Thursday, December 24, 2009

2010 Wish List

2010 is the most important year for the world since 2009. Below is a list of how I would like things to be in this very important year:


I'd like to see pilots required to sit in the same kind of seats as passengers. That way, we'd be assured that no pilot would ever fall asleep during the flight.


At least one Republican should vote for a bill sponsored by a Democrat, and at least one Democrat should vote for a bill sponsored by a Republican.

No politician should be allowed to say, "I'm shocked that this issue has become so politicized."

Once a month, the President should remind the American public how fighting in a particular country will make us safer. That way, nobody will turn to the person next to them every once in a while and ask, "I forgot. Why are we over there?"


An ordinance should be passed demanding that shoes should feel the same when you get them home as they do in the store.


Computer manufacturers should make sure that computers work right when you get them out of the box and plug them in.

When computers don't work, they should respond when you yell at them.


When entering a restaurant, people should be required to check their cell phones at the door the way cowboys had to check their guns.


At least one movie should be made by each studio that doesn't involve time travel.

A law should be passed stating that if people behind you talk during a movie, they should be banished to the lobby and forced to sit one in front of the other as they continue their conversation.


I wish that everybody would spend more time worrying about their own families than about those of actors, golfers, or former governors of Alaska.

I assume that next year there will be a mother who gives birth to nine babies. My wish is that this "nonomom" will get zero publicity.


Somebody should pass a law outlawing magazines that smell more like perfume than a perfume counter.


I wish that medical experts would get together before issuing conflicting advice to the public.

If a doctor has a magazine in his waiting room that is more than six months old, you shouldn't have to pay for your visit.


Every computer, cell phone, camera, audio device, etc. should come with a manual that you can actually hold in your hands.


There should be a graphic superimposed over every news show saying, "News" so we can tell that it's supposed to be a news show.

No political commentator should be allowed to spend more time criticizing a commentator on a different network than on discussing the issues.

I hope a law is finally passed to outlaw the contestant interviews in the middle of "Jeopardy."


I wish that restaurant bathrooms would stop having cutesy pictures on their doors to indicate which sex they're for. Let's get rid of the sometimes confusing drawings and just label them all "Men" or "Women."


Let's go for a whole year without "experts" pretending that anybody really knows why the stock market goes up or down.


Let's go for a whole year, okay, a whole week without a big-time athlete being arrested.

I'd like to see Brett Favre finally retire. No, maybe he shouldn't. Oh, okay. He should.


To those clever men and women who have mixed and created breeds such as Labradoodles (a Lab and a poodle mix), Jugs (a Jack Russell and a Pug), Peke-A-Teses (a Maltese and a Pekingese), and others, please slow down. Give it some real thought before you go ahead with more creations. I mean, does anybody really want to see a Great Dane-ahuahua?

Have a good year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wisconsin Has A Bug

We all know that states have "official" animals, birds, and flowers. Until I did a little research, I didn't know that there were also state insects, amphibians, and reptiles. For example, the state insect of New York is the ladybug, Missouri's reptile is the three toed box turtle, and the official amphibian of Washington is the Pacific chorus frog. However, recently Wisconsin has taken this naming of living things a step further. America's Dairyland, whose state dance is the polka, has been in the news lately because there is a bill before the state legislature to name a State Germ.

Representative Gary Hebl has introduced a bill that would make the bacterium that helps in the production of cheese the official State Microbe of Wisconsin. This supposed beloved microbe is as easy to say as it is for someone to say "she sells seashells" after downing a few six-packs of Wisconsin's state drink. The microbe is called the Lactococcus Lactis.

Hebl feels that his bill would pay homage to Wisconsin's cheese heritage while also promoting its image as an important location for biotechnology and microbiology research. Isn't it nice that instead of spending all of their time on a depressing subject like unemployment, some legislators want to brighten their constituents' day by debating what should be the state microbe?

Regina Whitemarsh, a microbiology student at the University of Wisconsin, is all for the measure. In fact, she said, "I think other states would try to think of other, cooler microbes to pick but I don't think they could find one, so they'd be jealous."

I had never thought about being jealous of another state because of its microbe. But now that Wisconsin's Whitemarsh has thrown down the gauntlet, she has my attention and she should have yours. She has scoffed at us and challenged the rest of the country to find "cooler microbes" for their states. Game on.

How hard can it be to come up with a "cooler microbe?" Microbes are the oldest form of life on Earth. There are billions of them -- just in and on our bodies. The three major types of microbes are bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Let's throw out protozoa. It sounds too much like high school biology. Nobody wants to be the Protozoa State.

That leaves bacteria and viruses. Right off the bat, let's ask the big question: would any state want to declare itself the Swine Flu State or the Land of N1H1? Even if they mean that their state is so strong they aren't worried about taking on swine flu, I just don't see it appearing on any mugs or license plates.

I think going with something well known might be the way to shut down Wisconsin. If I were a governor, I'd quickly sign up for the Common Cold State. I know the cold is made up of many viruses, but who said we have to limit ourselves to one? Objectively speaking, doesn't California, the Common Cold State have a better ring to it than Wisconsin, the Lactococcus Lactis State?

Another way to go is with the microbe that keeps many kids out of school each year -- the Streptococcus. Strep throat is no joke. People have to take it seriously, so they'd have to take seriously the state that adopted the Streptococcus. In any case, it would be an interesting battle -- the one between the Lactococcus and the Streptococcus. In the spirit of fairness, may the best ococcus win.

Scientists believe there is a "good bacteria" that helps keep our breath smelling nice. Does good breath trump good cheese? Only time will tell if a state grabs the anti-bad breath bacteria for its very own.

We often hear that yogurt contains good bacteria that helps with digestion and other things. If there is to be a "Yogurt State," it will probably be a blue state politically. I'm afraid the conservative red states will feel that yogurt is "too French."

Like an infection in a science fiction movie, once this fight for the best microbe gets going, I don't know that anyone will be able to stop it. It's all pretty shocking. I never would have guessed that a nice, Midwestern state like Wisconsin would challenge the rest of the country to a new kind of germ warfare.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Come On Down

There is already a lot of talk about the 2010 elections. Will the Democrats lose their majority? Will Republicans get more unified by then? Will there be a reappearance of the dreaded chad? With all this talk about Congressional elections, an important ballot measure is being lost in the fog of partisan politics. Next year, Denver voters will be asked to approve the establishment of an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. No, this is not about members of Congress having affairs in space (although all bets are off if there are motels out there). This is about creating a mood in Denver that would welcome beings from outer space to the Mile High City.

The ballot measure, which got the required number of signatures, is the idea of Denver's Jeff Peckman who describes himself as "an entrepreneur." That's not the word that everyone is using to describe him. In his defense, his initiative doesn't claim that extraterrestrials definitely exist. He's just saying that if they do exist, we should be friendly to them.

At the same time that there is this "take an alien to lunch" attitude going on, space travel is becoming more and more of a reality. Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Everything, recently said that he'll have a spacecraft ready to start commercial flights in 2011 or 2012. There won't be an economy class on this craft. A ticket will cost $200,000 for a 2 1/2 hour flight about 60 miles above Earth.

I know what you're thinking: nobody's going to pay that kind of money. Think again. So far, about 300 people have put down $40 million in deposits to guarantee a seat on this spaceship.

"Space funerals" are also becoming more and more popular. One Houston company takes the ashes of hundreds of people at a time into space. If we really want a friendly relationship with extraterrestrials, I don't think dumping the ashes of dead people in their neighborhood is the best approach.

But I do think having a friendly, welcoming attitude towards beings from outer space is a nice idea if they ever visit us. In most science fiction movies, they're perceived as enemies rather than friends. They're often characterized as beings who are trying to take things that are important to us -- our water, our air, our minds. This is somewhat ironic, because people who are in favor of our traveling to other worlds often feel that it could be a great opportunity for us to find alternative fuels, bring back clean water, or dump our garbage. In other words, we would do to them the very things that the "evil aliens" in those movies do on earth. Maybe they're just trying to beat us to the punch.

Mr. Peckman believes those who live millions of miles away from us are very intelligent. This is also a common element of many science fiction stories and movies. I've often wondered, why are these beings generally thought of as so smart? Aren't they just as likely to be dumb? Maybe they'd land on earth and barely be able to speak. Maybe they'd decide to go for a drive in the middle of rush hour. Maybe they'd go to a high school reunion before going on a diet.

But smart or dumb, I agree with Peckman that we should plan on being good hosts. However, there is one group which is quite outspoken in their negative reaction to Peckman's initiative. This group that feels the proposal is unnecessary and rather silly is the Colorado state chapter of MUFON. On the off chance that you are unfamiliar with MUFON, it stands for the Mutual UFO Network. So, those who are serious about UFO's think this "be nice to extraterrestrials" idea is ridiculous. Maybe people who believe in werewolves laugh at those who believe in vampires.

There's probably another group that wouldn't be enthusiastic about the proposal. I don't think they'd be hospitable if aliens from another planet dropped in on us for a visit. I can just imagine their rhetoric: "I'm not against legal extraterrestrials, but those illegals have no place here. Those Martians who sneak into our atmosphere are taking jobs away from Americans."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Toying WIth Us

'Tis the season to get stressed out shopping for toys and games, so I thought I'd help reduce some of that strain. Reading this should make your trips to the toy store shorter and your visits to the holiday medicine cabinet less frequent.

If toys were capable of having an ambition, they would all want to be inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. But not every toy can get into the Hall which is located in Rochester, New York. If they didn't have stringent requirements, toys like chattering teeth and the Home Version of the Judge Judy Show would be in the hallowed Hall. In the 11 years that the Hall of Fame has been in existence, only 44 toys have made the cut. This year, the Big Wheel, the Gameboy, and -- hold on to your Silly Putty -- the wheel. That's right. Considered one of the first and greatest inventions, the wheel had been neglected until this year. Even though it certainly deserves recognition -- the stick and the ball were inducted earlier -- I doubt that many of you will be buying a wheel for your favorite tot.

Kids might love having a wheel just as toddlers love playing with the box that toys come in. However, advertising and peer pressure aren't going to allow those simple things to be popular gifts. Let's just say that I don't think Toys 'R Us is going to have a run on wheels this year. Below are some categories of toys that probably will be selling well. You decide if you think any of them will end up in the Toy Hall of Fame.

Games That You Really Don't Have To Buy Because When I Was A Kid You Could Have Them For Free

These include things like Battleship, Jotto, and Pictionary. I actually saw a Tic-Tac-Toe game selling for $19.95. I wonder how much they charge for a box of hide and seek.

Toys That Make Sure Kids Don't Play like We Used To

These toys contribute to the couch potato generation. There is a snowball launcher so children won't have to actually throw snowballs themselves. Also in this category are all kinds of video and computer games, and of course the extremely popular Wii. The Wii allows the entire family to pretend to play all kinds of games in their living room that they could be playing for real outside.

You've Got To Be Kidding Toys

Leading off this category is the Pump Action Marshmallow Blaster. This ridiculous waste of food and money is capable of shooting marshmallows a distance of 40 feet. Unfortunately, there is no literature with this toy that explains why anyone would want to shoot marshmallows a distance of 40 feet. A trivia game with one of the most unfortunate names is called, "Beat the Parents." I hope that none of the kids out there try to combine their "Beat the Parents" game with this year's toy Medieval Axe. And don't worry, toy stores will be selling everything that has to do with "New Moon," a charming story about vampires.

"Hot" Toys For 2009

When I say, "hot toy," I don't mean something like the classic Easy Bake Oven (a member of the Hall of Fame). A very popular toy this year is the Zhu Zhu pet hamster. Kids have always loved hamsters. Of course, since this is 2009, these cute little hamsters are battery operated. For a treat, do you feed them artificial bugs? According to those who claim to know, the Toy Of the Year may turn out to be various versions of Bakugan. In case you're like me and have been sleeping under a rock – hey, remember the Pet Rock? -- Bakugans are toy warriors that are tucked into spheres and then rolled out onto a game card. It might not sound like fun to you, but they just may make kids forget the remote controlled tarantula.

So, which toy or toys do you think will be in the Toy Hall of Fame someday? It's hard to predict. However, if I were in the in the toy business, I think I would be trying to patent and package a game called, "tag." And no, it's not in the Hall of Fame yet.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thr Heroes of Healthcare

I hate to admit it, but some political strategists are geniuses. They have taken something that has been hated, reviled, and scorned by Americans for generations and turned it into an institution that many now believe we must protect, foster, and preserve. No, I'm not talking about telemarketers who call during dinner. I'm talking about the medical insurance industry. Over the years, I've heard many people say, "I love my doctor," but, until now, I never heard anyone say, "I love my health insurance." But to some, medical insurance companies have become the Heroes of Healthcare. During the Great Healthcare Debate, legislators and their "gullibles" are saying they like their current healthcare system so much that they don't want anyone to touch it. In fact, there are claims that the very idea of changing the healthcare system is unAmerican.

Obviously, if people don't like a certain approach or the principles or cost of any of the proposed legislation, they should object. I'm talking about those who now claim that we don't need to change anything about healthcare at all. Not a single Republican voted to even open up debate on the issue. Obviously, they don't think we need to change anything. They're probably even okay with not having any current magazines in the waiting rooms.

When both of my kids were born, we got bills from the hospital that included tests for my wife that she didn't get, treatments that she didn't receive, and medications that weren't prescribed for her. Each time I complained to the hospital. They said it was their procedure to bill for all of these things. It was a "package" -- like one of those Las Vegas "Three days, six nights" things or whatever they're called. They couldn't understand why I was so upset, since my insurance company would probably pay for the overcharges. I told them I was upset because the bills didn't represent the truth. They immediately corrected them. They didn't argue or fight or even put me on hold listening to "Moon River." This showed me that they knew the bills were unfair. Unfair? They even charged my wife for ice. I guess we're lucky they didn't ask us to chip in for the air-conditioning.

Do you know even one person who doesn't have a similar story?

One of the objections of the nay-sayers has to do with the government getting involved in healthcare. Haven't they ever heard of Social Security and Medicare? Would they like those to be abolished, too?

And of course there's the cost objection. These people didn't object to government spending when it came to the Bush and Obama bail-outs of the financial industry, but they don't like the idea of spending whatever it takes to fix healthcare. Oh I forgot, they don't think it needs fixing.

Oh, really?

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, yet, the last time the World Health Organization put out its rankings, we were 37th in healthcare – in between Slovenia and Costa Rica. Don't those who oppose any change think we should at least move up to, I don't know, maybe 15th and kick Iceland's butt out of there?

Usually, our medical bills are so hard to read, that most of us don't bother trying. Couldn't the billing system use a little reform?

When a ride in an ambulance for three blocks costs hundreds of dollars, shouldn't someone look into that?

Is waiting eleven hours in an emergency room okay with those folks who don't want anything changed?

If the Senators were all really voting their "consciences" as so many of them claim, don't you think at least a dozen or so Democrats would disagree with parts of the bill and at least a similar number of Republicans might think, "Hey, that's not bad?" It's an amazing coincidence that on something this complex so many consciences happen to line up with their party's agenda.

I just hope that a whole bunch of Senators don't yell so much in opposition or in favor of the healthcare bill that they hurt their throats. It would be a shame if they had to seek medical attention. Oh, wait a minute. It wouldn't be a problem for them at all. Members of Congress already have great healthcare.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is Disney Goofy?

When it comes to our jobs, we are all replaceable. The current recession has certainly brought this home to many people. There's always somebody who is younger, smarter, or closer to the boss' cousin waiting to step in and take somebody's job. But how would you feel if you lost your job to a cartoon character? That's kind of what happened to noted sportscaster Al Michaels. Michaels is the famous voice America has been hearing on Monday Night Football for years. Next year, he'll be broadcasting Sunday Night Football on NBC. And he'll have that NBC job all because of a cartoon character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It's a bit complicated, but Disney owns ABC and ESPN. Universal owns NBC. Michaels has been working for Disney who wanted Oswald who was owned by Universal. So they made a swap: NBC got Al Michaels, and Disney got Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I wonder how many MBAs they needed to work that out.

Of course, there were other parts of the deal. NBC gave ESPN more access to certain sports events, but the clincher was Oswald. In case you never heard of this lucky rabbit, you're not alone. He was a character created by Walt Disney more than eighty years ago, before Walt came up with that famous mouse of his. Somehow he lost the rights, and somehow Universal/NBC got them.

When I first learned about the deal a few months ago, I thought it was a bit strange. But when I heard Al Michaels' voice the other night on Monday Night Football, I couldn't get it out of my head that this man -- the announcer who, at the 1980 Winter Olympics, came up with the phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?" -- was being traded for a fictional character.

Reacting to the deal, Disney president Robert Iger commented, "... Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself." I guess the corporate people at Disney thought it was important for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to finally get away from the bad influence of the likes of Woody Woodpecker and start hanging out with someone like Bambi.

I admit that I don't understand big business, but are the Disney stockholders really excited that after all these years, they've finally recovered Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? Are they saying things like, "I'm not interested in profits or losses as long as we have Walt's rabbit again?"

What about the kids who watch cartoons? Have they been moping for years, uncooperative at home, and uninterested at school because Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has not been part of their lives? In fact, is this rarely seen rabbit what's been missing from American culture all these years? Would the crime rate have gone down and the literacy rate have gone up if we all had just watched Oswald as children?

Who knew that a cartoon character that most of us had never heard of could be so important? And if Oswald is this significant, other cartoon characters might have equal value in American society. When our economic situation started going downhill, should our top economists have consulted Scrooge McDuck? Instead of concentrating on Brad and Angelina, should all those gossip magazines really be focusing on Boris and Natasha? Rather than turning to all those diet gurus, should millions of Americans be commiserating with Porky Pig?

Oswald won't be calling the football games next year instead of Al Michaels, but maybe we're just a slip on a banana peel away from something like that happening. A television performer's career is precarious at best. We've all seen actors and actresses replaced on shows by others who are younger, blonder, or willing to work cheaper. But at least these people were replaced by actual humans. How would you feel if you got back to the office from lunch one day and Tweety Bird was sitting at your desk?

Anything's possible in television. Trading places with cartoon characters could start a trend. Who knows? Maybe David Letterman will end up at ABC in a trade for Fred Flintstone. At least CBS wouldn't have to worry about Fred fooling around.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Heels Who Caused The Recession?

There are many theories about what caused the current recession. Some feel it had to do with sneaky mortgages. Others believe it was the result of greedy Wall Street. And there are those who always look for somebody to blame who believe our financial problems are the result of the Republicans, the Democrats, aliens from outer space, or some secret society that meets every Thursday at the Holiday Inn. All of these people should just look down at their feet. That's right. I'm suggesting it's possible that shoes caused the whole financial downturn.

In recent months, many consumers have not been making purchases unless they think the items are absolutely necessary. This has been the case across the board -- except when it comes to shoes. All kinds of shoes have been selling very well in the last few months while the rest of the economy continues to struggle.

People almost always buy shoes for themselves. I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever gotten shoes as a gift. You never hear the slogan, "Say it with shoes." So some people buy shoes for themselves as a treat. The thinking goes like this: "We can't afford a new car or to renovate the kitchen, so I'll buy myself a nice pair of shoes." If people are feeling low because of their low bank accounts, I guess they feel that shoes will lift their well as their arches.

I worry that with some of the wealthier consumers, there might be a "let them eat cake" philosophy. Perhaps there are people who think things like, "I don't get why those people who lost their houses are so upset. Why don't they just go out and buy some new boots?"

Jennifer Black of the research company Jennifer Black and Associates says, "It's just fun to shop for shoes. Maybe part of the fun is you don't feel fat." I've never had fun shopping for anything, but I guess some people do. I understand what Ms. Black is saying: Buying shoes is not as tortuous as shopping for a bathing suit or jeans that you can only put on if a pulley is involved.

Another group of people feel that a new pair of shoes is simply more of a necessity than a new purse or a new tie. Still others buy shoes they feel they need for an inexpensive vacation. Instead of going to a fancy resort, some people are taking advantage of free outdoor activities -- activities in which they wear new outdoorsy shoes.

All of these reasons help explain why shoes are selling so well these days. Congress didn't have to pass a stimulus bill for flip-flops. Shoe sales were $1.5 billion for October, which is the best October shoes have had since 2006.

Because of all of these reasons, I'm suspicious of the shoe industry. For every analyst who's trying to explain why shoes are selling right now, I'm sure the shoe companies have at least one or two analysts of their own. So they would've known ahead of time that during a recession, people would still buy shoes. They would have known that since consumers won't be buying many other things, people might buy more shoes than they'd purchase during good economic times. So a recession might actually help shoe companies.

That's why I'm suggesting that the shoe industry may have caused the recession. Call it the Cobblers' Cabal. Isn't it just possible that those who are able to convince people to buy incredibly uncomfortable shoes are smart enough to bring about a recession? Countless people who don't even run to catch a bus buy expensive running shoes. This is the business that, through brilliant marketing, has millions of people walking around in fur-lined boots in the middle of summer.

To you doubters, let me remind you that during the disco era, people actually bought platform shoes with a see-through heel that contained live goldfish swimming around. If the shoe geniuses can convince the American public to wear little aquariums on their feet, surely they could bring about something as simple as a recession. I'm telling you, there's no business like shoe business.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Smart Dogs

Just about everybody thinks their dog is very intelligent. I never felt that way about any of the dogs I have had. I found the dogs were lovable, cute, loyal, cuddly, and great company, but I never thought of them as that smart. I used to tell people that I never met a dog who could beat me at chess.

On the other hand, I had to admit that dogs did seem smarter than people in some ways: a dog would never bomb a country killing hundreds of thousands of people. A dog would never accidentally send out an e-mail to his boss, bad mouthing the boss. And a dog would never tell a woman that she "looks thinner in the other dress."

The New York Times recently reported that Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia has done some interesting work with dogs and intelligence. He found that dogs can do pretty well on language learning and other tests devised for infants and toddlers. He went so far as to say that the average dog is about as intellectually advanced as a 2-to 21/2 year old child. That's where I feel he went too far.

A dog as smart as a toddler? Show me a dog who is smart enough to always spit up on his mother's outfit right before she's supposed to go out.

But all of this discussion of who's smarter, a dog or a human isn't looking at things right. I was guilty of the same thing until recently. Perhaps like most people, I was thinking of dogs' intelligence as the same kind of intelligence that humans have. It's like people who feel that if there is life on other planets, those beings will have the same kind of thoughts and feelings that we have. Dogs don't need to be smart the same way we are in order to be smart.

Service dogs have been demonstrating this more and more. Not only can they smell drugs in a suitcase -- or that salami you thought you'd be able to sneak in, but they help all kinds of people with various medical needs. We're all used to seeing dogs helping the blind. Lately, dogs have been paired with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with posttraumatic stress disorder. Somehow, the dogs seem to know how to calm down these veterans when the vets need it most. Some small studies have even indicated that because of their good sniffers, dogs have been able to sniff out lung and other cancers before doctors can detect them.

Dogs also work with epileptics. They become anxious before their human buddy has a seizure. Then they bark and lick his or her face and arm. Nobody knows how a dog could know this in advance. Perhaps it's a kind of intelligence we just don't have.

Rather than just appreciating what wonderful minds dogs have, I fear that there will always be some people who compare their intelligence with ours. I used to be the same way, like when I'd say my wise guy line about dogs not being able to play chess. So I believe there will always be people who will mock their intelligence by saying that "obviously humans are smarter than dogs in every way." To them, I'd just like to present an image that most of us see every day. An owner and a dog are walking down the street. The dog does, well, what comes naturally, while the owner cleans it up. Which one is the smarter one?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Air Sickness

When I first heard about those two pilots who recently overshot the Minneapolis airport by over 100 miles, I was stunned. However, when they said the reason they weren't paying attention to flying was because they were looking at one of their personal laptops , I just nodded my head, knowingly. We've all seen people who get so absorbed in their computers or other electronic devices that they lose track of time and everything else. I've done it now and then. Of course, when I do it, I don't have 144 passengers sitting behind me.

For an hour and eighteen minutes, the pilots didn't respond to their radio. Air traffic controllers had no explanation for what was going on. Federal counterterrorism agencies were so alarmed by the plane's erratic actions that they put fighter jets on alert. The pilots claimed they were on the computer for the entire hour and eighteen minutes going over some new airline scheduling software. Come on. If these pilots are the kind of people who are on their laptops every chance they get and they were on it for an hour and eighteen minutes, do you really think they were just checking out some dull airline software the whole time?

During those seventy-eight minutes, if they got an email, don't you think they read it? Maybe they checked on how their stocks were doing. Perhaps they were playing "Tiger Woods' PGA Tour" or "Street Fighter IV." For all we know, they were looking at porn while the plane flew at 37,000 feet.

I'm sure they felt that they could be on the computer and still pay attention to flying the airplane. And why not? How hard can it be to fly an Airbus A-320?

We don't see something as serious as this every day, but we all know this mentality. It's the rationalization used by people who talk on their phones while they drive: "I can concentrate on the road while I talk." It's what people say when they're being electronically rude: "Don't worry, I can pay attention to what you're saying and send an e-mail at the same time." It's the same thought process used by all those people who text while they're making love. Well, I'm sure somebody does that.

The point is that, without realizing it, people get completely engrossed in their computers, Blackberrys, and iPhones. The New York Times recently reported a Western Washington University experiment that demonstrated this.

They surveyed some people walking around a campus square while a unicyclist in a clown suit pedaled around the same square. After stopping the walkers, the researchers asked, "Did you see anything unusual?" One third of the people who were listening to music while they walked and nearly 60% of the people who were walking with a friend mentioned the clown. But of those people who were walking while they talked on their cell phones, only 8% remembered the clown. 8%! How can they drive or pay attention at a meeting while they're on their phones if they can't spot a clown right in front of them? On a unicycle!

The researchers refer to this phenomenon as "inattentional blindness." Maybe that's what the pilots had. Maybe that's what your kid has as she talks on her cell phone and you're waving your arms in front of her. Maybe that's what that guy in the elevator has as he ignores everyone else and shouts into that ridiculous thing on his ear.

So I guess some people aren't as good at multitasking as they think they are. They should stick to doing one thing at a time – especially if they're flying a plane. There's just one thing about those pilots that I can't get out of my mind: I hope they weren't using that computer to play, "Flight Simulator."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Neighbor Policy

There is a "Neighboring Gap" going on in our country. As opposed to previous generations, many people don't know their neighbors. They'll almost brag that they don't know the people who live next door. I wonder if this is a "trickling down" of the philosophy over the past several years that our country didn't need other countries. Now most people are seeing that we do need other countries, and we are part of the world community. We are also part of our local communities and can't just ignore our neighbors.

Recently, neighbors saw a Halloween decoration of an imitation man on a porch in Marina del Rey, California. They walked past this decoration for five days before it was discovered that it wasn't a Halloween decoration, but was actually their neighbor who had died on his porch. I might not be the most observant person in the world, but I think after at least a couple of days of walking by, I'd be able to tell the difference between a Halloween display and my neighbor.

One of the neighbors said, "He looked fake. It looked like somebody had thrown a dummy over the back of a chair." So this guy who lived nearby was so unfamiliar with his neighbor that he thought he looked like a dummy? He couldn't tell the difference between him and a bunch of rags stuffed into some clothes? I think that the reason he didn't look real to this neighbor and the reason other neighbors ignored what they saw is that they didn't slow down to look. It's a case of "social isolationism," or "I don't know my neighbors, it's none of my business, and I don't want to get involved."

I don't claim to be a perfect citizen or expect anyone else to be perfect, but you've got to admit this incident is pretty shocking. What would have to happen on that block for neighbors to pay attention? In the summer, would they think, "Oh, that's just a Fourth of July display" if they walked past an exploding car? Would they say to themselves, "I don't want to get involved" if they saw the guy down the block loading a missile launcher with a SCUD? Would they stop if they saw their neighbor giving a shower to his new pet elephant?

We've all heard other stories of neighbors not getting involved. People step over bodies on the sidewalk, ignore screams, and drive past accidents. Are they really so busy that they can't stop? What's the difference if they get to Starbucks a few minutes later? They'll still be able to get their Grande Mocha Soy Latte or whatever. Maybe they think they don't have the time to go to the police station. They've got the time. They can always TiVo "America's Biggest Loser." It has nothing to do with how busy they are. They just don't want to get involved.

There are plenty of reasons to get to know your neighbors. They can water your plants and take in the newspaper when you're out of town. They can use the key you gave them to let your kid in your house when he's lost his. They can recommend a plumber that they've used when your bathroom is flooded with 2 feet of water. They can give you all kinds of juicy gossip, which you can choose to listen to or ignore. If they're older, young neighbors can look in on them. If you're young, older neighbors can babysit for your kids. Neighbors can watch each other's houses and call the police if they see something suspicious. You can discuss local schools with them or why that car has been parked around the corner since 1992.

But the biggest reason to get to know your neighbors is because they are your neighbors. We live in a community just as the United States exists in a community of nations. So the next time you see her, smile at that woman who lives down the block. Bring over some cookies to the people next door. Pretend that you like that garage door that the people across the street just painted orange. It really doesn't take that much of an effort to be a good neighbor. Besides, would you really like to be mistaken for a dummy?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where Some Babies Come From

A lot of banks are in trouble these days, but at least one seems to be doing fine. It's a sperm bank. Years ago, when we first heard about sperm banks, people speculated that women would want to have the fathers of their babies be geniuses, or financial wizards, or great athletes. Some thought that the most talented and famous men in the world would be the most desirable donors. But sperm banks never saw people like Bill Gates or Placido Domingo banging down their doors.

However, now at least one of these banks has come up with what it feels is a solution: celebrity look-alike donors. If you would like to have a baby with George Clooney but can't get past his security guards, now you can have a baby with someone who looks like George Clooney.

Southern California's Cryobank has a list of look-alikes that someone considering artificial insemination can check out on their computer. The woman scrolls down the list and finds the name of a celebrity she likes. Next, all she has to do is click and then she'll learn a bit about this look-alike. This information might include his hobbies, his build, and maybe his favorite color. This reminds me of the typical old Playboy Centerfold's info in which we learned that the young lady's "pet peeve" was "sometimes in the sun, I freckle," and her favorite thing was "to shop for shoes." But nobody was signing up to have a child with them.

In our example, the prospective recipient doesn't even get to see a picture of the Clooney look-alike along with his info. That would be a breach of anonymity. All she sees is a picture of the actual George Clooney and an I.D. number that represents the donor.

It would be weird and superficial enough if a woman would choose a donor based on his looks. But these women are choosing a donor because he looks like somebody whose looks they like!

And how closely do these donors really resemble the celebrities? Cryobank's Scott Brown puts it like this: "It's not that our donors look like celebrities, it's that celebrities look like our donors." In other words, there might be some resemblance.

Despite all of the obvious negatives, I have to say that there is one aspect of this process that piqued my interest: I never expected to see Clay Aiken, Errol Flynn, and Prince William on the same list. Yet those names, as well as Harry Belafonte, Jeremy Piven and Manny Ramirez are all on Cryobank's look-alike list. If you want your baby to look like somebody famous who's short, you're out of luck. Donors must be at least 5'9". This leaves me out, so I guess all those women who find columnists attractive will just have to look elsewhere.

There is another feature that is no surprise in these economic times: if you can't pay cash for getting pregnant in this manner, payment plans are available. This gives a whole new meaning to buying on "layaway." I can just imagine the difficult decision at bill-paying time: should I pay off some of my car insurance or my preggy plan?

I get nervous that I won't get what I really want when ordering a pair of running shoes online. How can anyone feel comfortable planning their family by using the internet? Wouldn't you worry for the whole nine months that if you ordered a "Joe Montana" you might end up with a "Joe Mantegna?" What are you going to do then, send the baby back in a postage paid box?

However, as I looked further into Cryobank's services, I found that choosing a donor in this fashion is not as strange, not as casual, and not as foolish as it may seem at first blush. I learned that those women in the look-alike program don't have to choose a donor based solely on his looks. There's something else that can help them make this big decision. It's an intelligent, scientific way for them to learn everything they could possibly want about "their man." You see, for an extra $25, Cryobank will provide you with an analysis of your donor's handwriting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The French Love Us

I always try to embrace the difficult and the easy writing assignments with the same gusto. If I have a hard job, I stare at that job and make sure that I don't blink first. Keeping this absurd mixed metaphor in mind, I went to France recently on an arduous research trip to find out everything I could about the French. Those of you who have been reading my columns for a while, know that this was not my first trip there. However, I vow to go back as many times as necessary to bring my readers the facts about France. I spent three weeks studying the French on the beaches of the Riviera, in the lavender and sunflower fields of Provence, and outside the cafes of Paris solely for the purpose of gathering information. The following is a survey which I conducted. Whether you're a casual reader or happen to be someone from the IRS, I'm sure you'll see that my business trip was worthwhile.

We’ve all heard that the French are cold and snobby and aren't nice to Americans. Supposedly, food is what they take most seriously in life, and they spend more time in museums than at work. I wanted to learn what were false stereotypes and what was the truth. Above all, I wanted to learn how they really feel about Americans these days. For my research, I tried to blend in with the French. In fact, on the beach, I went topless.

For the survey, I tried to get a cross section of people in terms of age, but it was hard to know if I was accomplishing this in a country in which there are more anti-wrinkle creams than ice cubes.

T he Garver Survey, 2009

My first question was whether they felt that since Barack Obama became President, had relations between France and the United States gotten better or worse? About 96% replied that our relationship had gotten better. And only a small percentage of these people were trying to sell me something when they made this reply. The people I talked to seemed to love our President. In fact, 75% of those who filled out my survey feel that Obama is a better president than their own Sarkozy.

80% feel that someday France will have a woman President. Only 48% of those surveyed feel that someday France will elect a black President. My guess is that if this question had been asked in America a year ago, the results might have been similar – that more people felt that we would have a woman President before we elected a black one.

Those who filled out my questionnaire are not all that optimistic about the economy. Only 12% feel that it will recover by the end of 2010, and a gloomy 32% don't feel that it will recover in our lifetime. Seems to me if my wife and I make just one more trip to France, their economy should be just fine.

Since it was France, I couldn't resist asking a couple of questions about sex. Not surprisingly, those questioned felt that French women and men are sexier than Americans. However, I should point out that this was before I got my haircut.

Of all the things that France is known for, including their history, their architecture, their art, a surprising 20% said that the French thing they were most proud of was... the cheese. The cheese! Forget Notre Dame, Impressionism, and the French Revolution. Just pass the Brie.

In at least one way, the French aren't all that different from us. We've all heard about the New Yorker who's never been to the top of the Empire State building. Well, about a third of those surveyed have never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And in this country known for its culture and museums, 36% say they "almost never" go to a museum. They're probably too busy eating cheese.

I realized that it was an imposition for me to interrupt people's busy day and ask them to fill out a questionnaire. So my final question was whether they thought a journalist who stopped them to ask some questions was the most annoying man they had encountered all day or the most handsome and distinguished one. 91% replied that the guy with the clipboard who stopped them to get their opinions was the most distinguished man they had seen all day. Who says the French aren't nice to Americans?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

They'd Rather Text Than Eat

We all know people who act like they would rather text or check the internet than eat. The airlines have noticed this, too. A new survey suggests that more business travelers would choose an airline with WiFi service over flights with meals, free movies, or even convenient arrival times. I understand that when it comes to airplane food, nobody ever asked for "seconds." But to choose the internet over a snack? The survey didn't ask them if they'd rather have WiFi or a promise that their luggage wouldn't get lost, but I have a feeling that they would have gone with the Web. If their luggage gets lost, they'll probably just shrug and buy new stuff on the internet.

76% of the people interviewed would choose an airline based on the availability of in-flight internet service. I tend to choose an airline based on which is the cheapest and then which is the most convenient.

Among others, Southwest Airlines, Delta, and American either already have WiFi on their flights or they will soon. So those people who can't go for more than a few minutes without using their computers or "smart" phones, will be able to fly and check on the weather in Trinidad-Tobago, find out which football players got arrested today, and learn who Jennifer Aniston went out with last night.

I'm not a computer addict, but some people are. It's no joke. In fact, the first American live-in treatment center for internet addiction opened recently. There are many such centers in China, South Korea, and Taiwan where Web addiction is taken more seriously. These are people who spend almost every waking hour playing video games, watching porn, or talking to their virtual friends rather than eating, sleeping, working, or spending time with their families. These folks have fallen on hard times, so it's appropriate that the treatment center is in Fall City, Washington.

Let's move away from the serious to the merely annoying. Like most people, I've had to put up with someone next to me who types away on his computer the whole flight. Intellectually, I understand that a flight is a good opportunity to get some work done, but I usually find it irritating. I almost always think that these people are showing off how important and busy they are. Of course, the corollary to this is the thought, "If you're so important, why are you with me in coach?"

But once in-flight WiFi becomes commonplace, we will have to put up with all kinds of new things. Do you really want to sit next to a teenager who is "Facebooking" for 2000 miles? Can you imagine how important those missives will be? "OMG, we just passed another cloud."

And what will the airlines' policy be on porn? Is there even a way they could ban it? I don’t see how. So forget worrying about what movies the airline will show in front of your kids. Now you'll have to worry about what the guy next to them is viewing on his computer screen. I don't think an airplane is an appropriate place to watch something like, "Julie and Julia...and Jack."

Then there are those who need to check their stocks every few minutes. That's not a good idea for an in-flight activity, either. If the stock shoots way up and your neighbor shouts in celebration, aren't you going to feel a bit jealous that you didn't have that stock? On the other hand, if someone's stock tanks during the flight and they yell in despair, he or she might become a danger to other passengers.

Admit it. If someone next to you is using their computer for the entire flight, it's probably impossible not to glance over there every once in a while to see what's on their screen. In the past, it's been nothing special. Usually, it's business stuff like charts or graphs. Now things may be quite different.

For all I know, the person next to me might be having "internet sex." I'm only human so I'm likely to try to casually look over at my neighbor's screen as he or she is smirking and typing and then smirking lasciviously again. Then I'll be shocked as I read something like: "There is a really annoying guy who keeps peeking at what I'm typing."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sexual Equality Where It Counts

A woman almost won the nomination for President recently, women are heads of universities, CEOs of corporations, and astronauts. The overwhelming majority of Americans are perfectly comfortable with this development in sexual equality. However, there is still a bastion of sexism that plagues our country. Few people bring up this topic, especially in "polite company," but I think our society is ready to deal with it. I'm talking, of course, about public bathrooms.

At sports events, the line for the women's bathroom is often two or three times as long as the men's. This isn't right. Something should be done to fix this situation,
especially since the world of sports purports to be dedicated to fairness.

This isn't the only area where gender issues are involved with public bathrooms. They are the source of much anxiety. For example, when I'm at a restaurant for the first time and I enter the bathroom, there is often a moment as I step inside when I panic and say to myself, "Did I go into the right bathroom?" I can't be the only person who experiences this. Fortunately, this is only a momentary fear, because you quickly notice other people of your gender or you see that symbol of masculinity -- the urinal.

Some restaurants try to be clever with the way they identify the Men's and Women's rooms. Instead of just writing the word "Men" or "Women" on the door, they may have figures that supposedly depict men and women. The restaurateurs might think these drawings are perfectly clear, but often they're not. If I'm in a dark hallway, how am I supposed to tell the difference between a male and a female elk? Sometimes restaurants use symbols that are supposed to represent men and women. They look like some sort of scientific drawings, and I can spend several minutes trying to sort them out. Some restaurants have what they think are clever synonyms for "men" and "women" on the doors like "Ballerinas" and "Danseurs." Yeah, that's really helpful. And of course, if you go to an ethnic restaurant, there's a good chance that they will have the words for "men" and "women" in a foreign language on the doors. They might think this is cute, but the rest of us aren't sure which door is which.

This anxiety about "Men's" and "Women's" rooms brings up the relatively new concept of unisex bathrooms. I'm all for them. Okay, maybe they aren't a good idea at ballparks where, well, things are just too public. But when it comes to those in restaurants and office buildings, why not?

I doubt that you have separate bathrooms for men and women in your house. No, I'm not suggesting that people of different genders use the facilities at the same time. But if it's a public bathroom with just one toilet and a sink, why should someone have to wait for the one that has their gender on the door if nobody is in the other one?

What is it that those who set up separate bathrooms fear that a man or woman will experience if he or she is in the "wrong" one? Are people going to write some graffiti in there, claiming that their gender is better than the other one? "We're Number One At Number One?" I don't think so. My theory is that some of it has to do with the aforementioned plumbing fixture, the venerable urinal. I have the feeling that some women just don't want to be in the same room with a urinal. It's like that annoying cousin whom you avoid at all costs. Some women would rather wait twenty minutes for a room that has flowers and a little couch in it than go into a room immediately if it has a dreaded urinal.

There are two solutions to this problem: the first would be to get rid of these plumbing fixtures, and the second would be for women to just get over their urinal-phobia.

Designing and building more unisex bathrooms would solve so much of this sexual anxiety and politics. No longer would we have to worry that we were in the wrong place. We wouldn't have to try to decipher symbols while we're really in a hurry. And we'd never have to push open another door marked, "Caballeros," "Cheerleaders," or "Wahines." Obviously, the unisex bathroom is the way to go.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by