. By my clock, the average speed was 18.6mph. Not bad for a bunch of old guys (minus 1) riding around in a circle.
Needless to say, I’m not riding today. I’m still standing, so I have that going for me, which is nice.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Car-free Sunday

I know most of you are feeling this gasoline price thing much more than we "lucky" people here in New Jersey, but even at 3.759 bicycle transport is a good idea. I thought it was a good idea last year when the price was 2-something, so I'm not a good person to ask.
For part 3 of Holiday Photo Weekend, I'll take you on a tiny tour of my corner of the world that we call West Deptford Township. That's the sign at the local WAWA, which isn't actually in West Deptford. It's in Woodbury Heights, which probably doesn't mean a lot more to you than West Deptford, but if you lived here, you'd know the difference.
Today's jaunt was one of my regular trips, to the fitness center in town called River Winds. It's a 6-mile ride from home. It's about 7 years old, and you have to be a township resident to join. The fee is about $16 a month which makes it hard to beat, fitness-center-wise. There are also athletic fields that the local youth leagues use, an indoor Olympic size swimming pool and just about every piece of weight equipment you could imagine, as well as treadmills, stair climbers and all those other machines that were designed to do something that you'd generally be better off doing on the actual terrain that they simulate. I often wonder how many people who spend a half hour on the stair machine are the first ones in line for the escalator at the mall?

This is the building. It sits right on the banks of the Delaware River, which I suppose is how they came up with the name. It was built on ground that was formerly Wetlands, and when the petition went around to ask our opinion, I opposed using the wetlands site for construction. Since then, they built a golf course, started construction on a restaurant and there is a hotel proposed, so I'm thinking that my opinion was highly valued.
The golf course is apparently a dangerous place, as I found when I peddaled down the road to the entrance.
"No bicycles, jogging, dog walking or sight-seeing." Technically, I was doing 2 of those 4 things, so I guess I should feel lucky that the local police didn't haul me downtown.

The sign isn't clear as to where the "danger" is. It's either in the 4-mph electric golf carts or the errant shots from the numerous hackers that come out to play the course.
Lucky for me I was wearing a helmet.

Hardly a day goes by that somebody doesn't ask me, "Show me your bike." This is the commuter bike I use to tool around town. They're real babe-magnets, as you can see. Women love a guy with panniers and a trunk-bag.
It's hard to tell if this is a beach on the south of France or a lovely resort town in Bermuda. It's neither. It's the smelly shore of the Delaware River, directly across from the Philadelphia International Airport and a few miles downwind of the great city itself. Romantic couples often share a picnic lunch on the river in the hopes of catching a passing plane crash or watching an oil tanker chug by on its way to one of the numerous refineries.
This is the famous bike shop where I bought the famous bike. It's less than a half mile from home. I bought both of my bikes there, but the other one is practically useless in everyday life. The shop was recently remodeled, which is nice. I was afraid they were going to move, and if the shop moved, I'd have to move, too.

Across the road is the supermarket/liquor store/abandoned retail store and Staples. Around town, we call this "one-stop shopping". Most days, I walk to the store, and I'm so spoiled that I generally just buy a few things, since it's so close that I just go back the next time I need something. The liquor store is especially handy.
This is the view down the road, looking west toward Woodbury. Down the road a couple of miles is the WAWA and a Subway that makes a nice lunch sandwich. It's an easy ride down.

So, that was pretty much my day. Out to River Winds to lift weights and sweat a little, to the shop to pick up some bike stuff and down the big hill to the local Subway for a lunch/dinner sandwich. (I break the 12-inchers in half). Overall, the official mileage count was 16.2 miles.

Tomorrow, I'll be back on the "useless" road bike for a ride that is going to be at least 60 miles with my usual group. Since I'm a sucker for peer pressure, I might be tempted to extend the ride 20 or 30 miles. Ya never know.
Then, Monday night I'll be at Citizens Bank Ballpark for the Phillies versus the Colorado Rockies. It's Dollar-Dog night at the ballpark, so after all this bike work, I might be justified in downing a few hot dogs for dinner.

Just don't allow yourself to forget what the holiday means.