Sunday, January 29, 2012

If I Die


I recently read a news report about a hot new Facebook App called “If I Die,” and as the name implies the app will update your status once you are dead. The idea is that you can type a message and then you assign three separate trustees to your account. If one of your trustees reports your passing, the other two trustees will be contacted to confirm that you have indeed “bought the farm.” As a safeguard, the company will attempt to contact the deceased via e-mail to insure that they are, in fact, dead.
Your posthumous status can include text, pictures, or video and the customer can release all the material consecutively or concurrently. The company suggests that you can leave words of wisdom, reveal a long kept secret, or simply settle old scores. You can even pre-record the message through a webcam and leave it on YouTube until the time is right. The content and the timing are up to you.

The product has received mixed reviews from the public. A Colorado news station interviewed several locals and the reactions ranged from disgust to admiration. One woman was convinced it would be the perfect way for her Facebook friends to find “out the truth about everything I felt towards them.” Another felt that such brutal honesty was in bad taste and would have no positive impact on how people remember you.

To the woman who liked the idea of settling scores, I would suggest that de-friending some of these people might be preferable to nursing a grudge for two decades on the slim hope that you will pass away while the objects of your scorn are still alive and have active Facebook profiles. If you are that angry, a pipe bomb or planted narcotics may provide a more immediate return on investment. 

Can you imagine trusting career, marriage, and campaign-ending revelations to a Facebook app? It is, perhaps, the most brilliant form of blackmail I have ever seen. It has all of the persuasive implications of a Scientology cleansing session without the prohibitive fees. Do you really trust the makers of Farmville enough to place the unveiling of your sexual orientation, illegitimate children, or Disney-themed buttock tattoo in their hands? What happens if there is a glitch and your confessions gets mixed up with someone else’s?  You might have meant your last Internet contribution to be a comforting word to your children and instead you are confessing to a string of unsolved prostitute murders in Albuquerque. 

While the idea of releasing a juicy post-mortem secret in intriguing, I just feel that there may be too many ways this could go terribly wrong. Let me lay out a scenario:

You setup your account and then chose your three best friends as trustees. Since you all grew up together, they conspire to play a joke on you. One of them initiates “ghost protocol” and the other two corroborate your demise when contacted by the company. The app does send you an e-mail to confirm your death but since you forgot to place their corporate domain in Gmail exclusion list it gets caught in your spam filter and you do not see it. Having received no response from you after the mandatory waiting period, the software assumes you are indeed gone and releases your onslaught of secrets to the world. Later that day, you are surprised to find that your current Facebook status is “I just wanted all of you to know that for the past 15 years I have been writing nursing home-themed erotic novels under the pseudonym Gerry Attricks.”  
To prevent something this from happening, another company will soon begin offering a complimentary app called If I’m Still Alive. This app will monitor your inbox for you to insure that your If I Die notification is automatically responded to. Of course, this application would also require trustees to disable it in the event that you actually did perish and since you would not want to utilize the same three trustees (in order to prevent the aforementioned “prank death” scenario) you would select a totally separate group of friends who would be unlikely to fall into cahoots with the original group.

By this time, you will have realized that you are incredibly fortunate to have two totally separate groups of friends that are trustworthy enough to be given control of your darkest secrets and as a result of this soothing epiphany you no longer find it necessary to leave angry posthumous messages.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Deen & Diabetes


Recently, celebrity butter incorporation guru Paula Deen made headlines when she revealed that she suffered from Type 2 Diabetes and had signed a contract with pharmaceutical conglomerate Novo Nrodisk to promote their treatments for the disease. Deen’s move has been widely criticized as selfish and irresponsible since a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes is consuming the rich, high-fat meals that have become her trademark.

Much has been made of the fact that she has “hidden” the disease for three years and only revealed it publicly because Nova Nordisk’s advertising campaign will be airing soon. The negative response has been strong enough that Deen has agreed to donate a portion of her pharmaceutical earnings to charity.

To be honest, Paula Deen has no responsibility to the public whatsoever when it comes to her health. It is none of our business what she has, how long she has had it, or who she got it from. If she chooses to withhold the fact she is suffering from an alarmingly-common condition I do not see why everyone is taking it personally. I realize that the connection between her condition and diet is particularly apropos considering her profession, but privacy is privacy and we would not be having this conversation if she was diagnosed with Bolivian night herpes.

However, she should not be shocked that people are upset either. After being constantly critiqued for promoting an unhealthy diet, what did she expect? While there is nothing illegal about keeping you medical concerns to yourself, when you make them public for financial gain do not pretend to be taken aback by criticism. Besides, this is America and a vital component of our society is the ability of an enterprising television personality to cash in on her partially self-induced chronic malady through pharmaceutical endorsement contracts. 
Almost as ridiculous as the outcry is the overhyped sympathy might be worse. My wife’s People magazine featured a cover-photo of Paula Deen with the caption “Paula’s Health Crisis!” First of all, while Type 2 Diabetes can be life threatening, Wilford Brimley assured me that it can be managed successfully with vigilance and Medicare. Secondly, this is blatant misuse of both the word “crisis” and an exclamation point. A debilitating brain aneurysm is a health crisis; adult onset diabetes is a treatable condition. If anything, the chemical poisoning from her industrial tooth whitening procedures will kill her long before diabetes will.

Perhaps the biggest impact from “Buttergate” will be in the field of preemptive diagnosis. A recent USA Today article titled “Prediabetes: the silent menace” claims that over 79 Million Americans are suffering from pre-diabetes, a condition that many physicians feel has marginalized by the pre-high cholesterol advertising conglomerate. "Prediabetes is a huge health problem that is not being addressed to the fullest," says certified diabetes educator Hope Warshaw, RD.

I have no problem with vigilance, but don’t we have enough going on without being diagnosed as pre-sick? It is no longer enough to be free of a disease; we must now take measures to insure we do not find ourselves on the cusp of having a disease. It is all very disheartening. Are physicians handing out so much good news that they need to be able to look at a patient and say, “Well Phil, your tests, diet, and overall lifestyle choices are beyond reproach but I cannot in good conscience rule out the possibility that you could be pre-cancerous.”

Sure, one could argue that such steps are just physicians being responsible, but where does it end? Pretty soon your doctor will be gravely informing you that you are in danger of being at risk of being unwell and prescribe you an expensive drug to treat this devastating hypothetical condition. In short order, television will be inundated with ads that feature footage of an elderly couple riding a tandem bicycle while a disembodied voice grimly reminds you that 75% of healthy adults will have a 40% chance of being diagnosed with psoriasis if left untreated.  Like any medication, these preemptive pills will have side effects that will probably include Type 2 Diabetes thus inflicting the very disease that began the epidemic that necessitated the medication. Personally, I’d rather just have the butter……. 


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jediism


Like any self-respecting Caucasian male working in the technology field, I am a Star Wars fan. Lucas’s films deserve credit as a landmark cinematic achievement and understandably attract legions of new fans every generation ensuring that the phenomenon (and Lucas’s net worth) continues to grow unabated. I purchased the overpriced VHS copies only to trade them in for overpriced DVD copies only to discover that my DVD copies were inferiorly re-mastered when the enhanced DVD copies were released several years later. I am drawing the line at Blu-Ray.

That being said, there are those whose admiration of Star Wars far exceeds the purchase of a few DVDs. These brave individuals have adopted Lucas’s galactic opera as a spiritual calling of the highest order. Their religion even has an official title: Jediism. While they have not yet adopted an official position on infant Baptism or atonement, there is a code that all Jedi must adhere to:

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

Before you  dismiss this as the misguided creation of a few socially-inept suburbanites, keep in mind that Jediism now appears on the official census forms in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most recently, the Czech Republic. Not only does it appear on the form, but people are actually identifying it as their practiced religion. When the Czech Republic tabulated its March 2011 census data, they found that over 15,000 considered themselves practicing Jedi. In England and Wales, the number of Jedi exceeded the number of Jews.

Jedi knights have even approached the United Nations to request that the “International Day of Tolerance” be rechristened the “Interstellar Day of Tolerance” in order to include practicing Jedi. The religion’s official site, jedichurch.org, offers membership certificates, mission opportunities, and customized wedding vows. It also featured an ad for something called “Pentecostal Rehab” which I will have to come back to in another post…

At any rate, Jediism’s founder, Daniel Jones (Jedi name Morda Hehol) made headlines in 2009 for refusing to remove his hood while shopping at a Wales supermarket. The store’s manager cited security concerns but Jones insisted he was required to cover his head on religious grounds. Last year, another adherent was asked to remove his hood while visiting an employment center in England. After he complained of discrimination, a district manager issued a written apology explaining that the location’s staff did not intend to offend his beliefs.

Far be it from me to criticize a religion based on the scripted dialogue of a green puppet, but I must point out that Orthodox Jedi Doctrine is either wildly optimistic or woefully unobservant. For instance, let’s take a closer look at principle number two:

“There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.”

Anyone who has ever listened to regional talk radio can tell you that ignorance not only exists, it may actually qualify as its own religious movement. One day I tuned into a discussion about Michael Jackson’s musical legacy only to hear a caller spend two minutes informing the audience that Jackson was overrated and that Pippen had carried him in the 96’ playoffs before the host was able to convince him that Michael Jordan was still alive.

The idea that “there is no chaos, only harmony” was shattered for me the first time I took our nieces and nephews into a Chuck-E-Cheese. The place was decorated as if The Wiggles had taken ownership of Caesar’s Palace. At one point, I came close witnessing a skee-ball induced fatality.

As na├»ve as some of the group’s ideals are, I fear the most damaging could be their denial of death; because the first time Jedi Bob attempts to foil a liquor store robbery with his plastic light-saber the Jedi church will conduct its first funeral. I can hear the eulogy now:

“Jedi Bob died doing what he loved: Adhering to a fictitious religion while attempting to intimidate an armed assailant with a battery-operated toy. While the force was obviously strong with Jedi Bob, it appeared to be stronger with the Crip who bludgeoned him to death with a magazine display unit. Sadly, Jedi Bob was unable to properly defend himself as his peripheral vision was greatly compromised as a result of his ceremonial Old Navy hoodie. May the Force be with him.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brought To You By....


Like many school districts across the country, Jefferson County School District in Colorado is facing massive budget shortfalls. They were facing over $70 million is cuts over the next two years and desperately needed to supplement this lost income. So, they decided to sell advertising space on the one item they knew people would look at: their children’s report cards.

So far, the only client is a state governmental entity called CollegeInvest which distributes college savings programs called 529s. The 2-inch advertisement appears on every elementary school report and the school expects generate around $90,000 over the next three years. The district, like many others, already sells advertisements on the school buses and most of the parents interviewed support the idea as long as discretion is used in the selection of the advertisers.
I personally think that report card advertising is a brilliant idea and Jefferson County should be commended for their creativity. In fact, I do not believe that they are using targeting advertising to its fullest potential. For instance, instead of utilizing the same advertisement for every child, these ads should be uniquely tailored to each child’s situation. This way each parent is exposed to products or services they may actually need. For instance:

  • Billy can legally vote, has an underdeveloped conscience, but still hasn’t passed the 6th grade – Building Contractor Schools
  • Richie gets A’s in Math and Science, attended the Harvest Dance with his own cousin, and was excused from P.E. as a “safety precaution.”   – ITT Tech Pre-Enrollment
  • High School Freshman Suzie has multiple unexcused absences, failing grades, and gets picked up after school by her 25 year old boyfriend in his IROC-Z – Tattoo Removal Services
  • Damien is failing every subject but “occult studies,” constantly tortures puppies, and keeps making thinly-veiled references to a “day of reckoning.” – Criminal Defense Attorneys

In addition to buses and report cards, there are numerous untapped revenue streams within the education system. What about corporate sponsorships for each day’s lesson?  How much harm could it do for the teacher to remind his or her pupils that “Today’s spelling lesson was brought to you by Fast Eddie’s Bail Bonds” or “This carpet time was made possible by Smirnoff Ice”? On their turn in the restroom, the kids could be informed that the ½ ply toilet paper was underwritten by Tucks Medicated Hemorrhoid Pads.

Even the standardized tests should have some sort of revenue stream attached to them. You would not even be allowed to begin answering the math portion of the ACTs until you sat through the theatrical trailer for Love Actually. Bus sponsorships would actually prevent transportation confusion. It can be tough to remember you ride bus 103 and then transfer to bus 65, but what kid would forget that they are supposed to take the Manwhich Mobile before jumping on the Winchester Wagon?

District parents are prudent in requesting stipulations as no one wants to bring grandma to the Kindergarten graduation ceremony sponsored by Dirty Doug’s Adult Bookstore & Bistro, but all in all it seems to be a good way to supplement waning tax revenue while giving local businesses a chance to support public education. In fact, I am not sure that we should limit it primary schools. I would have gladly taken a college tuition reduction in exchange for seeing someone dressed as Chalupa running around the common area or cheaper textbooks that featured a Pabst Blue Ribbon logo.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

God or Booty?


While watching television the other day I noticed two commercials with rather unique approaches to online dating. The first was for Christianmingle.com, a website that promises to “Find God’s Match for You.” With over 5 million registered profiles (1.7 million of them active), it is currently the largest Protestant-specific online dating service available. The site even touts an advisory board comprised of ministers and church leaders to ensure that your dating experience is as fulfilling as possible.
Christian Mingle Success Story - Lesley & Mike

I find the slogan “Find God’s Match for You” somewhat cringe-worthy because the implication is that God has only one specific individual at this point in time with you which you can find romantic fulfillment. Furthermore, the best and perhaps only chance for you to interact with that individual is through a for-profit website which has existed less than a decade and services less than 1% of the total U.S. population. If only the Almighty had been given such a powerful tool earlier, just think of how many people he could have brought together.

The site is owned by publicly-held company Spark Networks, a juggernaut in the world of overly-specific online dating sites. A sampling of their portfolio:

BBWpersonnalsplus.com – Where Big Beautiful Women (BBW) and Big Handsome Men (BHM) can connect.

Interracialsingles.com – The premier site for “singles wanting to date outside their race.”

DeafSinglesConnection.com – They have “thousands of deaf singles looking to date you.”

HurryDate.com – Speed dating service that guarantees you will meet at least eight people your first night or your next party is free!

BlackChristianSingles.com – The website for “finding someone who is black and shares your Christian faith.”

BlackSingles.com – Presumably for African-Americans who do not wish to date outside their race but also do not wish to rule out really hot non-Christians.

Others include specific dating sites for Latter-Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, Jews, the elderly, and Latinos. There is even a Jewish specific bargain hunting site called JPicks.com where Israelites can find “The Chosen Deals.”

While I can understand the allure of looking for specific qualities, perhaps Spark has been a little too granular in their approach. In some cases they may be eliminating more options than they are providing. For instance, just because I do not only date the hearing impaired or non-Caucasians does not mean that I would never date the hearing impaired or non-Caucasian. What happened to keeping your options open?  Pretty soon they will be announcing OneSixteenthCherokeeDivorcedSingles.com or Type2DiabeticAnglicanDateConnection.org.

The second website I saw advertised that day catered to a slightly different demographic that christianmingle.com. The homepage was simple, intuitive, and succinct. A prospective client simply provides the gender, age, and zip code of their desired romantic interest and clicks a button labeled “Find Booty.” Within seconds, you can be browsing hundreds of future regrets and assign each of them a numerical value in the “Rate Booty” section. This magical portal is located at OnlineBootyCall.com and bills itself as America’s #1 Casual Dating Site.

Just in case superficial numerical ratings and ubiquitous use of the term “booty” isn’t enough to vanquish all chivalry, the site has penned their own “Ten Commandments.”
  • There shall be no “pillow talk.”
  • Thou shalt never greet me in public.
  • Thou shalt get out before the sun rises.
  • Thou shalt not ask me to walk thee to thy car.
Maybe I could get on board with the loveless fornication and the blatant disregard for basic human emotion, but I must draw the line at personal safety. These commandments indicate that you should sleep with a stranger and then force them to find their car in total darkness while insisting on complete silence during and after the encounter. I assume this code of silence even extends to the inevitable criminal investigation after your nameless partner is abducted trying to locate their car in an unfamiliar part of town.

What surprised me most about OnlineBootyCall.com is that despite the site’s heavy emphasis on hollow carnal encounters, they still have testimonials where customers brag about finding their current wife or husband. Can you imagine a more awkward moment than talking to one of these couples at a dinner party and waiting on their response to, “So how did you two meet?”

“Well, Harold was trolling the web for meaningless sex one night when he decided to click the “Find Booty” button. Low and behold, my profile popped up and the next thing I know we were being kicked out of the men’s room at a Taco Bell on Interstate 20. Even though he had only given me a 6 on the “Booty Meter” I told him that I would love him like a 9.5 and soon thereafter we decided to make it official and settle down. I don’t know where I would be today if Harold didn’t have such a blatant disregard for traditional courtship.”