Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Could Make Me Post Again?

Yeah, I went quiet on this blog because I was busy (moving, downsizing, selling a house) and keeping two blogs up seemed quite enough. Then when I had some time I wasn't used to scouting out stories for JUC and getting it done. And there were so many opportunities, so many openings, setups, straight lines that it just shut me up.

So here we are in full-blown recession, the Dow has lost a third of its value and there are so many unintended consequences that it takes my breath away. I had too much material. I couldn't write about it.

Then in yesterday's New York Times I see this article. I think to myself, "If I was keeping up with unintended consequences this would be my story today."

So why not? Let's discuss Spam. It seems that in hard times our buying habits change. No surprise there. Rice and dried beans sales so up. New computers? Not so much. SUVs? Don't go there.

So yeah. GM is going bankrupt and will Ford be far behind? Dell stock dipped below 10 before settling out to close at 10.89 Friday. The deficit is at record levels. Banks are failing. Billions of dollars of tax payer money is being funneled to the same perps as always.

But. Spam sales are up. Usually you don't hear much about Austin, Minnesota. In fact, Austin, TX (my Austin) is now just 'Austin.' Austin, Minnesota (and also the Austins in Colorado, Oregon, Quebec, etc.) don't get top of mind. Wikipedia and Google know what you are really looking for.

But. Back to Spam. Spam is made in Austin, Minnesota. And the Spam factory which is not sending you e-mail about enlarging or reducing or wiping out debt or getting drugs but making a product consisting of ham and pork (yeah, the good part of the pig and, um, some other parts of the pig) and spices and stuff is running at capacity. Yep, people are snapping up 12 ounce packs of meat product, ready to add to your favorite depression recipe, for less than three bucks. It is selling so well that the factory is running two shifts seven days a week. The workers are collecting lots of overtime and while they are only promised Thanksgiving and Christmas off they will have some extra coin for, you know, new TVs so they can watch a reprise of "It's a Wonderful Life" during the season.

Don't you sometimes feel that life is just a bundle of unintended consequences? Why can't I keep the stories coming here to point out that stuff?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tribal Divides

As Kenya plunged into tribal conflicts after an election with allegations of corruption, suddenly the rival tribe names were in our newspapers. Luos and Kikuyus. Like the Hutu and Tutsis, it seems silly at a distance. We found ourselves localizing the issues: "Isn't Obama's father Kenyan? What tribe?" The answer is Luo. While the distinctions seem silly to us they are serious. Deadly serious. And is this so different from our talk of the "black vote" and the "Latino bloc?" Hopefully we can avoid the burning and beheading. But we are still tribal even though the distinctions are fast disappearing with intermarriage and confusing overlays of socio-economic and sexual politics. These conflicts between us and the other are deeply ingrained in humans. Maybe our best hope here is the startle factor from watching these grave conflicts from afar.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Those Diet Drinks

I ripped off the illustration from here. (Apologies Elmhurst College Chem Lab.) And really this post isn't about the density of the product. Although isn't that fascinating? No, I'm really going to riff on this New York Times piece.

This study found a correlation between consumption of diet soda and metabolic syndrome, a collection of factors that indicate an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

A couple of things about it make me say 'hmmm.' First, I'm not surprised that people who may have a little extra fat around the abdomen are tempted to drink diet drinks. Second, I'm surprised that the scientists are really musing about it in this way.

“Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?”

Well, the chemicals, if consumed in large quantities just can't be good for you. Your body must record them although the consumer writes 'zero calories' in his mental ledger. But mostly, don't you think, it's just that people are trying to hedge eating fried chicken by drinking them? That the doctors have worried them into trying to lose weight? That they are shamed by society to be seen consuming a full-blown, sugar-laden, twenty-six ounce soda?

It just seems that this study is drawing this one trivial conclusion that grabs the headlines and obscures the rest of the study. Which belongs in the (non-existent as far as I know) Journal of Completely Predictable Results. You know: the more fried food you eat, the more the risk. Unless one day they discover, that, nah, it was all the fault of diet soda.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Use As Directed

We wouldn't like ourselves if we owned a journal called "The Journal of Unintended Consequences" and we didn't comment on Heath Ledger's death. Did he intend to die? Who knows. Did he misuse and combine powerful prescription drugs? Definitely. Does it matter than some doctor prescribed them. No.

These drugs have warnings. A third grader (who may be stealing them from Mom and Dad's stash but that's another story) knows the warnings. There are warnings about dosage and combination.

Unintended consequences? Maybe. Maybe he intended to live. But he definitely knew that he wasn't taking drugs as prescribed by a competent caring doctor. Please.

I'm the one, of course, that was circumspect when a professional advised 600 Mg. of Ibuprofen as a dose for pain. Because it is 50 percent more than recommended on the (over the counter) pain reliever.

It's best if you pay attention to what you ingest, its side effects and warnings. Otherwise you and yours may be whining about unintended consequences.

Monday, January 21, 2008

We Rest Our Case

The New York Times Magazine saw fit to use our very motto as a headline in the January 20, 2008 issue. Yep, they explored the unintended consequences of laws, of governments and religions, and the potential to harm those we were trying to protect. Don't you feel the illusion of control slipping away? Yep, STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT (the Steves, let's say) ask "What do a deaf woman in Los Angeles, a first-century Jewish sandal maker and a red-cockaded woodpecker have in common?" How could one not keep reading after the Steves lay down a tease like that? I especially like how they describe attempts to tweak biblical law. Yeah. Hmm.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dog Kills Hunter

We are so glad that we made it clear here that we were only laughing because everyone survived. Otherwise we would have been more serious about it when the dog shot the hunter. But now a dog in Texas has shot and killed his owner. And it's really sad. They are not absolutely sure the dog did it but his prints were on the gun. The victim bled to death before the police could talk to him and his companion (who tried to stop the bleeding and rushed him to a hospital) was not looking when it happened. This is very sad. Be careful with your guns around dogs and children and other critters.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Too Young For Strokes

I cadged this picture from an ebay trader long ago. Glass fruit for sale. I once considered having a collection of fake food. I came to my senses. But that's a subject for a different blog.

I wanted to illustrate with fruit because, apparently, a part of the The Beverly Hills diet is to eat fruit only for the first days of the regimen.

The inventor of the diet is dead at 63 from complications of a stroke according to The New York Times. This happened in October so it old news. [This reporter's delay in remarking on it is due to a bad habit of reading papers in a less than current fashion. Also, not the subject of this journal except, you know, to explain the unintended consequence of my remarking on old news.]

The obituary says that she slimmed down from 180 to 108. It would be interesting to know how many times she did that. Yo-yo dieting is bad for you. Some experts thought this diet inventor, Judy Mazel, had invented a dangerous diet. And, well, dead at 63 from a stroke? Seems young to me.