The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Wings of Desire (or Who Needs Title IX?)

A 99-pound woman from Alexandria has won Wing Bowl.

Not only is she female; I'm almost twice her size. And I have a big appetite. But hers is at least double mine. That's pretty amazing.

What is Wing Bowl, you ask? It's a chicken-wing eating contest held annually in Philadelphia the Friday before the Super Bowl. Check out these photo highlights from a previous Wing Bowl.

Philly is a town where they can fill a hockey arena for a chicken-wing eating contest. No wonder they come in near the bottom in those "Healthiest City" surveys, down there with those places in the Deep South where it's too humid to move four months out of the year.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Freeze Frame

It's too bad that the online version of this Washington Post article doesn't have the offending mugshot of James Brown, but makes an interesting read anyway.

But, of course, leave it to The Smoking Gun to have the goods on the Godfather of Soul.

Behold.

This one may top Saddam Hussein, Glen Campbell, and even Nick Nolte in the Ugly Mugshot Hall of Fame.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Lunch

If you have a little time and a big appetite to kill on a Friday afternoon, Old Glory Barbecue on M Street in Georgetown is a good place to do it.

It's fun to try eight different types of barbecue sauce on a slab a baby-back pork ribs. And there was hardly anyone else in the restaurant.

Split Decision

I'll probably have more on this later, but I was looking at this electoral map the other day and started playing around with it.

7 Ways To A Happy Election Night for Answer Guy:
1. [Blue States]* + West Virginia + Nevada
2. [Blue States] + West Virginia + Arkansas
3. [Blue States] + Nevada + Arkansas
4. [Blue States] + Arizona
5. [Blue States] + Ohio
6. [Blue States] + Missouri
7. [Blue States] + Florida

#5 or #7 would be the best, since one could lose one (or more) of the shakier "blue states" (Iowa, New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon - though Nader made the last three considerably closer than they otherwise would have been in 2000) and still win. The Democratic nominee can't afford to lose the bigger Democratic leaners (Michigan and Pennsylvania) under any circumstances, although the same can be said about the GOP with respect to Florida and Ohio, and to a lesser extent Missouri and Arizona.

New Hampshire (Gore + Nader votes > Bush vote in 2000) could figure in here too if you lose a state elsewhere.

As I said, I'll probably have more susbtantive thoughts on why I picked those scenarios later.

*([Blue States] = ME + VT + MA + RI + CT + NY + NJ + PA + DE + MD + DC + MI + IL + WI + MN + IA + NM + WA + OR + CA + HI, states carried by/credited to Al Gore in 2000)

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Not The Onion

Apparently, R. Kelly is under orders not to associate with Michael Jackson.

Is it because the judge wants to prevent them from collaborating on a cross-gender underage child diddling?

Or is it because the judge wants to prevent them from collaborating on another bland, generic, schmaltzy R&B ballad?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Super Bowl Shuffle

I have this uneasy feeling about Super Bowl Sunday. I think it comes from being a lifelong Red Sox fan.

The Patriots have never been in the position of favorite before. They've been the heavy underdogs - and deservedly so - in the other three championship contests, and this is a totally new thing for Boston fans, at least since the Bird-era Celtics of the 1980s.

You just know the rest of the country is pulling for the upstart Carolina Panthers. Not that I entirely blame them. But a Super Bowl after nine years of existence feels a bit too much (from here) like getting to have the baby without the labor pains (see Marlins, Florida or Diamondbacks, Arizona) and, as an aficionado of old-line, Snow Belt cities, I'll generally pull for a team from such a city (except New York, of course) against any team from a Charlotte, an Atlanta, or a Dallas.

Still...given the way both these teams generally play their games, 7 seems like too high a point spread.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Senses, Working Overtime (Reprise)

I love the Onion.

Oscar! Oscar!

The Academy Award nominations are out.

Some of the dominant early buzz: Lord of the Rings is the #1 story, with Lost In Translation just behind; Cold Mountain gets the cold shoulder; Charlize Theron is favored to win Best Actress; Best Actor is supposedly a race between Sean Penn and Bill Murray; "little movies" snare some big accolades.

I haven't seen a lot of the nominated films/performances yet, so I'll withhold substantive commentary until after I have more familiarity with the movies in question.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Stereotypes Come True?

So I'm at work grooving to "Take It Off" by the Donnas. My co-worker, an admitted country music devotee who loves to talk politics, asks me what I'm listening to. And I explain to him who The Donnas (all female punk-pop band) are, and he says "You are an incurable Blue Stater."

Yes, I despise most country music, think most American beer is not worth drinking, and think it's laughable when lawyers and accountants have pickup trucks.

Oh, well.

Moment of Irony

A vanity license plate "Treasure the Chesapeake." On a Hummer.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Pet Theory #1

Another anniversary for Roe v. Wade has come and gone, which brought out the expected protests.

Though I myself am pro-choice (mostly because this issue is one in which I don't want the government entangled), I feel a certain sympathy for at least some of the pro-life demostrators. They have a cause, and it's on behalf of what they believe are human lives that can't speak for themselves. (Comapre with most right-of-center casues, which I find to be mostly based at some level in selfishness.)

And I have something of a feeling that they're being used in a cynical fashion by the slash-and-burn crowd now running the government.

I'm pretty sure they understand that overturning Roe would really hurt the Republican Party. They'd prefer to keep it the way it is, so their base can absorb the anti-abortion rhetoric and vote for them, but that the other side doesn't turn out in huge numbers.
I don't think conservative strategists have a lot of interest in abortion.

OK, it sounds a bit nutty, but it's my pet theory.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

State of the Union, Part 3

More random thoughts:

Steroids? Steroids?

* To some extent, I blame Bill Clinton (and Dick Morris) for this sort of thing. After the Republicans took control of Congress following the 1994 elections, Clinton's people (starting with Morris) starting inserting seemingly random low-level, at-least-designed-to-be-uncontroversial policy initiatives into his State of the Union addresses. (The one that comes to mind now is the push for school uniforms he made.) Bush has followed this pattern, inserting random statements about sex tourism in Southeast Asia into last year's speech.

* While I don't expect someone of limited intellectual gifts like the current occupant of the White House (or, to be fair, someone who has to answer to a largely clueless public) to understand how silly the War on (Some) Drugs is, I was hoping that even conservatives were starting to figure it out, and that, if it's maybe too much to ask for our policies to start reflecting that reality, at least we could do something other than go in reverse.

* Oh, yeah, and the Marriage Promotion thing? A lot of that money is going to Reverend Moon and his crazy doomsday cult.

The overall impression from all sides seems to be that this speech was by and large aimed at the arch-conservative base. It had enough red meat for Ted Nugent on the Atkins diet, and that there wasn't much in there at all for fence-sitters.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

State of the Union, Part 2

Still trying to form coherent thoughts after being blown away by the level of mendacity, and the cascade of ridiculous policy initatives that accompanied it.

I wasn't listening to much of it, since it was NTN night, and the State of the Union overlapped considerably with the Showdown game, so I missed the part when Democrats stood up and cheered when Bush announced that parts of the Patriot Act were set to expire.

I glanced aside from eating and trivia every so often to see the Closed Captioning. When Bush made a comment about Iraq, what was presumably a reference to the Ba'athist regime came out as "Baptist regime" in the Closed Captioning.

Of course, maybe he was talking about his vision for America.

State of the Union, Part 1

Crap. I may have to burn my Tom Brady jersey.

Update: Via Craig, a news report indicates Brady was silent when asked to discuss his State of the Union appearance. For now, the jersey is safe. That, and trying to burn polyester produces only melting and bad odor.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

New England 24, Indianapolis 14

Talk about a weird way to get 24 points - TD-FG-FG-S-FG-FG-FG.

It doesn't sit well that despite the Pats being in full command of this game for nearly its entire duration, and were +4 in takeaways, it was still a one-posession game for most of the final ten minutes, or that they kept having to settle for field goals against one of the weaker defenses the NFL has to offer, but they've been winning ugly/dramatic all year long and it's not like they are running into anyone who has been winning pretty all season. Heck, the Colts have been well-nigh unstoppable this postseason until now. (Furthermore, Carolina's average margin of victory is even lower than that of the Pats.)

On the upside, Antowain Smith had a good game with a couple of great runs; unfortunately, if he was reliable enough to get the short yards when they needed them, the game would have been effectively over long before it was. Ty Law and the secondary were nothing short of brilliant, holding Marvin Harrison and the rest of the wideout corps in check; and the O-line did a fantastic job of containing Dwight Freeney and the rest of the Colts' pass rush. With two exceptions (one INT and one that Troy Brown saved from being an INT), Brady was clutch as usual.

On the downside, the offense couldn't put the game away when it should have, settling for field goal after field goal. Edgerrin James was pretty effective running up the middle. Perhaps worst of all, Tedy Bruschi walked gingerly off the field late in the game.

The goal line stand in the November game probably was the deciding factor - I'd bet good money Manning doesn't get picked off 4 times in the RCA Dome, and if Manning doesn't do that, he and the Colts most likely get to go to Houston instead.

But one can't really complain, particularly in this age of extreme parity, about two Super Bowl appearances in three seasons, especially since at least one of them brings the Lombardi Trophy to New England, whatever happens next. It's been a heck of a season.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Hung Loose

I just had to pass this story along, mostly because when you see the headline "Canada Cool With Happy Penis Song," you have to giggle, and then find out what on earth they're talking about.

I can't picture this tune passing muster on radio stations in the States, but Calgary is one of Canada's more conservative towns, and when it comes down to it, that song is probably no worse than a song like this one.

I wonder if Canada has as many commercials for items such as Enzyte, Longtitude, and the like. Or that Dodge Durango ad that has the guys at the urinals talking about how much fun it is to wax their Durango, of which the new model is seven inches longer, and apparently more powerful. You know, the sort of commercials that make the act of parodying commercials kind of pointless.

In a related story, apparently there are guys who buy that stuff. I wish they would stop so the companies didn't decide it worth it to dump nine messages an hour about how to get a bigger piece of, um, "equipment." Of course, I get plenty of spam about increasing the size of my nonexistent breasts, a mortgage on my nonexistent house, help for my nonexistent septic tank, not to mention invitations to what purport to be the worst kinds of pornographic wesbites.

How funny is it that relatively sensible article has an ad for - you guessed it - penis enlargement pills?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Down With The King?

There is a point here - I promise.

First off, looks like my account of our tax dollars at work stifling dissent yet again has been picked up by Independent Media Center and Progressive Review, along with some cranky comments by people who (apparently) don't mind speech being stifled so long as they disagree with it.

(Unfortunately, I'm afraid this might be a majority view in this country before long, if it's not already.)

I'm not really following up to report how shocked and chagrinned I am that some idiot decided it'd be fun to cheer on the idea of some Secret Service agent fisting someone who dared not bow down to the ruling junta.

What concerned me more was the notion that, based on the first paragraph, someone might surmise that I don't know my Tolkien very well.

I am happy to report that I am well aware that the name "White Tower" (actually called Orthanc, at Isengard) refers to the tower of Saruman, not the Dark Tower in Mordor where Sauron resides. I am also aware that neither Sam nor Frodo ever actually brought the Ring, or themselves, anywhere in the vicinity of Isengard.

However, the White House presumably looks more like a white tower than a dark one, regardless of who occupies it.

Which brings me, finally, to my point.

What is it with the entire fantasy genre and its view of kings and monarchy in general?

It has long been a complaint that democratic government gives Jesus and Judas equal say. Now, with a monarchy you may get lucky and give Jesus all the power and Judas none. There is, however, no effective way to guarantee against ending up with Judas wielding all the power. There may be some positive correlation between fitness to rule and the royal line, but history tells us that this correlation must be small indeed, especially considering the fact that royal families in Europe were fond of inbreeding.

One of the key intellectual developments of the Enlightenment is the rejection of a set of long-held ideas, the most prominent of which was the "divine right of kings." America in particular is a nation ostensibly founded on Enlightenment ideals.

And yet the entire fantasy genre, much of which is created by Americans, seems to swallow the concept whole.

In Lord of the Rings, for instance, Aragorn is the real king, and Denethor an incompetent false pretender. But almost every work of fantasy works the same way - the true king is wise, and those who do not like him are wicked schemers or worse. Even the ostensibly anti-monarchist Robin Hood legends hint strongly that if the real king were on the throne, the Sheriff's injustices would cease. Every "swords and dragons" epic I've ever seen, in any form, if it discusses monarchy, is unabashedly in favor of it, and always in favor of either the ruling monarch or some "rightful" monarch that resurfaces during the course of the story.

It's not that I expect it to be the opposite or anything. But contrast this treatment with science fiction, in which rulers are frequently criticized even when they are not portrayed as evil.

It may be that I'm not up in newer trends in the fantasy genre, but its routine embrace of principles more characteristic of reactionaries than progressives always struck me as strange.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Too Low For Zero

Just when you think television can't get any worse, the bar gets lower. The geniuses at the networks always find a way to make something so annoyingly degrading that you're still stunned, even with the current parade of degrading "reality" television.

"My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancee" is premiering soon.

I can't even begin to describe how wrong this premise sounds on so many levels. Not to mention dull; I can go to any bar and find a loutish guy who offends my every standard of good taste - and those of you who know me understand that I'm not that easy to offend.

And given the viewing tastes of the American public, it'll probably be a hit. The best we can hope for is that Fox tries to bring it back next season to an indifferent public, after which we may get an admission from the Fox suits that they actually suceeded in underesitmating television viewers, a la "The Next Joe Millionaire."

Monday, January 12, 2004

The Boy In The Bubble

Apparently George W. Bush thinks he's done more for human rights than any other president.

I'm tempted to simply present that link without comment, since it speaks for itself and what it speaks reveals volumes.

But I'm definitely sensing a theme here. It wouldn't shock me at all if he's never heard a disparaging word about his presidency.

Signs for any opposition candidates can't be within his sight, if my misadventures with the Merry Dean Posting Brigade are any indication. Similarly, anyone holding signs critical of Bush at any of his public appearances is confined to a "free speech zone," often a mile or more from wherever Bush happens to be at the time. Bush's audiences wherever he goes are carefully selected in advance to include only his supporters.

He doesn't read newspapers or follow the news much, if at all.

Now to some degree its inevitable that people are afraid to speak truth to power, and that the temptation exists for anyone, powerful or not, to surround oneself with yes-men (and yes-women.)

But here we have someone with no real connections to the outside world. He's never known what it was like to ever not have everything handed to him. The bubble he appears to have constructed for himself may not be all that different from the bubble he's always lived in. Though there exist some patricians (think of the scene in Henry V where the King disguises himself as a solider shortly before the battle of Agincourt, or Muad'Dib walking the streets in Arakis incognito in Dune) curious enough to gauge how the plebians are doing, Bush has to be one of the least curious men ever to ascend to the highest office in the land, an incuriosity that extends (if former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is to be believed) to nearly every policy issue the administration touches.

I have to conclude Bush's handlers are brilliant marketers, if they can market a man like this, who has been handed every possible advantage life in the aristocracy had to offer, who has never had to work an honest day in his life, as a "man of the people."

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Siege At The White Tower

Frodo and Sam, while, walking the One Ring to Mount Doom, were confronted at the Black Gate to Mordor by a brutal race of orcs, whose singular goal was prevent the Eye of Sauron from seeing anything undesirable.

OK, that's a tad melodramatic.

What really happened was that a ragtag gang of a dozen or so dedicated Washington residents - Answer Guy included - braved the bitter winds of a cold January night and decided it would be fun to hang Howard Dean signs in the general vicinity of the White House.

My group's job was 15th Street, from McPherson Square to Pershing Park. Which takes one by the Hotel Sofitel, the American Bar Association, the Treasury Building, and a whole group of bank buildings.

One of us was carrying one of those cell phones with a digitial camera, so we got a picture of one of our signs on a lamppost with the "Pennsylvania Avenue NW" sign on it, though it was the 1500 and not the more famous 1600 block sign.

On the way down the street after the sign of our triumph of forced irony, a Secret Service goon, with backup, came out and informed us that what we were doing was against DC law, that no one was allowed to poster "without a permit, and they don't give permits for this." I was fairly sure he was talking out of his ass.

After consulting relevant regulations (follow link), I was able to determine that he was, in fact, talking out of his ass. Non-commercial flyers are allowed to remain up for 60 days, provided they are not vulgar, have a posting date on them (these did,) and that there are not more than three of them on one side of the street in a single block - which there were not.

Maybe the posters are now seen as threats to national security or something.

There was no mention of any kind of jurisdiction thing by our friend the public servant, that he apparently believed that the hanging of a poster was a criminal act no matter where in the city it was. Noting that there were all sorts of signs with all sorts of things on them not only now but at all times, we were told that "District police don't usually enforce this law but I'm going to enforce it now."

So one us decides to break out the phone and call the coordinator of the Merry Postering Brigade, to let him know that things have hit a snag. "I'm not going to debate this with your ACLU friends," he said as we stood there saying nothing. He thought we were calling the ACLU. Apparently the guy thought we were the type to have the ACLU on speed dial.

We walked away, southward, towards Pershing Park, and no one pursued.

At least they waited we were out of sight to rip them down. Which apparently was what happened over on 17th Street, even after a Park Police official on the scene expressed his opinion that whatever they were doing in terms of sign hanging was acceptable provided it was not on White House grounds (which none of our posters were.) A particularly belligerent Secret Service official apparently took the initiative towards ripping down posters on both sides of 17th Street - the side that abutted the Old Executive Office Building and the side that did not.

Fortunately, there being no hot-heads in our operation (it's tough to be hotheaded when the weather is so cold), we all took a good-humored approach to the power-tripping, intimidation tactics employed by the Secret Service, whose duties apparently involve protecting Dear Leader from any information that suggests discontent amongst the population. The final act of the the evening, after hanging our signs on H and 16th Streets north of the White House, was to pose for pictures holding the offensive signs at the northern end of Lafayette Park.

How much do you want to bet that they'd have been just fine with people putting up Bush-Cheney signs?

I just wish I'd brought a copy of the relevant law. Although I regret more my lack of foresight in not bringing a hat or gloves (since I didn't think I was going postering this evening) so that I could barely feel my hands - or my ears - when I got home.

If we're going to be living in a banana republic, at least the winters shouldn't be so harsh.

Friday, January 09, 2004

So, I finally broke down and saw "Kill Bill."

I wanted to like it, in part because the easily offended out there found it repugnant. I'm not easily bothered by displays of blood and gore, and that wasn't my problem with the movie.

It was very well-filmed - great action cuts, evocative lighting. The animated sequences were especially well-done.

But the movie played like a 5:15 rock song with 3:42 or so worth of self-parodying guitar solo, a forgettable chorus, and some of the most inane lyrics you've ever heard.

The snappy dialogue I've come to expect from a Tarantino film was largely absent. It had his trademark sense of style - in spades - but lacked the substance behind the style.

Oh, well, it was fun to watch, and it will make for a fun guys' night gathered around the TV when there's no suitable sporting event to watch.

This just in: Pete Rose is yet again making an ass of himself.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Immigrant Song

President Bush is supposedly going to make a humanitarian move on immigration policy, that purports to make life for thousands of people who come to America seeking opporunity a little easier, with less fear of arrest, deportation, and explotation by unscrupulous employers.

So why am I suspicious? Is it due to the "Bush hatred" that the right wing and its lackeys in the mainstream media are obsessed with?

Well, I'm a little wiser now, that's why.

There have been times when this administration has proposed things that sound like good ideas, but when the rubber hit the proverbial road, for whatever reason, the end result was something quite different from what one may have hoped. So I'm not going to be fooled by this latest effort, and if that means I'm pleasantly surprised for once, so be it.

As one commenter on a blog I read frequently put it, "No Child Left Behind" became "Unfunded Mandated Testing For Everyone." The prescription drug benefit is a nightmare - an expensive and ineffective giveaway to drug companies ; even Bush's political team knows how bad that bill is, since it'll be a while before it even goes into effect. Bush has made all sorts of promises that sound good regarding assisting the fight against AIDS in Africa, and in federal assistance with helping New York City recover from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When it comes time to put up or shut up on those pledges, Bush is silent. Now maybe some of this can be blamed on Congress in general and the ultra-right House leadership in particular, but the White House isn't trying very hard to follow up on its grandiose promises. The only times the White House throws its weight around on Capitol Hill are on behalf of the its well-heeled cronies.

Perhaps this new immigrant policy, if it indeed ever came to pass, would strengthen the bargaining position of undocumented immigrants so that employers would not so easily hold the threat of deportation over their heads. (Although without further details that is far from a certainty, especially if it's tied to an existing job - an employer might literally have the power to deport its workers if they attempted to, say, organize or protest moves by management.)

To be sure, there are also some potential secondary benefits to this system in terms of security, since more immigrants will be easier for the government to track, and in terms of marginally increased income and payroll tax money revenue and more accurate assessments of the state of American workers by formalizing what is now a largely underground segment of the economy.

I hesitate to say that I'd oppose this initiative, since I want to keep an open mind as much as possible, but I have to say I'm still skeptical.

But, given this administration's track record on workers' rights, there are much cause to cast doubt their motives. The incentives to hire underground labor will remain the same for smaller businesses, barring a new effort to crack down on such employers, which I do not see coming anytime soon. The biggest potential difference maker is that large businesses such as Wal-Mart would have a new hiring option - paying lower wages and benefits to its employees, who will increasingly come from this "quasi-legal" group. (Wal-Mart and other large employers have of course hired illegal labor, but they are easier to catch, with greater risk of large fines and negative publicity.) Which will help bring America that much closer to being the low-tax, right-to-work, cheap-labor, banana republic that the far right has long dreamed of.

Putting on the analysts' hat for a moment:

Everyone in the trade is spinning this as beneficial to the GOP's efforts to compete for the Hispanic vote, which has not developed the same allergy to the Republican Party that African-American vote has. This explanation seems plausible enough, even if the immediate beneficiaries would not have voting rights. Karl Rove and company saw what happen to the post-Pete Wilson GOP in California and don't want it replicated nationwide.

However, while there will be some modcium of short-term goodwill among Hispanics, I'm unconvinced this new policy initiative will help the Republicans much. Particularly if the new policy never materializes (there's substantial opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, possibly enough to kill it) or turns out much less favorable to the immigrant community that first impressions would suggest, the positive political effects will likely dissiapte. Indeed it would be far from the first time a Bush policy initiative turned out that way.

Not to mention that there's still a substantial faction of each party (but particularly among the Republican base) that finds the idea of loosening immigration policy abhorrent. I wouldn't suggest the Democratic nominee make an explicit move to cater to the Buchananites, mind you - I merely note that this initiative may backfire to the extent that it alienates some strongly Republican constituencies. Lost in all the talk about how important the Hispanic vote might be is the fact that a majority of American voters still favor "get tough" policies on immigration, particularly in a post-9/11 context.

It's hard to say whether or not Bush will benefit politically from this initiative or not.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

A new meme, borrowed from Julie.

Ten tunes that put a smile on my face, even if some of the smiles may look like sneers (sort of like my new drivers' license) :
Sly & The Family Stone, "Stand"
Cheap Trick, "Dream Police"
Blondie, "Call Me"
REM, "Begin The Begin"
Led Zeppelin, "Misty Mountain Hop"
The Police, "Synchronicity II"
Radiohead, "Paranoid Android"
Steely Dan, "Doctor Wu"
The Who, "The Song Is Over"
Stevie Wonder, "Sir Duke"

For the record, that's three that predate my existence entirely, six that were released when I was too young to truly appreciate them, and only one from my adulthood. This strongly suggests I was born too late.

Lost In The Supermarket

Sometimes I wish I'd studied marketing in college. It's the sort of thing they didn't really have classes in at Dartmouth, because there was a feeling there that colleges like that are supposed to breed real thinkers and not just employees-in-training.

I owe most of my perceived intellect to an almost excessive curiosity, even about the most mundane things.

I usually opt for relatively "healthy" breakfast cereals. I don't normally go whole hog and eat All-Bran or anything, I just tend to prefer cereal that's not too sweet. (The usual rotation at my house consists of any 4-5 of Cheerios, Special K, Crispix, Shredded Wheat, Rice Chex, Corn Flakes, and Rice Krispies at any given time; the slightly sweeter Cinnamon Life sometimes makes an appearance.) Every so often I indulge myself and get some sugary kid cereal (generally either Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes) because I really do have a sweet tooth that's tough to ignore entirely.

So I'm going through the cereal aisle and on sale are all the sugary cereals I'm trying to avoid since I'm trying to slim down a bit with the new year.

I hate when nothing I want to buy is on sale.

Then it occurs to me that perhaps all the "healthier" options are full price this week because lots of other people are taking the same approach to the coming of the new year, and that the store thinks it may need lower prices to boost sales of the sugary stuff (there's relatively few children in the neighborhood served by this store) during this time period.

It occurred to me while pondering this notion that maybe this is the sort of thing people study when they take classes in marketing.

Oh, well, I know a lot more about the history of the Middle East than most of the general public. OK, maybe not more than this guy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Senses, Working Overtime

I know this publicity initative by the Labor Department, in which it attempts to instruct employers on how to avoid paying overtime, should not be that much of a surprise at this point.

But I still had to remark upon it.

With one side of this administration's collective mouth, it is touting how the new reformed overtime rules are going to benefit scores of low-wage workers, but with the other, it's releasing statements to employers about how to make sure those grandiose statements are just as false as every one of their other public pronouncements, whether it's about going to war, fiscal policy, or anything else.

Everything released by this administration should come with a disclaimer that says " Any similarity between the preceding statement and the truth is purely coincidental." attached.

One unfortunate consequence of the failure of John Edwards' presidential campaign to catch on is that less attention is being given to a major campaign theme of his - that the Bush administration has embarked on a series of policies that are singularly harmful to the vast majority of Americans who have to work for a living.

Whether it's trying to undo the 40-hour work week, gutting workplace safety protections, or - most notably - transforming federal tax and economic policy to disadvantage those who rely on the fruits of their labor vis-a-vis those who derive income from sitting on the accumulation of capital, there is a War on Workers afoot.

The net effect of cutting upper bracket income taxes, the efforts to kill the so-called "death tax," and their various other initiatives, is to shift the burden of an ever-increasing federal government - contrary to their stated intentions, their claims of a "small, limited government" are laughable when one examines their proposed budgets and their military ambitions - away from those with vast accumulated fortunes and toward those a paycheck or two from destitution. (Not to mention our children and grandchildren, but that's another story.)

And just so I can mention her silly name again, perhaps the epitome of the person who benefits from all this - other than George W. Bush, of course - is our friend Paris Hilton.

Class warfare? Well, if it is, we should remember who fired the first shot. We should also remember who's defending the social contract construct that helped America develop the most affluent society history has ever seen, and who's pining for another Gilded Age where the rich and powerful can write their own laws. Using the term "conservative" to describe these radical, slash-and-burn types now holding sway in Washington is a misnomer.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Special Delivery

I found this sort of amusing, for a variety of reasons, not least because I used to be a pizza delivery driver.

Apparently, there are more women ordering pizza than one would think, if the night of the Trista/Ryan wedding (watched willingly by almost no one with a Y chromosome) beat out the Super Bowl as a busy delivery night.

As a guy who had to answer phones a lot at pizza joints, I'd have to say I'd be pretty hesitant to take an order to deliver a pizza to someone ordering under the name "Paris Hilton." The idea of delivering to John Ashcroft is intriguing - and more believable since he does live on Capitol Hill, and, if Ashcroft were to order a pizza he might choose Domino's, given the association of the founder of Domino's Pizza with the religious right. John Ashcroft, however, just doesn't strike me as the pizza-ordering type for some reason.

I've noticed some patterns as to who tips and who doesn't, but I never noticed any pattern as to whether Republicans or Democrats tipped more. I'm sure this
has something to do with the fact that people in the Washington area making a bigger deal out of their political preferences since it's the town industry here. I did have a decent idea of which politicians were what back home, but I saw no correlation between who a customer supported politically and their tipping or ordering habits. (Not to mention that Worcester doesn't have many Republicans living there.) On the list of things that make me proud to be a Democrat, the fact that we apparently tip pizza delivery guys better is way, way down on the list.

Over the couple of years in the delivery business, I developed a set of random observations about when I was going to be tipped well and when I wasn't. Since this wasn't a controlled experiment, some of my observations should be taken with a grain of salt.

The tips got better later at night, particularly during the week.

On average, men tipped better than women, though not always. Groups of guys in the 25-45 age range were the best, particularly if they were drinking. Fantasy sports draft nights in particular always brought a great haul. (I miss live, face-to-face fantasy sports dratfs; there's really nothing else like attending one.)

Elderly customers frequently gave bad tips (though some of them were quite generous) and gave exact change far more often than any other group. My own personal theory was that some of them lived through the Depression, or were on fixed incomes and meticulously watched every penny. Even if their house, car, etc. hinted that they had money, sometimes they were still stingy.

Delivering to other teenagers sucked unless they too were working stiffs. Rich kids, especially girls, tended to be stingy. As with the elderly, sometimes you lucked out but usually you got shafted.

Generally, childless couples were marginally better tippers than those with children. The difference was not that large unless the kids were sent out to pay - that meant trouble, possibly because the kids didn't know about tipping servers or because the cheap-ass parents were hiding behind their clueless children.

Whites on average tipped much better than non-whites; whether that would have been true were I myself not white is an interesting question. The sample sizes for each individual ethnicity were kind of small, so it's hard to draw any group-specific conclusions from my experience. The general feeling in my workplaces were that delivering to an Asian or Hispanic household meant a lousy tip - even if the neighborhood in question was reasonably affluent; my own experience suggests that there is at least some foundation for such a belief, though it tended to be exaggerated. (None of the establishments I worked at served any of Worcester's truly impoverished/unsafe areas - I never delivered to, say, the Valley or Plumley Village or any part of Main South.) Anecdotally, I know a decent number of waiters and waitresses back in the Worcester area and most of them - including the servers that were themselves Hispanic - dreaded Hispanic customers. For what it's worth, I found no such pattern in the African-American community, and from personal experience, the stereotype of the "cheap Jew," at least in Worcester, lacks any foundation in reality. (Worcester, while not being a bad place to grow up or a bad place to live, has more than its share of inter-group tension - ethnic group vs. ethnic group, East side vs. West side, students vs. townies, etc.)

Unfortunately, I have exactly zero lurid stories to report from my career as a pizza delivery guy, the role of the pizza delivery guy in adult films of all stripes notwithstanding. No ribald tales of horny housewives, or for that matter, lonely gay men here. Sorry to disappoint. Hmm..maybe that's why you deliver a pizza to a girl who says she's Paris Hilton.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Thirtysomething

The day I've been dreading for years now has finally come.

The Answer Guy has turned 30.

In practice, this doesn't really mean much of anything. The difference between 29 and 30 isn't all that big a deal. Adding another year to the pile makes less difference the further along you go.

I have begun to notice that I'm beyond the target audience for a lot of advertising and marketing now. The radio stations of my high school and college days - and in particular their analogs in the Washington area - no longer interest me. More than ever I've gotten the sense that instead of television commericals trying to appeal to my sensibilities and not entirely succeeding, I'm seeing more commercials clearly aimed at someone else. But of course that didn't magically happen to me when the clock struck midnight - I've been noticing these trends for three years or so.

I guess there is one positive: I could run for the Senate as well as the House now, if I wanted to. Well, I can't actually do that either, living in the Colony...er... District of Columbia.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Happy New Year everyone!

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