Sunday, October 30, 2005

Channeling Jeff Corwin at Flagstaff Medical Center

When you tell people you spent all day Thursday at the hospital, you're invariably received with expressions of sympathy: "Gee, I hope everything's all right", and "Oh, I hope you don't have to go back again soon". Well, everything is all right. And actually, I wouldn't mind going back again soon.

Our local hospital puts on an "expedition" program every few months, during which they invite community members of note to spend a day behind the scenes, basically experiencing a day in the life of the hospital. For some reason, on this week's expedition, this group included me. Presumably, the hospital's goal was to make me a better-informed news person, so that I'd go back to Public Radioland with a raft of interesting story ideas.

Well, I have a few good ones. But there was a bigger raft (a catamaran, perhaps) of exciting, behind-the-scenes information that probably won't make it on Morning Edition. Fortunately, there are no such limitations here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters:
  1. The stylish, jaunty way to wear one's lab coat is hanging open. There were a few retired medical-types on the tour with us, and they all wore their coats buttoned as high as they'd go, looking (minus the bow ties) like a Bill Nye the Science Guy convention. One imagines this was the style in 1960. I looked much cooler. Jaunty or not, no one was actually confusing us with doctors, who by and large were wearing street clothes.
  2. I have a difficult time watching my 16-month old daughter get a flu shot, and yet I happily stood 18 inches from a guy's open chest and watched open heart surgery in action. If this had been on the Discovery Health Network, I would have changed the channel as fast as you could say "Berman and Berman".
  3. Doctors talk about a lot of things during surgery - especially during a heart bypass that could take 10 hours. Still, when you tell people that you talked about college football with a doctor as he performed surgery, it worries them. So I don't mention that. (Instead, I tell them it was just like watching "M*A*S*H", minus the practical jokes.)
  4. Why isn't there an asterisk after the "H" in "M*A*S*H"?
  5. After walking around the hospital for 10 hours, I no longer wonder why nurses would spend $150 on shoes. In fact, I wished I had spent $150 on shoes.
  6. There are a lot of things that medical science can insert into your body to help it recover from various conditions. Many of these look like parts of an alien spaceship. It's worth eating right and exercising so that none of them need to be inserted into your body.
  7. A few years ago, I did voiceover work for a CD-ROM manual for a medical device called a "thoracic excluder". Even as I read the glossary out loud, I wasn't exactly sure what the device did. After spending a day in the hospital and seeing the thoracic excluder in action, I'm still not sure what it does.
  8. Hospital humor: Take 15 people from the community, put them in a conference room, and present a lecture on gastric bypass surgery as you feed them lunch. Be sure to give them enormous slices of chocolate cake for dessert.
  9. Medical people love to use the term "modalities". I think it's because after studying medicine for more than a decade, they'd feel silly using the term "stuff".
  10. It's good to let the doctors and nurses know you're just being amusing - especially in a town with only one hospital, because you're liable to run into them again, most likely when you need part of an alien spaceship inserted into your body.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Not quite the emotion of Disco Demolition Night

I imagine years from now, White Sox fans will tell their grandchildren about 2005 and winning the World Series. They'll talk about the celebrations in the street, the elation after 88 years of mediocrity, and the euphoria of the first non-basketball Chicago sports championship in years. Then they'll scratch their heads and say, "Who did we beat again? I can't remember. The Cardinals? The Dodgers? Huh."

And you won't be able to blame them for the mental lapse. Because the nearly 6-hour-long Game 3 was so stultifyingly dull that viewers' brains began playing tricks on them in time for Game 4. Was Barbara Bush really sitting behind home plate, wearing a rainbow wig, and holding a "John 3:16" sign? Was George the Elder really talking into his cell phone, waving at the camera, and yelling "You suck!" at A.J. Pierzynski? Was Nolan Ryan really the paunchy guy they kept showing sitting in the stands above first base?

The games were so dull, the announcers on Fox had their brains surgically disconnected. How else could you explain clubhouse reporter Jeannie Zelasko's use of the English language while she interviewed World Series MVP Jermaine Dye:

Zelasko: "And isn't it prolific? The White Sox's slogan at the beginning of the
year was 'Win, or die trying.' And here I am talking to Jermaine Dye."

Yeah, it's pretty prolific, all right.

Color commentator Tim McCarver again demonstrated that the circuit from his brain to his mouth bypasses the editing gland, (Jeannie Zelasko, take note) prophesizing that players wouldn't bunt two seconds before they squared around to bunt, and claiming the home run Astros (soon-to-be-ex) closer Brad Lidge gave up in the NLCS was the furthest thing from his mind, two seconds before he gave up another game-losing home run.

For his part, even series MVP Jermaine Dye seemed to appreciate just how exciting a moment the White Sox sweep generated. After being given the MVP trophy and keys to a new car, he thanked Chevrolet before getting around to recognizing his teammates.

And before you accuse me of being a smug Red Sox fan who will consider everything since 2004 anticlimactic, consider two things:
  1. I am a smug Red Sox fan.
  2. But even I'll concede last year's World Series had relatively few truly memorable moments, except for seeing Doug Mientkewicz catching the final out, then seeing all the Red Sox jumping up and down, then seeing everyone in Red Sox Nation start to cry their eyes out.

But the White Sox 2005 win didn't benefit from a ridiculously dramatic playoff series against the Yankees immediately beforehand. ("And, of course, we won the ALCS. Who did we beat again? The Twins? The Orioles? Oh, the hell with it.") And the White Sox, despite the fact they had waited longer then the Red Sox for their World Series title, didn't have 86 years of mind-numbingly asinine ways of losing. For most of that time, they just stank. (Which, now that I think of it, must have been something of a liberating experience. Why wait until the last inning of the season to blow it, when you can be mathematically eliminated in May?) On the other hand, the Baseball Gods definitely owed one to the White Sox, after making them wear shorts for one game back in 1976, and for making them forfeit Game 2 of the doubleheader on Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

Regardless, congratulations are due to the White Sox, and their exciting four-game sweep of whoever it was.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Over to the dark side

The other day, I casually mentioned to a public radio colleague that I had added myself to the growing rolls of subscribers to XM. I thought he'd be interested, since his show is actually broadcast over XM. But I detected more than a touch of scorn in his voice as he also noted you could hear his show for free, over the internet, as well. Forgetting for a moment that both alternatives aren't all that convenient - the show's on XM at 4 a.m. Pacific on Saturdays and I'm still on a dial-up modem at home - his reaction is pretty common among fellow public radio people.

There's a lot of concern about satellite radio -- not just in public radio circles, but among many local broadcasters, who basically worry about any new competition. But public radio broadcasters have some unique concerns; namely, that people will bypass their local station and just listen to their favorite programs via satellite. And when pledge drive comes along, all the totebags in the world won't save the local stations. So I thought long and hard about taking the leap.

Or at least short and soft. (I'll quit that metaphor before it starts to sound too suggestive.)

The problem with satellite radio is it pits two parts of the public radio person's psyche against one another: The need for self-preservation versus the need to have neat electronic gizmos. And above all, my little XM unit is a pretty neat gizmo, and definitely brightens up the interior of my '87 VW.

I've noticed that internal conflict in some of my other colleagues. I've met people at other stations who subscribed to satellite radio under the guise of "opposition research", along the lines of a political candidate giving money to his opponent so that he can receive campaign mailings. My boss, who has more than one iPod, has resisted the temptation thus far, but has also shown an uncanny interest in my radio, to the degree that he volunteered to take it on his upcoming vacation. (No.)

The excuse that finally made it easy for me (aside from the fact I got my radio as a gift) was NHL hockey game broadcasts. It's tough to be an Ottawa Senators fan in Flagstaff, Arizona. Perhaps it's not a hardship on par with what survivors of Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Pakistan are dealing with, but a challenge nonetheless.

The only national hockey broadcasts are now on the OLN Network, previously known only for endless Tour de France and bull riding telecasts. OLN is available on my local cable provider's digital cable package, which would be okay, except their schedule reveals no Senators games at all. The other option would be buying a TV satellite dish and then the NHL Center Ice package, but my 16-month old has probably seen too many beer commercials already without needing to see Canadian ones, too.

So I have XM for hockey broadcasts. And hey, if I have time, I might check out some of the other channels, though public radio still seems like a good option, compared to XM stations with names like "Fungus", "Squizz", and "Hank's Place". And after listening for the past few days - even as I was simultaneously on the airwaves in northern Arizona - I found nothing approaching the humor of Car Talk and Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!, or the breadth of Morning Edition. And so I imagine there will be a large place in people's listening habits for local public radio for years to come.

In fact, I'm listening to NPR's All Things Considered right now. And it'll stay on my radio, at least until the Senators-Hurricanes game starts. In ten minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I get press releases, Vol. 23: Kimchi!

As we've previously noted, the avian flu is not a particularly light topic (except if you're talking about the mass of the actual flu germs itself, in which case it's an extremely light topic), but that hasn't stopped the world's massive public relations operations from hoping to interest us in a variety of sidebar stories, which if nothing else, allow reporters to be distracted from the dreary thrust of the story, and -- as a side benefit -- possibly write ridiculously long lead sentences.

Therefore, we were thrilled to receive this news release in our 19 Minutes inbox this afternoon:

Scientists Find Kimchi Sauerkraut May Cure Avian Flu
A cure in a meal: U.S. Sauerkraut sales expected to skyrocket

It will not suprise you to learn that the press release was commissioned by the Fremont Company, which "produces nationally distributed consumer and food service products including Franks and Snowfloss Kraut and Mississippi BBQ Sauce." The release heralds the work of Korean scientists, who for reasons unknown, decided to try feeding kimchi to chickens infected with avian flu:

Fremont, OH- October 20, 2005- In yet another indication that Sauerkraut is the superfood of the 21st century, scientists at Seoul National University have successfully used Kimchi Sauerkraut to treat chickens infected with avian flu. Kimchi is a seasoned variety of Sauerkraut that shares Lactobacillus bacteria with traditional Sauerkraut, which may be the critical element in preventing Avian Flu. Both Kimchi and traditional Sauerkraut are made by fermenting sliced cabbage, producing a high level of lactic acid.

According to an October 2005 BBC report, Kimchi was fed to 13 infected chickens and 11 of them started recovering within a week. South Korean Kimchi consumption is up as a result of this report and U.S. sales of Sauerkraut are also expected to spike up.

This does raise a new theory related to our only other Korea-related post, in which we noted that Doosan Bears pitcher Park Myung-hwan had been barred from stashing frozen cabbage under his baseball cap. Perhaps Mr. Myung-hwan was only trying to ward off avian flu with this unusual uniform technique.

That would explain why this same news release goes on to note that

The Fremont Company maintains cross promotional relationships with several major restaurant chains and is distributed in various ballparks and stadiums including Yankee Stadium.
So if the avian flu is the pandemic that some health experts fear, the 19 Minutes staff is expecting to read headlines next year such as:

Public Health Officials Urge Residents to Attend Weekend Yankees-Blue Jays Series

Schumer Introduces Legislation Mandating Yankees Inclusion in Fall Classic
Finally, the news release invites us to
Check out other sexy and unique recipes at
To save you the time, we've already done this, and found the following sexy recipe for (yum!) Sauerkraut Jell-O:
One packet of Jell-O (Any flavor)
1 1/2 cup Sauerkraut
1 Cup cooked carrots
1 tsp of water

1. Make Jell-O according to package

2. Before Jell-O firms, add sauerkraut, carrots and water.

3. Let it firm and enjoy! It's lovely!
Quite frankly, the 19 Minutes staff can't think of anything more sexy than Cranberry-Raspberry Jell-O with sauerkraut and cooked carrots. In fact, we're looking forward to tucking some under our baseball caps this evening.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clearing off my desk, at least mentally

Bringing you up-to-date on the 19 Minutes take on things...

I feel a little bad for Houston Astros fans. Not so bad that I'm rooting for their team, but watching Game 5 of the National League Championship series the other day unearthed an uncomfortable vibe - one that I (and fellow Red Sox fans) hadn't felt since Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Namely, watching your team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. At least the Red Sox had the benefit of losing that game on the road, so the worst visible result (aside from the Sox actually losing the game) was the need for the scoreboard operator to hastily pull down the message congratulating Bruce Hurst, who was going to be named the World Series MVP. Monday night's baseball game featured the somewhat depressing (yet neurotically entertaining) image of 45,000 fans simultaneously express the thought, "WHAA????". And then let out an anguished whine. [And now, this update, 5 hours later: Kudos to the Astros for catching their breath and not following the example of the '86 Sox. I'm still not rooting for them, though.]

Avian flu is not an especially light topic, but it is interesting to note that when you say it out loud, "avian" and "flu" sound vaguely synonymous, along the lines of "nautical" and "swam", or "dyspeptic" and "burped". Maybe it's not that interesting to note.

And finally, newswise, it's a shame that Johnnie Cochran is no longer with us, and thus is unable to participate in Saddam Hussein's defense. I have a feeling that the trial is going to be depressingly devoid of rhyming couplets. Here's one the defense would probably try:

The invasion of his country Hussein didn't support;
That's why he won't recognize this court.

On a related note, something tells me this won't be the first court to reject the "I don't recognize the validity of this trial" defense.

Some other updates that either are or are not worth noting, depending on whether you find them interesting or not at all interesting:

The 19 Minutes podcast returns this week with an interview (mentioned in a much earlier post) with the Sankofa Strings, a band which is working to revive a not-all-that-well-publicized Black string band tradition. The result is infectious, but in a way that's more positive than the whoe avian flu thing.

And finally, to clarify yesterday's post on the Unadvertised Regular Customer Discount and the Nonexistent Large Size I often receive at my local coffee shop -- I meant to indicate that those are the benefits of being a regular customer, not as a result of my weird public radio pseudo-celebrity status. My weird public radio pseudo-celebrity status only yields me free Armani suits. And it causes awkward moments when I'm mobbed by cheerleaders, beach volleyball players, and other big fans of "Talk of the Nation".

Where everybody knows my name, sort of

Pledge drive continues in the public radio wing of 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters. This morning, things went fast and furious, which -- in general -- is a very good thing. (For example, pledge drive dollars pay my salary.) But it was problematic in one respect: I wasn't on the air this morning, which meant that by the time I got to work, the pledge room breakfast was already consumed by the roomful of busy volunteers on hand to answer the phones.

Again, that's not necessarily a problem. The volunteers deserve the coffee more than I do, if only because they were here at 6:00 a.m., while I was still an hour and a half away from hitting the snooze bar - for the first time. (Ah, the virtues of living six minutes from work.) But the depletion of food resources in Public Radioland made me head back out to forage for coffee and a muffin, lest my breakfast consist of Dr. Bold (the Albertson's Dr Pepper rip-off) and Red Vines, known affectionately around Pledge Central as "Ghetto Twizzlers".

I have a favorite coffee place in town. I like it because it's one of the few coffee shops around the community where buying coffee doesn't feel like a political statement. We have our Coffee-and-Vegan-Cuisine place, our College Student Coffee Hangout, our Mostly Just Bicyclists and Hikers Wearing Expensive Clothes coffee shop, and our various drive thru places that mostly cater to high school students who can drink mochas at 8:30 p.m. and not be kept awake for the next 36 hours. Oh, and of course, the 37 Starbucks outlets.

The place I go once or twice a week basically serves coffee and pastries. And they know me -- well enough, in fact, that I get the Unadvertised Regular Customer Discount on my frozen, chocolate-intensive coffee beverage. Plus, I get the Nonexistent Large Size drink, as well.

At least, some of them know me well enough. Being a coffee place, the counter staff comes and goes. A few of them have been around for the past three or four years. They're the ones that actually notice me parking out front and often have my drink made by the time I'm inside. (They don't actually yell, "Norm!" when I come in, but the effect is similar. Plus, my name's not Norm.) But a few of the counter folks - while they might have seen me enough times to guess at my order - aren't familiar with the Unadvertised Regular Customer Discount and the Nonexistent Large Size, which leaves me with a slightly overpriced, regular sized drink, which is okay, but not the coffee-drinking experience that makes me a regular.

This leaves me wondering what to do - do I motion the new counter people aside and, out of the earshot of other customers, whisper confidentially that I normally get a larger, less-expensive drink? Do I feign ignorance and just ask for it in a larger cup? Ideally, I'd get a schedule of when they're breaking in new coffee artistes and just show up so that the Unadvertised Regular Customer Discount and the Nonexistent Large Size become part of their training.

Of course, Benjamin Franklin probably had a maxim for just such a quandry - something along the lines of "Beggars shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth". But then again, I never bought a $4.50 coffee at a Ben Franklin store, either.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Another brief, mid-pledge drive post

The 19 Minutes staff continues its on-air tote bag appeal here in Public Radioland. We've had some good moments, with volunteers scrambling to pick up ringing phones. And some slower moments, like the hour in which we had only one phone room volunteer, and she managed to draw a masterpiece of doodle art on her nametag.

Meanwhile, though it's not on-air pledge week in the blogosphere, I do have one appeal to readers. It seems I'm tasked to report on the Collingwood Magpies, a professional Australian Rules Football team from (duh) Australia, which is training in Arizona this month. So my charge is to anyone with knowledge of the game to explain it in 100 words or less to those of us who have only seen brief highlights on American television. Thanks.

Meanwhile, we here in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters can go back to reporting on more important topics, like why I can be so sleepy that I can doze off while editing my own interview, but it'll take me an hour and a half to fall asleep in bed.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Just enough time for something weird

It's been busy busy busy here in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters. Ironically (given our earlier post on elk and heating costs), we produced an hour-long program on global climate change last night, which is archived here, and also in podcast form here.

Then, with only a brief night's sleep to shift gears, we immediately moved into Full Pledge Drive Alert, which means I spend much of my time going from demonstrating the Grundig emergency crank radio on the air, to taking credit card numbers over the phone, to clogging my arteries with free pledge room food. Oh, and editing news stories.

But fortunately, I took a few moments to examine the new phone book on my desk. Well, it was new a few months ago. But how often does anyone actually study the front cover of the phone book? It's yellow, and it has some light blue swirls on it. And, as it would happen, an advertising postcard glued to it, featuring this exciting picture:

Yes, it's an ad for a firm billing itself as "The Car Accident Attorneys". What frightens me most isn't the fact that the guy's last name is "Hasty" (hey - hasty might be good if you're paying someone who bills by the hour). It isn't even the fact that he suggests calling from your hospital bed,or that he's "As Seen on TV". It's the picture. Specifically, what's in the guy's hand? Soap? An electric razor? A light saber? A bomb?

My guess is that it's a cell phone, but I'm more than a little puzzled as to what the dude is supposed to be doing, attorney-wise, while he's holding the phone away from his ear and pointing at the camera. One imagines the picture was taken in the airport, while he was in the standard alpha-male cell phone pose, demonstrating what an important guy he is that he needs to be barking orders into the phone while the rest of the schleps around him are merely reading John Grisham novels and watching features about Microsoft stock on the CNN airport network.

He'd like us to think that he's in front of Gate A5, answering calls from Spanish-speaking, hospital-bound clients. But of course, he's probably asking his secretary to look up the number for his styling mousse supplier, which will take a while, because she'll be distracted by the goofy postcard on the cover of the phone book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The risks of coming up with blog concepts at 4:00 a.m.

The 19 Minutes staff needs to lay off the potato chips before bed. For some reason, my body seems to think that a handful of chips at 10:30 p.m. leads to the promise of more potato chips at 3:30 a.m. Or something like that, because I'm roused from an otherwise fine night's sleep and kept awake (regardless of whether I actually eat something) for a good hour or so.

This morning, this enabled me to tune in for our extra-special early morning broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, on which I learned that the cost of heating a home could go up by as much as 50 percent in places this winter, especially for people who heat with natural gas, propane, or heating oil.

There are a number of factors analysts blame, ranging from the impact of Hurricane Katrina, to energy policies that have largely favored the use of fossil fuels, to policies which have tied the hands of the power industry, to the fact that Coca-Cola inexplicably changed the name of Mr Pibb to "Pibb Extra".

Personally, I blame the elk.

Stick with me. Two stories (one of them, I'll confess, was reported by me) on NPR this morning referenced the problems related to the burgeoning elk population in the Intermountain West. Mainly, the elk are eating too much aspen and other vegetation. (We also learned that they make weird noises when they mate, but that doesn't seem like an especially troublesome issue, at least as far as heating prices go.)

But right now, we're dealing with a situation in which tens of thousands of tourists are flocking to Colorado to watch elk mating season before it ends, and tens of thousands of people are flocking to northern Arizona to check out the changing leaves on aspen trees before the elk eat them all. The disappearance of those tens of thousands of people from other cities, like Denver and Albuquerque means those cities lose out on the heating effects (car exhaust, chimney smoke, etc.) of a percentage of their regular population. This drives the ambient city temperature down, driving up the demand for heating fuels.

If that weren't bad enough, the increased number of warm elk bodies in the West leads to a faster snow melt. The runoff from this snow ends up in communities like Flagstaff, or Santa Fe, or Durango, and then freezes on the roadways overnight. This leads to more accidents involving trucks transporting fuel oil, exacerbating the shortage. And that, in turn, leads to more stories on local TV news about the accidents, which makes for an added drain on electricity, which is supplied by natural gas-fed power plants.

So I'm recommending proactive measures. If you encounter elk mating, be sure to honk your horn, or yell "Get a room!" from the safety of your car. If at all possible, yell it from Denver or Albuquerque. They could use the hot air.

It's 19 minutes past the hour.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Remember when TV was worth watching? Me neither

State of Arizona employees (such as the 19 Minutes cast and crew) don’t typically get Columbus Day off. But State of Arizona employees typically don’t have to work from 5:30 am to 2:30 pm on Sundays, so I had the day away from the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters.

The day off, plus a 16-month old who slept until 10:30 this morning and napped substantially in the afternoon gave me a perfect opportunity to work on my book and go to the gym. So naturally, I took advantage of this opportunity and, building on previous bloggage, gained new insights into What Else Is Wrong With Television Today. And there’s plenty.

Today’s theme: "Why do networks believe we’ll watch them, no matter what the hell they’re showing?" Put another way: "Why do networks abandon the reason for their existence?" Put still another way: "Remember when…"

Remember when you could tune into ESPN Classic and actually see a baseball, football, or basketball game of historical significance? You could see the 7th game of the 1960 World Series (also known as the genesis of the “Yankees Suck” chant), the 1969 Super Bowl (also known as “Before Anyone Cared About Namath’s Drinking”), or the 1981 NBA All-Star Game (also known as “Tall Guys in Tiny Shorts and Knee Socks”). Tune in nowadays, and you’re likely to catch a program called “Classic Now”, a live football game involving Central Michigan University, or vintage televised poker. ESPN, I have some news for you: If it’s happening now, it isn’t a classic, even if it involves analysis by former obscure major league designated hitter Jim Traber. A Central Michigan football game will never rank as a classic, unless Michael Jordan sings at half-time. And there is no such thing as “classic” televised poker, especially with Dick Van Patten as the host. Just call yourselves “ESPN 3” and get it over with.

Remember when most of the Food Network’s schedule was filled with people demonstrating recipes? Rachael Ray made replicable meals in 30 minutes, Emeril Lagasse made impossible-to-replicate meals over the course of an hour and yelled “Bam!”, and Alton Brown explained why your meat thermometer should actually be used to measure the temperature of meat, as opposed to holding down the contact paper in your junk drawer. Those shows still exist, only now you have to wade through hours of a restaurant reality series, documentaries like "The History of Cotton Candy", and a new Rachael Ray series which ostensibly builds on her “$40 A Day” restaurant travel series, but in reality looks as though it’s pieced together by having Rachael voicing over left over B-roll.

Remember when Court TV used to show nothing but trials all day long? Not that I ever watched it, but it was comforting to channel surf your way through it on the way to “Gilligan’s Island.” Most of today, they appeared to be showing a program about a private investigator, interspersed with commercials for something called “Psychic Detective”. I’m still not watching, even on the way to "Gilligan's Island".

Remember when you could watch the Weather Channel and actually find out what the weather was going to be? I figured I could find out what clothes to wear as I was getting ready for work at 5:30 am Sunday, only the Weather Channel had a reporter live on the scene of a tailgate party before the New York Jets game, so they could report on barbecue techniques. Throw the damn hot dogs on the grill until they’re hot and tell me whether I should wear a jacket.

And remember when CNN Headline News showed, um, the headlines? Well, they still show the headlines, only they’re scrolling at a maddeningly slow speed along the bottom of the screen, while the rest is taken up by an unpleasant woman named Nancy Grace, who actually trumpets the fact that she has an exclusive interview with people related to the Natalee Holloway case. More news for you: It’s not really an exclusive if no one else wants to interview your subject. I could interview my landlady and it would be an “exclusive”.

Of course, there are some networks out there that seem to be reversing the trend. The Travel Channel used to be infested with vintage poker footage, but now seems to be adding a plethora of new programs actually on the subject of travel. And the National Geographic Channel seems to have succeeded in showing only programs that take place in locations describable by geographic coordinates.

The final piece of information I gleaned from watching a few hours of television on my day off was that the Pax network, found way up on the UHF dial in most places, seems to have redubbed itself “i”. This development, paired with the existence of the “E” entertainment network, means there are a scant 3 vowels left with which to name TV networks. Reserve yours now while there’s still time. I’m going to turn on the radio.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Packaging trends addendum

As if the strange directions on my Thai food and my Emerald Nuts weren't enough, I had the interesting experience of getting ready for work at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, only to be confronted with these directions, carved into the top of my Degree anti-perspirant:
I'm not sure how that fits into the "putting something on to mask underarm odor" paradigm. But then again, this particular product came in something called "Ionic" scent.

What I could really use is an "Ironic" deodorant.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Curious trends in packaging

Here at the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, we're constantly on the lookout for entertaining text on the various items of food and clothing we're hoarding, just in case a hurricane finds its way to northern Arizona. And as in the past, we're happy to pass along some of these highlights to you.

With the NHL hockey season underway, we're happy to outfit our 16-month old daughter in her spiffy Vancouver Canucks ball cap from the "NHL Kids" collection. You wouldn't think there are many ways that a 16-month old girl would look like an actual professional hockey player. But fortunately, we're assured by makers of the hat - a company called "Annco" - that this is, in fact, a professional model. Frankly, this is kind of suprising, since even the NHL's smallest players, such as Brian Gionta and Martin St. Louis, are 5'7" and 5'9" respectively, and are thus unlikely to have the same hat size as a 16-month old. And the smallest player on the Canucks is 5'11" and 185 pounds (that would be one Brendan Morrison of someplace called "Pitt Meadows, B.C."), so he's probably not going to call up and ask for his hat back.

An aside: The Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) do have a 5'4" player in Kristi Harrower. Her nickname is apparently "Shrimpy Shrimp." This has little to do with anything, but we just ran across it and thought it was vaguely interesting.

Moving over to the pantry, we have a few packages of Thai Kitchen's single-serve size Pad Thai "noodle cart" meals on hand. They purport to be easily made in 5 minutes, though the warning message on the plastic cover has us a little baffled:


We briefly considered putting it in our microwave blender, but thought the peanut sauce might gum up the works.

And finally, since Enlightened News directors love Emerald Nuts, we have a tin of Cashew Halves and Pieces on hand. But again, we were stopped in our tracks by the warning message informing us that they were

Manufactured in a facility that processes tree nuts and peanuts.

Meaning that if we're allergic to nuts, we probably shouldn't, well, eat nuts.
We'll try to keep you up to date on further packaging developments as events warrant. But first, we're going to go investigate why Mr. Bubble bubble bath includes the instruction "Keep Dry" on its label, and whether "Stoned Wheat Thins" violate truth-in-packaging laws.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

At last, a magazine we won't see in dental offices

I've been informed my humor column in Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine is being, um, redacted at the end of the year. So I'm starting to shop it around, perhaps to publications that don't even appear in the "Free: Take One" rack in the foyer of the International House of Pancakes next to the real estate listings.

So it was with some excitement that I ran across news of the latest addition to the magazine world. More informative than Highlights for Children, glossier than Reader's Digest, more unsual than Cigar Aficionado, targeting a smaller niche than Modern Ferret... it's Professional Sports Wives Magazine! Finally we have, as the magazine's statement of purpose puts it, a magazine "designed to fill a huge void that has never been addressed, and satisfies the needs of professional sports wives to be informed and entertained."

I think we can all agree that there are few opportunities for professional sports wives to be informed and entertained, aside from the few outlets that the rest of us have access to (newspapers, TV, radio, CDs, movies, other magazines) and the ones that professional athletes can afford (home theater systems, Lincoln Navigators, private rooms at night clubs, everything else), so it's probably a good thing that this underserved minority finally gets its own magazine.

In the premiere issue, for example, we learn that pro sports wives not only now have their own magazine, but have their own holiday. Starting in 2006, Pro Sports Wives Day will be celebrated each February 11th, in honor of their "public service in the estimated $213 billion-dollar professional sports entertainment industry."

This, of course adds another opportunity for this group to be entertained: Humorous greeting cards. I'm envisioning a card with a picture of President Bush on the cover and a message along the lines of "When I traded Sammy Sosa to the White Sox in 1989..." (and inside)"...I forgot his wife was the player to be named later. Happy Pro Sports Wives Day!" These cards would be available at select high-end retailers at a cost of $375 each.

We also learn that former baseball star Terry Pendleton and his wife have remained married for 21 years thanks to their faith, commitment to each other, and their three kids - definitely an insight we could not have gleaned from a profile in, say, every other sports magazine ever published.

I shouldn't be too hard on Professional Sports Wives Magazine. Their target audience does have some unique challenges that the readers of Public Radio Wives Magazine don't - largely in the areas of "celebrities throwing themselves at your husband", "how to support your hubby when he's on waivers", and "who to call when your 75-inch high-definition TV is on the fritz". And perhaps future volumes of PSWM will address these issues. And perhaps they'll bring the husbands of WNBA players into the fold, as I would imagine they're an even more over-looked interest group.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to writing for the premiere issue of Amateur Sports Wives Magazine, which will tackle such hard-hitting topics as "Which portion of the meal do you throw at your husband when he's preoccupied by the scrolling scores on the restaurant TV", and "Can your spouse legitimately wear the t-shirt from a road race 5 years ago at which he worked at the registration table?"

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bloat Trekker, take 2

I'm on another relatively tight deadline, this one for a feature on the declining population of aspen trees in northern Arizona. So Wednesday may be largely blog-free, though I invite you to check out any of the blogs listed in the 19 Minutes sidebar, or click on the "next blog" button at the top of the page, and enjoy an engaging page dedicated to discount auto parts, or dating angst, or one that's written in Portuguese (and may be about auto parts or dating angst, for all I know).

But in rereading last night's post on unusual foods enountered while traveling, it dawned on me that there was one glaring omission. Megan McCormick and the other folks on Globe Trekker may have eaten scorpions, bats, and other odd delicacies. But unless I've missed an episode, the show has never featured a trip to southeastern Missouri. (Backpacking in Vietnam? Yes. Railroads in the south of France? Absolutely. Driving a VW Golf through Cape Girardeau? Hmmm.) And that's a shame, because they've never earned their combat pay with a trip to Lambert's Cafe in someplace called Sikeston, Missouri.

The food is nothing that most Americans wouldn't recognize - burgers, fries, sandwiches - that sort of thing. Rather, it's the delivery system that's somewhat unconventional. My wife and I had the occasion to attend a wedding rehearsal dinner there some years back. The billboards for Lambert's started materializing miles before the thriving metropolis of Sikeston, and advertised it as the "Home of Throwed Rolls". We expected this unusual adjective to describe something in the food preparation process. But, as it turned out, it described Lambert's unusual policy of throwing dinner rolls at its paying customers. At the same time, no one ever explained its unusual (and slightly bumpkin-like) use of the term "throwed", which you can't say without sounding like you have a stuffed-up nose.

Frankly, judging by the restaurant's popularity (there are now two other Lambert's Cafes in the south), it's surprising that Chez Panisse hasn't adopted a similar food service concept. In fact, it's a little-known fact that the reason New York's Russian Tea Room closed was the reluctance of its owner to bow to public pressure and begin throwing wedges of lemon at the hoi polloi.

On the bright side, it's probably a good thing there's not a restaurant known as the "Home of the Throwed Scorpions."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bloat Trekker

I had the public television show “Globe Trekker” on TV in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters last night. This morning, actually. Our local public TV outlet is considerate enough to run Globe Trekker at midnight Monday morning, after any number of 30-year old droll British sitcoms. (In fairness, they show it at 8 p.m. Sundays, too, but this is also inconvenient, coming as it does right around the time we’re due to watch the fine Sesame Street feature “Monster Hits”.)

It’s a travel show co-produced by the people at Pilot Guides, and it has a slightly edgy, slightly irreverent, but largely respectful style, and a spiffy world beat soundtrack. Basically, it’s a show for those of use who eschew the package tours and seek out the public markets as much as the art museums. It’s closer to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than it is to Rick Steves.

All of the traveler/hosts are engaging, but last night’s host, Megan McCormick, is especially good at conveying what many of us experience when we’re in a strange place – basically, experiencing a situation so foreign that we have no idea what to say.

Last night’s episode had McCormick in Beijing for a week, which included a trip to a street market at which she was confronted with the concept of roasted scorpions. Given the opportunity to try them, she bit into one and – in expert fashion – made no attempt to act as though she was enjoying it at all. (“Crunchy,” was her review.)

It does raise the question of how bad things must have gotten at some point – how hungry must someone have been, to have decided that scorpions would make for an appetizer. I mean, maybe after you’ve been stung a few times, the concept of revenge would sound good, but you could just as easily accomplish that by jumping up and down on one. Or hitting it with a large rock. Or the Oxford English Dictionary, if you could find one in Beijing.

But then I look at the opposite extreme – the mini donuts at the County Fair, the Twix Bars in the basket in a colleague’s office, Alpha-Bits cereal – and I consider that at least the ingredient list on a roasted scorpion is understandable. (“Scorpions,” I believe it reads.)

I’ve never actually encountered anything quite so different (okay, I was going to write "bizarre", but I thought that might seem xenophobic) as roasted scorpions on any of my travels. But on my most recent trip abroad – to Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Denmark - my goal (aside from acquiring a Finnish hockey jersey) was to consume as many unusual foodstuffs as possible.

This wasn’t always easy, as the Finns seemed to like their pizza as much as most Americans (though my wife and I did watch a Finnish couple eat an entire pizza without touching the outer crust. They ate the entire inside until they were left with a 14-inch ring of dough.).

But we started our trip with a quick flight from Copenhagen to Stockholm, which featured a lunch that exposed us to the ubiquitous roe which shows up in much of Scandinavia the way ketchup packets accompany American meals, even in unlikley situations like ham-and-cheese sandwiches. This was followed by a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, which gave us an opportunity to order up some reindeer for dinner. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted from 36 hours of traveling to give a comprehensive review. “Edible,” was about all I can remember.

Fortunately, we caught up on our sleep on the rest of the ferry ride, which meant I have a clear memory of several other dishes:

Moose, eaten at Zetor, a Russian tractor-driver themed restaurant (really) in Helsinki. It tasted like a not-all-that-exciting beef dish. And yet, not bad. Add a Twix Bar and you’ve got a meal. (What, there are no Russian tractor-driver themed restaurants in Chattanooga?)

Beaver, shredded and eaten in a salad at Peppersack, a mideval restaurant in Tallinn, Estonia. My review: Kinda jerky-like. My wife’s review: Wet rodent. She didn’t finish hers.

Wild boar, eaten at a street festival in Malmö, Sweden. It tasted like pork. In fact, I’m not absolutely convinced it was “wild” boar at all. After all, it was purchased from a stand next to another vendor advertising “Kansas Fried Chicken”.

But in all, none of these foods ranked quite as frightening as roasted scorpions. Or Alpha-Bits.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Whatever she wears, she's still going to be short

After a long weekend of baseball-watching, I’ve just touched base with the Cosmic Forces of Baseball, and they’ve informed me they don’t buy into the concept of the Yankees winning the American League’s Eastern Division by virtue of having won the season series against the Red Sox. The Cosmic Forces of Baseball say that sounds like an NFL rule, along the lines of the Two-Minute “Warning”.

But because there’s no baseball to be played on Monday, that frees the 19 Minutes household to go back to its other October hobby – namely, trying to find a Halloween costume for my 15-month old daughter.

She was a strawberry last year, thanks to a sweater and hat ensemble that, well, looked like a strawberry. Of course, she was 3 1/2 months old last Halloween, which meant that dressing her up was mainly for the benefit of her parents and the people on her photo e-mail update list. Sylvi and her friend Phoebe (who was dressed as a bumble bee) sat on the couch, looking dubious, while their various parents scrambled around trying to get the ultimate picture, which of course was impossible, since aside from wearing the costumes, there wasn’t much more the girls could do to look like either a strawberry or a bumble bee. Also, since neither girl was eating much solid food at the time, her parents were forced to eat all the Halloween candy. Though my wife and I were tempted to add a pureed Bit-O-Honey to Sylvi’s rice cereal.

So this year is a little different. Not only is Sylvi eating solid food (she’d probably pass on the Bit-O-Honey itself but consume the wrapper with the utmost haste), but now she’s ambulatory. So whatever costume she ultimately wears, it’ll have to include a bottom half.

Even so, the costume will still mainly be for the benefit of friends and relatives. Sylvi’s walking, but at 2’4”, her strides are a little too short to cover much ground on Halloween night. Even if she walked really fast – she’s 15 months old, and we probably wouldn’t even make it to one house for trick-or-treating before she was distracted by a really interesting piece of gravel by the curb, where we’d spend the rest of the evening.

AND even if she didn’t get distracted by gravel, we’d get to the first house, ring the doorbell, the homeowner would answer it, and Sylvi would say: “Abbb.” If she said anything.

Actually, she does have a few select words and phrases that the trained Sylvi Listener can understand, which have given us our few concepts for this year’s Halloween costume:

She clearly says “Baaa.” (Yes, the opposite of “Abbb”.) As in, “What does a sheep say, Sylvi?” “Baaa.” She also knows how to wave on demand, which leads to the even cuter, “How does a sheep say ‘goodbye’, Sylvi?” “Baaa.” [wave]. So we’re looking for a sheep costume for the full Tiny Sheep Effect. Unfortunately, most of these seem to run in the $40 range, which seems like a lot of money for an outfit that will get, at most, one wearing. On the other hand, it’ll be good preparation for the bridesmaid dresses she’ll have to buy in 20 years.

She also says “bird”, “ball”, and “bear”. Unfortunately, these also sound like “Baaa”, so she could be dressed as an ornithologist, but people would still think she sounds like a tiny sheep.

Somewhat less clearly, she says “breakfast.” That’s led us to some less-conventional costume ideas, such as “Short Order Cook at Denny’s” (her cooking skills are meager, but she is short), “Bowl of Hash Browns”, or “Half-eaten Pop Tart”, but neither my wife nor I is creative enough to pull any of these off.

We’ve though about painting a goatee on her face, dressing her in an old baseball cap, college sweatshirt and jeans – in other words, a “Dad” costume, but we haven’t yet set up a savings account for her future psychological care. Which is a shame, because she says “Daddy” pretty clearly.

So that leaves us with only one other option – at 15-months, Sylvi is learning to whine with great proficiency. So we might just have her dress up as a New York Yankee.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cosmic Forces of Baseball 1, Yankees 0

Just to update the information from our previous post today: Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek called for a minimum of "straight balls" from super-sized pitcher David Wells and the Red Sox apparently beat the Yankees, 5-3, this evening. Of course, being a dyed-in-the-wool Sox fan, I made sure to watch the highlights later, in case the Cosmic Forces of Baseball (the same cosmic forces that compelled me to make my wife stay in the bathroom for the final 3 innings of a Red Sox game a couple years ago), decided to change the score between the end of the game and the time the highlights came on ESPN.

These are also the same cosmic forces that have us Red Sox fans paranoid that last year's World Series victory may some day be disproved, but also lead us to believe that some day, on some obscure cable network, in some highlight reel late at night, Bill Buckner will field the ground ball once and for all.