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September 29, 2006

friday news briefs

State and federal authorities are considering what actions to take against what they have identified to be the single largest contributor to the growing levels of hazardous bacteria in Washington DC metropolitan waterways:

Wildlife.

With wanton disregard for others, wildlife has been fouling our rivers and streams for years in the thoughtless pursuit of self interest. Protected by powerful, well-heeled Washington lobbyists with their fancy North Face Parkas and expensive Asolo mountaineering boots, it will be difficult to make these miscreants pay for their misdeeds but if we stand together, if we work together, we can ensure a future of clean water for ourselves and for our children.

But until that time, be on the lookout for these environmental criminals. Don’t be fooled by their slick talk, doe-eyed innocence or soft cushy fur. These animals are a dangerous threat.

Bambi_2 Pepe_le_pew_2 Caddyshack_gopher_1


President Bush made significant progress this week in mediating the simmering feud between Pakistan and Afghanistan by convincing President Pervez Musharraf to agree to send Afghan President Hamid Karzai a bumper baby basket. The tasteful gift included comfy slippers, a terry robe and some nighttime skin rejuvenation gel. Afghan National Security Advisor Zalmai Rasool called it “a real icebreaker.”

A great deal of controversy surrounds the passage of a bill that would strip many of the rights of US citizens from people who are not US citizens however it must be remembered that the legislation represents a significant compromise. While the White House had originally fought for the right to make believe that terrorist suspects didn’t exist (considered “too Stalin”) Democrats had to abandon their proposal to engage in an emergency air drop of lawyers and paralegals throughout the mountainous Afghanistan border region along with the necessary field rations of lattes, cinnamon-raisin scones, and teeth whiteners (considered “too pricey”).

Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, resigned today after it was discovered that he had sent emails of questionable taste and possible sexual content to an under-aged male page last August. When asked, his Democratic opponent in the upcoming congressional elections, Tim Mahoney, denied having anything to do with the release of the emails. But then, maybe that’s his own “dirty little secret.”

Following reports that Al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahri called Pope Benedict a “charlatan” and Christianity “unacceptable to a sensible mind,” police and paramilitary units throughout the United States, Canada and Europe were told to prepare for widespread acts of leisure and sporadic incidents of relaxation.

J.

September 29, 2006 at 06:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2006

butter: the new health food

Nutrition experts and medical authorities have become increasingly desperate to warn us against the many health hazards of consuming trans fatty acids urging us to switch to safer alternatives. The situation is made all the more dire in that these trans fats are ubiquitous throughout our diet. How did we come to such a sorry state of affairs?

Nutrition experts and medical authorities had become increasingly desperate to warn us against the many health hazards of consuming saturated fats and had urged us all to switch to safer alternatives. 

Such as trans fatty acids.

Or, as the Harvard School of Public Health notes, switching from butter or lard to healthy vegetable oil “seemed to make sense” at the time.

So, not exactly one for the nutrition hall of fame.

But this time you can be sure they’ve got it right. (Pretty sure. Well, let’s call it 50-50 to be safe.) And so efforts have been made over the past several years to properly educate the public through advertising campaigns and new labeling requirements. In fact, these efforts have been so successful that major manufacturers and even fast-food giant Wendy’s are moving to reduce or eliminate trans fats from their offerings. This has helped to usher in a new dawn of consumer empowerment in which informed individuals use the power of choice to help shape the free market to their own diverse needs and interests. 

This, of course, cannot be allowed to continue.

That’s why we desperately need a law, and so New York City’s health department is proposing an outright ban on trans fatty acids. This follows bans on smoking, loud music, dancing and adult entertainment turning New York City into little more than an east-coast version of Portland, OR, only without the lightheadedness you get from having entirely too much oxygen in your air.

This new proposal follows last year's request by the health department for a “strictly voluntary” halt in the use of trans fatty acids, however city restaurants mysteriously believed that “voluntary” suggested they had a choice in the matter when in fact “voluntary” means you have a choice of when to comply: Now, or later.

Among the groups supporting such laws is “Ban Trans Fats” led by Stephen L. Joseph, famous for suing Kraft over their marketing of trans-fat-laden Oreo cookies. But let’s be clear, the lawsuit “wasn’t about adults,” it only (and long-time readers already saw this coming) “concerned children.” “Can a six-year old make an intelligent choice about what to eat?” asks Mr. Joseph. Of course not! But then, a six-year old can’t make an intelligent choice about the relative merits of term vs. whole life insurance either which is where the role of parents comes into play.

But, as Mr. Joseph points out, what if the parents make decisions different from ones that someone as smart and educated (and let’s face it, pretty damn handsome) as Mr. Joseph would make? That’s why laws are necessary to ensure that people behave like adults, and by “like adults” we mean, “like Stephen L. Joseph.” 

You see, “choice” is good! 

So long as you make the right one.

J.

September 27, 2006 at 05:28 PM in Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 26, 2006

where’s al gore when you don’t need him?

So, they weren't able to move you to action back in January with claims that it’s the warmest it’s been in 100 years.

So in June they upped the ante to 2000 years figuring that was sure to get a rise out of you. Still, nothing.

Okay Mr. Complacent Non-Hybrid-Driving Leave-The-Lights-On-All-Day Mother-Earth Despoiler, try this on for size: It’s the warmest it’s been in ONE MILLION YEARS! 

Well, okay, not quite yet but according to research led by James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, were the earth’s temperature to continue to increase to the point where it reached the warmest level in one million years, it would be at the warmest level in ONE MILLION YEARS!

Kind of makes you think.

Sure, it’s hard to grasp exactly how great a length of time a million years is but to give you some idea, try to imagine yourself sitting down to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Now imagine yourself watching it all the way to the end.

That’s kind of like what a million years feels like.

Why does Hansen believe that temperatures will continue to rise even though they already stopped doing so eight years ago? 

It’s the law.

For those of you concerned with how this looming calamity might affect you there is a handy tool I came across that allows you to zoom in on your own neighborhood to see how it would fare given the doomsday scenario of your choice. We discovered that here at Planet Moron headquarters a 10-meter rise in sea levels would leave us high and dry but would flood out Reagan National Airport. That means we would get to keep our house AND enjoy quiet evenings outside on the patio absent all the passenger air traffic.

Kind of a win-win for us.

How about those of you who own coastal property in the Outer Banks of North Carolina?

Not so much.

Public officials in King County, Washington have become so concerned about global warming that they are creating a handbook to help citizens and city managers cope with the coming changes however we suspect that the accelerating rate of worldwide global warming hysteria mongering will require some quick updates to the proposed table of contents:

  • Molten Rivers of Lava: Common Sense "Dos and Don’ts"
  • Fishing Tips for Salmon That’s Already Poached
  • Adequately Addressing the Desperate Needs of Displaced Ski Instructors
  • “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Kudzu” and Other Updated Holiday Classics.
  • Striking the Right Balance Between Civic Mindedness and Roving Hordes of Mindless Mutant Zombies Given Finite Public Resources.

As for us, we'll be listening out for the telltale signs of rampant global warming: The splashing sounds a 737 makes when landing in a foot of water.

J.

September 26, 2006 at 05:41 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

monday news briefs

While a dim memory for many, the FBI has continued to work diligently on the case of the anthrax attacks that rocked the nation in the aftermath of the events of 9/11. After five years of exhaustive field work and tireless investigation, the FBI has managed to narrow its search down to “an almost endless list of possible suspects in scores of countries around the globe.”

Ruling out alien involvement is believed to have given the investigation “a real boost.”

Muslims continue to be outraged over the Pope’s refusal to come fully to terms with the comments he had made a week earlier, not only refusing to apologize directly for his remarks but also refusing to convert to Islam or maybe just cutting the head off a Cardinal or two.

Even if only as a goodwill gesture.

Controversy surrounds a 9/11 memorial in Arizona due to what many believe is questionable content. This is mostly due to a misunderstanding regarding who was to be memorialized. After all, it was the United States that carelessly, and with complete disregard to the potential hazards it might cause to inexperienced hijackers, erected two buildings right smack dab in the middle of the sky.

We are merely paying for our own arrogance.

Smokers of “light” cigarettes are seeking $200 billion in damages in a class-action lawsuit based on a study that found that if smokers had known of the health risks of smoking light cigarettes they would have demanded 50% to 80% discounts on the cost of a pack.

Sure, death is bad, but you know how those smokers are, they know they wouldn’t have passed up a bargain like that.  "Near-certain illness and/or disability?  Well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on a coupon if you want me to keep smoking."

Three women are pursuing a lawsuit against Bacardi which they hold directly responsible for injuries they suffered after a bottle of the company’s 151 Rum became like a “flamethrower.” How could Bacardi have prevented this tragedy? A simple label warning people against the potential dangers of pouring rubbing alcohol on a bar, lighting it on fire, forcibly removing the safety cap on the 151 Rum specifically designed to guard against potential fire hazards, and then adding a paper menu to the resulting conflagration all while in a crowded bar.

Like that hasn’t happened to you.

J.

September 25, 2006 at 09:56 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2006

the good news is your data is safe. well, probably.

The Census Bureau has over the past five years managed to lose hundreds of laptops containing an unknown amount of personal information on US Citizens.

It’s easy to see how this could happen and we should try to be more understanding. All it takes is one person to make a careless mistake. Then another. And another. And another. And another and another and another and…

But this kind of loss must be put in perspective. It’s not as if federal, state and local government agencies and private institutions are losing our personal data every single day.

Why, it appears September 12 was loss-free!

Fortunately, I am immune from this latest data loss. During the last census in 2000 I received the “short form” but still only filled in the number of people living in our household leaving the rest of the form blank in the belief that that was adequate to fulfill the Constitution’s requirement for a decennial “enumeration.” While perhaps it was an oversight on the part of the framers, there is nothing in the text of the Constitution emphasizing the importance to the Republic that the sacred blessings of corporate data mining and better-targeted laundry detergent promotions be preserved.

Oh sure, I was risking severe federal penalties that could easily have reached ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for my refusal to buckle under to “the man.” But can you really put a price on principle? (Yes, $101.)

Eventually, they tracked me down and some poor part-time mom working for the Census Bureau gave me a call. What follows is a faithful recreation of my phone conversation with her:

Census Taker: I need to follow up on the census form you filled out.
Me: Uh, huh.
Census Taker: May I ask you the racial makeup of your household?
Me: No.
Census Taker: No?
Me: No.
Census Taker: Why not?
Me: I don’t want to tell you.
Census Taker: Um, okay. Well, can I ask you whether you own or rent?
Me: Nope.
Census Taker: No?
Me: No.
Census Taker: (exasperated) You’re not going to tell me whether you own or rent?
Me: Nope.
Census Taker: Well, um, I really need to get answers to these questions.
Me: I appreciate that, but that’s really not my problem.
Census Taker: Okay, could you at least tell me your sex?
Me: (laughing) Yes, I’m male and my wife is female.
Census Taker: Okay then. And you don’t want to answer the other questions?
Me: That’s right.
Census Taker: (dejected) Okay, thank you, goodbye.

In its defense, Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez pointed out that while the Department of Commerce may be missing 1,137 laptops, it is important to remember the 28,863 laptops it didn’t lose.

It’s exactly those kinds of “success stories” the mainstream media just refuses to report.

J.

September 22, 2006 at 02:02 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2006

a very convenient melting

You know how you call a tall guy “shorty” and a bald guy “curly?” That’s not why the Vikings called Greenland, Greenland. (The Vikings probably weren’t real big on clever wordplay anyway.)

When initially settled by Norsemen 1000 years ago, Greenland was pretty green. It started becoming less green a few hundred years later eventually chasing the Vikings out with long harsh winters.

Well, it’s becoming greener again. This is bad for several reasons:

  1. It will be embarrassing to witness Norwegians setting out once again in glorious conquest armed only with universal child support vouchers and one-year paid maternity leaves.
  2. Muslims will feel compelled to become outraged and declare a jihad against the glaciers and their “cowardly retreat in the face of the righteous forces of Islam.”
  3. The above will cause Afghan President Hamid Karzai to become even more concerned over “increased western Islamaphobia,” the source of which remains a strange, possibly impenetrable mystery.

As are all natural phenomena, the retreating of Greenland’s glaciers is being blamed on global warming. What can we do to address the principle cause of global warming?

Sue the entire automobile industry.

Such is the courageous move of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, made all the more surprising by the fact that he is in the midst of an election campaign for state treasurer. Rather than address important global issues you’d think he’d be engaging in cheap political stunts but that’s just not the kind of guy he is.

By going after the auto manufacturers who have for years recklessly complied with all state and federal environmental laws, Lockeyer is attempting to address as much as 0.28% of the total source of greenhouse gasses.

Sure, that may not sound like much at first, but when you consider the high levels of post-production values of “An Inconvenient Truth” and its ominous musical score, it becomes difficult to ignore.

As Al Gore says in the film (quoting Upton Sinclair), “You can't make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it.”

He may just have a point.

J.

September 21, 2006 at 10:11 AM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 19, 2006

debris light, debris bright, first piece of debris I see tonight…

The scheduled landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was delayed after a mysterious object was observed floating near the orbiter. NASA experts plan to examine video taken of the object in an effort to identify it.

What could it be? Among the possibilities:

  • The long-sought Democratic position on the war in Iraq.
  • Whatever it is, Muslims expressed their outrage and demanded an immediate apology from the infidel object for its defamatory orbiting.  
  • So THAT’S where Saddam hid the WMDs.
  • Mel Gibson’s career (dismissed after it was determined that the object was not plummeting).
  • Box office expectations for “Snakes on a Plane,” last seen milling about Hollywood on or about August 17 and not seen since.
  • It’s like this, Shuttle Commander Brent Jett was flipping through the September Playboy when astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper comes walking in, there’s no place to hide it so…
  • Regardless of its composition, astronomers have already named it a planet just to really stick it to Pluto.
  • Although it may not be obvious at first, be sure to check local listings for the all-new “Live with Regis and Mysterious Unidentified Orbiting Space Debris!”

J.

September 19, 2006 at 11:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 18, 2006

turning japanese - everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger (part 8)

It wouldn’t be a genuine Planet-Moron style vacation without at least one night of going to bed with all your clothes on.   

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our second-to-last day was dedicated to seeing the Daibutsu, or “Great Buddha” in Kamakura. We got off one stop early at the Kitakamakura station to take a look at the Buddhist temples in the area as a kind of buildup to Big Bud.

We ended up finding a hiking trail to Daibutsu and thought that might be fun. I’ve been on a lot of so-called “hiking trails” that often turn out to be paved paths with guardrails and water fountains. This wasn’t one of those trails. This was one of those muddy, slippery, rocky, hilly trails not necessarily suitable for khakis. (I was wearing khakis.) About half way through a couple of Japanese schoolgirls passed the other way, impeccably dressed in their school uniforms, not a spec of mud to be found on them and singing out “konichiwa, konichiwa,” as they passed.  “It must not be that bad up ahead,” my brother says.

 Daibutsu_hiking_trail It was. The Japanese people are very big on personal hygiene and cleanliness in general (perhaps as a consequence of high population densities but then New York doesn’t exactly smell of lavender and lemons) and whether it’s eating or hiking a muddy trail, you will feel like a big oafish slob in comparison. More so than usual anyway.

It took us as much as an hour to hike the 2 to 3 kilometers to the Daibutsu and at one point we became concerned that this was going to turn out to be one of those Zen things in which the Daibutsu was merely a metaphor for the journey itself. But as we got closer we could see the tour busses and figured that no one ever achieved metaphysical oneness with nature by taking a Greyhound.

Daibutsu Daibutsu was not only real, but “big” as the name promises. We’re talking Ted Kennedy big, only without the permanent sense of moral outrage. Built over 700 years ago, 200 years before Columbus stumbled across America, and having survived a tsunami and an earthquake, the Daibutsu really makes you stop and contemplate life’s many questions. 

Like where were we going to have lunch. 

Enoshima_observation_tower We took a trolley down to Enoshima to find something to eat, and ended up going to the top of the observation tower there. Have I mentioned that my wife doesn’t much care for heights? This would be the second tower I dragged her up on this one trip (but hey, she makes me help her choose which color to paint the dining room from what appears to me to be a selection of completely identical samples so I consider us even).

We hit another tonkatsu place that evening but struggled some with the menu as it was written all in hiragana and kanji. Noticing this, the waitress brought us the “English” menu which simply translated the Japanese characters into the Roman alphabet helpfully enabling us to order the wrong things but with much better pronunciation.

Our last day, the one where I went to sleep with all my clothes on, was spent mostly on shopping and getting gifts for people. In America I am at best of average size. In Japan, the salesclerk at the department store Mitsukoshi in the Ginza area simply brought me the largest size they had of every item I wanted to try.

So, at least in one sense, I am "big in Japan."

A word of caution regarding exchange rates: Decimal points are important. I discovered this as my normally thrifty wife was setting aside some traditional Japanese wood block prints she liked. “You know these are $2200 a piece, right?” By the size her eyes got, that answer would be “no.”

That night we had dinner (and not an insignificant amount of sake and beer which explains my decision to skip the time-consuming process of getting undressed and instead going right to sleep) at Gonpachi, a happening yakaturi-soba place populated with Japanese hipsters and assorted gaijin in a newly built stylized interpretation of an old Japanese country house. The food was great. Chicken meatballs stuffed in shitake mushrooms grilled over an open flame on skewers? Why didn’t I think of that? Or minced tuna and scallions with a quail egg broken over the top served with toasted seaweed. I mean, “duh.”

But then, I knew it was going to be a good day as the soup du jour at the hotel’s breakfast buffet (yes, breakfast) that morning was bacon soup. How can you go wrong with bacon soup? Simple. You can’t.

Returning to the United   States from a country where rudeness and incivility are the exceptions was interesting. There was this one TSA agent manning the metal detector at the international terminal in Dallas who was intelligent and polite, and had gone through the trouble to learn some foreign phrases to better welcome visitors. We contemplated getting his name and writing the TSA complimenting him on his professional demeanor but thought better of it. We didn’t want to get the poor guy fired.

Upon my return, I did what every homeowner must do after having been away for a week:

Lawn_mushrooms I went and mowed the mushrooms.

J.

(We now return you to Planet Moron’s regularly scheduled political sniping and general buffoonery.)

September 18, 2006 at 04:31 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2006

turning japanese - oh it's in color, your hair is brown (part 7)

There are three things you should always look for in a wife:

  1. A commitment to be faithful and true.
  2. A kind, supportive nature.
  3. A willingness to get up at 5:00 AM to be surrounded by frozen fish carcasses.

Tsukiji_fish_market_tuna And so we found ourselves following my brother around the Tsukiji Market, the distribution point for essentially the entire day’s seafood catch for all of Tokyo. It is a working market and so you are in constant peril of being run over by a cart, scooter or truck and so must maintain an extreme awareness of your surroundings at all times to Tsukiji_market avoid being killed. It reminded me of taking the subway in Brooklyn at 3:00 AM only without the unpleasant odor.

One of the reasons you would get up at 5:00 AM to walk through a major fish distribution center (aside form the fact that you are a moron) is to take advantage of the many sushi restaurants that surround the market. This is as fresh as it gets short of diving into the ocean with a bowl of rice and soy sauce. Fresh sushi for breakfast is something I could get used to. But then I could also get used to a driveway full of Ferraris, the respect of my peers and the return of fiscal discipline to the federal government but I’m not going to get any of those either.

We later hit a Seibu department store in Shibuya which was described by my brother as a mid to upper class store, sort of like Macy’s. And he was exactly right, if by “Macy’s” he meant “Saks Fifth Avenue” since there are things in Macy’s I can actually afford.  Not only that, but the displays and layout make Macy's look like a Wal-Mart the day after 25%-off sale on paper plates and hosiery.

Tokyo_tower_view_1_1 Our hotel was within walking distance of Tokyo Tower so while my tireless tour guide of a brother was dealing with some work issues that came up back home, my wife and I decided to relieve him of at least this one tourist obligation. Not knowing anything (a kind of permanent state of existence for me) we came at the tower from what I’ll call the “non-English speaking” side. However I did get to practice what must Tokyo_tower_view_down be to a native a truly painful interpretation of the Japanese language but managed to find my way to the ticket office.

Tokyo Tower provides incredible views of the city. An additional ticket gets you to the top observation deck which you access by first climbing two flights of stairs. Now, Tokyo_tower_view_3 this will be hard to explain, but picture what a dance club would be like if it were held in a stairwell.  There was music, flashing lights, the works, ending as soon as you reach the next elevator platform. Why? Why build a replica of the Eiffel Tower in the middle of Tokyo, make it 13 meters taller and paint it orange? It’s probably the same answer.

By the way, Tokyo is really big.

That evening we ate at Tonki, probably the most famous tonkatsu restaurant in the city, and by “we” I mean everyone other than my wife who finally crashed from the jet lag. Tonkatsu is deep-fried breaded pork with a special sauce and usually served with shredded cabbage. Is it good? Didn’t I just say it was deep fried? 

J.

September 15, 2006 at 07:48 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

turning japanese - you've got me turning up and turning down (part 6)

Germany_world_cup_votive Let’s say you travel many thousands of miles to Japan and make your way to the Meiji Shrine, a sacred place of Japanese spiritual life where you can place votives asking the shrine for health for your family, happiness for your children, and of course, that Germany wins the World Cup.

The Meiji Shrine, a peaceful oasis in an otherwise chaotic city, sits at Meiji_jingo the end of Omotesando, a wide thoroughfare of shops and restaurants and the famous Oriental Bazaar, the place to go if you are a tourist and need some traditional Japanese-type gifts for people back home.

And don’t want to buy crap.

We found all manner of sake cups, bowls and other items of reasonably good quality and surprisingly inexpensive. We were in the process of buying these items piecemeal putting them together in sets of four, however I couldn’t help noticing that all the boxed sets came in fives. So we added an extra item to each. I later asked my brother if the number 4 was unlucky. He gave me a look that suggested he was thinking how he would be able to restore diplomatic relations with Japan in the event I had actually purchased four items. As it turns out, the word for 4, “shi” is very close to the word for death.

So yeah, 4 is unlucky.

Boss_begin By the way, if you are looking for a little pick-me-up, there are vending machines everywhere serving various iced coffees. My favorite? Boss! Begin! Why is it so good? Because the name is Boss! Begin!

Stopping for some coffee and tea (yes, in a Starbucks, they are everywhere here too like some kind of international corporate Kudzu infestation) I discovered something rather endearingly honest about Japan_iced_tea_2 Japan. “Small” really does mean “small.” You order a small iced tea, your iced tea is going to be small. Not the “Small Gulp” sizes you get in the US, but small.

And large is large. We had managed to score some Sumo tickets for the evening. There are only about six weeks out of the year that the tournaments are held in Tokyo (the rest of the time being devoted largely to “eating”) and so we were lucky with our timing. With its deep connections to Shinto and long cultural tradition, the sport of Sumo is like a religion to the Japanese, much the way cutting off people in traffic is in the United States. Despite their size, Sumo wrestlers exhibit amazing speed, agility and quickness. The only body I've seen that is that big and able to move that fast is the entire GOP as it runs away from the President.

Well, okay, maybe not quite that fast.

We ended the evening having dinner at Wolfgang Puck (sister-in-law needed a change) and I was actually happy about this for a moment:

Wife: I heard the Japanese like to put mayonnaise on their pizza.
Me: Mayonnaise on pizza? Really? That’s… that’s… brilliant! I have to try that.
Wife: If you put mayonnaise on your pizza I’ll leave you.

I had regular pizza.

J.

September 14, 2006 at 08:04 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack