January 29, 2010

The Weeklies #117

The Weekly Quote. "My gosh!" This from Owen. It's hilarious because he pronounces anything that ends with an s with tsh. "Oh my gotsh!"

The Weekly Gadgety Goodness. Apple unleashed the iPad on our asses. Despite sounding like some technologically advanced feminine hygiene product, it looks pretty darn cool. I might just have a new gadget crush.

The Weekly Book. Ted Bell writes books that are most reminiscent of the most over the top James Bond movies. On steroids. His hero - the dashing pirate-descended brawny spy - is cut from the same mold as the most absurd Roger Moore-era Bond but the books are entertaining. Tsar, however, is absolutely terrible. I mean, all of Bell's stuff teeters just on the edge of ridiculousness but Tsar sprints over the edge in stunning glory. It was entertaining but boy did I find myself laughing when I knew that wasn't what the author intended.

The Weekly Death. The reclusive J.D. Salinger died.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Me. I've got to take a test, in, like, an hour and a half. Wish me luck.

The Weekly Hypothetical. I don't have time for this shit. Like I said, I've got to go take a test. I need good vibes, people. Good vibes. And a beer afterward. So what if it'll only be 10:00.

The Weekly Last Minute Observation. 37 year old people should not be required to take tests.

Posted by Chris at 6:38 AM | Comments (22)

January 28, 2010

Edufreaktainment

Have you ever watched Hoarders? The premise is simple - we the viewers are presented with these tragic stories of people who collect things. Though collect is way too mild a term and lacks something appropriately clinical. These people don't have a collection of beer cans; they have a garage full of them. They don't hang on to their childrens' toys; they hang on to everyone else's as well and even shop for more toys despite the fact that their children are 27 years old. Under these vast heaps of stuff are dead animals and even soil made from the slowly composting piles of crap (and in some cases crap can be taken literally).

It makes me feel as though I'm watching something that I shouldn't be able to view, like I have access to something that should be deeply private. I kinda feel the same way when I watch Celebrity Rehab. I logged a little time with it over the weekend. And it made me really sad.

For the uninitiated, Celebrity Rehab gathers a half dozen or so fame- and money-starved C-list "celebrities", throws them in a reality show-patented communal living situation, and follows the hilarity that ensues. Or projectile vomiting. Because these folks are seriously addicted to alcohol or drugs, have fairly significant histories of use and abuse, and extremely questionable motives. It's unclear to me how these people were in their right-enough minds to legally sign the paperwork to commit the selves to this basic cable travesty. The only obvious reason is desperation. And what doctor in his right mind would allow people to be put through detox on TV. And who, besides some TV exec, would think it would be a good idea to put a detoxing hooker and a detoxing actor who were involved in numerous domestic violence incidents with one another together on the same show while, as I mentioned, trying to kick drugs?

TV execs, producers, random idea guys can hide behind and kid themselves into thinking that they're providing some sort of public service, some educational program to elucidate modern Americans about the plights of the disadvantaged, less fortunate, or just plain strange. But there's a thin line between showing how the other half live and exploiting them. Or laughing at them.

I'm going to start my own network, the Schadenfreude Network. Instead of fooling viewers into believing they're watching something educational or moderately socially redeeming, the network is going to go for sheer low-brow freak factor. Here are a couple of the shows I'm considering to anchor my prime-time line-up.

- Why Choose: My Botched Sex Reassignment
- The D-List Celebrity Quest for D Cups
- All Star Celebrity Flame-Outs
- Gay Midget Rodeo Clowns' Quest For Love
- Touched By Michael Jackson
- I Weigh 900 Pounds and Can't Find My Penis

Any recommendations? Any shows I'm missing? Where's the line between education and entertainment for you?

Posted by Chris at 7:09 AM | Comments (18)

January 27, 2010

Teacher's Pet

There is always a teachers pet. Whether you're in second grade on in a professional development course, there is always a teachers pet. I'm sitting behind one for the duration of the week. Yeah, it's awesome.

And teachers pet is probably a misnomer.

This type of person is one who desperately wants to be adored by the teacher but is, most likely, loathed. This is the person who thrusts his or her hand in the air and says ooh ooh ooh whenever a question is asked. And the person who offers not a simple explanation but one that offers waaay too much information yet provides surprisingly little value.

And this is the type of person I suspect teachers actually loathe. Maybe as much as I do. And unfortunately Teacher Pet Syndrome isn't just confined to the classroom. No, there are plenty of people in the world who believe the best way to the top, the quickest avenue to success, is up the butt-crack of a supposed superior.

Also, I'm fairly convinced that my instructor is the long lost brother of noted author and friend Marshall Karp. It's kinda surreal.

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Okay, so I know my image sucks but you try to snap a picture of your teacher on the sly in a room full of people and see how bold you get.

I'm off to my third day of intense cramming for an exam I have to take on Friday. I am thrilled (sarcasm) and worn out (not sarcasm). I'm looking forward to Friday afternoon. Wish me luck.

Posted by Chris at 7:12 AM | Comments (11)

January 26, 2010

The Vegetarian's Dilemma

I'm a somewhat sheepish vegetarian (if you'll excuse the inappropriate metaphor). By that, I mean that I don't go out of my way to explain my lifestyle because I don't want to put myself in the position of defending it. Here's an illustration:

Me: Have a good weekend?
Coworker: Sure did. Have you ever gone to the District Chophouse? It's worth a trip just for the scallops wrapped in bacon.
Me: Oh. Cool.

See what happened there? I had a perfect chance to set the record straight, say hey that's cool but I'm a vegetarian but I didn't take it. Why? I've got my reasons.

As a vegetarian I'm often made to feel inferior. I'm not sure why, exactly, but that's sure how it feels a lot of the time. There's a perception that you're less - I don't know - cool if you're not a meat eater, like you're not living life to it's fullest. Like you're not like everyone else. It's the way I felt in high school when kids at parties were passing around joints and I always refused to take a hit. Our consumption and food-driven culture seems geared towards meat eaters and there's a disconnect if you don't, in fact, eat meat. Its something I'm reminded of by the surprise with which I'm greeted when I tell someone (not often) that I'm a vegetarian. I've never been afraid to stand out but that doesn't mean I enjoy being made to feel like I do.

I'm tired of having The Conversation. Whenever I do cop to the fact that I'm a vegetarian (again, not often and only when it comes up naturally or someone hands me a pile of bacon), I invariably have to provide an explanation. It's required by either an explicit question or a look of surprise. And then we have to have The Conversation.

Someone: Oh, so you don't eat meat?
Me: No, I don't.
Someone: Not at all?
Me: No, not at all.
Someone: How about chicken?
Me: Chicken is meat. Unless you know something I don't. Or you're eating some weird-ass chickens.
Someone: How did it start, I mean, why did you stop eating meat?
Me: About ten years ago, I guess, my wife and I noticed that we really weren't all that into meat so we just figured we'd stop eating it. So we did and we've been vegetarians since. It's not really about diet or any moral obligation we feel. We're just never really cared about meat. And, you know, we eat pretty well.

After ten years of having that conversation - that concisely developed elevator speech I came up with about eight years ago, tired of utilizing a piece of my brain to come up with a unique answer each time - I'm tired of it. I can say it in my sleep (I actually might). More than anything, though, I'm tired of defending myself or feeling as though I have to.

The Conversation is no longer true. That elevator speech is incorrect. Ten years ago - even five - it was dead on. But now it's not. Now I do morally object to meat. I don't find fault with its consumption but I do with the system that brings it to our tables because it is an inherently flawed, immoral and violent system which is damaging the world around us (seriously, the animal production system in the US harms the environment and contributes to global warming several more times than transportation - true fact). Now, I say that to you and you'll take it the way I intend it to be taken, as a deeply personal explanation of my own decision. But say that to most people and they'll think I'm simultaneously preaching and attacking their way of life and the decisions they've made for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth but try having that conversation everyday and the original elevator speech will seem that much more appealing. Better is saying nothing at all.

What's my point? I think in our society we're way too polite, too eager to please, and afraid of offending someone. We say things like oh, I'm sorry, I don't like apples or, I'm afraid I don't eat meat or nothing personal but I don't send my kid to a private school. We start sentences apologizing for personal decisions we've made about our own lifestyle. And that's a little crazy.

Posted by Chris at 7:07 AM | Comments (68)

January 25, 2010

Testing One, Two

Some people love school. Some people would love to stay in school for the rest of their lives. Some, in fact, do. They jump from high school to college to a masters program to a doctorate only emerging after their walls are covered in sheepskin. I admire those people and appreciate them because they are smarter than me and I need them. But I am not, my any stretch of the imagination, one of them.

I spent elementary school bored, day dreaming about junior high. I spent junior high in much the same way, focusing on my high school future. High school was just as boring academically but more fun socially. I was an average student, graduating with a 3.0 (or maybe a few hundredths of a point lower due to an unfortunate algebra class). College was spent, largely, in the apartment I shared with Beth. I skipped a few classes. As a result, I still have dreams in which I find myself heading to a final for a class I've never actually attended (and in many cases didn't think I was signed up for in the first place). I emerged from college with 3.0 (brought down by an rather unfortunate geology class because who knew geology could actually be hard?).

When college graduation rolled around (which, consistent with my college track record, I did not attend), I shot a backward glance over my shoulder, waved, and said goodbye to my career as a student. Never again would I have to study, write a paper, or take a test.

Boy was I wrong. In a couple of minutes, I've got to get my coffee-starved self behind the wheel of the Cactusmobile (which makes my VW wagon sound way cooler than it actually is) and go to class. I'm in professional training all week. And then I get to take a test on it on Friday.

To say that I'm a reluctant test taker is like saying that Elton John is a wee bit gay. Or that Jay Leno has an exaggerated chin. I dislike test taking with the passion of a thousand suns. I'm not sure why. I like to think that I'm a smart guy. But I think I doubt that sometimes and I'm afraid to take opportunities in which I can prove such intelligence for fear the opposite will be proven.

Regardless, I'm off. I'm off to wear a name tag, drink cheap hotel coffee and be reminded of how much I don't know or have forgotten. Luckily, I'll have a couple coworkers there with me. And my iPhone. So open up the comments and keep me entertained. First one to make me nose coffee in the middle of the training course wins my undying gratitude.

Posted by Chris at 7:05 AM | Comments (22)

Haiku For Monday #303

I have a cold. And
I'm pretty bitter about
it. Worse, it's Monday.

Posted by Chris at 7:04 AM

January 22, 2010

The Weeklies #116

The Weekly Affliction. I have a cold. Ugh.

The Weekly Time Waster/iPhone App. Dark Nebula. It's like one of those marble games where you have to negotiate a maze with a marble only these mazes have guns, force-fields and spinning blades. It's pretty intense and very much fun.

The Weekly iPhone Coolness. A guy in Haiti is crediting his iPhone with saving his life. Trapped in the rubble of a hotel, he used is camera for light and his iPhone to look up first aid techniques to fix his headwound. Technology is cool.

The Weekly Book. I read another Jason Pinter novel. This time The Fury. There's something about Pinter that I like. His narrative is often stilted and comes off - I don't know - naive. But that lends to the boyish charm of his hero. His novels, at their best, are compelling mysteries and, at their worst, quick, entertaining reads. The Fury was no exception. Recommended.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Heidi Montag - you know, one in a long line of seemingly brainless women famous for doing absolutely nothing - got herself some plastic surgery. Or rather ten plastic surgeries. In one day. By my math, she's now mostly made of plastic.

The Weekly Hypothetical. Someone or something boots you from the 'net forever. How hard is the adjustment? Do you make it? What do you miss most?

Posted by Chris at 7:22 AM | Comments (16)

January 21, 2010

Haiti

THE STARTING POINT
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 80% of its population is living under the poverty line, 54% in abject poverty. If you applied that figure to the US, 243,247,779 of us would be living in poverty. With a population of just over 10 million, it's still bad - around 8 million people. But that's 8 million poverty stricken people inhabiting a country the size of Delaware.

abject poverty: absolute or great poverty; so poor there is no hope

The Haitian labor force is only around 3.5 million people strong. Of those, only two thirds of the labor force have formal jobs. The average annual income is $270. The Haitian people have very little to export, relying instead on agriculture for subsistence. Last year, they imported $2 billion worth of goods yet exported only $490 million. In 2008 they owed the world $611 million and that figure did not improve in the time leading up to the earthquake. Haiti has unreliable communications with only 108,000 landlines and a cell infrastructure that supports 3 million devices. They have 14 airports, only four of which have paved runways.

No matter how you slice and dice the figures, they're bad, and they point to a country and a people who cannot be expected to survive a disaster without assistance.

THE TOLL
It is estimated that last week's earthquake claimed 250,000 lives though a final figure may not be known for months. Were you to stack the dead, they would stretch over 45 miles into the sky, reaching the mesosphere, the third layer of the atmosphere. When you see shooting stars burning upon entry, that's the mesosphere. Were you to undertake the macabre and unthinkable task of lining those bodies up, end to end, they would stretch from Washington, DC to New York City. Or nearly the length of the Grand Canyon. Or the approximate distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It would take you somewhere around four hours to travel the length of the dead.

THE OBSCENITY
Late last week, Rush Limbaugh stated that the crisis in Haiti was "made to order" for the Obama administration. It would, he said, politicize the disaster "to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community." In a final twist of cruelty, Limbaugh urged listeners to avoid contributing to relief efforts saying, “We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.”

In an unfortunate and avoidable twist of fate, a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship just recently docked at the port of Ladabee, on Haiti, where the company leases a large stretch of idyllic beach and throws a great big party for passengers. They brought a couple of pallets of relief supplies but the 3,600 passengers cavorting on the beach while mere miles away people were fighting for their lives seems obscene. In fact, some passengers were so "sickened" by the situation and the message it sent that they refused to get off the ship. The party-goers needn't have worried about the riff-raff getting in; in a startling display of how the other half lives, the private beach is surrounded by 12 foot fences and armed guards.

THE SOLUTION
You. It's a simple as that.

- The American Red Cross
- UNICEF
- Doctors Without Borders
- Text 'HAITI' to '90999' and $10 to Red Cross will be charged to your phone bill
- Mercy Corps
- The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund

Like I said, this isn't a country that can pull itself out of the devastation without help. Though we might never travel to Haiti or be touched directly by this disaster, helping is what we'd want others in far off lands to do if we were unable to help ourselves. I'm also pretty sure no one wants to see Rush Limbaugh proven right.

Posted by Chris at 7:26 AM | Comments (27)

January 20, 2010

Search String Mad Libs

Every couple of months, I pull up my site stats and check out the many bizarre (and sometimes batshit-crazy) search strings that bring people to Rude Cactus. And then I list my favorite ones and make a snarky comment after the ones I can come up with a snarky comment about. As much fun as that normally is, I decided to take a different approach this time. I wrote a story with my search strings. Think Mad Libs gone horribly wrong and, perhaps, written by a psychopath. The actual search strings are underlined. No search strings were harmed in the development of this post.

It had been a long day. I was finally out of the office, spending some much needed time in the park, sitting next to the diaper change fountain reading my copy of Places Paul McCartney Snuck Into In Oklahoma. I popped my earbuds in and listened to the new one by Ass Munch And The Tranny Poles. I'd been thinking of including a few songs on the perfect mixtape for my lover, specifically the sentimental hit I Hate Thomas Kincade and the rocker Playing With Myself And Thinking Of You. The mixtape, I thought, would go well with the anniversary gift I'd picked up earlier in the day. For Christmas, she'd gotten me a penis hat, so I felt compelled to return the favor of a romantic gift. I got her an organic vibrator. You know, free-range vibrators not pumped full of artificial hormones. Just like bananas from the bible.

And as I sat there, my mind wandered and my head filled with questions. Do blind men stand to pee? What are those things that look like Teletubbies that don't talk? How do I scratch my ass without anyone noticing? Do I miss being able to pee standing up with my new vagina? Why do people ask if I work here when I don't? How do you muffle a noisy bowel movement? Then I did what I always do when things get existential. I reverted to the ancient art of Eastern poetry and composed The Pantyline Haiku.

Oh pantylines. You
do not flatter the ass, no.
Just go commando.

The sky began to darken. I packed up my things and headed home. After a fine dinner of buffalo penis, I read my kids a few disturbing children's books - Orajel Hookers and Mr. Bullseye And The Herpes Arm. Then I slipped on my gay hotpants and my Bake This Fucker! t-shirt and settled in to continue my latest hobby, quilting in the buff. I was working on a new quilt, one that depicted pictures of midgets pooping and Ted Turner with his horses, an homage to the small and the powerful. Once finished, I got online and found some free flabby booty girls but I was disgusted to see so many asstanlines so I logged off and went to bed where I dreamed that I'd finally fucked my English teacher. The second dream, though - two mormon females go to a guy's door and get attacked by the spaghetti monster - freaked my ass out so I rolled out of bed, flipped on the TV and watched the Today Show whores.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (19)

January 19, 2010

Anyone Have Any AquaNet?

I have just finished a project of epic proportions. I ripped every CD I own into electronic format. That's somewhere around 3,500 CDs. It took not weeks or months but years. And I blew out two CD drives in the process. The music collection that used to take up an entire room now fits into a hard drive about the size of a Stephen King novel.

Having all of these songs at my fingertips has allowed me to look through and revisit my embarrassingly large collection of hair metal and pull together a massive playlist of my favorites.

You can read the list yourself. And if you do, I'm sure you'll consider it incomplete in one sense or another. This is the hair metal that I remember listening to, the music I have fond memories of. Some of it might not even be hair metal. Some important hair metal classics might be missing...

The Black Crowes for instance. I don't really consider them hair metal by any stretch but I've included songs from their first album because, at the time, lots of these songs were mixed in with other more mainstream hair metal. Any subsequent output, though, is not to be mixed up with the hair metal genre.

And Whitesnake. Most people think Whitesnake took off in the mid 1980s but to think that is to ignore some of the finest rock music ever made. David Coverdale and company churned out some amazing music in the seventies and very early eighties. One of my favorite albums of all time is, in fact, 1981's Come An' Get It, filled with raw, bluesy tunes that I still love despite that I picked it up and played it to death more than 20 years ago. But that early stuff isn't hair metal. No, only the Led Zeppelin Cloning, Here I Go Again, Tawney Kitaen on the Hood Of A Ferrari Whitesnake of the late eighties makes the hair metal cut.

There were, of course, some genuinely good bands who got lumped into the hair metal scene which deserved better. And when the music scene all but died, replaced by grunge, those good bands faded into obscurity with it. Bands like Little Caesar, Little Angels, Badlands, Enuff Z'Nuff.

Lots of eventually-great hair metal bands suffer from First Album Syndrome, an affliction that's marked by a glossy, generic, overproduced debut that makes the band sound like every other hair metal album recorded in 1987. Good exampled are debuts from Cinderella (Night Songs is a terrible album from a great band) and Poison (Look What The Cat Dragged In is cheesy, glam without any personality and, while the entire band rubs me the wrong way, they'd eventually go on to record at least a couple good songs). There's also the opposite problem - not one hit wonders but one album wonders. Skid Row's debut was fantastic but it turned out that debut marked the peak in their creativity. Bullet Boys and Slaughter were much the same.

I'm not sure you asked but there you have it - the playlist of my musical youth, The only thing we're missing is the AquaNet.

Now you - what are your guiltiest of musical pleasures? And how many total songs do I have on my computer? You answer that last one, you're eligible for a pretty decent parting gift. So give it a shot.

Posted by Chris at 6:56 AM | Comments (39)

January 18, 2010

Monkeytown and The Pocahontas Museum

I'm bushed (heh, I said bush)! It was a busy weekend. Here's the 411.

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FRIDAY
Working From Home. I dig the fact that I can work from home somewhere around once a week. The commute down two flights of stairs can't be beat. And I can work in my jammies which beats the hell out of the whole suit and tie thing. And despite the fact that I could start drinking at 10:00 AM and watch porn all day, I usually manage to get quite a lot done. Best of all, I get to see the kids. Even have lunch with them and my home office frequently gets invaded for hug-time. No one ever hugs me at the office.
Dinner With The Parents. Mia and Owen love all four of their grandparents. On Friday night, we got to head over to my folks' house for pizza and cat-chasing mayhem. A good time was had by all. Except, perhaps, the cats.

SATURDAY
Ballet Class. Mia is performing in a ballet recital in the very near future. She's got Saturday morning rehearsals with her BFF, to which I volunteered to take her this weekend. Results were mixed. I was thrilled to be there but I could have done without the two busybody moms who kept the parents from watching their kids practice instead choosing to lecture the parents on proper recital-compliant hair styling techniques. For forty-fucking-five minutes, I shit you not. It was mind-numbing.
My Date With Mia. After ballet class, Mia and I went to her favorite restaurant, The Chip Restaurant, Mia's name for Chipotle. After that, we hit the grocery store where I might have taken fatherhood to an all-time low.

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Date Night. Beth and I escaped the surly bonds of parenthood for an evening out. We hit a new restaurant (not bad but not exceptional) then went to a movie. I'd love to tell you that Avatar was a fantastic thrill-ride of a movie but I can't. Because after being open more than a month, it was sold out. So we saw Sherlock Holmes instead, which was meh. It's basic premise seemed to be starting a new action-hero movie franchise. Mission accomplished.

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SUNDAY
Monkeytown, Redux. One of our parental New Year's resolutions was to do something interesting with the kids every weekend. So, we got the kids up and dressed and out the door at a reasonable hour, and headed to the American Indian museum in Monkeytown. Of course, for Mia's benefit we called it the Pocahontas Museum. It's a beautiful building and the kids absolutely fell in love with the museum and the exhibits. Actually, I'm pretty sure some native American spirit entered their bodies causing them to behave and love each other since they uncharacteristically held hands through the entire museum. And when they exited the building they promptly began trying to beat the shit out of each other. The rest of the day we rested, exhausted.
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Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (19)

Haiku For Monday #302

Sleep. Sleep tonight and
may your dreams be realized.
Nineteen sixty-eight.

Posted by Chris at 6:58 AM | Comments (1)

January 15, 2010

The Weeklies #115

The Weekly Disaster. Haiti. Please help. Lifehacker has a list of charities as well as some sites to help you avoid scams.

The Weekly Movie. The aforementioned Food Inc.

The Weekly Weird Product. Want to keep your genatalia nice and fresh looking? Never fear - My New Pink Button is here.

The Weekly Time Waster. Blow stuff up with Dynamite Blast.

The Weekly Music. Hair metal. Yeah, seriously.

The Weekly Read. Greg Iles writes two kinds of books - somewhat generic thrillers that are instantly forgettable and compelling, thought provoking novels into which you can become completely immersed. I count Turning Angel among his finest so I was thrilled when The Devil's Punchbowl hit shelves since it featured the same characters and setting. I wasn't at all disappointed. The Devil's Punchbowl was insanely addicting with great characters. I devoured all 700 pages in short order. And wanted more.

The Weekly Dick. Pat Robertson. Yeah, I'm sure the Haiti earthquake was brought on by its pact with the devil. Douchebag.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. NBC. I don't know why but I've found myself completely enthralled by the whole Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien thing. The real loser? NBC. Long gone are they days in which NBC was appointment television. How far the mighty fall.

The Weekly Hypothetical. Let's say you find $50 on the street. No one around and you know in your heart that you won't be able to return it to it's owner. What do you do with it?

Posted by Chris at 8:19 AM | Comments (36)

January 14, 2010

Delurking Day 2010

You do know what day it is, right? That's right - it's Delurking Day 2010!

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So I invite everyone - whether you comment regularly or lurk in the background quietly reading to yourself - to open up the comments and let me know you're out there. And if you have a blog yourself, feel free to join in.

Happy Delurking Day, everyone!

Posted by Chris at 6:45 AM | Comments (180)

January 13, 2010

Food (For Thought)

Over the weekend, Beth and I watched Food Inc.. It was, perhaps, the single most horrifying movie I've ever seen, far surpassing Poltergeist (which my mom mistakenly took me to when I was way too young) and Mariah Carey's Glitter (which I haven't seen because I value my eyes and don't want to be forced to claw them out).

Why was it horrifying? Well, here are some high points from the movie.

  • The North American food supply is controlled - grown, harvested, and sold - by a handful of companies who control nearly ever facet of the food throughout its lifecycle. These corporations contract with farmers yet determine all aspects of raising the animals leaving the farmer with huge debt, waste disposal and the majority of financial and physical risk.

  • Only 2% of livestock farms now raise 40% of all animals in the U.S. In fact 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the US annually. Nearly all of them are raised on factory farms under inhumane conditions.

  • Of the soy and corn products grown in and fed to North Americans, 85-90% is genetically modified.

  • Approximately 1 billion people worldwide do not have secure access to food, including 36 million in the US.

  • The average food product travels about 1,500 miles to get to your grocery store and transporting food accounts for 30,800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Much of this is cause by, well, us and our farming and food harvesting techniques. Meanwhile FDA investigations aimed at safeguarding our food and the ways and places in which its processed are at a ten year low.

  • The Federal government spends $35 billion per year subsidizing commodity crops which artificially lower the prices of corn and soybeans, encouraging their overproduction and making them much cheaper than other crops. There are so many of these crops that they're used for the production of cheap - or fast - food. The result? The price of soft drinks decreased by 23 percent between 1985 and 2000, while the price of fruits and vegetables increased by almost 40 percent.

  • Big companies control every aspect of food production. Take Monsanto. They developed Roundup Ready, a weed killer. Then they engineered a soybean resistant to it. It shouldn't be surprising that they now control 80% of the soybean market and routinely sue farmers for using anything but.

Now, I'm not going to get up on a soapbox and preach vegetarianism or consumption of organic products. Those are decisions you need to make for yourselves and I'd just come off sounding like an asshat anyway. But if I could plant one tiny and completely genetically unmodified seed here, it's this - question where your food comes from. That's it. Just be an educated consumer particularly about your food. Because what is more basic to our existence and survival than food? Nothing. Except maybe air. And we really can't shop around for that.

How closely do you pay attention to what you eat? What food-related issues are you most conscious of? And have you changed what you eat and buy as a result?

Update: With rather bizarre and coincidental timing, a study was just released that concluded Monsanto's genetically modified corn causes organ failure in rats. Read more about it.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (52)

January 12, 2010

Dear Apple

You know, there are a lot of asshats and asshat businesses in the world. So it's always nice to run into one that sets a good positive example. Take, for instance, what happened to me last week. The following are real emails. No fonts were harmed in the making of this post. Don't try this at home.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Hi -

Earlier this morning I logged into my iTunes account and it occurred to me that I should check my "available downloads". See, I saw it there on my screen and didn't have one tiny clue what it was for. So I clicked it. Because that's how I roll. Anyhoo, I noticed that Neal Morse's So Many Roads was available for me to download which really made my scratch my head since, well, I didn't buy it. I tried but when the purchase timed out on me, I thought better of the price ($35 - you so crazy) and ordered a physical copy from elsewhere (for, like, $17 I might add). Please see attached for a picture of yours truly with that very album which, I might add, is quite good (the album, not the picture, though I expect some bonus points since I shot the pic with my iPhone...yay for product loyalty, right?).

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This morning, I reported this fact after noticing the charge. I received a standard form email that basically told me I was full of crap. And I refuse to accept that response. Specifically, are you seriously telling me that because a) a purchase timed out on me and as such I assumed it was not completed and b) I never received the files from said purchase, I am still on the hook for payment?

Again, to the response received earlier denying my request for a refund, yes I agreed to the Terms of Service, in particular the part that said:

Once a Product is purchased or rented (as applicable) and you receive the Product, it is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage the Product, and Apple shall be without liability to you in the event of any loss, destruction, or damage.

By this standard, Apple is still on the hook to provide me the product or a refund. Since the product wasn't provided and has since been purchased elsewhere (see the aforementioned picture - hi!), I'd appreciate a refund.

Additionally - also per the terms:

Once a Product is purchased or rented (as applicable) and you receive the Product, it is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage the Product, and Apple shall be without liability to you in the event of any loss, destruction, or damage.

The reverse should be true - since I didn't actually buy anything, I don't think I should really be on the hook to pay for it. That's like forking over $20 to the hooker and getting a hi-five instead of a handjob.

In summary, I'd appreciate it if you'd revisit this issue. Thanks for the kind attention. Have a fantastic day.

Yours in Christ,
Chris

- - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Chris,

My name is Jason and First of all, please accept my sincerest apologies for the difficulty you've experienced with the iTunes Store when trying to request a refund for the purchase of "So Many Roads", which I understand that you never received. It was never the iTunes Store's intention for any of its customers to experience such frustration while using their products. I apologize that you have had this experience.

I have reversed the charge for the purchase, which I understand was never downloaded. You will see a credit of $35.99 USD, plus any applicable taxes, in three to five business days. If store credit was used for this purchase, you should see the credit post within three to five business days. If you still do not see your store credit, you will need to sign out of the iTunes Store and sign back in.

Thank you for being an iTunes Store customer. We appreciate your business, and value you as a customer.

Sincerely,

Jason
iTunes Store Customer Support

- - - - - - - - - - -

Thank you Jason and thank you Apple. You clearly don't suck. And that is pretty much the exception, not the rule, these days.

Any best and worst customer service stories out there?

Posted by Chris at 6:52 AM | Comments (34)

January 11, 2010

Big Bill

Once upon a time on Little Springs Road there were two children - Chris and Little Bill. Little Bill was called Little Bill because his father was, naturally, called Big Bill. Bill and I were born three days apart and only a few houses separated us. We played together constantly and became best friends. Most of the time that I wasn't at home, I was at Bill's. I distinctly recall every detail of Bill's room and the vast playroom they had off their kitchen. Inevitably we accumulated other friends and even went to different schools due to some bizarre elementary school zoning but we always had a brotherly bond. Or at least I assume it was a brotherly thing. I'm an only child; I don't know from siblings.

Big Bill was a strict father. He demanded perfection. It was a demand I think his wife and kids struggled with. I know Little Bill did. There was a part of Big Bill that was also angry. He'd do crazy shit like sit at a stop sign in his broken down Volare and chase down anyone who breezed through without stopping and attempt to make a citizen's arrest. I never quite figured out what drove him.

Little Bill's mom died a few years ago in a freak car accident while visiting family in Alabama for Christmas. Big Bill coped but he became a sad figure. Each Christmas he'd haul out the address book and send cards that were inevitably late. His Christmas letter, if one was included, contained constant references to coping without his wife, even years after she'd died.

Big Bill was a slightly tragic, somewhat imposing man. A big, stern man who was the definition of a curmudgeon. But he was a good man with a big heart, someone you wanted on your side. Luckily he was always on mine. Until late last week when he died.

I'm really sad about it. Big Bill was always a figure in my childhood and he is inextricably linked with the memories I have of growing up in the small bubble of a world that was my neighborhood. Years later, when that bubble had expanded to encompass more of the world, he was still there, driving Bill and I to our distant high school in the same Volare chase vehicle.

I'm going to miss Big Bill. I know his kids will miss him even more. They're now parent-less. And while I know that inevitably happens with the passage of time, I can't imagine how it feels.

I think I'll try and give Little Bill a call soon. He's not little anymore but I can't help but feel that he needs a brother. Even if I'm not a real one.

Posted by Chris at 6:43 AM | Comments (18)

Haiku For Monday #301

I'm coming up blank
on a witty haiku for
today. Move along.

Posted by Chris at 6:40 AM

January 8, 2010

The Weeklies #114

The Weekly Downer. After being off since December 22nd, I went back to work on Monday. That sucked just a little bit. Okay. A lot.

The Weekly Politician. On New Year's Eve, a citizen of Newark, New Jersey tweeted that her 65 year old father needed some help shoveling some of the snow they received. Newark mayor Cory Booker just happened to be online. He tweeted back, "I will do it myself where does he live?" And you know what? He drove over and did just that.

The Weekly Read. Jason Pinter's a good writer. His novels - so far all a part of his Henry Parker saga involving a young crime-solving NYC reporter - aren't overly complicated, but he's got a good sense of humor and can always come up with a compelling plot. The Stolen was no different than his previous two. If you're looking for a decent mystery, Pinter's worth a shot.

The Weekly Music and Movie. I want to hate Disney. I really do. But I can't so long as the produce movies like The Princess and the Frog. Beth and I took Mia to see it over the weekend and it was absolutely fantastic. Equally great is the music, written by Randy Newman. Both the movie and music are a hell of a lot of fun, enough to make momentarily forget that I'm supposed to loathe Disney.

The Weekly Time Waster. Libra.

The Weekly Worst Piece of Crap on TV. Jersey Shore.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Anyone who watches Jersey Shore (myself included).

The Weekly Not-So-Hypothetical. It's 2010. What one technological marvel did you expect by 2010 that hasn't materialized?

Posted by Chris at 7:39 AM | Comments (22)

January 7, 2010

Fight or Flight

I don't like to fly. I'm reluctant to admit this because it makes me feel silly but I do not like to fly. I think I mainly dread flying because I do it so little. I don't have that positive you're not going to die reinforcement on any regular basis so I look upon it with dread. The last plane I was on was heading to France. It was a wonderful flight, there and back. I spent the majority of pre-flight time to France in the smoker's lounge (which was really a giant glass box so filthy and fogged with smoke I think I smoked the equivalent of a carton in about five minutes) pacing. And I believe, sitting there in my seat clutching Beth's hand, that I actually muttered the phrase get me the fuck off this thing over and over, chant like. I can only hope I was doing so quietly.

I am fully aware that this is irrational. I am fully aware that I am safer in a plane than I am a car or even a train. And I am fully aware that, most likely soon, I will have to board a plane to take the kids somewhere not accessible by car. But I don't have to like any of those things. I just have to suck it up.

Given that and despite the fact that I have no immediate air travel plans, you can see how I was unnerved by a guy with explosives in his underwear (he wasn't just happy to see us) managing to get on board a plane in spite of all this supposed intelligence and precautions we have now.

Yet, on Christmas day, a privileged dude with a radical hatred for America boards a plane with a package in his package and attempts to blow the thing and everyone on it up. Despite the fact that he was on a watch list. Despite the fact that he'd already been detected entering another country without the proper paperwork. Despite the fact that he payed cash for the expensive flight and boarded with no luggage. Despite the fact that his dad dropped the authorities a note about his own son's suspicious behavior.

Why were alarm bells not going off?

In the intervening days, there have been two prevailing and opposing viewpoints - that the government let us down by not connecting those incredibly obvious dots meaning the process on the backend is fundamentally flawed or, second, that the government isn't doing enough out front - and here I mean physical security such as screenings, detection devices, etc - to stop the problem before that problem gets on a plane. And then, last night, some polls actually seemed to indicate that we the people think the government is making too big a deal out of this issue.

The solution? If you work with computers you know there's a host of bad stuff out there your machine can get infected with and a host of things you've probably got running to stop that bad stuff or kick it out before it even gets started. But for every one guy coming up with ways to keep your computer safe, there are ten guys finding a new way to bring it down. I can't help but think that the same thing goes for terrorism. In this case - and by sheer luck - the bad guy didn't win. But there are going to be more bad guys. And until we (the good guys) get smarter, it's going to keep taking luck to catch them.

How do you feel about flying, especially in the post-9/11 world? And where do you think the failure was in this incident? And, more importantly, what should be done to fix it? Would you subject yourself to a less pleasant, more invasive flying experience in order to have more secure flights or is the problem in the way the dots are connected?

Posted by Chris at 6:50 AM | Comments (33)

January 6, 2010

The Inevitable Fart Joke (A Screenplay)

INT. YOUNG BOY'S BEDROOM

Lights are dimmed, the young boy, approximately two years old, sits in bed. The father - a debonair looking 37 year old who doesn't look a day over 24 - sits quietly beside the bed reading Ten Apples Up On Top. The silence is suddenly broken.

...PLRTHHHH...

OWEN
Owen tooted.

ME
No, that was daddy.

OWEN
No. Owen tooted.

ME
Nope. That was me. Sorry. Daddy tooted.

OWEN
OWEN TOOTED!!

ME
Okay, dude...you can have it. Owen tooted!

OWEN
Yay!

ME
It's so nice to have another boy around here.

OWEN
Yeah!

Posted by Chris at 6:36 AM | Comments (17)

January 5, 2010

For Every Action There Is A Completely Disproportionate Reaction

Beth and I tend to have fairly extreme reactions to minor things. I'm not trying to say that we turn minor events into crises. We're exactly the opposite; we tend to handle the curve balls thrown at us in a pretty level-headed fashion. Yet when it comes to things around the house, we tend to overreact a bit.

Example 1. We bought our first house largely due to the fact that we were tired of having white apartment walls that we couldn't paint. The first thing we did in that new house - before we'd even completely moved in - was to tear down wallpaper and paint the boldest colors we could find. Yellow, purple, red and blue. The purple got a little old (we eventually repainted) and the blue was ultimately scrapped once we found out Mia was on the way.

Example 2. A couple years after buying our first house, we experienced some air conditioning and heating issues. We were told that $5000 would fix the problem. We sought a second opinion. We were told that an inch of duct tape would fix the problem. When faced with these two options, we chose the latter. And started house hunting.

Example 3. Owen's room in our new house was cold. So we had all the windows in the house ripped out and replaced.

The house we live in now is wonderful. And we've made lots of great cosmetic improvements. The previous (and original) owner did a great job with the house. Except for the kitchen floor. At first glance, the kitchen floor looks okay but the more you look at it, the more you'll grow convinced that it was installed by a retarded monkey on crystal meth. The texture of the tile is bumpy and impossible to sweep. The grout is breaking up and a small amount is sacrificed whenever the floor is vacuumed. And, worst of all, the tile itself is crooked. It is in no way level.

So we've decided to gut the kitchen.*

Yeah, you read that right. Our floor sucks ass so we're going to implode the entire kitchen, appliances and all. See, as soon as we became fixated on the floor (and it's hard not to become fixated on the cluster-fuck that is our floor), we noticed other things we don't like. Our cabinets, for instance, are cheap and very country. And while we might be cheap, we're not very country. We have no pantry, unless you count the thing erected by the former owner that blocks kitchen heating ducts and electrical outlets. We really don't like our microwave since instead of actual controls it has one great big combo button and dial (and whoever thought that was a good idea should be shot...or microwaved). And the rest of our appliances aren't so hot either.

So we're gutting the kitchen. Which is a surprising move for us. Because usually we'd just sell the house.

Have you done or been the victim of remodeling? Get it out of your system - share your horror stories. And are you jonesing for a remodel?


* Beth will be chiming in soon with but first someone has to call the contractor so I'll just save her the trouble here. Yes, I'll call today.


Posted by Chris at 6:34 AM | Comments (42)

January 4, 2010

The Post Holiday Blues

I'm back at work. It blows donkey cocks (and if that isn't some good Monday morning imagery, I don't know what is). I've basically been off since December 22nd so this morning's alarm came as an incredibly rude awakening. I'm doing my best, therefore, to relive that last couple of weeks in the hope that it shields me from reality for just a little bit longer. Come on and join me, why dontcha.

Toys assembled: 5 (1 dollhouse, 1 princess bike, 1 toddler car, 1 train table, 1 Little People garage)
Gifts wrapped: 28
Christmas trees setup: 1
Christmas trees taken down: 1
Christmas tunes listened played: 350
Bottles of champagne drunk: 0.5
Beers consumed: 32

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Sugar plums that danced in my head: 0
Partridges in a pear tree: 0
Lords a leaping: 0
Cookies decorated: 3 dozen
Parties hosted: 1
Muppet Show episodes watched: 9
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New words accidentally taught to Owen: 1 (fuck, if you're curious)
Times cursed the words some assembly required: 5
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Drag shows featuring Owen as The Little Mermaid: 1
Performances of Oklahoma: 15
Performances of Oklahoma starring cross-dressing Owen: 1
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New Year's resolutions made: 4
New Year's resolutions broken: 1
Miles ran: 3 (hey, it's a start, right?)
Books read: 2
Cars rear-ended: 1
Pictures taken: About 8448 (I've posted a bunch here)
Museums visited: 3
Museums Mia was interested in: 1
Dolphin shows watched: 1
Times I dreaded returning to work: 5,302

And what did you do?

Posted by Chris at 6:35 AM | Comments (16)

Haiku For Monday #300

Three-hundred haikus?
Really? Seems like it should be
at least nine-hundred.

Posted by Chris at 6:30 AM


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