Saturday, April 30, 2011

Trump for President!

Over the past several months real-estate tycoon, television personality, and hairstyle terrorist Donald Trump has emerged as a GOP frontrunner in the 2012 presidential race. I can honestly say that a year ago that sentence would have seemed as unlikely as Mel Gibson starring in a major motion picture drama where he spoke exclusively through a child’s hand -puppet that he finds in a dumpster, yet here I am watching a preview for The Beaver directed by Jodi Foster.

At any rate, I find it interesting that the Republican ticket is currently so weak that in the midst of a devastating economic downturn they are willing to pin their hopes on a man who has made a name for himself by trademarking the term “You’re fired!” Most of his recent publicity has come from reviving the outcry over Obama’s birth certificate, one of the most asinine political issues I have ever heard since investigation after investigation by various news organizations, political action groups, and official documents have affirmed the president’s status as an American citizen.

I fully understand why people disagree with Obama's leadership and policies, but is it logical that a polarizing political figure with such wealthy enemies would be allowed to ascend to the most powerful position on earth before someone played that ace if it existed? What Trump wants is someone to come forward with a Polaroid of Obama being christened by Osama Bin Laden at a United States flag burning cookout. All I am saying is that Trump’s obsession with a pure American pedigree is ironic considering he is currently married to a Yugoslavian woman.

In 2000, Trump made waves when he waded into presidential politics by considering running as a third party candidate. At the time, he touted himself as a supporter of universal healthcare and proposed a one-time 14% tax on the estates and trusts of the wealthy in order to alleviate some of the nation debt. Today, he wants to repeal the health care reforms and has decided that a tax on the wealthy is a terrible idea. He registered as a Democrat in 2001 and a Republican in 2009. He has publicly criticized both George W. Bush and Obama’s handling of foreign policy. He contributed to the presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and John Kerry. He even publicly refers to the Chinese as “mother****s” for stealing American jobs yet all of his Trump menswear is manufactured there.

Some might consider his political positions as an exercise in “waffling”. However, nothing is more frightening than his sordid history of business ventures:

  • In the 1980’s he invested in the USFL (United States Football League) by becoming the owner of the New Jersey Generals, because the only thing worse than investing the USFL was deciding to do so by way of New Jersey.
  • From 1989-1992 he owned and operated Trump Airlines, which was never able to turn a profit and soon was repossessed by Citicorp.
  • In 1991 his business filed for bankruptcy due primarily to issues with financing of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.
  • In 1992, The Trump Plaza Hotel filed for bankruptcy after being unable to make loan payments.
  • In 1995 he combined all of his struggling hotels and casinos into a publicly-held company called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. In 2005, the company filed for bankruptcy and changed its name to Trump Entertainment Resorts. In 2009, Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy again.
  • Also in 2009 he launched The Trump Network, an Amway-style direct marketing business that sells (among other things) healthy snack food for children called Snazzle Snaxxs. (You can also purchase these at your local Pink Floyd laser light show.)  
 While his has worked hard to associate his name with extreme wealth and prestige, the truth is that he doesn’t even make the list of the top 150 richest Americans. Those ahead of him include Bruce Halle, owner of Discount Tire, and James Leprino whose company is the world’s leading distributor of mozzarella cheese.

Still, making the top 200 richest Americans is no small feat so exactly where does his wealth come from? It appears that the key to his financial success relies heavily on the fact that people already assume he is financially successful. According to Forbes, the most lucrative part of his fortune is the licensing of his name to real estate projects he has nothing to do with. There are currently 33 major development projects worldwide that are paying heavily to use Trump’s name and/or likeness on their buildings and this licensing makes up $562 million of his entire net worth.

To be fair, while he has certainly made some financial missteps, you have to give the guy credit for marketing his name so cleverly that he can bring a half a billion dollars by trading on his perceived success. It must be pointed out, however, that the portion of the empire that licenses the Trump name is run exclusively by his children. This suggests that the less Donald has to do with something, the more successful it becomes; meaning that if he were to move to Canada and renounce his American citizenship the recession would probably immediately end and Fox would put Arrested Development back on the air.

So essentially we are left with an intermittently-successful businessman who produced children with the financial foresight to safeguard their inheritance by auctioning off their father’s iconic surname to the highest bidder. I suppose we could do worse for a commander-in-chief, but I doubt Dr. Phil had serious plans to run anyway…… 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Severe Weather

Having spent my entire life in an area prone to tornadic activity, I have become somewhat accustomed to the uneasy vigilance that accompanies spring. Every year, warring cold and warm air masses battle for atmospheric supremacy while elevating heart rates and home insurance premiums all over the Southeast.  I will be the first to admit that early warning systems and advances in radar technology have saved countless lives by providing essential preparation time, but I am starting to suspect that we may be pushing the envelope.

My first grievance involves the ridiculous names given to radar technology in an effort to wow and amaze the viewers. These typically involve one or both of the prefixes “Nexrad” or” Doppler” followed by the name of a snake and then a numerical value exceeding 1,000. Every time I flip on the local affiliate I am reassured that the “NexRad Doppler Cobra 8,000” has indicated dangerous rotation and I should seek immediate shelter. In addition to the vague nomenclature, every station’s radar offers clairvoyance packages like “FutureCast Technology” or “IntuiSpectrum Imaging” that promise to not only display the storm’s current condition, but its future plans as well.

With the click of a mouse your weather anchor can magically reveal hail size, lightning strike density, and predicted damage paths. Before long these models will be able to tell us which members of the community will die during the storms the week before they actually occur causing a perceptible disruption in the delicate balance of human free-will and linear space-time.

Meteorologist do perform an invaluable service, but before I know what is happening the simple matter of informing the public of which direction the scary red blob is moving has transformed into a myriad of confusing jargon and on-screen doodles. The last time I tuned on the TV to find out if I needed to repent or go back to bed, the radar screen looked like John Madden was explaining a pass-rush to five year olds.

I dare say that most radar images tend to be somewhat intuitive. Long before Homeland Security implemented a color-coded warning system Doppler radar images everywhere had implemented a simple hue-based enhancement:

Green = Rain
Yellow = Thunderstorm
Red = Scary thunderstorm
Purple/White = Wet yourself

I would also like to address the overall decline in informative commentary. I fully realize the inherent need to continue filling airtime with dialogue, especially when the majority of the broadcasting area can read a map unaided, but the last time I was tuned in during an overnight severe weather outbreak I heard the meteorologist state that “It is much more difficult to visually identify a tornado at night than it is during the day, that is why tornados at night are more dangerous.”

If this is the only advancement humanity has made in the field of meteorology over the past few decades, then someone needs to review NOAA’s funding levels. These observations, coupled with asinine safety tips like “Large flying debris can cause serious injury” or “Viewers residing in homemade pop-up campers may wish to seek alternative shelter” only add to my suspicion that despite all of our scientific innovations and accumulated knowledge,  we are only guessing at what mother nature will do.    

This has certainly not kept the industry from creating new products and methodologies to supplement the unknown variables. With that in mind I have a whole list of quasi-scientific sounding weather-related device names and terms that I would be willing to license:

  • Gravitationally-enhanced reflectivity imaging
  • Laser-assisted wavelength Doppler
  • Atmospheric moisture velocity detection
  • Algerian vortex-abatement scanning
  • Terrestrial Wind Investigative Scanning-Technology Enhanced Radar (TWISTER)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Healing Mail

Last week I received a mysterious looking envelope in the mail. The outside was adorned with bold script underlined in red that clearly indicated that Jesus would “spiritually, physically, and financially bless the one whose hands open this letter.” Suddenly glad that I was the one who normally got the mail, I began speculating as to what sort of transformation awaited me once I opened this mysterious correspondence.

I certainly liked the “financial blessing” aspect of the proposal and immediately began researching whether I wanted my Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan in Iridium Silver Metallic or Palladium Silver Metallic (and whether or not I wanted to become the type of person that knew the difference between the two). I also found the promise of “physical blessing” alluring since I am extremely myopic and poop a lot when I am nervous, and there was no way I was going to take a chance of soiling the supple leather interior of my Palladium Silver Metallic Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Envelope O' Blessing

Seated on my couch, I slowly broke the envelope’s seal and waited expectantly for the supernatural transformation to both my checking account and unreliable colon. Peering inside I found several folded pieces of paper surrounded by a letter addressed thusly: “Dear Someone Connected with This Address,”

Undeterred by the impersonal greeting, I forged ahead and realized that several steps must be completed in order to receive said blessing. First I had to unfold the enclosed “prayer rug” and stare into the image of Jesus printed on the front until he appeared to stare back. Then, I am to kneel on this “Rug of Faith” and fill out the checklist indicating if I would like “a new car, a money blessing or a better job.” There is even a specific line to indicate the exact of money I wish to be blessed with.

For the skeptical, they included a brochure with testimonials from other recipients who have received a blessing by following these easy steps.

  • Someone from Pennsylvania was blessed “with over $5,000.”
  • Mrs. O.C. from California received a “new car and job.”
  • L.B. from Maryland received $10,700 and a car.
As I read over the testimonials, I could not help but wonder at what point God became a prosperity vending machine. Am I to understand that a six figure income and a German car are but a religious petition away? That the impoverished children of the world go to bed hungry due to a simple lack of righteous faith? Could my grandmother have won her battle against cancer had she been in possession of this parcel?

I noticed that the organization accepted donations to continue “God’s work” and that the return address was Saint Matthew’s Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a little research, I discovered an article in the Tulsa World newspaper that claimed the tax-exempt organization brought in as much as $6 million in donations a month and was helmed by Rev. James Eugene Ewing. The good reverend has been criticized for living in a lavish Beverly Hills townhouse while his organization allegedly uses census data to target the impoverished and uneducated for money.

While I can only speak for myself, I assure you that my personal lack of poverty in no way correlates to my inherent righteousness. I know countless individuals who live on much less but give back much more. Where are the private schools for their children? Why do they struggle to keep the lights on? Do their prayers go unanswered simply because they lacked the mass-mailed accessories?I have no patience for those who claim to speak for God and insist that an individual’s income or health directly fluctuates with their intrinsic “goodness” or willingness to give someone money. 

Anyone spreading that message should be required to look directly into people’s eyes when they are laid off or find out that their child is seriously ill and tell them “If God liked you more or if you had sent me a check this wouldn’t have happened.” Of course, that is tough to do when you spend your days tucked away in Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bigfoot & Aliens

Several days ago, news agencies were reporting that North Carolina resident Thomas Byers had allegedly come into contact with the elusive Sasquatch also known as “Bigfoot.” According to Byers, he and a friend were driving along a rural highway when they spotted the creature as it emerged from a nearby field. They then parked the vehicle, fired up a camcorder that they had with them and filmed the animal’s progress across the highway from about fifteen feet away. The resulting six seconds of footage have been offered by the duo of irrefutable evidence corroborating their version of events. 

After watching the video, several characteristics of it bother me:

First and foremost is the quality. Why is it that every time a teenager takes one to the plumbs or a tornado touches down in Arkansas high-definition footage appears all over YouTube, but when an alien spacecraft appears or Sasquatch drives by in a Chevy Tahoe everyone’s cutting-edge imaging devices suddenly looks like the Zapruder film?

This guy is standing fifteen feet away from a seven-foot tall slow moving object and his Amish-built camcorder cannot so much as discern facial features. What‘s more, while the footage is so blurry it could have been shot through Vaseline-coated stained-glass, the microphone is miraculously able to pick up the animal’s grunts without so much as an inkling of ambient noise.    

And while I am on the subject, I find it hard to believe that in a world where practically everyone over the age of ten is in possession of a smart-phone, aliens just can’t seem to appear in front of anyone with auto-focus. Lindsay Lohan can’t exit a Costco bathroom without verifiable footage hitting the Internet but let a mutated ape-monster wander across a state highway and suddenly we are all caught off guard and unable to find the camera function on our iPhones.  

The second problem is logic. In order for this creature’s existence to be plausible, we must accept that a 7 to 10 foot tall carnivorous beast has been able to hunt, procreate, and die for hundreds of years without producing a single piece of verifiable evidence to its existence. Furthermore, if such a beast did manage to largely elude the detection of humanity, it is somewhat doubtful that it would wave at curious motorists as he crossed paved highways.

The third problem is credibility. Why is it that Bigfoot only appears to people who already believe that he exists? According to his site, Thomas and his female companion were riding around looking to film floating “orbs” at old churches when they came across the mythical creature. Poor Sasquatch just can’t manage to stumble upon a normal camera-wielding citizen to save his life. It’s always two guys on their way to a ferret-themed disco cookout or some woman who just happens to host a chupacabra dating service.

When asked if the creature he filmed could have been a man in a suit, Byers insisted that he could clearly see Bigfoot’s “male parts” and “anal region.” In his mind this eliminated the possibility of a human in a costume because most costumes are not so anatomically correct. I find it disturbing that he was unable to discern the eye color, facial features, or even number of fingers possessed by the animal (supposedly due to the fading daylight), but spotting Biggie’s poo-shooter was no problem.

I am not saying that it is impossible for Bigfoot or even aliens to exist; I am just saying that it is far more likely that this was grainy footage of a guy who lost a bet and was able to procure a disturbingly-detailed Sasquatch costume.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Phone Surveys

Surveys are an important part of our world. Their results can impact everything from political strategy to marketing campaigns by aggregating the opinions of an organization’s target demographic. I also find them quite annoying and go to great lengths to avoid them, which is ironic since I obviously have some intrinsic need to share my opinion with anyone who will listen. Last month, I made an exception for a home improvement store here in town and was reminded why I should never make exceptions.

My wife and I had recently purchased a new dishwasher, as the one that came with the house began to sound like a cement mixer and seemed to actually produce food particles rather than remove them, and we had decided to allow them to install it since the option was made rather affordable by a special they were running. I was told at the store that an employee would call me after the dishwasher was in place to ascertain my level of satisfaction with both the dishwasher and the “installation professional” they provided with it.

 Soon afterward, the appliance was installed and as promised I received a call from my local store and was politely asked if there had been any negative aspects to my Lowes experience. I replied that I was fully satisfied and praised the installer’s skill as well as his punctuality. The exchange was brief and to the point and my stance began to soften toward surveys.

Unfortunately, my answers were not critical enough and I was passed to the corporate survey team because a few days later a strange number appeared on my cell phone. When I answered, a young woman identified herself as a Lowes employee and requested that I complete a brief survey concerning the dishwasher. I reluctantly agreed.

The survey began as most do, with an unnecessarily-confusing numerical scale and deceptively worded questions like “One a scale of 1 – 13 with 1 meaning that you strongly disagree and 13 meaning that you do not strongly disagree, how well did the installation correlate to your pre-sales expectation of said installation?”  It took me so long to respond to the questions, I believe she suspected that I had taken the call in the midst of a bowel evacuation.

We continued in this manner for several minutes as she asked me to rate the installer’s courteousness, quality of work, and professionalism. All standard questions and I made sure and gave him high marks. Our next exchange, however, caught me off guard:

“Mr. Taylor, how would rate the installer’s appearance?”
“Are you asking me if I found dishwasher guy attractive?”
“You may interpret the question any way you wish, Mr. Taylor.”
“Well, the way I interpret it is that it sounds as if you asking me to rate the physical appearance of a complete stranger using only a numerical scale.”
“It’s just a question, nothing more.”
“Are there any criteria? Do I deduct points for an offensive odor or asymmetrical facial hair?”
Long sigh, followed by about 10 seconds of awkward silence
“He didn’t do much for me, but he had a good personality so I will give him a strong 6.”
“Great, let’s continue.”

I am still not sure what valuable data was to be mined from that particular question and to be honest, as long as the guy is wearing pants and the dishwasher doesn’t leak I would have been content with the provided service.

I reassured myself that we must be nearing the end of the survey but soon enough we wandered into more uncomfortable territory. For some reason Lowes was very keen on discovering which ethnicity purchases their dishwashers and how much that particular ethnicity brought home annually. I wonder if there is a home improvement think-tank somewhere reading over these survey results and discovering for the first time that white people who make less than $100,000 a year purchase dishwashers. I imagine they will utilize this new information to step up their advertising presence on the WB primetime lineup and during professional bowling tournaments on ESPN3.

When I worked at a music store in high school, we began screening new employees using a “morality phone survey” that asked them a series of multiple choice questions designed to ascertain an applicant’s level of trustworthiness. Most of the questions were in the following format:

If you were working the sales floor and discovered that your mother was in the store shoplifting, would you:
  1. Follow store procedure by alerting the manager and treat her like any other suspected violator.
  2. Pretend you didn’t see it and hope that she did not get caught.
  3. Assist her by turning off the anti-theft system at the door.

As you can imagine, such a rigorous filter insured that we would only hire individuals of the highest moral character. Of course, we still had some internal theft but the test made certain that the scofflaws working the inside were not complete morons and thus unlikely to be immediately caught.
Perhaps the music store test could be adapted for politicians…..

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vehicular Overshare

Over the past several years, a disturbing trend has taken hold in America that threatens the very safety of our children. I refer to it as “vehicular overshare” and it occurs when a proud parent utilizes automobile decals to proclaim their offspring’s hobbies/interests/accomplishments to the rest of the driving public. Stereotypically these decals appear on SUV’s or mini-vans and include the child’s name paired with a baseball or a set of pom-poms to associate each youngster with their chosen activity.

As harmless as this may seem, I find it ironic that we will go to great lengths to protect our children from predators by talking to them about strangers or coaching them on what not to divulge on the Internet and yet we willingly advertise the most valuable information a predator can have on the back of our cars.

For example, my wife and I were recently in Louisiana and found ourselves behind a Chevrolet Tahoe on the Interstate. From the 45 seconds sitting behind them I learned that the following: 

  • They have a daughter named Claire who is a ballet enthusiast.
  • Claire attends the Fran Trezvent School of Dance.
  • The Fran Trezvent School of Dance is probably located in Allen Parish.
  •  Claire is most likely an only child.
  • Claire is probably between the ages of 8-13.
  • Claire’s mommy has not yet located the turn signal on said Tahoe.
    The first two facts were plainly discernible from the decal that had Claire’s name spelled out between two ballet shoes below the words “Fran Trezvent School of Dance.” I can surmise location of the dance school since glancing at the license plate told me the car was registered in the Allen Parish. I inferred that she was an only child because her name appeared on both sides of the rear glass leaving little room for the accomplishments of younger siblings. Her age was a guess based on the fact that she did not appear to be in a car seat but was probably not yet at the age where she would have insisted her mom remove such “embarrassing” decals.

    Keep in mind, this was all without looking up the school in question on Google and reading an online schedule to determine the exact date and time Claire’s age group would normally meet. Some parents have even chosen to add “stick figure family” decals that would confirm the existence, number and names of Claire’s brothers and sisters. Very often these decals will include the dog or cat’s name which is often used as a safety word for a young child being picked up by a relative.

    Personally, I plan to use “vehicular overshare” to protect my children by throwing would-be predators off the trail. I have designed a “stick figure family” decal that will utilize androgynous silhouettes and false hobbies to misdirect those with nefarious intent. For instance:

    Child A’s name with be Trachea and they will be on the shuffleboard team at the “Triscuit Academy for the Violently-Disturbed Blind.”

    Child B’s name will be Honorarium and they will be deeply involved in competitive hatchet tossing at the “Dixieland Militia Pre-school Academy.”

    Both children will enjoy playing with our parrot “Mesothelioma” and our pet llama “Marie Callender” when we are not attending services at the “Greater Unitarian Agnostic Worship Bunker.”

    I believe that in some ways the trend is a natural extension of the auto decals that were popular when I was in high school. These usually consisted of a man’s name on the driver side of the vehicle and a woman’s name on the passenger side. Apparently they served as a constant reminder to other motorists that “Billy’s” commitment to “Cindy” is every bit as serious as a removable vinyl decal would suggest.

    In fact, the window decal seemed to replace the class ring as the symbolic commitment of choice amongst high school kids. Once a girl’s name was enshrined on the window of somebody’s Chevy S-10 she was as good as betrothed. Many times the couple’s demise would be marked by a somber ceremony whereby the truck’s owner would peel away his girlfriend’s name, and by extension, her betrayal.

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    Why Evolution May Be Overrated

    As some of you already know, I have a three-year old Brittany Spaniel named Sandy. Under normal circumstances she is an outdoor pet but a few months ago nighttime temperatures dropped into the single digits and we decided to allow her to sleep indoors. The event was not unprecedented and per our routine she was giving unfettered access to the living room.

    We closed all of the bedroom doors, hid the garbage can, and shut the pantry to remove any culinary temptation. She obediently settled onto a couch cushion while Ashley and I went to bed. The next morning when I emerged from the bedroom to take Sandy out, she was lying prostrate in the middle of the living room floor surrounded by the remnants of a half-dozen Kellogg’s Apple Cinnamon Nutri-Grain Bars.

    Sandy (pre-sedition)

    Peeking around the corner, I realized that we must have neglected to completely latch the pantry door and she had jimmied it open at some point during the night. It was then that I noticed my brand new box of Quaker Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars was lying empty in the middle of the kitchen floor. After a short investigation, I concluded that Sandy had begun her evening meal by eating 10 Chocolate Quaker Bars (including foil wrappers) and then finishing off with the Nutri-Grain Bars.

    Concerned about the possible side effects such a large intake of chocolate would have on our canine, we called the vet who advised us that based on the animal’s weight and the nature of the product ingested she was not in immediate danger. She was careful to warn us however, that our pet would likely suffer from a case of “digestive pyrotechnics” over the next twenty-four hours. We cleaned up the evidence and scoured the house to make sure that there was no other contraband.    

    Just as promised, within the next twelve hours our beloved Sandy began experiencing what can only be described as “Category 5” defecation. The following day she could be observed prairie-dogging her way across the back yard every forty-five minutes or so. This, coupled with the unbearable odors emanating from every orifice of her body, made it difficult to eat meals at home. Within a few days her lower intestines had stabilized and the frigid temperatures necessitated that she spend another night in the living room.

    My wife and I carefully double-checked the pantry door to insure that we did not experience a repeat of the last indoor fiasco and went to bed. About thirty minutes later, I re-emerged to get a glass of water from the kitchen and surprised Sandy who was enjoying a Nutri-Grain bar. Incensed, I ran to the pantry and confirmed that the door was latched just as I had left it. This meant that either my dog had overcome the absence of opposable thumbs or there was some sort of canine witchcraft at work.

    I summoned my wife from bed and together we observed Sandy happily licking the last few crumbs of whole-grain deliciousness from the floor while wagging her recently-soiled tail. For several moments we pondered our next move and Ashley decided that we must have missed something in our initial sweep. For the next few minutes we tossed our living room like a Riker’s Island prison cell until we discovered the mother-load.

    There, under the one of the armchair’s seat cushions, was the location of Sandy’s stash. Apparently cognoscente of the unprecedented opportunity the open pantry door provided, she had gorged herself until full and then hidden an insurance policy in the chair. Much to Sandy’s chagrin, Ashley and I carefully removed her goodies from the chair’s various crevices and placed them back into the pantry.

    The next night Ashley was sitting in the “stash” chair most of the night and Sandy seemed unusually interested in unseating her. After several episodes of indiscriminate barking failed to capture my wife’s attention, Sandy went to the back door and barked once to indicate she needed to go to the bathroom. Ashley reluctantly vacated the chair to open the back door and Sandy seized the opportunity to run past her and begin frantically searching the cushion for items we might have missed. Satisfied that nothing remained of her forbidden treasures, Sandy dropped her head in dejection and sat back down on the floor having never gone to the bathroom.  

    Such cunning is impressive until you consider than my dog is unable to extricate herself after getting wrapped around a telephone pole. Complex indoor subversion is no problem for her but God help us if we ask her to walk back around a pole the same way she came. You can almost see the fear in her eyes as she comes to terms with the fact that she is going to die from starvation, but when I walk her back around the pole it is if hope has returned to the world. Perhaps the only thing standing between her and world domination is buried utilities….

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Homeowner's Associations

    Since I was a young man, I had aspired to live in a neighborhood desirable enough to sustain a homeowner’s association. The promise of elevated home values, resulting from gently-enforced esthetic constraints, seemed like an idyllic way to run a neighborhood. After all, no one wants to invest decades of their income in a dream home only to see the lot beside them bulldozed to make room for their newly-paroled neighbor’s meth-trailer/recording studio.

    When my wife and I purchased our first house (an experience that I detail here) we were unable to afford such a utopian slice of heaven so we acquired a dwelling in a traditional neighborhood. I could not be happier. It appears that homeowner’s associations may be the greatest threat to the American way of life this side of Al Qaeda. In fact, many of the groups have evolved into a form of “residential Taliban” intent on snuffing out dissention in any form it presents itself.  

    Take little Jessica Cohen, who got together with some other elementary school children to open up a neighborhood lemonade stand. They sold the cold beverage to passersby’s and donated the money to the school attended by a disabled friend, but the homeowner’s association that governs their Palm Beach neighborhood is shutting them down because of a restriction operating a home based-business.

    In another Florida town, a homeowner’s association in Edgewater is considering a proposal that would specifically ban “games of tag and loud toys” along with prohibiting any child from playing outside without adult supervision. Violations would result in fines up to $100.

    In April of 2000, 61 year old Richard Glassel walked into a homeowner’s association meeting in Peoria, Arizona and opened fire on the board killing two members after an altercation concerning the height of his hedges.

    In 2006, a homeowner’s association in Pagosa Springs, Colorado made news when they demanded a resident to remove a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign. The association considered the decoration “divisive” because some residents felt it was offensive to deployed troops or even satanic.

    In 2009, 90-year-old retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot found himself in a fight with his Richmond, Virginia homeowner’s association when they demanded he remove his American flag and flag-pole from his front yard. The Congressional Medal of Honor winner was asked to remove it after the association decided it violated the neighborhood’s “aesthetic guidelines.” 

    In 1998, North Carolina resident Mike Perkins was threatened with legal action for having the audacity to mow his own lawn. The homeowner’s association requires each homeowner to pay a fee to the same lawn crew so that all of the yards look “uniform.” Perkins continued to pay the fee but just felt that he did a better job.

    In 2005, residents of the Majestic Oaks Subdivision in Ocala, Florida were forced to turn away Hurricane Katrina Evacuees. The issue came up when a resident wanted to temporarily house a family who was now homeless due to the storm. The association insisted that it was a clear violation of the stipulation against multiple families in a single dwelling.

    I could understand the consternation of the HOA if little Jessica and her friends were running an investment firm out of the house, but perhaps bringing down the hammer on a disabled children’s fund is a tad heavy-handed. After doing some research, it appears that Homeowner’s Associations have more power than I thought. This leads me to my other aspiration: to create an illogically-strict residential dictatorship.

    My neighborhood association will have the following stipulations:
    •  All shrubbery must be trimmed in the shape of a former Federal Reserve Chairman
    • Anyone’s dog caught defecating on a neighbor’s lawn will be beaten to death with an unabridged copy of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.
    • If any resident is caught fertilizing their grass with value-brand chemicals, one family heirloom will be forcibly removed from their home and smashed in front of their children.
    • If guests are being entertained at your home and parking spills out onto the street, all vehicles must be parked alphabetically by manufacturer. Failure to observe this stipulation will result in the immediate revocation of “domestic socialization privileges.”
    • Christmas decorations left up after January 1st will elicit a profanity-laced verbal warning and violations thereafter will evoke immediate liquidation of the resident’s IRA accounts.
    • All exterior illumination must be provided by fixtures in the approved Neo-Grecian Revival Style. The use of outdoor wall sconces will result in immediate suspension of sidewalk privileges.
    • Any resident caught harboring crabgrass will be fined $150 and shot in the left knee-cap from close range.
    • Birdfeeders are allowed by permit only. Unlicensed bird-seed dispensaries will be rigged with explosives and the youngest member of the offending family will be forced to detonate the bomb during peak feeding time.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Cloud Girlfriend

    A few weeks ago, San Diego based financial analyst David Fuhriman launched a side business called Cloud-Girlfriend. Although it is not fully operational, the premise is that you will pay a fee to the site and in return they will allow you to “invent” a girlfriend. You will provide the characteristics that you look for in a counterfeit mate and a real woman will provide a real picture of herself and interact with you on Facebook in order to make you look appealing to the women that you actually want to date.

    It is the technological equivalent of a single man wearing a wedding ring to pick up chicks. The idea is that since you already appear to be desirable to someone, you must have some redeeming qualities that would be desirable to everyone. I suppose the ultimate success of such a strategy depends on whether or not those redeeming qualities are substantial enough to mitigate the fact that you are conniving pathological liar who felt that presenting himself as an adulterous schmuck was a viable alternative to his actual personality.

    The site’s tagline is that “the easiest way to get a girlfriend is to already have one” and in an interview with CNET, the founder defended the legitimacy of such a service by insisting that customers “will interact with a real person and see real profile images of the girl with whom they interact. This interaction can build confidence and esteem as well as provide real training experiences in navigating a friendship and a relationship."

    The “cloud girlfriend” would post things on your wall, send message to you, and even allow you to change your status to list her as your current relationship. She will even interact with your skeptical friends and acquaintances. All of this will serve to convince the girl you actually want to date that if she does not act soon 
    your cloud girlfriend is going to “drink her milkshake.”

    At the current time, the site is accepting e-mail addresses from people who wish to take advantage of the service as soon as it is available; and I truly believe that the only thing more embarrassing than paying to create a pretend Facebook girlfriend is waiting in line for the chance to pay to create a pretend Facebook girlfriend.

    That is not to say that the idea is not inspired because David Fuhriman has created a nearly foolproof way to ensure his customers do not default on their accounts. Presumably, if you refuse to settle up on your bill then your cloud girlfriend would begin publicly reminding you on your own Facebook wall that you owe her money. 

    I imagine this would be quite effective since the only thing more embarrassing than waiting in line to create a fake online girlfriend is being unable to afford her. Nothing says “I’m a catch” like having your credit score negatively affected by defaulting on your imaginary girlfriend.

    I do wonder if the service also includes a certain number digitally altered photos that show you and your cloud girlfriend together. Does it cost extra for her to remember your birthday or pretend that she let you get to second base? Do I get a discount if I purchase two cloud girlfriends and instruct them to publicly squabble over being the object of my affections?

    Some have wondered if such a service is a hoax despite Mr. Fuhriman’s insistence to the contrary. While the idea does seem absurd, it would be unwise to underestimate the lengths that men will go to in order to meet attractive women. Besides, the idea is not that revolutionary. The website charges $1.95 a week to send sweet text messages to your phone in order make your friends jealous and it seems to be doing pretty well.

    Perhaps the most baffling aspect is that CloudGirlfriend doesn’t offer anything that you can’t do yourself. Theoretically anyone could acquire a photo of an attractive girl, open an email account in her name and create a Facebook page for her a la’ Catfish. So I guess at this point I need some female perspective. As a woman, which would be more attractive in a potential mate?

    1. A man who paid an online service to create an artificial mate in order to impress you with his desirability.
    2. A man who spent time to fabricate his own artificial mate in order to impress you with his desirability.

    I am genuinely curious to hear your responses on this so please feel free to weigh in.