Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Dangers of Inhaling

I cannot imagine what it is like to be a parent. It seems like every time I turn on the TV a local news station is playing a teaser for their ten o’ clock broadcast that includes an ominous warning like “death or disfigurement imminent for your new-born; details at 10.” Just the other day a news station in Memphis hinted that “teenagers all over the mid-south are snorting their parent’s bath salts; we’ll tell you why in the primetime broadcast.”

Curious to discover what would have kids everywhere doing rails of Calgone off their parent’s coffee table, I investigated and discovered that the “bath salts” in question came in small black packets under names like “White Lightening” and were sold primarily from gas stations in the south. Apparently the powder contains mephadrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone which is a legal stimulant that causes paranoia and hostility. 
Some have compared its effects to cocaine or Waffle House hash-browns.

The trend is growing at an alarming rate in Louisiana, where poison control centers have logged hundreds of calls concerning the drug and some parishes have already banned it. Apparently, the epidemic is creeping northward into Tennessee and that is why our local news station felt compelled to warn parents in the region.

While I am sure their journalistic efforts were invaluable to the thousands of local parents who routinely purchase their bath salts from an Exxon TigerMart, I would hope that any parent would become curious when their teenage son began stockpiling bath salts while exclusively taking showers. And while I am on the subject, what legitimate bubble-bath is sold in small black pouches and called White Lightening? The name alone practically begs for a D.E.A. investigation. They could have called it “Peruvian snow” or “Tijuana velvet dust” and maintained the same level of subtlety.

Unfortunately, it appears that bath accessories are not the only items being snorted by wayward youth. On December 15th last year, a group of teens burglarized a woman’s home in Silver Springs Shores, Florida. The thieves absconded with jewelry, electronics, and the cremated remains of two Great Danes and a senior citizen. Thinking that the ashes were large amounts of cocaine, they decided to snort them but quickly became disappointed when several doses failed to yield favorable results.

Worried that the powdered substance in the urn and decorative boxes might not be a narcotic, they enlisted the help of a trusted adviser who declared them to be “cement mix” and held onto them (perhaps in case he decided to expand his patio.) It was only weeks later, when a member of the group saw news reports identifying the powder as “cremated remains,” that they realized what had happened.
Three alleged members of the braintrust

 I am not sure which I find more egregious, the fact that these promising young men have chosen a life of crime or that they lack even the most rudimentary powers of deduction. I shudder to imagine the logical process they followed to conclude that powder contained in prominently-displayed decorative urns and boxes must be cocaine. Was that really the most plausible explanation the five of them could arrive at?

My favorite part of the story is the fact that they sought outside counsel to determine the substance’s origin. I can almost imagine the five guys, having just snorted a few lines of “canine special,” saying to each other “This is my third rail and I’m not feeling anything yet, maybe we should call Hank and make sure this is good cocaine.” Ironically, it seems that the burglars sought advice from the only Floridian less intelligent than themselves. Here was a man who listened to the group’s narrative, examined the powered substance contained in the decorative containers and confidently declared that his associates must have snorted a half-kilo of Quikrete. After they left, poor Hank probably wondered why the mixture took so long to set and did such a poor job of keeping his mailbox upright.

The young men were eventually caught and linked to 20 unsolved burglaries in the area. They are currently awaiting trial and a congratulatory e-mail from Keith Richards. The remaining un-snorted ashes were recovered and returned to their owner who was grateful to have them back in her possession. She has not said whether she plans to add the words “Not cocaine” under the “In Memory of my Papa” line engraved on the urn to prevent future mix-ups.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Teenage Motherhood Primer

In June of 2009, MTV networks debuted 16 and Pregnant, a show that documents the daily struggles faced by American teenagers who find themselves unexpectedly “in a family way.” The show became a runaway success, its network ratings only being eclipsed by the always cerebral Jersey Shore. The success of the series prompted the network to continue following four central characters in a spinoff series known as Teen Mom.
Amber "Rainmaker" Portwood
Amongst the featured mothers was a delicate maternal flower named Amber Portwood, who is currently facing multiple counts of felony domestic assault and child neglect charges. It was also recently revealed that teenage pregnancy is a rather lucrative business, since she disclosed to the court that MTV compensated her $280,000 a year in exchange for allowing cameras to document her “journey.”
This has enraged many Americans who feel that the show glorifies teen pregnancy and will inevitably lead to an increase in the phenomenon. Supporters of the program point to the “gritty reality” of a struggling single mother being an effective deterrent for underage motherhood.

While it is impossible to know exactly what the show’s social impact will be, I must say that it is somewhat disconcerting that a high school dropout with a disdain for prophylactics can surpass the average yearly salary of a neurosurgeon. I can only imagine the conversations transpiring in high school guidance offices all across the country after this gets out:
    “Well Suzie, what are your plans for the future?”

    “Well Mrs. Jones, I was originally leaning toward a career in genetics or oncology research but given the high cost of living and skyrocketing price of healthcare it appears my best option would be to have unprotected sex with my boyfriend in the parking lot of a Wendy’s, conceive a child that I am emotionally unprepared to nurture, and then drop out of school in order to pursue a lucrative television contract with Viacom.”

    “Oh. Well if you change your mind I think you are a shoe-in for that competitive long division scholarship we talked about.”

I doubt that Teenage Mom portrays the challenging reality of underage motherhood any more accurately than The Real World portrays what it is like to be a twenty-something and unemployed in a large American city. (I always wondered how realistic it was to live in an elaborate condominium rent-free while facing no decisions more agonizing than deciding which club to intoxicate myself in. I will have to ask Paris Hilton if we ever meet...) 
While I find fertile young Portwood’s compensation a bit excessive, I am even more outraged that MTV has become known for financing rather depressing social experiments instead of music. What happened to the MTV of my youth? The MTV that introduced me to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Dr. Dre, Dave Matthews Band, and Rage Against the Machine. The MTV that produced the groundbreaking Unplugged series that inspired Eric Clapton to rework Layla and blow the collective minds of music fans everywhere. The MTV where Kurt Loader was the first on the scene when Oasis broke up again or a member of the Wu-Tang Clan violated his parole.

I suppose it was inevitable that MTV would have to evolve, I just remain unconvinced that providing six-figure salaries to violent teenage mothers is better than seeing the Beastie Boys Sabotage video in heavy rotation.

Get Some

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why You Need a Chinese Baby-Mama

As someone who does not yet have children, I am always on the lookout for parenting techniques and advice that could benefit me in the future. My wife and I and very fortunate that we are surrounded by a number of exemplary parents from whom we can gain much insight and we consciously try not to take that for granted. So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I stumbled upon Yale Law Professor and Wall Street Journal essayist Amy Chua’s article about parenting provocatively called “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”

Sophia Chua playing Carnegie Hall at age 14.
Now obviously, having never had my own Chinese mother, I cannot personally speak directly to their superiority or inferiority in regards to child rearing so I was curious as to how Mrs. Chua arrived at her conclusions. Before I began reading, I scanned the pictures of her children captured in various states of prodigiousness. There was a photo of her daughter Sophia playing piano at Carnegie Hall when she was just 14 and a picture of her other daughter Louisa practicing the violin in a hotel room. After scanning the photos, I was already beginning to suspect that my own standards for our future offspring were embarrassingly low since I would consider the absence of Federal prison time a feather in my son’s cap.

However, I found myself at an impasse. As much as I would love to witness these types of results in my own children, I am rather fond of my wife and wish to make my family with her. So the question became, “How do I incorporate the benefits of authentic Chinese motherhood within my existing family structure?” As I saw it, there were only two options:

1. Hire only Chinese full-time nannies which may or may not provide the desired result and could possibly make me vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits.

2. Accommodate ethnically-specific polygamy into my existing family structure and belief-system.

While I could easily dismiss the first option on financial grounds alone, I have seen enough episodes of Big Love to know the remaining course of action would be no picnic to implement. I wonder how that conversation would go:

“Hey sweetie, remember how much you liked Lucy Liu in the Charlie’s Angels movies?”
“And you said you thought she was pretty and seemed like a lot of fun.”
“Uh huh……”
“Well what if we got our own “Lucy Liu” so that we could form our own type of domestic power trio?”
“What exactly does THAT mean? You have a thing for Lucy Liu now?”
“No honey, of course not, I am probably just not explaining it correctly so let me try again.”
“OK, because for a minute there you were really…….”
“What I meant to say was that the other woman can be anyone as long as she is Chinese.”

As it turned out, all my trepidation faded away as soon as I read the article. She outlines a rather unique set of principles for implementing authentic Chinese motherhood:

Items forbidden from her children’s lives at least until the age of 18 included watching TV, sleepovers, dating, appearing in school plays, receiving a grade less that an A in any subject, playing any instrument other than piano or violin, and choosing any of their own extra-curricular activities.
She advocates hours of forced practice (both academically and musically) each day and believes that children must receive harsh criticism (she gives the example of calling overweight youngsters “fatty” and recalls how she referred to her own daughter as “garbage” when she was being disrespectful) in order to develop correctly. Shockingly, she even admits to threatening her daughter by withholding food when she would not cooperate with a piano lesson.

She insists that no self-respecting Chinese mother allows their child to be less than the number one student in any subject other than drama or gym, and failure to achieve this is a direct result of the child’s (and parent’s) laziness and not intrinsic ineptitude.

Amy believes that American mothers are too often uninvolved with their child’s academic success and overly concerned with their descendants’ fragile self-esteem. We are so worried about harming their delicate psyche that we do not push them to achieve the level of success that they are capable of. She believes that in this way, parents are actually doing the child a disservice that will hinder them the rest of their lives. To back up these claims she references several academic studies, but cites only one involving less than 100 mothers.

My wife has been a public school teacher for many years now and I can confidently echo Chua’s sentiment about the lack of academic involvement displayed by many parents; but I am not certain that screaming out “Hey chubbs! I better hear some Rachmaninoff coming out of your bedroom in the next 5 seconds or I am going to feed you meatloaf to our over-achieving dog while you run vocabulary drills!” is the antidote. 

Amy Chua with her exemplary offspring
I wonder how such a structure exists in China. If every mother expects her child to be the top math student, what happens to the other 30 kids in that class whose mothers have that same expectation? What happens if the child has a learning disability or is autistic? How many pianists and violinists can one country produce? Are they ashamed of Yo-Yo Ma because he had the audacity to take up the cello?

I am also disappointed that a Yale Law Professor cannot back up her claims with anything more convincing than an informal survey or 50 Western mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers in a nation home to 82 million women with at least one child. I could amass a more viable sampling group by spending three hours in the diaper section at a Costco.  

While there may be some discernible benefits to Chua’s version of “Chinese motherhood,” I don’t believe I have the stomach for it. If the philosophy of every Chinese mother aligns with Amy’s, I have excluded the most frightening aspect of option number 2: having a Chinese mother-in-law….

The original essay by Amy Chua can be found here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Every Woman's Dream

It fills me with indescribably joy to witness the manifestation of selfless love between two people. In our modern moral climate, it is far too easy to become cynical and jaded concerning the fading art of monogamy. We want to believe that true love is possible, but day after day we are inundated with stories of easily broken relationships and celebrity marriages unable to outlast the effectiveness of a seasonal flu shot.

However, it is only in such darkness that we can recognize the heartwarming illumination of a commitment based on trust, understanding, and emotional depth. I am here to tell you that the source of that light is none other than Mr. Hugh Hefner and his betrothed Crystal Harris; a duo whose undeniable compatibility stands as a beacon to us all.
Hefner & Harris
As with any couple, there are nefarious forces at work that would love to see their commitment fail. Armed with unfair criticism, they seek to destroy the purity of Mr. Hefner’s commitment to Miss Harris by highlighting minute discrepancies in their interests and history. I would like to address some of those now:

1. Their age difference – While it is true that 60 years separates them (he is 84 and she is 24) it is certainly not an insurmountable obstacle. What 24 year-old hasn’t dreamt of snuggling up in her lover’s arms and whispering, “Tell me more about your first stroke” or “Where were you when you first heard about color television?” 

Besides, they aren’t the first high profile couple to face such chronological challenges. Whose heart wasn’t warmed watching the home movies of a 26 year-old Anna Nichole Smith desperately coaching her 89 year-old husband to form coherent (legally admissible) sentences? Many dismissed the integrity of their relationship simply because they met at a strip club; she never actually lived with him; and her legal battle for his money outlasted their marriage by a decade.

2. No common interests – This is also a misnomer. Careful research of the couple’s past reveals a plethora of common interests. For instance, they both took collegiate-level psychology courses (some naysayers would again bring up the age difference, but I doubt the field of psychology has changed significantly since the Second World War) and they both have Twitter accounts.

3. She is using the relationship to further her career – While some pessimists would point to her upcoming dance album, high-end cosmetic line and recently launched website as evidence of her shameless self-promotion; there is no reason to believe that a glamour-model’s dance CD, co-written by Dr. Phil’s son and released on a low-profile indie label wouldn’t move a significant number of units based on artistic vision alone. Besides, you would be hard pressed to identify a single blonde Playboy model that has successfully used romantic involvement with Hugh Hefner as a springboard for her career aside from Shannon Tweed, Izabella St. James, Tina Marie Jordan, Holly Madison, and Kendra Wilkinson.

4. He holds a sexist, unhealthy view of women and is incapable of monogamy – To the later charge; I need merely remind everyone that Mr. Hefner’s passion for monogamy is so absolute that he recently maintained 7 simultaneously-occurring exclusive relationships for an extended period of time. To the former charge, I present the following photo of Hugh with his then-girlfriend Izabella St. James. A woman he cared so deeply for, he was compelled to tether himself to her (both literally and emotionally.)

5. It happened too fast – True love has no timetable. And besides, when you are about to turn 85 cold-feet is a luxury you cannot afford (whether metaphorically or through a dangerous loss of circulation to your lower extremities.) When closing in on becoming a centenarian, the only thing that doesn’t seem to transpire quickly is urination.

I hope that I have successfully appeased the legions of cynics who scoff at the legitimacy of such an unusual union. I am sure the Internet will continue to be inundated by callous remarks like “What does she see in him?” or “I though he passed away the year they cancelled M.A.S.H.” but the truth of the matter is that there is nothing more charming than a perpetually-bathrobed senior citizen who insists on sporting a sea captain’s hat despite the perpetual absence of an actual boat. We all want to be ready when our “ship comes in,” but only Hugh Hefner possesses the foresight to dress for the occasion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dead Birds & The Oprahcalypse

Dead birds are falling from the sky, fish are dying by the truckload, and Oprah Winfrey is launching her own cable channel. For those of you keeping score at home, these are surefire signs of the impending apocalypse and the logical next step is to stockpile water, canned food, and ammunition. While my meager ½ acre of property does not provide adequate space for my planed “Taylor Family Subterranean Post-Apocalyptic Survival Outpost and Furniture Discount Warehouse,” I am nonetheless optimistic that with a little cunning and adequate preparation I will be present at the final confrontation between Oprah and the remaining contingent of humanity henceforth known as “The Resistance.”

Of course, the other possibility is that there are logical explanations for this seemingly mysterious phenomenon.  For instance, the legion of deceased birds in Bebe, AR could be the work of financially-solvent rednecks that were able to acquire commercial-grade fireworks and by setting them off caused mid-air bird collisions leading to the reported fatalities. Others are adamant that the thousands of deceased “sky chickens” are the handiwork of extra-terrestrial beings who, despite their implied intellectual superiority, decided that the best way to contact humanity was to kill some birds over a state whose governance decided to name their highest peak “Mount Magazine.”

So, if we eliminate UFO’s and rednecks, what’s left? Simultaneously fatal bird flu? High altitude hail? Jesus? Even supposing that we can narrow down the possibilities, it still does not explain the birds dying in other areas or the tens or thousands of dead fish. So what could possibly account for all of this?

Although I am not in possession of solid evidence, I believe that Oprah Winfrey is somehow behind all of this and it is no coincidence that the bird incident in Arkansas occurred the very same day she launched her new cable network. Let’s review the facts:

She has never, to my knowledge, launched a business or philanthropic venture without making sure her name appears prominently in the title.

In 2004 she filmed a show in Africa titled Oprah’s Christmas Kindness, in which she highlighted the many challenges facing the continent. Oprah was so moved that she mobilized her charity “Oprah’s Angel Network” to raise money for relief. In 2007, she used this money to open the “Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls” in South Africa. All of these events were chronicled in Oprah’s official publication, O: The Oprah Magazine which has never printed an issue in its 11 years of existence that did not have Oprah on the cover.

In addition to the magazine, she launched her own XM Satellite Radio channel named Oprah Radio on which she airs her show Oprah and Friends. This year she launched her cable channel called O.W.N. (Oprah Winfrey Network) which will likely partner with her website in bringing child molesters to justice utilizing Oprah’s Child Predator Watch List.

I fully recognize that Oprah generously donates millions of dollars to worthwhile charities for which she deserves our admiration, but is it really necessary to beat the general populace over the head with it by preceding every good thing you do with your name? Would fewer children be helped if it was called simply “The Angel Network” or “The Leadership Academy for Girls?” Do you have so many irons in the fire that you would forget it was your magazine unless your face was on it every single month?

She has even prepared for the end by naming her California estate “The Promised Land” where rumor has it she is preparing for Armageddon (soon to be known as Oprah Winfrey Presents…Your Doom.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Arizona Massacre / Grammar Conspiracy

Accused gunman Jared Loughner
Like many of you, I have been following the coverage of the tragedy in Arizona where Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire on attendees of a political meeting hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Once the attack was over, 6 people (including a 9 year-old girl and a Federal judge) were dead and 14 others (including Giffords) had been wounded. According to witnesses at the scene, Loughner remained silent throughout the slaughter which has only served to fuel speculation concerning his possible motives.

So far, two theories have gained significant traction in the press and I felt compelled to address them here:

Theory A – Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee aired an ad in Gabrielle Giffords’ region during the last election endorsing her opponent. The ads featured a set of crosshairs superimposed over the disputed district and was enhanced by a speech Palin made encouraging those Tea Party supports in the area to “reload” and continue to fight. Loughner took this ad literally, thus the bloodshed.

I will be the first to admit that I am no Sarah Palin fan and find the possibility of her ever having access to “the button” terrifying. However, is this really the best theory that we can come up with? That Jared was just a well-adjusted emotionally-stable kid until he saw the Sarah Palin ad and suddenly decided to purchase a handgun and indiscriminately open fire on 25 complete strangers. If our collective sanity is that unstable then I may be just a couple of Progressive Insurance commercials away from firebombing an infant Baptism.

Theory B – Fierce Political Partisanship has divided the country causing extremism to manifest itself in increasingly violent ways. The idea here is that certain politicians have been painted so harshly by their opponents (that they are “destroying America” and their agendas “must be stopped.”) that the general populace feels obligated to take (sometimes drastic and violent) action. This has inspired both Republicans and Democrats to call for more subdued language in an attempt to prevent this sort of tragedy in the future.

This is every bit as ridiculous as the Sarah Palin angle. If “stopping an agenda” can be that easily translated to “inflict head trauma” you want see me out much come 2012. While I am sure our elected officials meant well, I have no doubt that the “subdued language” vow is a symbolic gesture on par with passing a resolution condemning cancer or sadness.

I would now like to offer my own theory on the cause of the Arizona massacre:

Theory C – Jared Loughner is a crazy person.

A review of his online postings and personal history reveals the following:

  • He seemed to take it personally that America’s paper currency was no longer backed by gold despite the fact that the transition was invoked by a now-deceased president 17 years before he was even born. (I cannot imagine the hardship America’s current monetary system placed on an unemployed 22 year old living with his parents.)
  • He was convinced that "the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.”
  • He once attended a Giffords rally where he asked, “What is government if words have no meaning?” and took it personally that Giffords did not answer to his satisfaction.
  • He had to be physically removed from a college algebra course because his behavior frightened both the teacher and other students.
I have heard a lot of conspiracy theories in my time, but I will give Jared credit for being the first person brave enough to suggest that the American people are being systematically oppressed by Federally-controlled punctuation. And of all the things to take personally, he chooses the 1971 dissolution of the gold standard and college algebra?

Even if these ideas served as the attack’s motivation, I cannot find any evidence that Congresswoman Giffords was associated with any legislation concerning the gold standard, college algebra, or grammar-based brainwashing. This leaves the most likely source of young Jared’s angst to be Giffords’ response to his question, “What is government if words have no meaning?”

How exactly is one supposed to answer that question? And if words have no meaning, how is the government oppressing us using the grammar that outlines their proper use? I don’t how the question was answered that day, but I know how I would answer it:

“What is government if words have no meaning?”
“As useless and irrelevant as the words used to form the question you just asked. Next!”
Anytime such a tragedy occurs we want the source of it to be neatly identified, categorized, and neutralized so that we can continue our lives confident that such senseless violence will never reoccur. Unfortunately, the underlying causes of Jared’s behavior are not simple and it is disingenuous of us to place all of the blame at the feet of Sarah Palin, partisan politics, or even gun control laws. 

Even if he was to stand up in court and completely explain his motives, they would likely sound irrational to the rest of us and we would continue searching for a logical motive for an illogical act. I fear that such a search is destined to be fruitless, plus if the press continues to refer to him as Jared Lee Loughner he will undoubtedly be convicted since everyone knows that anyone referred to by three names is guilty of assassination by default.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pedophile Barbie

About 6 months ago Mattel released the “Barbie Video Girl,” a doll that was equipped with a video camera in front and compact monitor in the back. The doll could record up to thirty minutes of video before it had to be connected to a computer in order to upload the footage. The idea was that a young child could utilize the inexpensive toy ($50) to make their own movies without having access to more expensive electronic devices.

Since its release, Barbie Video Girl has been a hot selling item and was even nominated for Toy of the Year (yes, that’s a real award) before the FBI rained on Mattel’s parade. It seems that the law enforcement agency is concerned that such a device could be utilized by a sexual predator to clandestinely film nude children. Said predator would then use the images for his own nefarious purposes or, worse yet, distribute them online. 

I would like to offer the following rebuttal:

If a total stranger can easily present your child with a doll and return frequently enough to amass a significant porn collection out of 30 minute clips without your knowledge, you may not be providing the level of supervision that your offspring needs. You may also want to have a conversation with your child about what type of films they are making with their dolls.

I applaud the philosophy of child safety, but doesn’t the FBI have more immediate threats than an extraordinarily patient pedophile that has access to a copy of Final Cut Pro? If anything, reports like this probably give sexual deviants ideas that would not have occurred to them otherwise. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that the memo was never meant to be seen by the public at all; it was to be circulated only to law enforcement agencies but was sent to media outlet by mistake.

How many of these warnings does the FBI produce? Is there a special “theoretical toy threat” division running sting operations at Toys R Us? Again, there is a difference between being proactive and unnecessarily creative when it comes to threat assessment and I believe we have arrived at the later.

However, if Mattel releases a Pedophile Playhouse companion set next Christmas then perhaps I have been too harsh on the F.B.I.