THE BODY OF a Texas woman has been held on ice for nearly two months in the Dallas County medical examiner's office, after the office and its crematorium disagreed over the per-pound cost of her cremation, WFAA-TV reports.
The station says that 457-pound Charlotte Blue died on Feb. 6, but hasn't yet been cremated because the office was fighting with the crematorium over the per-pound surcharge assessed against people who weigh more than 300 pounds. Eventually, the county paid the money, and Blue is scheduled to be cremated under a program which cremates the indigent. Unfortunately, though, that didn't happen without a bit of emotional trauma:
Blue's son, Sam Roberts, said he believed his mother had been cremated under a county indigent plan until he called to get a death certificate.
"That's when I was informed that for the last two months she's been sitting in the deep freeze at the medical examiner's office because the crematorium that does business for the county says, 'Oh well, she's too big (and) too fat," he told WFAA-TV on Wednesday.
Dallas County Medical Examiner Charles Gaylor said the dispute has been settled and that county officials apologized to Blue's family for the delay. County officials approved the funds this week to cremate Blue's body.
Maybe it's just me, but isn't giving the indigent dead a decent sendoff one of those basic functions of government that our leaders ought just have done, regardless of the decedent's weight? I mean, good Lord.
A CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY has sued eHarmony.com, the Internet dating service, because it won't help the married attorney find a date.
According to the Associated Press, 36-year-old John Claassen of Emeryville is legally separated but not yet divorced, and his divorce should be finalized within a couple of months. However, as eHarmony's company policy requires users to be free of any previous relationship entanglements, Counselor Claassen was not immediately allowed to join the dating service. Instead, eHarmony told him that he should return once his divorce was final.
Clearly, Counselor Claassen's best course of action here was to file a lawsuit against eHarmony, and seek civil penalties of $12,000.
Now, some writers have argued that due to the three magic words -- "under California law" -- Counselor Claassen may very well have a case. They may very well be right. However, given the circumstances surrounding the matter, I have to admit I don't know what to say about it. I mean, am I supposed to pity or congratulate the soon-to-be-former Mrs John Claassen?
(hat tip to Overlawyered)
NEAR THE BEGINNING (Gen. 1:26) GOD said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps over the earth."
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth. That includes the horrific and ghastly Guinea worm, which ranks up there with leprosy and septicemic plague and necrotizing fasciitis in terms of things you weren't warned about growing up.' "
"Well, at least try to have dominion over it: it may be tough tackling a hideous, yard-long parasite which uses acid to burrow its way out of its still-living victims. And here you were worried about a snake," God added.
"You’re lucky, Max – where I used to live is now a pornographic equipment store."
-- Rob, "Annie Hall"
RECENTLY, WHILE planning my upcoming vacation, I decided that I wanted to travel back to my old hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich. It’s been a little more than ten years since I was last back there, so I thought it would be neat to pay it a visit. For those of you unfamilar with the town, you should know that no less than The Wall Street Journal recently declared it a “downtrodden industrial city.” You should further know that crime figures have shown it to be more dangerous than New York.
All that said, though, Kalamazoo was a good place for me to grow up, and I have many fond memories from that time in my life. That, however, is what troubles me. You see, as part of my vacation preparations, I did some Internet research to see how the place has changed since I last visited back in 1995. As a result, I’m worried I’ll visit my hometown and I won’t recognize it a bit. For what I discovered horrified me, and will undoubtedly shock (or at least bemuse) other expats from the Celery City.
For instance, one of the things I wanted to do while back home was have lunch at Peking Palace, which back in the day was a locally famous Chinese restaurant. Well, as it turns out I can’t, because the place closed up a few years ago. Call it a slight disappointment. Unfortunately, though, it turns out that Peking Palace wasn’t the only business to have closed its doors since I had left. Apparently, half the bloody town threw in the towel.
The other Chinese restaurant I liked? Gone. The old bowling alley where I used to bowl? Gone. Another bowling alley I liked? History. The Kalamazoo Public Library? Moved. The pedestrian mall downtown? Paved over.
I mean, even Bill Knapp’s – Bill Knapp’s, for God’s sake – shut down. Oh, sure, everyone expected that someday, but not for the reasons listed. Someone even tore down Maple Hill Mall, which – I mean, that surprised even me.
I learned all this thanks to Vanished Kalamazoo, a disturbing yet often hilarious look at the way things once were in Kalamazoo. In all seriousness, the site itself is a masterpiece for anyone who is interested in Americana or local history or what not. It has things like old restaurant menus and photos and what not, which I find really interesting; and as someone who grew up in Kalamazoo, they are especially so. At the same time, though, there are also things which are laugh-out-loud funny.
Here are some links to choice exhibits at Vanished Kalamazoo, with selected excerpts taken from the editors' tag lines accompanying the photos. I’ve saved the best for last:
* "IMAGINE, from this 1972 advertisement, the 'psychodelic' 'happenings' that must have happened there, and what 'The Sunshine' must have sounded like."
* "IN THE '80s, they actually stocked 'First Date' brand soap in their rooms."
* "JANUARY 1979 saw the opening of one of the most unusual bar/restaurants ever seen in Kalamazoo."
* "... UPBEAT canned music served as a weird soundtrack for the deserted sidewalks and sleeping drifters."
* "THOUGH A DISASTER, the event did spark the urban renewal that continues today."
AH, SPRING. It’s the time of year when most people celebrate warmer weather and longer days, and express their joy over the end of sub-freezing temperatures. Then, there are people like me, who hate spring and practically everything associated with it.
That’s because the season of renewal annually renews my sinus agony, a horrific and unpleasant ordeal in which I suffer from headaches, congestion, fatigue, aches and pains for weeks on end. This makes me a very unpleasant person with whom to deal. Instead of being the friendly and polite Ben Kepple whom everyone knows and likes, I turn into the angry and sullen Ben Kepple who spends most of his free time lying down in pain. Hell, I can’t even update my blog regularly, much less do anything anyone else expects of me.
And this is after I quit smoking. Believe me, it was worse in prior years, when I was indulging that two pack-a-day habit. This year, though, I do think I’m handling it better than in years past. Aside from quitting smoking – go me -- I’m drinking a lot more hot tea, which apparently helps out with sinus troubles. Also, chicken soup apparently helps, as does imagining that I’m really out in the California desert.
OVER THE last two days, I think we've seen some of the best first-round action which has ever taken place in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tourney. Not only did Northwestern State knock out Iowa, and Bradley knock out Kansas, but games that wouldn't normally be close were downright exciting.
I mean, my God: who would have expected the Great Danes of Albany to put on such an amazing show against mighty Connecticut? Yet, until UConn turned on the nitro at the end, it very much looked as if history was in the making: a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed. It hasn't happened yet, but the Great Danes nearly pulled it off. They looked so good that I, like a lot of other people undoubtedly did, started calling my friends to let them know.
But that wasn't the only close call. Davidson scared the hell out of Ohio State and Murray State nearly put the kibosh on UNC's repeat hopes. Heck, even Winthrop put on a good show. And of course, Montana and Texas A&M did their jobs in upsetting Nevada and Syracuse, respectively. In short, a good three-quarters of the 32 first-round games were exciting, fun to watch, and kept one on the edge of one's seat. Truly, this was one of the best first rounds in one of the best sporting events we have.
No. 13 Bradley 77, No. 4 Kansas 73,
So Kansas blew it
for the second year running--
that’s just got to hurt
It’s one thing to lose
by one point against Bucknell;
but Bradley schooled y’all.
I mean, it’s Bradley
Good God, that’s embarrassing!
Did you study film?
Perhaps it’s karma
held over from last year’s round:
smacktalking the 'dogs.
But look who called it:
such wisdom, such perception!
Yes, that would be me.
No. 3 North Carolina 69, No. 14 Murray State 65,
Murray State fell short
but not 'til the last minute,
and I must applaud.
How could one not root
for a school named Murray State?
It's just principle
Besides, my friend Drew
teased me about Gonzaga;
So I hoped he'd sweat.
And although his team
won out against the Racers,
he was quite concerned.
No. 14 Northwestern State 64, Iowa 63
Smooth move, Iowa
you lost to Northwestern State
and you deserved it
You should've won it
You were up 17 points
So there's no excuse.
No. 3 Gonzaga 79, No. 14 Xavier 75
Gonzaga just won
I just had a heart attack
Please get me a beer
I just can't believe
the Zags were down by like nine
yet won in the end
It could have been worse:
I, who cheered the Zags at work,
could have eaten crow
Thank God I avoid
that agony and torment
Nevada fans face
PART OF The Rant's traditional haiku festival celebrating the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament:
No. 2 Tennessee 63, No. 15 Winthrop 61,
WASHINGTON D.C. REGIONAL
Dang, look at Winthrop!
Where the hell did they come from?
A shame the Vols won
For the Eagles soared
as they played in Greensboro
but time never waits
There's always next year
for Winthrop, another game
for the Big South champs
Still, it's hard to lose
with just three seconds until
an earned overtime.
No. 11 UW-Milwaukee 82, No. 6 Oklahoma 74
Good Lord, what happened?
Gee, we thought you'd win
against frickin' Milwaukee.
Clearly, we were wrong!
No. 12 Montana 87, NO. 5 Nevada 79
Nevada got stopped
It'd been a long time coming
Nevada got stopped
Denied win fifteen
Goodbye, Nevada, goodbye
See you next big dance.
AS AN ALUMNUS of the University of Michigan, it saddens me to note that yet again, Michigan's men's basketball team has FAILED to reach the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. This is unacceptable.
However, Michigan's latest tourney airball is not entirely bad. This is because it again lets me root for teams I would normally never cheer on, including the Gonzaga Zags. Each year, I predict the Gonzaga Zags will win the tournament, and each year I am wrong. However, hope springs eternal, and I am confident that this year, I'll be right for a change.
Still, even if the Zags somehow manage to lose this year, the 65-team tourney lets me root for a lot of teams. And who couldn't root for the Bucknell Bison? Who couldn't root for the Gaels of Iona, the Colonials of George Washington, or the Golden Flashes of Kent State? So what if that last one sounds like a rare venereal disease? This is about pride, and honor, and shouting at the television in one's own living room, especially if the Villanova squad does well.
Because rooting against teams is also a big part of the fun. Who doesn't want to see those arrogant Kansas scoundrels fall on their faces? Who wouldn't secretly enjoy it if Duke got tossed in the second round? Who doesn't, in their heart of hearts, want to see Ohio State get crushed? I mean, gee, it's weeks of entertainment!
Anyhoo, as in prior years, The Rant will celebrate our teams' victories, plus those of any underdog, with special basketball haikus. Here's some to get the ball rolling:
I'm sorry, Jesse;
the temptation was too great
and the joke too good.
But have hope Friday,
as the Flashes take on Pitt;
for Kent's a 12 seed.
LET IT BE NOTED, for the record, that the wretched and dastardly comment-spammers have moved away from hawking pharmaceuticals, counterfeit goods, on-line gambling and items which claim to substantially improve a man's lovemaking equipment. Based on the comments I just deleted, they have moved on to hawking home-equity loans.
I've got a bad feeling about this.
SOMETIMES, people write blog quizzes which make a blogger look deeply into his soul and ponder the very mysteries of life itself. Then, people write quizzes like the one I’m taking here. They’re worth doing, but they’re not anything that makes one get up in the morning and say, “Gee, that quiz I took last night really helped me gain perspective on my life. I’m going to take up knitting and start drinking soy milk!”
Actually, I ought not joke about drinking soy milk, as a glass of coffee-flavored soy milk is a fine dessert and one I enjoy. That said, this quiz is just kind of blah. It’s only somewhat inspiring and somewhat interesting. However, I’m going to fill it out anyway, just because the only alternative entertainment seems to be watching some horrible Norm MacDonald comedy special.
Also, I should note that due to scheduling issues, I filled out this quiz over two days, which may explain why some answers seem a bit odd. But hey. I take all due care when it comes to my posts.
So, without further ado, here I go:
1. Grab the nearest book to you, turn to page 18 and find line four:
The sentence incorporating the fourth line is: “Rulers for centuries have also been fond of stamping their likeness on gold coins, to circulate throughout their kingdoms and abroad.”
That’s from Peter L. Bernstein’s “The Power of Gold: the History of an Obsession.” Ah, gold. Gold, gold, gold. Say, this would be a good time to link to that file I found on the Internet of Monty Python’s “The Money Programme” sketch (via Boston Gal's Open Wallet). Here you go!
See, now wasn't that fun? That's being hosted on something called YouTube. I have no idea what YouTube is, but it seems cool.
2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you find?
I should probably visit the gym. I have no muscle tone at all.
3. What is the last thing you watched on TV?
Well, I don’t know if this counts, because I had the sound turned off and this was playing in the background, but that would be “Poor White Trash,” a movie making fun of, well, unsophisticated rural whites, which was playing on the Comedy Central network. I was waiting for later programs to start.
You know how you can tell a movie is bad just from its cinematography? Well, this was one of those movies. It was -- from the look of it -- a mindless film with mindless jokes and mindless characters and it clocked in at a mindless 85 minutes.
Yes, I know I should’ve had CNBC on in the background instead. I’m sorry – it’s just I wasn’t in the mood to deal with Jim Cramer.
4. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?
Right now, I’m listening to Sarah McLachlan’s “Afterglow,” and –
What? Well, I’m sorry. I think I should be allowed, in the privacy of my own home, to express my sensitive and romantic side. This is one way to do it with the dignity and reserve one expects from me.
5. When did you last step outside? What were you doing?
Earlier today. I was traveling from my car to my apartment, and was exposed to the noxious outdoors for an estimated 30 seconds. Fortunately, I was able to get inside quickly, as any longer would have probably upset my sinuses something fierce.
6. Before you started this survey, what did you look at?
Well, that’d be the computer monitor right in front of me. See, I told you it was a mediocre quiz. What did I look at indeed. Crikey.
7. What are you wearing?
Aren’t we personal? Well, if you must know, I’m wearing gray slacks and a blueish kinda-checkered shirt.
8. Did you dream last night?
Not that I remember. I don’t often remember my dreams. When I do remember them, they are usually nightmares. I don’t know why this is. However, I suspect my feverish imagination combines with my natural neuroses to concoct wild and outlandish dreams which have little relation to real life.
9. When did you last laugh?
I recently saw the “South Park” episode where Cartman cooks up a wild and outlandish scheme to humiliate his tormentor, Scott “Thyestes” Tenorman. Oh my God.
10. What is on the walls of the room you are in?
There are three things on the walls of my kitchen/living room. The first is a giant poster of a tropical island, which commands those viewing it to relax. The second is a print hanging next to my desk. It’s an unremarkable nature scene which I bought because it fit the blank spot on the wall. The third is a wooden crucifix over my desk.
11. Seen anything weird lately?
I live in Manchester, New Hampshire. I haven’t seen anything weird since … well, since I lived in Venice, Calif. That was frickin’ Grand Weird Station.
12. What do you think of this quiz?
I’ve taken better.
13. What is the last film you saw?
In the theatre, it was “Aeon Flux.” The wretchedness of “Aeon Flux” helps explain why I don’t go out to the theatre much.
14. If you turned into a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy?
Peace of mind. Which is to say, a balanced portfolio of income-producing equities and Treasury bonds. Yeah.
15. Tell me something about you that I don’t know.
Sorry, too vague, you lose.
16. Do you like to dance?
We can dance if we want to! We can leave your friends behind! ‘Cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, then they’re no friends of mine!
17. Imagine your first child is a girl, what would you call her?
Now here’s a good question! I’ve always found this tougher to answer than the name for a boy. To my mind, a girl’s name has to be feminine, but not cutesy; it has to be well-regarded, but not pretentious; it has to be chosen with all due care and respect for her future.
While I’m a firm believer in having each spouse wield “veto power” when it comes to naming children, I must say I would be inclined to follow my (eventual, God willing) wife’s lead in a case like this. I am certain she would give these types of considerations all due thought, and decide accordingly. That said, I am partial to names like Rachel, Elizabeth, and so on.
18. Imagine your first child is a boy, what would you call him?
John or James, both of which are names which run in the family. He’d need a good middle name too. It couldn’t be Benjamin, because he would already have a “family name” as his first name. Thus, his middle name would have to be slightly different, and by “slightly different,” I mean “so traditional, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, even if I went back in time to 1953.”
19. Would you ever consider living abroad?
Absolutely! But only if it was a cool country like Mexico, Italy, or another country which I liked. Plus, I’d only want to live there part of the year. I like living here in America, so I’d probably stick around.
20. What would you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
WELL, that was easy. Took me a little while, but worth it, I guess. I got the quiz from Sheila, who was also only somewhat impressed with it.
THE SMOKING GUN'S title says it all: "Motion Denied Because You're an Idiot."
I don't know about you, but I think judges ought do more of this. For another example in which the judiciary has cruelly mocked those responsible for silly legal filings, see this post from March 4, 2004. Note the key judicial smackdown, from Judge Gregory K. Orme:
"It is counterproductive for counsel to litter his brief with burdensome material such as:
"WRONG! WRONG ANALYSIS! WRONG RESULT! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!" "
SO I WAS OUT having the oil in my car changed when the mechanics made an unpleasant and gruesome discovery. One moment, they were changing my car's air filter, and the next they were digging around in the casing, muttering about "something nesting in here." Then, they pulled out the mouse.
For a moment, I felt a twinge of pity as one of the mechanics showed me the dead field mouse. It was a tiny thing, and had undoubtedly crawled into the air filter looking for warmth during the cold New Hampshire winter. The mechanics surmised that it became trapped and suffocated shortly thereafter, and it seemed like a bad way to go.
Then I recovered my senses, and realized that Industrial Civilization had won yet another great victory over these disease-carrying, crop-stealing, air filter-chewing four-legged menaces. Thank goodness the satanic little rodent hadn't had the time or the inclination to start building a nest in the air filter, or start chewing its way through my car's wiring. Because clearly those would have been his next steps! Yes, it could have cost me hundreds -- perhaps even thousands -- of dollars to deal with his wanton course of destruction.
God -- I hate mice! I hate them! Foul, disgusting, dangerous creatures!
Anyway. I am hopeful the mouse did not suffer all that much, and I'm relieved that I was able to get it out of my car before it caused any damage. What gets me, though, is this: I just can't figure out how the mouse got in there. I guess through the air intake, but ...
I HAVE A CONFESSION to make: the freezer in my apartment is in desperate need of a good thawing out. However, to do this without feeling guilty, I first have to empty the freezer of all the frozen dinners, sandwiches, odd highly-processed snack foods and similar goods that I keep in it. This is a week in which the microwave shall get a workout.
But tonight, I found America in the recesses of my freezer: the America that's optimistic and productive, the America that's hard-working and forward-looking, the America that produces vast quantities of affordable consumer staples for the city on the hill. Yes, surely I found America within that package of South Beach Diet (TM) All American Breakfast Wraps, the package which the good people at Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. prepared with such obvious love and care. At least, I think that's why they put so many warning notices on the thing.
For instance, consider this gem on the back panel, down on the lower right:
CAUTION: PRODUCT WILL BE HOT.
Now, I can understand why the good people at Kraft Foods Inc. put that warning label on the package. After all, decades of civil case law have shown that Americans can't be expected to infer that, after one microwaves an All-American Breakfast Wrap at HIGH for 105 seconds, said burrito will be tongue-burning hot. That said, noting in addition that STEAM FROM POUCH WILL BE HOT seems a bit much. You know, because steam itself is hot. And because not-hot steam is actually water.
I mean, maybe it's just me, but looking over this package, I'm starting to wonder if the Kraft Foods people designed their All-American Breakfast Wraps packaging for All-American Morons. I mean, come on. DO NOT EAT PRODUCT WITHOUT COOKING? It's hard enough to eat it when it's cooked, much less frozen solid. Oh, and I love Item 4 on the Microwave Cooking Instructions: "Remove wrap from pouch before eating."
You don't say.
Actually, the All-American Breakfast Wraps I just ate -- I had two, which account for two (2) servings, said serving size being one (1) wrap -- were pretty darn good. This was somewhat of a surprise, given that they consisted of Scrambled Egg Whites, Reduced Fat Mozzarella & Non-Fat Cheddar Cheeses, Tomatoes, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon & A Cheese Sauce In A Wheat Tortilla. There's little in life that scares me more than a processed cheese sauce.
But they were good, even though the ingredients were excessive. For instance, the applewood smoked bacon. What's up with that?
I mean, everywhere one turns these days, one finds "applewood smoked bacon" on the menu as if it's some sort of goddamned luxury. People. It's bacon. It's pork belly. It's traded via the Chicago Board of Trade along with butter and dry milk. It's not something to get all worked up about. Smoked meat, yes; smoked salmon, yes; smoked bacon, ehhhhh, no. And it's especially not something to get worked up about when one paid ... oh, whatever I paid for the All-American Breakfast Wraps.
While we're on the topic of inappropriately-venerated food items, can someone tell me why people think having more than one cheese in a dish makes that dish better? I mean, maybe it's just a successful marketing trick, but it's starting to get out of hand: there are frozen pizza brands which proudly advertise they have a full five cheeses on board. I'm sorry, but what the hell? The idea behind a good cheese is that you can actually taste it. If you have too many cheeses, the flavors run into each other and you end up with this wretched industrial amalgam of cheese.
Speaking of wretched, I've just noticed that on the top flap of the All-American Breakfast Wraps box, there's an exhortation for the consumer to "Try all delicious offerings!" Since that's where I opened the box, I can't read what's left of the tiny advertising script, but I do see the myriad flavors of Kraft's All-American Breakfast Wraps are prominently mentioned.
Oh wait. Now that I look closely at it, only my particular box had All-American Breakfast Wraps in it. Well, I'm glad to see we've clearly demarcated the lines between Real Americans' Breakfast Foods and those favored by our cowardly enemies. Yeah. Hey, you with the Denver-Style Breakfast Wrap -- you think you're pretty hip and far out, don't you, son?
Still, though, this box is a triumph of American marketing.
You see, on the front cover, there's this giant picture of an All-American Breakfast Wrap lazing about on something that looks like a towel. Clearly, this represents the typical breakfast wrap consumer in the Northeast, who wishes he was in someplace tropical, like Puerto Rico. Also, the box proudly notes that each All-American Breakfast Wrap has just 200 calories, yet 19 grams of protein. Also, each has 20 pc of my daily saturated fat allowance, and -- well, OK, so that's only noticed if one looks for it. But hey. Saturated fat allowance, current account deficit, what's the big deal?
AS SOMEONE WHO takes little interest in the Academy Awards, I have to admit I was pleased with how things turned out last night. Apparently, no one actually said anything that was particularly controversial, irresponsible, outlandish or mind-numbingly stupid. As such, I'm not going to have to hear about it ad nauseum for the next week or so, and as a result, I'll avoid the near-terminal case of ennui that I typically get in such cases. To the Academy, I say thank you.
Not that I watched the telecast in the first place. Oh, no. Instead, I relied on trusted blogs for my Academy Awards coverage. As I understand it, this had the pleasing effect of insulating me from some truly wretched program music, plus it kept me from falling asleep during the program itself. I don't know about you, but I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would spend several hours at a clip watching this thing. Reading blogs instead was a much more enjoyable -- and quicker -- way of finding out what happened.
What? What do you mean, you feel the same way about football? Geez.
Anyway, moving on. I have to admit I was surprised that the movie about how everyone in Los Angeles is racist beat out the movie about the effeminate shepherds. I haven't seen either, so I can't express a qualitative judgment on whether the one ought have beat out the other. Still, it surprised me based on what I had read leading up the ceremony.
Of course, if I haven't seen those, readers may wonder what movies I have actually seen in the past year. The answer to that is "damn few." There's no point in going to the movies when the tickets and concessions are overpriced, the other people in the theatre are rude and inconsiderate, and the movies playing usually disappoint.
But hope springs eternal, I guess.
BUSINESS WEEK has a fascinating article on the growth of Mexico's middle class that suggests several important consumer trends are taking hold in the country. While one wishes for a bit more specificity in the magazine's story, there's no missing the very positive economic trends it points out.
The most important of these is the stellar growth in what was a practically non-existent home-mortgage market. According to Business Week, mortgage rates are down to 9 pc per year, allowing great numbers of middle-class families to afford mortgages. Some 560,000 mortgage-backed homes were built last year; some 750,000 will be built this year.
When I was in Mexico last year, I found myself discussing this very subject with my parents. The question of how one bought property in San Miguel de Allende had come up, and I became aware that cash was the usual, if not the only, option for buying. Mortgages on Mexican property were not something one could generally get. So to hear that the mortgage market has been expanding at breakneck speed is really cheering: because, as Business Week points out, it means the country has become more stable.
It should also mean the country will become richer very soon. With a stable mortgage-financing mechanism in place, middle-class Mexicans will be able to fully take advantage of the capital in their homes. As economists such as Hernando de Soto have pointed out, freeing that capital is a key factor in wealth creation. Furthermore, one can imagine that competitive Mexican banks will soon offer other financial products, refinance mortgages, and so on, further helping to increase the wealth of middle-class Mexicans.
I have to admit I'm surprised at Business Week's calculations that to be part of the Mexican middle class, a household would have income between US$7,200 to US$50,000. It's not the lower end I find surprising; that figure actually sounds about right. It's the higher end that made me raise an eyebrow. US$50,000 is equal to about 550,000 Mexican pesos, and that sum would go a really long way in most parts of the country. However, this may be a sign that the country has become more prosperous, quicker, than I had thought.
That said, I also wish Business Week would have said more about where in Mexico these trends are taking place. Since conditions are so different around the country, it would have been neat to know just where exactly these things are happening. Still, I have to give the magazine a lot of credit for producing a timely and interesting story.
DAMN. MC HAMMER has a blog.
WELL, THIS SHOULD PUT the damper on any well-intentioned but ill-advised ideas to again lower the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour.
It seems that several Georgia college students, finding the 55 mph speed limit on that city's beltway arbitrary and capricious, made a video in which they drove 55 mph in concert on the road. As a result, mayhem and disorder broke out along I-285 as frustrated motorists proved the students' point: that the 55 mph speed limit is too slow for the road in question.
Shockingly, no one -- not even any of the students -- was hurt. Of course, there are questions about whether the college students' actions were legal, but still, the film makes its point. It also makes the point that slow drivers, as a matter of course, ought only drive in the right lane.
As a driver who likes driving reasonably fast when conditions warrant, I do wish speed limits would be upgraded to accurately reflect road conditions. For instance, I've been on several roads -- for instance, I-15 between Barstow, Calif. and the Nevada line, and US-23 from northwest Ohio to Ann Arbor, Mich. -- that could handle higher maximum speeds than their respective 70 and 75 mph limits. I know they could handle them because other motorists routinely passed me on those roads, even though I was driving 80 or 85 mph to keep up with traffic.
On the other hand, as I've become older, I've come to value the engineers' judgment when it comes to lower speed limits on certain roadways. For instance, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there are areas where a 55 mph speed limit is reasonable and judicious, particularly if the roadway is a bit worn. That said, though, it seems we could use an upgrade to old-style, blanket speed limits, now that cars are safer, and roads are capable of handling more and faster traffic.
They bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash.
-- the Counterpoint Guy, "Airplane!"
CNN MONEY HAS AN interesting story posted about how many U.S. athletes may have lost the biggest prize of all -- endorsement money -- at the recent Winter Olympics in Turin. That's because the U.S. teams generally didn't perform too well.
Part of me feels sorry for the athletes: after all, endorsements are the only way many of them can do well while pursuing sports in which competition isn't lucrative. The other part of me, however, is downright glad. That's because I generally hate commercials featuring Olympic athletes -- before, during, and after the Games.
For this state of affairs, I blame the people in charge of the Visa International Service Organization's recent publicity scheme, in which God-fearing Americans like me were bombarded with advertisements telling us about the Visa Check Cards we already have. To viewers like me, these advertisements made absolutely no sense, for several reasons:
1. They started airing prior to the Super Bowl.
2. They involved snowboarding.
3. They involved something called "Torino," which to my football-fuddled mind sounded like an auto race.
4. They involved Lindsey Jacobellis, a Vermont native, acting relaxed upon imagining her Visa Check Card* had just been stolen. However, this clearly failed the "believability test."
That's because Jacobellis is from Vermont, and Vermonters view check cards as newfangled flatlander tools, through which people from "away" grow wealthy and finance schemes to plow under open land and replace it with horrible faux-Tudor third homes. Or so I'm told, anyway.
But I digress. The point is: the ads went in one ear and out the other, primarily because I saw this particular ad roughly 720 times. In fact, I came to hate this ad with a fury that I normally reserve for the music of David Hasselhoff and bad movies with superheroes. I hated it so much that when I finally found out it involved the Olympics, I became disgusted with the competition and did my very best to tune it out. Throughout the three weeks or so of the Olympics, I can honestly say that I only watched about five minutes of actual competition.
That involved the U.S. men's curling team. It lost to Finland or something. And as hard as I tried, I just couldn't get worked up about losing to Finland.
* I suppose this is a good time to ask a question that I, and many others I've known, have long wondered: why the hell do commercial script-writers refer to a "MasterCard card?"
LONGTIME RANT READERS know that while Diet Cherry Coke is my primary soda of choice, Tab soda has long been a distant second here at Casa Ben. You see, in addition to having a weird, too-sweet cola taste that for some reason I enjoy, Tab has a certain cachet to it.
For one thing, hardly any of my visitors can figure out how I manage to buy the stuff*. For another, no one can believe I actually drink it on occasion. For a third, visitors to my humble abode will have at least one Tab with me, just because they can. Besides, it's Tab. It's the "Cola-Flavored Beverage So Not With It, It's With It." It's the soda that hearkens back to simpler times, when people had ugly wood cabinetry in their kitchens and mustard-colored davenports in their living rooms. It's the soda that made you think, "Gee, the Russians should be here any second now."
But now, I've been betrayed.
According to various news sources, the Coca-Cola Co. has created yet another version of Tab -- a horrible new energy-drink version that they're using horrible new celebrities to horribly promote. There's a real danger that this new Tab, called Tab Energy, could very well become horribly popular. That would be bad.
Fortunately, I feel I can't be alone in thinking this way. According to FOX News, which cited a recent article in The New Yorker, "the original TaB Cola is essentially dead from a marketing and sales standpoint, (but) it has maintained a loyal cult of followers, particularly among writers and other edge-dwelling characters who seem drawn to the strange dance with danger associated with an allegedly carcinogenic drink."
Speaking personally, I'm drawn to it because it makes people say things like, "I haven't seen a can of Tab since 'Kramer vs. Kramer' came out in theatres." But that's just me. Quite frankly, it horrifies me that one of my bastions of eccentricity is in danger of being co-opted by Hollywood. Witness the wretched news, from FOX:
And weight-conscious celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie have already been seen tossing back a cold one.
"Nicole Richie and Fergie (from the Black-Eyed Peas) were seen guzzling TaB Energy drink all over Manhattan," said Jarett Wieselman, senior lifestyle editor for In Touch Weekly magazine. "And when these two put their stamp of approval on a product, expect other celebrities to follow suit." ...
.... Aside from Lohan, Richie and Fergie, other women (and one man) with a sense of style and purpose who were also spotted pounding back a TaB Energy at Fashion Week include Missy Elliott, Pamela Anderson, JC Chasez, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Kimberly Stewart and Christina Milian.
You can see how dire this is.
Yeah, I know the story seems a bit much. After all, it's hard to trust a man who actually uses the phrase "guzzle" in speech, unless the word is used in conjunction with "fell into the vat down at the brewery." And I suppose there's only one "A-list" celebrity mentioned, so the danger may be limited.
Still, even if Tab Energy were to fail -- like the seven or so Tab variants before it -- it could still be too late to repair the damage caused by a massive but flawed marketing campaign. I mean, look at Coca-Cola's new Tab Web site. Look upon the Coca-Cola Co.'s works and despair!
It's PERKY, for God's sake. THE TAB WEB SITE IS PERKY.
Tab drinkers are not perky. Tab drinkers are world-weary and cynical and torn between their own inner romanticism and outer frigidity. They are not "fabulous," something the Coca-Cola Co. would have you believe of Tab Energy drinkers. They simply want a little bit of metallic-tasting soda when they come home from a hard day at the office. That's it. No nightclubs, no wretched platitudes, no finding oneself and most definitely no Chihuahuas stuffed and choking inside a Louis Vuitton purse. Just. Tab.
As such, this new "Tab Energy" campaign needs to stop, before Tab drinkers everywhere are seen as happy, well-adjusted people who want to go out and buy the world a Coke. Because Tab drinkers think if the world wants a Coke, it should go out and buy one itself. We can't have this image ruined. As such, I call upon the Coca-Cola Co. to find other ways to feature their new, yet blasphemous and foul, Tab Energy beverage product.
Say, I know. How about using some Olympic athletes from Team USA?
Oh, while I'm thinking of it, it'd be nice if the Coca-Cola Co. would increase its supply of Diet Cherry Coke, specifically that packaged in 20 oz. bottles, within the Northeast. Thank you.
* For reasons I don't entirely understand, Tab is available in New Hampshire at supermarkets, but according to visitors more difficult to find elsewhere.