Jonesin’ for a celeb fix

July 28, 2008 on 10:29 pm | In Uncategorized | No Comments

Things I really do not care about:

How Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie conceived their latest offspring.

Why Amy Winehouse got carted off to the hospital yet again.

What Britney Spears agreed to pay her ex in child support.

That Shia LaBeouf racked up a DUI.

It surely must be a measure of desperate times when the media is saturated with such “news” about celebrities. After all, those of us who wince at high gas prices and higher food prices, bank closures and home foreclosures need something to take our minds off the grim reality of everyday existence.

Don’t we?

Or have we simply become addicted to a diet of McDonald’s for the mind? High in fat, low in nutrition, ultra convenient and terminally unhealthy.

I wonder what would happen if we all went on a diet. A no-celeb diet. I’m not sure we could do it; asking us to give up watching Extra and reading People would be like asking a coffee drinker to give up that daily trip to Starbucks. Maybe he’d try, but before you know it, he’d be scoring a Dunkin’ Donuts brew, or–out of sheer desperation for that caffeine fix–hitting the local 7-11.

Just try going without that celebrity gossip. It’s more addictive than coffee. Bet you can’t make it a week without a fix.

Celebrity means fame, distinction, and being considered of note. If you really are jonesin’ for a celeb fix, pick a real celebrity. Spend some time considering one Randy Pausch.

Instead of watching whatever passes for entertainment on E!, watch his last lecture. Put some perspective back into real life.

What is funny?

July 21, 2008 on 12:38 pm | In Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Apparently this is funny:

New Yorker Jan 22 2007

It’s called “While Rome burns”. I get the satirical reference; President Bush is Nero as the US metaphorically goes up in flames.

And apparently this is really funny:

If you don’t get the satirical reference, this cover is known as “Watch Your Back Mountain.”

But this one is apparently not funny.

New Yorker July 21 2008

It is in bad taste/racist/inflammatory/despicably evil because it is a Very Bad Thing to use satirical humor when referring to a deity.

This is how one should depict Barack Obama on a magazine cover:

December 2007 Time

And this is even more acceptable, because Barack Obama really needs no text, only his image.

Rolling Stone July 2008

Magazine editors, please take note. Nobody has less of a sense of humor than religious acolytes. There will be reprisals for failure to show adequate respect for their savior.

My point? He’s a politician, not Jesus Christ. The New Yorker cover is satire. It is supposed to be provocative, to make a point using humor that involves caricature, parody and irony. If people can not grasp that, they’re just as cluelessly ignorant as those who thought Jonathan Swift actually wanted the citizens of Great Britain to consider eating Irish babies. Or they really do think Obama is some sort of god.

I’m not sure which is worse.

A devoted public servant and a man of character

July 12, 2008 on 10:03 pm | In Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow lost his battle with cancer today.

I first encountered Tony when he was guest hosting Rush Limbaugh‘s radio program nearly a decade ago, and his clever, pointed and articulate delivery caught and held my attention.

I didn’t always agree with Tony’s perspective–particularly when he was Press Secretary–but I always found him to be very intelligent and quite thought provoking, qualities in short supply in the political arena these days. We are the poorer when someone of this caliber is taken from us. His wisdom, gained the hard way–through experience–shone in an interview given almost exactly a year ago:

…We shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is—a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this—because of it—God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face

…Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?

No matter how many days we might have, that’s a question well worth asking. Tony Snow had, and lived, the answer. May God comfort his wife and children as they continue on without him.

Michelle Malkin has a particularly fine memorial to Tony here.

Let us be thankful for the fools…

July 12, 2008 on 12:49 am | In Uncategorized | No Comments

It’s an election year, and more than any other time we are given pause to consider the merits of our elected officials. Sometimes you just have to wonder how they got elected in the first place.

Obviously, in some cases it’s not on the merits of their intellect. Case in point: The stunning display of hyperreactive paranoia and vocabulary ignorance put forth recently by Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

During a discussion of the county’s collections office, Price’s colleague Kenneth Mayfield opined ,”It sounds like Central Collections has become a black hole.”

Any reasonably educated adult would immediately get the reference. A black hole–a theoretical space-time phenomenon–sucks in everything around it. When it comes to money, my own home is a black hole.

Perhaps Mr. Price thought that Mr. Mayfield was referring to him, and misheard the comment as, “You are a black a–hole.” At least that interpretation would make sense of Price’s reaction: Loudly demanding an apology for what he declared to be a racist comment.

Apparently calling anything “black,” including spatial phenomena, is racist. Who knew?! Outer space is black. Black holes are even blacker. Apparently that’s a Bad Thing in Mr. Price’s worldview. Well, sometimes the color black is bad. When you are excluded from a club or organization, you are “blackballed.” As Robert’s Rules of Order explains it,

In some cases black balls and white ones and a ballot box are provided for voting, where the question can be answered yes or no. The white ball answers yes, and the black one no.

Perhaps they should abandon the use of black and white balls, so that black won’t have such a negative association. Instead, use white and yellow balls, and call it being yellowballed. No, wait, that might offend someone who happens to be Asian. We can’t use red and call it redballing either; Native Americans might feel that a slur. Perhaps if we changed that pesky second color to blue, a racially neutral color. Unfortunate confusion might occur however if someone declares they’ve been blueballed; perhaps green would be better. Then again, with all the emphasis on green = environmentally good, well, someone being “greenballed” would undoubtedly be seen as a Very Good Thing indeed, no matter how you interpreted it.

Goodness knows, we’ve got enough trouble coping with ignorant people’s reactions to words like “niggardly.” Have we now reached the point where anything that can best be described as “black” is immediately perceived as a racist slur, that calling anything black–holes included–must refer in some negative way to African Americans? If that’s the case, we’d better purge “black” as a color referent for anything that is not skin tone (skin tone that is arguably in varying shades of brown, not black at all).

Don’t even get me started on Price’s misperception of Devils Food Cake as a racist term simply because the cake is brown. I’m surprised Price didn’t vent his spleen on Black Forest Cake instead. Maybe the white whipping cream used to decorate it confused him.

Why are people like Price elected? To turn official meetings into displays of blindingly ignorant racial paranoia? Please tell me there aren’t more like him filling our public offices. Lie to me if you must.

Where there’s smoke…

July 10, 2008 on 2:16 pm | In Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A friend of mine recently had a small but very smoky apartment fire. Fortunately the fire was put out before her home (not to mention the neighboring apartments) went up in flames, but the smoke damage was considerable. We’re talking carpet, drapes, furniture, anything fabric needing to be cleaned or replaced, walls and ceiling needing to be scrubbed down and repainted. In short, their home was turned into a nasty stinky mess, and backbreaking to clean up as well.

The fire’s source? A lithium polymer rechargeable battery inside a remote control toy helicopter.

My friend’s husband enjoys as a hobby remote controlled flying toys. This particular toy helicopter needed recharging, so he juiced up its battery using the appropriate recharge cord. When finished, he unplugged the charger and left the toy containing the battery turned off, resting on a hobby table in the couple’s apartment.

You wouldn’t think a battery that’s just sitting there not being used could ignite, but apparently lithium polymer batteries sometimes can and do go up in flames.

Why would something so potentially dangerous be used in toys of all things? Apparently lithium batteries are lighter weight and smaller than other types of batteries, an advantage in remoted controlled flying toys. And they’re cheap to produce, because they’re (you guessed it) made in China.

Lithium batteries that are made to exacting specifications and used properly should not pose a risk, but what if there be any corners cut in the manufacturing process?

…the electronic protection circuits are vital for the safe operation of a Lithium-Ion battery, it is essential that they, in turn, should be protected by correct layout. The top manufacturers use conformal coating on theircircuit boards for an even higher level of protection. The electrolyte is a highly corrosive and conductive organic solvent. If the electrolyte were to be liberated for whatever reason, perhaps as the result of impact or a manufacturing defect, an electrical potential between them, such as the voltage across the battery terminals or two points on a pcb can result in a conductive path being built-up through the electrolyte, this can then lead to ignition.

Darned straight it can lead to ignition, and if you happen to be out of the house at the time, it could lead to your home burning down.

Product quality and safety standards in China’s factories are notoriously lax, something pet owners discovered recently when melamine-tainted grain was found in pet foods. All too often the only way dangers like melamine tainted wheat, lead paint on children’s toys, or lithium polymer batteries prone to igniting are discovered is when the worst actually happens. And then the victims are left to figure out who is responsible. As my friend relates:

The U.S. distributor of the helicopter was not aware the batteries and charger were defective until they began receiving complaints. Unfortunately, the information didn’t reach us in time; we were not aware the charger and batteries had been recalled until after the fire occurred. The hobby shop where Mr. LBM purchased the toy had no database of customers they could sort, so they posted a warning sign on the sales counter in the shop. Neither Mr. LBM nor I ever saw any such sign, even though we paid several visits to the retailer during that period. The shop has only three salespersons, one of which is the owner. They were all aware Mr. LBM purchased the helicopter since he kept returning for replacement parts, including a new battery pack. No one in the shop spoke to us about a recall.

Obviously, the local hobby shop and the US distributor of the battery are going to be the targets for any legal action people like my friend might be able to take. Unfortunately, the real source of the danger–some factory in China where the defective batteries are being made–is out of reach when it comes to direct consumer pressure.

We get what we pay for. When US businesses are determined to find the cheapest source of products, and have trained US customers to expect low prices, when China turns out everything from plastic grocery bags to car parts as cheaply as possible with little regard for safety much less environmental impact, when foriegn-made components are part of “Made in USA” products (if you really want an eye opener, check out all the ambiguities and loopholes in the FTC’s standards for “made in the USA”), it’s increasingly hard to protect ourselves. We don’t expect our dog to be killed by a can of dog food we bought for 49 cents at WalMart, or our home to catch on fire thanks to a toy’s battery, much less to die from medicine containing pharmecutical material from China or India. Maybe we should expect such things, if we’re only looking at price tags and putting blind faith in outsourced manufacturing.

As Michael Oneal of the Chicago Tribune points out, the cheaper we want things to be, the more we can expect dangers like tainted dog food, tainted medicine and toxic toys.

Kurt Schneiders, co-founder of PRO QC Systems in Hong Kong, said a combination of overcapacity, lax regulation, rising costs and pressure from buyers has encouraged the desperate, uneducated or unscrupulous to do whatever it takes to win business.

“Nobody wants to pay for quality,” Schneiders said. “Not buyers, not manufacturers.”

Our love affair with low prices is really hurting us. Something to think about the next time you go shopping for bargains.

P.S. In a four-part series, Loretta Tofani shows how China-made batteries don’t just endanger us, they can kill the workers making them.


Made in China, thrown away in USA…

July 7, 2008 on 2:21 pm | In Uncategorized | 3 Comments

My son bought a wooden paddle ball toy today. It’s just like the one pictured (except the ball is red rather than yellow). He’s into vintage toys, and this in particular appealed to him because it’s made of wood; it’s more old fashioned than the plastic versions.

He brought it home and demonstrated how well it worked. Three bounces against the paddle, and the elastic string (flimsier than embroidery thread) snapped. So much for the toy. It was only $1, but still, one would hope to get more than 5 seconds of enjoyment from a toy.

It was made in China. No great surprise.

There’s something really sad about a toy fabricated in a country thousands of miles away, shipped across the Pacific by boat, then across California by truck, unpacked by a retail clerk and displayed on a shelf in a store, purchased by a child (who saved his allowance for it), and brought to our home via automobile, only to end up broken in less than ten seconds, all because of crappy construction and materials. What a horrible waste of resources.

Consider the person who put this toy together (and undoubtedly spends countless hours every day putting paddle ball toys together). What a total waste of their time and energy. The result of their efforts became in very short order nothing more than waste material for a US landfill.

Next time my son wants a vintage-style toy, I’m going to send him online here for starters. And don’t get me started about how hard it is to find non-China-made toys, not to mention things like luggage and kitchen appliances. I’m holding out for a kitchen scale that isn’t made in China. Surely someone in Italy or Sweden is still making them in-country. Finding things that aren’t made in China invariably requires shopping online, and a willingness to pay more than you would for the cheap China versions.

How cheap is cheap though? My local Target sells a fair selection of luggage. They have Swiss Gear (connected to the company responsible for the nifty little Swiss Army knives that the TSA takes away from me every time I fly, but I digress…) and Eddie Bauer, as well as some less expensive (and less durable) brands like Traveler’s Choice and Overland. Every single piece of luggage in their store is made in China.

The Swiss Gear 20″ bag, an average sized carry on piece, retails for $89 + tax. That’s not very cheap, when you consider that it was made in China by people who are probably paid a whopping $120 per month, in a good month.

One can only wonder how many $1 paddleball toys a Chinese worker has to turn out during a typical month to get his or her $120. No wonder they work 17-hour days.

Suggested reading for those inclined to go beyond my random thoughts on this topic: An eye-opening testimony before the US Senate, and The China Price by Alexandra Harney.

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