JULY 2002

Tuesday, July 30, 2002
The Today Show did an interesting bit this morning on why New Jersey gets no respect. They covered all the stereotypes about endless stripmalls, polluting smokestacks and industry that stinks up the place, the you-from-Jersey-what-exit jokes, how it costs six bucks to cross the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan but crossing it into New Jersey is free, the big hair -- that kind of thing. It was amusing, but I'm guessing that if you've never lived in or around New Jersey, it wasn't all that great. And while I haven't traveled very extensively, I'm also guessing that New Jersey is a lot like the sprawling outer areas of any major city.

They also had Bruce Springsteen on, hence the whole New Jersey segment. I never got that whole Bruce Springsteen fanatic thing. I know that a lot of people -- especially among the well-educated set -- think he's a god, and that his word is gospel, etc. etc., but I just never got into it. I don't even like his music all that much. To me, he's just a guy with a guitar who's way past his prime and makes squinchy faces when he sings.

Saturday, July 27, 2002
I think this whole lawsuit against fast food chains is a total joke. Without getting into what I and probably a lot of other people feel is the American "loose cannon" tendency to sue anyone for anything, suing fast food companies because they sell products that are bad for you completely discounts any shred of accountability on the part of the millions and millions of people who eat this stuff every day.

The plaintiff's lawyers are comparing it to the recent tobacco settlements: cigarettes are bad for you, they're saying, and we've received millions of dollars in settlements from the big tobacco companies. Fast food is bad for you, so why shouldn't we be able to get money out of the fast food companies? Okay, sure, but they're leaving out one essential point: tobacco manufacturers have admitted that nicotine is addictive, and that they're putting this addictive substance in their products to get people hooked so they'll keep buying more. But as far as anyone's been able to prove, McDonalds isn't putting any addictive substance in their food. It's just greasy and full of fat, and as any chef worth his or her salt will tell you, fat equals flavor. This is why cheesecake ice cream and Cinnabons and fried mozzerella sticks are so yummy and why steamed kolrabi is not. We're predisposed to like fat. These fast food companies just make it easily available. The consumer makes the choice as to whether or not they want to eat it. If they choose to eat it and later find that all their coronary arteries are clogged like an old drain pipe, that's their problem, not the responsibility of the fast food chains.

But fast food companies push this bad food like crazy, the plaintiff's lawyers are saying, and are offering bigger and bigger portions for not a lot of money. It almost doesn't pay not to buy it! True, but in a capitalist economy, marketing is fair game. If you need to compete to sell products, you need to do something to make people buy your Big Mac over their Whopper. If offering more french fries with your burger makes you sell more of them, then that's effective marketing -- you don't need a business degree to figure that out. You can't sue a company for effectively marketing its products. In fact, companies usually win awards for that and go on to run marketing seminars for smaller companies who have trouble selling enough of their products.

A third complaint I heard from the plaintiff side is that people felt that they were misled because fast food companies claimed their burgers were "all beef," and people thought this meant that it was good for them. I can't comment on the intelligence of these people who think beef is healthy, but what these lawyers know as well as you or I do is that beef is anything but healthy, and if you ate filet mignon each and every day for lunch for five years, you'd still have health problems.

I obviously don't think this suit will hold up. As much as I avoid McDonalds and Burger King (though I must admit, I like those seven layer veggie burritos from Taco Bell), and as much as I dislike fast food because it's so insanely bad for you, I have to side with the fast food companies on this one. If you eat supersize value meals every day for lunch and you honestly don't know that sooner or later your health will suffer for it, then the joke's on you. No one's putting crack in those burgers to make you crave them, no one's forcing McNuggets down your throat, and if you think you're being deceived by the "all beef" claims, you need to stop watching so many syndicated re-runs, start paying attention to what's happening around you, eat something that doesn't come wrapped in printed waxed paper, and take some responsibility for what you put in your body. My advice to the plaintiffs? Find another cause. You did it to yourselves.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002
It slices, it dices, it's discontinued. Kodak's
mc3 was a digital camera, video camera, mp3 player, and was a sort of portable hard drive (USB, though, and not FireWire). MSN has it listed as a hot product on, even though it's discontinued. I wouldn't say it's hot so much as a crappy product that they really need to get off the warehouse shelves so they can make way for the decent mp3 players, the decent digital cameras, the decent video cameras, and the decent portable hard drives. Like the combination scanner/photocopier/fax machine, I can't imagine the mc3 does any of its functions particularly well. Which may explain why it's discontinued and there are so many of them just laying around waiting to be snatched up by the same hopeful yet naive people who think a fax machine will scan photos really well. And all for $89? probably get what you pay for.

Monday, July 22, 2002
Trickle down electronics: I like to scan the radio when I drive long distances. So today I was scanning and landed on a Christian station. I could tell it was Christian because there was a loud preacher giving a sermon, and his voice had all the stereotypical affectations that go along with giving a sermon. Normally I just skip past stations like these, but the preacher on this one was talking about (believe it) computers. Specifically, he was talking about how you can run a Windows environment on a Mac and a Mac OS environment on a PC. He was making a (strange but geeky) connection between operating systems and being a real Christian. Like, you can pretend you're a Christian because you go to church, know the ten commandments, and do things that make you look Christian, but if you're not Christian on the inside, it's just a facade -- the same way a Mac running a Windows environment looks like a PC but really isn't. An interesting connection, but I wonder how many people focused on the you-can-do-that? aspect and ignored the whole religious part.

And speaking of Mac, new OS, cheaper iPods, and a widescreen G4 iMac!

And speaking of sermons, you can plagiarize one here.

Friday, July 19, 2002
There's a store in town that I affectionately refer to as "The Ho Store." You know the type: a neon sign advertising "Sexy Shoes" in the window, stripper-looking outfits visible from the outside, that kind of thing. I drive past it just about every day, but I've never gone in. But today, I drove past with a co-worker on the way back from a meeting, and they had all these shoe boxes out on the sidewalk with a sign that read "$3 each." So we stopped. And tried on lots of shoes! I wound up getting two pairs for three bucks each and one pair for ten, and none of them look stripper-y. In fact, two of them are chunky winter-type shoes. So I am now a customer of The Ho Store.

(I checked out some of the clothes too. Even if they could fit me, it's not happening.)

Road trip! Why? Why not. Back Monday.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Early impression of Wilco's
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: beautiful. It's really easy to pass off all the music journalists' gushing that Jeff Tweedy is the best songwriter today as good ol' entertainment hype, but the CD really is that good.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002
A few random items:

  • Went to the beach today. I was standing in the water, about knee high, when a three-year-old comes up next to me, throws his plastic toy dolphin into the lake, and then looks at me and says, "Go get it!" I told his lazy ass to go get it your damn self (sort of).
  • I'm becoming addicted to frappuccinos. For a while, I could talk myself out of getting one if I didn't want the caffeine, but now Starbucks has coffee-free vanilla and coconut flavors. Damn.
  • Apparently, other people think Kinko's sucks too.

Monday, July 15, 2002
There's a new magazine out for the hip, young, probably urban Jewish set. (Urban because -- let's face it -- you just don't find Jews in rural Arkansas.) It's called
Heeb. An ugly title, I'd say, since calling a Jew a heeb is a little like calling an African-American...well, you know. Let's just say you'd probably get your ass kicked if you actually did. I'm not sure if I like this embracing of a formerly pejorative term as a cute little nickname for members of a certain race or ethnicity to call one another, a la gangsta rappers. We Jews look kind of dumb doing that anyway; a bunch of skinny guys in glasses and women with frizzy hair calling each other "my kike" is more funny than anything. Not to stereotype or anything, of course. But yeah, reclaiming our heritage, ownership of our faith, and all those other pomo arguments. Sure. I didn't buy a copy of the magazine, but I flipped through the current issue for about a minute, and all I remember is that it had a little blurb bitching about sushi with smoked salmon and cream cheese (ick) and how it should be named after Jews, since it's basically bagel fixings on seaweed. Which it is. Sushi with smoked salmon and cream cheese just tastes like a really bad bagel. Do yourself a favor and avoid it. And the magazine? You'll have to check it out for yourself.

Until today, I had never used Powerpoint. Honestly, I was kind of avoiding it. I've always thought of it as a computer program for people who don't know how to use computers but want to make people think they do. (Word is kind of like that too, but since I make a good deal of my living writing, don't like WordPerfect, and never really got into AppleWorks, I'm stuck with it.) But this morning my boss asked me to put together a slide presentation for her, so I told her yeah, sure, I know how to use Powerpoint, I'll do it. I sat down with the program, and in about ten minutes, I had it figured out. It's pretty simple -- almost annoyingly so. While I appreciate the ease of the program, and how it allows tech un-savvy people put together something that looks slick, I didn't like how it boxes you in and forces you to be uncreative. But the presentation got done, and, for better or worse, I am now in the "extensive knowledge in Powerpoint" demographic. Yay.

Sure, the Pfizer buyout of Pharmacia is big news, given the recent market downslide and all, but here in Kalamazoo, it's huge. Pharmacia, formerly Pharmacia and Upjohn, formerly Upjohn, used to be based here in Kalamazoo. It's now based in New Jersey, but the company still employs thousands locally. So the headline on today's local paper took up the entire part above the fold. It was like a world war, the second coming, and the Lions winning the Super Bowl all in one. Big!

Another reason why I love college radio: During a news break on the local college station today, the student reporter was talking about the wanton spraying of pesticides. Only he pronounced the word wanton like won-ton, as in the Chinese dumpling. So it was really about the won-ton spraying of pesticides. Which would, in a bizarre way, make sense, since Chinese food does, in all fairness, attract its fair share of flies, and might benefit from a little pest control.

A good thing? Insider trading is just so untidy, and at, you can support the maven of tidiness through her insider trading heat. Someone should start, just for a goof.

Sunday, July 14, 2002
Went to Ann Arbor for some general hanging out and had some deliriously great sushi at Miki. I thought my tongue was going to melt on their spicy tuna rolls. They also had plum wine ice cream, which may be my new favorite ice cream flavor. And, I found seafood that I don't particularly like: sea urchin. Kind of gritty and slimy and bottom-feeder tasting. Blech.

Saturday, July 13, 2002
I've never been much into gambling. I don't buy lottery tickets, infrequently make friendly bets over sporting events, and want to go to Las Vegas only for the
Hunter S. Thompson-ness of it all. Yesterday, for the first time in my over-21 years, I was in a casino. I had stood outside and looked in them while in Atlantic City when I was a kid, but this was the first time I was able to walk in. (I got carded several times, and the security guards really scrutinized my license, but they let me through.)

I wasn't all that impressed. In fact, it was kind of sad. It was in Detroit, and not nearly as flashy as the Vegas casinos look in movies. Mostly, I saw older people at the slot machines, just pushing buttons (very few levers these days) and staring and losing money. No skill, no interaction: just a bunch of automatons. All the slot machines look different, but they're all the same: push a button, watch three nonmatching icons come up, lose money. I tried it, just for kicks. It took me about two minutes to lose five bucks on them. Not much fun at all. I even tried the video poker machines -- the ones that people in South Carolina get horrendously addicted to -- and that was even less fun than computer game poker, where the money's fake and there's no ding-ding-ding-ding all around you. The whole thing reminded me of that line in Casino where Robert Deniro's voice is on the audio track and the camera winds its way into the counting room and he says, "They more they play, the more they lose. In the end, we get it all." I hear the particular casino I was in makes about a million a day.

It was also amazing how hard it was to physically get out of the casino. Most of the throughways in the building led straight to the casino, but only one led out. We kept going back to where we saw escalators, but they were one-way only. Even when we asked the security guards how to leave, the directions they gave seemed deliberately sketchy. It took us 20 minutes to finally get back to the street outside. Don't think I'll be going back in.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Hai!Had some totally killer sushi at Kamehachi on Ontario Street in Chicago, including one awesome roll with tuna, yellowtail, and cilantro. (Though I suppose if you don't like cilantro, it's not so awesome.) The sushi chefs were even posing for photos for a lot of tourists, but I wanted to catch them in action. Also had some good Greek food at
Papagus. If you go, try the octopus. Oh, go on, try it. It won't kill you. Tastes like chicken. Really chewy chicken, but definitely chicken-y.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002
Whoosh.Took a tourist boat ride on the Chicago River that went out into Lake Michigan a little. I didn't know this, but there are river locks where the Chicago River meets the lake, and all boats have to tie up in the holding chamber when both lock doors are closed. The water level on Lake Michigan is about a foot and a half higher than the river level, so as the lock opens up, all this water rushes in, and the boat is actually lifted up. Having never seen this before, I thought it was pretty cool.

The ride was cool, but the river part was actually better than the lake part. The lake was all kinds of windy, and water kept splashing up, which wasn't so good for those of us with cameras. The river was easier, and I thought the buildings along the river were more interesting to look at than Navy Pier at a distance on the lake. But I was most taken with the whole locking system and the gushing water.

Monday, July 8, 2002
Eats, baby.The
Taste of Chicago is the largest food festival of its kind in the country. (The second largest, in case you're wondering, is the Taste of Buffalo in Buffalo, NY.) We went there on the fifth and had a blast trying all kinds of interesting foods in the blazing heat. Of all the treats I sampled, the best was the West African flaming chicken gizzards from Ofie. Other notable goodies included cajun alligator on a stick, duck with lingonberry sauce and the best saurkraut ever, and beer battered artichoke hearts. I didn't try the big saucy turkey legs, but they seemed to be popular with the kids and the Renaissance Faire-looking crowd.

I guess I'm an adventurous eater. I'll pretty much try anything, and usually, the weirder, the better. I love festivals like this because I get to try all kinds of strange foods that I probably wouldn't ever have the chance to sample otherwise. So it kind of bothers me that one, the festival management allows food vendors to sell things like cheeseburgers and french fries, two, they let chain restaurants like McDonalds (McDonalds!) set up as a food vendor, and three, that festival attendees actually buy to taste things like cheeseburgers and french fries. To me, the whole point of these festivals is to taste new things. I know what french fries taste like. You know what french fries taste like. The prices at these things are kind of inflated, so why the hell would I want to spend three dollars to eat french fries I've had a million times before? Sure, I understand that some people might be weirded out by alligator on a stick, but at least try something slightly different.

Overall, though, it was impressive. To plan an event this size and have it run smoothly is difficult, and I really appreciated how well organized it all seemed. There were lots of trash bins around for all the little paper plates and napkins, sectioned were roped off so food vendors could wheel things in and out easily, and I think whoever came up with the idea of tickets at a food festival so vendors don't have to handle money is brilliant. It's a small detail, but it really speeds things up when you just can't wait for your sample of mustard fried catfish. I also thought it was a good idea that all food vendors had to offer at least one small "taste portion" menu item that was only a few tickets. That way, you could try lots of things and not have to commit to one large entree-sized portion that may or may not be good.

I'd highly recommend a trip to the Taste of Chicago next year. The only things missing were knives. I don't know if this was for security reasons or if they just never had them, but it's hard as hell to eat a chunk of poultry with just a plastic fork -- or even worse, a useless spork. So, bring your own. Better yet, bring a regular fork, too; plastic can get annoying. Moist towelettes are also a good idea to clean your hands. Oh, and money. Lots of money.

Sunday, July 7, 2002
Back from Chicago and very very tired. Walked all over the place, ate all kinds of weird food (some with tentacles, some without, but all tasty), saw the city from 95 nervewracking stories up, and bought a blender! Photos to come. For now, sleepytime.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002
Going to Chicago for a few days of what looks to be hot-hazy-humid Independence Day fun with mom, dad, one brother, and, in all likelihood, throngs of security guards. Should be a good time: people laughing, people smiling, a man selling ice cream, will you help him change the world,
can you dig it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002
Slept in, skipped out of work, and went to the beach. Yeah.

Well, sort of. Kids on the beach kind of piss me off, but not nearly as much as their ignorant parents. Kids don't understand that if you start throwing a few potato chips to one bird, pretty soon every obnoxious gull within several miles will be squawking for chips, and they won't leave for a long time, even if you're no longer throwing chips. Parents do, or at least should understand this, but they never tell their kids, "Hey Caitlin," or "Hey Tyler," or whatever kids are named these days, "don't start throwing your chips to the birds, or there'll be a whole flock of them around you and you'll piss off everyone else on the beach." Naw -- they just sit there and ignore everything while their kid annoys the crap out of everyone else sitting nearby. And then when all the chips are gone because they've all been thrown to the birds, and little Caitlin, or little Tyler, or little whatever, is still hungry, mom buys them a waffle cone at the concession shack near the parking lot.

Hey kids: don't feed the birds.

Monday, July 1, 2002
Keep off grass.Poking through some photos I took on my trip home to NY last month, I came across this one of flamingoes at the
Bronx Zoo. Flamingoes always seem weird and unreal to me, probably because of the overuse of their shapes on bad lawn ornaments, bad neon signs in front of bad strip bars, and bad three-for-a-dollar shirts you can buy when you're on vacation in Miami. To see them in the Bronx was even stranger. Not that, say, zebras or rainforest marmosets are normal wildlife in any of the five boroughs, but flamingoes seem out of place just about anywhere without palm trees. But there they are: sniffing around a makeshift marsh for something to eat. In the Bronx, with the car strippers, the old factories, and the hey-yo.

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