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

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