Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Fudge Man

As I mentioned in a prior posting about my blood and platelet donations, there is a regular group of folks I see when I visit the Blood Center. In addition to the phlebotomists who have the Saturday shift, there are the men and women who, like me, spend a couple of hours every month making a donation. Some I only know by sight, others I know by first name. And then there's the Fudge Man.

A few years back, after I finished up my platelet donation, I saw that, in addition to the usual assortment of cookies, crackers, and trail mix in the canteen, there were a couple of plates with cut-up bars of fudge. When I asked about it, Debbie, the appointment coordinator, said that it had been brought by one of the other regulars.

Well, if making a blood donation is a good excuse for eating Lorna Doones for breakfast, it is a great excuse for having fudge. And we're talking really tasty, creamy fudge!

It was a few months before my donation schedule again coincided with that of the Fudge Man, but on the day it did, I noticed that there were a lot of familiar faces among the donors. It turned out that I was a latecomer to the group who were scheduling their appointments so they could be there for fudge. Over the next couple of years, I was pretty much in sync with him and more often than not had the opportunity to enjoy such flavors as eggnog, pumpkin pie, Oreo cookie, cheesecake and , of course, all manner of chocolate varieties.

This past Saturday, after I finished my platelet donation, I was sitting in the canteen with Steve (one of the regulars whose first name I do know) and another donor. When I mentioned that I hadn't seen the Fudge Man in awhile, Steve told me that he had died a few months ago. He and some of the other regulars found out on a Saturday morning when the Fudge Man was scheduled to donate that he had passed away in his sleep at the age of 48. That morning, Steve and a couple of others did a "triple," donating three units of platelets each. "We decided that we had to make up for the fact that he wasn't there."

Steve pointed at the two signs on the wall in the canteen, a list of all the people who have made 75 or more platelet donations. "He told me," Steve said, "that his goal was to get his name on that sign. And he did."

No, it doesn't say "Fudge Man." His name was John Roach. Most of us knew nothing about his family, his job, his life. But he was one of our Saturday morning regulars. And though we only saw him for a couple of hours every month or so, we will miss him.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marketing 101

Now that Election Day has passed, the barrage of political TV commercials has ended and we are back to ads that are just trying to persuade us to buy things.

Though I prefer to speed through the ads when I have recorded shows -- or read or wander away when I'm watching something live -- there are a few that are quite entertaining. Top of the list to get me to watch are the E*Trade ads featuring the talking babies; they are cleverly written and, frankly, funnier than some of the programs. (That does not mean I think they should try to turn them into a TV series, like they tried with those GEICO cavemen a couple of years ago.)

Another current commercial shows two large rocks are having a conversation. Unlike the AmEx commercials of a year or two ago that featured a variety of objects that seemed to be either smiling or frowning, it takes a moment to realize that there are "faces" in these stones. In any case, they are discussing how they would drink Sierra Mist Natural if they could actually drink soda.
I'm not sure who thought up the idea that rocks would drink soda, but it does make for a memorable commercial. What I find amusing, however, is how they are selling a high-calorie soda as an "all-natural" beverage, highlighting that it is made with only natural sugar and contains no artificial sweeteners. But I suppose rocks don't have to worry about obesity.

Then there's the AT&T commercial that depicts a street scene with a number of people after an automobile accident. Everyone in it is texting on their cell phones. The tag line of this ad is something like "AT&T saves you from your cell phone so you can get back to your life." Well, how exactly does using your cell phone save you from it? I'm guessing they are trying to say that theirs works faster so you can send your text messages more quickly. But wouldn't that just mean people would text even more? Come to think of it, I guess that is what AT&T would really want.
As far as cellphones, I guess I'm a Luddite since I have one that only makes phone calls. It can receive a text message, but if it has the capability of sending one, I've never used it. And there is nothing so important in my email that I need to read it before I am at home or work and sitting at the computer. I mean, really, if you have something vital to tell me, call me -- the thing is a telephone!
But I'm truly baffled by why anyone would want to be able to download a TV show or a movie to their phone. On the one hand, we're being told to buy giant-screen HD-TVs that show us every pore on a person's face and on the other we should buy a phone with a 2-inch screen so we can watch the latest blockbuster films.

And, finally, there are the commercials featuring the pre-teen boy who talks about how his parents are "lame" because they don't own a fancy SUV. What is this? Years of peer pressure ads -- you want to have a better car than your friends and neighbors -- were not enough? Now we should spend on a vehicle with high-tech video and sound systems so our kids won't be embarrassed by us? It is a sad state of affairs for any parent who has to buy a showy car to gain the respect of his kids.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It Must Be True Because It's on the Internet

I was copied on an email this morning...

"If each person sends this to a minimum of twenty people on their address list, in three days, all people in The United States of America would have the message. I believe this is one proposal that really should be passed around.
[There then appears a photo of President Obama, standing on an airport runway, holding a book.]
"The name of the book Obama is reading is called: The Post-American World, and it was written by a fellow Muslim. "Post" America means the world After America ! Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal. We must expose Obama's radical ideas and his intent to bring down our beloved America !"

So, according to the originator of this email, the President is getting his plan on how to "bring down our beloved America" from a book? Or is reading books one of the President's radical ideas?

And talk about judging a book by its cover, a quick check at Amazon revealed the following about this "radical" tome...
"This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." So begins Fareed Zakaria's important new work on the era we are now entering. Following on the success of his best-selling The Future of Freedom, Zakaria describes with equal prescience a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures. He sees the "rise of the rest"—the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, and many others—as the great story of our time, and one that will reshape the world. The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States. This economic growth is producing political confidence, national pride, and potentially international problems. How should the United States understand and thrive in this rapidly changing international climate? What does it mean to live in a truly global era? Zakaria answers these questions with his customary lucidity, insight, and imagination.
Fareed Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and writes a weekly column on international affairs and hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" for CNN. He the author of the New York Times bestsellers
The Future of Freedom and The Post-American World. Zakaria lives in New York City.

Clearly, the person who started this email has not read the book nor even checked to see what it is about.

A little further research about Obama's "fellow Muslim" Zakaria turned up the following...
He was born in Mumbai, India to a Konkani Muslim family, though his religious upbringing was secular, including the singing of Christian hymns and the celebration of both Hindu and Muslim holidays. He earned his B.A. from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard.

One final bit of research revealed that the photo was taken and first appeared in May, 2008!


What's next? A photo of the President reading Doctor Doolittle to his daughters and it's really the secret behind his healthcare plan?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lower Taxes? Let's Have NO Taxes!

With Election Day done and the victories of a new crop of mostly Republicans, we're being treated to a number of speeches about how this is a mandate that the American people don't want "big government," that they want government spending reduced and taxes cut. I would disagree. The only part of it that people really want is lower taxes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would be unhappy about paying less tax.

So, how about paying no taxes? Let's see a slate of candidates next year who promise to reduce taxes to 0% across the board. And they'll cut government spending to zero as well. That means the government will be made up of volunteers, since none of them will be receiving a salary. Aren't most of them millionaires anyway? Why do they even need a salary? And for those who aren't independently wealthy, not a problem; all these candidates seem to drum up contributions to run their campaigns, so they should be able to get their constituents to kick in a few bucks each towards their well-being.

Okay, so now we have all our leaders working for free. But we're no longer spending any money, so all the support people -- assistants, maintenance people, technicians, drivers, etc. -- will either have to also work for free or seek other employment. Not that they would have much to do, anyway. The government will no longer be paying for electricity, water or HVAC, so the offices won't be very hospitable. There also won't be any expenditures for office supplies, postage, printing and copying, or internet connections.

Well, who cares? The government doesn't actually do anything anyway.

With government spending ended, let's see what else will happen...

Our military forces around the globe had better make do with what they have. There will be no more fuel purchases for planes, ships, trucks, jeeps, etc.; when the tanks run dry, those things are staying wherever they stop. Those men and women in war zones would do well to ration bullets because there won't be any more coming. Oh, and they'd better start figuring out how they're going to get home.

Senior citizens, you've seen your last Social Security check. Not that there would be any way to get them to you, since there's no one paying the postage. And you better get used to paying full price for medical treatments because Medicare isn't going to be around to subsidize them. Forget about the new government health coverage plan, the old government health coverage plan, and any other government health coverage plan. Gone, gone and gone.

All the traffic lights and street lights will be turned off because no one is paying that electric bill. Unless someone volunteers to direct traffic, expect perpetual gridlock; it is unlikely that members of the police department will work for free. And that's scary since the prisons will have to be closed and everyone in them will have to be set free. (Or, I suppose, we could just leave them locked in there to rot; they're criminals, after all.)

But wait, there won't be any more criminals. The court system will also be shut down because no one is paying for it. No judges (unless they want to work for free like other elected officials), no district or state's attorneys, no public defenders, no trials... so no one will be found guilty of a crime.

Got kids in school? Not any more! There's no tax money to keep the schools open so your kids will be home every day. That's okay, right? With the money you're saving by not paying taxes, you can hire a babysitter. Or maybe even a now-unemployed teacher to tutor them.
Don't think about leaving them home unattended, though. They might play with matches or leave the stove on. If the house catches fire, alas, odds are there won't be anyone coming to put it out.

There will be good news for the unemployed, however. Even though you won't be able to collect unemployment checks any more, with the cuts in government spending there will be no one enforcing the Minimum Wage laws. That means employers can pay you whatever they want, cutting wages to lower than those paid in foreign countries and bringing back all those jobs that have been outsourced. Lower pay, sure, but you won't have to pay any taxes on it!
Oh, by the way, you had better be careful on the job because there will also be no one enforcing any OSHA safety regulations and no one will be paying disability if you get hurt.

Finally, there is the government debt. Thirteen trillion dollars ($13,000,000,000,000) worth. When we stop paying taxes, there will be no money to pay the interest on it let alone pay it down. What happens if you stop making payments? The holders of your debt foreclose; they take your property. Since China holds quite a bit of our debt, maybe they will accept Hawaii as a settlement. Or California. Or both.


Is what I'm proposing ridiculous? Of course it is. We can't do away with government and the costs of everything our taxes pay for without throwing the entire nation (and the world) into utter chaos.

There are plenty of our tax dollars being spent on things we might think are wasteful, but it all got approved because our elected officials make bargains in order to get things done. A highway in South Carolina is voted for so that six park rangers can be hired to watch for fires in Montana and safety laws are enforced on a job site in Vermont. Same thing on a smaller scale in your home state, your county, your town.

Everybody needs things, everybody wants things, and, ultimately, everybody should have to pay for them. Period.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trick or Treat

Yesterday, as in pretty much every year past, we handed out comic books rather than candy to the trick-or-treaters who came to our door. Unlike previous years when the holiday has fallen on the weekend, the turnout was relatively light. We had fewer than forty kids come to the door.

Yes, I'm sure even forty sounds like a lot to some of you. One of the women I work with said she had only one kid ring the doorbell. But we've had Halloween Saturdays and Sundays in past years where we've given out more than 100 comics; those were the days when, despite the fact there were no cellphones, word spread quickly among the kids that there was a house giving away comic books.
One year, there was a kid who was such a big comics fan that he kept going home and changing his costume so he could come back and get another. When I finally told him that recognized him and that he had to stop, he was startled. But I made his day when I told him that if he came back the next day, I would give him whatever was left over.

Back in the days when I was still working at DC Comics and they published such books as Ghosts, The Witching Hour and House of Mystery, it was fairly easy to amass a group of appropriate books to distribute. In more recent years, however, as even the mainstream DC titles have become a bit too graphic, I've limited what I give out to the "kids' line" of titles, supplementing what I have with issues of such titles as Animaniacs and Heathcliff that are left over from the days when Chuck and Sammi were young.

Among yesterday's highlights:
* A little boy dressed as Superman was thrilled to get an issue of Super Friends with the Man of Steel on the cover. I got the feeling he knew Superman only from TV cartoons and had no idea there was a print version.
* Five teenaged boys, apparently costumed as teenaged boys, were surprised to get issues of Tiny Titans instead of candy. "Bet you thought you were going to get something to eat," I said.
One of them replied, "Yeah!"
"Don't eat these," I warned. "The staples can get caught in your digestive tract."
* A man dressed in costume was carrying his infant son who was asleep in a pumpkin-snuggy. I think it will be a few years before the child will be reading the issue of Looney Tunes. And I presume it will be Dad who will be eating the candy rather than saving it till Junior has teeth.
* The copies of Animaniacs and Heathcliff I gave out yesterday were older than the kids who received them.

My favorite Halloween story of all, though, happened a few years ago. After I dropped a comic book into a little boy's bag, he looked at it and ran back to his mother on the sidewalk, shouting, "Mom, he gave us mail!"