Monday, January 26, 2004

The Oh, For God's Sake Quiz:
Where's the Beef?

So you think McDonald's French fries and Jude Law's boudoir are the only places you'll find hidden beef? Think again. When Mickey D's got outted for including beef in its fries (after patting itself on the back years earlier for switching from lard to vegetable oil), many vegetarians, Hindus, and people who just don't like being tricked got a little pissed off. But according to the Los Angeles Times, beef is everywhere. Rendered cattle parts -- including brains, spines, and other potentially maddening tissue -- are routinely recycled into a variety of everyday products. In a January 4 article, Times writer Stephanie Simon explained that enterprising American capitalists render cattle parts -- entire carcasses in most cases -- into edible fats, flavorings, thickeners, and all manner of items you probably consume unwittingly all the time. You stout-testicled Texans out there might not care. But for the rest of you: Guess which of the following items said "moo" in a former incarnation. The answers appear below.

1. Marshmallows
2. Velcro
3. Breakfast cereal bars
4. Salad-bar sneezeguards
5. Lipstick
6. Sponges
7. Hand lotion
8. The Sears Craftsman 9-piece Socket Set, 6 pt. Metric with Bonus Ratchet
9. Gelatin
10. Jay Leno's chin's shadow's je ne sais quoi
11. Garden fertilizers
12. Viagra
13. Tires
14. Botox
15. Yogurt
16. Compassionate conservatism
17. Breath mints
18. Tattoo ink
19. Dietary supplements
20. That stuff that makes Post-it Notes stick, but not forever
21. Gel-caps
22. Smiley Face, the Wal*Mart spokes-emoticon
23. Gummy candy
24. Tommy Hilfiger cologne
25. Canned vegetable soup
26. Communion wafers
27. Cake frosting
28. The Segway human transporter
29. Canned ham
30. Urinal cakes
31. Sour cream
32. Martin Short's "Jiminy Glick" face jowls
33. Lozenges
34. Dick Cheney's snarl's ennui
35. Crayons
36. America's soul, since 1903
37. Cosmetics
38. The collective conscience of the beef industry, corporate fast-food chains, television advertising executives, Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, the lawyers for the beef barons who went after Oprah, and that weird guy who sits on that bus-stop bench after dark outside the White Castle playing pocket pool, his eyes fixed on infinity, his mind focused on steamy, oniony buns and just the right amount of ketchup, pooled and slightly dry in a way that doesn't really look like blood but somehow reminds you of it anyway.
39. Fabric softener
40. The bra cups on your old girlfriend, Patty O'Boeuf

Incredibly, all of the odd-numbered items are often made from or contain parts of rendered cattle. Yup. Marshmallows. Yogurt. Gel-caps. Throat lozenges. Breath mints. Lipstick. Canned ham? Yes, canned ham.

The even-numbered items probably do too, but were not specifically mentioned by the Times article. Number 34 is not only beef-free but also might well be the name of a rock band.

[Note: Stephanie Simon's excellent Los Angeles Times article was widely reprinted and is available all over the Web. Because of the LA Times' obnoxious policy of charging for archival material, read it on the Seattle Times' site instead.]

Monday, January 19, 2004

Junior Birdman
When President Bush announced plans for a US mission to Mars in 2030 (thereby ensuring plenty of Oh, For God Sake material for at least another 26 years), I had mixed emotions: Which was more deeply profound: the fact that we'll spend a half a trillion dollars on a rock-collecting mission or the very idea that President Bush has the slightest idea what he's talking about? I finally decided on the latter. It was just too surreal: President George W. Bush, whose life's work is the very model for the expression, "it's not rocket science," explaining ... rocket science!

"Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth's gravity is expensive," the President knowingly declared. "Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far-lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air... We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos." And then he made that "pow, right in the kisser" pantomime that Ralph Kramden always made when threatening to send Alice to the moon.

The President's plan is ambitious: First, we'll fly to the moon, trying hard not to blow our astronauts to smithereens. Once there, we'll build a base, from where we can exploit the moon's natural resources (cheese) to harvest rocket fuel, generate breathable air, and build a space station, a Starbucks, and a Wal-Mart (the grocery kind, so astronauts can buy cool camping gear, but also Tang). Next, we'll take advantage of the moon's lower gravity to launch a mission to Mars, where we'll search for weapons of mass destruction, Nicole Brown Simpson's real killer, and the Democratic Party's backbone. In the process, we'll make many important scientific and technological discoveries, such as Pop Rocks and new cell-phone ring tones.

Exciting stuff. But what I could not get out of my mind as the President unveiled his Mars vision was the collaboration that must have gone on between his speechwriters and NASA engineers. I kept wondering how many drafts it took to dumb it down enough. What's more, NASA engineers clearly are crazy cutups. (How else can you explain the MTV Spring Break beach umbrella that is visible in the upper left corner of that recent panoramic Mars photo?) They are bound to have had a lot of fun at the president's expense:

Doo da loo da loo, doo da loo da loo, doo da loo da loo...

NASA Conference Room A

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe: Thanks for coming everybody. With an 80-billion-and-counting money pit in Iraq, record deficits, a health-insurance crisis, a worldwide terror emergency, an unsafe national food supply, multiple disease epidemics and a new "American Idol" bearing down on the country, President Rove ... um, Bush! I mean Bush... has decided to take strong action.

Engineer #1: Announce a mission to Mars?

Engineer #2: Shut up, this is serious.

O'Keefe: No, he's right. We are going to Mars.

Engineer #2 (embarrassed): Right. I knew that. But we have no idea how to put a human on Mars. And even if we did, it would cost... what... 500 billion dollars?

O'Keefe: We don't have to actually know how to do it. We just have to give the president's speechwriters a rough outline. The actual plan can come later. Thoughts?

Engineer #1. Let's have him say we are close to developing a process that turns cow brains into rocket fuel!

Engineer #2: Pa dum pum! How about a ladder! A great, big ladder to Mars! No, wait. An escalator! Let's build an escalator! Less climbing.

O'Keefe: Can we be serious for a moment? What is the biggest challenge to sending a manned mission to Mars? Is it the high cost and environmental risks of propelling a sufficient volume of nuclear rocket fuel out of Earth's atmosphere or getting the president to pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly in his speech?

Engineer #1 [spits coffee all over the conference room table]: Good one, Chief! [Vacuum-mops up coffee with magic NASA vacuum Wet Wipes, developed from technology gained from previous missions]

Engineer #3: Hey, how about a wormhole? We could say we found a wormhole that leads to the cosmos.

Engineer #4: In Afghanistan!

Engineer #3: Right, so it would belong to America.

Engineer #1: Or, a new drug! You take a pill and -- presto! -- you're on Mars.

Engineer #2: It worked for Limbaugh.

Engineer #3 (wistful): Lucky Limby. A true pioneer.

Engineer #4: Or a really, really, really big trampoline...

O'Keefe: OK, let's get serious. What do you think about a base on the moon? We build a base on the moon and launch a mission to Mars from there?

Engineer #1: I like it!

Engineer #2: Me too. We've already been to the moon [winks at everybody]. It's got a ring of plausibility. Plus, I'm getting hungry.

Engineer #3: Me too. Anybody up for freeze-dried burrito crystals?

Engineer #4: But wait. What about money? A moon base would cost billions of dollars.

O'Keefe: I don't think he's going to actually fund it; just demand it.

Engineer #1: Oh. Clever. Like No Child Left Behind.

O'Keefe: Right. [rubs tummy] I'm thinking powdered sushi. Who's with me?

Doo da loo da loo, doo da loo da loo, doo da loo da loo...

And so a speech was born. And the President delivered it, with gusto. And America cheered and turned its gaze once again toward the heavens. And asked: Is this man really our President? And: When does the new "Survivor" start?

Monday, January 12, 2004

S U Voila
The local TV Newsmimbo was showing an SUV. An un-crashed one.

Momentarily stepping out of his familiar role of scaring the shit out of us with grisly highway accidents, violent crimes, war, and Republican victory celebrations, the mimbo stepped into another familiar role: shill for giant corporations.

On this night, he was covering the Detroit Auto Show, giving priceless free advance advertising to -- among other vehicles -- the massive, new Toyota Indignity, the auto industry's latest winking bitch-slap to the environment, safe drivers and weapons-poor, oil-rich countries.

The SUV sat on a stage atop an enormous lazy Susan and rotated, beguilingly. Its hood gleamed. Its chrome sparkled. The Newsmimbo cooed.

Great, I thought. Just what the world needs: another giant, 9-passenger auto (rarely seen with more than one occupant) with four-wheel drive (never engaged), ready for off-road excitement (never to venture off the pavement).

OK, I'm getting verklempt. I need a moment. Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: Sport utility vehicles are neither sporting, utilitarian, nor vehicles. Discuss.

OK, I'm better. Ever since Henry Ford corn-holed the world by developing his petroleum-burning engine instead of his plant-burning engine (because he owned oil-company stocks and, hey, any idiot can raise corn -- where's the cabbage in that?), America has been manipulated non-stop by Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Insurance, Big Highway Contractor, McDonald's and Wal-Mart. (OK, I haven't yet established the link back to McDonald's and Wal-Mart. But you know they're in there. They're in there!)

But wait! Did I hear that Newsmimbo right? Jarring me out of my non-stop eye-rolling reverie over Big-Auto audacity, he said, "the Toyota Highlander [Oops. It isn't called the Indignity. My bad.] is a hybrid vehicle. Available by year's end, this gas-electric SUV will use less gas than compact cars with four-cylinder engines -- less, in fact, than the tiny Ford Focus."

Whaaa?! I made fists and rubbed them on my eyelids. Was I dreaming? In a rare lapse of cynicism, I grew misty-eyed. An auto company doing the right thing?! But it's true: Hybrid vehicles are catching on. In fact, the auto-nerds who vote on such things recently selected the gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius as the car of the year. Those babies get 60 miles per gallon, even in the city. They're more economical to drive than conventional cars, they pollute less, and they give people like me another way to daydream about being sanctimonious. Oh, what a feeling! (TM).

Quickly, I regained my sarcasm (it had rolled under the coffee table and the dog was chewing on it). A smirk of smartassed-satisfaction came to my face as it dawned on me: Not now, not ten years from now, but someday -- god willing, in my lifetime -- Big Oil is fucked! I truly believe that -- despite the oil-soaked evildoers who have taken over this country, despite America's love affair with driving, despite the trend toward being able to say "hummer" without laughing out loud -- more and more Americans really do recognize deep down that it is wrong to kill people for oil. And that -- not greed -- well, OK, greed -- but not just greed; greed plus fear plus conscience -- is what's driving the demand for hybrid cars.

So, Big Oil, put on something pretty: You're gonna get what's coming to you! (And, with apologies to John Hiatt, just keep those pretty legs showin'. It gets hot down where you're goin.)

Sure, there will be MobileExxon hydrogen fuel cells and BP charging stations, and eventually Marathon dilithium crystals and you will still come up with new and creative ways to rape our natural resources and kill innocent people and steal elections and destroy the planet, but when it comes to spreading misery with fossil fuels, you are screwed.

My advice: Lube up, baby! At least you petroleum people got plenty of jelly for it.

Monday, January 05, 2004

(Sorta) Public Radio
In Louisville, public radio is so good and commercial radio is so bad that I could get by just fine with a radio that received only public radio stations. Now that Clear Channel owns the commercial airwaves and has filled it with sewage like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and cookie-cutter morning shock jocks that blather on about boobies and poop in between blocks of ads that make e-mail spam subject lines sound plausible, public radio is the only way to go. But it's not just that commercial radio sucks; public radio has gotten really, really good.

We have three public radio stations: news/talk, "adult alternative" and classical. The news/talk station, WFPL, has all the great NPR news programming (OK, some of those news stories go on so long your ear hair has grown an inch before they're over, but still), along with the sublime Terry Gross, and even some call-in shows where -- unlike commercial radio -- callers (and hosts) don't sound homicidal. The adult alternative station, WFPK, is phenomenal. It is not unusual to hear Johnny Cash, My Morning Jacket, Gillian Welch, and John Lee Hooker back to back to back to back. You can turn on WFPK, leave it on, and rarely hear a bad song. And the classical station, WUOL, is exquisite. Their chamber music show on Sunday morning lifts my soul, and -- OK, I'm lying about this one. I have no use for classical or jazz music unless it's background in cartoons or Woody Allen movies. Still, it's nice to know classical music is there -- you know -- in case I ever achieve a stock portfolio or take a liking to Geritol smoothies.

So, given my love and admiration for public radio, you probably figure I must be a big financial contributor, ponying up some serious jack when they conduct their semi-annual beg-a-thons. Well, no, I don't. Several years ago, just about the time the local "Public Radio Partnership" started expanding and getting really good, a delightful little euphemism for advertising reared its ugly head: "underwriting." Way back when, companies that sponsored (another euphemism for advertising) public radio got a three-second mention at the top of the hour. Now, underwriters get long, colorful descriptions, including corporate slogans and even the occasional jingle. The other day, during an ad for a car company, I kept thinking the announcer was going to say, ", Corinthian leather." I was almost rooting for it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm delighted for this advertising on public radio, so long as it doesn't get out of hand. It's no coincidence that advertising is directly related to the improved quality and depth of programming on public radio. Plus, I don't have to contribute or feel guilty sponging.

And sponge I do. Unlike public libraries, public universities, public monuments or public restrooms where each customer leaves a footprint and takes a financial toll, public radio knows not nor suffers a whit if I listen in. My listening has no ill effect on their bandwidth, their productivity or their resources. (In fact, I could argue that by listening, and subsequently mentioning a program to a friend who might tune in and end up contributing, that I am performing a noble service by stealing their programming.)

If TIAA CREF (You're Not Just a Face in the Crowd to Them) and GE (They Bring Good Things To Light) are going to foot the bill by buying ads on "public" radio, wouldn't I be doing a far greater service to the universe by spending any loose change on CDs by those struggling artists who get no air time on commercial radio? Why yes, I would. And that's exactly what I do when the beg-a-rama comes around. 'Cause -- you know -- who can stand to listen to all that pathetic begging?

Each year my lovely, public-radio-stealing wife and I donate money to those who help people less fortunate than us, such as Kentucky Harvest, Home of the Innocents or The Fund for the Histrionically Sanctimonious. Because we're on a limited budget, any money we donated to public radio would come out of the pockets of those hungry, homeless children or those struggling musical artists (who sometimes put on "Aid"-suffixed benefit concerts that further salve mankind, while also giving public radio some righteous tunes to play).

So, as you can see, it is both morally imperative to listen to public radio and morally wrong to contribute money.

Of course, that's just one man's opinion. If you disagree with me, you're going to love the Oh, For God's Sake pledge drive!