Mad Dog

How Now Mad Cow?

It's hard to turn on the TV or look at a newspaper without having a mad cow smack you in the face. And as usual, they run faster than you do, so by the time you put the remote down and wipe that orange Chee-tos dust off your fingers you can't catch them to smack them back. If you're one of those people who still have a hard time telling a mad cow from a disenfranchised electorate, I'm here to make your life a little easier. No, I won't vacuum the living room, but I will answer your questions.

What causes mad cow disease?

It starts when a cow catches BSE, which is bovine spongiform encephalopathy. For reasons scientists don't yet understand, certain proteins, which are those little things that are added to shampoo which do your hair no good but allow the manufacturer to charge you ten times more than the regular shampoo, go haywire and settle in the cow's brain, eating little holes in it so it becomes soft and spongy. This makes it more suited to cleaning kitchen counter tops than thinking, though that's not a real big problem since cows aren't known for their brain power. This is obvious since not a single cow has won a Nobel Prize, though Elmer should have for inventing that white glue we all ate -- I mean, used -- in school.

Do people get BSE?

Not exactly. The human version is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This is not to be confused with Jakob disease, which you get from watching that bad movie Robin Williams made. No, not that bad one, the one titled Jakob.

So how do people catch mad cow disease?

From eating infected cow parts.

How do cows catch it?

The same way.

You mean cows are cannibals?

Yes, but it's not their fault. After all, they don't prepare their own meals. For years farmers have been feeding animals the ground-up remains of their friends and family. The animal's, not the farmer's. Because cows have hooves, they can't call Domino's and order a pizza, which leaves them no choice but to eat Aunt Bossie. If she had BSE, they'll get it too.

That's gross!

True, but they're not the only animals that eat their own. Spiders, fish, and mice do it all the time, and they don't even wait until the kids die or grind them up. While this sounds inhuman, let's not forget that they aren't human. Besides, there isn't a mother alive whose child is older than one week who hasn't given this idea strong consideration. And face it, the world would be better off had some of them done it. Mrs. Hitler, Mrs. Dahmer, and Mrs. Hussein all come to mind.

Where did mad cow disease originate?

It first cropped up in England about five years ago. The authorities were slow to figure out there was a problem since traditionally the English call their mothers-in-law mad cows. Once they started to suspect something was up, they assumed it was a Monty Python skit, which is only natural. At least until someone pointed out that Monty Python hadn't been together for years. After investigating Benny Hill, Mister Bean, and the royal family -- which is known for eating their young, though unfortunately only figuratively -- they finally took the situation seriously and told people not to eat their mothers-in-law. Just kidding. Actually it turns out that's okay, it's eating the meat from infected cows that's the problem. Oddly enough, even cooking it for seven days like the English typically do doesn't kill the renegade proteins, though it does kill the taste of the meat, which is, after all, the main way of knowing that you're dining in England.

Is mad cow disease still a problem there?

No. They got it under control by killing all the cows and lowering everyone's cholesterol level since they had to eat chicken. But like a movie that earns more than $129.72 at the box office, there was bound to be a sequel. A few years ago mad cow disease surfaced in France, then Germany, then Canada, and now it's in the United States.

Why did it take so long to get to the United States?

Tightened security after September 11th.

Are you sure mad cow disease isn't caused by genetic manipulation?

Well, anything's possible. Okay, except maybe Danielle Steel winning a Pulitzer Prize. After all, if Merck can scramble a turkey's DNA so the males are born with black feathers and the females with brown, anything could happen. It's true that the only reason they had to do this was because their last genetic manipulation made it difficult to tell the sexes apart, but this demonstrates that what they were really working on was the goal of scientists everywhere: job security.

Is this a problem with other animals?

Of course not. Animals don't have jobs so why would they be concerned with job security?

I meant do they get their own kind of mad disease.

No. There are no mad lambs, mad chickens, or mad pigs. Well, not unless you count Rosie. Just kidding. Everyone knows she's only mad at her magazine publisher. And Madonna. And....okay, strike that.

What about the elephants who went on a rampage and flattened the village in Bangladesh a couple of years ago?

They weren't mad, they were drunk from a local brew which is a lot like egg nog except it tastes good. At least to elephants.

How can I make sure I don't get mad cow disease?

You can't be 100 percent certain, but there are definite precautions you can take. First, don't go to England, France, Germany, or Canada. Trust me, they won't miss you, especially in France. Don't eat beef that's been eating beef -- stick to vegan cattle. Don't grind up your relatives and sprinkle them on your cereal. And last, stop reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV -- they're worse for your health and mental well-being than any mad cow could ever hope to be.

Reverse Chic is Better Than No Chic At All

Times are tight. The Consumer Confidence Index is at a 10-year low. Unemployment is getting so bad the pollsters might find themselves out of work any day now. Is it any wonder people are flocking to buy rolls of duct tape rather than LG Electronics’ new $8,000 Internet refrigerator that comes with a 15-inch monitor, 20-gig hard drive, MP3 player, and digital camera? It’s cheaper. And the Internet refrigerator hasn’t received the Department of Homeland Security’s Seal of Anti-Terrorist Approval. Yet. Though it should. After all, it would scare off pretty much anyone. Just the thought of a refrigerator that can take photos of me cooking and email them to everyone in my address book because I wouldn’t make the icemaker happy by playing MP3s of Ice Ice Baby scares me. And it should scare you too. Especially if you’re in my email address book.

When the economy gets this bad, cutting back becomes a way of life. Corporations do it, which is why so many people are reading this in a newspaper they picked up off the ground. And hopefully won’t need to use as a blanket when they sleep on the bus stop bench tonight. Families cut back, which is why we’re eating Hamburger Helper without the expensive hamburger, watching boring network TV instead of paying for 500 boring channels, and praying that Joe Millionaire and Zora don’t make it so we can try to weasel our way into a piece of that million-dollar check. Right, us and the 40 million other people who watched the last episode because it was cheaper than an $8 movie ticket. At least I hope that was everyone’s excuse.

Just because times are tight doesn’t mean we have to give up everything. Take wine, for instance. The low budget rage on the West Coast right now is Charles Shaw wine, a supposed Napa Valley vintage that sells for all of $1.99 at Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain which attracts a more rabid following than Michael Moore at an NRA convention. At that price, a case of Merlot, Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon costs less than a bottle of what people were drinking a year ago. To put it in perspective, it’s just a bit more expensive than bottled water and cheaper than a gallon of gas. Of course you only get about 27 staggers to a bottle of Charles Shaw whereas you can get 27 miles with the gas (actual mileage and staggers may vary).

Everyone is proudly serving “Two-Buck Chuck” to guests, who of course are equally as proud to announce that they have a case or two of it at home. Adding to the cachet are the rumors about why it is you can get decent wine with a cork cheaper than a bottle of Thunderbird with the requisite brown paper bag. One theory is that since corkscrews aren’t allowed on airplanes anymore the airlines had to dump all the wine they’d bought and can’t use. Another is that Charles Shaw is selling the wine at a loss so his wife can’t touch it in their divorce proceeding. The simple truth is there was an overproduction of P.R. at Trader Joe’s.

The obvious relish people show for serving cheap wine is a sign that reverse chic is setting in. After all, if you can’t enjoy the good things you might as well go out of your way to enjoy what you do have. That’s right, reverse chic is really just reverse bragging. Where we were once proud to toss money around as if it grew on trees, now we’re happy telling everyone that we have to burn trees to stay warm. Hopefully trees that aren’t in full bloom with C-notes. If they are, harvest them first. Then burn them.

For years my brother boasted about his large, expensive car which he traded in every other year whether he needed to or not. Then times got tight and one day he picked me up at the airport in a smaller, though still new car, bragging about how it was so much cheaper and used less gas. A year previous he would have rather gouged his eyes out with a Tiffany brooch than proclaimed those to be good attributes in a car. My, how times change.

Reverse chic is showing off the Seven jeans you picked up at the thrift store for $2.00 and hoping your best friend doesn’t recognize them. It’s splitting the cost of the Sunday newspaper with your next door neighbor and being proud that you thought of placing tracing paper over the crossword puzzle so you can each do it. It’s Martha Stewart making a festive holiday centerpiece using the hem from an orange prison-issue jumpsuit, a bar of soap, and a shiv borrowed from her cellmate. And it’s hoping things don’t get so bad that you have to follow her instructions.

All of this is good for us. Think of it as Chickenless Chicken Soup for the Soul. It builds character, helps us feel good about ourselves when times are tough, and most of all gives me something to write about so hopefully I can afford a whole case of Charles Shaw Merlot. Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

Barry H. Gottlieb is a regular contributor to AlterNet. 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

That Diamond Just Might Be Your Best Friend

If you're like most people, you try to live your life well. You're kind to animals, you feel like your job makes the world a better place in which to live, and you do volunteer work to help your fellow humans. So why is it that once we're dead we just don't give a damn anymore? We put our body in the ground where it fertilizes the grass above it, which wouldn't even be there were it not for the bodies beneath it. Or else we're cremated and spend eternity in an urn on the mantle, or even stranger, buried in a cemetery which defeats the purpose. Either way, that's it. The end. Finito. It's this type of short-sighted, egocentric, lack of concern for our fellow man attitude that leads people to embarrass themselves, their friends, and their family by appearing on 30 Seconds to Fame. Not to mention spending the time after death being useless. Luckily some people are trying to change this.

Take "Steady Ed" Headrick, for example. He's the man who invented the Pro Model Frisbee and was the father of disc golf, a game in which the goal is to throw a Frisbee into a metal basket. It's a hybrid sport that combines the best of golf, basketball, and hanging around the parking lot waiting for a Phish concert. After Headrick's recent death, his family disclosed that he wanted his ashes to be mixed in with the plastic of a special edition Frisbee. And why not? Who among us hasn't had the urge to play with a loved one long after they died?

He's certainly not the first person to want the living to enjoy him after he's gone. People have had their cremains stuffed into firework shells so they and their loved ones can have one final blast together. Others have had theirs incorporated into artificial reefs, allowing the family to remember Dad hanging around a different kind of dive. And in 1997 a special edition of the comic book Squadron Supreme was printed using ink which contained the ashes of Marvel Comics artist Mark Gruenwald, creating quite an ethical dilemma for his family when they had to decide if it was proper to wash the ink off their hands after they read it.

But what about those of us who want to be more private about it, yet still want our loved ones to continue bringing us daily joy? It's simple: have them turned into a diamond. Yes, thanks to a Chicago area company, Grandma can now be the choker Mom said she was when she was growing up, men will be able to have their wives wrapped around their little finger--literally--which is something they could only dream about during all those years of marriage, and women will be able to have hubby mounted on an earring so he can finally be the stud she always wished he'd been while he was alive.

The idea for LifeGem arose after its creators realized that everyone on the Internet had already been contacted by a Nigerian citizen trying to get them to hand over their bank account in return for money some forgetful oil company supposedly left in the bank. This meant they'd have to dream up something new. They figured that since diamonds are made of carbon, and people are made of carbon, why not make diamonds out of people? It's a good thing they swore off drugs at that point or their logic would have taken them to the next step: People are full of crap, toilets are full of crap, therefore we should make toilets out of people's cremains. I don't know about you, but I just wouldn't feel comfortable knowing I was sitting on Aunt Jean every day with my pants down around my ankles.

They start by taking the cremated ashes and heating them to 5,400 degrees, which is roughly the temperature the average male gets when thinking about making a home video with Pamela Anderson. This burns off the impurities and converts the carbon to graphite. At this point you can take the cheap approach and turn your loved one into the center of a No. 2 pencil or use them to make locks turn more easily. Just kidding. Actually WD-40 does a much better job. And it's cheaper. But as long as you've come this far you might as well let them ship the pile of Graphite Formerly Known As Dad to one of their affiliate labs in Russia and Germany. Then, as long as FedEx doesn't lose the package, they'll pack the graphite around a tiny piece of diamond which acts as a starter, much like sourdough, and subject it to high temperature and extreme pressure--about 80,000 times that of the atmosphere--for seven to 10 days. The result is a beautiful blue cubic zirconium loved one. Just kidding. Actually it's a blue gem-quality diamond which you can then mount on a piece of jewelry or have embedded in your front tooth.

The cost for this is between $8,000 and $17,000, depending on whether you want two one-quarter-carat diamonds or a single ostentatious three-quarter-carat one. This is pretty pricey when you compare it to the cost of a diamond on the Home Shopping Network, but LifeGem guarantees that Uncle Jack will rank high in the Four Cs of diamond quality: cut, clarity, color, and cremains. Of course it would be pretty tough if you lost it. Not only would you be out a nice diamond and all the money you paid for it, you'd be losing your loved one for a second time. This is the kind of trauma deep-seated emotional problems spring from.

So while it's true you can't take it with you, nobody ever said anything about not being able to leave yourself behind. And remember, a diamond is forever, especially when it's not just Mom's, but is Mom.

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

Helping the Food Pyramid Lose Weight

The food pyramid is 10 years old, and if there's one thing the government can't stand -- aside from Osama bin Laden, discovering there's something they haven't gotten around to taxing, and the thought of losing an election and not being able to boss the American public around -- it's having to put up with a pre-adolescent nutritional tool. That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (motto: "Putting the Culture in Agriculture") is looking into helping it grow up.

The food pyramid, for those of you who have been too busy sucking the cream out of your Twinkies to pay attention, is the good old Four Food Groups on steroids. They change these guidelines periodically. Before there were four groups there were seven. Prior to that there were twelve. In 1916 there were five, and a long, long time ago there was just one: pond scum. Luckily we've progressed since then. Well, all except vegans.

The food groups as they stand now include fruit; vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; fats and sweets; bread, cereal, and pasta; and milk and cheese. They don't include insects, radioactive produce, or Slim Jims, Fear Factor notwithstanding. But that doesn't mean they might not be added. All except the Slim Jims anyway. In northern China they've been fighting off a huge locust invasion, which lead the Guangzhou Daily (motto: "If you're dealt lemons, make lemon chicken") to inform its readers that locusts can be made into "tasty and nourishing dishes." Talk about seeing the wok half full. Meanwhile in Moscow, 1,500 pounds of berries were pulled from local markets because -- whoops! -- it turns out they contained 14 times the acceptable level of radioactive cesium-137. Gee, and people wondered why those Chernobyl™ brand berries were so cheap. And glowed in the dark.

There's little question the USDA needs to revise the food pyramid. After all, a lot has changed in the 10 years since the pyramid was created, especially the size of people's waistlines. Obesity is so widespread in this country that 27 percent of adults and 12.5 percent of children can't fit into last month's jeans. While other factors could be to blame, including incessant fast food restaurant advertising, the fact that teenagers get over 30 percent of their vegetable intake from potato chips and french fries, and of course Saddam Hussein, it's also possible that there's a direct causal relationship between the food pyramid and waddling, since the problem's gotten worse, not better. In order to be certain we need to establish a Senate subcommittee, find out if Time is making it a cover story, and get someone -- like me for instance -- to do an in-depth study on the matter. A big, fat, cushy, long-term government funded study, of course. With Krispy Kremes delivered to the office every morning.

Officials at the USDA aren't saying how much, or even if, they'll revise the food pyramid, though I suspect they will since revisionism has overtaken red tape as the favorite activity of political appointees. Even if they rearrange the categories and adjust the recommended daily servings there's still the problem of definition. After all, the USDA considers potato chips and french fries to be vegetables. Not only that, they say you can count them as part of two -- count 'em, 2! -- food groups at once: vegetables and fat. This is good because it promotes efficient eating. Dump some ketchup on those fries and -- hold onto your spuds, George -- you've just added a serving of the fruit and vegetable food group too! That's three food groups rolled up in one supersized snack. Toss some chili and cheese on those fries and you're set for the day.

Now you see why they need to clarify things. Do they consider Chee-tos to be dairy? How about soy milk, is it vegetable, dairy, or both? Or is it just an unidentifiable substance which should be illegal when combined with a latte? Please, don't go wasting good coffee on soy milk. Don't you know there are bean pickers around the world who are making sub-pitiful wages? The least you can do is not insult them by diluting the fruits of their hard labor with low-fat decaf soy milk, something that isn't even on the USDA food pyramid.

The next thing they need to do is change the shape -- it's sending the wrong subliminal message. Think about it, we're using an object with a big wide bottom as our role model. Thus, when we look in the mirror and see a big wide bottom staring back at us, we feel like it's the sign of a job well done rather than something that needs to be remedied. They should change it to a narrow Food Cylinder.

If the New And Improved Food Cylinder doesn't whip us into shape and cure our obesity, maybe Richard Simmons can. Just kidding. Actually he tried that but we all got confused as to whether the oldies we were sweating to referred to the bad music he played or his audience. The responsibility for the Food Cylinder should be switched to a different government agency. Like the IRS. For years the government has been taxing cigarettes, at this point largely to make it so expensive that more people quit smoking. In New York City they recently raised the tax another $1.42, which brings the price of a pack of cigarettes to $7. That's 50 cents a cigarette. At this rate the homeless have a better chance of bumming a quarter than they do a spare butt. I know if I still smoked I couldn't afford my old two pack a day habit. Hell, for that $400 a month you can rent a closet in New York.

If the government started taxing food based on a reverse health scale, foods with high fat content, lots of calories, and little nutritional value would have a tax slapped on them. The worse the food is for you, the higher the tax. Then if people wanted to be poorer and fatter, it would be their choice. But with luck they might stop and think, "Hey, if I forego that highly taxed 24-pack of fried pork rinds every week, at the end of a year I could take a two-week cruise with the savings and look so much better in my bathing suit." It can't hurt to try.

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

How I Survived Judgment Day and Lived to Tell About It

Judgment day came recently. I know because I was there.

"How did I manage to miss it?" you're probably asking yourself. "And since I slept through it, will I get another shot?" Maybe. But if you don't I wouldn't get too excited. Take it from me, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Of course I'm talking about serving on jury duty, which is not only your chance to exercise your civic responsibility by helping power the wheels of justice, but is the only form of torture condoned by the Geneva Convention, which in case you wondered, is an annual affair held at the Geneva Marriott (motto: "Not only are our bank accounts unnumbered, so are our rooms.") during which distinguished world leaders discuss topics of global import, make decisions which will affect the future of our planet, and wear red fezzes while driving miniature cars through the halls of the hotel.

The news that I'd won a chance to sit in a jury box and pray that the eleven people sitting beside me weren't actually my peers came by way of an official looking letter. Not as official looking as the ones Ed McMahon sends, but official enough to catch my attention. It informed me that on this particular Monday morning I should be prepared to administer jurisprudence. Luckily I didn't have to be able to spell it. The only ways I could be excused from sitting in judgment were to be medically incapable ("Please submit a letter from a physician"), on vacation ("Please send the court a picture postcard"), or dead ("Include a copy of your death certificate with your signature notarized ").

So how did I, the only person on three continents who's never seen Judge Joe Brown or Judge Judy in action, get selected for this honor? According to the letter they cull names from voter registration rolls, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Victoria's Secret catalog mailing list. After carefully feeding all the names into a computer, they pop open a six-pack and watch reruns of Matlock while the computer spits out a list of people it hates. I must have really done something nasty to the computer during its prior life as a calculator since this was the second time in 18 months it chose me, a fact even more amazing when you consider that during the same time I couldn't even win a free ticket in the state lottery.

Thus did I find myself in the basement of the courts building at 8:45 AM with fifty other semi-comatose potential jurors, thankful that I wasn't putting my fate in the hands of people like us. During a short instructional video -- "I'm not a judge, but I play one in this film" -- we learned the same judicial lessons lawyers spend four years and hundreds of thousands of Daddy's hard earned bucks to discover:

1. As a juror we must remain impartial, at least until the defendant's check clears the bank.

2. We must stay alert at all times or we'll have to wear gum on our nose for the rest of the trial.

3. Lawyers are no better than the rest of us, except you'll never convince them of this.

We also learned the answer to the question anyone who's ever watched Perry Mason is dying to know: Do judges wear anything under their robes? (It turns out they wear kilts but we were sworn to secrecy, so don't tell anyone.)

Not only was jury duty to be an educational experience, it would also be financially rewarding. While most of us would have gladly performed this civic duty for nothing, they graciously agreed to pay us next to nothing: $1.50 for "mileage." This meant that if we sat on a jury that lasted all day we'd make 18.75 cents per hour, or about 2.8 percent of what we could earn burning burgers at McDonald's. Of course you can't sentence a customer to two life terms at McDonald's just because you have a headache. The best you can do there is help clog his arteries and contribute to his obesity.

(To be fair, if we spent a second day on a trial we'd receive $15 for that day plus another $1.50 for mileage. That's a pretty phenomenal raise after only one day on the job, something which would not only be a nice ego boost but look very impressive on a resume.)

Actually sitting on a jury can be an enlightening experience. Or so they tell me. After hanging around the jury assembly room reading, dozing off, and thinking how wonderfully impartial it was that the soda machine offered both Coke and Pepsi, we were told we weren't needed and could go home. And that we wouldn't be called back for at least a year. That gives me plenty of time to bone up on my jury duties by watching Court TV. I can sit in judgment in the comfort of my own living room while wearing a ratty old bathrobe and socks with holes in the toes without some guy in a black choir robe holding me in contempt of court. I can make microwave popcorn during commercial breaks and not have to share it with eleven people, none of whom like extra butter. And best of all, if Geraldo Rivera comes on shooting his mouth off and trying to justify having spent four years and hundreds of thousands of Daddy's hard earned bucks getting through law school, I can change the channel and watch the Iron Chef.

Of course on the other hand, I won't get my $1.50 a day for mileage. But hey, there's always next year.

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

Your Ad Could Be Here

If you thought advertising was hard to ignore before, look out. Or should I say don't look out, because just when you thought they'd found every possible place to slap an ad someone came up with a new one. It's like a Whack-a-Mole game except we're the ones being knocked in the head and they keep walking away with the prize, which not so coincidentally is our hard earned money.

We've become inured to seeing ads on TV, in magazines, and on Web sites, bus stop benches, trash cans, billboards, and just about anything that sits still for more than 20 seconds. Hell, they've even taken to imprinting ads in the sand at the beach in the morning, just in case you're one of those people who doesn't look up and see the airplanes beautifying the view by flying back and forth trailing huge advertising banners. Grocery stores are some of the worst offenders. There are ads on the edges of the shelves, the dividers between the groceries at the checkout line, on the shopping carts, and even printed on the floor. Now they'll be in the parking lot.

It's true. A company called Nusign Outdoor Media is replacing the concrete parking lot bumpers -- you know, those things you ram your front tires into, then look around sheepishly hoping no one noticed -- with hard plastic ones covered with ads. Their Web site proudly says you "cannot click them off, switch them away, toss them out or turn away from them while speeding past." Wow, it just doesn't get any better than this, does it?

Whether we like it or not, advertising is a part of life. An obnoxious part, but a part. I have to say, though, that I don't hold it against them personally. After all, they're just doing their job. And their job is to help the economy. Lord knows it needs all the help it can get at the moment.

The economics of advertising works like this: companies have to sell products in order to stay in business. Hopefully they're making something that we need, though all too often they're trying to sell completely useless items to people who have more money than sense. You know, like us. So they turn to an advertising agency. Their job is to convince us we need these things when we don't. Their main tactics are to tell us a product or service is better, cheaper, faster, easier, newer, hipper, or that it will improve our sex life. If they can convince us it will give us a better, cheaper, faster, easier, newer, hipper sex life we'll buy a six-pack. Every day. Three hundred sixty-five days a year. For the rest of our life.

The media runs advertisements because, like everyone else in this scenario, they're trying to stay in business. After all, someone has to help them cover expenses. If it wasn't for paid ads the morning newspaper would cost a couple of dollars, you'd have to take out a loan each time you wanted to listen to a radio station for more than two hours, and The Jerry Springer Show would be pay-per-view. The question is whether it would be pay-per-show-view or pay-per-product-view.

Yes, those products you see in movies and on TV are a sneaky form of advertising which has existed for years and is becoming increasingly more popular. With the movie studios and TV networks, not the consumer. Basically, companies pay to have their product appear on screen. It shifted into high gear when E.T. ate Reese's Pieces and sales skyrocketed. The next thing you knew Austin Powers was drinking Heineken and James Bond took to driving a BMW instead of an Aston Martin, whipping out his VISA card, enjoying Smirnoff martinis (shaken not stirred, of course), talking on an Ericcson cell phone, and wearing an Omega watch. And you thought it was just because Pierce Brosnan happened to like those things.

According to Variety, Dreamworks SKG set a record when they raked in a whopping $25 million for product placement in Minority Report. Apparently the minority part referred to the few seconds of the film that didn't show a paid product placement. Unfortunately they squandered all that money paying Tom Cruise an oddly coincidental $25 million salary so -- darn! -- they didn't have any left to give us even a teeny tiny little price break on the ridiculous $8.75 ticket cost.

Meanwhile on TV, Survivor blatantly rewards challenge winners with heavily plugged VISA cards, Doritos, Mountain Dew, and SUVs. Now it turns out that The Other Half, an NBC talk show modeled after The View only with Dick Clark, Danny Bonaduce, Dorian Gregory, and Mario Lopez playing the parts of Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Star Jones, and Meredith Vieira respectively, is selling sponsored segments. And -- whoops! -- forgetting to mention it except for a quick flash during the closing credits. In one segment Clorox paid so the hosts would play a housekeeping game with the audience. In another Hyundai forked over money so a company executive could offer -- wink! wink! -- car buying tips.

The lines are going to continue to blur since advertisers are complaining that people are ignoring commercials more than ever, flipping the channel, closing down pop-up windows at Web sites, and even spreading blankets over ads which are embossed in the sand at the beach. So don't be surprised if they get sneakier and you start seeing guests on Jerry Springer come on wearing Everlast boxing gloves, Samantha on Sex and the City asks guys, "You do have a Durex condom, don't you?", and Tony Soprano declares that if you don't hit someone with a Glock 9mm you can "Fuggedahboutit." Now if I could only get these manufacturers to start paying me to mention them in my columns ... hmmmmmm.

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.

Allergies Are Nothing To Sneeze At

Allergies are the body’s way of saying "Keep Away." They’re the voice in the horror movie that sounds like James Earl Jones with laryngitis whispering "Get out!", but of course no one listens, instead heading down into the dark basement, usually half naked, and always figuring it would be a waste of electricity to turn on the lights or use a flashlight. Unlike allergy sufferers, people in horror movies deserve what they get.

An allergic reaction is actually a false alarm. The body’s immune system, taking its lead from the FBI and CIA, has trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys. As a result it sees something like, say, a dust mite and mistakes it for Osama bin Laden. Right, like anyone’s ever seen a dust mite with a beard and turban. In its confusion, the immune system suspends the body’s civil rights, creates a new cabinet position (Secretary of Homebody Defense), and gets the white blood cells to produce antibodies. The African-American, Latino, and Asian blood cells protest and file a discrimination lawsuit, but by then it’s too late--the antibodies have already attached themselves to special cells in the body called mast cells. The mast cells get upset, release histamine, and as a result you end up with watery eyes, itching, sneezing, a runny nose, and a better excuse with which to try to convince your significant other to get rid of that damned cat other than "I don’t like anything that gets more attention than I do."

The most common things that trigger allergic reactions are pollen, mold, insect stings, foods, and Regis Philbin. Some of these are easier to stay away from than others, though thanks to ABC canceling Who Wants To Be A Millionaire one will be much easier to avoid now. Others, like food allergies, are trickier. That’s why most airlines have stopped giving out the traditional tiny bag of four peanuts, replacing it instead with a tiny bag of four micro-pretzels. Yes, apparently it’s asking a little too much of people who are allergic to nuts to see the word "Peanuts" in 36-point type next to an anthropomorphized peanut wearing a top hat, holding a cane, and looking through a monocle and think, "Hmmmmmm, I’m allergic to peanuts. I wonder if there might be any in this bag?"

Sometimes allergens end up in our food by mistake, such as when you sprinkle ragweed pollen over your Sweet and Sour Tuna Helper because, once again, you mistook it for the salt. Recently Berkeley Farms, a California dairy producer, recalled a big batch of milk because they accidentally put too much penicillin in it. Actually they meant to put Cipro in it. Just kidding. The truth is they didn’t put the antibiotic in the milk at all, the cows did. Of course they couldn’t help it, it came with their dinner.

Still, Berkeley Farms had to pull the milk because it could cause serious problems for people who are allergic to penicillin. They retrieved umpteen thousand gallons of milk and are destroying it, which proves that they, like most large companies, make the mistake of seeing the milk glass half empty. If they were smart they’d recognize this as a marketing opportunity and repackage it as Berkeley Farms Milk With Calcium, Vitamin D, and Penicillin. It could prove very popular amongst those prone to strep infections, pneumonia, spinal meningitis, syphilis, and gonorrhea. Prostitutes would be hooked on the stuff, thanks to the advertising slogan, "A glass a day keeps the doctor away."

This isn’t really so far fetched. After all, it’s hard to find a food item on the grocer’s shelf that doesn’t have at least something added to it. Orange juice now has calcium. Bottled water has caffeine. My toothpaste doesn’t just clean my teeth anymore, it also has fluoride, baking soda, peroxide, tartar protection, whitening agents, and probably oat bran. Hey, if I can stay regular just by brushing my teeth there’s no question I’ll be flashing a much brighter smile.

Now Crest is taking this one step farther by releasing Rejuvenating Effects, a toothpaste designed specifically for women. They’re not saying whether it will have calcium, estrogen, or Midol added, all they’re saying is that it will taste like vanilla and cinnamon. If it’s a hit you can expect other companies to follow suit by putting out Colgate Mocha Frappuccino ("Now available in decaf with soy milk!") and Aqua-Fresh with Cheddar.

That’s right, researchers at the Forsyth Institute in Boston have discovered that eating cheese can prevent cavities. They say it has to do with the calcium in cheese, an increase in saliva when you chew it, and cheese being able to replace tooth enamel, kind of like repainting the bathroom except you don’t need to throw out an uncleanable paint roller every time you eat cheese.

Of course this means that anyone who’s allergic to dairy products will have to watch out who they kiss. In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, two researchers wrote that kissing someone who has recently eaten an item you’re allergic to can often cause you to have a reaction. Though the study confined itself to people who are allergic to nuts and seeds, the same could hold true of other allergies. Thus, if you have allergies, it’s important to stop and have "that little discussion." Yes, before you kiss anyone you should find out if they’ve recently eaten peanuts, penicillin, dust mites, ragweed pollen, or cats. Hey, you can never be too safe.

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

Y Johnny kant spel gud

The 75th annual National Spelling Bee was held recently and 13-year-old Pratyush Buddiga of Colorado Springs, CO won it by spelling his name correctly. Just kidding. Actually he misspelled it, but since he managed to spell prospicience they gave him the trophy anyway. Prospicience, in case you can’t find it in your Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because, well, it’s not in there, means foresight. As in having the foresight to study the list of 4,000 words they commonly use. That’s words they use in spelling bees, not real life. Face it, nobody walks around saying words like prospicience and morigeration in public unless they enjoy having the crap kicked out of them.

Buddiga beat out contestants from every state except Vermont and Utah, which didn’t send anyone. That says a lot about those states though I’m not going to say what that is lest I get inundated by hate mail from a few zillion sap drained maple trees and Mormons. He walked away with $12,000, an engraved cup, a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, $1000 U.S. Savings Bond, and a bunch of reference books which I’m sure he’ll proofread and send back with his corrections. He also got to be on TV since ESPN televised the finals. Yes, this means spelling bees are now an official sport, so you can expect to see one in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Of course being the first time it won’t have an event of its own, it will be part of the New Pentathlon, sandwiched in between the Frisbee Toss, the Playstation Marathon, the Hacky Sack Relay, and Downhill Speed Remote Control Clicking.

It’s nice to know that there are kids who think good spelling is important in life. After all, not every kid will grow up to be like Seattle Mariners pitcher Jeff Nelson, who auctioned off a bone chip from his elbow for $23,000. True he gave the money to charity, but that’s only because he doesn’t have enough time as it is to count the great big piles of sports bucks he’s raking in. The truth is, most children will end up having to work for a living, and spelling, like math, geography, and coming up with new excuses to take a sick day on the Friday before a three-day weekend will be an important skill to have.

"But we have spellcheckers now," you’re probably typing, hoping your computer knows that spellchecker is one word. True, but not only are computers so dumb that they don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, but today’s New and Improved Rebellious Hip Spellings™ completely elude them. For example, U2 isn’t just a band whose lead singer goes on State Department tours of Africa with the Treasury Secretary, it’s also the approved reply to the compliment, "U r 1 hella kewl grrl!"

Yes, it’s spelling for the Hooked on Phonics Generation. It’s quick! It’s easy! And it saves letters, which is not only energy efficient but also environmentally correct since you can recycle the unused letters in words that really need them, like intelligence, impression, and employment. Though in its defense, the new spelling has a royal lineage since Prince was one of the earliest proponents of it, having written songs including When 2 R in Love, I Would Die 4 U, and Tell Me How U Want 2 B Done. That’s Prince the musician, not Prince Charles, who may actually use words like prospicience and morigeration. And not get his butt kicked, though that’s only because his bodyguards are there to protect him.

Xtreme is another popular new spelling of a good old word. It started out as an adjective to describe really edgy, out there, fringe sports but is now so hip, cool, and underground that (True Fact alert!) you can get Xtreme Right Guard deodorant, Xtreme3 shaving razors, and X-treme Jell-O. Ads say it will "X-Cite Your Kids with X-treme Flavors" like green apple, wild berry, and--gasp!--watermelon. That’s the Jell-O, not the razor blades or deodorant. Maybe I’m a bit too old for their marketing, but watermelon Jell-O just sounds so-o-o-o X-treme. Yeah, right.

This raises a whole new problem--what’s the correct spelling of a made up word like Xtreme? Is it hyphenated or not? Is it correct to put numbers after it like a sequel? How about putting them be4 a word, like 2morrow, 1derful, or 4get, as in "4get it, this is 2 complicated 4 me"? This is important. After all, how can we expect our children to grow up to be president if they can’t spell? Okay, aside from having a father who was president before them, which would mean that we’ll only have Bushes, Carters, Fords, and Clintons in office from now on.

Cheeses priced! Eye doughnut wont two bee sill he, butt eye wood knot no watt two tail ewe has un ant sir. May bee eff yule lettuce, wee Ken due a bet her job off tea chin. Oar may bee knot. Won thing 4 shore, my Eddy tore’s spell Czech her his go wing knots rite now.

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

Driving Miss Dzesika

Soon there will be a lot more women tearing up the highways in Lithuania. That is, of course, assuming the highways aren’t too torn up to drive on. The Lithuanian Minister of Health, as part of a new initiative to drag the country kicking and screaming into the 19th century, recently scrapped a law that forced women to undergo a gynecological exam in order to get their driver’s license. It’s true. While this law was unfair, totally uncalled for, and extremely uncomfortable for the women, it did make Lithuanian Driver’s License Examiner one of the most sought after jobs in Eastern Europe. Now, thanks to this change, it will be much easier for women there to get a license. All they’ll need to do is bring a note from their father or husband, pass a driving test, and pat their head and rub their tummy in a circular motion while whistling the Lithuanian national anthem backwards. Just kidding. Actually their national anthem already is backwards.

It’s about time they cleared this law from the books. After all, Lithuanian men don’t have to turn their head and cough, have their prostate examined, or get their sperm count checked before they drive, though maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea since it’s much safer than having the procedures performed while they drive. The law is a remnant of the country’s previous incarnation as part of the Soviet Union. At the time they thought women were susceptible to diseases that could be so painful they would affect their driving ability. It was okay to have chronic back problems, debilitating migraines, and a propensity to suck down massive quantities of vodka, but god help you if you had female problems. And you thought no one in the Soviet Union had a sense of humor.

The truth is, additional testing before being issued a driver’s license isn’t such a bad idea, even here in the U.S., though of course the tests should be the same for men and women and not involve a gynecologist. As it is now, all you need to do is pass a written exam, read an eye chart, and take a quick drive around the block to prove you can make it to the 7-11 and back without mowing down any pedestrians, ramming a police car, or spilling any of your 3-quart Big Gulp in the limited edition Bob Patterson cup, which is actually more limited than the TV show was. If that’s possible.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough. If we really want to make the roads safer we need to add a few more tests. For one, applicants should be required to take a memory test to see if they can recall what that lighted arrow on the left hand side of the dashboard that’s been blinking for 20 minutes even though they’ve been driving in a straight line for an hour is there for. They should have to successfully complete a multi-tasking test to see if they’re able to talk on a cell phone, eat a taco, comb their hair in the rear view mirror, and drive at the same time. Any two out of four would be good enough to pass. And finally, all drivers age 65 and older should have to be tested every year to see if they have the strength to step on the gas pedal hard enough so the car can reach a speed equaling at least 50 percent of the posted limit. And do it while driving in the far right hand lane. Assuming, of course, they can see over the steering wheel.

The truth is, we really have no right to make fun of Lithuanian driving laws. After all, we have plenty of strange ones ourselves. In Alabama it’s illegal to drive a car while blindfolded. In California women can’t drive while wearing a housecoat. (It’s also illegal in California for any vehicle without a driver to go faster than 60 miles per hour, but if there’s no driver it’s questionable whether or not that can be considered a driving law.) And in Detroit they’ve really put their foot down, and it’s definitely on the brake pedal. There it’s illegal to have sex in an automobile unless it’s parked on your own property. Except, of course, if you’re role playing Lithuanian Driving Instructor and Student and you’re being given an official prostate exam and sperm count test.

Adding these new tests would help save lives at the same time they would keep our tempers and blood pressure down. This is what’s known as a win-win situation, to quote a phrase which should never be quoted. Remember that driving is a privilege and not a right. And that arrow on the road sign ahead means you can make a left and not a right. Therefore, driving is a privilege and a left turn, something even Einstein couldn’t have predicted. Come to think of it, he also didn’t predict that Lithuania would come to its senses and realize that women have as much right to drive as men. Where did he get his math license, K-Mart?

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

You Want a Piece of Me?

DNA is poised to be the baseball trading cards of the 21st century. Everyone wants to collect it. The police take samples from anyone who will hold still long enough to let them stick a Q-tip in their mouth. Parents are preserving their children’s DNA in case, well, in case of something. And now people are starting to save bits of their own DNA. It’s true.

DNA, you see, is magic. It’s not just a teeny tiny twisty strand of genes that looks suspiciously like a spiral staircase that would make you incredibly dizzy were you to climb it, apparently it’s got the secret to everything about us locked up in there. That’s why scientists are racing to decode it, using supercomputers, high-tech lab equipment, lots of government grant money, and a Cracker Jack decoder ring, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. While they’re doing a great job of cataloging the genes, they basically still have no idea what it all means. It’s like working hard (and spending billions of dollars) to learn the alphabet, then realizing you don’t have a DNA-English dictionary on the shelf. Yup, we’re all DNA illiterates on this bus.

But this isn’t stopping anyone from saving DNA "just in case." Some people are saving it in the hope that cloning becomes possible, practical, legal, and available at Wal-Mart while you wait. Hey, if cloning is going to catch on it had better not take longer than it does to get film developed. If they’re real smart they’ll figure out a way to make them digitally. After all, this is the Age of Instant Gratification, you know. Other people are saving DNA in case scientists unravel it--metaphorically, of course--and can predict their medical future. That’s right, DNA could turn out to be the palm reading of the New Millennium. Still others are saving it in case they lose their hair.

It’s true. A San Francisco company named Hairogenics is selling a kit which allows people to clip a few bits of hair, mail it to the company, and have it stored in a refrigerator in a basement in Oregon, right next to last season’s venison. And they’ll do it for only $49.95 plus $10 a year. The idea is that if you end up going bald, medical science might happen to find a cure which involves the manipulation of genes. Then if you’re lucky and still alive, Hairogenics will hand over your hair sample and--voila!--you’ll once again be able to walk around with a head of hair that makes Fabio look like Burt Reynolds. That’s Burt without his toupee, of course.

So far 200 people, including two women, have sent in their hair, leaving Hairogenics with enough room to store another 799,800 samples. And I’m sure they’ll get them, in spite of the fact that even if scientists did figure out which gene they could screw with so your hair would start to grow again they wouldn’t need your hair to be able to do it. After all, DNA is DNA. Every bit of it has the same information no matter what part of your body it comes from, so the intimate details about your hair can come from anywhere. In other words, you might as well spit in a vial and stash it in your freezer next to the Ben & Jerry’s We Are The Vanilla Fudge Whirled as send Hairogenics a snippet of your hair. Then you can spend the $49.95 plus $10 a year you saved on a nice hat to keep your balding head warm while you’re waiting for medical science to catch up to fly-by-night capitalists.

Meanwhile the DNA Copyright Institute, also based in--gasp!--San Francisco, is trying to convince people to have their DNA copyrighted. For a fee, of course. While they say it’s a good idea for anybody, they’re targeting big time entertainers, athletes, and models who have lots of money to waste. And also may be afraid that someone might extract the DNA from a paper towel they used in the rest room and run down to Clones-R-Us to have a copy made in thirty minutes or less. Actually, this is a good idea. The protection, not the cloning. After all, who wants to risk someone making a second Carrot Top. Or a third. Or...well, you see the potential nightmare now, don’t you?

Unfortunately the U.S. Copyright Office says this can’t be done. Something about copyrights being issued for original works of authorship, so unless God or Mother Nature applied for the copyright on your DNA they won’t touch the application with a ten-foot cotton swab. But all isn’t lost. Another service the DNA Copyright Institute offers is to hold onto your sample and issue you a framed representation of your DNA profile, which looks like a bar code that can be scanned at Safeway so at least you can find out how much you’re worth. Hopefully it’s more than their fees.

The boom in collecting DNA will open up whole new business opportunities. eBay could have an area where people put their slightly used DNA up for bid. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange could start trading DNA futures so not only can you have your DNA under lock and key at Hairogenics and the DNA Copyright Institute, but you’ll be able to hedge your bet just in case it turns out someone else already holds the copyright to your DNA and baldness is caused by global warming, not genetics. And little DNA urns could start gracing people’s mantles as a way to remember those who have passed on. DNA--it’s not just for baldness cures anymore.

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

Sex and the Single Panda

It’s spring, so our thoughts naturally turn to sex. It’s true this time of year also makes us think about cook-outs, the beach, and trading our winter clothes for shorts and tank tops which have mysteriously shrunk over the winter, but face it, right now they all make you think of one thing: sex.

This is a natural occurrence, since spring is the time of renewal, rising sap, warmer days, and lots of exposed fish-belly white flesh. It’s not just us, this also happens to animals. Not the cook-outs, thoughts of the beach, and exposed flesh--after all, they walk around exposed all the time--but rather the quest for sex. As the song says, birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Of course what that song doesn’t tell you is that pandas like to do it rough.

It’s true. This spring Tian Tian, a 265-pound male panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., decided that after 15 months of playing silly little panda games with Mei Xiang--the only panda in the world without a redundant name--it was time to get down to business. So he did what any self-respecting panda would do: he jumped her, bit her, pinned her down, and asked her repeatedly, "Who’s your daddy?" Naturally she ran up a tree and stayed there for 36 hours, only coming down to eat, then quickly scamper back up.

You could easily chalk this up to adolescent sexual behavior, except pandas don’t go through adolescence, only humans do that. Even our ancestors didn’t have an adolescent phase, or at least that’s what scientists tell us. They say we’ve only been going through adolescence for the past 1.5 million years, which is about how long it feels like a teenage boy goes through it, especially if you’re his parents. This means that the less highly developed members of our family tree, such as Homo erectus, Australopithecus, and Carrot Top, didn’t have to spend their formative years dealing with acne, turn-on-a-dime temper tantrums, and hiding Mad Magazine from their parents because it was supposed to be bad for them. Okay, actually Carrot Top did. And still does. And always will. But the others didn’t.

What were the officials at the National Zoo expecting, anyway? They got the pandas from China hoping they would mate because nothing attracts visitors to a zoo like the chance to see hot, nasty panda love. Except maybe Jennifer Lopez and Tonya Harding mud wrestling, but that’s out of the question because they’re under contract to do it on Fox’s upcoming special, When Bad TV Shows Go Worse Than You Could Ever Imagine. It certainly didn’t help that someone at the zoo went and named the pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, which mean "beautiful fragrance" and "more and more." If this doesn’t sound like they were trying to set them up, I don’t know what does.

Most men don’t see that there’s a problem with panda sex. After all, they think jumping on a woman, biting her, pinning her down, and asking her repeatedly, "Who’s your daddy?" is standard behavior. It’s called foreplay. If they were to do this and the woman decided to climb a tree and stay there for 36 hours they’d just make good use of the time by reveling in having the remote to themselves, not feeling pressured to change their T-shirt even though it’s covered in Chee-tos finger smears, and discovering that 3-day-old Krispy Kremes taste just fine after 2 minutes in the microwave at full power. Though they probably wouldn’t admit that they ruined four doughnuts before they figured out it’s better to wait until afterwards to top it with chocolate fudge swirl chunk ice cream.

Thanks to years of hard work, guilt, coercion, and bribery, women have finally gotten most men to realize that foreplay is important. And the men actually believe it. That’s because they figured out that without foreplay there will be no sex, and without sex they won’t get to fall asleep quickly. Some men, in their eternal quest to do things the quick and easy way, have managed to bypass the foreplay and even have a doctor’s note excusing them from it. That’s because they suffer from a recently identified medical disorder called "sleep sex." This is a lot like sleep walking and talking in your sleep except it’s a lot more fun. And like walking and talking in your sleep, you don’t remember it the next day, you don’t have to feel accountable for your actions, and it’s perfectly okay to fall asleep immediately afterwards because, after all, you never really woke up. It’s a man’s dream disorder.

But all this may be moot soon, because thanks to modern farming, women may be able to make sure men don’t ever bother them again. In laboratory experiments conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, scientists found that male African clawed frogs which were exposed to a common farm weed killer ended up with lowered testosterone levels, smaller than normal voice boxes, and multiple or mixed sets of male and female sex organs. In other words, a little atrazine sprinkled in a man’s beer could result in his not caring much about sex, not being able to ask "Who’s your daddy?" in a voice low enough to sound manly, and should he actually desire sex, being able to do it by himself.

But don’t worry, even if this happens spring still arrive. And with it the thoughts of cook-outs, the beach, and pulling out the T-shirts and shorts. And if without sex it all seems a little dull, there are always the pandas at the zoo. They’ll still know how to have a good time.

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 Museum of Stripping Cowboy Vampires

It can’t be easy running a museum. For one thing, they exist because they display items that are special, which by definition means there aren’t many of them around. It’s not like you can walk into Wal-Mart and pick up a new Picasso painting, a medical oddity from the 18th century, or a just completed dryer lint sculpture to put on display because the old ones are, well, old news and you need to spruce things up a bit. Add to that the current slowdown in tourism, the recession, and quality TV shows like Watching Ellie which are keeping us glued to the tube and it’s no wonder museums are having problems staying filled with living, breathing people.

So it came as no surprise to hear that a benefit show was recently held in Los Angeles to help raise money for the Exotic World Burlesque Museum in Helendale, CA. It’s not that people aren’t interested in getting a glimpse of Sally Rand’s shoes, Blaze Starr’s red dress, and lip prints from Candy Bar and Chesty Morgan--after all, these aren’t things you find in stuffy old places like the MOMA or the British Museum--but apparently there just aren’t enough of them willing to trek to an isolated spot midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to see them.

When I was there several years ago I didn’t get to talk to the curator, ex-dancer Dixie Lee Evans, as I’d hoped to because she was rushing to make a deposit at the bank before it closed. That may have been one of the last times she had to make that trip. The benefit show at the Palace Theater featured, among others, Kitten DeVille, Kitten on the Keys, and Kitten Diggins. I know there’s a theme there if only I could figure out what it is. Since the museum is registered with the California State Historical Society tickets were tax deductible, so I’m sure the Orange County Republicans turned out en masse, especially those who saw the entertainment schedule and mistook it for an SPCA fundraiser.

Meanwhile, 16 miles away from Exotic World in Victorville, the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum has hit hard times too. So hard that it’s up for sale. They’re not selling the contents, just the building and 50 acres of land. There’s no word what will happen to the posters, saddles, gold records, autographed baseballs, or rock mineral collection, but I hope they don’t get separated from the stuffed animals, which include Roy’s horse Trigger rearing up on its hind legs, Dale’s horse Buttermilk, Trigger, Jr., and Bullet the Wonder Dog--whoever the hell he was. There’s no telling what will wind up on those 50 acres, though it’s a good bet it will either be housing or a shopping mall. Either way they should at least make sure there’s a Roy Rogers restaurant included to honor his memory. And use up the last of Trigger’s innards.

Both of these museums would do better if they were converted into theme parks. After all, people can’t get enough them. Aside from the usual ones based around cartoon characters, movies, and trained sea creatures, there are theme parks about religion (The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, FL), trees (Bonfante Gardens Park in California), and huge mountains (Dolly Parton’s Dollywood). Build a few rides, toss together a few flashy shows, and sell lousy food at exorbitant prices and they’d have a sure fire hit on their hands. Think about it. Exotic World would become quite the tourist destination if they would add a roller coaster called the Feather Boa Constrictor, offer karaoke strip teases, and feature games like Pop The Dancer’s Balloons. Roy’s museum would come alive if they’d put in the Tumbling Tumbleweed ride, Roy’s Ambush Laser Tag arena, and the Hung Like a Horse gallery of Trigger’s family portraits.

A group of people in Transylvania understand this concept well, which is why they’re raising money to build a Dracula theme park. I know there never was a real Dracula, but there wasn’t a real Mickey Mouse, Goofy, or Pluto either and that hasn’t stopped a couple of people from plunking down $43 a day to see them. (Note to any children reading this: There isn’t a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy either, but don’t let that stop you from raking in all the money and gifts from your parents that you possibly can by letting them think you still believe. Gravy trains like this don’t happen often in life.)

BloodsuckerWorld will be based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was loosely inspired by a real 15th century Transylvanian prince named Vlad the Impaler whose hobby was capturing Turks and shoving stakes through them. Hey, there wasn’t any post office yet so there weren’t any stamps, meaning collecting them would have been even more boring then than it is now. If you can imagine that.

It looks good that Land O’ Vampires will really happen, unlike Bambiland, which was the proposed name of the Yugoslavian theme park being planned by Marko Milosevic, son of famed president Slobodan "If It’s Good Enough For Vlad It’s Good Enough For Me" Milosevic. Even though NATO war planes did a lot of the preliminary work by clearing the land, the project got derailed by some court in The Hague. Meddling judges!

The Romanian Tourism Minister says the Dracula theme park will have rides, a spooky Gothic castle, a zoo, and of course a golf course. You can look forward to The Impaler roller coaster, a 3-D multi-media show based on communist President Nicolae Ceausescu’s tenure called "Honey I Shot The Kids," and Bloody Marys being sold every 20 feet by college students wearing capes, slicked back hair, and fangs.

It would be a shame if Draculand becomes a reality while the Exotic World Burlesque Museum and Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum bite the dust. After all, they’re each classics in their own right. Maybe there’s safety in numbers and the three of them could combine their efforts. The idea of a flashy show featuring female vampires slowly stripping off their capes while singing Happy Trails sounds like a sure fire winner.

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

Amazing Color-Changing Food

As if it wasn't enough that every food product on the grocery shelf now comes in fourteen variations -- including low fat, no fat, cholesterol-free, decaf, high fiber, sugar-free, taste-free, chunky, calcium added, unscented, extra strength, and if you're lucky, regular -- now you have to decide what color you want.

It started a couple of years ago when Heinz (motto: "57,000 varieties") came out with Blastin' Green ketchup for kids. It's pretty much the same as boring old red ketchup except it looks like it's been sitting out for way too long. It went over so well with parents who will buy their children anything in order to shut them up that the following year Heinz put out Funky Purple, which tastes just like the other colors except it makes you think you're eating Barney. Come to think of it, that may not be such a bad thing.

Now Ore-Ida, a division of -- yes, you guess it -- Heinz, is getting ready to roll out Funky Fries, a line of specially flavored and shaped French fries which include brown and blue versions. That's right, soon you'll be able to buy Kool Blue French fries, which are "sky blue seasoned," and Cocoa Crispers, which are -- hang onto your sweet tooth -- chocolate flavored. MMMmmmmmm! So far Heinz hasn't said what sky blue tastes like but I suspect it's the same as sky blue Popsicles. Whatever flavor those are.

The idea of brown chocolate French fries covered in purple ketchup is not only disgusting from a taste point of view, but from an aesthetic one too. If this trend keeps up refrigerators will not only have ice makers, water dispensers, Internet hook-ups, and fondue pots built in, but will come with a color wheel attached. Either that or Heinz will hook up with Garanimals to make it easier to color coordinate dinner.

One product that's always been in the colored food category is about to add a new hue. As if the hip-but-icky blue M&M's they picked seven years ago to replace boring, staid, oh-so-'80s tan wasn't bad enough, now they're looking to add either purple, pink, or aqua. This being the Democratic Decade, they figure that if we can vote people off an island, vote on what we think the right answer is so someone else can become a millionaire, and vote for whether we think a referee made a good call or not, we should be able to vote for this. That's why you can go to their web site (www.mms.com) between March 6th and May 31st and cast a ballot for the color of your choice. Well, that and the fact that it's a huge free publicity bonanza for them.

Most of these products are being colorized thanks to food dyes that have numbers instead of names, but some are being done naturally. Scientists in New Zealand (motto: "The Other Australia") have developed a kiwi fruit with gold flesh, no hair on the outside, and a sweeter taste. Other than those changes it's the exact same fruit. They're doing this because, well, it's easier than discovering a new one.

The motivation for this mutant kiwi is so they can tap into the Asian market, where foul-smelling durians are so popular that some countries, like Singapore, ban them from buses, subways, and hotels, yet mildly tart kiwis just don't make the grade. For starters, they might consider going back to the fruit's original name, which was Chinese gooseberry. There's nothing like giving the illusion that a product is local to help sales. They changed the name a number of years ago for marketing purposes, figuring that since they grow them in New Zealand and they kind of look like the fluffy kiwi bird, it would sell better. It worked. Now that they've developed the new bald variety they're going to have to change its name from Zespri Gold to Bruce Willis Fruit.

The effect of food color on humans has been the subject of many scientific studies. And some unscientific ones too. One night a long time ago, on a lark, I put food coloring in everything in the refrigerator. I made pink mayonnaise, blue milk, and bright green 7-Up. Being ahead of my time, I even made purple ketchup. Okay, it was more a muddy brown, but it had definite undertones of purple. Needless to say, the next morning my roommates were none too thrilled about pouring blue milk into their coffee, slathering orange cream cheese on their bagel, and putting neon green mustard on the brown ham sandwich they were making for lunch. Being a trendsetter is never easy.

If companies continue to change the color of food we're going to see an interesting phenomenon: colliding trends. Last year several books came out which advocate eating according to a food's color. What Color Is Your Diet? claims we should choose our fruits and vegetables based on their color. The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health takes it one step farther, saying we should only eat foods which match our dining room. Just kidding. Actually it claims that different colors in foods have different properties, blue being good for the brain, orange good for the heart, and green good for the author's bank account, especially if enough people fall for this.

If companies start arbitrarily changing the color of food we won't know what to eat, especially if we start wrapping it in the new food wrap the USDA has developed. They've figured out a way to turn apples, oranges, and carrots into thin sheets which can keep food fresh in the refrigerator. This means one day you may have to figure out when it's best to eat brown Cocoa Crisper chocolaty French fries covered in green ketchup topped with pink M&M's wrapped in red strawberry-flavored wrapping. I have no clue when that time might be, but I sure hope there's enough for seconds.

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.

Those Who Cannot Rewrite The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It

If you had a chance to rewrite the past, would you? Lets put aside the time travel conundrums we know so well from books and movies, like whether changing the past would mean altering the present so there's a chance your parents might never have met, Osama bin Laden might have been born a girl, or TV might not have sunk to new lows like having John McEnroe host a quiz show with the riveting hook of--yawn!--watching someone's heart rate go up and down.

What if you could change things you've done without any dire consequences? Or even better, make a few more bucks because of it. Steven Spielberg is doing just that in the new version of E.T. he's getting ready to release. Remember the scene near the end of the movie where FBI agents surround the spaceship? Well the guns they used to be holding have been digitally removed and replaced by walkie-talkies. It's a good thing the aliens didn't get violent or the agents would have had to throw their walkie-talkies at them. "Take that, you mean old extraterrestrials!"

Reportedly he did this, at a cost of $100,000, to keep Drew Barrymore happy. I sure hope he has more success than Tom Green did. The New York Post reports that Drew, Spielberg's godchild, is "fanatically opposed to all forms of weapons." Apparently that doesn't include pouting lips, stamping feet, and coercion.

He's far from the only person doing this. Releasing director's cuts, both on DVD and in the theaters, is big these days. A director's cut, in case you've been too busy being grateful that President Bush choked on a pretzel instead of throwing up on a Japanese dignitary to pay attention, is when a film director releases a version of the movie which is the way he or she intended it to be. In other words, longer. Remember, it's called a cut because they cut the film negative, not because the director cuts anything out. After all, most directors are men, and no matter how many times we're lied to, we still believe size matters. Thus they add scenes, characters, and dialogue, turning Apocalypse Now into Apocalypse Forever.

They're doing this with books too. They're called "restored" novels. They're the final draft of a book the way the author turned it in. You know, before an editor got his or her grubby pencil on it. The past 10 years have seen restored novels from writers including Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe. Some changes are small. Others, as with All The King's Men, include going back to the main character's original name and cleaning up his foul mouth. You know, kind of like changing Larry Flynt to Bob Jones and having him found a fundamentalist university instead of a magazine empire.

It's true there are a lot of reasons a movie or book is edited. Sometimes it's because the director or author is being self-indulgent. Other times it's because petty, small-minded, incompetent people in positions of power who are unable to create anything themselves like to exert their influence. Trust me, I don't say it lightly when I claim that some writers and directors need editing. After all, I'm a writer so editors are one of my few natural enemies. Bears, sharks, and scorpions don't make me break out in a sweat, but people who live to hack up--I mean, refine--what I've spent so much time, energy, sweat, and talent writing do.

Sure, sometimes changes have to be made. For instance, when books migrate to the silver screen they have to be altered. After all, novels can be longer, cover more years, and include more characters and scenes than anyone's butt could possibly sit through. Sometimes the changes are small, as in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Sometimes they're big, as in Forrest Gump where the book's "Being an idiot is no box of chocolates" became "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get," totally changing the main thrust of the book and creating a sickeningly sweet Whitman's Sampler aphorism in the process.

Even though the Harry Potter movie had to eliminate and subrogate characters, they overstepped the boundaries of rewriting the past when they showed Harry and his class mates riding brooms the wrong way. That's right. Contrary to what your mother-in-law wants you to believe, there is a right and wrong way to ride a broom. At least according to Kevin Carlyon, High Priest of British White Witches, and I'd have to be insane to argue with anyone who can turn me into a toad.

According to him you don't ride a broom like they did in the movie--you always wear a helmet. Just kidding. Actually that's only required in California. He says that when witches ride brooms the bristles face forward. Of course you also see drawings of them riding sidesaddle but that wouldn't have been appropriate in the movie unless they wanted to inject sexual proclivities where they don't belong. That doesn't start until the sixth book, Harry Pottymouth and the Sorcerer Get Stoned.

The problem, of course, is that when directors and writers revert back to their original intentions they're tampering with what we've become accustomed to. We're used to the governor in All The King's Men being Willie Stark. We're used to The Exorcist ending without an explanatory conversation. Hey, we got it, okay? And we're used to FBI agents who don't put their firearms away because Drew Barrymore doesn't like them. Luckily we won't have to worry about changes to John McEnroe's TV show, The Chair, since the only change there will be that it won't be around long. See, some change is good.

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

American Knighthood

Becoming a knight must be one of the cooler things that can happen to a person. That's assuming, of course, that winning the lottery, waking up to discover yourself in a Las Vegas hotel next to Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney (your choice), or beating up Carrot Top isn't in the cards.

True, knights don't wear armor, joust, or rescue damsels in distress anymore. In fact, they don't do much of anything except meet the Queen, flaunt their new title over their baron friends, and get a perverse kick out of making their spouse call them "Sir" in bed. But it's still very cool. I suspect that if you asked most English children what they want to be when they grow up they'd say, "An astronaut, a knight, or employed." Hey, it's good to have goals.

It's not like many people get to become knights. This past New Year's Day Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the honor on about twenty-five people, including actor Ben Kingsley and Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson. Because he's British, Kingsley will be known as Sir Gandhi. Well, among the tittering household help anyway. Watson, on the other hand, won't be called "Sir" because he's American. He'll be called "Bud." Foreigners, it turns out, can only be honorary knights. Right, like Kingsley will be spending a lot of time drinking mead, riding into battle on horseback, and yanking swords from stones.

Having people be obligated to address you as "Sir" must be a nice thing, even though in England many people still use the word as an everyday sign of respect. That's very different from here in the U.S. where being called "Sir" is a sign that the snotty kid loading the picnic table into your minivan thinks 30 is old, your haircut is way out of style, and your car isn't nearly as cool as his. Or won't be once he actually earns enough money to buy one.

When a woman becomes a knight she's called "Dame." That too is unlike here, where if a woman spends the night she's called a dame. Of course you have to watch out for imposters, such as comic performer Dame Edna who isn't really a dame. As a matter of fact, she isn't really a she. She's a guy pretending to be a woman who's a knight. I say lock her up before she gets completely carried away and decides that she's the Virgin Mary too.

Queen Elizabeth didn't just hand out knighthoods, she also awarded a slew of lesser honors. The Bee Gees are now Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, an honor which allows them to wear uniforms like the Beatles did on the Sgt. Pepper's album while pondering exactly what the Queen thinks is left of the empire. There are OBEs (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) which went to people like Lynn Redgrave and Sade, and on the low end of the scale there's the MBE (Member of...), which is handed out as often as umbrellas on your average London day.

The MBE was bestowed on hundreds of people, including an Irish singer, a steel drum player from Trinidad and Tobago, an elementary school crossing guide in Scotland, and James Watson. No, not that James Watson. After all, who would want an MBE when you're already a knight? No, this is James Watson the parking lot attendant at Leeds Metropolitan University. Honestly. It's true he didn't discover the structure of DNA or win a Nobel Prize like his namesake, but let me tell you, the guy can park a car, change a quid, and touch up the scratch he put on your fender with the best of them.

We need to have honors like this in the United States. It's true the president and congress hand out medals from time to time, such as the Medal of Merit, Medal of Freedom, and Gold Medal of Flour, but that's just not the same. For one, you have to walk around with it pinned to your chest if you want anyone to know you have it. After all, it's not like it's attached to the front of your name like "Sir," or after it like the initials CBE, OBE, and MBE.

Think about it. We all know Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Edith Evans, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Laurence Olivier, who by the way should never be referred to as Sir Larry--after all, you don't talk about Queen Liz, Jr., do you? But how many American medal winners can you name? Other than members of the U.S. Olympic team.

Not only would establishing an American knighthood let the public become more aware of those who were honored, it would help get rid of the bad connotation the word has had for years thanks to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Knight Rider, and Ted Knight. And it's not like we'd have to worry about it setting up an upper class in this country. After all, as the English will gladly tell you, Americans have no class.

I say we do it. If we set it up right, becoming an American Knight would rank right up there with winning the lottery or waking up to discover yourself in a Las Vegas hotel next to Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney. True, it wouldn't be as cool as beating up Carrot Top, but what would be?

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

A Euro for Your Thoughts

Money sure has been in the news a lot lately. The airlines are running out of it, retail stores took in less of it at Christmas than they had hoped and, thanks to spending $69 million of it, Michael Bloomberg started off the year with a new job -- mayor of New York City. Oh yeah, a bunch of European countries dumped their francs, drachmas, and pesetas in favor of the euro too.

The euro, for those of you who have been too busy waiting for Weakest Link to rerun "Supporting Sitcom Actors No One's Ever Heard of Who Are As Desperate For An Audience As We Are" to catch the news, is the common currency which twelve out of the fifteen members of the European Union have adopted. The holdouts are England, Sweden, and Denmark, which used the E.U.'s "You Ain't The Boss Of Me" clause to opt out. Hopefully it will work better than it did for England during World War II.

The idea of the euro is to unite the countries economically, give the dollar a run for its financial money, and create some truly boring paper money adorned with generic, unidentifiable bridges and doorways, the well known international symbols of, well, anything but a monarch. It will also make it easier to travel from country to country since you won't have to worry about changing your money, figuring out how to fold it so it fits in your wallet, and walking around with a calculator in your hand so you'll know how many of the alien bills to unfold, examine, and overpay the smiling shopkeeper. Instead you'll hold onto the same money as you crisscross the continent. And wonder why it buys so much less just because you walked through customs.

Actually the euro isn't new. It's been in use for a couple of years, though much like my social life, it's been virtual. Hey, maybe there's hope for me yet. Even though there were no actual euros to hand over, store prices were posted in both the local currency and euros so people would get used to it, much like they did here when they put up highway signs showing the speed limit and distance to cities in both U.S. and metric. Which lasted all of about a week. Which if I recall is five metric days. At least the virtual euro managed to hang in for a couple of years.

People finally got their hands on the real thing on New Year's Day. In most of the countries they'll be able to use either the euro or their old money for a few months, though they'll only get euros back as change. Germany's the exception. There you have to have exact change. Just kidding. Actually they discontinued the use of the mark immediately so you have to use the euro. Germans have a hard time with the concept of gray.

Having an adjustment period is a good thing, since it will give people time to learn not to stare at the new money as if they're American tourists in Paris for the first time wondering what these strange looking bills are and trying to figure out how many they need to fork over for that weasel pâté with escargot and mayo on baguette they ordered by mistake. This sight alone -- Europeans having trouble with their money, not the sandwich -- makes the idea of traveling to Europe very attractive right now. Hey, I‘m not above a bit of revenge.

To get everyone primed for the euro, they promoted the hell out of it. There were German TV commercials ("Vee haf ways to make you use the euro"), a 50-foot replica of the euro symbol at the European Central Bank (Think: vertical crop circle), and even the introduction of The EuroWorldSong with Michael Jackson singing "We are the Euroworld. We are the children." Just kidding. Actually the chorus is "It's a small Euroworld after all."

Not everyone is happy with the change. Or the bills for that matter. In France the newspaper Liberation ran an obituary for the franc. In Germany some people buried their marks. Well, a few token ones, anyway. And in Luxembourg people worried that this would cause them to lose their identity. Until, that is, someone reminded them they don't have one.

Europe may not be the only place to get a new currency this year. Argentina has been considering it too. Last week the country's third out of five presidents in two weeks -- go ahead, think about that for a moment -- announced he was going to print brand new money called the argentino. This in spite of the fact that they already have two, the peso and the dollar. But now that he's gone and they're on their third president in two days (don't feel bad if you have to take notes here, so do the Argentineans) it looks like they may just stick with the two currencies they have. Of course that could change. After all, somewhere in among all this they adopted a new national motto: "Another day, another president."

So what are you to do if you have some Irish punts, Austrian schillings, or Portuguese escudos sitting in the drawer waiting for your return to Europe? Not to worry, banks say they'll always exchange them. Maybe that's the answer to the problem of the airlines and retail stores. Perhaps they should look in their pockets and behind the seat cushions for spare change they can convert to euros. If they find enough of it they might just get back on their feet. Or become mayor of New York. Hey, it's a new year, anything's possible.

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

The Animals Even Vegetarians Love to Eat

Animal crackers are 100 years old. No, not the package that's sitting on your kitchen shelf next to the Fudge Covered Double Stuf Christmas Oreos with the yummy green creme filling -- after all, only Twinkies have a shelf life that long -- but rather the brand itself.

It was way back in 1902 that Nabisco took a cookie -- yes, even they admit it's not really a cracker -- which had been popular in England for years and created Barnum's Animals as they're officially called. That same year the Wright brothers flew their first airplane, Crayola crayons hit the market, and Strom Thurmond was elected to his first term in Congress. It was a good year for longevity.

Barnum's Animals was an instant success thanks to marketing -- Nabisco put them in a package that looked like a circus wagon and attached a string handle so young boys who carried them would look effeminate and be laughed at by their older brother's friends. Just kidding. Actually the string was so the boxes could be hung on Christmas trees. It's true. Before there were Snoopy, Simpsons, and Hooters Christmas ornaments people hung cookies on the tree. Of course that was after they'd tried loaves of bread, kettles of soup, and glazed hams with limited success.

Everyone knows what animal crackers are. They're the small, dry, tasteless cookies which teach children that it's okay to bite animals in the butt. Is it any wonder cats are scared of children? But even if for some reason you didn't eat them when you were growing up -- like maybe your parents were communists -- you undoubtedly heard Shirley Temple in the movie Curly Top when she sang about putting them in her soup.

This is not only one of the first examples of product placement in a movie, it's also a decidedly disgusting concept. Oyster crackers, okay. Ritz crackers, fine. But animal crackers? What next, crumbling Fig Newtons into your egg salad? Luckily Campbell didn't pick up on this or they would have put out Cream of Mushroom with Animal Crackers soup. MMMmmmmmmmmmmm good! Or maybe Duck Soup with Animal Crackers, though that would work much better as a Marx Brothers double feature.

We all had a favorite animal whose head we preferred to bite off. Some kids were bison biters. Others camel chompers. Still others were hard core, dyed-in-the-wool monkey munchers. I have a feeling there's a scientific study buried in this which I could use to get back some of my hard earned tax dollars in the form of a research grant.

Think about it. A child who eats animal crackers whole probably grows up to be well rounded. If they eat too many, they end up too well rounded. One who eats them slowly, body part by body part, might wind up with eating habits similar to Jeffrey Dahmer's. And those who refuse to eat them at all on moral grounds probably end up as vegan members of PETA throwing red paint on people who walk out of the house to get the morning newspaper while wearing fuzzy bear slippers.

Over the years 37 different animals have been depicted on the crackers, though at the moment there are only 17. That means 20 animal cracker animals are extinct, which is a travesty. Even worse, the World Wildlife Fund couldn't care less. Though to be fair that may be because they aren't aware of it. After all, they've been so busy the last few years suing the World Wrestling Federation over the use of the initials WWF that they couldn't be expected to pay attention to anything as mundane as vanishing animal cracker diversity.

Nabisco, though, is trying to help. In honor of the 100th birthday of Barnum's Animals they're adding a new animal to the line-up. And you can have a say in which one it is. You only have until the end of the year, but if you go to www.nabiscoworld.com you can vote on whether you'd rather chew the legs off a cobra, koala, penguin, walrus, or Rob Schneider. Just kidding about Rob, though if you're one of those people who have trouble separating movies from reality you might just think he is The Animal.

This is actually a pretty important decision. Maybe not as important as whether to buy your nephew a gas mask, a 60-day supply of Cipro, or (True Fact Alert!) the new Honey Nut Cheerios Spelling Bee Game for Christmas, but it's close. After all, the Nabisco factory in Fair Lawn, New Jersey turns out 300,000 animal crackers an hour, which is 40 million packages a year, or one for every man, woman, and child who looks at any given cracker and says, "Is that shapeless lump a rhinoceros or a kangaroo?" Hey, that's a lot of crackers. I mean, cookies.

I'm predicting that the walrus will win. Not because I think it's the most deserving. Or would even be the most fun to eat. No, I'm making this prediction based on clues left by the Nostradamus of the Silver Screen, Shirley Temple. In her song about animal crackers she sings, "The Grocer is so big and fat. He has a big moustache. He looks just like a walrus, just before he takes a splash." She doesn't mention a cobra, koala, penguin, or Rob Schneider. Though come to think of it the fourth verse does seem to hint at impending Armageddon. Pass another rhinoceros cookie this way, will you?

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

Why the Nuts Aways Rise To the Top

Scientists have finally solved a mystery which has been vexing them for years. That's right, they've figured out what causes the Brazil Nut Effect.

The Brazil Nut Effect, for those of you who haven't been paying attention during breakfast because you're too tired from staying up late watching Politically Incorrect in the hopes that Bill Maher has finally started taking Midol, is the phenomenon that the first person to pour a bowl of muesli gets most of the Brazil nuts while the last person gets a pile of oats. Muesli, in case you were raised on Captain Crunch and Count Chocula, is a whole grain breakfast cereal commonly eaten in Europe which has all the health benefits of granola without any of the taste.

While the Brazil Nut Effect isn't exactly on the same level as other ponderables, such as whether there really is an end to the universe, how Woody Allen can keep making movies when no one goes to see them, and why everyone loves Raymond, it's still important. It must be. After all, scientists first began postulating theories about it way back in the 1930s which, not coincidentally, was the same time they came up with the theory that T=$, better known as Time Equals Money. This direct relationship made them understand that the longer it takes to find a solution to a problem, the longer the grant money continues to flow. Thus, 70 years later they're still looking into the Brazil Nut Effect.

It turns out that the Brazil Nut Effect is caused by smoke and mirrors. Just kidding. Actually, according to an article published in Nature (motto: "100% All Natural"), it's caused by "vibration-induced convection and fluidization, drag by interstitial air, and intruder motion." In other words, smoke and mirrors.

This is actually important stuff. Not only will it help keep the peace in families which for years have been torn apart by unequal morning Brazil nut distribution, but researchers say this discovery could lead to a cure for cancer, cars that go 200 miles on a gallon of gas, and a growth spurt for Gary Coleman. Just kidding again. Actually what it will lead to is yet another cushy government grant to keep scientists in new designer lab coats for a few years. Or maybe pay for a trip or two to Brazil during Carnival so they can find out if indigenous nuts act the same as ones grown elsewhere. Yes, once again I'm realizing that I chose the wrong career path.

Sooner or later though, someone will find a practical use for this scientific breakthrough. They always do. It's this perseverance and ingenuity that separates humans from animals. Well, that and the fact that we laugh at the improvised humor on Hollywood Squares and Whose Line Is It Anyway? when we know they've been scripted by professional joke writers weeks in advance.

Look at previous discoveries. It took years of research before someone realized that aspirin not only stops headaches but also helps prevent heart attacks. For the longest time WD-40 was relegated to loosening nuts and stopping drawers from sticking, then someone finally discovered its true calling: removing those annoying adhesive price stickers from everything you buy. And who would have thought that the rocket fuel byproduct NASA once scraped off the side of their spacecrafts could be packaged, named Tang, and that people would actually buy it?

Thus it should come as no surprise that the Brazil Nut Effect is turning out to be more useful than just an explanation of why the marshmallows in Lucky Charms don't surf along the top of the cereal as you'd expect, meaning all these years you made sure you were the first one to open a new box was a waste of time and you should have eaten your oatmeal like your mother told you to. Not only that, but if you had you wouldn't have been hungry an hour later because, face it, Lucky Charms don't stick to your ribs. They lodge in your thighs.

What it turns out the scientists really discovered was that muesli is a microcosm for life. That's right, it demonstrates how the nuts rise to the top while the flakes sink to the bottom. It's an explanation for why Lyndon Larouche and Ross Perot aren't running our country yet Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi are running theirs. (So what if they're running them into the ground, that has nothing to do with this argument.) It tells us why Rip Taylor is still tossing confetti at the Shriners' convention while Jim Carrey gets $20 million per movie. And it makes it clear why Jerry Falwell gets air time when he claims that terrorist attacks are God's way of saying we've been bad, yet the guy on the corner holding the sign which tells us to repent is still standing on the corner every day.

That's right, the nuts rise to the top while the flakes fall to the bottom. And it happens thanks to "vibration-induced convection and fluidization, drag by interstitial air, and intruder motion." Now I'm dying to find out what wonderful things we'll be able to learn from the recent study which explains why the shower curtain billows in when you take a hot shower.

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

Cleaning up the Economic Doo-Doo

They used to say war is good for the American economy, but like "When you grow up you can be anything you want", "The harder you work the more money you'll make", and "It's the funniest comedy of the year!", you can't believe anything anymore.

It's true the economy was tanking before the tanks started rolling, but since then it's only gotten worse. Now the economy's shrinking faster than a cheap T-shirt that says "My parents went to a refugee camp in Afghanistan and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and some peanut butter and jelly."

That's why the Federal Reserve Board keeps lowering the interest rate. It's supposed to be the incentive that kicks us out of the door and into the stores where we buy lots of nice, new, expensive things we can't afford and don't need. At the rate it's dropping we're about two weeks away from going into negative numbers, which will spawn an entirely new marketing concept: "Buy a new car and we'll pay you 4 percent interest a month!"

In the meantime a lot of businesses are being hurt. Airlines, restaurants, cruise ships, and even Disney World are suffering. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kleenex and Scott toilet paper, saw quarterly profits fall for the first time in three years. Kimberly Clark the porn star, by the way, is doing just fine. The company blames the falloff on the fact that people haven't been using as much toilet paper since September 11th. It turns out that in times of crisis, personal hygiene is the first thing to go. Just kidding. Actually it's second. The first is being able to tell the difference between anthrax and the flour you just spilled on the kitchen floor.

The truth is, hotels, airports, and office buildings haven't been buying as many rolls of toilet paper as they used to. Yes, it turns out it's the businesspeople and tourists who let their personal hygiene go to hell at the first sign of a crisis.

It's not only toilet paper that's going down the drain. Kodak reports that their sales dropped 13 percent because people are staying home and don't think taking photos of the family sitting in front of the TV watching the new fall TV season flop is something they'll want to remember the rest of their lives. This is an example of wrong thinking. If you don't take photos how do you expect to remember one flopping season from the next?

Meanwhile other companies are doing well. Campbell's soups are flying off the shelves as people restock their fallout shelters and storm cellars. Since they're staying home more they're renting more videos, which is why Blockbuster's quarterly earnings almost doubled over last year's. Cocooning has turned into blockading, rubber glove manufacturing is way up, and thanks to the gloves and respirators, everyone is starting to look like Michael Jackson. You can't say the guy wasn't a trendsetter. The next thing you know we'll all be putting out CDs no one cares about.

Because business is down, a lot of people are being laid off, and it's not just here in the U.S. Remember, we live in a global economy now, which is a fancy term for Follow The Leader. In France, for example, the men who operate the motocrottes are about to hit the unemployment line. Motocrottes are the bright green motor scooters with a built-in vacuum cleaner -- officially called caninettes -- which zip around Paris sucking up the dog crap. Or should I say, some of the dog crap.

Paris, in case you've never had to spend time in a charming little hotel on Rue St. Jacques cleaning your shoes in the bidet, is known for its mongrel minefields. Dogs leave a whopping 16 tons of waste on Parisian streets every day. That's a lot of crap, maybe even more than Geraldo Rivera shovels on any given night. Maybe. It's 480 tons a month, 5,840 a year, and more than Oprah weighed at her peak. Though not much more.

It's not as if they don't try. After all, the city spends $10 million a year attempting to keep the dog doo off the streets. But since there's no law forcing Parisians to clean up after their 200,000 dogs, it's bound to pile up. This is about to change. As of January 1st the same people who hand out parking tickets will also be passing out tickets for not scooping the poop. The first offense will set you back $180, subsequently rising to $420 and no Jerry Lewis for a month. Actually this is a bargain when you realize that in London it can cost $750. And you have to watch Mr. Bean reruns until you actually laugh.

This is going to be tough on the people of Paris, where the rallying cry is still: Liberté! Fraternité! So what's it to you? But like the rest of us, they need to tighten their belts while the government saves money and boosts the economy. Now if the Federal Reserve would finally lower interest rates enough that we do actually go out and buy all the crap they want us to, we could hire all those unemployed motocrottes. After all, we're going to need people to help clean up all that crap. See, the global economy really can work.

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

Underwhelmed by Information Overload

Watching the news lately has given me a case of information overload, which is pretty amazing considering they're hardly giving us any solid facts. It's not their fault there's almost no hard news coming out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon, or Dick "Didn't he used to be Vice President?" Cheney's secret hideaway. That's why so much of what they're running is fluff. You know, stories like how to tell Sweet 'N Low from anthrax (anthrax makes your tea taste bitter), which gas masks the Paris designers are showing for winter (Gianni Versace's Halt Couture collection), and how Ben Lading, a car key polisher in Little Pines, SC, has been getting bombarded by crank telephone calls, though strangely most of them are asking if his refrigerator is running.

No, the information overload is because my TV screen is cluttered with, well, everything. CNN Headline News, which used to be pretty straightforward, recently subdivided the screen into fourteen squares, rectangles, crawls, headlines, stock tickers, and a secret compartment or two if you know where to look. I can hear the newscaster; see what he or she is talking about in a window so small I need a magnifying glass to tell whether the dot's a person, place, or thing; look at a weather map of the U.S. complete with storm fronts, temperature readings, and squiggles that must mean something to somebody; check out sports scores ranging from football to Fiji-rule jai alai; follow the stock market; read news messages scrolling across the bottom; and keep tabs on what number has been called at the bakery down the block. The truth is, the last one is the only thing I'm really interested in. I hate standing in line.

Apparently they patterned this new look after the computer desktop, where you can have a lot of different windows open at once. What they forgot is that on the computer you can click one window and let it take up the whole screen. You can also move it, resize it, and close it. I never thought I'd see the day when I wished there was a little "X" in the upper right hand corner of my TV screen.

Luckily they haven't taken the computer metaphor to its logical conclusion. Yet. But don't be surprised if they add one more window and your TV locks up, displaying a bright blue screen with an incomprehensible message that tells you to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del. Of course that won't work so you'll have to turn the TV off and start it up again. Get used to it. At the rate they're putting computer chips in everything and wanting to hook them up to the Internet it won't be long until we have to reboot our microwave oven, Dustbuster, and shower massage at least twice a day.

In their quest to give us continual news about something which doesn't have fresh news constantly, they've resorted to repetition. While they read the same news stories about every 10 minutes, they've condensed the rate of the crawl on the bottom of the screen. It repeats about every 30 seconds.

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You Are What You Email

Email is 30 years old. This puts it in the same graduating class as Jennifer Lopez, the Big Mac, and the Summer of Love. Boy, I'd love to be around that high school reunion.

No one knows exactly what date the first email was sent, though it's a safe bet it was an offer for a cable descrambler, a penis enlarger, or a chance to share in $150 million some oil company accidentally left in a Nigerian bank account. It's amazing how often they do things like that. Maybe if they paid more attention to where they leave their money gas prices wouldn't be so high.

It took a long time for email to catch on -- something about people needing computers before they could use it -- but now it's a regular part of the daily routine of 53 percent of Americans. That figure would be higher but everyone else is waiting to find out if their HMO will cover them should they catch a computer virus.

People who use email spend an average of 29 minutes a day reading, writing, and massaging the crick in their neck they get from turning their heads sideways trying to figure out if those symbols at the bottom of the message are a smiley face of a person winking while eating a Popsicle or a typo. This adds up to 176 hours a year, or 7.35 days. That's a long time. Especially when you realize you could be spending that time reading, sleeping, or trying to figure out why no one has voted off the most obvious Weakest Link, host Ann Robinson. Personally, I'm thinking about bagging email entirely and using that week to lay on the beach in Maui. Don't worry, I'll send a postcard.

On the bright side, this is nowhere near as much time as we spend on the telephone. Ninety-two percent of Americans talk on the phone each day and we spend an average of 45 minutes doing it. That's a lot of chattering. Like 11 days a year of it. The scary thing is I probably average 5 minutes a day on the phone, which means someone somewhere has to spend 85 minutes a day to compensate, and to fill all that time she's probably resorted to telling fourteen people today about how she called the Hazmat Team to make sure it was really Gold Bond powder in her husband's boxers.

It's hard to tell whether email saves time or wastes it. One thing it certainly hasn't done is save paper. Then again, neither have computers in general, contrary to the predictions that they would lead us towards a paperless society. Face it, 2,000-year-old habits are hard to break.

People like reading things on paper. They like reading them in bed, passing them around the office, and filling file cabinet after file cabinet with them. One of the biggest paper hoarders is the federal government. The National Archives stores over three billion pieces of paper. Add to that the paper kept in 22 records centers around the country and there's a whopping 20 million cubic feet of it being held onto. That's about six billion pages, and it's increasing by about 95 million sheets a year. Still, that's barely an eighth of what it would be if everyone printed out all the email chain letters they get in an average week.

This puts my father's paper hoarding in a nice perspective. When my parents moved several years ago my brothers and I helped clean out and pack up the house. There were Life magazines dating back to the first year it came out. There were files stuffed with old cartoons chiseled on stone tablets. There was my brother's kindergarten report card, a drawing my other brother did of the family (any resemblance being purely accidental), and probably the first piece of toilet paper they used to wipe my smooth little baby butt. I didn't have the heart (or stomach) to look.

Some people naturally generate more paper than others. Like Buckminster Fuller for example. He was the philosopher, engineer, and inventor who, among other things, came up with the geodesic dome, coined the phrase "Spaceship Earth", and had the buckyball named after him. Technically called a buckminsterfullerene, the soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules have no commercial value yet a few years back they were in the running to be the Texas State Molecule. As if it isn't bad enough that the state flower is the blue bonnet instead of the yellow rose, that rodeo is the state sport instead of watching the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and that the armadillo is the state small mammal (unless it's smooshed on the side of the road in which case it goes into the chili, which is the state dish).

When Fuller died in 1983 he left about 2,000 linear feet of archives which now reside at Stanford University. That's a lot of paper. About 6,315,789 sheets to be exact. There's no question it's much more impressive than having a stack of floppy discs sitting on a desk and thinking "That's my life's output." Or worse, having it stored on a hard drive in a computer. Along with a whole lot of software programs, the entire Zamfir pan flute collection on MP3, and a bunch of pictures you wouldn't want your mother to see, of course.

Email is here to stay. At least until something newer and faster comes along. But even then we'll probably want to print it out. After all, old habits die hard. And besides, offers to teach us how to earn big bucks working only a half an hour a day from home are much more interesting to read when you're curled up in bed.

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

How to Win a Nobel Prize

It's October and once again I find myself canceling reservations for the Stockholm Motel 6. That's right, the Nobel Prize committee has announced this year's winners and my name wasn't among them.

It could be that my nomination got lost in the mail. Or that when they called in the middle of the night to tell me "You're a winner" I said, "Sure, Mr. McMahon, and you've had a career since Johnny retired", hung up the phone, and the rules say the prize goes to the next person on the list. Though to be honest, I think it's that they have trouble saying Galen Hund (my name in Swedish) with a straight face and, after all, Nobel Prizes are serious business.

That's exactly the problem with the Nobel Prizes -- they're too serious. They're not interested in everyday discoveries that help our lives, they prefer the esoteric. The more esoteric the better. They search for research which no one other than the prize committee can understand, and even then we know they're following the advice of The Surrendered Wife and faking it for the sake of the relationship.

They don't honor true advances in economics like the invention of No Money Down, No Interest For Six Months. Or medical advances like Preparation H With Calcium in New Country Fresh Scent. They like things that deal with molecules, theories, and incomprehensible books no one can finish.

For example, the Nobel Prize in Physics this year went to three researchers who supercooled 2,000 rubidium atoms so they lined up into a single wave, much like the fans at a football game waiting for the bathroom. If they were really that good they would have gotten the atoms to do The Wave. Then even I'd be impressed.

Interestingly, Einstein predicted that this was possible -- the atoms lining up, not the football fans -- yet he wasn't included in the award because of a technicality. He's dead. The scientists say this work "could be used" to create superprecise clocks and ultrafast computers. One day. Maybe. Unless they can think of something a little less useful to do with it before then.

The prize for economics went to three men who looked into the shortcomings of economic markets. Their theories help explain why consumers think better warranties mean a better product, why people buy used cars which are lemons, and why insurance companies have different rates for different people. I guess the old answers of "If they have more trust in it maybe I should too", "If I knew it was a lemon do you think I would have bought it?", and "I'm older, I have more health problems, and I'm probably going to die sooner" just don't hold water in the 21st century. But they studied these problems anyway, probably because they were afraid to explore the more probing question of why anyone studying economics would think they could make a living in that field. Whoever figures that one out is a shoo-in for next year's prize.

Then there's the prize for chemistry, which went to the three scientists who figured out a way to selectively choose which of two versions of a molecule will be created in a chemical reaction. See, it turns out that when they manufacture drugs, two forms of the molecule are often created. They have the same atomic structure but are mirror images of each other, often having different properties, with one being good and the other being bad. It's like Superman and Bizarro Superman. Or the Olsen Twins. The scientists figured out a way to cause the chemical reaction and create only the molecule they want. It's like being able to choose Ginger over Maryanne. And getting her every time.

You'll notice that each of these prizes went to groups of three men. That's another reason I feel like I've been overlooked: I only have two personalities. As soon as I fully develop that third one I'm sure they'll have to give me something. Of course it might be Prozac. But I'm not relying on multiple personalities to clinch a Nobel Prize, that would be too much like charity. That's why I'm submitting some of my research now for consideration next year.

Economics -- I've discovered the reason deficit spending only works for the government. When I try it people call me at all hours of the night demanding I pay up immediately or they'll repossess my Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, so I borrow money from another new credit card that's offering 1.013 percent interest for the next six months and pay off the old one. Of course six months later they're back. When collection people call to nag the government for payments, they're told, "Hey, we're not responsible for that deficit, call the previous administration." Since the collection people have no clue who to wake up at 3 A.M. to threaten, they give up and call me again. It's an offshoot of Trickle Down Theory.

Physics -- Light isn't a particle or a wave, it's made of feathers. After all, the sun gives off light. Feathers are light. Therefore, the sun gives off feathers. And to prove it, I'm sleeping like a baby thanks to the new light-filled pillow and light-filled comforter I made.

Medicine -- An apple a day doesn't keep the doctor away, HMOs do since they won't cover the cost of a house call.

Chemistry -- Okay, I don't have this quite solved yet but I'm close. When I announce that I've figured out why it takes three times as long to toast English Muffins as it does any other bread the prize is mine, baby.

Peace -- The other day I let a guy who was driving like a maniac cut in front of me on the highway. Sure he was bigger than I was, had a Glock 9mm in his hand, and looked like Dennis Hopper doing a Crispin Glover imitation, but that's not the point. I helped keep the peace.

Literature -- I have two words to say to the Nobel committee: "This column."

I sure hope the Stockholm Motel 6 has a room available for me next year.

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

Adjusting the Believability Index

Separating fact from fiction these days is like separating the whites and yolks from a plate of scrambled eggs -- you should have thought about it before you ordered the Grand Slam breakfast with the extra side of hash browns. Between hype, spin, sound bites, ads, and Web sites masquerading as information when all they're really trying to do is sell useless products to people who have more money than sense, how's a person supposed to have any idea what to believe?

For starters, stop believing everything you hear on late-night talk shows. A survey last year by the Pew Research Center (motto: "If the results stink, just say Pew") found that 10 percent of the people polled got information about the presidential campaign from David Letterman and Jay Leno. Not from the newspaper. Not from campaign ads. Not even from the guy next door who sends e-mails from the underground bunker he crawled into on December 31, 1999 and refuses to vacate until he learns how to spell Armageddon.

It's worse if you're young, which Pew defines as anyone who thinks Paul Reubens got his start on You Don't Know Jack or is under 30, whichever comes first. According to the survey, a whopping half of the young people in this country get political information from late-night talk shows, 37 percent get some from comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, and 24 percent say MTV is a source.

This isn't good. It's scary to think that people can't tell the difference between humor and reality, especially since I write humor. I'd hate to walk around feeling responsible for Paul Reubens becoming our next president because people based their vote on what they misread in this column. But it wouldn't be surprising. After all, another survey found that 80 percent of the youth of this country can't decipher a bus schedule, compute the change they should get back when they buy the new 'N Sync CD, or understand that Lara Croft isn't going to the prom with them no matter how many times they ask. This buttresses my concern, and right now those very people I'm talking about are probably snickering because they think buttresses is a brand of seat cushions that come in single, full, queen, and king size.

Movies are another source of information for people who have a light grasp on reality. It's amazing how many times I've heard someone spout something they heard in a film as if it's the gospel. The only time they don't seem to do it is when they see The Greatest Story Ever Told which actually is the gospel. I hate to be the one to tell you, but here's a news flash: Movies aren't reality.

Now it turns out that another thing we believe in, the wind chill factor, was full of hot air. It was invented by the Army in 1945 and supposedly lets us know how cold it feels outside by factoring in the temperature, air speed, and how bad TV weather people need ratings. The problem is they computed it based on how the wind affected the freezing rate of water at 33 feet in the air. And to think, it only took them 56 years to figure out this didn't correlate to human skin at five-feet above the ground.

The new adjusted chart will make a big difference. A combination of cold and wind that produced a teeth-chattering wind chill of 70 below last winter will be called a balmy 44 below this year. To put that in perspective, that's the difference between going to the grocery store wearing a bathing suit and having your tongue freeze to a belly button ring. Well, almost.

Even though they calculated the new chart using real people at real heights who get real frostbite, it still doesn't take into consideration other factors that affect how cold you feel, like whether it's sunny or if you have on a heavy coat. Neither does the heat index, which combines heat and humidity to indicate how often you should say "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."

Both of these indices need to be adjusted. And while they're at it they should start a few more, like the rain index, which factors in how hard it's raining, what you're wearing, whether you remembered to take your umbrella, and if you actually listened to your mother and wore galoshes, so you can judge how wet you'll get when you go out. Or the snow index, which factors in the amount of snow, whether it's wet or powdery, and if you have teenage kids, the result being a handy guide to knowing how long you'll be laid up in bed with a sprained back after shoveling.

But don't believe me when I tell you these will make your life easier. Wait until they're talked about on late-night TV. Or they make a movie about my life story and cast President Paul Reubens in the lead. Then you'll know it's the truth.

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 Fear This

We all have nightmares. Some of us wake up in a cold sweat because we're being chased down the street by a gorilla with a knife. Others because we feel like we're falling down a bottomless pit for hours on end. Still others have nightmares in which scientists announce that they've figured out a safe, cheap, and easy way to clone a human being, marketing it in a form that you can pop in the microwave and have in less than five minutes. Unfortunately it only comes in one flavor, and that's Regis.

Now that's scary.

No one knows what causes nightmares, or for that matter, what they mean. But that doesn't stop people from trying to figure them out. The Greeks tried, Freud tried, even the woman in the house on the highway leading out of town which has the sign with the huge red palm on it—the international symbol for "Bored old woman watching TV waiting for people with more money than sense"— tries to figure them out. But nightmares are illusive, ephemeral things that vanish soon after we wake up. Okay, except when we elect one. That's what's known as a political nightmare.

Nightmares, it turns out, are more political than you think. And they're not bipartisan either. I know this doesn't sound like the American Way, but it's true. Don't worry, I'm sure that will change soon. When members of Congress hear about this they're bound to pass a law. Or a constitutional amendment. Or at least that taco they had for lunch in the Senate cafeteria. Congress, you see, is on a pass/fail system—if they don't pass enough bills they may fail to be re-elected. No wonder they wake up screaming. Well, that and the fact that they have a family vacation coming up and only have two offers from lobbying groups for free trips, neither of which are to a country their daughters haven't been too. Twice.

The revelation about partisan nightmares came to light in a study by a teacher at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA (motto: "In God we trust, though we still study just to play it safe"). He found that Republicans have three times as many nightmares as Democrats, and they didn't count any that include Senator James Jeffords. The most common nightmares were that they were giving a speech in front of Congress and discovered they had no clothes on, that Ted Kennedy was giving a speech in front of Congress and had no clothes on, and that Dick Cheney's pacemaker had a sympathy power outage for its big relatives in California and left George Bush with no one sitting next to him to whisper the answers to him. Just kidding. Well, about the first two anyway.

Not only do Republicans have more nightmares, it turns out they have different kinds. Kelly Bulkeley, who presented the results of his research to the American Association for the Study of Dreams (motto: "Better living through ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"), says Republicans have dreams that resemble their daily lives while Democrats have more bizarre ones. Independents, on the other hand, dream that they have a chance in hell of getting elected.

This is enough to give a person oneirophobia, which is a fear of dreams. Or possibly politicophobia, a fear of politicians. And yes, these phobias really do exist. It turns out there's a phobia for just about anything you can think of, including lutraphobia (a fear of otters), automatonophobia (ventriloquist's dummies), and arachibutyrophobia (a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth). There's also a word for someone with a fear of having a ventriloquist's dummy that looks like a peanut-butter-flavored otter getting stuck to the roof of their mouth: committable. (You can find these and more at www.phobialist.com, where they have the names of over 530 phobias and swear they haven't made any of them up.)

A phobia isn't a regular fear, it's an exaggerated and illogical one. That's why the list doesn't have pantophobia (a fear of mimes), meltphobia (a fear that Michael Jackson will end up looking like the inside of a grilled cheese sandwich), and Moreschneiderphobia (a fear that they'll make The Animal-2). After all, there's nothing illogical about any of these.

Just as hypochondriacs get sick and paranoids have real enemies, phobics have things they should be afraid of. And so do you. For example, you should be afraid that Takeru Kobayashi, the 5-foot-7, 131-pound kid from Japan who ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan's International Federation of Competitive Eating contest will show up at your front door and ask "What's for dinner?" You should be afraid if the dogs sniffing around your bags at customs aren't drug-sniffing ones, but the cadaver-sniffing ones they have in Washington, DC.

You should be afraid that Disney's California Adventure is opening a new attraction based on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." And really afraid that they're probably considering "Fear Factor" as the next one. You should be afraid that they're selling Hello Kitty 1998 Bordeaux in Duty Free Stores in Europe and Asia. And even more afraid that they've probably kicked around the idea of Hello Pussy condoms.

If the thought of these make you shiver, then you're normal. On the other hand, if they make you break out in a cold sweat and you're not a sleeping Democrat having a nightmare about Robert Packwood coming out in support of Gary Condit, then maybe you have panophobia, which is a fear of everything. Good luck. You're on your own.

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

Happy Birthday to the Original Boy Toy

Ken Carson turned 40 on March 13th. If the name doesn't immediately sound familiar, think: "Barbie's stud muffin." Yes, that Ken.

Amazingly, he doesn't look a day over 25. Then again, neither does Barbie. While the rest of us age, somehow Ken, Barbie, Dennis the Menace, and Cher don't. True, with Cher, Ken, and Barbie we can chalk it off to advancements in science, mostly involving plastics, but I really don't think that's the case with Dennis. I suspect he's a midget with Dick Clark Syndrome and just doesn't show his age, much like Gary Coleman, except Dennis has probably had sex. Something tells me that after a hard day's work in the comic strip he spends his evenings sitting around smoking big fat cigars, drinking Jack Daniels neat, and taunting Ruff by reminding him that Lassie was a guy.

Ken's come a long way from his early days when he followed Barbie around wearing a red bathing suit, sandals, and a yellow towel. The recently released commemorative Ken--New Millennial Ken!--has him wearing a fashionable tuxedo so he can follow Barbie around in style. Hey, it beats his disco phase.

It can't be easy being Ken. For forty years he's played second fiddle to Barbie, who's very obviously the star. He's stayed quietly in the background, content to spend his days going to the gym, working on his tan, and joining Skipper and the girls for coffee and Mah Jong while Barbie gallivants all over the globe. He figures that one day, if he plays his cards right, he'll eventually become--sigh!--Mr. Barbara Millicent Roberts.

You have to wonder what Barbie sees in Ken. Sure he has a nice smile, keeps himself in good shape, and has never been Robert Downey, Jr.'s roommate in prison, but that goes for half of--okay, some of--the men in Hollywood, and you don't see her hanging around with them. Face it, Ken has the demeanor, posture, and personality of an Al Gore figure in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. And he has no ambition at all!

Over the years he's been a cowboy, a cop, an astronaut, and a doctor. Kind of a one-doll Village People. Meanwhile Barbie's been on Baywatch and X-Files, competed in the WNBA and NASCAR, and even been decked out in black leather astride a Harley-Davidson during her Bondage Barbie, I mean, Biker Barbie days. While she was busy being President Barbie, he was Shaving Fun Ken. Is it any wonder the new Over-The-Hill Ken comes with a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Castrated" and a prescription for Prozac?

She must see something in him, and it can't be sexual. One look at him without clothes will tell you he's androgynous. Either that or he's strapped up and ready to get dressed for the "Babes in Toyland Female Impersonator Revue." I bet he does a mean Barbra Streisand.

Face it, Barbie could have any doll or action figure she wants. If she liked the young, innocent type, she could have Luke Skywalker. If she prefers someone who will keep her on her toes, she could have dated any Transformer she wanted. And if she wants a real man, you know G.I. Joe would jump at the chance to get Barbie in the sack and put another notch on his M-16.

Now there's a guy who could kick Ken's butt from here to Mattel and back. Sure he's still a grunt in the army. And okay, he doesn't have any stars on his epaulets to show for his time. But the guy's been busy. Since 1960 when he first enlisted he's helped us get through Vietnam, the Gulf War, the messy invasion of Grenada, and the bombings in Kosovo. And in spite of all that he's been at the forefront of the fitness craze. Just take a look at him. This is a guy who, if scaled to human dimensions, had average-sized 11" biceps in 1960, but by 1997 was sporting the equivalent of 26-inch biceps, bigger than any bodybuilder in history!

Yet Barbie still hangs with Ken. It must be that he's a sensitive guy. After all, it's never bothered him that his girlfriend was more popular, got all the media attention, was two years older, and had more success than he could ever dream of. He remained quietly on the sidelines, even when she was glittered, glammed, punked out, and tie-dyed. True, like many consumers, he raised a stink when she was tattooed last year, but to give the guy some credit, he was cool with it until he discovered the one on her butt that said "Midge and Barbie 4 Ever." Hey, we all have our limits.

The truth is, like Cool Whip, it's better not to examine relationships too closely. Even so, you have to wonder how long Barbie can expect Ken to sit around and wait for her to pop the big question. Not the marriage proposal question, the Big One. You know: "When are you going to bag that tired Barbra crap and work Rosie into your act?" Hey, everything needs freshening from time to time.

Sex and the Single Pig-Faced Man

Not long ago, a man in Taiwan went to a plastic surgeon so he could look more like a pig for the new year. The man, not the surgeon. Amazingly the doctor was very unpig-like and refused, which points out a major cultural difference between the two countries: in Taiwan if you refuse to do unneeded surgery you get your name in the newspaper, in the U.S. you get thrown out of the AMA, the house, and the country club.

The man wanted to have this done so he could marry Miss Piggy without being prosecuted for miscegenation or bestiality. Just kidding. Actually it was Rosie O'Donnell. Kidding again. The truth is, Chinese tradition says that the shape of your face determines your luck in life, so he figured that changing his face would change his luck. The only other place where this belief is widely held is Hollywood, which explains why they have more plastic surgeons than stars in the sidewalk, though Hollywood being halfway around the world, the doctors perform the surgical procedure the opposite way -- they turn pigs into box office successes.

According to the China Times Express (motto: "All the news they let us print"), it's not uncommon for people in Taiwan to try to improve their lot in life by having moles removed, noses reshaped, or be smuggled out of the country in a small crate along with 487 now close friends. Even so, this was an odd request. True, the pig is considered to be a symbol of wealth and a comfortable life, but how comfortable would your life be if you walked around with a pig nose? People would stare, children would laugh, there's no way in hell they'd let you near an all-you-can-eat dim sum restaurant, and Allah help you if you even thought about going to a Muslim country.

On the other hand, it could help you get a job as spokesperson for Smithfield hams. I think a Taiwanese Frank Perdue with a corkscrew tail is just what they need to get people eating more country hams. If that didn't work out you could always appear at openings for barbecued rib stands, hire Al Gore's attorneys to sue the NFL for kicking your immediate family through the goal posts, and be a stand-in for Bill Gates when he pigs out by buying yet another company which has a great idea his couldn't come up with.

It could be worse. The Chinese New Year is coming up and it will usher in the Year of the Snake. I'm not concerned that people will decide they want tails with rattles or split tongues, after all, this is Taiwan we're talking about, not San Francisco. But I do know that I don't want to be standing in the doorway at the Taipei Plastic Surgery Clinic and Discount Noodle House when men come rushing in for their year-end penis enlargement operations. Though you have to admit, of all the things they could change, this is probably the one that would do the most to change their luck.

And lord knows they could use it. Sex in Taiwan, it turns out, is a sometimes thing. Okay, so I'm not one to talk, but that's a personal problem, not a national one. According to the Global Sex Survey conducted by Durex condoms (motto: "If everyone used one all the time eventually we'd be out of business"), the average person in Taiwan has sex 78 times a year. The survey didn't say whether this included Jo-Jo the Pig-faced Boy, but I suspect he'd have sex about half that often. If he was lucky. And paid. Dearly.

Contrast this with the U.S., where people say they have sex an average of 132 times a year. This verifies something we've always suspected: Americans are not only more obsessed with sex, but also the world's biggest liars. The Japanese, on the other hand, came in dead last, and dead may be a good word for it. They have sex an average of 37 times a year, which is about once every ten days, or about as often as some South American countries change their president.

In Germany, which came in 13th, people claim to have sex an average of 97 times a year. While this appears to be much better than the Japanese, you have to factor in a survey the German newspaper Bild reported that said 4 in 10 German women are unhappy with their lovers. This means the German DSR (Discounted Sex Rate) is actually 58 times a year, putting them next to last. After all, unlike Americans, Europeans are concerned with quality, not just quantity.

Interestingly, men claim to be more sexually active than women, making love 103 times a year compared to 88. No matter how I look at these figures I keep thinking it should come out evenly. I'm not sure if this is because men not only think oral sex isn't intercourse, but also that masturbation is. Or maybe Durex just neglected to release the survey figures for sheep, plastic blow-up dolls, and pig-nosed Taiwanese men.

It's hard to say for certain if changing your face will improve your sex life, but I'm sure there are people who will continue to try. And why shouldn't they? There are a lot of things we do hoping to change our luck. We carry rabbit's feet, lucky amulets, and platinum credit cards to flash around. We have our tarot cards read, our horoscopes cast, and pull D&B reports before going on a date. Hope springs eternal. And if we're still not lucky there's always the American way: lie.

Stock Advice From a Broke Genius

Lately it seems as if all you hear about is the stock market, the stock market, the stock market. It's enough to make you pray for a steady stream of Cuban kids heading for the U.S. on rafts just so we have something different to hear about for a change.

If you're like most people, you wouldn't know a bull market from a china shop, though chances are you know enough to realize the two don't mix. But since you're determined not to be the last person on your block to throw every spare dollar you have into the stock market, you might as well learn something about it before you take the plunge. And who better to answer your stock market questions than someone who doesn't own stock, doesn't have enough money to buy a can of chicken stock, and is only doing this because he hopes a lot of newspapers will run it, meaning he'll be able to corner the market in Larry Linville memorial Beanie Babies. Yes, me. So let the questions begin!

What is stock?

A stock is a piece of paper that says you own a little teeny tiny piece of a company. The more stock you have, the more of the company you own. Of course this is all make believe since no one ever sees that piece of paper, so for all you know it may not exist, much like the imaginary friend you had as a child except stocks don't talk to you and tell you to put pinholes in daddy's condoms.

So how do I make money with stocks?

If you're like most people, you don't.

But I'm not like most people.

That's what most people say.

Why do stock prices fluctuate?

If a lot of people want a particular stock they offer to pay more money for it, which raises the price, much like what happens on eBay when you try to buy a Margaret Keene slipcover for the couch. On the other hand, if no one wants a stock the price drops, which means you have worthless pieces of imaginary paper filling your safe deposit box so you'll have to sell your house and move in with the in-laws. In reality, a lot of other factors come into play, including news about the economy, whether Alan Greenspan farted and it sounded like "I think I'll raise interest rates", and how the planets are aligned.

Who is this Alan Greenspan and why does the market do whatever he says?

He's the chief of the Federal Reserve Bank. To people who invest in the stock market that makes him God. This, of course, pisses the real God off, who as retribution causes the market to fluctuate wildly. Think of it as the eleventh plague.

Why is a person you buy stock from called a broker?

This is what we call irony. Since a stock broker receives a commission each time you buy or sell, they make money even when you're losing all yours. This means that in the long run you're the one who's actually broker. But the stock market's steeped in tradition, like the way they ring a school bell which no one can hear to signal the close of the market and how stocks are priced in Celsius instead of using decimals. Brokers have had that name for years so it continues, much like their calling investors suckers.

What's a bull market?

This is when the market keeps going up and up, making people think it will never go down. It got this name because those who aren't caught up in the frenzy are the only ones who know this concept is bull.

And a bear market?

When stocks are on a downward trend it's called a bear market. This is because most people, having believed in the bull market, bought stock on margin, so once prices go south they have to fork over money they don't have, or money they can't bear to lose.

How can I find a good stock?

Through meticulous research, scouring stock histories, watching the Financial News Network as much as possible, and above all, looking for an Internet company that has a name beginning with 'i', 'e', or "my" and ending in dot-com, especially if their business plan doesn't mention the word profit.

And a bad one?

There's no such thing as a bad stock, only a misunderstood one.

I only have a few thousand dollars in the market and it makes me crazy when it goes down. How does someone like Bill Gates handle losing billions of dollars in a day?

Contrary to what most people think, Bill Gates is just like you and I only infinitely richer and more cut-throat. A bad day in the market is as difficult for him as it is for you, he just has different ways of handling the stress. You go home and kick the dog; he puts out another buggy version of Windows that crashes every five minutes. At the end of the day you both feel much better.

What's buying on margin? Can I do that?

Sure. You can flush your money down the toilet too.

I've been hearing a lot about day trading. What is that?

The Internet has brought many improvements to our life, including e-mail, online auctions, and the ability to look at porn without having to go into a store and take the chance that someone you know will see you buy it. It also made it possible for people to sit at home and trade stocks 24-hours a day in the hope that they'll be the 1 in 100,000 who actually makes money doing it.

If they do it all night, why is it called day trading?

Because they trade their day for the opportunity to stare at a computer screen and eat Maalox.

I know about the Dow Jones Average, but what's this Standard & Poor thing I keep hearing about?

It's an endearing term professional stock traders use to describe the average person who invests in the stock market.

What are IPOs?

Idiots Purchasing Overpriced Stocks.

Can I do that?

If the shoe fits ...

A friend told me penny stocks were a good buy but when I asked my broker to recommended some he tried to sell me ones that cost four bucks! What gives?

Your broker's cheating you. Just kidding. Well, not really, but in this particular case he isn't. These days any stock under five bucks is called a penny stock. Face it, you can't buy anything for a penny anymore. Penny candy costs a dime, penny arcades charge a quarter a play, and Penny down the street charges, well, let's just say the days of all you can eat for $10.95 are history.

I put my life savings in the stock market and lost it all. For future reference, isn't there a more fun way to lose my money?

Go to Las Vegas. You'll lose all your money there too but at least you'll get to hear Wayne Newton, see showgirls who look like RuPaul, eat 99-cent shrimp cocktails, and pretend you're in the mafia.

I love car racing and wanted to invest in NASDAQ. My buddies at the body shop where I work laughed. Why?

NASCAR is car racing, NASDAQ is an acronym for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, which is a stock exchange very much like the New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange. Of course, this has nothing to do with why your buds were laughing. That was because they know you don't have any money left to invest once you pay child support to both your sisters.

I have some stocks that were doing well until the market took a nosedive a while back. They've come back up since then but I'm not sure at what point I should jump out the window.

Now's as good a time as any.

Will you catch me?

No. If you wanted a safety net you should have bought government bonds in the first place.

If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?

The world already has enough rich people, what we really need is more smart ones. Now that you know all about the stock market you'll be able to join the ranks of either the rich or the smart. If you're real lucky you can be like Ben Stein and be both. Now run along. Don't you have a flabby stock option to exercise or something?

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