Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An unusual attack ad

Visa's current ad campaign, Life Takes Visa, is visually interesting, sometimes silly and usually clever.

Its newest TV component, "Transactional Fluidity," takes a swipe at cash, which strikes me as an atypical target for an attack ad. The 60-second spot is a highly choreographed play in a deli, where everything works like clockwork, including the Visa-swiping customers. That is, until one person pays with cash, throwing the finely tuned dance into disarray.

Besides villifying cash, the ad suggests to me that if you really want to be just like everybody else, you should use a Visa card.

Only weirdos and iconoclasts use cash, eh? Well, I'm ever in the deli in the Visa ad, I'm paying with pennies.

Visa says that what its new campaign "is really about are the people who stand up to life’s challenges, laugh at its jokes, savor its sweetness and continue down its unpredictable path."

I'm not sure how that statement fits with making an enemy out of cash, which the ad protrays as severely uncool. But the ad does fit with somebody else's agenda.

Earlier this year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson claimed that the "cash economy" is the No. 3 problem facing the American taxpayer. As I wrote in January, Olson alleges that the failure of taxpayers to report income from the cash economy costs the nation $100 billion or more each year, which she says translates to about $2,000 per taxpayer.

I'm not saying Visa and the IRS are in cahoots, but I'm pretty sure that if using cash makes both of them mad, I'm happy to slap down the dollar bills.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A piece of animation

I put this together while living in the Granite State...

Our hyped-up dogs

Just a typical day around the house...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Performance art?

The massage lady's latest project:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Your shoes are tied!

My father sent me this excellent link to Ian's Shoelace site, which caused me to relace my shoes. My Dr. Martens only have three eyelets, so I chose riding-boot lacing because... Oh, I don't have any reason, I just thought it would be fun.

Now, I need some shoes with more eyelets!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How out of touch can you be?

While reading a recent issue of APME news (an industry insider magazine), I came across an article about what editors hope to see in journalism graduates in skills and accomplishments.

In 1990, the list was topped by writing skills, spelling and grammar, internships, ethics, blah blah blah. At that time, only 6 percent of the editors who were surveyed thought experience with computers was "very important" and only 31 percent rated that experience as "important."

So now you can see how behind the times those editors were during the grunge era.

Times have changed, but some of the backward attitudes haven't. To wit, the article's section on blogging contains these three comments, no others:
"Blogging requires no journalism skills per se. But everyone has a right to speak."
"Blogs are not necessarily any closer to journalism than typing."
"(Regarding) blogs - No one reads them."
And there you have it. But keep in mind, these comments come from the same group that is surprised to find out that even though newspapers often have profit margins of 10 to 20 percent:
"I continually get new grads expecting to be paid $30,000 or more."
Well, gosh and golly, that's just crazy talk! I mean, for that kind of pay, you could afford a car payment and an apartment in the city. Maybe some food, too! Unless you have student loans, of course...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swedish meatballs

The butterfly lady's heritage means we have Swedish meatballs every now and then, and not just for holiday meals. I usually whip up some mashed potatoes and such, too.

I suspect that there are as many recipes for Swedish meatballs as there are cooks who make them. Here's mine:

For the meatballs
Ground beef (the market here sells ground beef, curiously, in an 18-ounce package)
Bread, torn into small bits (I save heels for just this purpose, and used the equivalent of six slices)
A half of a large yellow onion, finely minced
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/8 teaspoon garlic salt
2 large eggs
For the gravy
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 to 3 cups milk (I use 1 percent)
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mix together the meatball ingredients. Your hands are probably the best tool for this job. Form into roughly 1.5-to 2-inch-diameter balls. When I made these over the weekend, I got 29 meatballs out of this recipe.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter or heat up some oil. Brown the meatballs in batches. You'll find that they need to be seared completely on a side before they'll move nicely in the pan. If they stick, you're probably trying to rotate them too soon. When each batch is done, set the meatballs aside.

In the same pan on medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk for about a minute, then whisk in the milk. Whisk until roughly homogenous, then whisk in the nutmeg and pepper. A pinch of salt won't kill anyone, either, especially if use unsalted butter.

Arrange the meatballs in the gravy and simmer for about 30 minutes. I like to let the dish sit off heat for about 5 minutes after the cooking has stopped, then serve!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Throwing good ideas after bad

On the heels of the demise of Washington state's unusually bad tourism-inducing slogan - SayWA - the people charged with drawing visitors to Seattle "unveiled a new Seattle destination brand position" today.


I can't do better than the flaks, so here's their spiel:
"the new trademarked tagline is the centerpiece of a powerful new brand platform that will define and promote the unique Seattle visitor experience and drive the city’s tourism marketing programs. The metronatural brand concept was designed to highlight Seattle’s rare and uniquely-marketable combination of urban and outdoor experiences."
Alas, the Seattle PR people plan to make metronatural "visible in Seattle and around the world."

The word is the result of a year's work and apparently involved input from a vast number of stakeholders. The gambling houses may now commence on setting odds that "metronatural" enjoys a longer life in the realm of spoken words than "metrosexual."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Speaking of medicine

I saw the latest Claritin-D ad the other night, in which actors say rubbish like, "Thank you, Claritin-D, for not changing your formula! I can still count on you to clear up my congestion!"

The commercial would only need minor tweaking to make a great Saturday Night Live sketch:

"Thank you, Claritin-D, for making sure I still have ingredients for my latest batch of meth!"

Anyway, here's Schering-Plough HealthCare Product's bullshit "explanation" for why Claritin-D is now a behind-the-counter product:
"Federal legislation takes effect on September 30, 2006 that imposes a deadline on moving allergy and cold products containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine (PSE) off store shelves and placing them behind the pharmacy or customer service counter. This legislation will make it harder to find longer lasting allergy and cold decongestants. Interestingly, many allergy and cold sufferers surveyed were unaware of the changes both in the law and on the shelf product reformulations."
I know Claritin-D contains methamphetamine ingredients, and maybe everybody else knows, too. Would it really kill the drug maker to acknoweledge they're part of a problem?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More on strep & staph nose

If you are reading this post, it is probably because you have a staph or strep infection in your nose. Many people who come to this blog come here for this post, so you have a lot of company.

The first time I was infected, I had never even heard of such a thing as strep or staph nose. Here's what I know about this pesky problem:

My noses background includes one strep infection, in 2003 or 2004, and one staph infection (two species, I was told) that started in 2006. The infection has been back two more times since the initial infection. My risk factor apparently is that I am routinely congested because of an allergy to swimming pool chemicals (I swim a lot).

For me, the symptoms have been annoying, itchy and painful little cuts inside my nose that won't heal. Weirdly, I have only had the infections in one nostril.

Treatment is simple. You just spread antibiotic "cream" - really a petroleum jelly goop - around inside your nose twice a day for 10 days. The drugs can be expensive (I had insurance, and the prescription for the strep was still $40), or cheap (the staph infections were attacked with an 0ver-the-counter remedy, like Neosporin).

Simple, yes, but effective? The staph infection has been back a couple times (it started in September 2006 and I just finished a third antibiotic course today, Jan. 19, 2007). Some of the literature I found online suggests eradicating staph nose (typically staphylococcus aureus, for which an excellent article can be found here) can be a yearlong process: five days each month for a year!

Speaking generally, streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria seem to be omnipresent, like coliform bacteria, and can cause much more havoc than stupid nose infections. Flesh-eating bacteria, for example, is a variety of strep.

That's about all I know so far. If you arrive here with a bummed out nose, take heart and if you haven't already, pay a visit to your health-care provider.

Here are three more reasonably good links:

Dr. Gabe Mirkin on treatment of staph nose
MedicineNet.com article about antibiotic resistant staph nose
A longer but better netdoctor article on resistant staph

If this post did not answer a question you have, please leave a comment and I will hunt down the answer.

The bead game

While watching television late one night in the Granite State, the butterfly lady and I stumbled on "The Bead Game/Histoire de perles," showing on public television. The film, which can be viewed here, has this synopsis, provided by Canada's National Film Board:
"In this fascinating, innovative exercise in animation, thousands of beads are arranged and manipulated, assuming shapes of creatures both mythical and real. They continually devour, merge, and absorb one another in explosions of color. The theme is one of aggression and inevitability, but any conclusion is left to the viewer."
This is well worth watching.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

And the jobs I shouldn't have bothered taking

  • The second time working as a box clerk at a grocery store (the first time worked out so well!)
  • The second time working at a cannery (The first time, I was a Cherry Pitting Machine Quality Control Technician, among many other delightful tasks. The second go-around, I left after one day. Ugh.)
  • Guy Who Hands Out Free Five-Minute Phone Cards, at a local college
  • Saw operator and wood sorter at a dysfunctional mill

That last gig could have been at the inspiration for Lemony Snicket's Miserable Mill, except I think that would be unfair to the Baudelaire's former workplace. The mill where I worked once produced Lincoln Logs, but had moved on to slats for cribs, Jenga blocks and other wastes of perfectly good trees. What a dump.

The best/worst part was working on the green chain (sorting wood as it came out of a saw and landed on a weird sort of conveyor system). Every day, the equipment broke down at some point and prevented us from reaching our production goal. And every day, our supervisor said something like:
"OK, we need to do 20,000 board feet today. Yesterday, we didn't even get to 15,000. So today, we need to haul ass!"
Wow, great pep talk! Especially on the seventh consecutive day of the same spiel!

Did I mention the place was a wretched dump? But it is also an out-of-business wretched dump. :)

Monday, October 16, 2006

What's the worst job you didn't get?

I've applied for many jobs that I didn't get but wanted, and I've turned down a few offers of good jobs, too. Rejection has had its kind side, too. Here're the worst (or most ridiculous) jobs I was rejected for:
  • Assistant manager at Arby's. I think the owner's wife liked me a little too much for the owner's taste.
  • Part-time party planner at McDonald's. To think, I could have been hanging out with Ronald McDonald and making $5 an hour, too!
  • Gas station attendant. At a self-serve station, for Christ's sake.
  • Warehouse worker for Schwann's. I guess I didn't look like I could handle frozen fish and ice cream. This was the same place that the manager asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I should have said, "Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Faintly Belizean dinner dish

So, I didn't have any beans ready to roll the other night, but I wanted something simple. Here's something simple:

Eight chicken thighs, skin removed
Three or four tablespoons oil
Two and half cups water
Three stalks celery
Three dried red chilies
Salt and pepper
Three cups cooked rice (I had leftovers)
Two tablespoons chickpea flour

I seared the chicken thighs in the oil over medium heat, then added the water, celery and chilies to make a sort of stew. After about 45 minutes, when the chicken was most assuredly done, I dumped in the rice and stirred in the chickpea flour.

Presto: The national dish of Belize, sans beans.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Playing tag by myself

1. Music That Has Changed Your Life
The White Stripes. My friend Stephanie gave me a bootleg copy of some of their stuff, including covers of Jolene and One More Cup of Coffee. I had no clue anyone was making that kind of music. Jack White is Cisco Houston and Jimmy Page put together.

2A. An Album That Has Stayed With You For More Than 10 Years (In a Good Way)
Joan Baez - Blessed Are
Bad Religion - Suffer
Joan Osborne - Relish

2B. Music You're Supposed To Like, But Are Embarassed To Say You Never Really Did
Pearl Jam. Hey, I liked Nirvana, but Pearl Jam? I just don't care.

3. Music That Makes You Laugh

4. Music That Makes You Cry
Tough one. Music that has made me cry: City of Ruins, as re-recorded post-9/11; Philadelphia, by Neil Young.

5. Music You Wish You Had Written
I like to write and I like to sing, but I'm no songwriter.

6. Music You Wish Had Never Been Written
OK, I'm still a First Amendment fanatic. I can't say I wish X or Y had never been written, but I'm sure as hell not going to listen to most contemporary R&B or fake-o rock-'n'-roll "country" garbage.

7. Current Music You Like
Joe Purdy, White Stripes, Raconteurs, Strokes, Black Keys, Tori Amos.

8. Music You've Been Meaning To Hear
The next undiscovered outfit I am unaware of. I'm always on the prowl for below-the-radar gems.

Monday, October 09, 2006

An endangered page

No, I'm not talking about the ongoing flap inside the Beltway.

On a recent, routine jaunt over to the Mitch Hedberg quote page at Wikiquote, I found this unsettling tag:
"This page has been flagged for a review of its copyright status, as it may contain too many quotes from a copyrighted source. See Wikiquote:Copyrights for more information on Wikiquote copyright policy. Please do not remove this tag from the talk page of the article until it has been checked by a user familiar with the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law and edited down if necessary."
As far as I know, this is the best place to go for Hedberg jokes, but maybe not for long. I wouldn't want to encourage people to violate copyrights or anything, but I'm pretty sure now is the time to copy the jokes for yourself ... And you could put them in the file under J, for jokes.

Oh! While in Portland over the weekend, my father, the butterfly lady and I passed a store that carried a "Fresher," a storage system designed to keep food fresh. I thought "man, I guess there really is a Kitchen Appliance Naming Institute." Fantastic!

And by the way, the above anecdote has been pre-approved as funny by me.

If you don't get anything I just wrote, you should have gone to the seminar I attended in Virginia, where you could find a whole bunch of people who also didn't get a lot of those jokes.

Happy Invader's Day!

I'm not sure of the best way to mark Columbus Day, which after several years in the Northeast I still expect to be a big deal when it rolls around each year. Here, in sunny Walla Walla, Columbus Day is met with a shrug.

Maybe I should make a lasagna.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ethical dilemmas

Amid all the hullaballoo of ex-U.S. Rep Mark Foley's naughty e-mails, Oregon legislators accepting freebies from lobbyists and god knows what other usual business, here's a simple piece of advice, which is of course easier to offer than to follow:

If you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of your local paper, don't do it.

Luckily for newspapers, nobody listens.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wishing for better spam

Gmail kindly dumps all the junk mail I get into a folder that I occasionally surf for story/blog entry ideas. Mostly it is all crap, but because I have an unusual handle, it is bilingual crap.

So I can get plastic cards and credentials - or - tarjetas y credenciales plastica? Hooray.

My current favorite junk mail is the crowd flogging Rolex replicas. Here's one of the sites the spam hopes you'll visit. The replicas don't look like anything special to me, and they're not exactly free ($250 for a knockoff?)

As you might expect, the best part of the site is the "customer testimonials." Here's a for-instance:
Awww yeah. That person even has a jeweler on retainer! Wow, I've got to get a couple of watches. (I would have to get two, because I want my arms to weigh the same.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gardens of good and evil

You're running a country, and you don't want the people living in it to shoot heroin or smoke opium. Reasonable, right?

But you also want to make medicines out of the same materials that produce those illicit drugs.

Do you grow your own? If you are running India, Turkey, France, Hungary, Poland or Australia, the answer appears to be yes. If you are running the United States (which in July alone had an international deficit in goods and services of $68 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the answer is no.

Federal law allows the United States to import the raw materials for narcotics (opium and poppy plant material) from the above six countries (and maybe Spain, if a federal rule change is approved).

The rule-making documents suggest that the overall cost of buying these drug materials from overseas tops out at $117 million per year, not a lot in the grand scheme, I suppose.

Still, I wonder how many family farms could that money keep afloat?


Last night's Anderson Cooper segment on mountain gorillas (broadcast on CNN) and today's local story about a horse shot to death in a nearby town remind me, yet again, that I abhor poachers.

Legal hunting of non-threatened species? Not a big deal to me, although I am not sure I'll ever understand the impulse to shoot certain species (bears, coyotes and moose come to mind).

But poaching? I would reserve a special neighborhood in hell for poachers, complete with novel tortures to keep the demons amused. I'm pretty sure summary execution is too kind a punishment, too.

I'll return to sunnier topics soon.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Desk nonsense, part II

That last post was popular!

So, here's what's in my top drawer:
  • Four Sharpie ultra fine point markers - Columbia blue, fuschia, tangerine and lime (these are for my color-coded calendar)
  • One Sharpie fine point marker - black (for graffiti!)
  • One Pilot ultra fine point permanent type pen - red (and NO XYLENE, thank god)
  • Seven paperclips (three red and one each of blue, yellow, green and white)
  • Two little binder clips (the cute teeny ones good for "binding" about two pieces of paper
  • Two blaze orange earplugs (let's go hunting!)
  • One uncanceled stamp
  • One latex-free generic Band-Aid
  • An unused letter opener from the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
  • One notepad with nine remaining sheets of paper
  • An A section from the Aug. 1 paper (to give to a freelancer who wrote the main story)
  • An accuracy survey letter (which I need to pass on to another employee)
When I was in college, my friend Tom and I had a radio show, which we were kicked off of by the station manager in our second semester of senior year for "playing repetitious music and rambling." As you can see, old habits die hard.