Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Focus on the Families, Not the Old Testament

In the wake of the awful events of Friday, December 14, in Newtown, Connecticut, it's hard to feel anything but shock, anger and profound sadness. Nonetheless, no tragedy is so horrific that at least one high-profile Bible-thumper will feel no shame in using the atrocity as an excuse to promote his old-timey agenda. Three days after the incomprehensible killings, Focus On The Family founder James Dobson shared some choice comments with the world:

I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on.”

When we are confronted with something as horrifying, heartbreaking and senseless as the cold-blooded murder of 26 people in an elementary school, we want to understand, to find some meaning. While there's been a lot of talk about how it might have been prevented, I still can't begin to fathom why it happened.

But James Dobson has a pretty good hunch.

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn't exist, or he's irrelevant to me and we have killed 54 million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.”

I'm no theologian, but I think Dobson is implying that, in addition to feeling ignored, God was angry about the termination of unborn children...so consequently He killed 20 children. Can that be right? Again, I don't watch enough Religion and Ethics Newsweekly to have any claim of expertise in this area, but I think it's fair to say that unless you have a raging hard-on for the vengeful early books of the Bible, such an explanation is completely loony.

Generally I try not to level the term "moron" at anybody other than myself, but when you ignore all the facts and instead attribute horrific monstrosities exclusively to things on your pre-existing list of grievances, it does technically classify you as a moron. The world is having a large-scale discussion about mental health issues and gun laws, and the moron James Dobson stands up and says, “Duh, it’s because of abortion. And the Gays. Duh!!”

I "get" God better than you do.

Now, about that abortion explanation. Abortions are legally performed in Australia, too, and yet there have been no mass shooting rampages Down Under since last century. Though I suppose I shouldn’t jump to conclusions—maybe God really wants to confer judgment on the Ozzies too, but his almighty hands are tied on account of the rapid-fire gun restrictions that were enacted there a while back, which Nicholas Kristof recently detailed:

In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. 

The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.

Given the effectiveness of that legislation, we'd better not enact anything similar here in the U.S. If God is no longer allowed to send a psychotic angel of death to murder our 1st graders with an assault rifle, how will we know when He's unhappy with the bearing of our national moral compass?

Dobson is at least half-right about one thing, though: “The institution of marriage is on the verge of complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.”

It sure will! Much like the redefinition of the right to vote had consequences, namely that voting is no longer the exclusive right of white male property owners. (Dobson strikes me as the kind of guy who would’ve opposed those changes, too.)

(This, too, is a picture of that guy.)

Of course, it’s not surprising that someone as rationally-challenged as Dobson would fail to realize that the goal of the Marriage Equality movement is not so much a “complete redefinition" of marriage as it is an “addendum” to marriage, to the effect of, “Also gays can too.”

I know it's because I'm an imbecile myself and thus I often have a hard time accepting reality, but I still find it shocking and utterly dismaying that people like The Moron James Dobson remain in such prominent and apparently influential positions in this country. Now, like TMJD, I'm not very good at suppressing my opinions, but even I can recognize that, no matter how strongly you feel, there are times in life when you just need to shut the fuck up. For future reference, Mr. Dobson, when parents of murdered school children are desperately trying to understand what has just happened to them—and your immediate urge is to proclaim that God is angry because people aren't religious enough anymore—that is one of those times.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storm Clouds: Weather, Politics and Class II Narcotics

With all the media coverage of Hurricane Sandy, the presidential race was largely absent for almost a week. For those paying close attention, however, it wasn't gone entirely—here's what I gleaned of the electioneering efforts in the days since the storm took center stage. (I have 20/20 vision, so I'm pretty good at gleaning.)

With his campaign on hold, Mr. Obama appeared on TV to say some presidential things about the planned emergency effort.

Seeing as press briefings are a typical response to an impending natural disaster even when no election is on the horizon, and since at no point during this appearance did the president re-state that Osama bin Laden is dead, I'll refrain from viewing it as a staged campaign-proxy event.

That said, that sort of leadership display is still a boost for the president's image at this crucial time in the election season, so it's to be expected that his challenger, Mr. Romney, though not wanting to be seen tactlessly campaigning during a time of national distress, would still wish to curry favor with the electorate, as there are mere days remaining until said electorate sets out to electorize a president.

This he accomplished by turning one of his Ohio campaign stops into a canned food drive.

And then by delivering food & supplies to hurricane victims. All of which was accomplished with the utmost modesty, of course.

I should mention that having been figuratively "under the weather" since before the entire eastern seaboard found itself literally under the weather, I spent the days in and around the storm under a cloud of doctor-prescribed, codeine-infused cough syrup. My recall of recent events is consequently a little hazy, but in addition to the actual candidates, I seem to remember John McCain appearing on television and declaring Hurricane Sandy the result of Obama's "disastrous foreign policy."

There's a chance that that one was a hallucination. Or maybe my fevered brain perceived an exaggerated version of his statements. But I can't be that far off—these days John McCain seems to have nothing to do with his time other than to shamelessly and repeatedly parrot any GOP talking-point stuck in front of his nose.

McCain has been repeating that statement about Obama's supposed massive cover-up or gross incompetence ad nauseum for the last several weeks in his every public appearance, and by doing so, not only is he accelerating the shift of his legacy from respected war veteran to transparent partisan shill, he is also firmly placing himself in the company of maniacs like Donald "I'm not a racist but prove to me that this black president wasn't born in Africa" Trump:

On the other hand, maybe Trump is the one who suffers more for their association. McCain's recent statements, and his increasingly hard-right views in general, appear to be a bitter reflection of his own loss against candidate Obama. McCain seems like a once-noble man whose rationality has given way to resentment—who is now all too eager to serve as a cynical and zealous tool for a flip-flopping Mormon in hopes of exacting revenge on the guy who bested him several years ago when we last electorized a president. At least Trump—while he may be is a maniac, and clearly possesses little in the way of rationality—most certainly never says anything he doesn't whole-heartedly believe.

I'm not entirely sure which is worse. Though I'm also not entirely sure that Donald Trump isn't a figment of my codeine-addled imagination. Some things are just too hard to glean.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

5 Hour Caffeine Beverage

If you're a human being who pays attention to human being things here in The America, in recent years you've witnessed and/or partaken in an exploding cultural obsession with increasing your personal energy. You may also know that increasing your personal energy is mainly achieved by guzzling canned beverages (with flavors like "Nasty" and "Battery Acid"), and today the market is flooded with more “energy drinks” than you can shake a can of Jolt Cola at.

But why the need for so much energy? I used to believe it was to make you a better snowboarder, but now it seems these drinks are mostly mixed with alcohol and consumed by single people who wish to stay up all night after work on Friday and fool themselves into believing that terrible club music is in fact part of a revelatory experience. Which goes something like this:

All told, there are a number of activities these drinks are drunk to enhance, and historically all of them were frivolous. But that's changing. The people at a company called "Living Essentials," makers of the energy drink "5 Hour Energy," are taking things further by trying to insinuate their product into the average person’s daily diet. Naming their company "Living Essentials" was apparently the first step towards that goal; the next was a blitz of TV ads.

Here, a generic, likeable dipstick attempts to convince viewers like you that 5 Hour Energy—essentially a vehicle for caffeine delivery—provides a longer-lasting boost of energy than does coffee, which is the reigning vehicle for caffeine-delivery. Even though it contains the same amount of caffeine. I guess we're supposed to assume that theirs is "better caffeine."

"Sleepy? Groggy? Dying for a nap? What do you do? Run for the coffee? ... But how long does that last—before you're back for more?"

That's the nice approach to win over coffee-drinkers: peer pressure from a non-threatening office colleague. But they've since moved to the harder stuff—their newer ads feature a stern cowboy-sheriff, who apparently holds jurisdiction over random job sites, where he mysteriously appears and intimidates people into throwing away their coffee.

In this one he talks over the protestations of two construction workers, saying things like, “How much coffee you fellows gonna need today—three, four cups? Doesn’t last long, does it?”

In another one—which can be viewed here, along with about 5 hours worth of other commercials for this stuff (it's the second ad on the page, as of this writing, anyway)—he shows up to bully a young office worker.

In this ad (which appears to be a prequel to the other one, wherein the young office dipstick first receives his energy-training from the master) the cowpoke bully is again in fine form:

"Another cup of coffee? How long's this one going to last—45 minutes? An hour?"

No, asshole, it’s going to last 5 hours, because it’s the same thing as the crap you're peddling.

Not only is 5 Hour Energy's magic power-boost NOT better than caffeine from coffee, it IS caffeine from coffee. This National Geographic multi-media presentation slide-show article-thing gives a fascinating glimpse—albeit a brief one, so's you don't have to do too much reading and junkinto the world of caffeine extraction. Though if your attention span is as short as mine you can click the "Fluffy Stuff" tab to skip directly to the part about separating the caffeine from the coffee beans—a process that evidently takes place in a sewage treatment plant.

Hours and hours of raw, unrefined, caffeine-slurry.

Now, I don't know how to extract it, but if you could separate out 5 Hour Energy's marketing bullshit from the ads I suspect it would also look something like that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Infiniti, and Beyond Stupidity

Have you noticed that no matter where you are in the world, if you turn on your TV there are ads on it? These days it's mostly this ad for an automobile called the Infiniti JX Crossover.

In previous sessions of internetting, I've looked at other vehicles designed to keep bad drivers on the road, like the Mercedes E Class (E apparently standing for "Enabler"). Now Infiniti is throwing its hat into the ring—"hat" being a car with idiocy-cancelling technology, and "the ring" being the streets where the drivers of those hats are apparently trying their damnedest to run you over anyway.

The premise of this Infiniti ad is that when you buy a car you have a choice of "any old thing," or the one vehicle that can protect you from all of the unavoidable dangers that lurk in the big bad world around you, even if the world around you is a beautiful, affluent suburb with low crime and good schools. Because even there you are most likely going to drive like an idiot.

Like this guy, who still hasn't figured out that there's a hedge next to his driveway that obscures his view of the sidewalk.

Uhhh... where's the—why can't I—uhhh...

And who hasn't realized that his car is so tall that it's impossible to see anything that's behind it.

And who spent $40,000 on a car but is too dumb to notice that it has a rear-view camera.

And who hasn't had the thought that maybe one of his 19 passengers could back him out of the driveway.

And who is still slow to step on the brake even after the car has indicated there's something back there.

Uhhh, this one, right?

Of all the people in that car, or SUV, or "crossover," or whatever they call a motor vehicle these days, this guy is probably the last one who should be driving. His reaction time in an emergency is as abysmal as Mrs. Lundegaard's was in Fargo.

At least once she realized there was a problem, she put some hustle into it.

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of this apparent clod, but on the other hand, he actually may have a good explanation for looking perplexed all the time. There are some weird things going on in that neighborhood. Take, for example, this little boy with the cartoonishly made-up doe-eyes:

—and the superhuman strength to push his plastic cart 30 feet in front of himself.

With mutant kids like that running loose, I'd be on edge all the time too.

Anyway, at least this Menace to Society Maplewood, with his piss-poor driving skills, has some capacity for self-reflection:

Right after the near miss he shares a furtive, knowing glance with his wife, which could mean one of two things: either they are aware that they are complete morons and really ought to do something about it; or that the time is right for Cialis.

Whichever it is, at least there's a chance they'll relinquish the front seats, along with control of the vehicle—which, coincidentally, would please the manufacturer: in spite of all the features Infiniti has loaded into this car, it appears they'd still rather it wasn't driven it at all:

"Professional driver. Closed course. Do not attempt."

As in, do not even attempt so much as backing out of your driveway in this vehicle, because no matter how many cameras and safety features and automatic braking systems are put into it, if you're as stupid as this guy you're still going to find a way to run over the neighbors' kids.

Not that the mutant super-child with the eye-liner is in any real danger—he would just hoist the Infiniti over his head like little Clark Kent.

At least then the family inside the Infiniti would finally be safe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hybrid and Electric Cars: Confusing "Less Bad" with "Fantastic"

An advertising trend has developed in recent years in which car companies fantasize that wild animals endorse their more or less fuel-efficient cars. Here’s one of them:

As you can see, the Hyundai Sonata has a lot of things going for it: Adorable animals! Salt-N-Pepa! Voice-over by “The Dude”! Or maybe it’s that Crazy Heart guy, but whatever! It’s great! And the animals themselves are excited about the car because not only is it “easy on the environment,” but it’s also “easy on the eyes.”

Sadly these critters may eventually find out that the electric power helping to propel hybrid cars does not, in fact, grow on trees. It comes from power plants that generally are not easy on the eyes or the environment.

Get up on this!

Actually that's not really true. It's the fully electric cars that are plugged into the factory-fueled power grid to recharge, while a hybrid's engine draws electricity from a battery pack that is recharged every time you drive the car. So maybe the forest animals have good reason to celebrate—as long as it's a hybrid and not an electric car roaring through their habitat.

Even so, it seems a little presumptuous to decide what kind of car the bears and prairie dogs approve of. I mean, maybe they'd be at least slightly concerned about the toxic chemicals leaking from the car's battery pack after it reaches the end of its life and ends up in a landfill? Ahh, but there's no way I'm going to out-hippie Jeff Bridges, so I'll just take his word for it here.

Meanwhile, in places like Kentucky—where Mountaintop Removal Mining extracts the fossil fuels that are used to make the electricity that powers the growing number of electric cars—the woodland creatures are too busy avoiding earth-scalping explosions and looking for uncontaminated drinking water to get excited about a car that finally gets good gas mileage. (Sure, it sounds benevolent, but it turns out Mountaintop Removal isn't all that good for the mountains.)

Anyway, there's no denying that hybrid cars are a step in the right direction. Electric cars, too, are surely an improvement over the gas-guzzlers that have yet to relinquish their grasp on our driving populace. Electric vehicles provide an opportunity, though not a guarantee, to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels—making good on that opportunity still requires charging the car with electricity produced through alternative (aka "Bambi-approved") processes instead of the usual (aka "earth-raping", "Bambi's-mama-killing") methods. If you drive a fully electric car in the U.S. you will slightly reduce the amount of greasy oil money going to tyrants and oligarchs on the other side of the world, but in place of that you're contributing to the flaying of those purple mountain majesties here in your own back yard. (Unless you happen to be Ed Begley, Jr.)

Blight on Bald Mountain

Now before I get too far off track, it's worth noting that the furry, bumbling animals in the Hyundai ad can't rationalize all these complex environmental issues. But by that same token, they can’t rationalize anything to do with automobiles at all—which brings me to my real issue with the Hyundai ad: whether powered by gasoline, electricity, coal or fairy-farts, as far as the woodland creatures are concerned, a car is nothing but a death machine.

In fact I suspect the attention all the animals are paying to the Sonata cruising through the forest isn't so much excitement as it is vigilant dread. Unless being clumsy and falling off a tree stump is a sign of approval in the animal world.

The creatures in this Jeep Liberty ad, on the other hand, are positively joyous:

That SUV is lucky if it gets 20 miles per gallon, and the commercial makes no claims of environmental friendliness, so I'm not sure what those critters are so happy about. Though based on their supernatural singing abilities I must assume they're the ghosts of all the animals he's run down while joy-riding through the woods. So much for "Rock Me Gently."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Ego Has Branded: Jon Bon Jovi's Philanthropic Awareness Campaign

Surviving your teenage years is hard enough. But if you grew up in the late 80s, your teenage years were really hard, because you were forced to listen to Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" every day of your life.

I'm an adult now, ostensibly, and my teenage years are long behind me. And yet Jon Bon Jovi still makes my life miserable. I turn on my TV and I see him, not singing his songs, but singing his own praises in a commercial:

Pain doesn’t have much of a place in my life. I checked the schedule and it’s not on it. You never know when Advil’s needed. Well, most people only know one side of my life. They see me on stage and they think that that is who I am. There’s many layers to... everybody, everywhere. Singer-songwriter, philanthropist, father—life’s a juggling act. When I have to get through the pain, I know where to go.

Yes, life is a juggling act. Here he's juggling the tasks of reminding people of how successful and rich he is while also proclaiming himself to be a benevolent, regular guy.

And with only a 30 second commercial to accomplish all that—he really is too busy for pain. (But evidently not too busy for shameless self-promotion.) The previously unknown side of Jon Bon Jovi, it turns out, is comprised chiefly of philanthropy, which is something that other wealthy people with only average-sized egos don’t feel the need to publicize, in person, on television.

Though I must admit, I'm impressed that on top of all the other stuff Bon Jovi is also a father. This guy doesn’t need Advil, he needs a medal!

JBJ has already received a fair amount of publicity for his charitable works, including top ranking in a celebrity-charity survey detailed in this Forbes article. (Mind you, the ranking has nothing to do with raising or donating actual money—instead the survey's authors have used a complicated ubiquity-conversion algorithm to place a hypothetical dollar value on each star's popularity, and then ranked the celebrities according to the percentages of their popularity "spent" on publicizing their charitable causes.) And yet getting press is not enough for Mr. Jovi; he still feels the need to act as his own spokesperson to spread awareness of his do-gooder-ness.

While I can't claim to endure the hardship of being a philanthropist, there are pains in my life. Unfortunately ibuprofen can’t solve all of them. For one thing, it doesn’t make Jon Bon Jovi go away. Turning off my TV might be a cure for that, but that's not really an option—American Ninja Warrior isn’t going to watch itself.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hang On To Your Egotism

Recently the Apple Computer folks have rolled out the next "gen" of TV ads. Here's one for the iPad, which you, the consumer, will find really helpful because it tells you not just once, but over and over again, that the product is really really good.

“When a screen becomes this good, colors are more vibrant . . . everything is more brilliant.”

You know, that is vibrant! Though I have no idea how it'd look on the actual iPad—what I'm seeing is filtered through my TV, which lacks the "stunning Retina display." Which makes me wonder—when a screen becomes "this good," is it sharper and clearer than an HD television? Because I’m really not sure how much further into the local newscasters’ pores I want to see.

Meanwhile, Apple is simultaneously pushing the new “Siri” iPhone 4S:

This commercial features Zooey Sevigny, or Coco Deschanel or whoever. Sorry if I'm a bit out of touch—I just can't keep up with these damn hippies and their screwy names. Anyway, in the ad what's-her-name basically talks to herself while holding a phone. I guess it's aimed at lonely single women who want some company but who are allergic to cats.

Another iPhone ad depicts a teenager who is so inept that he can’t do any of the typical things that teenagers do without a pricey device guiding him every step of the way.

How do you play "London Calling"?

He can't figure out where to buy a guitar, how to play a guitar, or even how to talk to girls without the aid of his digital mommy. And yet he insists that his talking phone address him as "Rock God"? If this wide-mouthed little narcissist spent half as much time practicing as he does talking to his iPhone then eventually his band might learn to play a song. Not that it matters—even if his band impressed those girls enough that he found himself with a chance to have sex with one of them he'd just blow it by asking Siri how to use the condom.

I can't help but wonder, how does a teenager end up like this? Must be his parents' fault—it's a pretty sure bet he's a product of the affluent-absentee method of child-rearing: parents working endless hours at high-caliber jobs and atoning for their neglect by buying the kids everything they want. I mean, it’s obvious that Terence Trent Dumby here isn’t paying for his new guitar or his Siri-enabled phone himself; before he got the talking phone he never could’ve figured out how to even look for a job.

Between his parents and his iPhone, this kid is so spoiled he'll never have to do anything for himself.

Well, this has all been fun, but I still can’t say I understand the appeal of these ads. I’m supposed to want the talking phone because, what, I’m too entitled or stupid to operate the internet for myself? Or because I’m lonely? They're certainly not convincing me that it’s worth shelling out something like $600 for a faux-sentient device to keep me company. Besides, there are already much cheaper and cuddlier options for that:

He really enjoys talking to people.

Anyway, as with most things that confuse me, just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean nobody else does. Apple must know what they're doing, since their devices sell like hotcakes (whatever those were). I guess the American Dream isn’t about just making a decent life for yourself anymore. It’s about the fantasy of living like a rock star—only without having to really work for it. Sorry, I meant rock god—like I said, I'm out of touch.

Damn hippies.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baby Formula: The Dilemma of Science-Food

When it comes to the wild and woolly world of nourishing a baby, there are two main options. Breast milk is a popular way to go, but it's not for everyone. As with anything that's unadulterated and natural, breast feeding is, to many people, frightening and repulsive. A lot of folks feel more comfortable choosing an alternative that’s synthetic and mass-produced.

That brings us to the other choice: commercially available products used by many parents and/or guardians to either supplement or replace breast-milk.

I am of course talking about "formula"—baby formula, that is (not to be confused with Grecian Formula, algebraic formulas, or Formula One Racing)—the only drink-mix on the market targeted at infants. While its main component is milk, formula has an ingredient list that's literally as long as your arm. And when I say "literally" I don't mean "figuratively":

The contents enumerated on this tub of Enfamil brand formula sitting on my kitchen counter form a block of text 11 lines long and 2 inches wide. Stretched end to end that's 22 inches of "who knows what."

As you can see, this formula stuff is filled with compounds containing words like phosphate, citrate, chloride and palmitate. Some of the ingredients even have footnotes, like "A source of docosahexaenoic acid."

What this means is that I have no idea what the fuck I am putting into my baby. These could all be things that are designed to turn her into some kind of mutant automaton fulfilling the orders of our future alien overlords—an unwitting cyborg sleeper-cell that will join up with other formula-fed child-bots when coded radio-signals are sent out to activate them.

It's strange that almost from birth a hell of a lot of our babies are being pumped full of so many weird food additives. Maybe I should take it as a small consolation that most of these ingredients—9 out of the 11 lines, or 18 inches—are listed after the "And less than 1%" qualifier. Are these mostly preservatives and thickeners and junk like that? What would happen if they were left out? Would the formula turn into some kind of lumpy goo, or burst into flames upon making contact with the air? Seriously, any of those ingredients could be a flame retardant, as far as I can tell. And baby-products are big on flame-retardant these days.

Anyway, apart from all those little one-percent items, what's really the difference between formula and cow's milk?

Well, the price, for one thing.

Actually, as I understand it, human babies can't get all of their "nutrition" (that's science-talk for "vitamins and junk") from cows' milk. Hence scientists or food-wizards or whoever have "formulated" a beverage that will provide all of the nutrition of human milk. And it took almost 2 feet of fine-print ingredients to do so.

Though the more I think about all the ways modern medicine and science have extended life (i.e., protecting us from diseases, infection, sea-monsters, etc.) I have to wonder: Can plain-old human milk really provide the same level of nutrition-laden benefits as the laboratory-enhanced ingredients found in formula? Maybe scientists have created something better than what Mother Nature provided—it wouldn't be the first time. While this could well be the case, if you consider how processed most of our foods are these days it's safe to assume that mothers who breast feed are already ingesting so many weird chemicals that they are likely synthesizing all the additives that their babies could ever possibly need (you know—preservatives, caking agents, heavy metals), and passing them along to them through their breast milk.

Which means whether our babies are fed breast milk or formula, we can rest assured that they will grow up healthy and strong. And possibly cyborg.