Archive for May, 2010

The Food Police- Publicity Hogs

This is bad for you

They have been dubbed the “Food Police.” And the media eat it up like a 1000 calorie Triple Whopper with Cheese. Every year, like clockwork, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) releases lists of evil foods and every year, the media lap dogs oblige with funny puns and B roll of fat Americans walking down the street.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with pointing out that fattening foods are bad for you- it’s also stating the obvious. Over and over and over and over and over and over.

For network and local TV and Radio, the CSPI is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s become as standard and hack worn as the stand-up in front of the salt dome before the season’s first snow storm; the stand-up on the boardwalk on Memorial Day weekend, the stand-up on the side of the highway at the big truck accident, the stand-up at the shopping mall on Black Friday.

Media outlets were tripping all over themselves this week, including network reporters for NBC and ABC, to breathlessly report the latest “evil food” report from the CSPI.

The 2010 List

Am I missing something here? When you sit down to order at a restaurant do you not know that Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes just might contain a boatload of calories? Here are the latest indictments from the Food Police:

• Bob Evans’ Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes – 1,380 calories and 34 grams of saturated fat. Syrup adds another 200 calories for every four-tablespoon serving.
• California Pizza Kitchen’s Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak – 1,680 calories, 32 grams of saturated fat, and more than 3,300 mg of sodium.
• California Pizza Kitchen’s Pesto Cream Penne – 1,350 calories, 49 grams of saturated fat, and 1,920 mg of sodium.
• Five Guys’ Bacon Cheeseburger – 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat. A large order of French fries at Five Guys adds 1,460 calories.
• P.F. Chang’s Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo – 1,820 calories and 7,690 milligrams of sodium.
• The Cheesecake Factory’s Pasta Carbonara with Chicken – 2,500 calories and 85 grams of saturated fat.
• The Cheesecake Factory’s Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake – 1,670 calories and 48 grams of saturated fat.
• Outback’s New Zealand Lamb – 1,820 calories, 80 grams of saturated fat, and 2,600 mg of sodium.
• Chevys’ Crab & Shrimp Quesadilla – 1,790 calories, 63g of saturated fat, and 3,440 mg of sodium.


The CSPI and their media friends went after Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Chili’s and (again) the Cheesecake Factory. Not that I would, for one moment, think there might be something fattening at a place called the Cheesecake Factory.

• Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: This retro item is also making comebacks at Olive Garden, Uno Chicago Grill, and at a chain that sells nothing but fondues, The Melting Pot.
• Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger: Here Applebee’s inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla. Two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a previously unknown condiment called Mexi-ranch sauce, plus fries, gives this monstrous marriage 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. \
• Chili’s Big Mouth Bites: This is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers served on a plate with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce.
• The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits: Nutrition Action calls it “discomfort food.” If you wouldn’t eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this.


Ah, the year we all freaked out about popcorn. The media headline spoon-fed by the CSPI was “Movie Theatre Popcorn: Threat or Menace.” The key finding- hang on to your hats- popcorn is really bad for you if you put a lot of butter on it.

Sorry to ruin the movie for you, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest visited a number of theaters in the three largest chains, Regal, AMC and Cinemark, and bought popcorn in various sizes for analysis by an independent lab. Then they issued a report on the results, which included phrases like “the Godzilla of snacks.” .

No- they are NOT sorry they ruined the movie for you. They are thrilled and excited that they ruined the movie for you. They wouldn’t have made their headlines and continued to justify their existence if they hadn’t ruined the movie for you.


Another banner year for the CSPI. They went on the attack against Ruby Tuesday’s, Uno Chicago Grill and- oh, lookie here- the Cheescake Factory.

You’ll notice the universal measurement of all evil- the McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder. “Like eating five quarter-pounders!” “Like eating 22 quarter-pounders!” They also use this technique of finding another food that has high caloric content and adding it to the standard Quarter-pounder bench-mark. They did it with popcorn in 2008; “like eating five quarter-pounders with 12 pads of butter!”

• Ruby Tuesday’s “Colossal Burger.” Equivalent to about five McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.
• Uno Chicago Grill’s “Pizza Skins.” “We start with our famous deep dish crust, add mozzarella and red bliss mashed potatoes, and top it off with crispy bacon, cheddar, and sour cream,” says the menu.
• Ruby Tuesday’s “Fresh Chicken & Broccoli Pasta.” Pity the poor diner who thinks this healthy sounding entrée is on the light side.
• Cheesecake Factory’s “Chris’ Outrageous Chocolate Cake.” It’s the equivalent of eating two Quarter Pounders plus a large fries—for dessert.

But the real headline in ’07 was the CSPI’s frontal assault on the evils of Chinese food. This was actually an updated version of their original much-publicized attack on Chinese food first released in 1993.

WASHINGTON—Popular Chinese restaurant meals can contain an entire day’s worth of sodium and some contain two days’ worth, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.


It’s not just food. They don’t like alcohol either. This was the year the CSPI criticized NASCAR for having beer sponsors. Isn’t that kind of like criticizing the Catholic Church for using communion wafers?

“Linking drinking with high-speed driving—in front of audiences that include millions of young people—is asking for trouble,” said CSPI alcohol policies director George A. Hacker.

Cool. CSPI has an “alcohol policies director.” I’m inviting him to my next cocktail party. I’m sure he’s a wild one.


Notable for the sarcastic Happy Birthday message to McDonald’s on their 50th anniversary:

McDonald’s deserves a lot of the blame for having transformed the way America eats. We now eat quicker, and in what would have seemed like bizarre or impolite ways many years ago. (In our cars, for instance). What was once an occasional treat or convenience has morphed into a once-, twice-, or thrice-a-day indulgence.

Not only is the CSPI the enemy of calories and fat, but also “bizarre and impolite” ways of eating.


This was the year of the CSPI’s attack on Chipotle and their third assault on Mexican or Mexican-like food.

Among CSPI’s findings:
• Chipotle’s Chicken Burrito (with black beans, rice, cheese, and salsa) weighs in at nearly 1,000 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat.
• Chipotle’s Vegetarian Burrito (with black beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, and salsa) weighs over a pound and provides 1,120 calories and three-quarters of a day’s worth of saturated fat (14 grams).
• Chipotle’s Barbacoa Burrito (with shredded beef, pinto beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa) hits nearly 1,300 calories and three-quarters of a day’s worth of saturated fat. That’s the equivalent of a Quarter Pounder, a large order of fries, and a large Coke.
• Chipotle’s Chicken Burrito Bols–burritos without the 340-calorie flour tortillas–are CSPI’s only recommended “Better Bites” at Chipotle. A Bol with chicken, black beans, lettuce, and salsa, has just 430 calories and four grams of saturated fat. Rice instead of lettuce adds about 200 calories.

Ah- notice the evil Barbacoa Burrito- as bad as a “Quarter-Pounder and a large order of fries and a coke.”

In 2003, the CSPI also attacked ice cream.

• Ben & Jerry’s empty Waffle Cone Dipped in Chocolate has 320 calories and a half a day’s worth of saturated fat—the equivalent of a half-pound rack of BBQ baby back ribs. Fill it with a regular scoop of Chunky Monkey Ice Cream and the cone becomes worse (820 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat) than a full one-pound rack of ribs.
• Cold Stone Creamery’s regular Mud Pie Mojo—a mixture of coffee ice cream, roasted almonds, fudge, Oreos, peanut butter, and whipped topping—is the equivalent of two Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizzas (1,180 calories and 26 grams of saturated fat).
• Häagen-Dazs’ Mint Chip Dazzler is a portable sundae with three scoops of mint chip ice cream, hot fudge, Oreos, chocolate sprinkles, and whipped cream. Nutritionally, it’s like eating a T-bone steak, Caesar salad, and a baked potato with sour cream (1,270 calories and 38 grams of saturated fat).


This was the year of the CSPI major assault on all Fast Food chains but particularly Burger King.

• Burger King Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shake. It looks like an ordinary shake. But thanks to the ice cream, a medium (22 oz.) has 760 calories and 29 grams of heart-breaking fat (1 ½ days’ worth).
• Burger King Fries. Burger King’s French Fries are the worst. Period. A King Size order has 600 calories and 30 grams of fat, 16 of which are saturated plus trans fat.
• Burger King Hash Browns. This breakfast side order can ruin your diet for the entire day. A large order has 15 grams (three-quarters of a day’s worth) of saturated plus trans fat.
• Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese. A wider burger and a wider bun make a single Whopper worse than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese or a Big Mac. A second slab of beef brings the total to 1,150 calories and 33 grams of saturated plus trans fat.
• Value Meals. All Value Meals offer an economic incentive to stuff your gut, and Burger King’s are the worst. A Burger King Whopper Value Meal’s calories range from 1,300 to 1,800 depending on the size of the soft drink and the fries.


Oh…the tons of media publicity they got this year. This was the major assault on Mexican food. Most of the media had forgotten they had done their “evil Mexican food” pieces back in 1994, so they went back for a second helping.

One serving of nachos that deliver more than 1,300 calories and more than a day’s worth of fat, saturated fat, and sodium? In recognition of that nutritional train wreck, the Center Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Nutrition Action Healthletter has named Taco Bell’s Mucho Grande Nachos its Food Porn of the Month for December. The Mucho Grande Nachos get their overload of fat and calories from the ground beef and melted cheese that smother deep-fried nacho chips. Nutrition Action says that the Mucho Grande Nachos “is the perfect food if you don’t mind ending up with mucho grande doctor bills … and a mucho grande posterior.

You’d have to salsa dance all night to burn off this nacho dish. Each ingredient on its own raises red flags — put them all together and you’ve got a world-class Food Porn,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley. “Eating one order of Mucho Grande Nachos is like eating five Beef Tacos — plus an order of regular nachos. I don’t recommend eating either meal.


The new millennium saw the CSPI go after Greek food.

WASHINGTON – The first-ever study of popular dishes from Greek restaurants shows that some entrées are among the most healthful foods available at any restaurant, while others are as bad for your heart as two McDonald’s Big Macs. The good news is that the chicken, lamb, or pork souvlaki (kebobs) are great choices — fairly low in fat and rich in vegetables,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley, who conducted the study. “The heart-throbbingly bad news is the fat-filled moussaka and gyro.”

Ooops…somebody at the CSPI didn’t get the memo and compared Greek food to Big Macs instead of the time-honored Quarter-Pounder.

Those damn, greasy, good-for-nothing Mexicans. In their attitude and disdain for Mexican culture, the CSPI was 16 years ahead of the state of Arizona:

Rice, beans, and tortillas. What a foundation for a healthy cuisine.
So why were we scratching our cabezas as we looked at the results of our laboratory test of Mexican restaurant food?
• An order of Beef & Cheese Nachos with as much fat as ten glazed doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts.
• A Chicken Burrito dinner with 1 day’s worth of sodium.
• A Chile Relleno dinner with as much saturated fat as 27 slices of bacon!
Only one of the dishes we tested – chicken fajitas – was decent enough to recommend … if you order it without the beans, sour cream, and guacamole. That was the good news. The sad part was that, unlike Chinese or Italian restaurant food, it’s tough to make Mexican better.

Hey CSPI- Take your cabezas and put ‘em up your culo.

In 1994…the CSPI also announced its disgust for all Italian food:

The next time you reach for the dinner menu at your favorite Italian eatery, consider this:
Order Fettuccine Alfredo and you stuff your arteries with as much saturated fat as three pints of Breyer’s Butter Almond ice cream. Have Eggplant Parmigiana and you might as well devour five egg rolls. Eat an order of Fried Calamari as an appetizer and you down more cholesterol than a four-egg omelet.


If this post seems excessive; don’t blame me. Blame the Center for Science in the Public Interest and their obsessive goody-two-shoes sermonizing of the obvious year after year. Fattening food is bad for you…fattening food is bad for you!

We know.

But after awhile, watching the predictable annual media orgies over the CSPI’s latest round of manufactured outrage over this food or that food- this caution from someone who has researched this CSPI publicity machine; and I’ll put it in big bold letters:

Caution Caution Caution

Continual exposure to the CSPI’s press releases and news conferences can lead to the same amount of indigestion produced by consuming 37 Quarter Pounders with 75 pads of butter placed inside a two-ton pastry shell filled with 4,700 pounds of whipped cream over 20 layers of gyro meat.

Notes On a High School Graduation

May 26, 2010 1 comment

I attended my son’s graduation this past weekend in the Atlanta suburbs. Congrats, Charlie! Twelve occasionally anxious years of private and public schooling are making way for four more years of higher education.


I have blogged before about how much air travel sucks and, sure enough, having flown maybe 30 times to Atlanta over the past five years I had never experienced what occurred on this trip into Hartsfield. You know you’re in trouble when the wing tips noticeably because it means you are in the dreaded circling pattern waiting to be cleared for final approach.

Being the smart guys they are, the leaders of the airline industry thought it would be a good idea to make hubs out of Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, two of the most thunderstorm-prone cities on the planet Earth. Didn’t affect me because Atlanta was my final destination but I felt sorry for all the folks with connecting flights into the now closed Hartsfield airport due to some nasty storms in the area.

We didn’t have enough fuel either. The pilot matter-of-factly informed us we’d have to gas up in Greenville, South Carolina. New one on me. Turns out other flights in the same boat as us were diverted both there and to Alabama for refueling.

To make a long story shorter, we were the first plane in to the humble little South Carolina airport. We hung out on the tarmac for about 45 minutes, fueled up and left for Hartsfield which, gratefully, reopened. We finally landed three hours past arrival time, but thanks to a $91 cab ride directly from Hartsfield to Roswell High School, I made it to the graduation with literally 3 minutes to spare.

The Ceremony

It takes a long, long time to read the names, congratulate and hand diplomas to 500 graduating seniors. Today’s High School students are considerably tamer than those from my generation. If I’m not mistaken, the Herndon High School class of ’74 was the last Fairfax County school for awhile to graduate from Wolf Trap. That would be thanks to one smoke bomb and one streaker. Roswell High’s version of mischief was a beach ball that was let loose upon the sitting and giddy graduates. It was quickly confiscated.

My binoculars and Charlie’s grand-dad’s cell phone camera captured the big moment as my son’s name was called to a nice round of cheering and applause. He had found his place in the mini-universe that is High School. From a nervous Freshman to a confident Senior, he had achieved this right of passage with flying colors.

The Parties and Barbecues

The weekend was spent shuffling from one barbecue gathering to another, congratulating Charlie’s friends, many of whom I had known as 8 and 9 year-olds and now on the verge of life itself with, for most, only a brief 4-year college interlude before assuming true independence.

The final barbecue was at Sean’s house. Charlie and Sean used to be the best of friends and played on the same soccer teams for years. As happens in High School, they had pretty much gone their separate ways but Charlie put in a gracious cameo appearance before heading off for a musical performance at a friend’s church.

Sean is headed for the University of Georgia and loves politics and economics. Smart kid. I swear the conversations I had with him at the barbecue were the most intelligent of any I had with most of the adults over the weekend. As I left the gathering, the poignancy of the moment hit home as I wished Sean luck and told him it had been fun watching him grow up.

Middle Tennessee State- Here We Come

As for Charlie, he’s known for a couple of years now precisely and exactly what he wants to do with life. He’ll be moving on to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee to pursue his degree in audio engineering and music production. He doesn’t care about money. He cares about the business and art of music. Period. His heart is so in the right place, I know he will do very well. All I ask is for a small little bungalow on his estate twenty years from now where I can close out my existence typing out my final blog entries about how great it was to have such a kind, smart and successful son.

Performance Evaluations and Why They Exist

Meeting with the Bob's- from the movie, Office Space

The Performance Evaluation is a mechanism to make people who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, actually give the appearance that they’re managing. In other words, you would never need performance evaluations if managers understood the slightest, basic concepts of leadership.

A natural leader with innate management skills will automatically do the following:

1) Articulate a strategic vision
2) Let staff know exactly what is expected to achieve that vision
3) Offer feedback on the work staff is doing
4) Motivate staff by acknowledging success
5) Communicate regularly with staff to ensure everyone remains on the same page
6) Listen to suggestions to make the work flow better or even to change or alter the given goal

And this is precisely what most Performance Evaluation processes seek to get managers to do. If we just stopped hiring or promoting incompetent managers, we literally would not have a need for such things as performance evaluations.

Which brings me to Larry McCoy. Larry used to be a manager at a major broadcast organization many, many moons ago when I was first breaking into the network news business. Words to describe Larry include: irascible, blunt, candid, authentic, funny, gruff, kind and mean all at the same time- and one of the best newsmen to ever grace a newsroom.

I bring him up because, now that he is no longer a manager, he has penned one of the funniest pieces on this Performance Evaluation stuff that you will ever read. Here’s a taste:

I had just arrived in the newsroom for my shift as a copy editor when a manager came over to my desk and declared, “We need to discuss your goals.” I was 66 years old – past retirement age, damn near old enough to be his father – and he wants to discuss my “goals.”

“Go away,” I told him.

Several days later….

We met in the conference room with its breathtaking view of parking garages, and, while I was admiring the scene, Floyd handed me the damn thing and said my overall rating wasn’t just his opinion but the collective judgment of every manager in the unit. After only a glance at a couple of pages, I let him have it. My editorial skills got the highest possible marks, 5’s, but right below those was a 2 and the word “outbursts.” In the language of the Gods of Management, “Larry must control his outbursts.” Hello? If you “control” an “outburst,” it isn’t an “outburst.” It’s whining.

I beg you to please read the rest of this hilarious and rather profane screed. Kindly go here.

A further and enlightened take on the issue of Human Resource departments in general can be found in a wonderfully written piece which you can find here, called “The Wussification of the Workplace.”

For the record, I deeply respect many of the individuals I know who have worked in any Human Resources Department at every place I have ever held a job. In some cases, I have wanted to date them. But really, HR people only exist in the modern American workplace because most managers at most companies- just totally suck.

Why People Hate Politicians

May 18, 2010 1 comment

We have an Indiana Republican and hero of abstinence who cheated; and a Democratic Attorney General and Senate candidate from Connecticut who pretends he fought in Vietnam. Oh, I don’t know- maybe it’s all the lying and hypocrisy?

And it’s not just one political party; it seems to be the whole wretched lot of them.
Tell you what, Republicans may do better than Dems in November but that’s only because there are more Democratic incumbents. If there was a third party called the “Honesty” party- they’d all be swept out of office. I don’t believe these “Tea Party” candidates are going to turn out any better either. That’s what happens to reformers; they get a taste for power and they join the elite classes and start playing the same egotistical games.


This is Indiana Republican Congressman, Mark Souder.

This is Congressman Souder being interviewed by a part-time staffer named Tracy Jackson on the subject of abstinence.  Ms. Jackson is the alleged mistress.

Here is a portion of Congressman Souder’s resignation letter:

To serve has been a blessing and a responsibility given from God. I wish I could have been a better example. I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.

Did you get that? It’s all Washington’s fault.


This is Connecticut Attorney General, and Democratic Senate candidate, Richard Blumenthal.

This is Richard Blumenthal two years ago at a ceremony honoring military veterans.

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

This is from Monday’s New York Times:

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

Qualifications for Office

Actually, let’s start in reverse. Anyone who wants to run for political office should be immediately disqualified. Already, their ego is out of control.

So what do we do?

We draft people. Like jury duty. One year at a time. Pay them well so they don’t get tempted. A year should not give them enough time to quite learn all the ways of Washington and “K” Street lobbyists. The year’s up and back home.

Citizen lawmakers instead of professional career-climbing, hypocritical, lying egomaniacs.

Just a thought.

A Different View of Manhattan

Bodega by the 207th St. Subway Station- Kareem Abdul Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor grew up on nearby Dykman Street

Spent an interesting weekend in Inwood, at the very northern tip of Manhattan, immersed between two wildly different but compatible cultures; Dominicans and their busy, colorful, music-pounding, flea-market sprinkled streets right next to gentrified urban white neighborhoods dotted with Art Deco buildings circa 1920.

It’s truly the best thing about New York- the mixing. Here are some of the sights in a mere three-block walk:

First off, the weather was great so everybody and their hermano were out on the streets. The thumping rhythms of Latin music emanate from cars and boom boxes. On weekends, the Dominican part of Inwood, like Washington Heights, is somewhat like being transported to another country.

In front of the pawn shops, bodegas, hardware stores, tattoo parlors and Latin restaurants are dozens of flea market stands selling the strangest stuff ever. There are normal goods like cheap clothes, purses, boot-leg movies, 1989 Topps baseball cards- but also a highly unique collection of electronics. Pretty much everything you throw out when you move- like battered extension cords and old remotes.

Then there’s like a buffer block right where the A train stops at the 207th street subway station. Here, the transition begins. The first Art Deco apartment building looms on the left as you head north. It’s a very hilly area and the building sits atop some very steep and intimidating-looking stone stairs.

Harry Houdini's widow lived on Payson Street after his death

About 500 more feet and you officially enter yet another world; quiet and residential with a mix of housing including 7 and 8 story pre-WWII buildings, detached homes, and those great deco apartments- but still packing plenty of character. Like the two old, presumably Dominican men, who open their apartment window along Seamen Street performing old-time Latin karaoke as the urban white crowd strolls by below, every one of them, seemingly, with a dog on a leash.

Saturdays, there’s a small but diverse weekly farmer’s market that operates year-round with all kinds of great goodies from breads and fruits and veggies to cheeses and wine. And across the street is Inwood Park with tons of woods and paths, softball fields and dog-runs, leading east toward the Harlem River. That’s where Columbia University has its crew team. The school has painted a gigantic blue “C” on a cliff overlooking the river and word is the locals think it’s tacky and an eyesore. The University has it regularly repainted but no one’s figured out where they got the authority to take over that particular cliff. Supposedly there’s a lawsuit coming.

And the park is where the cultures meld. The dog-walking white urbanites populate the paths. Everybody shares the meadows. The Dominicans own the baseball diamonds.

Beisbol everywhere!

Baseball and Softball rule in Inwood. The Dominican Republic, after all, stocks the Major Leagues with some of the best players the game has ever seen; Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, the Alou brothers, Felipe, Jesus and Matty. It’s in the DNA.

Having attended many a Little League game in the white-bread Atlanta suburbs when my son was growing up it was kind of refreshing to take in a bit of an Inwood Little League contest. Not a single Anglo name in the lineups but plenty of Bautista’s and even one Valenzuela. The fast-pitch softball fields are where the big boys play. And they’re good- really, really good. Some of the slickest fielding and power hitting I’ve ever seen on a softball diamond.

An Inwood Park trail in the Fall

It’s Manhattan. From Wall Street and the Chrysler building to Madison Avenue; from Central Park and Lincoln Center to the parks, softball fields, markets and bodegas of Inwood; it is, truly, one of the neatest and unique islands in the world.

Caps Fans Feel Some Vindication

May 13, 2010 1 comment

Maybe it wasn’t that we were bad or that we choked or that we’re cursed. It seems nobody can beat the Montreal Canadiens.

Having dispatched our hated enemy, the defending NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 in Game 7 to move into the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night, the Habs appear to be a team of fate and fortune. Ha! See that? We lost to a team of destiny!

Feels better now. And Sydney Crosby had only one goal in the series. So much for the Ovechkin/Crosby debate. Nobody cares anymore because they’re both out of the playoffs.

To my Pittsburgh Penguin fan-friends: We know your pain. It sucks and you can’t beleve it and how could it have happened and there’s a certain emptiness. As I have discovered, it will be somewhat comforting if Montreal goes on to the finals. I would suggest rooting for them.

Nobody beats destiny.

Busy Jupiter

Image: Anthony Wesley

Something happened to the planet Jupiter between the end of last year and early April.  It may be nothing more than white clouds moving over the dark clouds that defined one of it’s familiar stripes- but those puppies are gone.

That roughly 4-month period is when Jupiter got too close to the sun in the sky for anyone to see it.  When it emerged last month- no dark stripe in the southern hemisphere.  This has happened before, once in 1973 and in the early 1990’s. 

David Shiga has a nice piece on this at

And it’s not the only stuff going on:

The disappearance of the belt comes at a time of widespread – but mysterious – change on Jupiter, which has seen changes to the colour of other bands and spots in its atmosphere

Interesting solar system.

Categories: Cosmos Tags: , , ,


May 11, 2010 1 comment

Leader of the Luddites (left); Leader of the Free World (right)

President Obama delivered the commencement address at historically black Hampton University on Sunday where he launched an assault on technology and media. This crazy, new-fangled digital world, he said, is turning information into entertainment instead of a tool for enlightenment.

While in some contexts there is a certain amount of truth to that, it seems to me the President’s words show a startling lack of understanding of information technology and a very Luddite-like attitude I didn’t expect from our first post baby-boom President. After all, it was his innovative and modern campaign that communicated and raised hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging many of the digital tools the President now disparages.


The term “Luddite” originates from a movement born in England’s textile industry in the early 1800’s in which workers sabotaged new, wide-framed automated looms out of fear they could be operated by unskilled labor and, therefore, put skilled workers out of jobs.

Ned Ludd is the name of the fellow who literally destroyed some then “modern” equipment back in 1779.  As this even more modern textile technology came on line in the 1800’s, protestors took his name as a symbol of their resistance.

Today, the term has come to mean general rejection of new technology and it would appear our President is among those who could be described as “Luddites.”  Here’s a key excerpt from the commencement speech:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter,” he told the students. “And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Too Many Lies

In his first sentence, the President argues there’s a lot of information out there that doesn’t rank high on the “truth meter.” This is new? This wasn’t also happening at the dawn of the Republic? When pamphleteers published scathing lies, rumors and innuendo during election campaigns in the 1700’s and 1800’s?

If he’s referring to those who disparage him on everything from his birth certificate to his “socialistic” leanings; he’s right- they are lies. He is not a socialist; more of a moderate-left pragmatist. The “birthers” are more about hatred of his policies and possibly the man. But there’s absolutely nothing new about the lines of attack. Americans have always been exposed to these extreme types of rhetorical assaults. They are absolutely par for the course in American politics.

Deconstructing the Obama Argument- Cable TV and Talk Radio

If he’s referring to the Fox News’ and Rush Limbaugh’s of the world that some argue espouse right-wing political ideology- well now we also have MSNBC which regularly weighs in from the left- and here, the President is right. Mass media today offers obsessive partisans the precise opinions they want mirrored back to them. But that’s not the media’s fault. There are still objective sources of information out there and because of the digital age we live in- those sources are more available than ever before- at the touch of a keyboard. Is it the media’s fault many people do not avail themselves of objective sources of information?

The President is blaming technology when the real problem is people. They line up like lemmings on the left and the right, rooting for their respective ideologies like they might root for the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys or some other sports team. There are lots of sociological studies on political partisanship and its roots. They show parental influence, environment, upbringing and regionalism are more responsible than the media for cementing a person’s political views.

The Evil Tools of the Digital Age

But it was the list of technological devices the President enumerated that left me wondering if the White House bubble has now captured, isolated and imprisoned him. Tell me how these fit into his arguments about distorted information overload:

And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.

The I-Pod: Revolutionized the world of customized music and yes, it’s used for the spoken word as well, but for the minority who use it for information, opinion or talk, all I can tell you is that some of the most downloaded material on I-Tunes is content from National Public Radio. How is the I-Pod to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

The I-Pad: While its ultimate fit in our lives is still a work in progress, I believe this device plays only a few basic roles at the moment; easy, touch-screen access to the internet, beautiful graphics for downloadable video and as a reading device that will probably put the Kindle out of business someday. How is the I-Pad to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

X-Box: I have one. This is the device I use to watch movies from Netflix. My son sometimes uses it to kill bad guys in war game scenarios. I’ll admit I’ve spent a few hours using it to play Tiger Woods Golf. How is the X-Box to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

Play Station: Ask George W. Bush about this one. Rumor has it he was pretty good with Play Station during those long off days at the Texas ranch and at Camp David. But I don’t see Play Station as in any way to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies.

Perhaps most telling is the laugh-line he delivered with a certain sense of perverse pride:

And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work….

It appears the one technological device he does know how to work is the Blackberry, which, interestingly enough, did not make it onto his list of evil modern technologies. But really, Mr. President- get with it, man!

Check out the I-Pad- it’s an amazing and beautiful device that when cheap and refined enough, could be the next line of personal computers that overtake the world.

I am positive your own daughters can teach you how to use an I-Pod and an X-Box. And check your oval office desk again. I know Bush-43 left you a private note when you first arrived. Check in one of the drawers; he may have left you instructions for the Play Station too.

Yes, we live in an age of potential information overload. Yes, there is a lot of both Right-wing and Leftist propaganda. But the examples he uses to back his case are non sequiturs. And the real problem is that he’s blaming the messenger. This would be like John Adams denouncing the evils of the printing press because a pamphleteer was critical of the Alien and Sedition acts.

If you’re looking for the causes of extreme partisanship and political zealotry- bloggers and talkers and wingers are a bit like gasoline on the fire. But the original blaze itself comes from some other place. Where does partisanship come from? And how does that prism affect your view of what is truth? Those are questions with no easy answers and certainly not simple ones like “blame media.”

Busy Beavers

They’re the Donald Trumps of Beaver world; as in real estate development- they don’t yet have their own celebrity apprentice shows. Several beaver families have built one of the largest beaver dams ever, in northern Canada, large enough to be visible from space.

Here’s your average, small beaver dam:

Here’s the massively huge beaver dam, photo courtesy of Wood Buffalo National Park:

Here’s the website that started it all using Google Earth to locate the Beaver dam some three years ago, along with some graphics that show the lay-out of the place:

Interesting Beaver Dam-Building Facts

– This dam, located on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada is 850 meters long or 2,788 feet- more than nine football fields in length. Large beaver dams usually reach about 1,200 feet, so this really is a colossus.

– Biologists think this beaver dam is so large that construction probably began as long as 20 years ago.

– Beavers are quite swift in the water but not so agile on land and they build these dams so that they are sort of surrounded by moats. This way they can maneuver really well near their homes to escape nasty predators (coyotes and bears)- plus –the water makes it easier for them to literally transport the trees they’re cutting down, floating them in the water instead of having to drag them around on land.

– This particular beaver dam, as you can see from the illustration above contains not one, but two lodges- the actual domiciles for the furry little guys.

– Unlike Donald Trump’s high-rises on the West Side of Manhattan, Beaver dams are actually good for the environment. They slow the flow of water which leads to less drought and flooding.

– When plant matter dies in water it creates peat which is a great way of storing carbon dioxide.

Fictional Interview with the Head Beaver

Despite the fact this massive beaver dam is in a remote and largely inaccessible area, Garciamedialife was able to contact them via satellite phone earlier today. We talked with the leader of one of the three families that have built this structure, Alfonso Ouelette.

Q: So do you have, like, amenities in your lodges?

A: You mean, besides satellite phones? Heh heh. Well, yes, we have flat screen TV’s. No cable, of course, so we use the DISH network.

Q: What do beavers watch? Sports? Movies?

A: We like Katie Couric a lot. And Animal Planet, of course.

Q: Why Katie Couric?

A: Well, she looks a little like us, certainly more than Diane Sawyer or Brian Williams.

Q: How did this thing get so large?

A: It’s less complicated than you think. We’re way up here in northern Canada and, frankly, there’s not a lot to do.

Q: Do you know your home can be seen from space?

A: Oh, yeah, we wave at the satellites all the time.

Q: With your tails?

At this point, we were cut off, hopefully not because he thought I asked a condescending question. Beavers are very sensitive about their tails.

Joy of Flying

I’m heading to Atlanta in a couple of weeks for my son’s high school graduation which means I have to get on an airplane. Better, I suppose, than travelling with the Donner party in a horse-drawn wagon across the Rockies- but only because it will take slightly less time to complete the journey.

I’m really looking forward to:

– The security lines
– The shoe-removal exercise
– The scrutiny of the deadly shaving cream and toothpaste I’ll have in my possession
– The nickel-and-dime charges for reserving a seat
– The charges for the luggage if the snarling flight attendant decides my bag’s too big for the carry-on compartment
– The ground-stop delays because there’s too much traffic for air controllers to handle.

This is an industry, mind you, that has to be forced by federal law not to keep their customers trapped in a hot plane on a tarmac for more than three hours and after two hours, is required to offer food and water. Imagine that; needing a law to make them give their stranded captives food and water. The airlines avoid violating the Geneva conventions only because passengers are not considered prisoners of war.

We are cattle to these people. Actually, cattle are fed. We are faceless, pain-in-the-ass cargo to the airline industry. We always have been. It’s just that they used to pretend to be nice to us. Now there are not even the pretentions.

Truth is they only pretended to be nice…to people flying first-class or business. But now that it costs so much to fly and the world wide web allows for things called video-conferencing, they barely have any business customers left.

That leaves them with stingy, vacationing families and would-be terrorists who pay cash for one-way flights to Pakistan. The families, of course, will get strip-searched. The terrorist will get to board right away because he paid top dollar and because international airlines, in particular, have apparently never heard of this thing called a “No-Fly” list.

So, I’m girding up for my big airline adventure in the next couple of weeks and fantasizing about how cool it would be if Amtrak could just build a train that goes 500 miles an hour.