Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gee Whiz!

It constantly amazes me that people who live in this age of the 24/7, everything-is-always-out-there news cycle can't keep their private thoughts (and/or appendages) to themselves. The adult world constantly upbraids the younger generation for sexting, recording assaults/bullying then posting such things for the world to see, but I have to say...this phenomenon is not merely relegated to the _my-frontal-lobe-is-incompletely-developed set. Plenty of adults have fallen prey to this type of ignorance (or arrogance, if you prefer). Sending penis pictures to women has brought scorn on recognizable people from professional athletes to politicians, all of whom might be thought of by some as role models for our children. Just because you CAN use immediate technology to do something naughty or dumb doesn't make it a good idea. It's the same as calling your ex-boss "Satan," even in the heat of the bitter SEC football rivalry. We tend to castigate such people and shame them for not setting a better example, but, in fact, there are few penalties for such actions. Even spending $70,000 to vett prospective candidates to be the athletics director at, say, Rutgers University prove that harmful words that we spew are there forever.
I think Gordon Gee might be the best (or worst?) example of someone who is so arrogantly confident in his personal power that he cannot be sanctioned. Just this week comes the news that, in the midst of all the college (read: "professional) football conference realignment of the last year, the subjects of Notre Dame and the Southeast Conference came under discussion. Gee, in his role as the president of Ohio State University (I refuse to use "THE" in front as all the too-smug grads do), had the following comments, first, about Notre Dame:
"You cannot trust those damned Catholics. The priests are holy on Sunday and holy hell the rest of the week."
On the SEC when apprised that someone from that conference had challenged the moniker "Big 10" when, in fact, there are 14 schools in the conference:
"When they begin to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing."
Yes, he said those things and got raucous laughter from his audience...not so much from the "damn Catholics" or folks associated with the SEC, winners of most of the last few BCS championships.
Will Gee be sanctioned at OSU? By whom? He is the president of the university. His is the power...I suppose the redeeming part of this is that very few of our children want to be university presidents when they grow up.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Conspiracy Theorists Abound!

It seems to me that too many people have too much idle time on their hands and minds. Those who should be attending to driving safely are texting, talking on the phone, reading, and, in some cases recently, paying FAR too much attention to pictures on a billboard. That's why this tea kettle is all the rage.
Somewhere in California, a billboard for appeared, and it featured a picture of the Michael Graves Bells and Whistles Stainless Steel Tea Kettle as a hot buy from the online and in-the-store retailer trying to make a combeack after the CEO merry-go-round of the last couple of years.
Anyway, passersby with access to the internet began bosting the photo of the kettle alongside a picture of the late Adolf Hitler, suggesting an uncanny resemblance between the two. really.
As folks began to stare at the kettle more and more next to Hitler's photo, the resemblance became more and more uncanny...something like staring at an op art piece and seeing an old woman and someone else in the same picture. The resulting furor over der Fuhrer's likeness caused an immediate uproar resulting in the following sequence of events:

1. The internet was clogged with outraged posts decrying that any retailer could DO such a thing.

2. The tea kettle sold out by Tuesday (the only one of the 31 kettle models to do so).

3. The kettle was no longer available on by Wednesday.

really. I suggest that public opinion that has such an effect in matters of such little importance indicates just WHY advertisers, politicians, and their ilk give the human race so little credit for intelligence...and why we are so often duped.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Need A Vacay? You're Not Least in the U.S.

It's common knowledge that Americans work longer every year than any other nation of people in the first world. We take fewer vacation days, take work home more often, and generally more frequently believe that our workplace would founder without us. Part of the reason for that might be found in statistics just released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research which calculated how many paid vacation days were given by employers in almost two dozen industrialized countries.
The United States ranked dea last...that's right...workers here get fewer paid vacation days by law than any of the the other countries' workers. Our average? zero. really.
While some countries guarantee by law as many as 20 days per year of paid leave, those closer to the norm like Norway and France offer 30 days, and those nose-to-the-grindstone people in Japan offer at least 10 paid days off per year, as do our neighbors to the north, eh?
We get zip. Oh, we might get vacation days, but they are rarely paid days. Perhaps that's why we take so few.
This study compared only the number of paid days of leve per year; it studied none of the effects that having (or not having) this time paid had on the average worker.
Potential good news is on the front burner in this country, though. A bill currently sits in committee that would require companies in this country to give a week off with pay to American workers. Given the poisonous partisanship that has infected our lawmakers (and general public), I give the bill a zero chance of becoming law.
If only I could speak French!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's A Small World After All

I try to stay relatively well-informed about national and world events of importance, and to do so requires reading newspapers from a wide variety of sources. Keeping in mind that every domestic newspaper is owned by either an individual or a corporation, I realize that there is a slant to what is offered...hence, the variety. Today I expanded that variety by logging on to the Moscow Times. 
I'm not sure why I was surprised, but I was. I learned really fascinating things such as Churchill and Stalin met over drinks (LOTS of drinks) in 1942, and their relationship was much better after that!  I got to see the interesting facets of the Vienna Waltz cotillion and read about the tourist spots of Chisinau, Kolomna, and Lipetsk; needless to say, I had never herd of any of them, but they all had aspects that might recommend them to any vacationer.
Most interesting, however, was the story about the man pictured above. He is the father of Ibragim Todashev, the Chechen national who was killed by F.B.I. agents last week as part of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. The U.S. version has the young man confessing to involvement in three drug-related murders a year ago or so as well as "knowing" the Boston suspects; Todashev ostensibly became violent during questioning at his home, grabbed a knife and attacked agents, and was subsequently killed. The father believes that his son was tortured before being shot and aims to travel to the U.S. to discover the truth.
Ironically. the family allowed the oldest of twelve children to move to the United States because it was "less dangerous than living in Chechnya."
Two very different versions. That's why I read as many sources as possible. if you are interested.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Be Careful What You Believe

Vindication can be sweet, but there's always a hint of sadness, I think. No matter how right we are, there is always that bittersweet feeling left between the two sides. The media  of course, has to be first with every story and sometimes doesn't get all the facts correct. One might think that people reading these "facts" would understand that there probably IS another side to any salacious story, but it surprises me how many people merely lap it up as gospel (which may or may not be exactly the truth, either!).
Case in point: serious abuse allegations leveled against a person in a position of authority. As the investigation continues, the accused is forbidden to respond in print or on television to these charges, and people are left to wonder about the real truth. Believing the news reports and affidavits from the accusers is a dangerous gambit since there is bound to be some "disremembering" that goes on, especially if the incident(s) in question happened several months ago.
Regrettably, sometimes those accusations are all too accurate, and an investigation corroborates the testimony. Fair enough. The guilty get punished (unless the guilty are Wall Street bankers laundering money).
However, if "the rest of the story" is not in line with the accusation, the accused is left with many people still holding the belief that there must have been something amiss...the old "where there's smoke, there's fire" theory; thus, exoneration is impossible because people chose to believe exactly what they read in the newspaper before all the facts came out.
It's a lose/lose: the accuser gets no satisfaction, and the accused is branded with and unfair "A" that no amount of "I told you so" can erase.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not Coming to a Restaurant Near You!

I have been a breakfast person since college. during that time, I had to get up for early morning practice, and food was always great afterwards. Generally, it was typical breakfast stuff, but we also had grape juice: the single biggest reason I loved early morning eats. Now, my eyes get big and round when I see bacon on a breakfast buffet, but I have been known to vary to such things as biscuits and gravy (in a nod to my Southern heritage), and pastries have always been a hit. See? No salad-type stuff designed to take away the desire for  the stuff I really like. Over the past few years, all the fast food franchises have begun to cater to the early morning crowd for whom coffee just isn't enough. There are burritos, croissanwiches, stuffed muffins, and a platter full of other eat-on-the-go choices brought to us by the fat food concerns. But now, time for something a little bit different:
Taco Bell is pondering a bit of a different idea for breakfasts eaten away from home. Currently being rolled out in central and southern Orange County, California, the waffle taco has proven (albeit on a small scale) to be a hit. The picture says it all, and at a measly $.89, this introduction to what the little chihuahua that could calls "First Meal" might just be a big seller. Sausage, eggs, and a waffle "shell" make this an intriguing choice, but what I especially like is the container of maple syrup that accompanies this menu choice. Having poured the sticky sweetness over the waffle, there's no way a consumer can eat this while driving. Imagine the mess: in the lap, on the shirt, and hands stuck solidly to the steering wheel with napkin bits clinging to just about every surface. There simply will be NO letting go of your waffle. This scenario, of courser, means no drive thru action.
Take the time...sit and enjoy it...
even if you have to get up a bit earlier to do so.
However, this item may or may not be coming to a Taco Bell near you, and if it does, it will not be until early 2014...if at all. But for now, it certainly seems like something I want MY Taco Bell to feature.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Forget Having a Star Named After You...This Is Better!

I'm certain you've already been confused by the matching of pictures of famous people with various members of the non-human world; turns out, there's a very logical explanation for the pairings. It seems that each of the famous people have been honored by having a new species named after him or her! "Odd," you might exclaim, but not necessarily so.
There are between 15,000 and 25,000 new species discovered yearly, and scientists have begun to run out of the more ordinary Latin names so they've turned to their madcap sense of humour (if they're British, anyway) whenever they discover something new...but not just any old )new) name will do. It has to be accepted in publication by a respected scientific journal. That means a mention on TMZ won't get it done.
Apostichus angelinajolieae is a variant species of trapdoor spider. Whether or not this had something to do with the vial of Billy Bob's blood she used to hang around her neck is up for conjecture. it doesn't resemble her much.
Gnathia marleyi was discovered by Arkansas State University marine biologist (and HUGE Marley fan) Paul Sikkel. This small crustacean lives in the coral reefs in the eastern Caribbean and feeds on the blood of other species. Sikkel discounted the blood-drinking thing when naming it after his musical hero, citing it's importance to the Caribbean and the fact that he owns every track Marley ever recorded.
Perhaps in recognition of the great Zappa soul patch, the species of droopy jawed spider was named after the MOthers of Invention founder. Zappa has had several accolades in the form of species naming rights, including Phiallela zappai, a type of jellyfish discovered by Italian Fernando Boero...who named it after Zappa, wrote a poem about it, and publicized it in hopes of meeting Zappa. It worked!
The last one you should get right away...especially now that you have seen some of the other examples...a famous writer...a huge whale...yep, it's Livayatan Melvillei, named after the author who made whales famous (and scary).
Of these, I think the most appropriate might be the Marley designation. After all, a "reef" organism in the land of "reefer religion"? genius.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stupid Is As Stupid Does, My Mama Says

Researchers are now positing that internet technology and, specifically, Google, is making us more stupid (stupider?). The theory is, of course, that we no longer have to remember anything...we can look it up immediately on our smart phones, iPads and other tech gizmos. Think about many phone numbers do you know off the top of your head? Seriously, I would wager that if all of our cell phones dies at the same time, we simply could not communicate...unless, of course, it was a social media source. How many times do you have to write down any new password changes or something as simple as your library card number, vehicle license plate number or any small piece of information we use daily?  Before you pooh pooh the idea, let me say that it is not a new one...decrying technology as a hindrance to man's intelligence goes at least as far back as Socrates who opined that the invention and widespread use of the written word would destroy man's ability to learn/retain knowledge. Remember that this is the scholar who taught by lecture methods with NO note taking allowed...students were expected to hear, understand, respond and store knowledge as a matter of course.
The pillorying of technology didn't end there, either. Susan Sontag, in her book On Photography, made the same claim against the use of cameras. She felt that suing devices to record memories merely left us bereft of the mental capability to store memories: we simply didn't have to.
It's ironic that most of the things we try to get senior citizens to do involve recreating their ability to recall things! Memory games are said to be critical if one hopes to retain some sense of sanity. Why, then, do we continue to develop techniques that rob us of our memory capability? Sure, there's all the new information that we could not possibly discover on our own: it's said that Ben FRanklin was the last person who knew the entire sum of human that's impossible, and the worldwide web has certainly furthered our ability to do research, to connect with others around the world so as not to "reinvent the wheel" and share marvelous advances. Is the price too high?
It seems that a word such as "google" used as a verb has taken over the world.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On A Stick At the State Fair?

Of late, more and more delicacies are finding their way to the food hawkers at state fairs around the country. We here in the Dairy State usually copy what our westerly neighbors devise: chocolate-covered bacon on a stick comes to mind most recently. Of course, bacon and chocolate is a natural pairing, but how about a chocolate-covered cicada on a stick? Perhaps...soon.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization recently shocked our part of the world by suggesting that insects might soon be the answer to the world food problem. Face it, in a world where over a billion people are chronically hungry (according to the U.N.),  insects as a source of protein is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, North Americans might be the only demographic that does not already eat various insects. Worldwide, it's a common phenomenon. I know the markets in Cambodia were chock full of all sorts of creepy-crawlies dressed up for consuming.
There are several positive aspects to entomophagy: there is a definite surplus of things like beetles, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas; they are all brimming with edible protein, something the world desperately needs; as food, they often take little or no time to prepare (as seen on Man vs Wild); best of all, perhaps, is that there would be no significant environmental toll if more of our food came in this fashion.
Of course, not every Wendy's is jumping on the buggy bandwagon, but at the Petty Cash Taqueria in, I believe, New York City, you CAN get a cricket taco...and don't think other crafty restauranteurs won't jump on THAT bandwagon soon enough.
I think I'd be ok having it ground into a burger...after all, there's already plenty of stuff in that burger that I don't want to know about.
But I'd need a chaser of some kind.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disney Dream or Nighmarish Con Job?

I have yet to visit Disney World in Orlando, but I have  spent the better part of two days at the original Disney theme park in SoCal. Like many others, I remember standing in line far longer than actually riding on the attractions, but I guess I expected that when I went. Our kids were old enough to understand the concept of "patience" even though they didn't like it much.Now, I understand that at some Six Flags amusement parks for an extra fee of nearly $100, a person can buy a special pass that will allow him or her to skip to the front of any line and reduce the wait time to zero. I presume the Disney parks have a similar arrangement, but I would also presume that the price is much higher. However, that still makes the service offered by Dream Tours in Orlando a bit, er,  slimy...perhaps.
Wednesday Martin, a researcher working on a book about the inside lives of New York City's Park Avenue elite, made a rather startling discovery about how the "1% do Disney." It seems that for $130 per hour, a family can hire a "tour concierge" that will grant them the ability to bypass ANY line at the park: that's $1040 for an entire day's worth of"budging." OK, money talks; I get it, but here's the catch: the "concierge" is actually an adult with special needs...thereby taking advantage of Disney's generous policy of allowing special needs people easy on/off access all the time.
Let you get this straight: a family with young children can "hire" a special needs person to pretend to be part of the family for a day so all the moneyed kids can ride whatever, whenever. This is not an abuse we can foist onto Disney...this is strictly people using vast wealth to deprive their children of the opportunity to learn patience. Let me point out, however, that there are two sides to this as well:

1. Rich people abuse the system to gratify selfish needs and illustrating to their children that money can buy anything.

2. Rich people providing special needs people with a positive source of income (one that McDonald's could not match).

Whatever perspective one might take, this is truly an amazing story. I, for one, will be reading Martin's book when it comes out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What? No Cheerleaders? No Trash Talk? No Fun?

At a recent big money golf tournament, one of the players blamed a poor shot on the actions of another player who was some distance away. The distraction was caused when player #2 (the perpetrator) pulled a club out of his bag, and the crowd around him reacted noisily. This totally threw player #1 (the victim) off his swing and resulted in a terrible be followed the next day by hitting three balls into water hazards in two holes and completely losing it.
While I'm sure there are rules of etiquette about what to do or who should hit first in these situations,  that's not what caught my attention.
What amazes me is that professional golfers require absolute silence in order to play successfully! I think they are the only sports people who are allowed to work in a vacuum: nobody is waving huge heads in front of them as they line up a putt...nobody is swearing or gesturing at them as they walk the fairway, and there aren't hundreds of flashes from the photographers going off in the middle of the swing. Really...golfers have it so much easier than other athletes with regard to distraction. I think it's time to correct that. Breaking someone's camera when he or she dares to take a picture during the backswing should be punished by having to hit the next ball using a wiffle ball. Staring at the crowd until it becomes deathly silent should be punished by having to play the next hole in John Daly-type pants.
Seriously. Every other sport seems to have cheerleaders and dance teams and mascots...and all of them are far more interesting to watch than people hitting a golf ball; this is particularly true due to the price these people have paid to watch golf! one of our sons was able to go to The Master's this year: a bucket list item for him, to be sure. He paid $300 to walk the golf course following a pro golfer on a practice round...for HALF a day! To be fair to the golf world, he considered it a highlight.
True, people are allowed to shout after the ball has taken flight or as it snakes its way to the hole on the green, but it's not the same as trying to make a great shot while people are talking about your mother.
Of course, I get nervous when I golf early in the morning, and the people are still watering the greens and raking the bunkers. They politely step aside and wait for me to hit which increases the likelihood that I will duff the next ball.
Maybe having a cheering section wouldn't be such a good idea.
I am not impervious to pressure.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It Must Have Been A Case of Profiling


In 2011, a young football player from Boise State was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. By 2013, he is out of the league and in jail...some might say unfairly. some might say that his fame as a professional football player made him a target of profiling for police departments. Still others claim he's an idiot who probably should be tested. You decide.
Drafted in 2011 in the second round and given a lot of money to play, this player lasted almost two years with the same team, despite being suspended by said team three times during that time for simple things like punching a teammate and purposely lining up in the wrong spot. He defiantly challenged his team to trade him or cut him this year, claiming that he would put up "Hall of Fame" numbers elsewhere. He got cut but was picked up quickly by another team...and subsequently cut 10 days later. All of this happened in the last couple of months.
Fast forward to last week.
On Friday, he was arrested by police not once, but twice! The first time, he was stopped for making an illegal left turn as suspicion of driving under the influence. He was quickly out on bail but arrested later in the day when he climbed the fence at the impound yard in an attempt to get his car out...though I'm not sure how he figured to get OUT of a locked yard when he could get in only by climbing over the fence. (head scratching).
Yesterday, he was arrested yet again for attempted burglary for breaking into a house...followed by the obligatory footrace...resisting arrest...and assaulting a police officer. It was a busy weekend for the young man.
I'm not even going to try to figure out what he was thinking through ALL of this, but it is a lesson to all of us that we should stop buying lottery tickets because big money must do SOMETHING to our brains!
Somehow, though, it's certain to be  the policemen's fault, or the team's fault, or the media's fault.
Can't a guy catch a break?

Friday, May 10, 2013

If You Want To Be Happy...

Most of the time, I really don't think about being happy...there's always too much to do or remember to do to focus on something like happiness. Strong emotions like anger and sadness are easy to realize since they are so powerful. Happiness, on the other hand, is quiet and peaceful, the younger sibling, perhaps, of joy, the desire to shout out loud and love the world. Anyway, happiness does concern us if we stop to think about it: what makes us happy or keeps us from being happy is always there. There are many theories...take your pick. Sonja Lubormirsky thinks she's got the answer.
Lubormirsky is a psychology researcher at the University of California has written two books on the subject: The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness. The subtitle to the first is The Scientific Way to Get What You Want, and that makes me a little nervous. It seems that there is some kind of manipulation behind it. I have yet to open it, but I am interested in the concept.
According to ideas set forth in the second book, everyone has a "happiness set point" and we deviate from that to one side or the other as we move through life. Some of the ideas expressed are more cynical than others, representing people as achieving happiness only at others' discomfort. "Schaudenfreude" is the term Germans use in such cases: I'm happy when you are miserable. Some of Lubomirsky's research actually DOES point to this idea as being predominant in humans. For example, in one experiment, people were given poor job evaluations but were happy when others got even poorer evaluations. I hear this all the time as students report to me the test scores that were less than positive. "I was in the top five in the class," is a common refrain in such incidents.
On the other hand, the Yiddish word "shepnaches" is also evident on occasion: it reveals happiness at others' success. Whether others succeed when we do not is an aspect not discussed. I can always be happy for others' success if it does not reflect poorly on me... Lubormirsky conducted experiments to test just that: in this case, she used pairs of people, telling each one that he or she did great but the partner was better! Even when respondents did well, they were somewhat dispirited that a partner had done better. Good, it seems, was not enough!
All of this leads us to one of Lubormirsky's theses: our happiness is dependent on the degree to which we compare ourselves to others. The generally unhappy people tend to compare themselves to others a lot, and they CARE A LOT about the results of those comparisons. Happy people might compare themselves to others on occasion, but they really don't care much about the results of said comparison.
Makes sense. Maybe I'll start reading this weekend to find out where I fall.
I hate self-fulfilling prophecies!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wake Up and Read This!

Educators and parents have been saying, probably since the days of Socrates, that students need to get solid sleep every night. The reason Mondays are so "meh" for so many people is that they stay up late and get up late every weekend, a habit that disrupts the normal sleep pattern and makes for Garfield Mondays. No amount of suggestion or criticism seems to sway these part-time night owls turned full-time somnambulists come Monday. Research completed recently at Boston college will add more fuel to the fire of "Get to bed!" but it probably won't help.
Researchers found that, by a wide margin, American students are far more sleep deprived than any others worldwide. In fact, according to the study, 73% of 9-10 year-olds got less sleep than they should while 80% of those ages 13-14 got less than optimal sleep. these numbers compare to the international average of sleep-needy primary students (47%) and secondary students (57%). Quite a significant gap.
all of this leads to the inevitable conclusion that american math, science and reading scores are so much lower because our students are not getting enough sleep. The study furthers explains that the link to sleep deprivation and poor academic performance is exactly like the link between poor nutrition and poor academic performance!
So, what's to blame? The easy target is technology: kids have phones on which they send and receive messages 24/7. They have computer tablets that allow all sorts of activity from social media to web-based research (yes, I know phones do the same thing). An additional problem lies in the light emitted by the tech devices as well. It is said that when a user holds such a device close to his or her face, these lights disrupt the circadian rhythm and forestall sleep.
all of this points to the flip side of modern society: the benefits we reap can also be the liabilities we suffer. I'm glad I didn't have to face all of that growing up: when it got too dark to plow, we ate and went to bed after scratching out any homework in coal on the back of a slate board.
Ah, the "good old days."

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Louisville or Dorset, England? Take Your Pick

I didn't have a fancy hat so the Kentucky Derby was out for me. those who went got a good soaking just before the race, and I expect there were many obstructed view seats due to the parade of hats (rivaled only by the parade of horses going to the starting gate). Those who have attended the event marvel at the spectacle, enhanced, one might suspect, by several mint juleps. Expensive? probably. Crowded? most certainly. There were other choices this weekend, though. One needed only to head to Dorset, England, where not one but TWO long-running festivals were being held, each of which featured contests of derring-do not for the faint of heart.
There was the Dorset Knob Throwing Contest, an event at which more than 700 participants took three shots at tossing a knob (locally-made biscuit about the size and density of a golf ball) underhanded the greatest distance. Last year's winner (and new record holder) was Dave Phillips who chucked his knob (sounds somewhat salacious, no?) 29.4 meters (96 ft. in American). For his efforts, Dave, and all winners, receive the winning biscuit, a plaque, and recognition on the town hall board of distinction. Not something you would like to see? Five thousand people turned out this year to watch the contest!
If biscuit-tossing is not your style, how about the contest running for 26 years at The Bottle Inn Pub: nettle eating? Yep. you read that right...contestant eat as many 2-ft. sections of nettles as they can in one hour. Logically, this year's contest attracted fewer participants than the knob throwing thing, but even so, 50 contestants vied for the title with more than 2,000 spectators in awed observance.
The trick, as I understand it is twofold:
1. contestants roll the sections before putting them in their mouth so they can avoid most of the sting that normally comes from the plant's leaves.
2. After a minute or so, the mouth and tongue get numb from the stinging so eating isn't as much of a challenge.
While the results were not available from this year's contest, the record stands at 75 feet consumed in one hour.
And no corporate sponsorship, I would imagine!

Friday, May 03, 2013

A Room With No View

I'm no expert by any means on furniture styles: French Colonial? Laz-E-Boy? It's much the same to me. Looking at this room, however, gives one a sense of opulence that hints at grander things throughout the  rest of the mansion as well as enough money to install a foam ball pit should one desire. elegance galore is the vibe this room gives off...but I daresay you would not want to hang out there or (gasp!) live there. You see, this room is underground...FAR underground. The only contact with the outside world is through secret phone lines and video cameras installed topside. Very few people know who resides here...or at least who USED to reside here.
This room is part of an underground lair designed and used not by Dr. Evil, but by the head of a Mafia family in Southern Italy! In fact, according to a recent BBC report, a great number of such folks used to live in underground bunkers adorned like this one prior to their being discovered by the anti-mob police recently. Some background:
In Southern Italy and Sicily, there are four major mob families: Cosa Nostra, Camorra, Sacra Corona Unitas, and 'Ndrangheta, all of whom make most of their lira through drug smuggling. Efforts by police to destroy the operations drove the bosses to build underground bunkers like the one pictured above. Some were ocean shipping containers welded together, and one enterprising Mafioso even tore up the main street in a town in order to more easily construct his subterranean hideout. Strangely, nobody said a word!
These bunkers have become such a booming business that there are individuals whose claim to fame lies in the area of building such places underground. Such enclosures become home, hideout, fortress, and command center for some of the most wanted men in that part of the world.
Of course, the irony is that in sequestering themselves below ground never to see the actual light of day, they are imprisoning themselves in much the same manner as the law enforcement people would...but with nicer furniture.
The article did not go on to indicate what happens now that these underground cities have been discovered, but it's safe to say, I think, that the kind of money that is involved in the drug trade will finance some very nice digs (so to speak) in another location.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

I Have to Hold Out a Few More Years

Perhaps it's the economy...or the political upheaval...or the fear that seems to be building in this country now that it is not necessarily the political and economic juggernaut that it was following World War II. Maybe the tragedy of 9/11 has begun to eat away at us as more and more of us die as a result of violence at others' hands. Whatever the reason, we have become a fragile people, particularly those of us between the ages of 35 and 64.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Americans over the last 10 years have become increasingly hopeless and have resorted to suicide at an alarming rate. In the decade 1999-2010, the suicide rate in this country has risen 28%, and the alarming part of that is that 57% of that number are between the ages of 35 and 64: an age range that one might think would include clear-thinking family heads and adults who've more or less figured life out. Maybe they have and have decided that it holds no promise.
No potential reasons were put forward by the CDC report, but it did mention the fact that suicide prevention programs in this country focused mainly on young people and the elderly...leaving that middle age on its own. Whatever the reason, Native americans and white people are the two groups that have increased the most while the sharpest increase of all has occurred in the 50-64-yr.-old group. Scary for many of us!
As far as method is concerned, firearms are still the most often employed (probably because they offer the most certain result), followed by hanging and drug overdose (slipping to third this time).
All in all, fairly sobering facts about us. It would be interesting to compare our rates with those of other countries, both industrialized and not.
Having it all apparently results in having nothing for many people.
"Will you still need me? Will you still feed me when I'm 64?"
Let's hope we all make it to that place.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Every now and then, I get the feeling that somebody, somewhere is listening and actually thinking about what he or she hears. The constant railing against elected officials certainly seems to have merit, given the way our elected leaders divide every issue with partisanship (and PAC money). However, some legislators think it might be a good idea if those receiving federal food assistance were not allowed to buy junk food just as they are not allowed to buy alcohol and cigarettes.
The idea, of course, is that junk food is a leading cause of obesity...which, in turn, ratchets up the cost of health care, employment issues resulting from sick days, medical costs spiraling, etc. etc. On one hand, there are folks who say it is their constitutional right to eat whatever the hell they want. Perhaps. On the other hand are those who opine that buying healthy food will further reduce the cost of obesity for ALL of us: those paying the bills. Point taken. Where do you suspect the soft drink industry's sentiments lie?
Correct: on the "they should be able to buy whatever they want" platform...and I can see the point for individual rights...but what's at stake is the individual right of the beverage companies to make obscene profits for shareholders at the cost of the nation's health.
"It's not like the tobacco or alcohol industry that figures out ways to get people addicted," I hear you protest. Except that it is. More than 15 years ago when I protested out school district's policy to install soda machines from one company in exchange for kickbacks, the research was clear: the product was addicting. I think we all know it now...and continue to get the Big Gulp whenever we can, despite New York City's mayor's attempt to limit consumption.
Just how out of touch are these people, and how do they see the American people? The latest ad (since removed) by Pepsi touting its Mountain Dew product is a perfect example.
In the commercial, an obviously battered white woman is being asked to pick her attacker out of a lineup consisting of several African-American men and a goat. At one point, using some clever wordplay for the slogan "Dew it,"the goat threatens the woman further harm if she accuses him. She runs away screaming.
really. That is wrong on so many fronts, but the folks at PepsiCo really thought it would be a hit with the American public! Now THAT should make you stop and think.
Here's a link to the ad