Barry Gottlieb

Clock Cycles

One of the sad things about technology is that it always sinks to the lowest common denominator. Like poets, mimes, and failed presidential candidates, it starts with lofty intentions but before you can say "You've been Punk'd" it's wallowing in the gutter. Take television. In the beginning it was radio with pictures. Literally. They stuck a camera in front of entertainers doing their radio shows, meaning that instead of just listening to the program, people could now sit at home and comment about how no one looked the way they sounded. It took a while for people to start figuring out that television was a completely different medium and that they needed to make good use of this new technology by being innovative and creative, which led to shows such as The Simple Life, The Littlest Groom, and Family Affair, a program which was so innovative it had to be made a second time. See what I mean about gutters?

The same thing happened with the Internet. When it started out it was simply text on a screen because, well, that's all it was capable of displaying. Then the World Wide Web was invented and suddenly people could use graphics, create animations, and put cameras inside refrigerators so people with more time than ambition could watch mold growing on salsa left over from last year's Super Bowl. Then business discovered the technology, taking the innovative step of turning it into printed brochures viewed on a monitor. Now we've progressed to the point where we can read the newspaper, listen to music, order merchandise, and watch videos on the computer. Same junk, expensive new high-tech delivery system.

That's why it's nice to hear that there are people who are working to use the Internet in more innovative ways. Take the enterprising youths in Garland, TX who recently used the Internet to set up a gang fight. It began when they traded insults in a chat room, proving that not everyone is there to flirt with 65-year-old men masquerading as 16-year-old virgins named Briana. When they got bored with typing the same three curse words over and over without the benefit of a spellchecker, they decided to fight. They set the time and place online, almost calling it off when they realized they had to log off in order to go fight in person. Had they been truly innovative they would have had a virtual fight online at www.upside-your-head.com. No one would have been hurt, 27 students wouldn't have to go through the rest of their lives with a police record hanging over their heads, and best of all, they'd be helping their hand-eye coordination.

Meanwhile in England it turns out a lot of people are using modern technology to perform tasks that are as old as mankind itself. You know, things like sending love letters, breaking up with a loved one, and quitting a job. Originally done face to face -- or face2face if you want to get modern about it -- these tasks became more virtual with the advent of paper, pencils, and BIC pens. As technology moved forward people became even less personal, breaking up by telephone, fax, and voicemail. Trust me, nothing says a relationship's over like getting a fax informing you that your erstwhile significant other has changed their phone number, the clothes you left in the closet are sitting on the sidewalk so you'd better hurry if you don't want to walk down the street and see a homeless person wearing your favorite shirt, and by the way, there's a restraining order taped to your toothbrush.

But this being the New Millennium, anyone who's even remotely hip knows that faxes and voicemail are oh-so-'90s. That's why people have turned to telephone text messaging. A recent survey in England found that 31 percent of adults have used text messaging to send a love letter, nine percent have used it to break off a relationship, and two percent have actually quit their jobs that way. It's a shame text messaging isn't more widely available in the U.S. or those Texas gangs could have used it, leaving the chat rooms to people who think they have better uses for it.

Luckily there are still some things that are sacred. You know, things that just don't lend themselves to text messaging. Like divorce. For that you still need to go online. That's right, you can now go online and file for divorce at sites like CompleteCase.com and LegalZoom.com. And why not? If you can meet, fall in love, and break-up online, why not complete the cycle and divorce that way too? Just don't forget to retain joint custody of the family Web site.

Eventually someone will figure out uses for the Internet and text messaging that are completely revolutionary, but until then they'll remain virtual televisions, newspapers, telephones, and graffiti-covered walls. But you don't have to sit around and wait for that day. In the meantime you can go online and listen to the radio. Without pictures. Now that's progress.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

The Carbs Made Me Do It

Last year companies unleashed more than 21,000 new food products on us. While this includes reformulations of existing products, I figure if they can in good conscience claim their items are New!, Improved!, and have a Great New Taste! without feeling bad because that means the old versions were obviously lacking, then I say they count.

Of these, 633 were low-carb. While that sounds like a lot, it's nothing compared to the 586 low-carb products that came out in the first quarter of this year alone. That translates into six new items a day, one for every person in this country who's not counting carbs, or a whopping 586 more chances for me to accidentally pick up the wrong thing in the supermarket. Right, like I need any more help.

It used to be that I could walk down the aisles of the grocery store and my main concern was trying to remember what was on the list I left at home while being careful to stay out of the way of women who are on a Shopping Mission From God. Then things got complicated. While at one time I only had to decide which brand and size I wanted, suddenly I had to pay very close attention, spending five minutes carefully examining each item before I buy it. It's not that I'm mesmerized by nutrition labeling which informs me that bottled water has no calories, no fat, no sodium, no carbohydrates, no dietary fiber, and no reason to have a nutritional label other than maybe the printer had a sale on zeros. No, the problem is I'm being confronted with way too many choices.

In the good old days, which is defined as any time before there were five kinds of Oreos to choose from, four of which are superfluous, if you needed mayonnaise you walked down the condiment aisle, found the brand you wanted, and went home safe in the knowledge that you could make tuna salad for the rest of your life because you couldn't resist the incredibly low cost per ounce of the institutional size jar. Little did you realize it was named that because you should be in an institution for buying that much mayonnaise.

Now you not only need to know what brand you want, you have to decide whether you want regular, low fat, fat-free, cholesterol-free, caffeine-free, sugar-free, unscented, extra-strength, colored, flavored, or now, lo-carb. And the packages all look alike. Okay, except for a very subtle color change or the tiny notice on the back which says "This product may not contain any substances you've ever heard of or are capable of pronouncing unless you have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry."

The problem is it's easy to overlook these things, especially when my mind is preoccupied with wondering whether I'll have enough money left over to buy a couple of gallons of gas without cashing in my 401(k). Right, like writers have 401(k)s. Our idea of planning for our retirement is to stand in front of the mirror and practice saying, "Would you like fries with that?" So between this and the brand proliferation, I invariably arrive home, unpack my groceries, and find that once again I've bought the Hi-Calcium Lo-fat Chunky Style Unsalted Reduced-Carb Saltines by accident. Where's Jolt Cola when you really need it?

According to Time, 26 million Americans are currently on a low-carb diet, which may explain why the publishers are feverishly working on a reduced-carb version of the magazine. Right, as if the high-fluffy feature, low-news version we get now isn't filling enough. That's also why restaurants, from the fastest to the foofiest, are adding low-carb items to their menu. Sure it can be such a culinary brainstorm as trashing the bun and making you eat a hamburger wrapped in a piece of lettuce, something only a marketing person or a rabbit would consider to be a good idea. And yes, many of the low-carb menu items were low-carb before low-carb became the sugar-free of the New Millennium. But hey, if you can toss the name Atkins around and bring customers in without having to play records by a country guitar player, more power to you.

It won't be long before carbs will be blamed for everything. After all, if there's one thing we can always use, it's a convenient scapegoat. So don't be surprised if President Bush announces that the War in Iraq was actually started because the CIA suspected Saddam Hussein had been stockpiling Carbs of Mass Destruction (CMDs). Hey, apparently pasta and bread can be dangerous. The skyrocketing price of gas will turn out to be because oil refineries shifted production while they worked overtime to create low-carb gasoline. Uma and Ethan will confirm our suspicions that they broke up because of irreconcilable carb differences. And in the end, no one will pitch to Barry Bonds because they hear he's loading up on all the carbs everyone else is avoiding. Hey, someone has to use them.

So dump the bread, forget the pasta, and blame everything on carbs. It won't be long before someone decides they're not so bad after all, so you might as well put them to good use while you can.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Drowning in a Sea of Popcorn

I'm a non-popcorn guy living in a popcorn world. Sounds like a bad '80s rock song, doesn't it? It's not that I hate the stuff, it's just that, well, I have very little use for it. I don't eat it often, have never had a craving for it, and I have no problem falling asleep in the middle of a movie without it. Trust me, I do that just fine without any outside help. It's like tofu -- on its own it has no taste. This doesn't mean I don't ever want it, it's just not something I get a sudden urge for, like, say, pizza or malted milk balls. Face it, if it wasn't for salt and butter they could hand you a jumbo bag of packing peanuts or rice cakes -- sorry, that's redundant -- and you wouldn't know the difference if you didn't look at it. Maybe that's why it's so popular in darkened theaters.

This puts me squarely in the minority, since Americans chow down 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year. That's a lot of kernels, Orville. In fact, that's 162 million barrels worth, which is enough to fill the gas tanks of 283 million cars, meaning everyone in Los Angeles could drive for a day were their cars able to run on popcorn. And they could get it through the hose and into the tank. Okay, maybe I've had better ideas in my life.

To break this down into something we can relate to on a more personal level, that's 59 quarts of popcorn a year for every man, woman and child in the U.S. And considering that I probably eat a quart or two at most, that leaves plenty for someone else. You know, someone like Crazy Legs Conti, the competitive eater -- yes, guidance counselors, there is such a career -- who the other day put on a diving mask and snorkel and was lowered into a telephone booth-size container filled with popcorn, vowing to eat his way out. The booth held 50 cubic feet of salted, buttered popcorn, which is 1,496 quarts. That's right, he planned on eating 25 Americans' annual allotment of popcorn in eight hours. Hey, we all need to have goals in life. And hopefully a good medical plan to go with them.

Lucky for him he didn't have to pay for it, since he was doing it to promote a documentary about his life as a window washer/competitive eater who, just for yucks, does things like sliding 168 raw oysters down his throat because, well, washing windows isn't very fulfilling. Or filling. It could be worse, he could have been like Oleg Zhornitskiy who ate four 32-ounce bowls of mayonnaise in eight minutes, or Donald Lerman who downed seven quarter-pound sticks of butter in five minutes. Come to think of it guidance counselors, maybe you should forget that this career exists.

So how did popcorn go from being an Indian curiosity to a movie theater profit center? You can blame Samuel Rubin, who died recently at age 85. Fifty years ago he introduced popcorn to movie theaters in New York City and, as you know, anything they do the rest of the country will soon adopt. Okay, except having a grating accent, pushing old ladies out of the way so you can have the cab when it's raining, and keeping a shrine to Woody Allen in the living room. At first Rubin made the popcorn and delivered it to the theaters because they thought it smelled too much, but later they figured out that was part of its allure. It's like a dog sniffing another dog's butt -- we think it smells gross while they probably think popcorn smells gross. I know I do.

I'm not sure what the attraction is to the smell of popcorn, unless it triggers an urge deep within our collective unconscious to throw away a ridiculous amount of money on something that has no nutritional value other than fiber. Hey, wood pulp supplies fiber too but you don't go salivating every time you smell a 2x4 being sawed in half, do you? Okay, that was rhetorical. The worst offender is microwave popcorn, which has a smell that travels farther than an astronaut, sticks better than Superglue, and is more obnoxious than Ashton Kutcher if you can imagine such a thing. Worse, it may actually be harmful.

It's true. The Environmental Protection Agency (motto: "Is it getting warmer in here or is it me?") is studying whether vapors from the butter flavoring causes a rare lung disease. Wouldn't it just suck if something that doesn't taste remotely like real butter turned out to be bad for you? Apparently workers who mix popcorn flavorings get this respiratory illness. It's bad enough their family can smell them as soon as they're two blocks from home, they don't need this too.

Conti didn't have to worry about this, since he didn't stay in the popcorn for but eight hours. And apparently only ate his way down to his shoulders before calling it quits. He said the popcorn wasn't so bad, it was the "butter" -- and I'm required by law and personal ethics to put that in quotes -- that did him in. He ended up eating about eight cubic feet of popcorn, which is 239 quarts, or the annual average consumption of four people. Good, now I don't have to feel bad about not eating my allotment.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Caution Writing Poetry May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Most people don't take life expectancy into consideration when thinking about a career. Rare is the high school student who sits down with a guidance counselor and discusses the job availability, pay scale, potential for advancement, and average lifespan of investment brokers, doctors, and cowboys. After all, you know that if you choose to become a police officer, Navy SEAL, or elementary school teacher you're taking your life in your hands, but who would think that if you become a writer, what you write can have an effect on how long you'll be doing it?

Well, it does. At least according to an article in the Journal of Death Studies (motto: "People are dying to get published in our magazine"). James Kaufman, a researcher from California State University who wrote the article, studied nearly 2,000 dead writers from the United States, China, Turkey and Eastern Europe and found that poets die younger than novelists, playwrights, and nonfiction writers. They're also poorer, get beat up more often, and are really tired of seeing people roll their eyes when told how they earn their meager living. And you wonder why they write such depressing stuff.

Kaufman's not sure exactly why it is that poets die younger, but he has two theories. The first is that since they have a higher rate of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction there are more suicides. I know, I was shocked too. The second is that poets start writing young, churning out twice as much of their lifetime output in their twenties as do novelists, so if they die at an early age they may already be known as a poet, while if a novelist dies young he or she may not have written anything of note yet. Is it any wonder Zen priests have adopted the new koan "If a great novelist dies before writing his masterpiece, will he make a sound?"

In spite of their propensity to die at a younger age, poets aren't anywhere to be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the 10 Most Dangerous Jobs. Lumberjacks are at the top, followed by fishermen, pilots, and structural metal workers. Keep this in mind the next time you think about grabbing your rod and reel and hitting the Bassmasters circuit. Neither is poet on the list of the most stressful jobs, though prison guard, police officer, social worker, and teacher are. Hell, even dentists made that list and what do they have to be stressed about other than being careful not to let the occasional "Whoops!" slip out while they have a drill in your mouth?

As writing goes, there are definitely more dangerous jobs than being a poet. Being a foreign journalist in Iraq immediately comes to mind, as does being an Academy Award-winning screenwriter. It's true. According to a study a few years ago by some Canadian researchers who had more time on their hands than government oversight, screenwriters who win an Oscar live an average of 3.6 years less than those who are merely nominated. Winning additional awards cuts their life expectancy by another 22 percent. Go home with four statuettes and chances are you'll die while being handed your next one. Talk about too much of a good thing.

This is one of those instances when winning makes you a loser, much like taking first place in the International Mime Competition. The interesting thing is that it's just the opposite with actors. In a previous study, the same researchers found that when an actor wins an Academy Award he or she tends to live 3.9 years longer than those who were merely nominated and had to smile when their name wasn't announced, trying desperately to imitate someone who actually believes that being nominated is the honor. Now that's good acting, especially since inside they're crying because the jerk who won will not only get paid more for their next film, but will outlive them. Of course they shouldn't be upset. After all, it's not as if having stalkers, not being able to have a quiet dinner out without being hounded for autographs, and seeing photographs of yourself at your sloppy early morning worst in People week after week isn't enough of a reward.

If you're looking for a job that's easier on you than lumberjack, fisherman, poet, or Academy Award-winning screenwriter, you might consider the list of the least stressful jobs as ranked by the Jobs Rated Almanac. At the top of the list are medical records technician, janitor, forklift operator, musical instrument repairer, and florist. You'll notice writing jobs are nowhere in sight. I can only hope my insurance company's actuary doesn't notice this.

Keep all this in mind the next time you get discouraged with work and romanticize about dropping out and becoming a poet. Consider a career as a novelist or playwright or nonfiction writer. Anything but a poet. And whatever you do, don't aspire to be a poet who wins an Academy Award. Life is too short. Or it would be anyway.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

When Your Looks Have Gone to the Dogs

It's nice when science verifies something we instinctively know. This not only makes us feel smart because we knew all along that exercise is good, smoking is bad, and E=mc2, but it keeps researchers employed, and if there's one thing you don't want it's a scientist standing behind you in the unemployment line asking probing questions like, "Does being an expert on nanotechnology make me a nanny?" Thus, it was nice to read that a professor at UC San Diego (motto: "Research rocks, dude!") has proven that when people choose a dog as a pet they look for one that resembles them. There, don't you feel validated?

Now before you run around eyeing every person who's walking a dog and saying, "Ah-ha, I see the resemblance!", it's important to understand that this only holds true for purebred pooches. That's because when you pick out a purebred puppy you already know what it's going to look like when it grows up. Rare is the boxer puppy that winds up having a long English sheepdog-like coat or the Pekinese that won't end up looking like it ran face first into the wall one too many times. Okay, ten too many times. Mutts, on the other hand, are a crapshoot. Choose the wrong one and it could grow up to look like, oh say, John Kerry, though come to think of it so would a purebred bloodhound. While the purebred would cost more, either one would be more fun and exciting to watch during a presidential debate than the real thing.

I suspect this isn't a recent development. Ever since the first wolves latched onto humans hoping for a dog biscuit, a scratch behind the ears and, well, another dog biscuit nearly 100,000 years ago they've looked like their owners, though in the early days it was mostly because both were covered with hair. Over the years we've lost most of our hair -- okay, some of us have lost just about all of it -- but haven't changed our physical appearance but so much, Lady Clairol, Botox, and tattoos notwithstanding. Yet, somehow dogs have come to show more diversity of size, shape and physical attributes than any other mammal in the world. This is pretty amazing since scientists claim that every dog alive today evolved from just six gray wolves that roamed East Asia. Very prolific wolves, apparently. Thanks to evolution, or Extreme Makeover if you don't believe in the existence of Charles Darwin, some of the wolves metamorphosed into Great Danes while others went the Chihuahua route. Obviously, they didn't have a choice in the matter. Some breeds, such as the Miniature Pinscher, didn't evolve at all, instead being artificially bred by humans who make a convincing argument for legalizing retroactive abortion.

This look-alike phenomenon is confined to dogs, it doesn't occur between other pets and their owners. Face it, it's not often you see people who resemble their fish, hamsters, and birds. Luckily. Even cats, the second most popular pet in this country, and their owners don't look alike. Of course some of that's because all cats look pretty much the same, with the exception of Siamese which look like Ed Begley, Jr. staring at a fly on the end of his nose. Okay, and Persians which look like they ran face first into the wall ten too many times along with their Pekinese canine counterparts.

Now before you cat lovers get your litter boxes in an uproar, stop and think about this. Cats come in four colors, three fur lengths, and two tail styles, normal and Manx. That allows for less variety than anything except a Wonder Bread sampler pack. Face it, you just don't see many cats running around with an ungodly amount of excess wrinkly skin hanging off them, a long sausage-like body that drags on the ground, or a head the size of Utah with a mouth that leaks gallons of drool per hour. Go ahead, take a moment to think about the people who own those dogs and what they must look like. Let me know when your stomach stops churning.

Of course dog owners will deny to the death that they look like their pet, just as married couples deny that they grow to look like each other, this in spite of the fact that they carry interchangeable driver's licenses. After all, each of us wants to think we're different, that we're an individual, that we're unique. Even if we believe we have a doppelganger running around, we don't want it to be a Shar-Pei, poodle or schnauzer. George Clooney, Charlize Theron, or Brad Pitt okay, but not Benji, Lassie, or The Taco Bell dog. Then again, how do you think the dogs feel?

At Least Pinocchio Had An Indicator

It's hard to know what to believe these days. Once upon a time you could rely on anything your mother, teacher, or priest told you. Then came bleary-eyed Baby Boomers telling their kids they never used drugs, teachers having babies with their students, and Catholic priests taking the first part of Boys Town's name way too seriously. Now we have President Bush telling 3 million recently unemployed people that the economy's getting better, prospective jurors in the Scott Peterson trial claiming they haven't made up their minds yet, and a 5-day weather forecast that has all the accuracy of a blind knife thrower. Is it any wonder we've become a world full of skeptics?

Turn on the news, it's all "he said, she said" all of the time. Bush and Kerry are this close to degenerating into "Did too!", "Did not!", "Nanny, nanny, boo-boo!" The Senate investigation into the World Trade Center bombing looks like an old Saturday Night Live version of Point/Counterpoint, which is why it might be smart for Condoleezza Rice to stay away lest someone call her an ignorant slut. And every day brings reports about the health benefits of certain foods, followed the next day by a report of how the same food can kill you. What's a person to believe?

Luckily, I'm here to help you cut through this. Here are a few guidelines to help you sort it out:

Don't believe everything you read.

While it's easy to say you know the difference between the New York Times and the National Enquirer, you'd better hope that's true. After all, the National Enquirer sells twice as many copies of an issue as does the Times. And the Internet? You need to be extremely cautious there. Just because you see it on a Web site doesn't mean it's true. Unless it's mine, of course. So yes, this means you might as well stop taking those pills that promise to make all your body parts larger, but trust me, it's for your own good. Besides, size doesn't matter. Much.

This tip would have saved the city of Aliso Viejo, CA, a lot of grief. Not the one about size, the one about the Internet. City Council was set to vote on a proposed law banning the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events because they're manufactured using a substance that could "threaten human health and safety." The substance is dihydrogen monoxide. They pulled the proposal after someone realized that the caustic, destructive substance they thought was deadly if inhaled is better known as H20, or water. Apparently someone found the information on a Web site and, well, the rest is dihydrogen monoxide under the bridge.

Truth is relative.

Take the near-miss we had with an asteroid this past week. At least that's what scientists were calling it when a 100-ft wide hunk of rock had the closest brush with Earth of any asteroid that's been tracked. Okay, so what if it was still 26,500 miles away, that's practically tailgating in astronomical terms. And just our luck, there wasn't anyone in the space shuttle to give it a ticket. The point is, a near miss to one person isn't necessarily a near miss to you. Unless you're talking about a guy who hasn't had his final sex change operation. That's pretty universal.

Examine the source.

They say a leopard can't change its spots. Of course that was before Photoshop. Recently a photograph circulated the Internet showing John Kerry and Jane Fonda on the podium at a 1970 anti-war rally. It made it into newspapers and on TV news broadcasts before someone figured out it was a composite of two different photos. Even though it was a good fake, it should have been easy to figure out. After all, Fonda appears to be singing and Kerry is wondering whose chin is larger, his or Jay Leno's. Think people! This was supposed to be 1970, long before American Idol was a glint in Simon Cowell's eye and back when Johnny Carson was still in charge of the Tonight Show. See how easy it can be if you think it through?

Take a look at the track record.

Like the boy who cried wolf, if you're caught not telling the truth no one will believe you again. Worse, they might make you go from room to room with gum on your nose, something which was bad enough in school but is really tough in the workplace. Trust me on this.

A good example is Jayson Blair. He's the former New York Times reporter who was fired for making up stories, quotes, and concert reviews for performances he hadn't bothered going to. Hard to imagine why that would be a problem at a newspaper, isn't it? Anyway, his new book, Burning Down My Master's House, just came out and it's not selling well. Okay, it's bombing. And why wouldn't it? What would lead anyone to believe that a book written by a liar about his lying would have any more truth to it than his newspaper articles did? Maybe if they classified the book as fiction it would do better.

So to sum it up, keep your eyes open, question everything, and always look both ways before crossing the street. At least that way even if you get sucked in by some cockamamie story you won't get hit by an asteroid.

What Would Jesus Buy?

There's been a lot of talk about Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ. The last thing it needs at this point is more free press, but let's get serious, I have a personal eternity to protect so I'd better get my two cents in, hope it helps sell a few tickets, and pray that Someone in Power remembers that I could have written about kids who are getting too fat, California legislators who want to incorporate feng shui into the state building code, or how I watched the video of Justin Timberlake tearing Janet Jackson's dress over and over and was disgusted every time, but I won't. I need all the help I can get.

I have to say right off the bat that I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to. Heck, I read the book, I already know how it ends. It's the same reason I didn't see Titanic -- did anyone really think they were going to ditch the iceberg and have the ship sail into New York City with the King of the World hanging over the bow? That's not to suggest that there probably wasn't at least one studio executive who thought about meddling with The Passion. I'm sure after it was screened for a test audience someone pulled Gibson aside and said, "Look, everyone thinks the ending's too downbeat. It's a bummer for, well, for goodness sake. Is there any chance you can re-shoot the ending so he gets the girl, she gives up her wayward life, and they settle down in a cute little two-room manger on a kibbutz in Israel? And how do you feel about moving the location to New York or L.A. so it's a little more accessible? I mean, Israel's such a downer these days."

The movie's gotten off to a roaring start at the box office, thanks in part to churches which have bought blocks of seats and sent busloads of parishioners who are shocked when they're let out at the cineplex and not the casino as they expected. But ticket sales aren't the only thing getting a boost, there's going to be an economic ripple effect. First, the movie's bound to boost book sales, especially when they release a new edition of the Bible with big letters across the cover trumpeting, "Now a major motion picture by Mel Gibson!" and a special pull-out section featuring photographs from the movie. And then there's the merchandising.

That's right, all you have to do is walk into your favorite religious book store and you can buy The Passion pendants, which are crude nails just like those used in the movie hanging from a leather cord. In two sizes, no less. You can also buy The Passion crucifixes, lapel pins, key chains, coffee mugs (microwaveable and dishwasher-safe, thank god), and of course the official soundtrack CD and $24.99 coffee-table book. I suspect the only reason you won't find Jesus and Pontius Pilate action figures in your Happy Meal is that someone was smart enough to realize that most parents don't want to watch their children make a crucifix out of two french fries while urging Pontius to hang a ketchup-covered Jesus on it. Not to mention that in order to keep the theme going they'd insist on serving your hamburger bloody and raw.

These merchandise sales will help Gibson earn what Forbes magazine estimates will be $300 million from the movie. They say you can't buy salvation, but if it turns out they're wrong at least he won't have to worry about not having enough cash for the cover charge at the pearly gates. But before we, uh, crucify him for this, we need to give him a little credit. After all, he showed a lot of restraint by not having any paid product placement in the movie. Come on, you don't think they drink Cokes on American Idol and wore Ray-Bans in Men in Black by accident, do you?

Gibson could have picked up a nice chunk of cash from corporate sponsors who would love to have their products affiliated with the son of God. Okay, so it's not as effective as having Shaquille O'Neal as your spokesperson, I'm sure Jesus' agent wouldn't hold out for nearly as much money. Think about it, the hammers and nails in the movie could have been made by Craftsman. The crown of thorns could have been fashioned from the new 2004 Jackson & Perkins rose bushes. The whips could have been supplied by Stormy Leather in San Francisco, Jesus' loincloth could have been Fruit of the Loom, and the Roman soldiers could have been running around in Birkenstocks or Tevas. Hopefully not while wearing white socks.

He also could have extended the merchandising. The movie could sponsor a NASCAR race called The Passion Holy Grail Cup. Cross pens could put out a limited edition that writes with red ink. And by simply putting one word in front of Elizabeth Taylor's perfume they'd have The Passion, "Smell good for eternity." Of course there would be the inevitable TV commercial for Visa that says, "A Passion pendant, $12.99. A seat at Rosh Hashanah services, $300. Eternal salvation, priceless."

So many choices, so little money. That's why you have to ask yourself, "What would Jesus buy?"

What Hath God Wrought Dot Com

It turns out your mother was right when she spent the better part of your formative years drumming it into your head that you can bring technology to the Luddite, but you can't make him use it. Okay, so that's not really what she said, she might have had she owned the computer you gave her two years ago that she still can't manage to turn on no matter how many times you draw her an illustration showing that the power switch is the huge button on the front.

This comes to mind because, contrary to his wonk image, it turns out that Bill Clinton was a closet Luddite. Sure, he presided over the flowering of the Internet Age. And yes, his vice president claimed to have invented the Internet, at least until he explained that in his mind "inventing" and "voting to fund" meant the same thing . But the truth is, Clinton didn't make use of the technology. While he was in the White House he sent only two e-mails -- count 'em, two! -- and they were a joke about a rabbi, a priest and Bob Dole, which he forwarded to Hilary and Elizabeth Dole. Just kidding. Actually, the first one was a test e-mail to see if he knew how to do it ("Wow, this is almost as much fun as lurking in the sex -- I mean, sax -- chat room") while the second was a note to John Glenn who was orbiting Earth at the time. I'm sure Clinton would have preferred to send Glenn a postcard but you know how hard it can be to find one that says "Having a great time, wish Newt Gingrich was there."

Contrast that with how his staff used e-mail. According to a spokesperson at the Clinton Presidential Foundation (motto: "Thongs are considered a foundation, aren't they?"), the former president's staff churned out nearly 40 million e-mails. That's about 14,000 a day, 570 an hour, and an awful lot of time taken away from important tasks like searching online for naked photos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Every one of those e-mails will be archived in the presidential library, including Clinton's two, which you'll be able to find in a dusty corner of a rarely used hard drive along with Hilary's plan to fix the health care system.

The foundation's spokesperson says the reason there are so few e-mails from Clinton is that he's more of a personal note and telephone guy. He's probably like the people I run into who, when you e-mail them, reply with, "Call me." Or the editor I worked with a couple of years ago who told me he only checked e-mail every few days, so if I sent one I should call and let him know so he could go online and look for it. Uh, are we missing a major concept here?

It's high time everyone caught on to using e-mail. After all, if Morse code can come kicking and screaming into the 21st century, so can you. That's right, last December the International Telecommunications Union (motto: "Listen for the union label") voted to add a new character to the Morse code arsenal, the first time they've done that since before World War II. It's the "@" symbol. You know, the one used in your e-mail address. Go ahead, stop for a second and think about sending an e-mail address using Morse code. I'll wait.

The new sign will be dot-dash-dash-dot-dash-dot, which is the letter "A" followed by "C." They're calling it the "commat," which as far as I can tell they made up because the word "at" is way too difficult to pronounce. This change of symbol name reminds me of a few years ago when some Internet start-up people thought it would be cute to pronounce "www" as dub-dub-dub, so they walked around telling people their Web site address sounding like drowning fish. If you want to know why it didn't catch on, just go to your local Burger King and ask them. But wait until they've finished asking, "Would you like fries with that?"

It's interesting that Morse code now has the "@" sign yet it still doesn't have an exclamation point. That's right, when communicating in Morse code you can use a simple declarative sentence and ask a question but you can't emphasize anything. No wonder it never caught on with the masses, it's too monotonous. Another symbol they don't have is the "#", which we call the pound sign in the U.S. while most other countries call it the "hash mark," particularly in England where they don't want it to be confused with their hold-out against the euro. In some geeky circles it's called the octothorpe, which -- True Fact Alert! -- was made up by a guy at Bell Labs during the 1960's [insert hippie drug culture joke here] and hasn't been used since by anyone who doesn't spend his spare time bemoaning the demise of pocket protectors, slide rules, and lab coats as a fashion statement.

I now have this image stuck in my head of sailors on a battleship blinking huge lights, or using semaphore flags, to send a message to someone on another ship: "Email me at heysailor@hotmail.com, and hurry." There's a better chance of that happening than there is of someone emailing a message using Morse code. Unless, of course, it's from Bill Clinton.

Putting That Shrimp Ken on the Barbie

It's been quite a time for weddings lately, and it's not even close to June. First Britney Spears got all excited and set the land speed record for a marriage -- single to married to single in a zippy 48 hours. Since she had it annulled, technically, it never happened, which I guess means we all dreamed it. Pretty scary to think that we can all wake up screaming from the same nightmare at the same time and we didn't have to eat half a Domino's pizza right before bed to do it.

Then in San Francisco, the mayor decided that his and her marriage licenses were oh so very '90s and decreed that gay couples could get married, which led to lines around the block, lawsuits in the courts, and Britney taking that kiss seriously and proposing to Madonna. Just kidding. Actually, Madonna's already married. To a film director who's helping ruin her already disastrous movie career.

We watched Ryan and Trista give pink a bad name while spending more money than anyone would lavish on a wedding that wasn't being paid for by a TV network. We waited breathlessly for every on-again-off-again announcement from Ben and J-Lo hoping, well, hoping they'd do something already. Anything. And now we have to deal with the biggest marriage disappointment of the year -- after 43 years of dating, Barbie and Ken have called it quits. That's right, you can dress Barbie in all the wedding gowns you like, she's not walking down the aisle with Ken.

According to a spokesman at Mattel, the company that owns the pair but insists that doesn't make it slavery, the happy, physically disproportionate couple is going their separate ways. It turns out that poor Ken is being dumped for a new upstart doll named Blaine. I have to say, if I was being dumped for a guy named Blaine I'm not sure if I'd drink heavily for a long time or feel relieved that I didn't waste another minute with someone who would actually want a Blaine.

It's a common story. Barbara Millicent Roberts, which is Barbie's full name, recently came out as Cali Girl Barbie -- not to be mistaken for Call Girl Barbie -- and took on all the trappings that come with it, including board shorts, hoop earrings, a deep tan, and skin cancer. Along with the change, she decided that Ken the boring old boyfriend is out and Blaine the Australian boogie boarder is in. Hey, I'm not making this up; a vice-president of Mattel is being paid big bucks to spout this stuff to the press. With a straight face, no less.

Apparently, Barbie's not taking on all of the Cali Girl attributes. She won't say "dude" all the time, will be found outside malls as well as inside, and won't be getting breast enhancement surgery, which is a good thing because if she had anymore added up top she wouldn't be able to walk without falling on her face. Not that she can walk on her own anyway, but still.

I'm sure this came as a shock to Ken. The break-up, not Barbie being top heavy. After all, they first started dating way back in 1961 when she was only two. For some reason no one seemed to bat an eyelash about that and, unlike Jerry Lee Lewis, the age problem didn't ruin her career. Of course, career may be part of the problem, since Ken wasn't exactly the most ambitious doll in the dollhouse. While Barbie spent time as a rock star, NASCAR racer, black woman and President of the United States, Ken was a cowboy, cop, astronaut and doctor. Kind of a one-doll Village People without the hit record. Not exactly prime husband material.

It's difficult to say how much this entered into Barbie's decision to dump him. After 43 years she may just have gotten tired of waiting for him to pop the question. Then again, he might have been messing around with her sister Skipper. I hear some strange things can happen in the privacy of a young girl's bedroom at night. It's also possible that Barbie is going through a mid-life crisis. After all, she's at the right age and has already done most of the mid-life crisis things, like tool around in a red convertible and go for Sunday rides on her Harley-Davidson, so what else could she do but dump Ken for a young hot Aussie surf stud? After all, Ashton Kutcher is taken.

The funny thing is, she could have had any doll she wanted all along but she stuck with Ken. G.I. Joe would have given his right revolver for her. The Power Rangers would have mightily morphed into anything they had to in order to win her hand. Chuckie would have, well, maybe we shouldn't think about the things Chuckie might have done to Barbie. And The Powerpuff Girls? Lets just say they would have had her at City Hall in San Francisco faster than you can say "Lipstick Lesbian Barbie." But she stuck with Ken. And dumped him right before Valentine's Day. The bitch.

I'm sure Ken will come out of this just fine. He's a good looking, buff guy and Barbie isn't the only doll in the toy store. But he might want to stay away from the Britney doll. After all, he's obviously into long-term relationships. I wonder if Dora the Explorer is available.

Weighing In On Obesity

Americans are too fat. There, I've said it. You can use all the polite terms you want -- plump, hefty, overweight, body mass challenged, over-gravitized -- but it boils down to the same thing. If you're a guy and you look like you're pregnant, you're too fat. If you're a woman who looks like she's pregnant and you're not, you're too fat. If you think I'm starting to sound like Jeff Foxworthy, please, stop me now. One is enough.

Should you be thin and reading this, feel free to move on to the in-depth analysis in People of why Ashton and Demi are the new J-Lo and Ben and how this will affect all of their chances at this year's Academy Awards. Hell, it certainly can't hurt their chances. At least not unless mathematicians have rescinded the rule against negative probabilities, which would be good news for me since it would go a long way towards explaining how I do as, uh, well as I do in the lottery. Then again, if you're thin you might just want to stick around. After all, fat people were thin once, so it could happen to you too. Think about that the next time you go to Cinnabon and ask them to supersize it.

The United States is the world's fattest nation. It's true. Government statistics -- and if you can't believe the government who can you believe? -- show that 65 percent of Americans are overweight. Yes, 65 percent! That's more than pretend they didn't reply to a spam email offering a copy of the "Par!s H!lton v!deo" yet wonder why their mailbox is now filled with offers for things they never dreamed were possible, even though we have a space program that's constantly developing incredible things like Tang, ball point pens that write upside down, and foam mattresses which are hawked on infomercials.

Think about it. This means two out of every three of us are toting around excess weight, and no, I'm not talking about that backpack filled with Krispy Kremes, potato chips, and 3-gallon Big Gulps. No, this excess weight is much more attached to us than that. It also means two-thirds of Americans are putting an unnecessary strain on their hearts, lungs, feet, and the good nature of those people who have to sit next to them on an airplane. And don't blame that on the airlines, they supply seats which are perfectly suited to fit, oh, maybe a 4-year-old. A small one.

Now before you go getting your elastic waist slacks in an uproar, it's okay for me to talk like this. After all, when I was a kid my mother dragged me kicking and screaming into the husky department at Euphemism's Department Store to buy my clothes. Calling them husky may have helped my mother feel better, but it didn't do a thing for me. They might as well have called them tubbies. Or blimpies. Actually, they probably would have called them that were they not so afraid of being sued by the sub sandwich company. But I managed to lose those excess pounds, which proves that physical baggage can be easier to shed than emotional. It also proves that stopping eating can be an effective diet plan, and had I not named my book The Biafran Diet I'm sure it would have been as big a seller as the Adkins, South Beach, or Lose Weight While Eating Everything You Want Because Your Wallet Will Be Lighter Thanks To Having Bought This Book diets.

Trust me, I understand it's easier to put on weight than lose it. Well, unless you're Lucica Bunghez, the Romanian woman who recently lost 175 pounds in 10 hours. It's true. Unfortunately her excess weight was in the form of a tumor which the doctors removed. A tumor, mind you, which weighed almost twice as much as the rest of her body. The operation went well and, according to the head of Plastic Surgery and Understatement at the hospital in Bucharest, "The lack of the tumor really suits her." I'm sure if she didn't feel better after the operation she definitely felt better after hearing this. Face it, nothing can bring you down as much as knowing you looked better with a tumor the size of New Hampshire on your back. Okay, maybe hearing Howard Dean scream with joy at the news could bring you down more. Sue me.

It's not surprising we're a nation of fat adults since we're also a nation of fat children. A recent issue of Time stated that on the average, a child in this country eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate high school. Well, assuming they complete school in 12 years, but that's another problem to be discussed at another time. A few weeks later the magazine featured a 10-year-old girl who weighed 220 lbs and developed diabetes. The family was shocked. Uh, exactly what were you thinking when you kept feeding her and she continued to grow out more than up? Hey, if you aim your car at a brick wall and stomp on the gas pedal, don't be shocked when you smash into the wall and get hurt.

To be fair, there are a lot of people who are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately most of them are anorexic and don't need to. But not all. In Nevada County, CA (motto: "Confused? So are we.") 800 residents have joined a communal weight loss program called the Nevada County Meltdown. Lets hope no one in the Three Mile Island area picks up on this idea. The members of the Meltdown hope to lose 4 tons of fat in two months. That's 133 pounds a day, which is 532 Quarter Pounders with cheese, $240.84 at the current exchange rate, or nearly one Romanian tumor. That may be a drop of fat in the oversized bucket, but hey, it's a start.

Deleting Temptation

Guilt is a wonderful thing. After all, if it weren't for guilt we wouldn't pick up after ourselves, send Aunt Ruth whom we haven't seen in twenty years a birthday card, or threaten to go on a diet every time we suck in our stomach so we can zip up our pants. Yes, guilt is a great motivator, right up there with money, friendship, and, well, money.

Even though guilt can often drive us crazy, in many instances it's easy to get rid of. One method is to do whatever it is that's making you feel guilty. If it's that you haven't called your mother since she pissed you off by asking for the 1,245th time this month why she doesn't have grandchildren, all you have to do is pick up the phone and take care of it. The guilt part, anyway.
If you feel guilty because your wedding anniversary slipped your mind again, just get a reservation at a fancy restaurant, buy lots of flowers, and be prepared to spend plenty of money in a jewelry store. Oh yes, and grovel. A lot. For a long, long time.

But not everything is that simple. For some things you need prayer. That's why it's good news that a rabbi in Israel has created a benediction to help Jews overcome guilt from visiting porn sites on the Internet. You know, kind of a Browser's Lament. Shlomo Eliahu, a rabbi in the town of Safed, says Jews should recite the prayer every time they go online as well as make it the wallpaper display on their monitor, just in case they should accidentally enter a porn site. "Whoops! I didn't mean to type 'www.sexy-yentas.com' into my browser! Good thing I have my prayer screensaver active."

His prayer, which actually would be suitable for porn viewers of all denominations, is: "Please God, help me cleanse the computer of viruses and evil photographs which disturb and ruin my work...so that I shall be able to cleanse myself." It seems the prayer is a sin absolver and an anti-virus all rolled up in one. If he added a firewall, password manager, and pop-up blocker he'd have a complete security suite on his hands. Look for S.O.S. (Salvation Office Suite) to hit the market any day now.

While people of most religions could use this prayer, Catholics don't really need it since they don't look at porn. Okay, lay Catholics don't anyway. But were one to do so by accident, all they'd have to do is go to confession, spend a few minutes titillating a priest with the gory details, then go home and say a few Hail Marys, a couple of Our Fathers, and maybe a Glory Be or two for good luck and all will be absolved. At least for another week, at which time they can go through this spiritual cleansing all over again. And again. See, Catholics are lucky because the last time I checked the Church hadn't instituted a "three-strikes" policy, so the worst that could happen is each week you'd get slapped with a few more prayers to say. And maybe have to mow the church lawn or check the freshness dating on the sacramental wafers the next four Sundays. Big deal. That's a small price to pay for watching Paris Hilton romp around a bed looking like she could star in Children of the Damned Smurfs.

It's good to see Jews getting into porn atonement, since for too many years Catholics have cornered the market on being puritanical, something which confuses them no end because the Puritans were Protestants. Think about it, Catholics have eight (count 'em, 8!) patron saints of resisting sexual temptation, ranging from the well known Mary Magdalene to a head-scratcher, Pelagria of Antioch. Face it, if you need that many patron saints for one little thing like sexual temptation then either it's a tough one to resist, it's such a popular pastime that the prayers need to be spread amongst eight saints so none of them are overtaxed, or else the College of Cardinals will do anything so they can say the words "sexual temptation" aloud without having to recite the rosary afterwards. I know which one has my vote.

Maybe the Catholic Church needs to stay one step ahead of the Jews and select a patron saint of resisting online porn. After all, they've been talking about coming up with one for the Internet, why not this? Besides, they already have patron saints for television, headaches, and postal workers (Matrona, Teresa of Avila, and Gabriel). They also have ones for comedians, sore throats, and hairdressers (Vitus, Blaise, and Martin de Porres). They even have a patron saint for married women (Monica) and another for snakebite victims (Hilary). Honestly. I couldn't have made up those last two if I wanted to.

The popular candidate for the honor of patron saint of the Internet is Saint Isadore, who set up the first webcam over 1,400 years ago but had trouble attracting anyone to his site since, well, there weren't a lot of computers in Seville then, only barbers. Just kidding. Actually it turns out he wrote a 20-volume encyclopedia which his supporters say is kind of like a database. He may turn out to be the best choice since there's no record of any saint having created an illuminated spreadsheet, sending email, or playing solitaire.

These patron saints and cleansing prayers are a good start, but they don't go far enough. We need something strong, some divine intervention, to save us from the onslaught of emails offering larger body parts, smaller bank accounts, and glimpses of things which will send us back to confession. What we really need is a holy Delete key.

Thank God Christmas Only Comes Once a Year

Dear friends!

The past year has been amazingly busy here in the Dog household. Is it possible that twelve months have really gone by since my last newsletter? I'd apologize for not writing more often, but since March I had three letters returned by the Post Office marked "Refused," one labeled "Moved -- Left No Forwarding Address," and four which were corrected in red ink and graded. Not the best grades I've gotten either. By the way, if anyone knows my parents' new address, please get it to me. I promise I won't tell them who passed it on.

Speaking of grades, the new back porch is almost finished after that backhoe rammed into it while they were grading the yard for an Olympic-size in-ground swimming pool. Were their faces red when they found out they were in the wrong yard? Of course not, they were just sunburned from working outside all the time. (Ha! Ha!) The new porch should be really nice once the shipment of Plastic Wood gets here, but the best part is they left the big hole in the yard so I'll finally get to start that Manta Ray farm I've always dreamed about.

Work has been going well, though I'm still mad at Dave for using my idea for the Top Ten lists without asking me. At least no one's stolen my idea for a TV series about a single father raising a bunch of precocious children by himself. Unfortunately the fried marble revival I expected never happened, which was just as well after the rear doors of the truck I rented opened up and spilled my inventory all over the Interstate. Whoops!

My new office is nice as I get to socialize a lot with everyone who works in the building since they all have to cut through here to get to the bathroom. Oh yea, I almost forgot! The body cast will be coming off soon, Brian apologized for misspelling "Mom" on my new tattoo, and the I.R.S. dropped the tax evasion charges when they came to the house and agreed that I couldn't possibly have made any money last year.

Well, I should be thankful -- this has definitely been a lucky year for me. I found a nice girl who I like a whole lot and would like to settle down with, but after a couple of days she cut through the ropes and found her way home. The restraining order is up soon, so I hope to start seeing her again.

The value of my car went up once I started filling it with premium gas, so soon I'll be able to sell it for a fortune and buy a hot new Lamaborg...Lambourgh...a used Yugo. And maybe you hadn't heard, but I bought three winning lottery tickets this year! Twice I made enough to buy new tickets which lost (Boo!) and the third time I got to buy a Snickers bar (Yea!). Wait, shouldn't I have gotten change for that? (Ha Ha. Just kidding.)

My health is good, I'm not married yet, and luckily the dog still hasn't found his way home.

I've almost finished repainting the kitchen after the grease fire that started when I used the new fondue pot my brother gave me for my birthday. The firemen had a big laugh when they discovered I was using one that hadn't been manufactured in fifteen years and had been recalled twice. Speaking of my birthday, this one was a big one for me! Everyone said they had a blast at the huge party in the hotel grand ballroom. I can't believe they rented out the whole thing! I would have loved to be there but you know how bad mail delivery can be these days. Next time send my invitation out earlier, guys!

Well, I finally got to go on that long overdue vacation. I can't wait to have grandchildren so I can tell them I was at Disneyworld the first time it was shut down by a blizzard. It may have been a short trip, but at least it was educational -- Mickey Mouse is a lot bigger than he looks on TV! And talk about expanding horizons, I learned something when I went to the beach, too. Did you know the higher the SPF number the longer you can stay out in the sun?!? Ouch.... now I know too!

Well, that's all I have room for right now. My New Year's resolutions are to remember to dust every third time I vacuum, eat more baby seal, and stop using those high cholesterol animal fats to wax my moustache.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!
-- Mad Dog


More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Rating the Raters

It's beginning to feel like everything has a rating system these days. Movies started it as a handy way to let us know whether there's enough sex and violence in a movie to want to see it. Then TV shows posted warning labels, though for some reason they only tell us the show has Adult Language or Graphic Violence while conveniently forgetting to warn us about Insipid Plots, Stereotyped Characters, or Same Old Stale Jokes About a Clueless Father Raising Two Precocious Children All By Himself. Of course if they had to show a label like SOSJACFRTPCABH it would take up most of the screen, and there's precious little of it left now that there's always a logo in the corner and, on some channels, pop-ups promoting upcoming shows. If they keep this up we'll be watching the actual show in a 3"x 4" square. You know, just like the cable news channels.

Music is rated too. Some CDs come with a Parental Advisory label, which isn't really a warning, it's an enticement for kids to buy it. Though it just says "Explicit Content," what it should say is "If by some miracle you were able to understand these lyrics you wouldn't want your children to be listening to them." This warning comes courtesy of the RIAA, the same record industry trade group which issues subpoenas to 12-year-olds for downloading music. Come to think of it, we'd better start heeding those advisory labels if we know what's good for us.

Video games are also rated, and with content descriptions which are much better than those used by movies and record companies. They use descriptors such as Animated Blood, Crude Humor, and Informational, the latter being the strongest warning you could have if you want to stop a kid from ever wanting to play a video game. If they want to make sure kids will never play it, they should add Educational, Good For You, and Your Parents Like It to the list.

Even Web sites have a rating system. It's sponsored by the Internet Content Rating Association, and as far as I can tell no one besides me has heard of the rating system or the company. Hey, I only know it because I stumbled on it while searching for information about warning labels. It doesn't appear that any Web site has ever posted a rating label and, even if it did, by the time a parent saw it the kids would have already bookmarked the site in a secret file Mom and Dad will never know about. At least until the RIAA sends a search warrant for the computer.

Rating is an arbitrary thing. Take movies, for example. It's hard to figure out why some movies get the rating they do. In general, sex is bad while violence is okay. This is just like real life where it's okay to get into a fight, but you'd better keep your knickers on, dammit. Out of 70 films listed at the MPAA's rating web site (www.filmratings.com) as having received the dreaded NC-17 rating, only three mention violence as a reason. Showgirls received two ratings, an NC-17 and an R. Both ratings mention a lot about sex but neither lists the main reason -- torture. No, there wasn't a torture scene in the movie that you missed because you fell asleep, it was torture watching it.

Recently, Kill Bill, the Quentin Tarrantino movie with as many killings as minutes of run time, got an R rating, meaning children under 17 are allowed in as long as they're accompanied by a parent, guardian, or fake ID. The San Francisco Chronicle elaborated on the rating by saying, "It has shootings, stabbings, beatings, beheadings, disembowelings, amputations, mutilations, eye-gouging, slicings, choppings, bitings and a spanking. Also some naughty words." Actually I think the Chronicle was just having fun. After all, that paragraph was lifted word for word from an old Veg-a-matic commercial, except they left out the line about slicing unripe tomatoes.

Apparently naughty words alone won't get a movie an NC-17 rating, though it can get it an R. Take South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which according to The Movie Index, a company that has nothing better to do than sit around and count the swear words in movies, had more profanity per minute (PPM) than any other movie: 399 naughty words in 80 minutes. That's almost five cusswords per minute, or one every 12 seconds. You don't hear that much swearing at the Tourette's Syndrome Annual Awards Banquet.

Pulp Fiction, which also got an R rating, actually had more obscenities than South Park--411 to be exact--but it's twice as long, which is why it only has a PPM of 2.66. When the extended director's cut of South Park: Biggest, Longest & Completely Uncut is released, I feel confident it will have as many as 798 nasty words, which is even more than will be recorded on a typical December morning when the doors open at Toys R Us and 3,645 mothers find out there were only two of this year's Toy-to-Have and the manager and security guard already snapped them up.

There's a need for a new movie rating category: TF. It doesn't stand for Too Frightening or Terribly Filmed, it stands for Tempting Fate, and Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, The Passion of Christ, should receive this rating. During the filming the actor playing Jesus Christ was struck by lightning not once, but twice. The first time, lightning struck his umbrella, causing light burns to the tips of his fingers. A few months later he was again carrying an umbrella when he was struck, this time winding up with smoke coming out of his ear. Gibson continued filming anyway. This in spite of the fact that it came from a higher power than the RIAA, MPAA, or Internet Content Rating Association. It's enough to make me think twice before seeing this movie. And after all, isn't that what a rating label is about?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Now Where Did I Leave That Bone Again?

I got a look at my colon the other day and it wasn't a pretty sight. No, I didn't stick my head into a place where other people often say I already have it. Neither did I commit hari-kari and watch it spill out like so many chitlins waiting for someone crazy enough to cook them up and eat them. What I did get was a chance to see the inside of my colon thanks to a modern medical technique where a doctor sticks a camera up your butt. And gets paid to do it. Wow, talk about a dream job.

The procedure's called a sigmoidoscopy, and while the doctor was poking around my insides with a disposable camera I watched the action on a color monitor. Just kidding about the disposable camera, though if I were the one doing the procedure I'd dispose of it in a heartbeat. I won't gross you out by telling you just how smooth, slick, pink and clean as a proverbial whistle my colon was, and well it should have been. Lets just say I'd be perfectly happy if my first adventure with a laxative and two first-thing-in-the-morning enemas were also my last.

Not only did I discover what my colon looks like, I also discovered that I'm not masochistic enough to enjoy giving myself a big case of diarrhea on purpose. This is a good thing to know, especially since my mother always told me that learning boundaries was an important part of growing up. Okay, she didn't really say that. In fact, she never said anything even close to it. What she did say was that I shouldn't run with an enema in my hand or I'd poke my eye out.

It was nice to know I had a healthy colon. And a normal size one too. Just a few weeks before, in what I'd hoped wasn't a classic case of foreshadowing, I visited the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and saw a human colon which was 27 feet long and 8 feet in circumference. To put that into perspective, the average colon is about six feet long. The average semicolon, on the other hand, is about the width of a human hair. I'm not positive, but I think I stole that line from Henny Youngman.

The oversize colon had been removed from a man who died of constipation around the turn of the century. Surprising, isn't it? When they did the autopsy they found -- now hold onto your barf bag -- two-and-a-half "pails of excrement." And people tell me I'm full of crap. But as huge and ridiculous as that colon was, it was nowhere near as large as the Colossal Colon I saw a few months ago. It wasn't real, which was a shame, but you could crawl through it, which is something you couldn't do at the Mütter Museum. It was 40 feet long and 4 feet high which, come to think of it, isn't that much larger than the guy's colon in the museum. While it was exponentially larger than mine, it definitely wasn't as good looking. It was diseased, being peppered with polyps, cancer and arrows which read: "Your lunch was here." Don't you hate it when education gets in the way of a nice colon crawl?

The Colossal Colon also had diverticula, which are little pockets in the lining, much like the one that's above the right front pocket of your jeans which you haven't found a good use for yet. Diverticula would be good places to hide things except that you have to wait to retrieve them naturally. Unless, that is, you know a doctor like Chevalier Jackson. Downstairs in the Mütter Museum, not far from the body cast of Eng and Chang, the original Siamese Twins, the tumor removed from Grover Cleveland, and the woman whose body turned to soap after she was buried, they have a collection of over 2,000 items which Dr. Jackson removed from people's bodies, all without resorting to surgery. I don't know which is more amazing, that he got all the objects out or that he had so many patients who would stick things in their orifices. Most doctors probably see a handful of cases like this in their career. If they're lucky. Then again, it may have been Jackson's specialty. "I'm going to refer you to Dr. Jackson. He's the best around at removing coffee beans from your upper sinuses."

Among the objects the good doctor removed were seeds, shells, coins, "dental material," and bones. While it might seem odd for someone to stash a bone internally, it's not really that unusual. Supposedly Roy Horn of "Siegfried and" fame has a piece of his skull in his stomach. It's true. Doctors taking care of Horn, who was mauled by a tiger in Las Vegas recently, have reportedly removed one-fourth of the right side of his skull to relieve pressure in the brain. They stuck it in a pouch and implanted it in his stomach until the swelling in his brain goes down, at which time they'll put it back.

It's a good thing this was reported in the news. I'd hate to think that one of the doctors might be absentminded and forget where he left it. "Damn....I know I put that piece of skull somewhere for safekeeping but it's nowhere around. Hmmmmm......where would I have put it? I know it was some place where I'd be sure to remember it. Oh.....that's right....it's in a pouch in his stomach! Hey, maybe that's where I left that pair of sunglasses, the Jack Johnson CD, and the TV remote I've been looking for for the past month!"

That's why I'm glad I got to see my colon live and in person. Aside from knowing it's fine and healthy, I can sleep better at night knowing there aren't any buttons, coins, or pieces of my skull hiding in there. I know because I saw for myself.

Mad Dog's compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

The Species of the Origin

Not long ago, the European Union, which would be called the United States of Europe except that they're not united and not states, released a list of 41 food items which have names they say should only be used when a product is made in a specific area and manner. European areas and manners, of course. And why not? We all know Europeans have better manners than we do. Then again, who doesn't?

They say all champagne should come from the Champagne region of France, feta cheese should be made only in Greece, and haggis should be exclusively cooked up in Scotland. Just kidding about the haggis. It doesn't really need to be protected since no one else in the world has ever considered boiling lamb offal and oatmeal in a sheep's stomach, not even in Biafra during the worst of their famine.

Other food names the EU wants reserved include Bordeaux, ouzo, Gorgonzola, and Italian Parma ham, which the Italians are upset about because they can't sell it in Canada under that name. It seems a company there already holds the trademark to "Parma Ham" for a product it makes in Canada. Parma, Ontario, Canada, of course. If this doesn't get straightened out quickly the Italians might retaliate by making their own Canada Dry ginger ale, Prince Albert tobacco, and Canadian bacon, which would actually be a money saver when they cook up Hawaiian pizzas. Right, like any self-respecting Italian would want pineapple and Canadian bacon on a pizza. Of course this could open a whole new can of, uh, pineapple, since Hawaii might decide that no one but they have the right to use their state's name on a pizza. See how quickly this gets messy?

This is far from a new battle. In 1994 the United States and the European Union agreed to respect some of each other's products, but only if we promised to learn how to pronounce crêpe, Liebfraumilch, and croissant without sounding like we have a mouth full of each. As a result of this agreement, no one in Europe can call their whiskey bourbon and we can't call ours Scotch. Luckily we're still allowed to make the only Scotch tape, which proves how strong the adhesive tape lobby is in this country. I think I'd better contact my agent quickly and see if she can sell that phrase to the tape lobby to use as their official slogan.

Although U.S. vintners aren't yet barred from using the name champagne, out of respect for the bubbly product which originated in France, many already use terms like sparkling wine, Methode Champenoise, and Cold Duck to differentiate their products from beverages you'd enjoy drinking. Lest you think the EU is being too demanding, remember that they haven't asked that all frankfurters be made in Frankfurt, Danish pastries baked in Denmark, or English Leather made in England. Just kidding about the last one. Everyone knows English Leather comes from a decomposing landfill in Lodi, New Jersey.

The Europeans aren't the only ones becoming possessive about their products. In India they say Darjeeling tea should only come from their country, while Thailand claims the name Basmati rice should be exclusively theirs. Here in the United States we have our own products to protect. Like American cheese. Even though no other country has ever shown any interest in making it -- probably because they're afraid to find out what's in it or why it comes individually wrapped in plastic like Cheese For Dummies -- we shouldn't take any chances. After all, there's no telling how vindictive the EU might feel if Wisconsin doesn't stop making feta. That's why we should bargain hard to ensure that no one in Europe tries to make Mississippi mud pie, New York style pizza, or Rocky Mountain oysters, not that it's likely anyone would consider doing the latter. At least not if they have any idea what they really are.

The battle could heat up. The next thing you know the EU will insist that New Jersey change its name because the Channel Island was using it first. Then Paris, Texas, Rome, New York, and both Athenses -- Georgia and Ohio -- will have to come up with new names. Luckily New Mexico will be safe because Mexico isn't a member of the European Union. Yet. This is a good thing since there's already enough confusion about the state. According to New Mexico magazine, many Americans believe the state is a foreign country. They even had a monthly column which reprinted examples of this, which proves just how lacking our education system is. Hell, I thought everyone knew the only state that's truly foreign is California.

Luckily some countries are making concessions. For a while Greece was insisting that kalamata olives could only come from their country but they relented. Switzerland wanted their Etivaz cheese protected until they found out no one else had ever heard of it. And Britain agreed to remove Blue Stilton from the list, but only if the Tony Awards are renamed so people don't think their Prime Minister is sponsoring them.

It's a good thing they're not being too hard-headed. If they push too much the U.S. might have to retaliate by forcing the Europeans to not use the name Arnold unless they're referring to California's governor, even though Benedict Arnold, also-ran Gary Coleman's TV character, and the pig on Green Acres had claim to the name first. But that's okay because they all have the same country of origin, even though Arnold the Pig is rumored to have been shipped to Parma, Canada to be preserved for posterity. Or rather, for breakfast. But whatever you do, don't even think about making French toast to go with him. You know, I think I just lost my appetite completely.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Flip-flops

I'm starting to think that, in spite of the moldy adage we've all heard a million times, it might not be such a bad idea to carry coals to Newcastle. Of course I first have to use Google to find out where Newcastle is. I'm also starting to think that selling ice to the Eskimos might be a good thing to do too. I'm sure I'd make a fortune, and it's not because I'm a good salesman. Quite the contrary, I'd actually have trouble selling a hamburger to Louis Anderson after a three-day fast. The truth is, I'm discovering it can be very hard to find the things you need, when you need them. Especially where you need them the most.

Case in point--I'm in Florida in September where the temperature is in the upper 80's, the beaches are crowded, and I can't find a pair of simple men's flip-flops. You know, the footwear 80 percent of the people under the age of 45 are walking around in and 99.9 percent of those under 25 are wearing. Where they bought them is beyond me, because I've been running all over town trying to find a new pair and it feels like I'd be just as successful looking for an alligator in the kitchen sink. Probably more so.

The problem seems to be: A) there are too many chain stores, and B) chain stores assume that people in Minnesota, Vermont, and sunny, warm, flip-flop weather-filled Florida all want the same things at the same time. That's why I may have to come back here in November when the stores break out the scarves, mittens, and snow shovels. "Oh look, Target is having a sale. Lets stop and pick up a snow blower on the way to the beach." Ah, the stories I'd be able to tell my grandchildren one day. "Please Grandpa, tell us again about the time you bought a windshield ice scraper for your car in Fort Lauderdale!"

It's like going to Maine and not being able to buy a lobster, or finding out there are no more wings in Buffalo. It's like grocery shopping in Wisconsin and having everyone tell you, "I'm sorry, we're out of cheese, but we expect to get some in about eight months." It's morally, ethically, and theologically wrong. If god wanted me to wear shoes right now he'd turn the thermostat down and shut off the Atlantic wave machine. I've spent most of my life in shoe weather, and trust me, this isn't shoe weather.

"But flip-flops are seasonal items," you're probably thinking, and I can't blame you since it's a nice respite from thinking about how lame the Democratic presidential candidates are, how accurately Madonna's literary career is paralleling her movie career, and how there isn't a single new idea in the entire new fall TV lineup, in spite of what those incessant promotional commercials would like to brainwash us into believing. True, flip-flops are seasonal in most places, but I'm in Florida. If the stores had any sense they'd round up all the leftovers from northern back rooms and warehouses and ship them here. You know, to a place where people want, need, and are looking for them.

Unfortunately the people who run stores don't think that way. They think far in advance. Or shall I say, they try to make us think far in advance. Flip-flops are off the shelves now to make room for winter items. This is fine, except that when it does get cold and you desperately need a coat you'll never find one because that will be in January and by then they'll have pulled the coats off the racks and put out the bathing suits. Need gloves? How about a nice halter top instead? Sorry you'll freeze since we don't have any ski caps left, would you like some water skis instead?

What the merchandisers need to do is set aside a few of the SpongeBob NoPants Hunks of Saturday Morning Cartoons calendars and look at the current page once in a while. Like every day. Hey, it's not even October and I saw them putting up Christmas tree displays in Wal-Mart. It's true. Yes, both the part about them putting out the Christmas decorations and the fact that I was in Wal-Mart. Hey, I was searching for the Holy Grail of footwear. You remember, those mythological flip-flops? And no, they didn't have them either.

Maybe the answer is to start my own chain of stores, called Off Season. When other stores pull their merchandise from the shelf, I'll buy it. That way you'll be able to purchase bathing suits in the summer when you're ready to go to the beach, and sweaters in the middle of winter when you're freezing and the stores are pushing shorts and tank tops. You'll be able to buy lawn chairs and coolers in August when every other store is hawking Halloween candy, and windshield scrapers for that February snow storm when the stores have sunscreen, can coolers, and barbecue grills on display. You'll also find flip-flops. Lots and lots of flip-flops. All year round. Maybe I should change the name of the store to Heaven on Earth.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Press 1 to Hear a Familiar Voice

We all hear voices. If we're lucky, other people around us are hearing the same ones, which is what differentiates you and me from those who are clothed, housed and fed three times a day by the state. Well, that and the fact that sometimes we think it doesn't sound like such a bad idea while they think wearing an aluminum foil hat and using their toothbrush to dig a tunnel to the outside world sounds like a better one. Everybody wants what they don't have.

Lately though, it's become more difficult to tell just who those people are. You walk down the street and see people talking to themselves left and right. It's not until you get close enough to notice the wire dangling from their ear that you can tell whether the Uncle Fred they're loudly telling to butt out of their life is in Chicago or inside their head. Talking to yourself used to be a sign that you're full of hallucinations. Now it's a sign that you're full of yourself.

Then there are the voices we all hear. Or should anyway. There's the Voice of Reason, which is what tells us to get out of bed and go to work when we'd rather return to that dream about winning the Nobel Prize for solving word jumbles. There's the Voice of Authority which, in spite of what some people would like you to believe, isn't your parents, your third grade teacher, or your boss, but is actually James Earl Jones. Hey, are you going to say no to that voice? Of course not. Especially since he's also the voice of CNN, Bell Atlantic, King Mustafa from the "Lion King," and Darth Vader, which is why some days it feels like his is the only voice you hear. Well, other than the woman who tells you, "I'm sorry, the number you have reached is not in service at this time."

More than likely, that voice belongs to Jane Barbe, who was the voice of the National Bureau of Standards' time signal ("At the tone, the time will be.....more accurate than your cheap Timex can handle."), many hotel wake-up systems ("Sorry to interrupt your Nobel Prize dream, but it's time to wake up."), and more voicemail systems than the curses you've screamed when you heard "Press 7 to return to the infinite loop you've been in for the past 22 minutes but thought you'd escaped." After 40 years of telling us that "The number you have reached has been temporarily disconnected," Barbe was permanently disconnected on July 18th and is now in charge of that Great Voicemail in the Sky.

"Press 1 to open the Pearly Gates. Press 2 to learn how to retune your harp. Press 3 to get the address of a good halo polisher. Press 4 to find out why you're up here when all your friends are in the 8th sub-basement watching "Heaven's Gate" over and over and over again. Press 5 for flying lessons. Press 6 if your name is Clarence. Press 7 for an application to become one of Charlie's Angels. Press 8 to press 9. If you need additional assistance, please stay on the line and don't be impatient. After all, you have eternity."

It's been estimated that at one time Barbe's voice was heard 40 million times a day, which translates into a lot of telephone handsets being smashed against the wall in frustration. That's pretty heady stuff. No wonder everyone wants to be the voice of something. Take the Voice of America, for instance. It claims to speak for the entire country, which is rather presumptuous considering Congressmen claim to do the same thing and it's hard to get any two of them to agree on anything other than the Senate restaurant's bean soup is good and it's high time they took a long recess.

The United States isn't alone in this -- okay, maybe when it comes to the bean soup it is -- just about every country has a radio voice. There's the Voice of Russia, Voice of Tibet, Voice of Turkey, and Voice of Mongolia, though the Voice of Nigeria is the only one that tries to convince you that a big oil company left $40 million in a bank account and half of it can be yours if you'll only give them access to your checking account so they can clean it out first. Hey, no one wants to put $20 million into an unclean bank account, do they?

Even movie stars, who already have voices, want to be other people's voices. Or should I say, other character's voices. The trend in animation is to use a well known actor as the voice behind a cartoon character. The problem is, now you have all these animated characters who sound like Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, and Billy Crystal. Bugs Bunny didn't sound like Daffy Duck, who didn't sound like Sylvester or Tweety, so why should King Mustafa conjure up the image of Darth Vader after he discovered the joy of an asthma inhaler? Aside from the studio's desire to fill seats and popcorn tubs, that is.

I'm sure all these celebrities are raring to step into Jane Barbe's shoes now that she won't be able to tell us to "listen to the following options" anymore, but I'm not sure I want Eddie Murphy telling me the time, then braying like a donkey. Or Woody Allen saying, "All circuits are busy. I wish I was that busy." For a minute I was going to suggest that James Earl Jones do it, but I listened to the Voice of Reason. And no, it wasn't my Uncle Fred.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

For Sale One Slightly Used Vote

I used to think anyone could be president. This concept was put in my brain by my parents who told me that, this being America, anyone can grow up to lead the country. Even me. What they neglected to tell me was that if I wanted the job I'd have to buy it. And it doesn't come cheap.

This is borne out by George Bush, who has been raising as much as $4 million a night trying to reach his goal of having $200 million to spend on the 2004 election. To put that in perspective, it's enough to buy two Jim Carrey Pez dispensers with the candy coming out the butt for every man, woman and child in France, which would definitely teach them not to mess with us again. It would also buy 55.7 million Big Mac combo meals, 4,000 H2 Hummers (the car, that is), or Bill Gates' garage. Okay, half of it.

Political purchases aren't confined to the presidency. In California, Representative Darrell Issa just shelled out $1.5 million of his own money to collect the signatures that brought about the upcoming gubernatorial recall election. Amazingly -- cough, cough -- Issa is vying for the job should the governor be recalled. Talk about trying to buy a political position.

This certainly isn't the first time this has happened. In 1994 Michael Huffington spent $28 million of his own money -- a full third of his fortune -- trying to buy a Senate seat. And lost. Next time maybe he'll remember to check the guarantee before he spends his hard earned cash, and that next time may come soon since, along with Issa, he's one of the 1,278 people who say they might run against Governor Gray Davis. It's a shame Steve Forbes doesn't live in California since he once spent $30 million of his money trying to become president, so you know he wouldn't have a problem forking over a measly few million to not become governor of a state.

Since politics is turning into a bidding war, why not actually let them bid on it? That's right, we should post the presidency on eBay and let the candidate with the deepest pockets get the job. eBay, in case you've been too busy watching The Real World to pay attention to the real world, is the online auction site where you can bid on toys, collectibles, cars, plane tickets, clothing, and broken Elvis ashtrays. Pretty much anything you can think of and a lot you'd rather not think about. Best of all, you can do it from the comfort of your own home while naked, eating cold pizza, and trying not to think about why you haven't had contact with another live human being in over a week.

The process would start when Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist posted an auction advertising the presidency. Maybe something like: "Looking for fame, fortune and interns? Become President of the United States. This exclusive position has only been offered 43 times in 227 years and will allow you to join an elite group which includes George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Millard Fillmore. Generous salary, free housing, world travel, and a good retirement program after as few as four years. Bonus title of Commander in Chief included at no extra cost."

It would be simple, clean, and have many advantages over the current method. For one, since eBay auctions can run for a maximum of 10 days, it would shorten the length of the campaign by, oh, about two years. While this might not actually save any money, it would certainly spare us from having to watch the snippy commercials, listen to insipid out-of-context sound bites, and best of all, not waste our valuable guilt because we'd rather watch reruns of Pink Lady and Jeff than the debates.

The election would not only be shorter, sweeter, and more honest, it would be beneficial to the economy since the money collected from the winning bid could go directly into the Treasury to offset the federal deficit. This is not only a much better use for it than handing it to the three media conglomerates which normally receive it for running all those political commercials, but it would mean the winning candidate would have done something good for the country before he or she was even inaugurated. Possibly the last good thing they'd do, but hey, at least they'd be off to a good start.

The only problem is this takes us, the people, out of the process. Not that we're actually in it, but it's nice having a more realistic delusion than thinking we have a shot if J.Lo and Ben break up. That's why it might be a better idea to auction off the presidency vote by vote. Think about it, in the last election Bush spent $186 million and received 50 million votes, meaning it cost him $3.72 per vote. That's more than a Big Mac Combo meal. Why not cut out the middleman and pay that money directly to us, the American voters? Instead of wasting it on silly things like bumper stickers, political consultants, and traveling around the country pretending they care about us, they could just pay us directly.

That's why I'm putting my vote up for auction. Yes, it's time to make the "e" in eBay stand for election by posting an ad that reads: "For sale: one vote. Original owner. In excellent condition. Only used once every four years." Let the candidates bid. Or big corporations for that matter. It's all the same to me. This will cut out the middleman and, as anyone who ever pretended to understand economics or has seen a Circuit City ad knows, that means we all save. It's what the candidates would call a win-win situation. And hopefully I'll call seven glorious days and six wonderful nights in Cancun.

Now all I need to do is sit back and wait a year or so until the last days of the campaign, when the bidding will really heat up. In the meantime, though, I still need to make a living. Maybe it's time to post an ad for that broken Elvis ashtray I've had sitting in a safe deposit box for the past five years.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.Email: md@maddogproductions.com

All Jobs Are Not Created Equal

Jobs are like soul mates, they say we each have a perfect match out there somewhere, it's just a matter of finding it. Of course they also say the harder you work the more money you'll make, it's the thought that counts, and Arnold Schwarzenegger can save California the same way he keeps saving John Connor. The trick, of course, is finding that ideal career. This can involve a lot of trial and error, which is why my career path resembles Robert Downey, Jr. taking a sobriety test. But that's okay, I figure sooner or later I'll stumble upon the right thing. Hey, even a blind squirrel will find an acorn sooner or later.

This isn't to say we should try anything that comes along. After all, there are definitely jobs I know I don't want. When I was growing up my parents used to say it was a good thing there were people who didn't mind being garbage men because they didn't want to do it. I think they were trying to impress upon me that whatever I wanted to do with my life was okay. Well, as long as I made enough money to take care of them in their old age. Trust me, I'm not happy about letting them down, though I do feel good that I can help my mother from time to time by making her nice new cardboard signs that say, "Will demonstrate my walker for money."

While I don't have any desire to be a garbage man -- nothing personal, it's just that I can't imagine waking up that early -- it would still be better than some other jobs. A few days ago a whale washed up on a beach in San Francisco. A dead one. A very stinky rotting dead one. A scientist had the fun job of sawing off the decomposing animal's head and fins, which took the better part of an afternoon. While not nearly as disgusting as being the poor projectionist who has to watch Charlie's Angels -- Full Throttle over and over, it nevertheless won't make my list of Top 100 Jobs I Have To Try In My Lifetime.

Another job I don't want is roadside urine collector. This is one of those careers that the Birkman Personality Quiz doesn't usually recommend. At least I hope not. In case you've blocked it from your mind, the Birkman Personality Quiz is the test you took in school which was supposed to help you discover which careers you're best suited for. It's the one that asked whether you'd rather watch an opera naked while sitting on a block of ice or listen to adorable, rich, white, middle class, teenage pop stars with perfect bodies whine about how difficult life is, a career way too many kids are having recommended to them.

Years ago, one of my brother's friends was told that his test results showed he was best suited to be either a farmer or a priest. He didn't listen and went on to become a successful lawyer, which only goes to show how inaccurate the test is. It was on the right track though, since he's done rather well for himself planting seeds of doubt in jurors' minds and convincing clients to have unshakeable faith in him even when he forgets their name, but it still needs to be updated. Especially since it doesn't recommend that anyone become a roadside urine collector yet it still tells students to become doctors, politicians, and Carrot Top. As if we need any more of them.

Actually, this isn't a career I ever thought the world needed -- roadside urine collector, that is -- but it does. Apparently there are people driving cars who don't want to waste time pulling into a rest stop to get rid of those two Big Gulps they had for breakfast, so they pee in a bottle and toss it out the car window. State road crews, not being able to tell at a glance whether the bottles contain Gatorade, liquid anthrax, or recycled coffee, are calling the hazardous materials team to get rid of them, at an average cost of $2,500 per run. On one run, a crew in California collected 300 bottles, which are sitting in a state office right this minute waiting to be reclaimed by the rightful owners. After 30 days they'll auction them off, so keep your eye on eBay.

Speaking of eBay, it can be a good resource if you're looking for a new job. Fox Sports recently auctioned off a position as sportswriter-for-a-day and some guy forked over $310 so he can write a story about a NASCAR race and have it posted on the network's web site. This is actually the anti-job, since he's paying for the privilege of working, something I sincerely hope other employers -- especially my editors -- don't pick up on anytime soon. I have news for him, people are paid to do that kind of work, even Rush Limbaugh. That's right, Rush is joining the line-up on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, which is his consolation prize for having been glossed over for Dennis Miller a few years back when Monday Night Football was suicidal but didn't feel up to calling a crisis hotline for help. Miller's lack of success should in no way be an object lesson for Limbaugh. After all, who doesn't want to see him humiliated on live TV?

All this should make you feel a little better about your job. Especially if your day isn't spent decapitating rotting whales, collecting discarded urine bottles, or bidding in online auctions for a fake, one-time career. Then again, it might be inspiration. After all, it's never too late to make a career change.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Heavy Petting in America

We love pets. That is borne out by the fact that more than 58 percent of the households in this country have at least one. Considering that only 70 percent of us have cable TV, 93 percent have indoor plumbing, and 42 percent think Paul Wolfowitz is a breed of dog, that's a pretty high number.

The most popular pets are cats, with nearly 69 million of the fuzzballs lying around licking themselves while pretending not to hear their owner calling their name. Surprisingly, they outnumber dogs, of which there are 6.1 million, and you can bet the cats never let Fido forget it for a second. Or any other dog for that matter since, face it, no one actually names their dog Fido, Rover, or Spot.

Ferrets are becoming popular as pets, with over 1 million of them hiding under the sofa trying to avoid kids who scream Pop Goes The Weasel while chasing them all over the house. This puts them ahead of hamsters, which used to have a pet population that high but have fallen out of favor. This in spite of Carl and Ray, the stars of Blockbuster's TV commercials, the dancing hamsters on the Internet, and the popular meat-sharing peer-to-peer computer program, HamSter. There's just no accounting for taste.

Reptiles, including turtles, snakes, lizards, and timeshare salesmen, are far more popular, with over 2.8 million of them being kept as pets. This isn't surprising since they're not only cute, cuddly, and fun to walk on a leash -- particularly the timeshare salesmen, but they're more effective than a burglar alarm. At least the snakes are. A company in Harare, Zimbabwe named Repsec, short for reptile security, rents cobras to act as security guards when people go on vacation. The company tapes up all potential exit holes, drops a couple of cobras in the living room, and posts a warning sign outside which is in two languages and shows the international symbol of "Caution: Watchsnakes Inside," which is probably a thick line with a big human-shaped bulge in the middle. Not bad for $12 a day. It sure goes a long way towards answering why there aren't more hamsters as pets, at least not when you come home from vacation.

Chickens, it seems, are an up-and-coming pet, especially among vegetarians who prefer to play with rather than eat something with a face. A recent news story from the Associated Press claims chickens are becoming "hip suburban pets." It's difficult to tell if they mean the pets are hip or the people who own them are delusional enough to think they are, but one thing that's certain is that the neighbors consider them to be potential dinner. The chickens, not the owners. I hope.

People think of their pets as more than just, well, pets. A survey by the American Pet Association (motto: "Petting is fun.") found that 19 percent of cat owners celebrate their pet's birthday, 6 percent of dog owners are as attached to their pet as their spouse, and most pet owners would rather answer a survey than answer the question, "Does this make me look fat?".
Thus it's not surprising that San Francisco has recently joined Boulder, CO, Amherst, MA, and the state of Rhode Island in officially declaring that animal owners will no longer be known by that name, but will be called pet guardians. Advocates of this change say the new terminology promotes greater responsibility and respect for pets while following the federal government's guidelines for using euphemisms whenever possible. While not nearly as good as regime change, collateral damage, or Rumsfeld's declaring Iraq's looting and anarchy to be "untidy", it's still better than the other suggestions they considered in lieu of pet owner, which included pet custodian, dirty rotten chicken lover, and sucker who buys expensive canned food when the cheap dry stuff will do just fine.

Pet, uh, guardians will tell you that they do these things because their pets are so smart. They are when compared to lower forms of life such as sea slugs, dung beetles, and Carrot Top, but few are as smart as Jim the Wonder Dog. Jim lived in Marshall, MO from 1925 to 1937 and was so smart that there's a statue in his honor, right next to a building full of Wonder Dog memorabilia. It seems Jim was psychic. He could predict the sizes and sexes of a cat's expected family, foretold Franklin Roosevelt's election, and for seven straight years predicted who was going to win the World Series. And it was never the Chicago Cubs. He even interpreted Morse code for the state legislature, though he failed when he tried to interpret the laws they passed. Hey, you can't expect everything -- he was only a dog, after all.

The truth is, all pets are smart. Smarter than we are, as a matter of fact. After all, who's the one who gets to sleep 20 hours a day, is fed well, never has to pay for a haircut, doesn't have to work for a living, and always gets a Christmas present? Someone tell me, where do I apply for that job?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Assertive Descriptions for Pedestrian Palates

Last week an article in the wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle (motto: "We had to do something with Section W now that it was no longer about the War in Iraq") described two wines as smelling like cat urine. This week the wine editor wrote a column explaining that this is a good thing. I can't wait until next week when the food editor tries to convince us that it's a compliment when the kids say your tuna casserole tastes like dog shit.

Apparently this isn't the first time the newspaper has used the term, and no, the last time wasn't in a description of local politics. But this time they received a pile of mail about it because it was a little different. The editor explained that the usual term, which is the one they used before, is "cat's pee," but some overly zealous copy editor was in a particularly scientific mood and changed it to "cat urine." According to the editor, cat's pee is a softer and gentler term. Not as soft and gentle as fruity, but it's a San Francisco newspaper so they're very careful about using that word.

While cat's pee sounds like an extremely unappetizing description for wine, it turns out to be in common usage. At least among those who serve kitty litter canapés for hors d'oeuvres. Interestingly, most of the wine terms we hear tossed about are standardized. Years ago a professor at the University of California Davis created the Wine Aroma Wheel, which not surprisingly has a balanced finish of burnt rubber. In addition to the more enticing sounding aromas a wine can have, such as raspberry, rose, and honey, it also includes descriptors like sauerkraut, wet dog, artificial fruit, burnt match, soy sauce, and methyl anthranilate. There's also skunk, moldy, medicinal, and kerosene, which is nice to know since a few years ago a friend showed me a review of a wine that said it had "an aftertaste of turpentine" and we spent the rest of the evening and two bottles of non-paint-thinner-like spirits trying to figure out if it was intended as an insult or not. Now I know it was a compliment. In light of this information, from here on out I'm going to take it as a compliment whenever someone tells me I smell like a skunk and I'm not wearing Aramis.

These terms probably have a good reason for being used, though I have to admit they're not in my realm of oenological experience. That's because the vintages I drink are usually described as cheap, tolerable, or screw-top. If I'm really lucky I can use all three at once. Luckily I live on the west coast, so I can drink Charles Shaw wine, a rather tolerable vintage that sells for all of $1.99 a bottle at Trader Joe's, a chain of grocery stores. If, that is, you can find any in stock. The wine's so popular that people haul the Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon home by the case as quickly as it can be aged for three days and put out on the sales floor. Hey, what's not to like? It's cheap, it's drinkable, and it even has a cork. Edward Deitch of MSNBC described the wines, commonly called Two-Buck Chuck, as "dominated by wood and alcohol with a bitter finish." At least they don't smell like cat's pee after eating asparagus.

I'm not sure why such a wide range of descriptors is used for wine but not for food. No one describes food as having "the bouquet of burnt toast" unless they're talking about charred English Muffins. Think about it, when was the last time you described breakfast as "earthy," lunch as "flabby," or dinner as "flat"? Unless, of course, you had Grapenuts with wheat germ for breakfast, a supersized fast food combo meal for lunch, and day-old already opened soda with dinner.

There is one food item which is described a lot like wine, and that's olive oil. In case you've been too busy trying to find a place to store that 55-gallon drum of Crisco to notice, tasting olive oil has become the new foodie ritual. And why not, it's definitely easier than wine. There are no corks to break off in the neck or snobby sommeliers to make you feel stupid and cheap, and the only hangover you'll have the next day is your stomach over your belt.

Somewhere along the way, olive oil tasters adopted the language of wine. They also adopted the Wine Aroma Wheel. The Australian Olive Association Tasting Panel (motto: "What a croc!") used it as the basis for its Olive Oil Tasting Wheel. Not only does it let you know that olive oil can be buttery, nutty, and perfumed, you find out that it's okay to use descriptors like vomit, fetid cheese, grubby, moldy spores, and metallic. It's true. And to think, I always saved those adjectives for my mother's salmon croquettes. It's a shame she didn't realize she was being complimented.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Taking the Joy Out of Killjoy

It sure would be nice if our feelings of accomplishment could last a little longer. Take this past weekend for example. I went on a hike with some friends. What started out as a moderate hike on fairly flat ground wound up as a pretty strenuous 10-mile roundtrip trek to the top of a waterfall that included scrambling up sheer rocks which someone in the National Park Service had the sense of humor to call a trail. By the time we got back we were a little sore, mildly sunburned, very hungry, and extremely proud of ourselves. At least until I read the newspaper.

It turns out that the very same day -- possibly the same time if you adjust for being halfway around the world -- a 35-year-old Sherpa named Lakpa Gyelu took a jaunt from Mount Everest's base camp to the highest point on Earth in just under 11 hours. Four minutes under to be exact. To put this in humiliating perspective, he hiked about 11,000 feet higher than we did -- on ice and snow with precious little oxygen to breathe, no less -- in just about twice the time, a climb, by the way, which takes most people four days. His climb, not ours. As if that wasn't bad enough, he did it alone, partly because no one else could keep up with him, but mostly because, as my mother always told me, no one likes a show off.

Although he stole our thunder and made me feel like the out of shape American I am, at least I can console myself with the knowledge that he probably felt bad afterwards too. When he got back to the Internet café at base camp he discovered that a Sherpa named Appa had set his own record that same day by becoming the first person to reach the summit 13 times. "Big deal," Gyelu probably muttered in Nepali. "Do it 13 times in one day and I'll be impressed." Face it, none of us enjoys being one-upped.

I suspect Appa's feeling of glory was also short-lived. Once the glow of having scaled Everest an unlucky number of times started to wear off he probably felt bad because he didn't have any fabulous stories to regale everyone with, such as how he had to amputate his arm with a plastic spoon to free it from a rusty yeti trap, sauté that obnoxious woman in his expedition who had more money than muscle tone so he wouldn't starve to death, or place another Sherpa under citizen's arrest for exceeding the uphill speed limit of 2,900 feet per day. And who can blame him? After all, it's hard to sell the movie rights to your story and retire if all you did was the same thing 13 times in a row. Unless, of course, you're Danielle Steel, Ron Jeremy, or the producers of the Friday the 13th series.

Feeling cheated out of personal glory isn't confined to hiking. At least not for me. Not long ago the House of Representatives passed legislation that would raise the maximum amount of money the government will insure in a bank account from $100,000 to $130,000. Damn! Just when I was 2 percent of the way towards achieving my personal goal of having more money in the bank than the government will insure, Congress goes and moves the goal. It's like being a pole vaulter and having someone lift the bar just as you're about to go over it. Or, in an analogy most of us are better able to relate to, lowering the limbo bar as we're about to go under it. Or try to anyway.

Athletes have to contend with this all the time. No sooner does someone set a record than someone else breaks it, usually by one point, 1/1000th of a second, or in the case of major league contracts, an extra million dollars a year. That's why instead of being better, it's more important to be first. It's something no one can take away from you. Except maybe the referees, but they only do things like that because they're cranky since they'd rather be playing and earning the big bucks except -- whoops!--they just don't happen to have any talent.

One person who probably doesn't have to worry about being outdone is Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese professional speed-eater. Yes, despite what your guidance counselor told you, there is such an occupation. Kobayashi is the guy who won the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest for the past two years running. In 2001 he chowed down 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, easily beating the previous record of 25 1/8. It's true, the judges actually measure hot dog eating by the eighth of a hot dog. Or rather the seven-eighths that's left. Last year the 113-pounder beat his own record, but only by half a dog. Okay, so it hit 100 degrees that day. And the 50 hot dogs he swallowed equaled 6 percent of his body weight. We're looking for glory, not excuses.

The contest is coming up again soon and, unlike Sherpas, athletes, and me, he'll probably hold onto his feeling of accomplishment. I'm happy for him. I truly am. After all, accomplishment is the one feeling he'll have that I would want. He can keep the fullness and nausea. I have enough of those when I read the newspaper and find out I haven't accomplished half of what I thought I had.

Making Room at the Top of the Food Chain

We may not be the only ones perched atop the animal kingdom for much longer. Not if a scientist from Detroit has his way. According to him we may have to move over and share the coveted spot with chimpanzees because he says they're more closely related to us than they are to gorillas, apes, or Crispin Glover. Of course even if they were, they'd never admit to the latter.

The report appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (motto: "Keep moving, there's nothing of interest here"). In it, Morris Goodman, a researcher at Wayne State University, claims that a whopping 99.4 per cent of the DNA in humans is identical to that in chimps, leading him to declare that "Humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes." Keep in mind, of course, that scientists also consider soy hot dogs, Cher, and the remake of The Nutty Professor to be just slightly remodeled. He goes on to say that because of the remarkable similarity in DNA, all chimps should be tested to see if they had anything to do with the murders of Nicole Simpson or Laci Peterson. Just kidding. Actually police have already questioned all the chimps in California and they have iron-clad alibis.

The truth is, Goodman thinks chimps should be included in the human branch of the animal family tree. Hanging by their tails, of course. As it is now, humans, which are known in scientific circles as Homo sapiens, are the only creatures in the genus Homo. A genus, for those who slept through eight years of science class because you stayed up late leafing through National Geographic while buried under the covers holding a flashlight searching for photographs of naked tribal women while telling yourself it was preparing you for a career as an anthropologist, is a group of closely related species. Of course if they're too closely related they can't get married. Except if they live in West Virginia, parts of Arkansas, or are Jerry Lee Lewis.

Chimpanzees are currently classified in the genus Pan along with bonobos, which are also known as pygmy chimpanzees, something that insults both pygmies and other chimps, but if Goodman has his way they'll be moved into Homo. And hopefully receive a good relocation package to offset the increased cost of being in a better neighborhood.

It's hard to believe that a measly 0.6 percent of DNA is all that separates furry, feral, knuckle-dragging creatures that can't say anything intelligible from Sylvester Stallone, but who am I to argue with science? Yet for all the similarities the DNA accounts for, there are still a number of things that very definitely differentiate us from chimpanzees:

Chimps eat bananas using their feet. Humans eat supersized hamburgers with one hand while driving the car, talking on the cell phone, changing a CD, and combing their hair with the other.

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If Life Had A Laff Track

Lets have a moment of silence for Charles Douglass, the man who invented the Laff Box. Hey, quit giggling! He died on April 8th after almost 50 years of adding laughter, titters, chortles, guffaws, and other unreal audience reactions to TV shows that its creators thought were being watched by people so stupid they wouldn't know when to laugh unless prompted. Of course it's also possible they've been adding them because they know how absent the humor is and figure that if they don't add laughs the audience probably won't either. Feel free to chuckle or groan now.

Don't take it personally, they don't think the studio audience is any smarter than you, the home viewer. If you've ever gone to the taping of a TV show you've seen the signs which light up and sitcom star wannabes who cue the audience when it's time to laugh or applaud. God help us if we were left to our own devices. See, we get confused easily, like the audiences on late night talk shows where the latest trend is not to laugh at jokes, but rather to applaud them. "It's not funny enough to laugh at, but we appreciate the fact that you're helping the economy by keeping that writer off the unemployment lines, not to mention out from behind the counter at our local 7-11 where we'd have to watch him snap his jaws loudly every time we ask for a Big Bite."

Television is the only medium that uses laugh tracks. Movies don't have them. Newspapers don't tell you to [insert laugh here] when you read the comics page, though judging by most of them it wouldn't be a bad idea. Humorous books don't use laugh tracks, nor are they included with the books on tape versions. Audio guides in museums don't have them either, not even when you find yourself standing in front of a canvas that looks remarkably like the drawings on your refrigerator which your artistically challenged 3-year-old niece did, probably because they assume that in this case you'll have no problem supplying your own laughter.

There is one place where a laugh track would be a nice addition, and that's everyday life. And why not? If six Academy Awards can be handed to a movie in which people burst into song and dance anyplace and anytime -- at least if they're in Chicago -- why couldn't there be giggles, laughter, and applause accompanying us every day? Wouldn't you feel good if when you remembered to put the toilet seat down or replaced the cap on the toothpaste without having to be reminded there was applause? How about if whenever you stuck your tongue out at your boss you heard tittering until he or she turned to look and then it would stop just as you pulled your tongue back in? Think about this: real life laugh tracks would mean not having to listen to Congress applaud every fourth word during the State of the Union address since even the most heavy-handed Laff Box technician wouldn't dream of overusing an effect that much when there was obviously no reason for it.

Aside from making life lighter, more fun, and more like the TV sitcom we all wish we were a part of, we'd feel much better knowing that we're laughing at the right moments. After all, nothing's more awkward than hearing someone say, "No, I'm serious" after you burst out laughing at the story of their grandmother becoming Chipmunk Chow after pilfering acorns from a tree in the back yard because Martha said the best wooden spoons came from oak you grew from scratch.

The truth is, it's not always easy to tell when people are trying to be funny. You can take a cue from those who laugh at their own jokes, except that's a dead giveaway that they never say anything funny. Then there are those who are so deadpan you don't know whether they're kidding or not. They say something, then stare, daring you to laugh. You know that if you laugh they'll ask what's so funny because they were serious, yet if you don't they'll say, "Hey, I'm kidding around, don't you have a sense of humor?" This is what's known as a no-win situation, much like being asked, "Does this make my butt look big?" or "Does my stomach poking out of the gaps between the buttons on my shirt remind you of Britney?" There are definitely times when being a deaf mute has its advantages.

Laugh tracks would also be good in emails, which are notorious for being misunderstood since there's no body language to help interpret the intended meaning. In real life people smile, raise their eyebrows, grimace, and stick their finger down their throat to help you understand their intentions. Actually, many of us do the same thing when sending emails, but the receiving party doesn't see it so all it does is remind those in the office who signed your commitment papers that they made the right decision.

That's why emoticons were invented. They're the goofy symbols comprised of punctuation marks people pepper through their emails which are supposed to look like a smile, a frown, and Macaulay Culkin doing his Home Alone look, though no matter how you turn your head or tilt the monitor they still look like the cat's been walking on the keyboard again. Emailing a laugh track as an attachment would be much more effective. It wouldn't be so cutesy, would clue the person in as to whether you're being sarcastic (groan), cute (awwww), clever (ohhhh!), or just a real laff riot. Best of all, a flood of email laugh tracks would clog up the Internet so much that there wouldn't be enough bandwidth left for all that spam to get through to you.

Hey, that was a joke. Hmmmmm.....come to think of it, maybe having laugh tracks in print isn't such a bad idea after all.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com.

The Sweet Smell of Success Is Actually Lily of the Valley

Human sperm are funny things. See, you're laughing already. Well, you are if you're younger than twelve years old or a guy, anyway. Sperm are those teeny tiny tadpole-like cells which somehow manage to swim upstream against all odds, desperately hoping to find an egg to invade. Kind of like a single-minded mongoose that just happens to be able to get you pregnant. Not to imply that male mongooses have fertility problems. Far be it for me to say something like that about any creature that has sharp teeth which are at crotch height when they sit up. But back to sperm. Yes, they really are funny things. They're highly motivated, singular and plural at the same time, and love the smell of lily of the valley. Then again, who doesn't?

The idea that sperm might be attracted to certain smells has been around since, oh, a couple of weeks ago when some researchers published a paper in the journal Science (motto: "Caution: May cause drowsiness"). It started when they discovered that there are receptors in a sperm's membranes which are very similar to the sensory nerves of the nose. [Insert pre-adolescent joke here.] I think I speak for most of us when I say I don't want to know what led them down that path of thinking, though I suspect it started after they squandered their previous grant money trying to discover if dandruff has taste buds.

Once they figured out that sperm not only had tails but also rudimentary noses, the scientists set out to discover what smells sperm might like. No, they didn't perform the experiments the way you're thinking they did, so get that smirk off your face. They put the sperm in thin glass tubes and noticed that when they liked a smell -- the sperm, not the researchers -- their little tails started beating faster, propelling them towards the source. Scientists are such teases.

It turns out the sperm were attracted by three scents and repelled by one. The three they liked were baking bread, roasting chicken, and magic markers. Oddly, these are also the three most popular flavors of Jelly Belly. Just kidding. Actually the most popular flavors of Jelly Belly are Buttered Popcorn, Very Cherry, and Five-Day Old Tuna Casserole. Sperm, on the other hand, are attracted to synthetic compounds that perfume makers use to imitate the scent of lily of the valley.

It's true. Sperm, like men, aren't concerned with reality, just perception. The surprising thing isn't so much that the sperm were attracted to artificiality -- after all, they're manufactured by males who as a gender think silicone, Wonderbras, and Miss Clairol Sunny Blonde should have received Nobel Prizes -- but rather that they have decidedly feminine taste in smells. If it had turned out that sperm were attracted to the smell of Budweiser, car exhaust, or their own armpits, no one would think twice about it. But this is like finding out that Adam Sandler is going to be the next James Bond. Some things just should not be allowed to exist in nature.

The scientists haven't figured out what it is about a woman's egg that attracts male sperm but hope it doesn't turn out that they manufacture artificial lily of the valley chemicals. They have figured out, however, that this discovery might lead to a way to boost fertility. As it is you can already buy a host of sperm alluring lily of the valley-scented items including bath gel, body lotion, soap, and powder, so it's only a matter of time before you see Summer's Eve Lily of the Valley ("Now with Sperm Attractants!") on your grocer's shelf. They also say this discovery could lead to a new form of contraception. After all, if undecanal, the compound that caused the sperm to hold their noses and swim away as fast as they could repels them, it would be the perfect ingredient for a new line of spray contraceptives such as N'oh Baby!, Sperm-B-Gone, and Deep Woodie Off.

These products might not even be necessary if we continue using disposable diapers. It's true. According to a study in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood (motto: "Take two aspirin and subscribe in the morning.") male fertility has decreased over the past 25 years and they blame disposable diapers. It seems the plastic-lined diapers hold in more than just what they're intended to hold in -- they also retain heat. This increases the temperature of the testicles -- boy model only, of course -- which in turn affects their development, resulting in a reduced number of healthy sperm later in life. It's sad to think of all those sperm which may not be around to enjoy the alluring smell of artificial lily of the valley just because parents are too lazy to do laundry.

One thing the scientists haven't looked into is what smells eggs like. After all, it takes two to tango -- if you know what I mean, *wink*wink* -- and all the artificial lily of the valley smell in the world won't do much good if the sperm shows up smelling like used motor oil, yesterday's sweat socks, or Old Spice Tangy Corn Nuts scent. Is it me, or do I smell a big pile of grant money looking for a mate?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Simplify Yourself

I saw Hearst Castle the other day and, with its 165 rooms, 41 fireplaces, priceless tapestries, and dining room table that seats more people than the average tour bus, it reminded me of my youth -- wasted. Think about it, 90,000 square feet is a lot of space. Lord knows I didn't grow up in anything like that. Okay, maybe it was a little like that since our house also had walls, floors, and ceilings, but to say it was similar is like saying I'm a dead ringer for Yao Ming because we both have two arms, two legs, a head, and twenty fingers. Just my luck another similarity isn't our endorsement income.

After checking the place out, which is only one of six homes William Randolph Hearst had, I went back to my $40-a-night Days Inn room and looked around, consoling myself with the knowledge that I could easily find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. After all, I only had to remember where one was, not 61. See, I have simple tastes. Unlike most Americans, I don't need things to be huge. Whereas people love their SUVs, I drive a motorcycle. Where they have closets jammed full of Costco toilet paper in the handy 64-pack, I buy four rolls at a time. And while they hit "Reply" when they get emails offering to enlarge their penises and breasts, I sit around pondering why it is I'm getting offers of both and wonder if whoever it is that's sending them knows something I don't. Like maybe it would double my chance of success in the bars at closing time.

It's true we all have different needs in life. Some people need a Hearst Castle while I don't. Okay, some people can afford a Hearst Castle and I can't. Hell, I'm ecstatic when I feel like I can splurge and upgrade from Motel 6 to Super 8, even if it means I have to sleep in the car the next night. But even a car would be better than the Spartan accommodations I saw on the way to another motel which I'll get to in a second.

I was driving down Hwy 1 when I spotted the California Men's Colony. Call me naïve -- there, do you feel better now? -- but when I saw the sign I thought, "How liberating! Here's a place where men can gather together, bond in a sweat lodge naked while sneaking peeks to make sure they're not the only one who didn't reply to those emails, sit in a drum circle and play until dawn, and hug each other while murmuring supporting phrases like 'I'm OK, sorry to hear about you' without feeling like they're an American Greetings card." In other words, a place no one would object to were an errant Scud missile to land there. But no, it turns out the California Men's Colony is actually a state prison. Either that or the barbed wire is there to keep the sweat lodgers from mingling with the rest of us. Hey, sometimes miscegenation should be discouraged.

Prisoners have simple needs, even if they didn't before they went into prison. Considering that one out of every 142 U.S. residents is behind bars, this constitutes a two million strong simplification movement. A forced one, but one nevertheless. They're not the only ones simplifying their lives -- there's a full-fledged movement sweeping the nation. It pretty much started with the "Simplify Your Life" series of books and gathered steam until now you can buy titles like "Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World," which should take its own advice and simplify the title. As with any movement, you know it's bona fide when AOL Time Warner gets into the act, as they did when they put out Real Simple magazine. A recent issue offers such life simplifying tips as how lip balm will help you slide a too-tight ring off your finger and how you can resuscitate stale bread by rubbing it with an ice cube and putting it in the oven for 12 minutes, which is not only a lot more trouble than buying another loaf but is one dead chicken short of a Santeria ceremony. "Real Simple" is the new Hints from Heloise and you can find out more each month for only $19.95 a year. Think of the subscription as simplifying your bank account.

As Newton once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's why the simplicity movement has spawned the Simply More movement. On the way to the next hotel -- don't worry, I'll get to it in a second -- I saw three Hummer H2s. These are the new $50,000 consumer version of the Army's tank-like car. That's pretty much the same consanguinity that got us from the AK-47 to the Super Soaker. Two of the three H2s were driven by women and only one had the back loaded with toilet paper from Costco, so maybe they really are being used for all-terrain driving more than I realize.

Possibly the epitome of the anti-simplicity movement is the Madonna Inn, a motel 40 miles away from Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo. Named after its founder Alex -- not the performer whose idea of simplicity is to use one name when singing and one expression when acting -- the motel actually manages to make Hearst Castle seem quiet and understated. With 108 themed rooms including the famous solid-rock Caveman room, a gaudy hot pink steak house, the all-copper Copper Café that serves pink French -- I mean Freedom -- toast and blue sugar, and a rock waterfall urinal in the men's room that starts when you step up and unzip your pants, it proves that you don't have to have Hearst's money to mix and match decorating styles. Of course their twinkling lights and naugahyde don't cost as much as Hearst's ancient Egyptian sculpture, but to each his own.

I'd like to see the Hearsts and Alex Madonna on "Trading Spaces" next week. Or maybe they could do a tag team show pitting them against the interior decorators from Motel 6 and the California Men's Colony. I'll gladly spend the night in each place and act as the judge, even if it means having to spend the next night in the car. It's that simple.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Cheaper Than Therapy

The other day in Time Magazine a man was quoted as saying that learning to fly an airplane was "cheaper than therapy." Since I'm not a pilot -- hell, I can hardly get my career off the ground better yet an airplane -- I'm not in a position to debate this, but considering that over the past few weeks I've also read that gardening, thrifting, knitting, quilting, yoga, ice skating, and playing Bunko are all cheaper than therapy, I'm starting to think psychotherapy may be even more overpriced than I thought. Bunko, in case it's unfamiliar because you've been spending too much time trying to learn to pronounce the word "nucular" to pay attention, is an old dice game which is making a comeback as a replacement for Tupperware, lingerie, and Botox parties. On a good night it's not only cheaper than therapy, but can actually be a profit center.

Take a quick look online and you'll find out that Texas-born singer-songwriter Ginger Mackenzie says writing songs is cheaper than therapy. Ice creamers Ben & Jerry claim the book "The 3 Minute Meditator" is cheaper than therapy. Radio station WWOZ in New Orleans says listening to musicians jam in Jackson Square is "a lot cheaper than therapy." And the Strategic Account Manager's Annual Conference swears it's cheaper than therapy, and at $150 a person I'd say they're right, though you have to wonder about the hidden cost of having to sit through seminars like "Improving Customer Coverage Without Creating Channel Conflict" and "Designing Differentiated Offerings Based on Customer Value Analysis." Years of therapy sound much less painful.

Most of these cheaper than therapy claims are probably true. After all, depending on where you live, who your therapist is, and how lax your HMO is about checking the outrageous bills they're handed, therapy can cost between $75 and $125 an hour. Since conventional psychotherapy takes an average of seven years to show improvement -- unless you're Woody Allen or Richard Lewis in which case it's a life-long preoccupation -- and many people go twice a week, you can figure it will cost as much as $91,000 to forgive your mother for dressing you as the Tooth Fairy before sending you to your second grade Halloween party where the other kids kicked your butt for being so cheap with their tooth rebates. That's a lot of money, enough in fact to buy a 3-bedroom house in Richmond, Virginia, two of the new Hummer H2s which eat SUVs for breakfast (providing you can talk your dealer into a small quantity discount), or 154,237 chocolate bars, which by the way the Vegetarian Kitchen says is -- yes, you guessed it! -- "cheaper than therapy and you don't need an appointment."

While gardening, thrifting, knitting, quilting, yoga, and ice skating are without a doubt much cheaper than therapy, flying isn't. To get a license to fly a single-engine aircraft the FAA makes you take at least 40 hours of training and a flight exam. Forty-two if you're from Saudi Arabia. If you want to fly a private jet you'll need between 3,000 and 4,000 hours of training. Since it costs $90 to $120 an hour for the plane, fuel, and instructor -- plastic Jesus on the dashboard extra -- it could set you back a whopping $480,000 to get your small jet license. For that kind of money your whole family could get therapy. Of course if they did you wouldn't need to. After all, why bore a therapist with all those redundancies?

There's a long list of other things that claim to be cheaper than therapy. There's the band from Cincinnati named Cheaper Than Therapy which I'm sure you can see for under ten bucks a session. Comedian turned talk show host turned where-is-she-now-question Roseanne was quoted as saying that studying the Jewish mystical Kabbalah is cheaper than therapy. Of course she also said "Before Kabbalah I had no friends and everyone thought I was crazy." At least therapy, for all the time and money invested, effects changes.

This is important since even though something may be cheaper than therapy, the question remains: Is it more effective? Will knitting cure obsessive-compulsive disorder or just help you turn out the world's longest scarf? Will listening to musicians in Jackson Square help your inferiority complex or will it send you into a downward spiral because you can't even remember which fingers to use when playing chopsticks on the piano? It's hard to think that becoming a hyphenated singer-songwriter would be good therapy for someone with bipolar disorder. And face it, if your world is spinning out of control how can a triple axel on a skating rink be good for you?

One thing that is cheaper than therapy, and very possibly as effective, is the Sigmund Freud Action Figure which you can get from Archie McPhee (www.mcphee.com). For only $6.95 you can keep this five-inch-tall figure of the Father of Psychiatry which is holding a phallic cigar on your desk where he's always ready to listen to your problems. He'll never send a bill, he doesn't go on vacation, and you'll never need to replace him and start over. In other words, his therapy is cheaper than chocolate.

©2003 Barry H. Gottlieb, All Rights Reserved More Mad Dog can be found at www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of travel humor columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting On This Airplane For 12 Hours?" is published by Xlibris Corp. He can be reached at md@maddogproductions.com.

Eating Your Way Through the Seven Deadly Sins

Have you ever woken up, stretched, and thought, "You know, what the world really needs is a good $41 hamburger."? Well your dreams have been answered. That's right, your medical insurance will pay for your therapy. Then, once you're cured of such ridiculous dreams and go back to images of Elysian fields, cute little Teddy bears, and Barbie's cute friend Midge before she got knocked up, you can take a trip to New York City and dine at the Old Homestead restaurant where your dreams will become reality when you pay through the nose and eat the city's most expensive hamburger.

Yes, it really does cost $41, and that's because it's made from Kobe beef. This is truly high class meat which comes from Japanese cows that are raised on beer and massaged daily, which of course is every man's fantasy. No, not to eat a hamburger made from pampered cows, but rather to be raised on beer and massaged daily. And to be born with a remote in lieu of a right hand, of course. Since this is no ordinary overpriced hamburger, it comes with herb butter in the middle, is served on a special roll, and is garnished with exotic mushrooms, microgreens, and gourmet secret sauce. There are no sesame seeds in sight but garlic fries are included. You know, it's sounding like more of a deal every second.

When the burger debuted recently, the restaurant sold as many as 200 a day, and that was before the drive-thru window was installed to accommodate the line-up of stretch limos. Considering that for the same price you can chow down on 40 regular McDonald's burgers -- or 16 Big Macs -- you have to wonder if it can possibly be worth the price. Or whether all it will really do is force people into church because eating one violates each one of the seven deadly sins.

The deadly sins, for those of you who have never read the Lawrence Sanders' series, sat through the movie Seven, or pretended to be paying attention during catechism class when you were actually wondering whether Sister Mary Augustine spent her weekends sashaying around as Sister Bambi, are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. This Top-7 Sin List was created by Pope Gregory I at the end of the sixth century because there was no birth control, gay priests, or cloning to take a stand against and, well, he had to do something, didn't he? As sins go these aren't as deadly as mortal sins -- in spite of their name -- though they're worse than venial ones. The deeper you get into it the more complicated this sinning business turns out to be, so my best advice is to either live a very pure and boring life or pray that you lose your conscience at the same time as your consciousness.

So how can one Budget Bustin' Burger drive you into confessional? First, there's the sin of pride in knowing your credit card limit will let you afford one. There's the envy that pushed you to be overly extravagant because all your friends have already eaten one and you can't stand being the only person at the cocktail party who has to not only eat a Whopper but tell one. There's the lust you have for that fine shiatsued Kobe beef made from cattle that should enter a 12-step program. There's the anger at realizing you could have taken 10 friends to McDonald's for that money. And impressed them by supersizing it. There's the greed that makes you eat every bite even after you're full because, well, at four bucks a nibble you're not about to let it go to waste or -- god forbid! -- be seen carrying a doggy bag out of there (score another one for pride). Then there's the sloth from not being able to do anything for the rest of the day while your stomach tries to digest it. Of course the gluttony is obvious.

Actually, you may not have to worry about this last sin much longer. Well, not if a group of French chefs, writers, and media stars get their way. According to the creatively named French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche -- literally The Sunday Newspaper -- members of the Association for the Gourmand are planning to ask Pope John Paul II to remove gluttony as a deadly sin. The problem, it turns out, is one of semantics. Gourmandise is the French word for the Catholic church's gluttony sin. While it used to mean eating to excess, these days it connotes conviviality and good living. Another word, gloutonnerie, would more accurately be translated as gluttony. In other words, if they have their way gluttony would still be a sin in English-speaking countries but not in France.

This language clean-up should come as no surprise since the French are known for being sticklers about their native tongue, especially when English creeps in. That's why the Acadamie Francaise, whose patron saint is Nicolas Chauvin, works overtime to come up with French words no one cares about. A Walkman is a baladeur. Software is logiciel. But no one uses the words. They prefer to put "le" in front of an English word and use that, which is why they play le golf over le week-end just before they have le pique-nique. And yes, sometimes they eat l'hamburger, though it's doubtful they'd pay 38.77 euros for one. After all, that would make them angry and, well, that's a deadly sin.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com.

Uselessness Is The Bastard Son Of Invention

If you were going to invent something, what would it be? A light bulb that never burns out? A car that runs on unrented Waterworld videos? How about a remote control that works when you're sitting in traffic so you can change your current life to, say, a Caribbean channel? Whatever it would be, chances are it would better mankind. Or at least make life easier, simpler, and hopefully Carrot Top-free.

But inventors don't think like you and me. They're more concerned with getting those pesky ideas out of their brain and into the patent office so they have room to store more important things, like their birth date, home address, and how to use a comb. They certainly have no shortage of ideas. It's difficult to find out just how many patents have been issued for inventions over the years, but one online database catalogs over 30 million of them from around the world. With that many it shouldn't come as a surprise that one or two are for useless items. Okay, so chances are 29,898,013 are useless. Who's counting?

Take the invention patented by Albert Cohen of Troy, NY for an "Apparatus for simulating a 'high five'." It's composed of an artificial hand and arm that swing forward to perform a congratulatory high five, perfect for those dorks who always miss the other high-fiver's hand and then grin sheepishly hoping no one, including the other person, noticed. Amazingly, a patent search turns up no other references to high fiving. This means Cohen has the market all to himself, yet he doesn't seem to be taking advantage of it since I haven't seen them in any store. Of course I don't usually hang around Klutzes-R-Us. Usually being the imperative word.

A big market for the La-Z High-Fiver� would be those people who over high-five. You know, the ones who take every opportunity to congratulate each other, including when their favorite chess team takes a rook, when they cross the street successfully, and when a girl actually speaks to them, even if all she said was, "Leave me alone or I'm calling the police." But since those people don't have the La-Z High-Fiver to help them out, they might consider giving their arm a much needed rest by using the Motorized Ice Cream Cone patented by Richard Hartman of Issaquah, WA. All you do is fill it with ice cream, stick out your tongue, press a button, and the cone spins around for you. Hopefully it comes with a warning sticker not to use it with a Popsicle lest your tongue stick to it, much like the mid-winter tongue-on-the-flagpole trick your brother tried to talk you into, only this time with a motor attached.

Another charmingly useless patent is for a Gravity Powered Shoe Air Conditioner. Unfortunately it turns out gravity powers the air conditioner, not the shoe. Maybe next patent. The shoe contains a small bellows, a compressor, an evaporator, and liquid-filled heat exchange coils so it cools your feet as you walk. This is a good thing since with all that extra equipment in your shoe your feet are bound to get pretty hot. The patent says the same principle can also be used to heat a shoe. If this is correct, it would put this innovation on par with the thermos bottle for the Intelligent Invention Of All Time award. After all, a thermos keeps hot food hot and cold food cold. How does it know when to do which?

Since Kool Kicks� gravity-powered air conditioned shoes are bound to be a little on the heavy side, they'll probably need a better way to help them stay on, which is why it's a good thing Aaron Harrellin invented the Pneumatic Shoe Lacing Apparatus. It uses "a plurality of securement webs"--whatever that may mean, a crank pulley, and a gas cylinder to -- as best I can gather -- help you lace your shoes, something any five-year-old can achieve without having to resort to three of the six basic types of machine. It's a shame Harrellin couldn't have worked in a lever, inclined plane, and wedge or he might have woken up on Christmas morning to find a Nobel Prize in his stocking.

None of these, however, may be quite as useless as the Force-Sensitive, Sound-Playing Condom. Paul Lyons holds the patent on this marvel of 20th century technology which plays a song during intercourse, the on-off switch being tripped when your bodies, uh, meet. This is the perfect thing for those times when there's no Barry White CD handy, the bed doesn't squeak, or your partner equates silence with ecstatic feedback. Unfortunately you can't get them at your local drugstore. Yet. I suspect that's because Lyons had trouble getting the rights to use Bob Marley's Get Up, Stand Up; Easy to Be Hard from Hair; and the Bee Gees' How Deep is Your Love. Face it, Killing Me Softly just doesn't cut it at a time like that.

While none of these meet the high standard set by such patents as the phonograph, safety pin, or paper clip, you can't expect that from every invention. Yet it would be nice if they'd focus on things we really need. You know, like a microwave oven with a "Reverse" button for those times when we overcook our dinner. Or a voicemail system which lets you go back in and delete the stupid message you just left someone before they discover just how stupid you can really be. Or maybe a way to email an electric shock to anyone who routinely hits "Reply to all," puts you on their joke forwarding list, or sends 2-meg attachments in a format your computer can't understand without warning. Now we're talking useful.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

The Universal Battle Of The Bulge

There's no nice way to put this, but the Earth is getting fat. It's thick around the middle. Putting on a spare tire. Yes, as much as we don't want to admit it, Mother Earth is getting dumpy. This could just be a symptom of age -- after all, the planet is 4.5 billion years old which, while still younger than Strom Thurmond, is considered by most experts to be galactic middle age -- but according to scientists that's not the case. They say it's happening because glaciers are melting and the resulting water has raised the level of the oceans at the equator. This, of course, has been Earth's excuse all along -- "It's just water weight" -- but we pooh-poohed it and shamed it into spending countless years bouncing from Atkins to The Zone to Weight Watchers to the Incredible Hollywood Grapefruit Diet until it out-Oprahed Oprah. I think we all owe Earth an apology. Well, for this and the lousy way we treat it in general. I mean really, do any of us think polluting the water, cutting down the rain forests, and driving gunk-spewing SUVs are ways of saying "Thank you for being here so we don't fly out into space where we'll die because there's no oxygen to breathe"?

The study, published in the journal Science (motto: "Better than Sominex"), claims the glaciers are melting because of the El Niño of 1997-98, which if you remember was also blamed for everything from hurricanes to volcanic eruptions to the French winning the World Cup. As recently as six months ago scientists were predicting a new El Niño was in the works but we haven't heard much about it since. Apparently it's history. After all, who needs a scapegoat like El Niño when we have the al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein?

When news gets around about our planetary bulge there's going to be trouble. People everywhere will shrug off their post-holiday poundage by saying, "Hey, if it's okay for our planet it's okay for me." I'd like to hear them use that excuse when their faces erupt, their brains fill with fog, and their gas reserves are unleashed in mixed company. Face it, the last thing we need is another excuse for being overweight. As it is, one-third of the adults in this country are overweight, as are one-eighth of the children. In California, the supposed health capital of the country and actual doughnut shop capital, 77 percent of the fifth- through ninth-graders failed aerobic, strength, and body fat tests last year. And most of them swear they studied hard for it and did all the homework.

Of course that could be part of the problem -- kids swear too much. Well, that and they lie too often. Recently the Josephson Institute of Ethics (motto: "So that's not our real name, big deal") released their "Report Card 2002: The Ethics of American Youth," which revealed that 93 percent of the high school students surveyed admitted they had lied to their parents and 83 percent had lied to their teacher, yet for some reason the people at Josephson are still under the impression that the kids told them the truth. Not only that, it turns out 74 percent of the students admitted to cheating, which also helps explain why they did so poorly on the aerobic, strength, and body fat tests -- if you're going to copy the kid who's trying to do push-ups next to you, you'd better make sure he doesn't look like Mother Earth after an El Niño meltdown.

It would probably help if children had role models who didn't bulge in the middle like Barney, Homer Simpson, Porky the Pig, and Santa Claus. Then maybe when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up they won't say, "Rosie," which is particularly painful when it's your son telling you that. Of course it could be worse, they could follow in the footsteps of Michael Wong-Sasso of Los Angeles, a 7-year-old who wants to be a trash collector when he grows up. He's so dedicated to this career that he follows garbage trucks as they drive along their route, checks out the contents of trash cans on the street, and even had his birthday party at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill. Seriously. He and 40 friends spent the day frolicking with toy earthmovers, making animals from recycled materials, and talking trash. They also tried not to say, "Gee, this place is a real dump" more than once every four minutes but you know what little self-control 7-year-olds have.

Actually it's good that there are children like Michael who are interested in helping keep the Earth clean and neat. Not to mention getting exercise in the process. After all, one day he too might be middle-aged like Mother Earth and have to worry about fighting creeping midriff bulge. And he won't have El Niño, a bad education system, or Saddam Hussein to blame it on. Hopefully. But he'll still have doughnuts. Yeah, that's it. It's the doughnuts.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Are Sharks Afraid of Being Hit by an Asteroid?

There are definitely things we should be afraid of. The prospect of World War III comes to mind immediately, followed closely by Janet Reno admitting she didn't, in fact, have a sex change operation and Carrot Top shouting "Stella! Dial 1-800-CALL-ATT!" in a remake of "A Streetcar Named Desire." That's why it's nice to learn that some of our fears are unfounded, such as the idea that a deadly asteroid could wipe us off the face of the Earth at any moment.

This apocalyptic thought entered our collective consciousness a couple of years ago when the movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" came out at the same time, scaring us into thinking that our lives might imitate what someone in Hollywood apparently thought was art. But that wasn't the first we heard of it. That happened years ago when scientists announced that an asteroid which struck the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago caused the dinosaurs to become extinct and we started wondering how it was that only Barney escaped. This convinced us once and for all that there is no justice in life. It also left us wondering if it could happen again.

Luckily other scientists--or perhaps the same ones in disguise, since they all look alike in those white lab coats--recently analyzed once-secret satellite data and came to the conclusion that a catastrophic asteroid smack-down only happens about once every 1,000 years, and since the last one occurred in 1908 when a big one landed in Siberia and, as has been the case with everyone who ends up there was never heard from again, it looks like we have some time to go until the next one hits. Of course this is little consolation to Siobhan Cowton, a teenager in England who a while back said a meteorite landed on her foot, something that sounds suspiciously like an excuse you'd give your history teacher for not finishing the diorama of Napoleon honoring the baker who created the eponymous pastry. Being a smart girl, she kept the walnut-sized rock, putting it in a glass case on the mantel where it will be joined by the science fair ribbon she's bound to win for explaining how she got the bruise on her foot and the gallstone they removed from Uncle Ian which looks like Richard Nixon (as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the movie of the same last name).

I can personally vouch for the low probability of a meteor actually hitting your foot. A couple of weeks ago I spent the hours from midnight until 3:30 AM huddled under a blanket because I was locked out of the house. I mean, because the Leonids meteor shower was occurring. Reports beforehand said that up to 1,000 meteors per hour might streak across the sky. Obviously scientists don't know the meaning of the word exaggeration. Either that or they understand the meaning of the phrase "practical joke" much better. While it was definitely worth watching, it fell way below the predictions. Still, there wasn't a single report of one hitting anyone's foot. Then again, I doubt many people watching had a diorama of Napoleon honoring the baker who created the eponymous pastry due the next day. That was last month's assignment. In England.

An even more common fear is of becoming a shark's lunch, especially to people who live in landlocked states where the last reported shark attack was when someone told a lawyer joke. They really aren't common--shark attacks, not lawyer jokes. In an average year there are only 54 shark attacks around the world, with just seven of them being fatal. Considering how many people swim, surf, water ski, jet ski, snorkel, scuba dive, and have to dump pounds of sand out of their bathing suits at the end of a day at the beach, that's a very low swimming-to-chum ratio.

Here in the U.S. there were 28 shark attacks in 2000. Contrast this with the 27,000 rodent attacks, 8,000 snake attacks, and 1,278,987 times you felt attacked by that damned Dell Guy and you see that sharks are some of the last things in the world you need to worry about. Hell, there were more bear attacks that year and you don't see people running and screaming every time Smokey comes on TV, do you? Sure he doesn't have that ominous doo-doo music the Jaws shark has, but he carries a shovel, for Christ's sake. Good thing he doesn't try to get on an airplane with that thing.

The odds of being attacked by a shark in the U.S. are 1 in 5 million. You're more likely to die from a fall down the stairs (1 in 200,000), a lightning strike (1 in 4.3 million), drowning in your bathtub (1 in 800,000), or at the hands of an agricultural machine (1 in 500,000). The last one should be particularly noted by those shark-fearing folks in Iowa who probably have a much better idea of how you can die at the hands of an agricultural machine than I do. The closest thing I can relate it to is Stephen King's "Christine." On the other hand, you're more likely to be attacked by a shark than you are of winning the state lottery, which weighs in at odds of about 1 in 14 million. And it's cheaper too, since you don't buy tickets week after week hoping to be attacked by a shark. At least I hope not.

This proves that fears often have little to do with reality. If they did we wouldn't be afraid of the dark (there's nothing there that wasn't in the room when you turned off the lights two minutes ago), spiders (if Little Miss Muffett survived so can you), or Carrot Top. Okay, so not all fears are irrational. Hmmm, I wonder if asteroids and sharks are attracted to red hair.

Mad Dog can be found at maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris.

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