Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crazy Idea #8 - Little People find Big Love in Normal Size Detroit

The lovely and talented Maureen deserves all the credit for piecing together the super awesome subject matter of this post. I'm marrying the right girl.

Last summer shortly after we got engaged in Venice, we went through the traditional rigmarole of checking out many possible wedding venues in the metro-Detroit area to find the perfect wedding combination of setting, setup, cost, and location. I think we went to a total of 9 or 10 places in and around Detroit, and one of those places was the Marriott Hotel in the Renaissance Center downtown. We ended up not choosing there as our final choice, but it was nice to at least consider the major Detroit landmark on the short list. The visit to the Marriott was of particular interest, because there was a convention going on in that hotel that was starting on the exact day that we were checking it out. This may have been the greatest convention of all time, and we were tickled to be there as the participants were rolling in for their stay. The convention: The Little People of America (LPA) National Conference at Detroit. In retrospect, it seems abundantly obvious that there would be such an annual convention roving its way throughout the United States, but at the time I was surprised and excited by the existence of such an event.

Time slip (a little Easter Egg for the millions of loyal followers out there) forward seven months to this morning when Maureen called me after seeing a commercial on TV this morning. She was watching TLC and there was a commercial for the television show Little People Big World about a family of little people (to appropriately round out my two-day coverage of reality television shows) living their lives. The specific mention in this commercial is that the parents in the show found love in the Motor City, and now one of the sons found a girlfriend also in the Motor City - at the exact same convention Maureen and I were at!!! Yes, you too think this is fantastic.

I believe the implications of this commercial are clear - every little person should move to Michigan with the virtual guarantee of finding love. Based on everything I know about specific relationships of little people, 100% of little people people can find love in Detroit. That is an amazing percentage, and there is simply no way for anyone to counter this statistic - unless this person has a brain and understands anything about statistics. I do think there is an opportunity for Michigan to figure out how to better target specific groups of people to try to develop a magnet population center for those groups. We need people who want to be here, be they large, small, or Klingon, and it is natural instinct to want to cluster near other Klingons. The concept is simple, but it is a matter of figuring out how to actually make it happen.

As a serendipitous indication that this is the subject I should be writing about today, there is a little person investigator on the rerun of Bones that is playing in the background right now. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I'm in tune with the universe.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Biggest Loser: PsychoTherapy Edition

I guess it's news that the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser is having a casting call in Macomb Township tomorrow (Saturday) between 10am and 4pm. Anything that brings the prospect of potential free money to one of Michigan's downtrodden is something of minor note. I have one big problem with the show based on the few minutes I've caught of an episode here or there: the show is CLEARLY fatist. I can not think of a better example of fatism in the history of the United States, the world, or reality television. I understand that it's easier for heavy people to lose weight than not heavy people, but shouldn't everyone be allowed the chance to dream? Just look at Christian Bale in The Machinist. There is clearly nothing wrong with that guy.

Over the past few years, there have been a few different iterations of the franchise - regular fatties, fatties in relationships, and fatties in a family. At this point, it is probably appropriate to make it clear that I am not trying to make fun of fatties in any way - like most people, I have intermittently struggled with my own weight and it very hard to control what I eat. For example, for breakfast I had a can of mandarin oranges, and lunch was a huge bowl of Lucky Charms and a brownie bigger than my fist. I snacked on ice cream and M&Ms in between and I'm probably going to eat pizza for dinner. I'm not kidding when I say that some of these things are out of my control, so I understand the pain and challenges of being a fatty. Now that this disclaimer is out of the way, I would like to suggest a new entry into The Biggest Loser family - Biggest Loser: Legitimately Crazy People.

On the local news today, they were saying that at the casting call tomorrow, producers will be keying in on people in relationships or families (pairs or more of people) with interesting stories. I think that someone who is clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic meets both of these criteria: they have at least one imaginary friend, additional personality, or belief in the tangible presence of an ultimate being, and who could possibly have a more interesting story to tell? Before you get offended, bear with me for a moment.

These contestants would be awarded victory based on two key criteria. The first one, of course, is weight loss of the actual person. The second, but equally important, criterion would be the loss of "weight" of the burden of the perceived presence of some secondary but non-existent entity. The scoring of this secondary metric could be determined by a team of psychiatrists who have been working with the contestants over the many weeks of the show, and maybe also slightly influenced by viewing audience vote. The show would consist of the standard workouts and meal plans from those two overly-involved and unnecessarily intense trainers currently on the show, coupled with individual and group therapies and prescribed medication from a team of respected and proven psychiatrists. Not only are the contestants improving their physical state, but also their mental well-being.

With all of the types and groups of people currently exploited in the realm of reality TV, how long will it be before people with real problems are put in front of the rest of the world for our enjoyment? Hopefully a really, really long time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crazy Idea #7 - Paczki-Based Currency System

Now that the dust of Fat Tuesday / Paczki Day has finally cleared (as an aside, Firefox does not recognize paczki as a real word, and I'm outraged), it is time to reflect on what we learned yesterday. If you are not a Christian Polish person or grow up in Michigan, I already know that you are ashamed to not know the glory of the paczki. The basic idea is that paczki were created to help you remove all of the fat and sugar from your house prior to the lean times in Lent, so you go through your cupboards, remove everything delicious, push all of the products you find through a meat grinder, and out pops a paczki. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. They're much like a jelly donut, except enterprising Poles figured out some way to incorporate more calories, fat, and carbohydrates into the same amount of space as the lowly jelly donut. As Homer Simpsons would say, "Butter that bacon, boy." Because Michigan has so many Polish people in Hamtramck, people rush out to that area of the state on Fat Tuesday and purchases these 400-600 calorie treats by the heart attack-full. Individual bakeries can sell into the tens and hundreds of thousands on one day, and we are more than happy to oblige and consume.

Now for some economy - as most people know, the U.S. currency used to be of the gold standard variety. Specifically, every dollar that you had was theoretically backed by some tiny quantity of gold owned by the U.S. government and stored in a place like Fort Knox. That system has been gone since the early 70s, and now all of our currency is backed by the faith-based system. We all believe a $1 bill is worth trading for something equivalent of $1 because the U.S Treasury says so, and that's where money comes from. A little bit scary, isn't it? Here's an interesting interview from The Colbert Report that happens to coincide perfectly with this subject.

Now that we've got that out of the way, I have figured out the correct way to marry these two subjects for the betterment of Michigan. Clearly, the faith-based currency system that we have has been coming up short for the past 6-9 months. There are certainly some major shortcomings with the existing system. On top of that, one of two things happens to your dollar over time - inflation or deflation. As my brother and I have been discussing for the past two weeks, inflation and deflation within our current system are utter madness because they both seem to be terrible. Inflation is a blight, but the only thing worse (so we're told) is deflation. What kind of system is it when both outcomes are hurtful and painful? An untenable system, that's what kind.

Which is why, today, I propose that the entire United States and possibly the European Union (because of the Polish people there) move entirely to a paczki-based currency system. This wouldn't even require us to move away from the paper that we currently have in circulation, but rather every dollar would have to be backed by a paczki stored in Hamtramck in Michigan. We all had dreams of robbing Fort Knox growing up in grade school, so a new generation of children will have dreams of robbing Fort Fatstorage in Michigan. It seems that the stock market is already behind this plan because the stock market was up about 230 glorious points yesterday. The traders have spoken!

Our history with the paczki and proven ability to mass produce this now-valuable treat will move us to the front and center of the new global economy because we will naturally hold the majority of the currency valuation within our state boundaries. That doesn't make any sense, you say? New York became the financial center of the world (I don't want to hear it my thousands of London readers) because they claimed to have a mastery of the financial system on Wall Street and thereabouts, so it is time for Michigan to reclaim its rightful throne as the center and primary player in the global economy - and it will all be due to Polish immigrants.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Big, Huge, Amazing, Glorious Balls

I think it was last Friday when I flipped on the little television on our kitchen counter as I was waiting for my Chunky Soup to finish warming in the microwave when I was confronted with a commercial that is 50% fascinating marketing, 50% crappy local TV commercial, and 200% of overwhelming ball-havingness (the world's first ever 300% commercial). This particular television commercial is from a local windows and siding company called Hansons' (indicating one person named Hansons who owns the company, several Hansons who own the company, or some fictitious name to remind us of the Lions' greatest asset, Jason Hanson). Over the past years, they're the company with that jingle that you hear on the TV and you think to yourself "that is the company from which I should not purchase siding or windows because of that jingle." Actually I know nothing about the quality of their product so I can't say anything truly negative, but I do know that this one commercial shows a combination of marketing savvy and shamelessness the likes of which the world has never before seen.

I hope you've seen this ad because you will know exactly what I'm talking about, but if you haven't, I'll try to recap. The Hansons' spokesguy takes a moment at the beginning of the commercial to explain that "we all know the economy is tough" and implicitly that finding a job is very hard to do (true, certainly, that), so Hansons' has been kind enough to take some of their "advertising dollars" and instead of spending them on traditional advertising, they have hired 100 sales representatives for the greater good of putting Michigan back to work. So please, when a sales representative comes to your house to talk to you about siding and windows that you probably don't want, don't dismiss this person out of hand, because Hansons' is doing its part to stimulate our state. In one fell swoop, Hansons makes you feel guilty about not giving the time to a sales representative, and then even more guilty for not purchasing something from that representative because you know they work almost entirely on commission. If the economy is hurting, it's your fault person who doesn't want windows and siding!

After watching this commercial, I was stunned and dumbstruck for a moment. I couldn't figure out if I was furious that they were clearly attempting to profit from this twisted combination of financial distress and guilt-induced purchasing (thereby resulting in possibly more financial distress) or a tiny bit pleased that, just maybe, they actually had hired some formerly unemployed individuals who were just trying to make an honest and earnest living. This is a move that requires gargantuan balls because Hansons' has to know that most people will probably go through the same kind of confused reaction as me - with part of that reaction being anger at their attempt to manipulate and profit from loss. I don't know who came up with this 30 second piece of befuddling brilliance, but you successfully short-wired my brain. Even still I am uncertainty as to whether or not I am offended by this commercial, but either way you've gotten me to blog about it. You win this round, Jason Hansons'.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Issue Fatigue

Several months ago, I was introduced to a fine young chap named Todd who is married to one of Maureen's co-workers. For some reason or another, Todd decided that he likes my blog and has become one of the few but extremely cherished regular readers. On nights when I see him, like Saturday, there is generally some sort of discussion (which I like because I love to talk about all things me and me blog and also me) about either the frequency or lack of frequency of my posts. Over the past couple months in particular, I have been periodically suffering not from writer's block or anything like that, but rather the complete opposite - I'll call it issue fatigue. It's much like the proverbial emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, or stabbing someone to death with a spork. Trust me, it is not easy to stab someone to death with a spork. There are so very many things to try to comment on that a general sense of numbness and occasional apathy slinks its way into my motivation. Just writing about Kwame and Carlita K (the K stands for "why, Lord, did you subject us to these people") would be enough to wear any reasonable person out. The world locally and at large seems to deteriorate just a little bit more every week, which makes it unfairly difficult for the optimism guy to not want to pick up a spork and just start stabbing.

PLUS this week's Battlestar was good but not as good as I would have hoped with only 5 hours left to go in the show. So to Todd and all others who would like more writing from me, you better hope that if the world doesn't get a little bit better, Galactica next Friday vastly exceeds expectations. To end on an up note, here's a clip I saw on The Soup a couple weeks ago. The only thing better is Paczi Day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

BurgerFest-O-Rama #5 - Duggan's Irish Pub

This post marks the long-coming but triumphant return of BurgerFest-O-Rama. As I noted earlier in the week, I have not been updating at the necessary pace to complete all 40 burgers on the list, but with the way our local and national economy continues to move, maybe some of the places will go out of business and I’ll catch a break. Hilarious, right?

On inauguration day at the end of January, my mom, brother, and I hit the road for the 2nd or 3rd closest location on the list relative to our home – Duggan’s Irish Pub at approximately Woodward and 13 Mile in Royal Oak. Duggan’s is centrally located for the Woodward Dream cruise and often attracts mass attendance in and around Dream Cruise day with their huge and openable (not technically a word as far as I can tell) windows on the second floor of their establishment. I have been to Duggan’s many times both before and after going for BurgerFest-O-Rama, so in this instance, I mostly knew what it was I was getting into. I rarely eat the burger when I go there (they have a glorious sandwich that they call their “Italian Sub” which has a bunch of red salty meats and a ton o’ cheese to which I am fairly partial as well as a $40 platter of fried everything. On a side note, my family is a group of huge eaters – which you may be able to tell from this series of posts – and we were not able to easily complete as a group the entire platter of deliciousness) but I had my typical focus for this dining experience.

From my experiences at Duggan’s Irish Pub, I would say that it is about as outwardly and inwardly Irish as I am if I were wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt (something you are unlikely to catch me doing). There is a redundant theme of green about Duggan’s, from the painting on the outside to the color of the seats on the inside, and they have a bunch of Irish-y and non-Irish-y looking knick-knacks plastered about the walls and a leprechaun kicks you in the balls if you don’t pay your bill, but that just about sums up the Irishness. Their building is quite huge for a restaurant - two floors, with the majority of the flat panels being up on the second floor with a wide-open floor plan. There are also pool tables up on the second floor and a few video and pinball game machines scattered around. Duggan’s is one of those rare establishments that provides as much free popcorn as you can consume (until guilt gets the better of you), so I often consume quite a bit of the kernel before my food makes its way to the stage. It is also one of the last of a dying breed, the remaining stronghold of Cruisin’ Woodward diners that sprung up when people would cruise Woodward on days other than the Dream Cruise. As such, they have purchased many recipes from many of these now-defunct restaurants and keep their names on the menu in memoriam. Today, my family kept our focus on their Big Chief burger, the Cadillac of Big Macs. If you’re wondering what the Cadillac of Big Macs looks like, it looks like this:

Pros: Burger holds itself together exceptionally well as a unit, allowing for both putting down and picking up the burger, the Big Chief sauce is something that you think you’d hate from the description of it but most certainly does not suck, bun does not look or taste artisanal but it performs its function quite well, in keeping with the theme – the fries reminded me of the Cadillac (ok, maybe Buick) of McDonald’s fries, toppings were portioned and distributed evenly

Cons: Were not asked how we wanted our burgers done (probably ended up a tad more than we would have wanted), cheese seemed distinctly Kraft American-Singles-esque, the meat all by itself had the tiniest bit of funk to it, like it tasted gamy (Steve agreed), potato chips are standard accompaniment for burger with fries being additional (really Duggan’s? potato chips? What the hell)

Of all the burgers I’ve assessed to date, Duggan’s is providing me with the biggest internal conflict. The Big Chief Burger is largely defined by its special sauce. This special sauce is a curried mayonnaise/mustard sauce. That’s right – curry + mayo + mustard. I’m not a huge fan of the basic curry flavor profile in general, but in this sauce and on this burger, it is a fascinatingly stellar combination. I would bet that my mom’s last meal would be a Big Chief slathered in its inherent sauciness – it’s just a really interesting and memorable taste. The biggest thing that stood out to me from the dining, though, was that because I ordered my sauce on the side, there was something…off…about the meat. It had that slight hint of peas that some foods acquire when something weird is going on. It’s hard to explain more clearly than that, but you know what I’m talking about if you’ve had some food with a slight hint of funk. The real tear here, though, is that the sauce dwarfs the off taste when added to the burger. The burger is largely defined by the sauce, but without the sauce there are some more significant problems. I can’t break my own rules on my ranking system so I can only give one final ranking to the burger. To only moderately bend the rules, burger+sauce (which you could argue IS the burger) I could be quite happy giving 2 Hamburglars, but it is too hard for me to overlook that one main element of “what is that taste?” in the meat and the fact that the standard accompaniment is potato chips, so I have to go with:

We had great debate on this topic within my dining group and my mom dissents and my brother half dissents with my opinion, but I’m the one who took the time to write up the review so I WIN. What do you think, my two readers mom and dad? Can I partially separate out the burger’s most unique and special component in assigning my final score? The burger with fries costs $6.95+$0.95=$7.90, but despite my final score, I do recommend trying the Big Chief with its special sauce.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Day When Nothing Changes

Today is the day during which we will learn nothing new about our future. As we all know, GM and Chrysler are required to submit viability plans regarding the future of their respective businesses as a condition of the federal loans they received at the end of 2008. In the days and weeks leading up to milestones like today, there is a greatly increased amount of media reporting, stories, and speculation regarding the future of the U.S. auto manufacturers. Over the weekend we were told that the UAW walked out of talks with GM and Chrysler and that bondholders are playing hardball, with both groups citing, curiously, that other stakeholders are not being required to make equivalent concessions. That is curious to me because these are the two primary groups from which concessions are required. After today, these companies are supposed to submit more detailed versions of today's plans by the end of March 31st, at which point the government will make some new sort of time line for making decisions. If I had to hazard a hypothesis, this guess would be that we will learn nothing significantly new during the day and that our future will continue to hang in automotive purgatory.

It's hard when there is so much focus on a subject but that issue never seems to progress forward. It's like spending the entire off-season talking about how to improve the Lions but nothing really ever seems to happen. A few points I'd like to make regarding the car companies today that I'm sure will be a focus later today.

Almost assuredly, someone will report "Car Companies Want More $$$". This person will be right, but this has not changed from the last time the companies were before Congress. If I tell you I need $20 and you give me $10, I will still likely need that $10 to bridge the gap. Am I coming back and asking for more money? I would say no - I asked for the money the first time and you were able to provide me with 50% of my request. This is almost exactly the case with GM and Chrysler. Second, if anyone out of state happens to be reading this post - many of us here in Michigan are genuinely appreciative that your tax dollars are keeping us afloat. Michigan is, of course, at the epicenter of these difficult events, and we're one government decision from being mid-80s Serbia. Many of us do not believe that the U.S. "owes" us the money or that we are necessary to the U.S.'s defense or some other explanation, but the 10M people in Michigan are grateful to be able to afford our macaroni and cheese. Finally, can someone explain to me (seriously, I'm very confused), the difference between retiree health care provided by a giant corporation and Medicare? My brother tried on Sunday, but I was not getting it. If I can participate in government-sponsored health care at no cost to the corporation from which I am retired, what is the major barrier to entry to that government-sponsored health care? Is it primarily complexity of enrollment, navigating the forms, or some additional cost? As this area is GM's largest liability, I'm hoping someone out there in internet-land could help me to understand this subject a little bit better.

Today is a big day and the news will be all over us, but the whole process starts again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Coraline and Burgers

I realize that my burger-related reports have been lax over the last several weeks. I want to assure you that my appreciation of meaty treats has not degraded over the past weeks, and I am still absolutely committed to consuming the burgers on The Free Press' list of metro-Detroit's best burgers. Actually, I have two burger eating experiences in the can (by can, I mean, in order, my stomach and then the crapper), and I'm excited to report out on those as soon as possible. The one primary holdup is that my parents took the digital camera to Minnesota this weekend to see their grandchild and the pictures are an integral component of BurgerFest-O-Rama - at least as much as they can be a part. The camera should return to Royal Oak on Tuesday evening, so that is when I imagine you will again have the privilege to read what I think about the combination of meat and bread products. BurgerFest-O-Rama lives, just a little bit slower than you and I may like. At least it probably decreases the odds of me dying from burger overdose. On to the next topic...

Today, Steve and I took my uncle and grandma to see the movie Coraline at the AMC John R Theater. A small part of me remains sad that Star had to sell to AMC, but progress continues to progress. The movie is a pretty dazzling combination of stop-motion and computer animation, but it is not a movie I would recommend for the youngest children out there. There is some imagery that I have to imagine would have spooked me as a youngster, and there is an air of melancholy throughout the movie. I have known for several months now that I've gone a little off the deep end on this "Yes! Michigan" thing, but my insight into this part of me was clarified even more by the movie. The setup for the movie is that the main character, coincidentally named Coraline (they caught a break when the named the movie that way), and her family have just moved to Oregon into a fairly creepy mansion/home thingy, and events ensue. I'm very specific. The kicker and most awesome part of the movie is that the family is originally from, you guessed it, Pontiac, Michigan. I have no idea how they chose Pontiac or Michigan, but I'll take it. On top of that, the dad is always wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt through the whole movie and Coraline owns a snow globe from The Detroit Zoo featuring the bear fountain in the middle of the zoo. The snow globe plays a fairly integral part in the storyline. How awesome is that? Not very much if you're not from Michigan, but very cool if you're me. It is possible that the creative team responsible for the movie was under the impression that if you mention Michigan in your movie, you receive Michigan's film tax credits, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way. You know I'm a little bit off when I want to stand up and applaud when I hear "Pontiac, Michigan" in an animated film.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Difficult Job Market?

If you're one of the millions of Americans who are hoping to find a job, today is the day where you have to acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the international job market, and that it is entirely your fault. That is the only way to interpret the new reports that Kwame Kilpatrick is going to be gifted a job in Dallas with a successful affiliate of Compuware called Covisint. You may be educated and gifted and experienced and a capable leader, but you have to ask yourself, are you a convict? Because if not, you really should consider going down that road for the greater good of finding a job immediately after you leave prison.

Kwame getting this job is no surprise and I think everyone more or less expected something very similar to happen shortly after his stay in prison, but that does not make this event any less ridiculuous. How does anyone find the peace of mind to hire someone who is admittedly (he allocuted) corrupt, a failed follower, a failed leader, and with such a terrible beard? One day we will have an even deeper and broader understanding of the failings of Kwame, and him finding a job in the impossible job market will be even more upsetting. Part of Kwame's plea bargain should have been that he had to work at an inner-city McDonald's as the fry cook/janitor for a period of no less than one zillion years. Also included in the deal would be that the McDonald's patrons have the legal right to throw ketchup packets at him and force him to eat all components of their meal that they were unable to complete - blended together as a milkshake. I will provide the blender at my own expense.

Peter Karmanos has done some good things for Michigan through the years, but when it is time for his eulogy, all I will remember is that he found convict Kwame Kilpatrick a job in the most difficult job market of our lives.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'd Rather Be #1

For another year, has put out it's annual list of "America's Most Miserable Cities". On the list put out at the begging the 2008 (for the most miserable cities of 2007), Detroit proudly grabbed the top spot on the list. On this new list rating the cities of 2008, Detroit has fallen all the way to #7. The rest of the top 10 list can be seen below:

1. Stockton, California
2. Memphis, Tennessee,
3. Chicago, Illinois
4. Cleveland, Ohio
5. Modesto, California
6. Flint, Michigan
7. Detroit, Michigan
8. Buffalo, New York
9. Miami, Florida
10. St. Louis, Missouri

First, it is difficult to put too much stock into lists like this. They explain their criteria, including things like weather, commute times, corruption, unemployment, etc., but really what happened is some dick at Forbes was like "hey, I have a great idea. Let's make the most dick-headed list of all time to make people feel terrible about where they live." So with that, I say screw you, you are the first entity that has resulted in me calling you a naughty name. What a bunch of haughty Dicks. Even my old friend Zac B. didn't elicit that type of response from me.

Second, I'd much rather reclaim our old spot of #1. If we're going to be on the freaking list, it might as well be at the top. Since we used to be #1 and we're still in the top 10, Forbes still takes some time to explain why their new weighted ranking scale still makes us pretty miserable, but less miserable compared to the new top 5. I'll take being the best at something even if it means being the worst at something. Everyone remembers that Gigli is possibly the worst movie of all time, but will we remember Paul Blart 20 years from now? I sure hope not.

Third, and possibly my biggest complaint with the list is that as far as I can tell, it in no way attempts to take into account some sort of quantifiable metric partially-defined by the residents of the analyzed city. It would seem that if you're going to throw 10 cities under the bus and make them wide open for public ridicule, perhaps you should first verify that the residents of that city are, well, miserable. I'm not saying that people within these cities aren't miserable or that the list is wrong, but there should be at least a little more proof than that of the department of scientific dickishness at Forbes.

In conclusion, screw you

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Days Like Today

Whoops - I didn't realize that I missed posting on both Thursday and Friday of this week. Not as an excuse, but I find it harder to eek out a little bit of time for writing when I'm working at extremely weird hours (for example, I was rocking out on Excel on Saturday evening from 10:30pm-2:30am. Jealous?).

This winter has been one of the colder winters in my memory. More than the cold, though, it has been the relatively unbroken stretches of cold that have made this winter a little bit harder to manage. The upshot to the chill has been that the winter has also been fairly sunny. This kind of give and take is like listening to the song Ironic and then halfway through the song your radio explodes and you get hit by exploding radio shrapnel. I heard that Alanis Morissette was considering that lyric for her song but realized that it was too "extreme." These stretches of relentless cold are discouraging and make it hard to remember how things are when the climate is just a smidgen more temperate.

That is why I absolutely cherish days like yesterday, today, (and if the forecast holds) the next three days. For these brief instances, we are lucky enough to experience these flashes of relative warmth and comfort. People are out walking their creatures and around downtowns (I think I saw Braylon Edwards in downtown Royal Oak today), taking out the garbage isn't so much of a pain, and the piles of ice are starting the slow but guaranteed dissolve into eventual spring. It's still cold out there, but days like today remind us that yes, there will eventually be another spring, summer, and fall. I don't need it to be warm in the winter, but the occasional ray of light like this weekend makes the remainder of the winter time that much more bearable.

Now all we need to really turn up our spirits is a ray of economic light - surprise profits from some giant corporation, a great stimulus or revised bank bailout plan, the believable assertion from one of our automakers that bankruptcy isn't waiting around the corner. All we need to make it through the weeds is a reminder of what it is like when things aren't so tough. That may be too much to ask for right now, but even winter has to occasionally yield.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Local Columnist Makes Me Feel Feminine for Liking Cupcakes

Food is the almighty, the giver of life, the taker of slim pants. I will eat almost anything without a second thought, and as I've stated before, in my food value equation, quantity rules over any other consideration. A birthday is not a birthday without a cake, and a buffet is not a buffet without at least three trips back to the food line. As I type, I'm eating a piece of cake for breakfast - with a spoon because I had a small scoop of ice cream right before the cake and I'm reluctant to dirty a fork when a spoon works perfectly fine for my consumption purposes. What I'm saying is that I'm very healthy.

Cupcakes have always been a reasonable and transportable version of it's father and master, cake of the non-cup variety. For birthdays in grade school at Shrine Elementary, classmates would bake up some cupcakes with their parents and would celebrate themselves through the greater glory of baked goods. Over the past several years, cupcakes have grown to a new level of prominence in the world. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems to me that cupcakes have eclipsed regular cakes in prominence and regard. In some respects, I get it. I think they are scrumptious treats and you don't necessarily have to entirely commit to one massive variety of flavorful treat like you do with regular cake. You can stick whatever kind of candy you'd like into the frosting of a specific cupcake, and voila, you have that kind of cupcake. Twizzlers cupcakes! What's not to like? Here's what:

You can not be cool while eating a cupcake. Being cool is generally not one of primary concerns, but people are making fun of cupcakes even when they are trying to be complimentary. What self-respecting male would feel comfortable about eating this treat after reading this article from yesterday's Free Press titled "Cupcakes are yummy, they're cute and they're showing up all over". I mean come on, the article is titled "Cupcakes are yummy, they're cute and they're showing up all over". Other insults from the article intended as compliments include:

"So it's time to bake up some sunshine with cupcakes."
"...and not just because they're cute and easy to handle."

I love me pretty much any combination of butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and leavening agent, and more than that, I have genuine love for any person who takes the time to mix these ingredients in a bowl and stick them in the oven. What I don't need is anyone to remind me that the snack I am enjoying is the equivalent of listening to a Jonas Brothers CD.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Graphics Will Save Us

Yesterday, CNN/Fortune Magazine ran an interactive map proudly trumpeted as "Where does your state rank?" Specifically, the map breaks down the United States by state in terms of Unemployment, State Budget Deficit, and Foreclosures. I guess the point of the map is to make people who already live in a difficult situation feel even worse about their relative position, or those who are not so bad off feel superior to the other "lesser" states. I think my review of the map left me with a third and unexpected third position where I feel slightly better in our precarious situation when compared to the rest of the country.

These three things, Unemployment, State Budget Deficit, and Foreclosures are all strongly positively correlated. High unemployment results in reduced tax collections from income as well as the unfortunate inability of people to pay for their mortgages. This is a simplified explanation (mostly because I'm not good enough to give a more complex explanation), but it is roughly correct. Everyone knows that unemployment in Michigan is a gigantic problem through which we're all struggling. The contraction of the auto industry has left hundreds of thousands of people looking for work, and on the map, it is clear that our unemployment situation is the worst in the nation. No news there, but difficult to see nonetheless. While this situation is dire, there are many states that are near Michigan's levels in this sad category.

What was more striking to me is where Michigan stands on the State Budget Deficit and Foreclosure Rate map. For years and years The Free Press and The Detroit News have endlessly reported state budget deficits and our "incompetent" state government's ability to come to budgetary agreement. Even in these very difficult times in Michigan with our highest unemployment rate, it appears to me that our state budget deficit is less than about 2/3 of the states in the U.S. I don't have a clue how this would be the case, but in this category, I also expected Michigan to be at the bottom of the barrel. I don't know who deserves credit for keeping this category from spiraling out of control, but if I'm reading the map correctly, someone deserves some small amount of credit.

The foreclosure map falls somewhere between the unemployment map and the state budget deficit map. Things aren't too pretty here, but again, I expected to see much worse - if not the worst in the country. I'm sure it has something to do with my proximity to the news here, but it seems like Michigan is generally regarded at the national level as the worst in all three categories.

All three of these pictures are not good at the national level, but for a state and people that view themselves as the whipping boys of country and the worst-regarded state out there, this may add just a little ammo for you in defending your home state. Of course the possible complete fall of the auto industry could make us skyrocket in each map, but we can only reasonably focus on one issue at a time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Coolest Thing I Saw Today

One quick note before I run off to watch the Super Bowl this evening - as Maureen and I drove back to Michigan from Minnesota earlier today after visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew Louis, I spotted a billboard that I guarantee you will be far better than any of the commercials on during the Super Bowl tonight. Specifically, this billboard advertised a gentlemen's club called:

Cruisin' Chubby's

I sorely regret that I did not have a camera at the ready to capture this moment, but I will be even more vigilant and careful the next time I make the drive back from MN. There are gentlemen's clubs around the country and world and many of them surely have fantastic and clever names, but very few can compare to Cruisin' Chubby's. Being a boy, I had a different take on the word Chubby than Maureen, but that is just part of the reason she is so adorable

Did you know the average American consumes 1,500 calories during the Super Bowl? Don't get fat or you could end up at Maureen's version of Cruisin' Chubby's.