Friday, August 24, 2012

The Soda Ban = Apartheid

I saw something pretty strange the other day on my bike ride home: an ad on the back of a Pepsi-Cola delivery truck depicting, in silhouette, a man triumphantly raising a cup, as an Olympian might hold his torch or a gladiator might hold up the severed head of his vanquished foe: in a pose of defiant triumph.


This refers, of course, to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of sodapop and other sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces. in an effort to slow the avalanche of childhood obesity.

How dare he!

There has been a surprisingly strong public outcry in opposition of this move here in the city -- there was a hearing about it the other day, and the hearing was attended by activists with signs and everything. Yesterday the New York Times reported on a citywide poll that found two-thirds of city residents not in favor of the motion -- most of those quoted in the piece framed it as a civil rights issue, as in "who is the government to tell me how much soda I can drink?"

Well, a couple things about that: one, the government is not telling you how much soda you can drink. They are telling you that if you want to drink more than 16 ounces, you'll have to buy two. It is an effort at portion control, which studies I have not read have been said to show is one of the most effective tools we have against obesity.

People are not necessarily wrong to feel that this is a government overreach. It kind of is. I'm not sure I want to see it pass, even though I'm certain that I will sleep just fine at night if it does pass. I don't care at all one way or the other. What I find interesting about the debate on the matter is that a debate at all. Not because it's not debateable -- there are strong cases for and against, if you ask me. The fact that anyone cares enough about how much soda they're allowed to drink through one straw to protest it, to make a sign about it and carry that sign on the subway and then wave it around and shout when they get to where they're going is absolutely insane to me. 

Don't let the government take away our right 
to sell you sugared water at a 700% markup!
The country's economy is supposedly terrible (though I must say I would have no idea of that if I didn't read or watch the news). There is a presidential campaign happening, and its results are likely to have a substantial impact on the social contract between the government and its citizens. The nation's banks collapsed as a result of their own greed and recklessness, and no one (no one) has been prosecuted. There have been three firearm massacres in public places in the last six weeks. Government officials are showing shocking ignorance to the rights and basic functions of women's bodies.

And this is what people want to demonstrate about? This is what gets people off the sofa: ironically, the idea that they might have to get off the sofa more than once to slake their unquenchable thirst for demonstrably, obviously fattening beverages? I'm sure there's a perfect Woody Guthrie protest song for this occasion, it's just too bad poor Pete Seeger isn't here to sing it.

Having said that: Look. If you are an adult, and you feel like you need 32 ounces of Co-Cola to get through a movie -- and if you are such a person, I would be interested to hear your bathroom strategy -- I don't begrudge you that right. But this is not about you. It's about the kids. I spend a lot of time with a 5-year-old boy these days, and I have learned a thing or two (and been reminded of a thing or two) about the way kids are with sodas and sugary things in general.

Put simply: they are like junkies. Once they've had a taste of a Coke or a Sprite or a Dr. Pepper, they will lie, cheat, or steal to get more. Kids don't drink beer or booze, they drink sugar, and sugar, as my good friend Colin told me when his son was my son's age, is the gateway drug.

When she burps it smells like Freedom

This morning at breakfast we had an argument that we have a lot: My son protested that I hadn't poured enough milk in his cereal. He had not eaten any cereal yet; he hadn't even put his spoon in the bowl. He just looked at it and felt it didn't look like enough milk. I stood my ground and told him it was enough milk, and after a little more back-and-forth he went ahead and started eating. A few minutes later, after he'd eaten most of his Cheerios, I pointed out that there was still a good bit of milk left in the bowl.

Here's the point: kids don't do portion control. If they know they like it, there is no such thing as too much of it. My wife jokingly suggested that we fill a mixing bowl with Cheerios and milk, and the boy readily agreed to that plan.

And this is just plain Cheerios, a food he's lukewarm on at best. If I offered him a 64-ounce Coke, which would be more Coke than he has blood in his body, he wouldn't just take it, he'd run off with it and hide it somewhere. He gets this look in his eyes, when he gets a little taste of something sugary and knows there's more to be had in the vicinity: it's like a crazed raccoon or a dude on a (small-c) coke jag.


So if a kid walks up to the snack counter at the movies, or at the mall, or wherever, chances are that kid is going to order the biggest soda he can carry. As the rise of giant soda options seems to have coincided with the rise in childhood obesity in this country, it doesn't seem like a terrible idea to me to restrict that kid's portion to 120% of his actual stomach capacity.  If that seems an inconvenience to those of us who like our beverages big enough to have an undertow, well, buy a second one and slurp away with my gravest sympathies for this awful infringement on your personal rights.

One more time, to be clear: I don't care if this law passes. My relationship to it is the same as my relationship with the Mets: I'm not rooting for it, and I'm not rooting against it. I can see the logic of it, but that's as far as it goes. But if you are really upset about it, I would suggest that you a) closely examine your relationship with soda, because nothing sold in such bright-colored packaging should inspire such passion, and b) redirect your efforts to something a little more substantial, like getting Caprica uncanceled or making sure the fat guy doesn't win The Voice

Friday, August 17, 2012

Obama Staged The Moon Landing

A couple of nights ago Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, last seen in the mortifying Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster groveling/mending fences with Lars Ulrich 20 years after being kicked out of the band for excessive debauchery -- quite a feat in a band once known to friends as "Alcoholica" -- made some controversial comments onstage with Megadeth in Singapore.
Behold the face of stupid

Megadeth is one of those bands that's been around forever but who no one seems to like. I am certainly no stranger to metal, but I don't think I've ever actually heard a Megadeth song. The only thing I know about them is that Mustaine started the band when he got kicked out of Metallica, and that they are credited with bringing political awareness to thrash metal, on the strength of their 1987 album Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?

I never gave much thought to what Mustaine's political point of view might be on that or any of his subsequent records. Turns out it is somewhere to the right of Timothy McVeigh. 

"My president is trying to pass a gun ban, so he's staging all of these murders," Mustaine told the crowd, and then went on to list the Aurora massacre, the Sikh temple massacre, and the "Fast & Furious" operation in Mexico as examples.

I have to wonder what Dave means by "staging." Does he mean that these murders were faked, like the moon landing? Was no one actually killed in Colorado? Or in the Sikh temple? Or maybe Dave means that the president arranged these massacres, like Bush arranged 9/11? Either way, it's clear who the bad guy is in these tragedies: President Barack Obama.   Obviously, both suggestions are insane and not even worth discussing (as are those about the moon landing and 9/11, I should add in case your sarcasm detector is low on batteries), but either way, Dave is voicing an extreme version of a common Right-wing opinion: Barack Obama has a radical secret anti-gun agenda all set up and ready to go the moment public opinion swings his way. The NRA has devoted itself for the last 20 years to screaming this message from the rooftops: The Democrats are coming to take your guns! It's the organizing principle of all the NRA's fundraising and voter turnout drives, and it's worked out great for the GOP. The thing is, there is no secret gun control agenda. It's a political nonstarter and it always has been. For a variety of reasons ranging from silly to totally legitimate, there's not a swing state in the Union that would go blue if serious gun reform on a national level were part of the Dems' platform, and any Democrat running for national office is smart enough to stay away from the issue completely. (Obama never mentioned it at all during the 2008 campaign.) Even if they'd like to, and I'm sure a lot of Democrats would, they will never, ever make any real move toward gun control. I feel as secure making this prediction as I would predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow and that the Knicks will be terrible again this year. How can I be so sure? First, because of the political reality I just described. Americans, particularly the ones who live outside big cities, love guns, and that's not going to change anytime soon. Second, because Obama, whose top adviser was once quoted as saying the administration should "never let a crisis go to waste," has not said a single word (A SINGLE WORD) about gun control, even after an obvious head case marched into a movie theater armed to the teeth with legally purchased weapons and opened fire. Nor did he say a word about it when a congresswoman was shot in the head in a parking lot. Or when a group of people were shot in their place of worship. If there was ever going to be a moment where the public might be inclined toward some gun control, we are right in the middle of it, and Obama has not (and will not, mark my words) made even a nod in that direction. The Democrats are generally a pretty pathetic bunch, in terms of strategy and messaging and purchasing suits that fit. But give them this: at least they focus their opposition on reality. They're worried that Republicans will try and privatize Social Security -- imagine for a moment how that would have worked out in the fall of 2008 when the banks collapsed -- because Republicans tried to privatize Social Security. Campaigned on it, published papers about it, and George W. Bush made it his first priority in his second term. Democrats worry that Republicans want to deregulate the banking industry, despite the clear result of lax regulation in the fall of 2008, because Republicans are out there campaigning on it right now. Democrats worry that Republicans will drive up the national debt, because they are promising reduced revenue without specifying any offsetting spending cuts. Democrats worry that Republicans want to start a war in Iran because they can't stop talking about it, and because they just did it in Iraq ten years ago. On the other hand, all of Republicans' worries about what Democrats want to do seem to be based on guesses and extrapolations and their imaginations and their nightmares, and are frequently in direct contradiction to their actual deeds: Obama's a Socialist! (A Socialist who saved the largest Capitalist enterprise in the history of this nation, General Motors.) He hates bankers and wants to put them out of business! (Prosecutions against the executives responsible for the banking crisis: zero.) He wants the Government to take over health care! (But he still bent over backward to keep the for-profit insurance model in place.) He wants to kill your grandma! He wants to give full amnesty to illegal immigrants! He wants to, he wants to, he wants to. Dear Republicans: There are genuine and substantive differences between your positions and those of the Democrats. They do not require embroidery or embellishment. For example: given the required majorities, the Democrats will raise upper-bracket tax rates from 36% to 39%. We know this because a) they've said so repeatedly and b) they've done it before (1992-2000, which we all remember as the worst economic period of the last... wait, let me check my dates.). Please do us all the favor of focusing your campaigns and your rhetoric and your misspelled signs on those real differences, so that we might have intelligent and informed debates on the issues and, with a little luck, perseverance, and goodwill, perhaps form a more perfect union.
Or you can just keep making shit up. Whatever.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Paging Dr. Google

I could have gone to pieces when my wife told me she has Parkinson's Disease. But I feel that with things like this, it's best not to overreact. To stay calm, because it's what she needs from me. It won't do either of us any good if we're both panicking. I could get emotional, I could start railing at the fates, but I've learned that it's best to stay calm when talking one's spouse out of her self-diagnosis.

Because she doesn't have Parkinson's Disease. She has a runny nose and a sore back and a headache. But thanks to the wonders of Google, she can search on those symptoms and get a whole array of possibilities. And wouldn't you know, she tends to skip right over the ones like "common cold" and "24-hour flu" and spend the next 48 hours agonizing between it being Hepatitis or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

If, as the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it seems in the Internet era that a lot of it is even worse. Certainly, for certain things, it's great to be able to tap into the giant hive mind that is the Internet and apply its accrued wisdom. Computer problems are the best example I can think of. I can't remember the last time I called tech support, or took my computer somewhere to fix it; I just Google whatever it's doing (or not doing), and pretty soon I've solved my problem. I rewired my whole house armed only with a pair of pliers, a quart of screw-on wire couplers, and my computer. I'm sure if I was one to work on my own car, the Internet would be an invaluable resource.

But working on cars and computers, even your own, is not the same thing as trying to figure out what's wrong with your own body. No matter how much you love your car, it's still possible -- difficult, maybe, but still possible -- to take a step back and think rationally about it. But, in the absence of the ten-year medical education and real-world experience that doctors bring to bear in an exam, and burdened instead with the natural anxiety and fear and emotion that are such an unfortunate part of the human condition, the accumulated medical learning of the last thousand years is reduced to a demented Rorschach test, where our worst mortal worries can flower into awful purple-thorned tentacles choking off all our better logical impulses.

Thus, when my wife gets a little sweaty under the blankets at night from time to time, the likely and relatively benign diagnoses of hypoglycemia, or "idiopathic hyperhidrosis" (literally, sweating for no reason) -- are immediately and automatically overlooked in favor of the much scarier early menopause. (The conception of our son put this particular worry to rest -- for a while, anyway.)

When she has a short muscle spasm, it's not just a cramp, or fatigue, or restless leg syndrome; not when Lou Gehrig's Disease and Multiple Sclerosis are at the bottom of the page. When she gets a canker sore, it's obviously Herpes, even though she's been with me for 14 years and I don't have Herpes.

There's a wide array of these medical websites, chock-full of terrifying information for the so inclined, and they are of course full of warnings and disclaimers;  Each listing of possible causes of a given symptom is prefaced by the warning that before any diagnosis can be made, a full accounting of a person's age, medical history, and family history must be analyzed by a doctor. But those warnings are like the "please drink responsibly" in tiny print at the bottom of a beer commercial depicting 400 people bouncing on a roof to terrible music and in no way drinking responsibly: that is to say, a pro forma indemnification, there only to be ignored. In the heat of a fevered (fever being the surest sign of bacterial meningitis, by the way) late-night Google session to determine the cause of one's diarrhea, cooler heads that might point to any number of innocuous causes are hard to come by -- likelier is the conclusion that acute cirrhosis of the liver has set in, and death is imminent.

I'm not exactly innocent here -- I've certainly been known to self-diagnose via Google. But where my wife will take the opportunity to confirm her worst fears (or in many cases, welcome some brand-new ones), I tend to go the other way: I've been having a lot of head rushes when I get up lately -- actually fainted a couple of times, in fact -- and when I Googled that problem I passed by "Addison's Disease" and "Multiple System Atrophy" and decided "Low Blood Pressure" must be the problem, because it's benign and there's no need to go to the doctor. Case closed!

I hope this doesn't come off as an attack on my wife, because I don't think this tendency of hers is at all unusual -- my it's-probably-nothing approach is probably the less common of the two. It's more a measure of how supremely fucked the healthcare system is in this country: Rather than go to a doctor, who in all but a few legitimately awful cases would dispel their patients' fears and send them on their way with an Advil and a few minutes' free therapy, we're all forced to try and figure this shit out ourselves. It seems better than the alternative, which is to try and navigate the primary care physician out of network referral deductible maze that is the modern HMO.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm having a hard time concentrating on writing this -- I just Googled "loss of concentration" and in only two clicks I determined that I'm in the midst of a congestive heart failure, so I'm going to sign off and try and dash off a living will real quick.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Snoop Dogg's New Record Is A Name-Changer

Snoop Doggy Dogg
Snoop Dogg
Snoop Lion
This week I saw one of the most -- I don't want to say "unbelievable" in a world where a sentient tetherball named Snooki gets paid seven figures to wobble drunkenly around the boardwalk in lucite heels, so let's go with "interesting" -- one of the most interesting pop culture developments in a few minutes: Snoop Dogg has changed his name again.

His first name change was in 1998, when, once again following the example of John Cougar Mellencamp (as has always been his wont), Snoop dropped the frivolous "Doggy" to go with the much more upright "Snoop Dogg." Now he's switched again to "Snoop Lion," which is of course a nod to his rich Jamaican heritage, which dates back to last February, when he went there to record an album.

Jumping right over the weird incongruity of putting the words "Snoop" and "Lion" together -- a dissonance on par with "Los Angeles Lakers" and "Utah Jazz" -- everybody went right to a variation on the same joke: "I'm not sure I want to upgrade to Snoop Lion." I love operating system-based comedy!  

But performers change their names all the time these days. Puff Daddy's done it like half a dozen times, and so has Roseanne. Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and NFL wideout Chad Johnson changed his to Chad Ochocinco (Spanish for Eight Five, his jersey number, because he's a genius) and they both changed them back. And I don't think any list of silly name changes would be complete without Metta World Peace, ironically the worst cheap-shot thug in the NBA.

But none of them did what Snoop is doing, which is fundamentally changing what he does. Snoop has been doing rap -- specifically, guns/pimps/hos/Crips/Bloods West Coast gangsta rap -- since 1992, when his guest verses on Dr. Dre's The Chronic were the obvious highlight of an instant classic. His solo debut, Doggystyle, was released a year later, and is to this day one of the five best hip-hop albums ever made (for my money), if not the best. (I'm partial to the G-Funk, what can I say.)

We can argue about which is the best rap album ever -- I'm biased to the classics of the early '90s myself -- but I would contend that Snoop is the best rapper ever. His voice is a totally distinctive instrument, like Coltrane's or Eddie Van Halen's.  It only takes one word to know who you're hearing. He lays way back on the beat, which makes everything way funkier (it's no accident that Doggystyle is constructed almost entirely from P-Funk samples). And, above all, he makes it seem so, so easy. He never raises his voice, he never runs out of breath, and he never falls off the beat. There are a lot of great talent out there, but if there's a better rapper than Snoop out there, I haven't heard him. I concede, of course, that without a Dr. Dre-level producer, his records aren't that great. I haven't even heard one in years. Has he had a hit since "Drop It Like It's Hot?" What was that, like '96? (And by the way, why is "Drop It Like It's Hot" the only Snoop song club DJs ever play when it's like the eleventh best Snoop song?) Anyway, yeah, his records have been spotty since Tha Doggfather, but I'd still insist that in terms of pure microphone talent, Snoop is in a class by himself. Which is why it's so surprising that he wants to give it all up and be, of all things, a reggae artist. Yes, Snoop went to Jamaica to record his 12th rap record, but he quickly went native, and (he says) was "called by the spirit" to abandon his familiar idiom, grow some dreadlocks, smoke a massive amount of Mother Nature (though to be fair, he would have done that anyway) and make a dub reggae album. Other than Dee Dee quitting the Ramones to make the worst rap record ever, or Garth Brooks turning into Chris Gaines and making the worst emo-soft rock record ever, I can't think of any analogue to this in the music world. But I can think of one in the sports world. In 1993, after his third consecutive NBA title, and third consecutive Finals MVP, Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls, claiming that he'd lost his motivation, having reached the pinnacle of his career and having nothing left to prove. At his press conference announcing this new reggae album, Reincarnation, Snoop said much the same thing: "Rap is not a challenge to me. With no disrespect to other rappers, but they can't fuck with me in rap ... I've won every accolade you can get." These two press conferences were exactly the same, except that Snoop's smelled like a kennel that only boarded skunks.
When Jordan quit, rather than disappearing into the world of million-dollar golf skins games like everyone expected, he surprised everyone by signing a minor-league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox and playing a season with their farm team, the Birmingham Barons. He didn't change his name, but he traded his signature number 23 for 45. Everyone thought he'd fall on his face, and while he didn't make the majors or anything, he did put in a respectable showing before returning to the NBA a year and a half later, where he promptly won three more titles, three more Finals MVPs, and two more league MVPs. One could argue (and many did) that the time away from "the game of basketball" (as Jordan insisted on calling it at all times) refreshed his love of the game and was essential to the Bulls' second three-peat.   So maybe that's what's happening with Snoop. Let's face it, Snoop is not the angry, downtrodden 22-year-old Crip that took over the rap game with "Gin and Juice" and "What's My Name." Dude has been a kajillionaire for almost 20 years now. He's neither pimping, nor strapped. If you step to him, his likeliest reaction is to step back quickly to get out of the way of his eleven bodyguards, who will soon teach you not to step to Snoop. (They may or may not teach you how to Dougie. See kids? I'm hip!) The point is this: rap is an angry young man's game, and despite his peerless microphone skills, Snoop is definitely not that. So let him go play baseball for a while. He's not so bad at it: his singsongy tenor was always somewhere between rapping and crooning anyway, and it's pretty well suited for this music. He's even kind of selling the Jamaican accent. And I would argue that this new single has the best production (if not the best material) of any record he's done since he parted ways with Dre. Dude wants to mellow out and smoke tons of weed and sing (sing) about peace and love and Jah? Who could possibly begrudge him that? More than likely though, he'll come back and headline some huge package tour with Ice Cube and Ice-T and the Tupac hologram and the Biggie hologram and the Eazy-E hologram in a couple of years. Maybe he'll even reunite with Dr. Dre for another record (if Van Halen can get back together, absolutely nothing is impossible). You can't make a big comeback if you don't leave. Let's just make sure there's no comeback after that. Nobody wants to see Snoop playing for the Washington Wizards.
Anyway, here's Snoop's new reggae single. Am I completely crazy, or is it not too bad?