So, I'm in San Diego this weekend. It's been a great time so far. Road Trip! After a 12 hour drive from Salt Lake, we arrived in San Diego at 5:00 AM. (Insane, yes. Worth it, yes.)

We spent the day in La Jolla, walking about, enjoying the beach. (More about that later.) The highlight, though, was while we were waiting for people to get out of the restroom. We were waiting near the little valet parking kiosk, when this really nice Mercedes convertible pulled up. A really short guy in designer jeans got out, but left a woman in the car. She spent the next 10 minutes peering into the rear view mirror, applying her face -- and I mean applying, there was concealer, eye liner, the whole ball of wax. While this was going on, the designer jean man was catching up with the valet guys about this totally awesome porno that he had seen last night.

Finally, the woman was done, and sitting there in the darkened car. Finally, the designer jean man looks over and says, "Oh, she's done! Will you go get her?" The valet wanders over to the car, opens the door, and the woman indignantly sticks her arm straight out as if to say, "You're going to help me, right?" Finally, when she rises out of the car, a certain, um, shall we say, pair of surgical improvements become apparent. She's clearly out of proportion. No wonder she needed help.

I hope they never have children.


Utah Teeth?

I went to the dentist the other day. It had been a little over a year. This was a new dentist, one close to my work, and one that a co-worker recommended. I'm largely ambivalent about dentists. I like having clean teeth, and I like having teeth that will last into old age, but I could do without all the scraping, whirring noises, rinsing, and spitting. The other thing that must go is trying to ask questions while they have their fingers in your mouth. Do they want to get bitten?

But I digress. When the dentist, who'd never seen me before, got to poking around my mouth, he said, "These teeth look pretty good. They're not 'Utah teeth'."

What?! I've heard of Utah Mormons, Utah Powder, and Utah's fascination with vegetable/Jello combinations, but never "Utah Teeth." He said from the lack of cavities, general hardness of my enamel, and very small fillings required in my past, it was apparent I had grown up somewhere with fluoridated water -- which is not Utah.

Ahhh... now I understood. See, Utah is backwards in lots of ways, and one of them is the lack of fluoridated water. Dentists and health experts have been lobbying for it for years, but there's some strange cultural fear about "adding" fluoride to the water, which is something I just don't get. Just because something is added doesn't make it unnatural. Fluoride, is, after all, just an element in the Periodic table. One of many. It exists naturally in some water, and in others it doesn't. Bottom line, though, is that it's good for teeth, particularly for kids when their teeth are forming. Which is really important when you consider that we want our teeth to last 80+ years nowadays.

It's the underlying attitude in the anti-fluoride camp that I fear the most. It's the same attitude that causes otherwise rational people to decline to vaccinate their children or to eschew medicine in favor of holistic cures. There's a pervasive attitude that the more "natural" something is, the better it is. Well, this is, in my opinion, an utter load of crap. What was life like before vaccinations, pesticides, fertilizers, and vitamin supplements? What was the life expectancy and infant mortality rate? Compare your lifestyle with those in third world countries. They live their lives "naturally", and would you trade with them?

The reality is that we are allowed to pursue the "natural" lifestyle only because technology and science has made it possible. Vaccines are so successful that even those that aren't vaccinated have a low chance of catching the diseases. Pesticides and herbicides ensured consistent food supplies in the face of insect plagues and plant disease -- so that if our organic crops get wiped out, we know we'll still have something to eat. Fertilizers allow fewer farmers to grow more food on less land. Medicine allows countless individuals to live full lives even with chronic illness and diseases that used to be lethal.

Am I suggesting that technology is the savior or mankind? Absolutely not! I will readily admit that we do, at times, become overdependent on science and technology, and it becomes an end unto itself. We do overlook the simple natural solutions to our problems (like, instead of enriching white bread, why not just eat wheat bread?). But, in general, I think it's better to not forget the reason that a particular technology was ever developed was because a good way of solving the problem in nature didn't already exist. And as it turns out, science frequently looks to the natural world for ideas and inventions. (Penicillin was an orange fungus, after all.)

So get over it. Sure, be wary of new technology, but think with your head and look at the science.


Penguins at the disco!

At Hot Topic a few weeks ago, I saw a T-Shirt that showed a penguin in a very Saturday Night Fever pose, with the caption, "Penguins at the Disco". It still makes me laugh. In general, penguins make me laugh. Everything about them is funny and endearing. They're birds, but they can't fly and they're rather portly. They waddle around on the snow like their shoelaces are tied together. They scoot around on their bellies when its convenient. They look like they are wearing tuxedos, and usually stand upright like people. What's not to love? If it were possible, I would definitely have a penguin as a pet.

I'll admit it. I like penguins. I have ever since I did a report on them in the 2nd grade. I used to know all about them, the Adele penguins, the emperor penguins, and the macaroni penguins. This was before every computer animator in the world realized the penguin is coolest animal in the world and decided to make a movie about them. I liked them before they danced, sang, surfed, or engineered an escape from a zoo.

So yeah, I like penguins. Whoever made "The Penguin" as a villain in Batman was an idiot. Whoever picked the penguin as the mascot for Linux was a genius.


Blessing the Food

I come from a home that blesses meals before eating them (and not just on Thanksgiving.) Growing up, every time we gathered around the table, there was this pensive moment when all four of us children would avoid making eye contact with dad to avoid being chosen to say the prayer, as if we would turn completely invisible if we stared hard enough into our empty plates.

Eventually though, someone would be selected, and after perhaps a little protest and/or coaxing, we'd bow our heads and one of us would address our omnipotent Creator. We weren't a particularly reverent bunch, and there was a fair amount of peeking, poking, and giggling during this process. It's a wonder we weren't all struck down at some point.

Now, before I kindle any holy wrath, let me just say that I like the idea of asking a blessing and expressing gratitude for the food that we eat. We do, after all, live in a world of scarce resources, and I happen to live in very fortunate circumstance. There is one thing, however, that I find very ironic about what we say when we ask a blessing on the food. In our household, this part went something like, "...please bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies...", (I'm sure every denomination and household has their own variation on this theme.)

Is it just me, or is it a little pretentious for us to thank God to giving us the means to provide for ourselves, but to then turn around and expect Him to also make it nourishing? Nothing proves my point more than every church activity I ever attended. At these events, essentially that same blessing is asked, and I have to wonder if we really expected God to make make Kool-aid, hot dogs, and Jello salad healthy. Even the miracle of the Eucharist pales in comparison to the transmogrification required to turn foods consisting entirely of fat, sugar, and carbonation into something with actual vitamins and minerals. If we could somehow turn skittles into wheat grass, we'd probably solve this country's obesity epidemic.

I thought of this tonight as we sat down to a meal of Domino's pizza, and I asked the same blessing that I'd been asking since I was a little child. Afterward, I wondered if my prayer should be something more like this: "Please bless this food that our LDLs will stay low, our HDLs will go high, and the cured pork products will not cause our triglycerides to skyrocket... We pray that the salt might be prevented from giving us high blood pressure, the fat from giving us love handles, and carbs from making us too sleepy to actually work off these excess calories."

I believe that God can work miracles; I genuinely do. But then again, changing the chemical composition of my food might be a bit much to ask. Maybe what what I should really pray is something like: "God, we sincerely thank thee for this food ... and seeing as we know better, we also ask thy forgiveness for eating it."


You might have noticed that my dad is a frequent subject of my postings. This is for two reasons: #1, I really love the guy & his idiosyncrasies makes me happy, and #2, he does some of the most embarrassing things you can ever imagine. It's kind of like living with Mr. Bean, but my dad is speaks better English.

Let me tell you what happened the other night. It was about 10:30, and I had just gotten to my parent's house. I had been coaxed home to do some slave labor in the yard for Mother's day. We were watching TV in the living room when dad got up and went into the kitchen. After a minute or so, I heard the sound of a knife being sharpened. This is an unmistakable sound, kind of like sound of gears grinding when you screw up the transition from 2nd to 3rd when you're trying to get on the freeway.

The thing that was odd about the knife sharpening was the time. It's fairly common on Sunday afternoons when we're about to devour a rump roast together, but Saturday night is a little atypical. Soon, my dad ambled back into the living room with our very best kitchen knife in his hand. This is a Cutco paring knife, which was undoubtedly purchased as the least expensive thing we could find in the catalog to assuage our guilt when the neighbor's son was selling Cutco years ago.

Dad sat down on the couch and proceeded to use the knife to pry at the hard dry skin on the bottom of his feet. As I watched with disgust, he said, "I have this wart here."

Mom came up the stairs and asked, "What ARE you doing?", as flakes of dead skin piled up on the living room rug.

His response? "Don't worry, I won't put it back in the drawer."


Gift Cards?

Am I the only one that is confused by gift cards? Whoever invented this gimmick was a marketing genius. Somehow we all became convinced that people would want something worth a fixed dollar amount but can only be used at a one particular place. If you think about it, its because for that very reason that a gift card is actually less valuable than it's equivalent cash amount. And yet, we're mortified by the thought of just giving someone money -- as if it's indecent.

But, how is giving a gift card any less tacky than giving someone cash? It might even be more tacky, because you're essentially telling the recipient, "I don't really trust you to buy something you want, so instead, I'm going to give you this 20 dollar card that you have to use at Chili's." Now, in their defense, the card giver might justify his or her choice by explaining that the gift card forces the receiver to treat themselves to something they wouldn't otherwise. How is that a gift? Shouldn't you get them something they might want and or use -- since when do gifts come with lifestyle advice? Would you ever get someone a bathroom scale as a gift?

Take my dad as an example. As his children, we all complain about his love of "the Sizzler" (and, to be honest, most places he wants to eat), so we might say to ourselves, "let's get him a gift certificate to a really nice place." Well, the problem with that is assuming that money is the only reason he doesn't go to a more upscale restaurant. In reality, he likes the Sizzler because he doesn't need to make reservations, doesn't need to dress up, and it's easy to find something that suits his palate (which I find disturbing, but whatever.) If we did get him a card to a really swanky place, my dad would have to overdress, talk to a maitre' de, translate the menu, and run the risk of ordering some sort of deep fried tentacle. And the whole time this is going on, he'd be thinking to himself, "or this much money, I could have gone to the Sizzler 3 or 4 times!"

The same logic applies to most of things you think a person would do or want if they weren't so frugal, old, boring, or, in general, less like you. What's my point? Lay off the gift certificates -- you're not fooling anyone -- if "it's the thought that counts", what exactly are you saying? Gifts should not have agendas.

That said, there are certain classes of people for which a gift card is the way to go. These fall under three categories:
  1. The gift card actually costs less than it's dollar amount, as they all should.
  2. The person actually needs, enjoys, and will use the gift card at the actual place -- in which case, I will grudgingly admit that the gift card IS less tacky than giving someone a wad of cash. (Though, upon reading this, my mom demanded that we NEVER give my dad a Sizzler gift certificate, as she's sick of it, too.)
  3. The person can be classified as "unshoppable" -- and one for whom a suitable gift does not exist. Either they have everything they could possible need, or they will never be satisfied by whatever you get them. In this case, yeah, just get them a gift card, because a well thought out gift would be a waste of effort anyway.