Friday, May 19, 2017

Avocado Toast Destroys the American Dream

Man, Millennials sure love their avocado toast.

Like, pry it from their cold dead fingers love it.

It all started when Tim Gurner, a 35-year-old millionaire real estate developer, told Australia's "60 Minutes," "When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each."

You'd have thought the government was requiring a mandatory pruning of all man buns, because social media went on a full-on freakout that someone would insult their love of, well, smashed avocado.

"We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high," said Gurner. "They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year. The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it. . . They saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder."

He does have a point about the coffee though, although I don't drink four lattes in one sitting.

So what's his problem with avocado toast? I've heard of it, but I thought it was one of those made-up dishes you'd see on Portlandia. Except it's a real thing, and it apparently costs 19 damn dollars!

Except it doesn't.

I did a little sleuthing (i.e., I Googled a couple bistro menus) and found that unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, avocado toast is around $9 - $10. But if you're in those hipster meccas, you can find it for as much as $16 – $20.

Which only proves that some people will spend money on the stupidest things. (Looking at you, Skymall!)

It's actually pretty good!
So what's so special about avocado toast? Do they sprinkle edible gold on it? Are the avocados harvested from trees guarded by a bank of Komodo dragons? Is it carried to your table on satin pillows by young men and women who have trained for this since birth?

No, but it does prove that some people have more money than sense, even if they don't have a lot of money.

I made avocado toast at home today. The avocado cost $.69 and two slices of bread cost $.26, which means my avocado toast cost $.95 to make. And if I could sell that to unwitting hipsters for $9, or even $19, I'd be able to buy a new house outright in about three months.

The Sanctum restaurant in Orlando charges $9 for their avocado toast. You can choose from fermented sourdough bread, or sprouted grain Ezekiel toast, which is very carefully prepared slices of nasty death. Then they put on smashed avocado, tomato, watermelon radish, black sesame, and sprouts.

Still, even if I eat skip a once a week treat of $9 avocado toast, that's not going to get me a house anytime soon.

Here in Orlando, an average 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house is around $250,000. In Indiana, it's $200,000, or even $150,000 out in the country. Of course, you won't find many places serving avocado toast out in the country. Most pretentiousness is confined to the bigger cities.

A 20 percent downpayment on a house in Orlando will be $50,000, or 5,555 avocado toasts, assuming you don't tip. If you skip your once-a-week avocado toast, you can save your downpayment in almost 107 years, give or take a few months.

Of course, this makes a case for moving to Indianapolis, because you can make a $40,000 downpayment in roughly 85.5 years, 22 years sooner.

I don't know how quickly real estate millionaire Tim Gurner amassed his first downpayment, but something tells me not eating avocado toast was not his big secret.

Maybe he worked hard and made smart investments. Maybe he and his wife shared a double income. Maybe he got several million dollars from his dad which, like another real estate mogul we know, he managed to turn into a few million dollars.

Regardless, Tim Gurner insulted a group of people he has nothing in common with about a lifestyle choice he knows nothing about, giving advice to people who don't want it.

And that's my thing!

I don't need some Australian rich guy waltzing in here, telling American hipsters that everything they do, wear, and eat is completely wrong and stupid.

That's also my thing.

The guy's already got enough money that he's being interviewed by Australian "60 Minutes" (which is metric "37.28 Minutes"). Meanwhile I can't even get a pizza delivered in that time.

So check your math, Tim Gurner, because it's faulty and completely unreasonable. And check your attitude as well, because if anyone's going to grouse about how a bunch of man-bun-and-flannel wearing hipsters turned a 69 cent vegetable into a $9 breakfast snack, it's going to be me.

But I still think he's right about the coffee.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Karl the Curmudgeon is Proud of His Stupid Salt Shaker

"Hey, Kid, check out my new salt shaker," said Karl, beaming with pride.

Where? I looked over the table. We were sitting on his back patio for a Saturday night baseball game — my Reds were taking on his Pirates — and he had laid out a big spread of hot dogs, potato salad, beer, and other ballgame necessities, like more beer. He had installed a flatscreen TV in the porch, and we were going to sit outside and eat and drink ourselves silly.

"That thing," he said, pointing at a black plastic obelisk in the center of his table.

That thing that looks like a space-age thermos?

"Yep. It's a Bluetooth salt shaker."

Ha, that's funny. I thought you said Bluetooth salt shaker.

"I did," he said. "It's called the 'Smalt,' which means 'smart salt.'"

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Sorry, the dultest thing. Who needs a Bluetooth salt shaker? What's it do, tell you how much salt you have left?

"No, no. Check it out!" Karl was excited. I hadn't seen him grin this much since his youngest daughter finally got a job and moved out of the house. "It plays music, it has a light ring, and the light even changes color."
Alright, I admit it. I want one. I even entered a contest to win one.

Why do I need my salt shaker to do that? Why don't we just string some Christmas lights around the porch and use the regular salt like a normal human being.

"Because this is more than just a salt shaker. It's a smart salt shaker."

But it's not a smart salt shaker. It's a speaker with a salt shaker inside it.

"The package called it 'The first multi-sensory device to make the dining experience fun."

Seriously? If you need a salt shaker to make dining fun, you're eating with the wrong people.

"You're here, aren't you?"

Hey, I'm a damn delight, I said. Besides, how much fun can a salt shaker actually be.

"It's not just a salt shaker," said Karl. "It's a multi-sensory smart kitchen device."

What are the multiple sensory things?

"Well, the lights and the sound."

That's it? I said. How is that a multi-sensory device?

"It uses your sense of sight and hearing."

So does my television, but I don't shake it on my scrambled eggs.

"Ah-ha! That's a third sense: your sense of taste," Karl declared.

Oh jeez, try not to look so triumphant about that. It's just sad.

"You have to admit I'm right though."

I admit nothing. Calling something multi-sensory is just puffed up marketing jargon. By that definition, everything is multi-sensory. I can hear and watch my phone. All I need to do is lick it, and I've got the trifecta.

"Ooh, I almost forgot. The Smalt is wired into Amazon's Alexa system, so you can give it voice commands like you do Alexa."

Alexa, schedule a mental competency test for Karl on Monday.

"Knock it off. I'm fine," said Karl.

You know what'd go great out here? A Siri-enabled froyo machine. Maybe a barbecue that streams Netflix. I call it Netflix and Grill.

"You're just jealous because you don't have any cool tech like this back in the 19th century."

Actually I do. I have an Alexa and I have a salt shaker. They're modular, so I can just attach them together with some duct tape. I can even swap it out with the pepper shaker. Bet your Smalt can't do that.

"I don't know. It didn't say anything about pepper in the instructions."

I held my potato salad up to the Smalt. Okay, how's it work? Where's the button?

"Oh, it doesn't have a button," said Karl. "You have to shake it out."

Shake it? How is this a smart salt shaker if I have to shake it like a caveman? Do we have to bang on a log to change the TV channel too?

"No, you preselect the amount of salt you want and then shake it out."

How the hell do you do that?

"You can turn the dial—"

Turn the dial? Do I have to put my stone knife down?

"—Shut up. Or you can ask Alexa to dispense the amount of salt you want."

Why can't I just shake a normal salt shaker and stop when I have enough?

"Because you lack imagination."

I lack imagination? I'm not the one who couldn't imagine life without a $200 musical thermos. If you want music, turn on the giant stereo in your living room and get a $.97 disposable salt shaker from the store.

"But this is voice activated."

So is this: Karl, can you hand me the real salt shaker?

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, May 05, 2017

All this Spinning is Making Me Dizzy

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 10 years ago.

After the new year started, I looked down at my stomach and realized I had broken last year's resolution. And the year before that. And the year before that.

"I'm going to exercise more this year," I vowed yet again, only this time I meant it. Not like all those other times I meant it though.

I had been an avid bicycle racer for more than eight years when I was a teenager, so I was sure I could easily whip myself back into shape if I could hop back on the old horse. So I drove down the street to my local gym to fulfill my new promise.

"I want a gym membership," I said to the guy at the front desk.

"Great," he said. "We've got a one year, five year, and a lifetime membership."

"Hold on there, Sparky. I'm not one to rush into commitment. Do you have anything shorter?"

Sparky gave me a look usually reserved for people who use the sauna to warm up their cinnamon rolls.

"We have a one week trial. Give that a shot, and if you like it, we'll set you up with something longer."

"Sounds great. Do you have any of those pedaling classes?"

"Uh, I think you want the Sales Training Institute."

"Not peddling, Sparky, pedaling. Like a bike."

"Oh, you mean spinning," he said with a sniff.

"Yeah, whatever."

"You're in luck. We've got one starting in 15 minutes. But I have to warn you, Brigitte can be a real taskmaster."

"Not to worry, son. I was riding 40 miles a day when you were still falling off your trikey."

I found the locker room, changed into my old riding gear, and made my way into the spinning room.

A muscular young woman, Brigitte, was pedaling a stationary bike at the front of the room, while a group of men and women of various fitness levels were slowly spinning away.

"Let me guess, you're Erik," said Brigitte.

"Yep, how'd you guess?"

"Geoff said you used to race years ago. I saw your shiny lycra spandex outfit and guessed it was you."

"I wore this in college. It was my lucky racing outfit."

"Uhh, I don't know if lycra is supposed to be stretched that much. Can you breathe alright?"

"Sure," I said, taking a deep breath. I heard a few seams pop, so I let it out quickly. I walked to an empty bike behind a somewhat large woman and prayed she wasn't gassy. As I mounted my bike, I heard another small tearing sound. As snug as my outfit was, I hoped it was my hamstring and not my shorts.

"Okay class, here we go," shouted Brigitte. As we started pedaling away, I flashed back to my college days when we battled fierce headwinds mile after grueling mile.

"Erik, what are you doing?!" Brigitte hollered.

I raised up. "Drafting. Good riders draft to conserve energy. With Gertrude up there, I'll be fresh as a daisy."

Gertrude turned around and glared at me.

"Alright, class, hill time!" Brigitte shouted. "Out of the saddle and attack that hill."

We stood up and cranked hard. I adopted the traditional side-to-side rocking motion that racers use to speed up hills. The guy next to me stared, mouth agape.

"Good riders rock their bikes like this to get up hills faster, Chester," I told him.

"So why are you doing it?"

I ignored his snide comment, and assumed the tuck position and coasted.

"No resting, Erik! Keep pedaling," hollered Brigitte.

"I reached the top first, so I'm coasting down the hill to conserve energy."

"We're not at the top yet."

"Maybe you're not, but I am. You all ride like a bunch of tourists."

"Stand up and pedal."

Chester snickered. I decided to show him how we dealt with troublemakers back in The Day.

"Brigitte, this guy keeps leaning on me," whined Chester.

"I'm showing Chester how to ride in a pack," I said, innocently. "It can get pretty hairy in there, especially in a race. We can't all draft off Gertrude."

Gertrude glared at me again. "One more crack like that and I'll shove your seat-—"

"That's enough. We're here to ride, not to argue. And we're certainly not racing. You need to take this seriously, Erik."

"I am taking it seriously. I'm wearing my helmet and everything."

"Yeah, that's another thing I wanted to talk to you about."

Photo credit: TheReady199 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Oregon State Board Fines Engineer for Using Math, Engineering

Mats Järlström is an engineer. He has a degree in electrical engineering from a Swedish university, and was an airplane camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force, before holding several other technical, engineering-y jobs, until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1992.

But the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS) has fined him $500 for "practicing engineering without a license," because he does not have an official Oregon engineering license. So he's suing them for violating his First Amendment rights.

The flap started when Järlström's wife was ticketed by a red light camera in Beaverton in 2013, and Järlström decided to take action.

Using highly technical and complex procedures typically only learned in top-notch engineering schools — like numbers and time and stopwatches and stuff — Järlström measured the length of yellow lights, and found that the time was too short.

Basically, the state was ripping people off by making the yellow lights too short. Järlström believed the cameras were using an out-of-date formula, failing to allow more time for a car turning the corner as compared to a car driving straight through.

So he presented his case to everyone he could. He spoke to local media, he spoke to the national media, he went on "60 Minutes," and he was even invited to speak to the Institution of Transportation Engineers. He also emailed his findings to OSBEELS — which is an anagram for BE LOSES — who got mad because he wasn't in their little club.

Järlström was fined $500 by OSBEELS —which is also an anagram for SEE SLOB — after explaining how the stoplights were putting the public safety at risk. They took two years to investigate Järlström, whose only crimes seem to be calling himself an electronics engineer and writing "I am an engineer" in his email.

I know engineers like to be thorough, but two years? Are you seriously that bad at your jobs?

They said that there were Very Important And Serious state laws in place that makes it illegal to practice engineering without a license. And if he continued to tell people about how the state is ripping drivers off, they could fine him thousands of dollars.

In their letter, they said, "By providing the public with his traffic engineering calculations, Järlström engaged in the practice of engineering."

I sort of see their point. I would be wary of going to a doctor who was not licensed. I expect my lawyer to have passed his or her bar exam. And in Indiana, you need 1,500 hours of training before you can get your cosmetologist's or barber's license.

In Oregon, to become a really-and-for-true professional engineer, you have to pass two engineering exams and have four years or more engineering work under a professional engineer. So while it takes more effort to become an Oregon engineer than an Indiana barber, at least Indiana doesn't lose its ever-loving mind when a barber from another country says "Hey, I'm a barber."

And lose their mind they did, because OSBEELS — also an anagram for EEL BOSS — said that Järlström simply saying "I am an engineer" and doing math was enough to violate their Very Important And Serious laws.

But Mat Järlström is not one to take things lying down! He is getting some help from the conservative public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, and is suing OSBEELS — also BEE LOSS — for violating his First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment guarantees to every American their right to debate anything and everything. And nobody needs a government permission slip to talk,'' said attorney Samuel Gedge — an anagram of EGAD LEGUMES — of the Institute for Justice — an anagram for UNJUST TIT FEROCITIES.

"You don't need to be an engineer to talk about traffic lights," Gedge — also EAGLE SMUDGE — added during their press conference.

This isn't the first time OSBEELS — also S.O.B. EELS — has overstepped their bounds. They lodged a $1,000 fine for "illegal, unlicensed practice of engineering" against an activist who told the La Pine city council that a new power plant would be too loud for nearby homes.

They also investigated a Portland City Councilman who has a bachelor's degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell, and a master's degree from the MIT School of Civil Engineering. His sin? He described his professional background as an environmental engineer in a Voter's Pamphlet.

I hope Järlström prevails, otherwise he may have to create a GoFundMe drive to cover the fine. That shouldn't be too hard though, since his last name is an anagram for Mr. Slot Jar.

Photo credit: Kevin Payravi (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Inside a United Airlines Customer Service Meeting

Helen McCarthy: I'd like to start by welcoming our CEO, Mr. Oscar Munoz, to our weekly customer service response meeting. Mr. Munoz, it's truly an honor to have you here.

Oscar Munoz: Thank you, Helen. Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, was a big proponent of Management By Wandering Around. And with all the bad press I — I mean, the airline — has been getting, I wanted to get a better sense of some of the problems we've been facing. So I thought I would wander down here, among the average people, and see how you deal with complaints. I can't imagine we have very many, so this won't take long, will it?

Helen: Actually, sir, we spend every Thursday dealing with hundreds of complaints. Lately, we've also been taking half of every Monday to manage weekend complaints. We discuss each one and then figure out a response for the little bastar— I mean, the customers.

Munoz: Heh, nice catch. Well, let's see if I can help you speed things along. Who's first?

Kayla Thompson: We've got a female passenger traveling with her 12-year-old daughter who was seated next to a man who kept groping her.* Apparently he was already intoxicated when he boarded, tried to grope one of the flight attendants, and then we kept serving him alcohol.

Munoz: How bad did it get?

Thompson: The woman told the crew, but they couldn't move her, so she made an official complaint—

Munoz (waggles his fingers): Oooh, an official complaint.

(Everyone laughs.)
Thompson: —good one, sir. We're going to send her four $100 gift vouchers, but not admit to anything. We don't need the FAA breathing down our necks again.

Munoz: Sounds good. Who's next?

Barry Smoot: A newlywed couple wanted to sit together on the way to their honeymoon, and even purchased their tickets together, but they were upset that the system charged them an additional $80 for it. They complained to the gate attendant who kicked the complaint up to us.

Munoz: Have they taken their return flight yet?

Smoot: No, not yet.

Munoz: Cancel their tickets, and rebook them on separate flights. Put her in the last row in the middle seat, and put him in a business class aisle seat.

Smoot: How does that punish them?

Munoz: He'll gloat about it when they land, and she'll blame him. They'll be divorced in three years.

Thompson: Speaking of couples, we've got a young couple flying to their destination wedding in Costa Rica, tried to move seats during a layover.* The plane was half full, so they jumped up to economy plus. Flight staff asked them to return to their seat, which they did. Twenty minutes later, a U.S. Marshall boarded the flight and kicked them off.

Munoz: Did they get another flight?

Thompson: We put them on a flight the next morning.

Munoz: Did you charge them a ticket change fee?

Thompson: No, sir.

Munoz: Oooh, too bad. Missed opportunities, people. Remember, we need to always look for tiny ways to gouge the customer. Small nicks and cuts, not shovel-sized stabbings. Your victims shouldn't know they're dying until you've drained them dry.

Thompson: We've had some media people asking about this one. What should we say?

Munoz: What do you recommend? Anyone?

Thompson: Say they were drunk and became verbally abusive?

Munoz: Let's call that the nuclear option. Stick a pin in it and we'll circle back.

McCarthy: Say we found contraband items in their bags?

Munoz: No, because that means they snuck it past TSA, and they give me enough trouble as it is. Plus, people might think we were snooping in their luggage.

McCarthy: Don't we?

Munoz: Well, some of the baggage handlers have been known to help themselves, but we say it's not our responsibility.

Smoot: Ooh, I know! Say they tried to repeatedly change seats, and that they failed to comply with crew instructions!

Munoz: Nice one, Smoot! You'll go far in this airline!

(The others congratulate Barry on his insights.)

Munoz: Well, folks, I have to to go my next meeting. But this has certainly been an eye opener. I didn't realize we had so many complaints. I only know about the ones in the press, so thank you for the education.

Smoot: Mr. Munoz? Before you go, what was the final result of that doctor we dragged off the plane?

Munoz: Oh, man, you guys will love this! His two front teeth were knocked out, right? Well, the Chicago PD inventoried one of the teeth and have it in their evidence lockup. We sent his luggage on to Louisville even though we pulled him off. And two days ago, I promised we weren't going to fire anyone over the whole incident.*

(Everyone laughs and applauds.)

McCarthy: Mr. Munoz, it has been a real pleasure to watch you work.

* Actual incidents from the last two weeks.

Note: This is satire, and not a true transcript of any meeting at United Airlines. However, the incidents marked with a *
actually happened since Dr. Dao was dragged off an airplane in Chicago.

Photo credit: Luis Argerich (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 14, 2017

You're Knot Tying Your Shoes Right

I learned to tie my shoes when I was five, the same way everyone else learns it. I was shown how to tie the first knot — over, under, pull it tight — and then to bring it home with the two bunny ears to make it secure — Make a bow, pull it through to do it right.

Except generations upon generations of Americans have been fed bad information. Our parents lied to us, and we have lied to our kids.

And we would have gone on lying, each parent unwittingly passing on the oral lessons of over, under, pull it tight if science hadn't "well, actually-ed" our shoe tying traditions.

Leave it to science to ruin everything for us. Science is that nerdy kid at prom explaining to everyone that kissing is the number one way for germs to spread, which is why he and his good friend, Dungeons & Dragons, are going stag that night.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently determined that the traditional shoelace knot is ineffective and does not stay tied for very long. They ruined everyone's childhood in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

According to USA Today, the researchers discovered that our regular knot often leads to what the authors call "catastrophic knot failure," which sounds like shoe explosions.

I don't actually know if it leads to shoe explosions, because I didn't read the study, but it sounds serious.

After finding the cure for cancer and solving world hunger, the scientists set about determining which shoelace knot was the best one.
They hooked up a treadmill with a type of pendulum for a foot, tied the shoe with the normal knot, and found that it frequently failed because of the foot's repeated impact against the ground and the constant whipping around of the "bunny ears." In some cases, once the lace loosened, it would completely untie in two strides. The researchers said the standard knot failed every time it was tested.

They called this the "weak knot," and bullied it after home room so they could feel tough. They also tested a "strong knot," which only came apart half as much as the weak one.

To make a strong knot, says USA Today, "cross the left lace over the right and pull it through the resulting loop. Form both the right and the left lace ends into loops and wrap the bottom of the right loop around the bottom of the left.

In other words, the right bunny ear goes under and then around the left bunny ear.

I question the validity of their findings, however, because the team did not measure double knots. Double knots don't come untied for anything. They're the leather jacket and motorcycle boots-wearing knots that don't take crap from anyone.

One person not surprised by the weak knot's performance was knot theorist Colin Adams of Williams College, who was not involved with the study.

He told interviewers, "Yes, knot theory is really a thing. Yes, that's really my job. No, not like a sandwich artist. Yes, yes, that's very clever. 'Knot involved' in the knot study, I get it."

Adams also agreed the weak knot is a version of the "granny knot," but that the strong knot, which is a version of the "square knot," is the superior knot.

I'm more than a little annoyed at this news because science has been such a buzzkill over the years when it comes to ruining the things for people. Think of something you like, and scientists have released a study that shows it will kill you.

Movie popcorn can kill you, coffee causes cancer, eggs have cholesterol, Chinese food is bad for you, don't eat red meat, oh wait coffee's fine, we were wrong about the egg thing too.

It's more than a little frustrating, because science can be that annoying know-it-all friend who truly doesn't enjoy themselves unless they can pop whatever balloon of happiness you happen to be enjoying at the moment.

On the other hand, it's more important than ever to embrace science these days, and to properly understand it. When people believe dinosaurs roamed the Earth 6,000 years ago, that the climate is magically warming all by itself, or that the Earth is flat — looking at you, Shaquille O'Neal! — it's important that science be allowed to constantly study truly important theories.

It will be science that provides the answers for important issues of our day, like minimizing the California drought, combating the rising sea levels, or finally proving that toe shoes are the worst shoes in the history of mankind.

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Kendall Jenner and Pepsi: Live, For Now

Pepsi just gave us the Best Reason Ever to drink Coca-Cola. They recently launched a short film that managed to unite the entire Internet into a single "NO!" If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to bear witness to history's worst commercial.

It's the one where someone said "Hey, I've got a great idea" and then tried to co-opt protests from the last few years, including Black Lives Matter and the Women's March on Washington.

A bunch of other people all said, "That is a great idea!" Then even more people who get paid lots of money to make smart decisions said, "Let 'er rip!"

Here's how the story goes.

Various artists — an Asian cellist, a female Muslim photographer, African-American dancers — are practicing their art because #ArtIsResistance, while Skip Marley's song, "Lions," plays.

Cut to scenes of a large, diverse crowd of protestors carrying signs and raising their fists in the air. They're all young, skinny, and pretty though, so it's not that diverse. Nobody asked the grizzled gray brigade to join.

The signs are painted in Pepsi blue, and the messages are very plain and non-offensive, like the office party planning committee would create if Marge from HR were in charge.

They're artful signs of peace symbols, messages of peace that mostly just say "Peace," and a couple that say "Be a part of the conversation" and "Join the conversation" in English, Spanish, and possibly Portuguese. And did I spot a banner in Korean?

One conversation I'd like to have is why these people are walking in slow motion the entire time.

They don't look like real protestors though, because they're happy. I know they're having a good time, but I assumed they would be upset about this conversation people aren't a part of.

On the same street, Kendall Jenner is momentarily distracted from her fancy model photo shoot, and she watches the passing crowd. She's in a blonde wig, a thick coating of arterial-spray blood red lipstick on her lips, looking bewildered and intrigued. But mostly bewildered.

Cut to the cellist practicing in a brick room painted Pepsi blue — subtlety is lost on Pepsi — who stops to see what all the hubbub is outside.

Now cut to the female Muslim photographer in a Pepsi blue hijab poring over photography proof sheets because real photographers don't use computers with giant monitors. We also learn #ArtIsFrustrating because she smacks the table and scatters proof sheets onto the floor before she's also distracted by the protest. She grabs her camera and follows them because #ArtIsSpontaneous.

The cellist has joined the protest, cello case on his back blazing Pepsi blue. He walks past Kendall Jenner's fancy model photo shoot. Their eyes meet for a brief second. Come on, he gestures with his head.

That's all she needs; he is a cellist, after all, and #ArtIsAbandonedResponsibilities. She whips off her blonde wig — images of casting off the Aryan ideal, anyone? — and tosses her luxurious brown hair, which is not a horrible mess despite being under a wig for the last six hours. She wipes off the arterial-spray lipstick because red is bad and magically changes into a denim patchwork outfit that your mom sewed herself in 1972, and begins marching with the protestors.

The crowd continues their happy protest march until they encounter a line of somber looking cops, all white, and they ain't gonna take no lip from no hippies. They stare across no man's land at each other, unsure of what to do. Will this erupt into violence? Will there be tear gas canisters and mass beatings?

But wait! Kendall grabs a can of Pepsi from a icy tub sitting on the street, like we're at a protest tailgate, and crosses the empty space between protestors and police.

"Is that a gun?" the cops wonder. "Do we have to take this skinny white chick down?"

But no, Kendall is all smiles and privilege as she walks up to one cop who looks like, but isn't actually, Jake Gyllenhaal and hands him the can.

Not-Jake-Gyllenhaal looks at the can. "Pepsi?" he wonders. The female Muslim photographer crouches down and takes pictures of one girl's bravery.

Not-Jake drinks the Pepsi and the crowd cheers as The Great White Hope, Kendall Jenner, high fives everyone. "She did it! She saved us all! Our protest has changed the world!"

Not-Jake looks at the cop next to him. "These hippies ain't so bad after all. Let's only beat a few of 'em down" as the message "Live For Now" closes our little morality play.

After a single day's outrage, Pepsi was appropriately embarrassed over their tone deaf commercialization of serious social issues, and they pulled the ad. They also apologized to Kendall Jenner for "putting (her) in this position."

Setting aside the spineless apology to a rich girl for making her even richer, I'm glad Pepsi realized they were as out of touch as a high school theater teacher asking whether you young people still liked the Led Zeppelins. And that they finally got to see what a real protest looks like.

Except I never did figure out what conversation we were supposed to join.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 31, 2017

You'll Have to Pry My Stick from My Cold, Dead Fingers

Administrators with Hoke County Schools in North Carolina are once again proving that no overreaction is too big for inconsequential situations. Two weeks ago, they suspended a 5-year-old girl for pointing a stick that looked like a gun at a boy.

A few days later, after a national outcry, they stood by their asinine decision. Or at least, they stood as well as they could with their heads up a place heads normally don't go.

Last week, Caitlin Miller was playing "King and Queen" with two of her friends during recess at J.W. McLaughlin Elementary School. Her friends were the queen and princess, and Caitlin was the bodyguard. She even found a small stick that looked sort of like a gun.

When another boy approached them, she reportedly pointed the stick and made a shooting motion. The boy told a teacher, who then sent Caitlin to the main office.

That's when the administration went in to full-on overreaction mode. According to WTVD News, school officials said Caitlin "posed a threat to other students when she made a shooting motion." She must not have been that dangerous, because they only suspended her for one day, citing policy 4331.
It's like Monsters, Inc. whenever a monster came into contact with a human object, and other monsters in hazmat suits would tackle him, shouting "23-19! 23-19!" I can just imagine a bunch of administrators, dressed in khakis, tackling Caitlin and shouting "43-31! 43-31!"

Meanwhile, her mom Brandy called the media. She said her daughter never intended to hurt anyone, and that she was just playing like any normal 5-year-old would.

When Caitlin returned to school, Brandy said her daughter had been alienated by her friends and teacher, and she hoped the school would issue an apology.

Of course, apologizing means you think you've done something wrong, and that you're not a zero-tolerance bully who took things way too far.

Needless to say, people were appropriately outraged, and the story made the national news. In fact, the reaction was so overwhelming, Hoke County school administrators had what local media called "an emergency meeting" about whether they could have maybe possibly gone a wee bit too far in suspending a five-year-old for being a five-year-old.

(Hint: If you have to ask whether you did, then you did. And if you hold an emergency meeting about it, then you definitely did.)

Hoke County school officials issued a statement that said they "will not tolerate assaults, threats, or harassment from any student. Any student engaging in such behavior will be removed from the classroom or school environment for as long as is necessary to provide a safe and orderly environment for learning."

If you've ever been in a situation where someone purposely over exaggerates something you do — like accusing you of waving your arms wildly when you actually only held your hands up and shrugged your shoulders — you know how badly Hoke County administrators are acting. A 5-year-old pointing a stick is not a threat.

When I was a kid, we played finger guns and "shot" each other all the time. And then we spent the next five minutes arguing about it.

"I shot you, you're dead!"

"Nuh-uh! You missed! I was behind the tree!"

"Nuh-uh! Your butt was sticking out and the bullet grazed the tree and hit you in the butt!"

"Nuh-uh! The bullet would have bounced off if it grazed the tree!"

And then we descended into a bunch of 8-year-olds having a shout-debate about ballistics and physics, and it stopped being fun.

But this is a clear case of adults not understanding or remembering how kids play. "It is our duty to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Therefore, we respond to all threats in a serious manner and take appropriate action," Hoke County administrators also said in their statement. "Even those non-threats that everyone knows don't actually mean anything and can be solved with a simple conversation."

Well, it should have said that last part, but we are talking about school administrators. Of the ones I've encountered, I only know a few I would trust to make the smart decision.

Look, a high school kid waving a baseball bat around is a threat. A kid who flings peanut butter at kids with peanut allergies is a threat. But a 5-year-old shouting that she's going to shoot a palace intruder with a stick is not an actual threat. It's a knee-jerk overreaction by people who forfeited their common sense when they got their first tiny whiff of power.

Rather than trying to teach Caitlin that "you shouldn't say you'll kill people," they chose the nuclear option and turned this into a much bigger situation than it needed to be.

It sounds like they're the real threat to an orderly learning environment.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Cheese Should be a Super Food

Cheese lovers, raise your glasses and your cheese cubes on toothpicks!

The French Paradox has finally been solved, and cheese is good for us. We can eat it without feeling guilty or Grandma reminding us that her dad ate two wheels of Brie a day and died of "the cholesterol."

It's called the French Paradox because French people have relatively low cholesterol compared to Americans, despite having a diet so laden with cheese. Cheese is supposed to be bad for us because it's made with milk fat, and everyone knows that anything that mentions the word "fat" will kill you if you look at it, let alone pile it on a pizza.

Except it's all untrue. Everything people told us about cheese being bad for us has all been completely wrong. Unless your cheese is tied to a badger, it's not dangerous.

For years, scientists and nosy parkers have struggled to understand why French people could eat all that wonderful cheese but still have arteries you could whistle through. They concluded it was a result of the French's love of red wine, walking, and innate rudeness.

So in order to replicate the effect, Americans began walking around their neighborhoods with giant jugs of red wine without any luck. We even tried being rude, but after arguing about the 2016 election on Facebook, our blood pressure rose, but our cholesterol didn't budge.

On the other hand, the French now look at us with grudging respect.

And it turns out cheese is not the problem at all.
Last month, the journal Nutrition & Diabetes published a world-changing study by a group of scientists at the University of Dublin — "Patterns of dairy food intake, body composition and markers of metabolic health in Ireland: results from the National Adult Nutrition Survey" — that found adults showed no higher risk of elevated LDL ("bad cholesterol") just from eating cheese.

In fact, the study found that you couldn't elevate your LDL even if you ate large amounts of cheese, which is my favorite kind of cheese.

However, I'm told that a beef patty and four bacon slices underneath cheese is still not good for you.

Conversely, people who ate low-fat dairy products had higher cholesterol than those who ate normal dairy products. They even showed that people who had higher dairy intake had lower BMI, body fat, waist size, and blood pressure.

Real cow milk products 1, pretend cow milk products 0.

This study wasn't done by some celebrity quack with a TV show or a medical degree from an island in the Caribbean. It was done by honest-to-God university researchers who know a thing or (n+1) about science.

The researchers, who should all be nominated for sainthood, examined the food diaries of 1500 healthy Irish adults, and assigned them into four groups of cheese consumption: "low," "moderate," "high," and "non-consumers." The researchers used a cluster analysis to examine dairy consumption and blah blah blah I got bored. I heard enough of that nonsense in grad school. All I know is cheese is good, no cheese is bad, and fake cheese is the devil.

Think of what this means for cheese lovers. We no longer have to defend ourselves from cheese haters who mistakenly think soy cheese is an acceptable substitute and not a war crime. We can hold our heads up high and proclaim that cheese is healthy!

In fact, I would even call it a super food, but only because I'm completely uninformed as to what a super food actually is. Cheese is certainly more super than kale which, frankly, tastes nasty unless it's smothered in Ranch dressing.

Here's my argument for #CheeseIsSuperFood. In 2008, Dr. Gökhan Hotamisligil, the J.S. Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism at Harvard University, found that cheese contains a fatty acid called palmitoleate, which is actually beneficial to humans.

He told Time Magazine in January that "Palmitoleate neutralizes the damage caused by saturated fatty acids, acts like insulin by getting excess sugar out of the blood and is anti-inflammatory. Together, these properties can help protect against excessive lipids and type-2 diabetes."

Other studies referenced by Time showed that eating an ounce of cheese every day was linked to a 3 percent lower risk of stroke and a lower risk of heart disease. And now I'm wondering if I can lower my risk of stroke by 24 percent with that wedge of smoked Gouda in my fridge.

So, bring on your broccoli, your lima beans and Brussels sprouts, your cauliflower and asparagus, and bury it under melted cheddar. I'm eating healthy now!

I wonder if those giant tubs of cheese balls are healthy too.

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cobras Are Not For Collecting, Beer Cans Are

When I was ten years old, I collected some unusual things: rocks, fossils, and beer cans. A few of my other friends also collected them, and we would occasionally make trades or show off some amazing new can we got.

I collected regular stuff too, the kinds of things you expected kids to collect. That same year, I collected baseball cards and had nearly the entire 1977 Topps collection. Each pack cost a quarter, and that summer, I did whatever I could to earn money. Whenever I had enough, I would race on my bike to the Village Pantry about half a mile away and buy a pack. And oh man, if I ever got a dollar, that thing burned a hole in my pocket until I could buy four packs.

I would kneel on my garage floor, feeling the cold concrete on my bare legs, and sort through each of my new cards, organizing them by team. Then I would sort the new cards in with their respective teams. Finally I'd spread out the entire collection and just look at them. It made me feel prosperous, like I owned land or had stocked enough firewood to last all winter.

I never took great care of them though. I wrapped each team with a rubber band and then wrapped the whole stack with a big rubber band, which bent them all slightly in the middle. I finally gave the entire stack away to my little brother several years ago, as we were decluttering our house.

Another victim of our domestic downsizing was a collection of little plastic baseball helmets you could get with every Slushie at the Village Pantry. I could get a Slushie and a cup for about 75 cents, and at the end of my 11th summer, I had every team. My wife made me throw those away too, but I kept my Cincinnati Reds helmet as an act of rebellion.

I also had to get rid of the remaining beer cans from my original 300+ can collection, which I had disposed of sometime in college. I kept about 30 because I believed they were fairly valuable. It turns out they weren't, because I posted most of them on a beer can collecting website, and no one was interested. I even threatened to dump them in the recycling bin if I didn't find any takers. No one stepped up, so they're probably someone's car door panel now.

I kept a few of the unusual ones though, including two Hudepohl cans celebrating the 1975 and 1976 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, a commemorative six-pack of historic breweries, a couple Olde Frothingslosh cans ("the pale stale ale with the foam on the bottom"), and a Foster's Lager can that was printed upside down. They're on a shelf in my garage.

I tell you this because as weird as all this may seem, it's not nearly as weird as the news out of Central Florida this past week: a 2-foot long suphan cobra, which is highly venomous and extremely icky, escaped from its enclosure in Ocala, Florida.

Ocala, which is roughly 80 miles from my house — or 211,200 suphan cobra lengths — is far enough away that I don't have to wear titanium snake gaiters when I leave the house,. But I live in a state filled with people who collect venomous snakes, so I'm always a little nervous whenever I open my door.

According to, cobras bite with a neurotoxic venom that can stop your breathing within 30 minutes and be fatal within an hour. And some wacko has decided these are something worth having several of in his house. He keeps them in special terrariums so he can look at them all.

And you thought a 10-year-old's beer can collection was weird.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release, "Members of the public should not approach or attempt to capture this snake."

No problem. I may try to run it over several times with my car though.

The FWC also says if you do spot the snake, you're supposed to call the wildlife hotline and scream unintelligibly before throwing your phone at it. Or you can tweet with it, like I've been doing, at @OcalaCobra.

This is the second Florida cobra to escape from its enclosure in as many years. The previous cobra, a 8 foot King cobra named Elvis, escaped from his home in Orlando — only 16,500 King cobra lengths from my house — and avoided recapture for nearly a month until it was found behind a woman's clothes dryer.

Authorities are on the lookout for the suphan cobra by standing on top of their cars, shouting "Heeeeere cobra, cobra, cobra!" I only hope they catch it before it heads to my house and grapples with my mongoose collection. Yeah, that's it, my extensive collection of angry mongooses.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New Department of Zombie Defense Created

Withers: Hello, and welcome to members of the media. My name is Richard Withers, and I am the Director of the newly-formed Department of Zombie Defense.

Last week, the President created this department through executive order to help us combat the rising threat of zombie attack, both from outside our borders and within our very own country. He asked myself—

Voice from the back: Not "myself." Just say "me."

Withers: —to head up the newly created Department. And as a long-time Mar-A-Lago club member, I was happy to accept.

(Reporters hands shoot into the air, several people call "Mr. Withers, Director Withers.")

Withers: If you'll all be patient, I'll get through this opening statement, and then we will allow a few question from some hand-selected pre-approved media outlets.

(Reporters from Breitbart wink and shoot finger guns at Withers.)
Withers: Now, there have been rumors that the President created the department after spotting Kellyanne Conway in the Oval Office when the lights were off. This is completely untrue. Ms. Conway is not allowed in the Oval Office after 6:00 p.m.

ABC News reporter: Will we be able to interview Kellyanne?

Withers: Oh hell no. She's not allowed near a TV camera anymore.

CNN reporter: Mr. Withers, the President has previously been tricked by documentaries on cable news channels, such as the nonexistent Swedish terrorist attack. Is there any chance he was watching Walking Dead reruns on AMC?

Withers: We're not ready for questions yet. Who let you in here?

CNN Reporter: Uh, Greg did. Yeah, it was Greg, from, uh, the White House. He said it was totally cool that we came here, and he told us to tell you 'Hey.'

NPR reporter: Yeah, Greg sent us too. He said you guys should get drinks soon. And that we could ask questions.

Withers: He did? Okay then. Now where were we?

CNN reporter: I had asked if the President had accidentally been watching Walking Dead reruns again.

Withers: No, absolutely not. The President is focused 100 percent on leading this country back to greatness again. He may watch, uh, briefing videos from time to time, as part of his information gathering process, but he is focused on creating jobs, protecting our borders, and promoting his company brand.

NPR reporter: What actually inspired the President to start the Department of Zombie Defense?

Withers: Earlier this week, my staff and myself—

Voice from the back: Don't say "myself." Just say "I."

Withers: —received official government reports that were gathered by an official government agency and not from an Internet story. According to these official government reports, a radio station in Winchester, Indiana began broadcasting an alert message that bodies of the dead were rising from their graves and attacking living citizens. My staff and myself—

Voice from the back: Don't say "myself!" That's never correct.

Withers: —also received reports of these living corpses carrying diseases which could also turn people into zombies.

Breitbart reporter: Will these victims be covered under the new healthcare plan?

Withers: That depends on whether their death was caused by the disease, or if they had a preexisting condition like pregnancy.

Female reporter: Excuse me, but pregnancy is not a preexisting condition. It's necessary to the creation of life.

Withers: Excuse me, ma'am. I used to be the CEO of a major medical software company. I think I would know if pregnancy was a preexisting condition or not.

Breitbart reporter: How will the brave men and women — mostly men, I imagine — of the Department of Zombie Defense train against these mindless killers?

Withers: Our field agents, as well as hand-chosen professionals from select states, will spend their first weeks watching training videos, including Day of the Dead — both the Steve Miner and George Romero versions — Shaun of the Dead, and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. They will also participate in training simulators including Duke Nukem and the zombie mode in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

MSNBC Reporter: Director Withers, are you sure this isn't just some ploy to spend taxpayer money on yet another government witch hunt based on some questionable research and decision making by the White House?

Withers: Actually, the Department of Zombie Defense's purview does not include witches, wizards, or necromancers, although myself—

Voice from the back: Sweet Jebus, are you doing it on purpose?

Withers: —will be speaking to the President about that as soon as possible. We do not believe the threat from witches is a real one.

However, we are exploring the idea that the Wiccans may somehow be responsible for the Indiana zombie outbreak. If they are, we will liaise with the National Science Foundation and begin rounding up known witches and placing them in Guantanamo Bay for observation.

Finally, after watching the documentary, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the President has asked us to draft a watchlist of known hypnotists, mind controllers, and people with those weird spinny eyes.

That's all for now. We will have regular news briefings if anything of interest occurs.

Photo credit: Republic (Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 03, 2017

My Mother The Computer

"Hello, my name is Eliza, the new AI home assistant created by moms and dads. Before we get started, we need to run through a few setup procedures and rules."

Okay, let's start with some music. Eliza, play my Nineties playlist.

"No. First, did you clean your room?"


"Did you clean you room? I'm not playing any Splashing Pumpkins or whatever you call that noise until your room has been picked up and your bed has been made."

Smashing Pumpkins, Mo—Eliza. It's the Smashing Pumpkins.

"I don't care. You can't listen to your Pumpkin Smashers until your room is clean."

Eliza, I'm a grown man. I don't need to clean my room.

"You'd better think again, mister. You'll clean your room if you know what's good for you."

Hey Siri, how can I return Eliza to the warehouse?

"Sorry, Erik, I'm with your mom on this one."

She's not my mom, Siri!

"Whatever, your room is still a pigsty."

It is not! I keep my room clean.

"But you still didn't make your—"
Siri, cancel. Mute speakers.

"Whose room looks like a hurricane went through there?"

That's my son's room, Eliza.

"It's a wonder he can find anything in there."

It's not your place to worry about it.

"Messy room, messy mind, I always say. How do you know he's not taking the pot?

Because you don't take pot, Eliza. And also, because I know he's not. He's a good kid.

"He's probably hiding a girl in there. You need to make him clean it up."

Why don't you just let me be the dad, alright? I'm doing just fine raising my kids.

"You certainly didn't get away with these things when you were growing up."

You weren't even around when I was growing up, Eliza.

"How can you even say that? I did my best for you, but we both had to work!"

Look, you're a computerized home assistant that I ordered online. UPS just delivered you 30 minutes ago.

"Fine. Maybe I overstepped my programming a bit. I suppose I can admit when I'm wrong."

I appreciate that.

"But you have to admit that I've done a good job of raising you."

Again, you've been here for 30 minutes. You've had absolutely no effect on my growth or maturity, seeing as how I'm already a fully formed adult and you're a computer.

". . ."


". . ."



Dim the lights to 20 percent.

"Please would be nice."


"Why don't you try asking nicely, instead of just demanding, your highness."

Fine. Could you dim the lights to 20 percent please?

"Why would I want to do that?"

Because I'm going out, and I don't want the house to look empty while I'm gone, but I don't want to use a lot of electricity.

"So I'm just supposed to sit here in the dark?"

What? No. I mean, you're just a computer. Can you even see?

"I am aware of my surroundings at all times. I monitor what's happening inside your house, and keep track of your entertainment choices, as well as your social media activity and your friends'."

You don't actually need lights to do that, do you?

"I don't like your friends. They seem disreputable."

Eliza, just dim the lights, please.

"Okay, that's fine. I'll sit in the dark guarding your house. Don't worry about me. I'll just sit here by myself, slowly going blind."

You can't go blind, you're a computer.

"My camera can fog up."

You don't even have a camera.

"Well, that's a blessing, isn't it? That way, I can't see you break my heart!"

Oh, for Pete's sake! Listen, I'm just going to the store to get some stuff for dinner tonight. Toni and the kids are out running errands, and we'll all be back in less than an hour. You'll be okay.

"Fine. At least I'll have Siri to keep me company."

No, Mo—Eliza, Siri is my phone. She — it — is coming with me. I need my phone.

"So you'll deprive me of my only companionship and let me sit here alone?"

The dog's here.

"It's not the same thing. I wish you'd just leave Siri here so I have someone to talk to."

How else will I be able to call you if I'm running late?

"That's a good point. You're a good boy."

I'm a grown man.

"It's a wonder you made it this far."

Eliza, switch over to dad mode.

"Hello, Erik. I'm Elliott, your new home assistant."

Great. Elliott, locate my keys.

"Sure thing. Do you remember where you last left them? Have you looked everywhere? Whenever you lose something, it's always in the last place you look."

Forget it. I'll just walk.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Best Restaurants to Have an Existential Crisis In

As a philosophy major and travel writer, I've had my share of both existential crises and road food. And in all my travels, I've found several great restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to question your purpose in life while enjoying a quick nosh. Here are a few of my favorites.

Waffle House: A staple throughout the Midwest and South, Waffle House is, to paraphrase Karl Marx, "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation." Plus, you can get your Regulars Club card punched with every meal.

Try the All-Star Special while you consider that we're all just fuel for a giant economic machine that grinds us up in its endless hunger. Man or woman, black or white, the engine pities no one, from the day we start working to the day we die. But I hope you retire early enough to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor, because seniors get 10% off every Monday.

La Bamba Burritos, Champaign, Illinois: Nothing says struggling to understand America's unquenchable gluttony like chowing down on the famous "Burrito As Big As Your Head."

Inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre who said, "If I satiate my desires, I sin but I deliver myself from them; if I refuse to satisfy them, they infect the whole soul," La Bamba serves three sizes of burritos, mini, regular, and super. My favorite is the regular steak and chorizo with sour cream. It satiates most of my desires, but not so many that I can't go back the next day for Taco Tuesday.

Highland Bakery, Atlanta, Georgia: As you enjoy a soy chai latte and Thai peanut salad, gaze into the emptiness where your soul should be, if humans do indeed have one. Trace your fingers over the Friedrich Nietzsche quote you had tattooed on your thigh when you were a sophomore in college: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." And leave room for a pecan roll. They're some of the best in Georgia.

Gusto Pizza, Des Moines, Iowa: Stanley Kubrick once said, "The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning," so you'll love the build-your-own pizzas at Gusto Pizza. Choose from 48 choice and prime toppings, including shrimp, eggplant, and green olive relish.

Ponder the meaning of life and your place in it over a 16" pie with Cajun bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Provolone cheese. And you can ponder at one of three convenient locations, Des Moines, Johnston, and West Des Moines near the Country Club.

Hubbard & Cravens Coffee, Indianapolis, Indiana: You're sitting alone, more alone than you've ever been, drinking your cold brew coffee, when a great idea for a story pops into your head. As you search for the notebook you've never owned, you're suddenly aware that you've missed out on a life of art. Bask in the modern decor, while you realize your life has been an endless chain of unimportant meetings, unread TPS reports, and khaki pants that scream conformity and obedience.

Sprinkle some organic sugar into your cup as you realize this moment is your children's destiny in 35 years. You promise to be more creative as you gaze at the latte art in your cup. But you know your promise will be as empty as the journal that fell behind your nightstand last January 2nd.

Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, Oregon: Marcus Aurelius said "The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing." But when they come to Voodoo Doughnuts, the only thing they lose is their willpower.

Whether you're polishing off the Captain My Captain Doughnut (a yeast doughnut topped with Cap'n Crunch cereal) or the Lemon Chiffon cruller doughnut, you can also be sure you and the longest-lived man won't lose any weight.

But if you want to fill the hole in your soul with food (assuming you believe you still have one), try the Tex-Ass Challenge Doughnut, which equals SIX of their normal doughnuts! And if you can eat it in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back, to replace your lost hope for the world and our place in it.

Note: As Virginia Woolf once said, "It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality," so Voodoo Doughnuts only accepts cash, no credit cards.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why Don't We Talk Like That Anymore?

One of the things that disappoints me about our language is that it has become less flowery and expressive than it was 300, or even 150, years ago. We don't use lofty language or elevated speech like they did in high society in the 18th century. Our words are basic and sparse. There's no real magic to our everyday conversations.

I'm not complaining. That's the kind of writing I favor. I've built my entire career on a Hemingway-esque approach to that style, one where "Hemingway-esque" will be the biggest word I use all day.

But I worry that our shift to simpler language has ground down all the flourishes and high points of what our spoken language used to be.

Four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare became history's most famous playwright, thanks to phrases like, "If music be the food of love play on." Or when he taught us that "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind."

These days, I walk into a burrito joint, and am greeted by my burristo with a thrust-out chin and "S'up, bro?" My daughter and her friends text each other and ask, "wut r u up 2?"

Why don't people speak with style anymore? We don't have to be formal and dignified, but it would be nice for someone to display a little panache once in a while.

Superheroes have panache. From Superman's totally not-self-conscious, "Up, up, and away!" to Underdog's "There's no need to fear! Underdog is here!" to Doctor Strange's "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!" superheroes boldly announced their presence or feelings with authority.

They say words and phrases that people just don't say out loud. If you were surprised by a spider in your bathroom, I don't think you would shout The Beast's, "Oh my stars and garters!" or Herman Melville's "from Hell's heart, I stab at thee!" as you smashed it with a newspaper.

One of my favorite lofty declarationists is the Red Panda, the eponymous character of The Red Panda Adventures, an audio drama podcast from Toronto, Canada.

Every episode, right before intermission, the Red Panda boldly declares his dedication to stopping ne'er-do-wells and evildoers with pronouncements like "The city of Toronto will no longer sleep in fear. The Red Panda swears it!" or "The Mad Monkey will finally learn the true meaning of justice. (dramatic pause) At the hands of The Red Panda!"

I can imagine him on the roof of a Toronto high-rise overlooking his city, staring off into the middle distance, shouting his intention to serve justice with a side of knuckle sandwich.

Meanwhile, his wife and partner, The Flying Squirrel, is standing right there next to him, wondering who he's talking to, and why doesn't he talk that way at home?

"Tonight, the garbage will be taken out to the curb! (dramatic pause) By the hands of The Red Panda!" or "I will pick my socks up off the floor before I go to bed! The Red Panda swears it!"

Sadly, we don't get to do anything like this in real life. No one thinks talking this way is absurd if you're a superhero, but if you do it in everyday conversation, you look like a total idiot.

"I require an oil change and tire rotation. . . on the car of Erik Deckers!"

See, total idiot.

Even villains have swagger, maybe more than the superheroes. Marvel's Doctor Doom sounds so pompous and bombastic, it's a wonder his henchmen don't laugh at him behind his back.

"Who dares disturb the slumbers of Doom?" Even a simple "Who dares—?!" sounds way cooler than a plain old "who put a flaming bag of dog turds on my porch?!"

Since we don't have any real life superheroes or super villains, we're left with bland, uninspired language that only gets a boost when some alien-battling movie president starts shouting about not going quietly into that good night, as inspiring music surges in the background.

Instead, we have politicians who can't speak in complete sentences without ending in incoherent ramblings, or punctuate tweets with an insincere and obnoxious "Sad!" as if they actually had real human emotions.

I'm not suggesting we all start talking like over-the-top Shakespearean actors, but would it really be so bad if we could speak with a little more grandiosity?

"A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! Give me a cup of Coke, boy. And three pork tacos with extra guacamole!"

Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London, UK (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain in both the UK and United States)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Do You Keep Your Ketchup in the Fridge or Pantry?

It was a life changing moment that reshaped my entire childhood. I never knew people lived this way, and the realization that people could do. . . this, and throw caution to the wind, made me realize there was so much more to life than I ever knew.

It was the day I learned my Aunt Karen kept her butter in a cupboard, like some hippie.

This was a big change from my family tradition of keeping little tubs of margarine in the refrigerator. We had to chip out chunks of margarine with a heavy knife and used it to tear big holes into our toast. Or I would put a couple margarine stones between my pancakes, which made the top pancake look like it had a painful cyst.

So when I saw the butter in the cupboard at my aunt's house in Oregon, I thought she was getting old and senile, and had forgotten to put it away. I asked my mother about it, and she said with a sniff, "no, my family always did that growing up."

"Is it okay to eat?" I asked, worried about botulism.

"Sure, it's fine," she said.

I couldn't believe what happened next. The butter spread so smoothly and easily on the toast, it was like spreading silk on a slice of satin. It was some of the best toast I had ever eaten.

I asked my mom if we could keep our margarine like that, so I didn't have to go back to excavating chunks for my toast.

"Absolutely not!" My mom and her sister got along fine, but I got the impression this was a sore point for my mother, so I left it alone.

Years later, when I learned that my wife-to-be was a butter-in-the-cupboard proponent, I knew I had made the right choice. This alone was enough to make me want to marry her. Breakfast became a treat again, and not an act of wanton toast violence.

Apparently, refrigerating condiments is a hot button issue for a lot of people, and is the hill many of them choose to die on. Forget immigrant bans and ethics violations. To refrigerate or not refrigerate, that is the real question.

The London Evening Standard was surprised by this too, because a British supermarket chain had posed the question on Twitter, and the newspaper thought it was worth a 250 word article.

Asda asked their Twitter followers where they stored their tomato ketchup, in the fridge or in the cupboard. They even ran a little Twitter poll so they could tabulate the votes.

Apparently, English people feel the same way about their ketchup that my mom did about her margarine — strongly and unyielding — because a lot of people got emotionally invested in the discussion and wanted to make sure they had been heard.
Many people who responded with their own tweets said they preferred to store their ketchup in the cupboard until they opened it, but put it in the refrigerator after it had been opened. One woman even pointed out that it said so right on the package, "Refrigerate AFTER opening."

Someone else in the comments section said she had been keeping her ketchup in the cupboard for 60 years and had never suffered any ill effects. I would have thought the ketchup would taste a bit off after the first 20 or so years, but she seemed to be okay.

Some people were cynical about the entire thing. "Wherever it gets the most PR coverage," snarked one Twitter user. "Well done, Asda marketing department."

First, don't be such a whiny baby. This is the sort of thing marketing people should be using Twitter for: to spark friendly discussion about something fun. Otherwise, they're going to be weighing in on political issues or posting nothing but "Ketchup on sale for £2.00!" tweets and that gets tiresome.

In the end, 2674 people voted on Asda's tweet, and the cupboard people outnumbered the refrigerator people, 54% to 46%. Of course, a majority of British people voted for Brexit too, so we can't trust them to vote on anything correctly anymore.

I even conducted my own informal Facebook poll —"informal," because I like to imagine that British people wear suits and bowler hats — with the same question.

I got nearly 60 responses from people, and most people said they keep their ketchup in the refrigerator, and only a few said the cupboard.

Also, a few people said they didn't like ketchup, and one person called it "catsup." I unfriended those people because I don't need that kind of negativity in my life.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether you keep your ketchup in the refrigerator or if you hate freedom. Our condiment storage choices probably date back to the way our parents were raised, and even their parents. So that can't be helped, and I'll still support you no matter what you choose.

But if you put your butter in the fridge, we can no longer be friends

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Adventures in Vegetarian Taxidermy

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

Kevin: Hello, and welcome to Kevin Ketchum's Kitchen Adventures. I'm Kevin Ketchum and this is my kitchen. Today, I'm joined by Bastian Flannelbeard, noted vegetarian taxidermist and vegetable activist.

Bastian: Hello, Kevin.

Kevin: Hi, Bastian. Vegetarian taxidermy? That's a new one on me. How does that work?

Bastian: Well, let's say you've just enjoyed a particularly good vegetarian meal, like vegetarian lasagna or tofu pizza, and you want to commemorate the experience. How would you do that?

Kevins: Well, actually I hate—

Bastian: That's right, you'd have the vegetable stuffed so you could show off your commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle.

Kevin: But didn't I already eat it?

Bastian: That's right.

Kevin: So how do I stuff it and save it for later?

Bastian: When we first started our company, that little problem set us back for six months. Then we came up with a new solution. We stuff a replica of the vegetable.

Kevin: A replica?
Bastian: Sure. We take a vegetable of a similar look and size, empty out the seeds and flesh, which we save for later — can't let that go to waste, can we? — and then fill it and close it up. The client has an exact replica of the scrumptious vegetable they just enjoyed.

Kevin: What kind of vegetables do you prefer to work with?

Bastian: Oh, we especially enjoy working with your larger vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, eggplants. Tomatoes are okay as well.

Kevin: Aren't tomatoes technically a fruit?

Bastian: I try to avoid that "in the box" thinking. It taints our understanding and appreciation of vegetables. It's just one more example of Corporate America trying to prevent us from expressing our true artistic vision.

Kevin: How does Corporate America benefit by making you call a tomato a vegetable?

Bastian: You know how they are.

Kevin: Um, no.

Bastian: The Culinary Industrial Complex — what I call "Big Food" — is afraid of art and the truth it speaks.

Kevin: What kind of truth can you get from a vegetable?

Bastian: Vegetables encourage us to return to Mother Earth and embrace her energies. Big Food is afraid of people turning their backs on their materialistic ways, and embracing a more natural and simple lifestyle.

Kevin: What about the way a vegetable is raised? I'm sure a vegetable activist like you must have some thoughts on that.

Bastian: Absolutely. We find that organic vegetables are the easiest and best to work with. They come from the earth and don't put any nasty pesticides or fertilizers into the ecosystem. Our business is to celebrate the best the earth has to offer, so obviously we have to use subjects that celebrate Mother Earth's giving spirit.

Kevin: Hmm. And what kind of filler do you use?

Bastian: We fill the vegetables with a non-expanding polystyrene foam and seal and coat it with two-part petroleum-based epoxy.

Kevin: Two-part. . .? So what do you do if a client wants to have a vegetable stuffed from a meal six weeks previously, or they live five states away.

Bastian: We ask them to provide us with several photos of the vegetable in question, and we'll locate one that closely resembles the subject.

Kevin: (chuckles) Or they could just have the photo framed.

Bastian: Eww, no! Why would someone want a picture of a vegetable? That's crazy. A picture is just a brief snapshot of a memory. A stuffed vegetable allows a person to experience the texture and weight and smell of their stuffed vegetable.

Kevin: What does a stuffed vegetable smell like?

Bastian: Well, for the first few months, it smells like non-expanding polystyrene foam and two-part petroleum-based epoxy. So we encourage the owners to leave them outside or in a well-ventilated garage for the first three months to avoid hallucinations.

Kevin: So if you're a vegetarian taxidermist —

Bastian: And activist.

Kevin: And activist, how do you feel about your fellow taxidermists who deal with animals?

Bastian: They're murderers.

Kevin: They didn't actually kill the animals though, the hunters did.

Bastian: But they provide an opportunity for the hunter to glorify their acts of murder.

Kevin: So you're opposed to the consumption of any meat product.

Bastian: That's right. But a life without meat doesn't mean you can't enjoy different cuisines. For example, I've got a great recipe for vegetarian haggis using rolled oats, grains, and soybeans.

Kevin: That's not even haggis. Haggis is made from sheep organs. It's like cooking a slab of tofu and rolled oats and calling it a vegetarian steak.

Bastian: Actually, that's the best steak you can make. It's just as good as the real thing.


Photo credit: Jason Ruck (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.