Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend refrigerator.

Saying that we aren't allowed to do something is the best way to get us to do something.
Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I would have passed by the Four Loko display at my local liquor store without a sideways glance. Tonight, however, I glanced directly at it and brought home a couple of cans of the stuff to sample over the weekend.
Thanks, FDA, for drawing attention to a potentially death-inducing drink. You're doing your job.
I waited until the weekend because I figured, if the stuff is going to cause me a near-death experience (as the FDA would have us believe) then I'd have at least 24 hours to recover before I had to go back to work on Monday. That should leave enough time to get the breathing tube out of my throat, transfuse my blood and discharge me from the hospital. I need a couple of hours to pack my lunch and do some laundry.
So, there it is, on the top shelf of the fridge. Lemon lime and Orange blend. Between the Almond Breeze and the Cod Liver Oil. Hey, if I'm going to die, I want to make a nice looking corpse.
The beer in the middle is Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron, a 12% alcohol brown ale that has everything Four Loko has except the fruity flavor and caffeine. That means I can pass out peacefully instead of doing crazy stuff like calling people at 2:00am and running around my condo naked. Well, sometimes I run around naked anyway, but I draw the line at calling people after 10:00pm. Just saying.
I'll file a full report on Sunday, after I am discharged. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing with the Politics.

I stopped watching Dancing with the Stars a few years ago, when they ran out of stars. I'm still fascinated by the concept, however, and I follow the show in absentia by reading the news stories that circulate after each results show.
I notice that Sarah Palin's devil spawn, Bristol is still on the show in spite of being given low scores by the show's judges, to the point of having to defend herself for being there. Rational thinking people say she is a bad dancer, yet she continues on the show, presumably because of the votes she gets from the viewers. She gets tons of them, no doubt from the Tea Baggers that support her mother.
Somebody should check to see whom the show's producers supported for president in 2008 and where their money goes. It says here that they are probably big supporters of the Republican party and have figured out a way to use their television show to put their favorite candidate front and center. I smell a conspiracy.
Sarah's new book, America by Heart comes out on the 23rd. Her dopey reality TV show debuted last Sunday - and now the kid is carrying the family torch on that Dancing show. It's a perfect storm of events and it's no coincidence. I'd bet a week's pay she wins. Even if she doesn't, it's a big win for ABC, who had no stars of note on the show, so having a Palin in the mix only serves to pump up their ratings and inspire people like me to mention it. That's the state of modern entertainment. Mix it with politics, get people riled up and create a buzz.
It's a shame that television has such a powerful influence over our lives. As though it wasn't enough that a TV show stretched the boundaries of entertainment to include a politician's daughter and call her a "star." We have to be subjected to the public's insatiable desire to prove a point - to the point that they would use the TV show to make a political statement, which is exactly what is going on here.
The sad part is, it's being fully funded by the American Broadcasting System, and you're all along for the ride. Well, America is along for the ride. I'm just reading and writing about it.
OK, maybe I'm along for the ride too.
But what scares me about this little exercise is that the Palin's are being foist upon America, and whether we like it or not, they are in the public eye, led by Sarah's hot mom persona, which she plays to the hilt. It's all about image and form over substance. Television is the perfect media for such things, and it is all too happy to cooperate.
There are thousands of hours to program over hundreds of channels. The days are gone when there were three major networks and a handful of local stations. Now, we have almost 800 different channels on our cable systems, and each one of them has a full day's programming to put together. They give us junk like celebrity dancing contests and failed politicians touring their home state in a recreational vehicle. It's a sad state of affairs.
I just hope we wake up at some point, but I fear that the show will continue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kookoo for loco.

One of the great things about great things is not letting anybody in on the greatness. Usually, some professional buzz killer gets wind of it and snuffs it out in a wave of government legislation or a massive lawsuit that renders the greatness ... well, not so great.
The latest, greatest product that is destined to meet its governmental doom is Four Loko, a blend of 12% alcohol and the caffeiene equivalent of about 5 cups of coffee. Like Buzz Beer in the old The Drew Carey Show, it's designed to let you get drunk and stay up so you can get drunk again. Quite a concept.
Lately, some stupid college kids have OD'ed on the stuff and have been injured and/or carted off to local hospitals with dazed expressions and the confusion of a person who doesn't know whether to pass out or go bowling. It's a strange sensation, and the youth of America apparently do not know how to deal with the miracles of modern alcoholic science.
There are plenty of high-alcohol beers around. Weyerbacher makes one called Quad that is 12% ABV, and there are several others that are in the 9% to 11% range. They are best consumed at home or in a room without sharp objects or hard furniture.
Four Loko has been sold in the United States since 2005. Between then and about a month ago, if you said the words four and loko together, three people in a thousand would know what you're talking about. As they say, it's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.
In October 2010, following the hospitalization of seventeen students and six visitors, Ramapo College of New Jersey banned the possession and consumption of Four Loko on its campus. As a result, Worcester State University stopped the sale of all energy drinks and it as well as Boston College have informed their students of the risks involved in consuming Four beverages.
In November, other colleges joined in the effort to inform their students about Four energy drinks. University of Rhode Island, Mount St. Mary's University, Temple University, Niagara University,St. Thomas Aquinas College and Wentworth Institute of Technology have placed outright bans on the consumption of the drink on their campuses.
Other efforts to control the statewide use of Four have been under way.
The Daily Collegian, Penn State's student newspaper reported that on November 1 the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board sent letters to all liquor stores urging distributors to discontinue the sale of the drink. The PLCB also sent letters to all Colleges and Universities warning them of the dangers of the drink. While the board has stopped short of a ban, it has asked retailers to stop selling the drink until FDA findings prove they are safe. Pennsylvania State Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown, however, seeks to introduce legislation to ban alcoholic energy drinks in the state.
Several stores, including
Tops Markets, Price Chopper and Wegmans have voluntarily pulled the product from their shelves. Shortly after these stores did so, Governor of New York David Paterson announced that Phusion was withdrawing the beverage from the state of New York as of November 19, 2010.

Now, there are stories that NY Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing the Obama administration to issue an outright ban on the product. If he doesn't do it, the FDA is poised to ban it. All because of some stupid kids who can't control themselves. Like they say, allit takes is one bad apple to spoil the bunch.
We only like beer that is Lite, and we tell people to "remember to drink responsibly," even though responsibility is the first thing that goes when we start drinking. Drinking and responsibility do not peacefully co-exist, regardless of the good wishes of the alcohol ads. Great products like Four Loko do not need advertising. Greatness is the best marketing principle.
Throughout our history, humans have sought creative ways to escape their reality. Usually, they're legal (like LSD) until some government do-gooder gets wind of it and deems it inappropriate for consumption by the rest of us. They're looking out for our best interests, so they say. What they are really doing is making it necessary for us to find another way to do it - or, as we see in this video, find a way to make our own fun.
Because there is nothing as determined as the human mind when it sets out to rid itself of itself.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yesterday and Today.

I'm fond of telling people that I've lived long enough to have endured every incarnation of audio and video since the dawn of the stuff. I'm not sure it's a proud accomplishment, rather something borne of longevity rather than some special skill.
The video history arc is significantly smaller, having only brought about video tape and DVD. Although, we were faced with the initial choice of VHS or Betamax - at the time a startlingly difficult one. The choice involved a significant monetary expense, and we thought at the time that it would be one from which there would be no escape.
Then, along came the DVD, and life got a little more complicated. As with the last incarnation, it required more expensive equipment, but the bigger outlay would be the replacement of all the stuff we bought on video tape a scant 20 years earlier. That's generally the problem. Now, we are faced with the Blu Ray disc - the younger, smarter sibling of the DVD - but at least the transition is less painful, since our old DVDs still play in Blu Ray players. Whew.
The audio transitions have been more intricate and costlier. They, of course, started with vinyl records. Those of us in my age group have boxes full of the things. They had to be cared for with a newborn baby-like quality, dusted with all sorts of cloths and sprays that were themselves a cottage industry in the 1970s. For the record [pun] none of them worked as well as good old dish washing soap and warm water. We found that out the hard way.
Records gave way (in part) to tapes. The compact cassette tape became popular in the early 1970s and gave us a way to transfer our records to tapes and, so we were told, play the tapes so as not to wear out the records. It also gave us a way to make tapes of our favorite songs and take them with us. Conveniently, they provided pre-recorded music on cassette tape, and once again, we found out the hard way that cassettes were the inferior medium when compared with records.
The 8-track tape made a brief appearance (probably due to aggressive marketing) but I never gave into it. The tapes were large and bulky, and would routinely fade out during a song, make a loud clicking noise (changing to the next track) and pick up the remainder of the song. I never understood their popularity.
The revolutionary change came with the compact disc. I loved them from the start. No noise, no skips, and all you had to do was take them out and put them back in the plastic box. They were much easier to care for and much smaller than the LP record, and they held more music - a win-win. Once again, however, it required the transfer from our old records to the new medium. More money, more problems.
But it didn't stop there. The record industry, never at a loss for ways to make us part with our money, introduced the mp3 digital format. You could fit thousands of songs on a single CD (they were still good for something) and if you wanted (for another expense) you could buy an mp3 player.
So, for those of us who keep thinking that the latest incarnation is always the best and last, it could mean that you have the same LP on as many as 4 different media. I started thinking about this as Apple (the computer company) said that the Beatles' Apple catalog (the record company) would now be available on iTunes' web site for download. Individual songs will cost $1.29, LPs $12.99 and you can buy the entire catalog for $149, probably the same amount you would have spent for all their vinyl albums in the 1960s.
Can we be naive enough to think that this latest incarnation is the last and best? After all, what can be better than digital media? There isn't even a surface to put it on, just a chip, which is virtually air space. The players are the size of a pack of gum, and if you didn't need a display, they could be the size of your finger nail. The sound quality is flawless and noiseless, you can't break it and every copy sounds exactly like the last one.
What could possibly be better than that? I'll let you know in 20 years when the next format comes out. At this point, it might have to be a chip they implant in your head so you can hear the songs in your head just like you do now - only you'll have to pay for it.
The true meaning of "a penny for your thoughts."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here she comes again.

She has been lurking around, griping and yelling about things she doesn't understand, giving speeches and getting her face on TV. Now, she's invading our homes (well, maybe your home) on a weekly basis with the latest in a seemingly endless stream of so-called reality shows.
Sarah Palin.
The TV show is called "Sarah Palin's Alaska," and it features her and her clan of cave bears and illigitimate children hunting, fishing, boating and doing all those things that Alaskans are famous for. It's all designed to show what a "real person" Palin is, and how back-woodsy and interesting she is. That is, it's designed to make us forget what she is really like.
As if that wasn't enough (and it isn't) she has written another book (which no doubt, outnumbers the ones she has read) that is coming out on November 23. This one is called "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag" where she manages to get all 4 key catch words into one book title. Maybe she wanted to call it "Stuff I Think" but someone at Harper talked her out of it? She makes sure to put her face on the cover, which is her only redeeming characteristic.
She's hot - for a politician. Put her in your office building and she'll blend in like a soda machine. If she worked in my office building, people would complain about "that voice" and how they could hear her coming before they could see her. I'd also guess that she wears a lot of perfume. That's just a guess. Women like her enjoy smelling like women like her. You'd get that twitchy nose and hear that voice off in the distance: "Oh yeah, you betcha. I told ya he'd be like that. Ya know, it's a pra-blem." Do the voice in your head.
So, go ahead and watch the TV show and read the book. It's all about marketing now. She's priming herself for a run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, and all this stuff is nicely timed out. The books, TV shows and all the exposure. We'll be so sick of looking at her that she'll seem as though she has more experience than she really does - which is almost zero.
The bigger problem (pra-blem) is that the Republicans don't have much to offer that is better than Mama Grizzly. Mike Huckabee? Rick Santorum? Please. I can only hope that some dark horse steps up to claim the leadership role so that we don't have to even think about electing Palin.
Prepare yourself. The onslaught is starting. TV, books and media. The only thing left to assault our senses is if AirWick comes out with a line of room air fresheners that will make your whole house smell like Sarah's.
I'd guess her place reeks of pine.