Friday, June 29, 2012

The Dark Side Of Life

 I saw something at the store a few days ago that greatly disturbed me:



This is, quite frankly, straight-up blasphemy. Every red-blooded American knows full well that the proper way to eat Life cereal is to pour it in a bowl, dump some milk in there, wait about the two seconds it takes to let it get soggy, and then eat it, bringing heaps of mushy, vaguely sugar-ish mounds of carbs to your mouth. It's an absolute, incredible delight that should not be overlooked nor taken for granted.

What they hope to accomplish with his nonsense is beyond me. I don't mind this monstrosity being released as a cereal, of course--there are plenty of packaged grains that I don't care for (I'm looking at you, Grape Nuts)--but don't drag Life cereal's brand name into it. Life is reserved for that wonderful, soggy tradition.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health Care

I am not going to write too terribly much about the Supreme Court's decision concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, because there isn't much to say that already hasn't been said. Suffice it to say it does some things good (in the worst way possible), a lot of things bad, and whatever high-end estimate of how much this is going to cost will be laughably low. (Plus the constitutional precedent of considering the ACA a "tax" does not portend well for the future of the Roberts Court, but we will wait and see for that.) I probably will get into the electoral impact of this, but I am already tired of the whole thing.

However, I will take this time to pimp, for those who are interested, my C2R Patented Two-Step Solution To Solve All Health Care Problems In America (tm). It's not a cure for all of health care's ills, but I still think it holds up as a plan that can be debated

Monday, June 25, 2012

Too Many Vampires

Over the weekend my wife and I saw two movies at the drive-in*: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows. Both vampire-based films, they combined them together as a double bill. Sadly, my review for both of them ends up a mediocre "meh."

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was a book by Seth Graham-Smith; I reviewed it last year. It was a pretty good book. However, upon hearing the plot line of the movie, I was a bit worried, because it didn't really seem to fit how the book itself progressed. In the book, the focus is on Abraham's pre-Presidency days, only converting to his role as commander in chief once the true nature of the Confederacy became clear. All of the summaries seemed to indicate that this was primarily a war movie, which didn't bode well for the most fun in the book, which was the Dracula-slayin'.

Well, thankfully, that's not the case--but, sadly, it's not much better, either. The movie splits the pre- and post-Presidency roughly in half, and everything more or less makes logical sense with how they did it. That said, the movie is an absolute mess. They try to cram as much as they can into as few scenes as possible, and things progress much too quickly to make much sense. Enemies appear out of nowhere, new weapons get crafted without the viewer's knowledge, and we can't care that much about any characters because they come and go to quickly (or they get so little screen time as to be superfluous.) And the climax of the film (spoiler alert) is a train wreck that seems to go on for about six hours and is the least exciting explosion in the history of film. 

And, of course, the movie takes itself waaaay too seriously. This is the sort of action/fantasy flick that can still be "serious" while offering a bit of well-crafted levity; sadly, this film is written with a remarkably somber tone. (To be fair, the book was also written this way, but it was written in such a manner that it made sense.) Since they took out all of the character development to add unnecessary explosions, you'd think they would also take the opportunity to make it what it really is: a slightly campy mashup of historical fiction and fantasy.

Of course, that's more or less what they did with Dark Shadows. I've never watched the amazingly shitty fantasy soap opera it was based off of, but I was at least aware of it. And I've always had a lukewarm appreciation for Tim Burton; while I find most of his movies to be visually stunning, the movies themselves are never quite right and I always leave feeling disappointed. And so it was with Dark Shadows. I was expecting a solid vampire story laced with humor and action. And while that's been provided, it does end up being an uneasy mix of culture-shock humor and deadpan pretentiousness. Also--more importantly--the plot is a mess. (Again, spoilers.) While the base story makes sense, we're supposed to care about who owns the fishing industry in a small Maine town? I get that it's a proxy for their competitive personalities and a frame for their overall conflict, but they spend an awful lot of time showing people doing fish-related activities for no reason.

None of the characters are set up properly, because there are too many of them and the movie isn't given enough time for us to do much with them. We are introduced to Victoria Winters at the start of the movie, and then she is effectively forgotten until the final scene. Likewise, Michelle Pfeiffer's character starts off promisingly, but then simply vanishes in importance once Angelique arrives. (Thankfully, once Angelique is introduced, her character is somewhat interesting and starts moving things along.)  A subplot about seeing the youngest child's mother in the form of a ghost is repeatedly revisited, but the resolution is cringingly unsatisfying and isn't worth the amount of screen time they devoted to it in the first half of the movie. (All that BS just to drop a chandelier on someone? Like that's some major thing?) And the final battle scene has more deus ex machinas than should be legally permitted. It's a huge letdown and there are so many logical missteps that it's actually somewhat embarrassing.

The movie operates best when it's trying to be humorous. The culture shock of spending two centuries in a box, and then our own culture shock of revisiting the early 70s, is done well (if a little too much). But, sadly, not enough of the movie is like this, and is largely a combination of the Tim Burton special: throw a bunch of half-formed but pretty ideas at the screen, and then let Johnny Depp (and/or Helena Bonham Carter) run around being creepy.

Neither of these movies are bad movies. But they are both very sloppy movies, and it's clear they were made to cash in on the current vampire craze. The fact that both were based off of existing property makes it a shame that they turned out poorly. I can't recommend either to see in a theater, but they'll be good enough for the Redbox or Netflix. (Or, better yet, read the book.)

*Yes, these still exist.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Flash of Murder

One of my good friends, Jeff Boarts, recently published a book, A Flash of Murder. It's a good, solid mystery and has the extra added bonus of being set in my hometown.

Not only do I encourage you to read it, I encourage you to buy multiple copies. Also, check out his blog for more information about the book (and, I expect, some thoughtful analysis).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mad Men: Season Five Review

Last week was the last episode of season five of Mad Men. I've avoided talking about it too much because of the nature of the show: with only 13 episodes per season and about 4000 different important characters, events seem to transpire quickly. This is also the first season I have watched live; I didn't start watching the show until the elongated hiatus between seasons 4 and 5 while the actors and creators were negotiating their contracts. (And, in true Netflix fashion, we watched four years worth of the series in about a weekend and a half, which is how it should be done in a modern society.)

Anyway, at this point I should mention there are spoilers in the below, so if you haven't watched Mad Men, you should get cracking and come back when you're done.

The overarching themes of the series this season were the following:

  • Short, Dry Summer: There were plenty of predictions about what this season was going to be about. Many people thought this would be the year that Mad Men confronted the issue of race head-on. The time frame is right--it was a year of protests and rioting, after all--and while the series had always referenced it, there were very few examples of directly addressing it. And it seemed to be that way--the opening scene depicted a street protest and the first episode ended with an awkward transition to a multi-racial workplace. And then...nothing. Aside from one minor side story in the middle of the season, it really wasn't talked about at all.
  • Let Me Know When It's Time: The recurring imagery all season was one of suicide. Some were subtle (the life insurance pitch), and some were quite blatant (missing an elevator car?). At the beginning of the season, there were about six good candidates--everyone from Sally Draper to Pete Campbell were possible victims. By the end of the season, we all pretty much knew who it was going to be, and it was just going to be a manner of when and how (and a faint hope that it wouldn't happen). 
  • Back-Burner Betty: I'm not sure if it was due to January Jones's pregnancy, but Betty Francis was hardly in this season. She was in only four episodes this season, and only one of them ("Tea Leaves") really focused on her in any significant way. Sally got more screen time then her. Partly it's simply due to the storyline--she's no longer married to Don, so she really can't be a daily occurrence, but it's still odd to see her so little after she was a mainstay.  
  • Too Much Megan: Although I don't hate the character of Megan, she has effectively replaced the Betty character slot. But after seeing Don being a scumbag to Betty, it's, well...boring to see him bend over backwards for such a needy and annoying person. Based on how the series ended, it's possible this will change, but quite frankly there was just too much teeth this season.
  • What's this show about, again? While I certainly love all of the characters and side plots, I sometimes feel like the central reason for the show--the advertising industry--is forgotten in the shuffle. Sure, there were some major plot lines detailing gaining clients such as Jaguar and Mohawk, but more often than not it seems like an afterthought. I realize the show has always been like that, but lately it seems more pronounced.
  • Someone needs to punch Pete again. It's awesome every time it happens. Thankfully, this season, it happens a lot.
  • I Already Miss Lane. Lane Pryce was one of my favorite characters, so it was sad (but inevitable) when he left. I think he filled a needed place in the firm--that of the prudent, moral center--that will need to be filled. (Draper won't be doing that now, of course, and Cooper is too old and out of touch to have the energy.) Will Joan be able to do that? She certainly has the taskmaster role down pretty good and she's already proposing decisions with the thought of "What would Lane do?" Still, her character seems ill-fitted to do that, which means someone new will have to fill it or someone will have to have a major personality shift (say, due to the ingestion of hallucinatory narcotics, perhaps?)
Is this Mad Men's best season? No, although I think it has some of the best episodes. Sadly, with two main story arcs (Pete's relationship with Rory Gilmore and everything having to do with Megan) being particularly, well, boring, a lot of the season seemed to drag. In addition, this season started to do some gimmicks that weren't executed very well. In "Mystery Date," Don dreamed a large part of the episode (with the viewer unsure as to what is real and what isn't) due to a fever; it ended up just being a mess. Likewise, in "Far Away Places," the episode is done showing three different stories running at the same time so that they overlap...but none of the stories really have anything to do with each other, so the mechanic is completely wasted. A lot of throwaway scenes seem to add little (such as Ginsberg's father), although I'm willing to overlook it for future developments. And one or two of the episodes were just downright boring and barely advanced the overall story at all.  With a season only having 13 episodes, getting 3 or 4 dogs isn't a particularly good percentage.

That said, it's also opened up opportunity for a lot of new and interesting things to happen. The season itself was pretty good and it made me want to know how the firm is going to develop. This season seemed to have an uneven pace--some things progressed remarkably slow, while other important story lines seemed to jump quickly to a conclusion. But those things don't necessarily devalue the interest of the plot itself, which is still quite fascinating. I am kind of over the real-life timeline that's been a mainstay in the past, so I'm glad there was very little of it this season (although I can't imagine things such as the Vietnam War not being incorporated by the end of the series). In addition, some of the criticisms I've listed above seem particularly well-suited to be addressed in the future, so I'm looking forward to more.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Someone Needs To Get Everyone At Slate A Nice, Relaxing Colonic

I enjoy the online magazine Slate, and have for years. Along with Salon, it was one of the first magazines to try the online-only format only, and has managed to collate a collection of some of the finest news analysis around. Sure, it's never been perfect, and given the fact that it produces much more content than a traditional monthly general interest magazine, there's bound to be some hiccups along the way. Still, it's been a remarkably robust information source for quite some time now.

That said, I've noticed a trend. Not terribly long after it was sold to the Washington Post (from Microsoft), the format and content changed a bit. They snagged some high-profile bloggers and expanded their multimedia sections. In and of itself that's been a positive thing. However, I've noticed that a lot of the headlines have become remarkably...cranky.

Normally, I would enjoy this sort of thing (what with crankiness being my bread and butter and all), but lately it's seemed to be needlessly sour. It's almost as if there is a blatant attempt for the headlines to be provocative and attention-getting. While this is obviously nothing new in the news business, it's also sort of unsettling for a publication that really hasn't been known to do it in the past.

First, let's shine a light on one Mr. Matthew Yglesias. I'm not a fan--I find him to be a very good writer with very poor analytical skills--but since joining Slate he's branched out and become quite diverse in his opinions, much to his benefit (and mine, as it were). However, this recent piece about the San Antonio Spurs is an example of unnecessary hyperbole. The point of the article is that the Spurs are a good team but no one watches them because they are textbook-level boring. He then seems to extrapolate that as Americans we reward success (i.e., our slavish devotion to the free market) yet when presented with it we'd rather have a dog-and-pony show. He misses the point entirely--sports is a competition to be watched for fun, and no one wants to watch something boring, regardless of success. He makes the entirely wrong point by stating that it's the same reason the program Bridezillas exists: because we'd rather watch a train wreck than a boring wedding. And yet I can guarantee that's not the case: aside from the occasional ex, I don't think anyone wants a wedding to fail miserably. Weddings serves a legitimate useful social need above and beyond our pure entertainment, a threshold that sports really doesn't meet. Taken along with another Slate article ("All Men Can't Jump") with the blatantly ridiculous subtitle of "Why nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd" (whose main point appears to be--I shit you not--that since animals are more athletic now that we emphasize brain power, the only sport worth it is something we are roughly on par with with most animals, which is running), it makes me think that perhaps Slate really shouldn't have a Sports section. I don't think they get it.

Second on the list is this particularly catty admonishment asking whether the Orange Prize is a sexist tool. The Orange Prize (I had to look it up) is a British prize presented to only female authors. The writer of the article, of course is all for it--drag out the usual canards about women being under the constant jackboot of "subtle sexism" justifying the need for a girls-only prize. (Me calling his article "catty" probably doesn't help my case that this is stupid.) The writer, L.V. Anderson, seems nonplussed as to why this would be a thing--why not have a ladies-only room when they can't win any other way? (As with most issues with discrimination, it's confusing for those harboring white guilt whether to bring them to the At least she recognizes the other side of this--what good is a prize when you lop off half of the eligible candidates--but the article still feels more like a lamentation that any sort of effective attempt to answer the question in the headline. (I'll be honest--my opinion of this article is probably heavily biased due to the fact that she included a quote from Jezebel.com, a source I an convinced will not rest until they find out how many decades they can set feminism back.)

And, finally, the article that prompted me to write this post, is this one by Tom Scocca. Titled "Don Draper's Shocking Secret: He Doesn't Exist," Scocca is apparently troubled by the fact that Mad Men and Don Draper specifically appear to show up in articles as an example of how things worked in the past. You see, instead of writing "back in the 1960's" or "at a time when modern feminism was in its early stages," a true crime of literature is occurring because bored writers instead substitute in an easily recognizable culture reference instead. The particular condescending line where he tells us, the reader, that Don is a "made-up person inside your television set" (written, of course, in italics, since us plebes are too slack-jawed from watching TV instead of doing whatever Scocca things is more morally superior to get his point) sets the tone for the rest of the post. If a reference is made to, say, gender pay inequality, and a writer makes a one-sentance remarks about how it's not the days of Mad Men anymore, Scocca equates this to the fact that "What's wrong with Mad Men isn't that it makes you boring. What's wrong with Mad Men is that it also makes you stupid." See, we're all stupid because we'd never otherwise understand that forty years ago things were tough for women in the workplace! We need something the boob tube shoved down our throats to get it!

Sure, it's a little lazy to simply substitute the same cultural reference by too many writers--as it is to cling to failed  second-wave feminist ideals or have self-appointed elite journalists who were reading Ender's Game in high school instead of making the football squad--but it's also just as lazy to whip up a completely sensible "epidemic" just to write a condescending column about it. Don Draper certainly wouldn't approve.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Of Side Mirrors and Sugar

I'm not one prone to the alarmist school of political ideology--more often than not it's not real and does more harm than good anyway--and, likewise, I'm not too fond of that logical fallacy known as the "slippery slope." They are both the lazy man's way of working up an emotional appeal to get their presumably otherwise weak point across.

So it's with trepidation that I, today, I write about the overreaching arm of the government in our daily lives, in what I am going to call the blatantly alarmist phrase of "microfascism."

The biggest example of recent government intrusion is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on sugared drinks over 16oz. Exactly how this would work is still up for debate, since it seems to be largely unworkable. Would fountain pop dispensers be effectively banned, since they are self-serve? Or are all cups, regardless of sugar content going in them, going to be shrunk to the 16-oz level? Are refills banned? Is there going to be a one-sale-per-person policy in effect? There are so many ways to get around the ban it's ridiculous.

Of course, compliance isn't the problem here. It's the fact that the government is trying to do it in the first place. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, there's no immediate negative externalize on other people (second hand smoke and acting like an asshole) if you're downing a Big Gulp. The goal to get people to lose weight is admirable, of course, but this is an incredibly inefficient way of doing so; in the process, it artificially reduces people's personal choices. If there's no harm to other people, the prevailing right is for people to make this choice themselves.

The next example is that of information, so on the face of it it's not so horrible. But it's still a particularly ham-fisted way of solving an easily solvable problem. The Obama administration has recently met with many colleges and university representatives concerning student loans. The goal is to force each institution of higher education to present an identically formatted "fact sheet" that shows the terms of the finances at their school.

Not horrible, of course, but the stated goals seem very...unfortunate. The need for this is that apparently many people don't know the difference between a grant and a loan, and plenty of college students are apparently under the impression that they are getting a full scholarship when in fact they are not. Of course, all of this information is already available (and in most cases already required); it's just split up in several different sources.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the myriad of terms and conditions on any sort of financial transaction can go over my head...but the items in question are pretty fundamentally easy things to 1) know in the first place, or 2) find out in a matter of minutes of asking people or online searching. It seems like a low threshold to set--if you can't figure this out, or aren't able to take the responsibility from your parents to find out, it's possible that you're going to have trouble living on your own at school.The main drawback is that there are true differences in how schools operate--so what column A means in the standard form for a school might mean something different in another school, but this standardized form won't let them make any sort of distinction; doing so would negate the purpose of the sheet in the first place.

Finally, there comes the news of an inventor who has developed a perfectly reasonable mirror for cars that eliminates the blind spot. It does so by creating a series of small mirrors within the mirror to mimic a curved mirror. The problem is that in a curved mirror it distorts how far things are away, so while you gain a larger field of vision, that vision is distorted. (This is where "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" comes from.) Flat mirrors are a better representation but they cause a blind spot.

This invention greatly reduces that problem; not only is the field of vision increased to 45 degrees (from the normal 15-17 degrees), but the objects mostly stay the same relative size, effectively eliminating the one drawback of a curved mirror.

You would think this would be a perfect innovation--it will most likely save lives and reduce accidents, but it does so at an almost imperceptible cost. But, of course, the government will have nothing to do with making things better. Curved mirrors are no longer allowed to be added to cars on the manufacturing line because people couldn't handle objects being closer than they appear. Even if the curved mirror in question no longer has that problem, the government will have none of it--flat mirrors for everyone! Thankfully, there's a workaround; you can still buy and use the mirror as long as it doesn't come originally with the car.

Are any of these things revolution-worthy? Obviously not. They are small, petty things that can for the most part be easily overcome. But these act as a reminder that there are thousands, probably millions, of ways that the government is restricting your choices (or making certain choices more expensive) for absolutely no reason whatsoever--or that reason is to control what you do with your life. You don't have to necessarily agree with the examples from above, but it won't take a lot to discover many others.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Some Early Electoral Math

Someone made the mistake of posting an interactive electoral map on the internet, which meant that I spent significantly more time today than I can possibly justify playing around with it. Long-time readers know that I'm an electoral math junkie, so playing around with it is one of the few joys I will have in what will no doubt turn into a recklessly dreary election season.

Anyway, I fussed around with the numbers a bit and it isn't going to take a whole lot of political acumen to declare that it all comes down to--yet again--Florida. Under pretty much any scenario, the candidate that wins Florida will win the election outright. Thanks to an increase in Florida's population and subsequent decrease in Ohio's, nearly any practical combination of states won't be able to effectively overcome a victory in Florida.

The map above (which I'm sure won't work in a week due to its flash-based nature; I'm sure you can find others like it) has it pretty much right: the only swing states in play right now are Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Colorado. Add up everything but Florida and you get 58 votes. Thanks to Obama's lead in most other states, Romney could win all of the states except Florida and lose, so Florida is a must-win for him. (He'll have to pick up some other states as well, basically either Ohio or all the others.)

Obama is in better shape but not much: he can afford to lose both Florida and Ohio but would have to sweep pretty much everything else.

The good news for Romney is that each of these swing states clearly leans Republican and both Florida and Ohio--the big ones--were won by very thin margins for Obama in 2008. In addition, the census reallotment favored the red states by a good bit. There's also the "rising tide" running against Obama--basically, if Romney wins, say, Ohio, he's probably won the rest of the swing states as well. (The reverse was true in 2008 when Obama won Indiana--the first state declared. The race was over at that point. If Obama was winning reliably rock-red Indiana, previously thought to be out of play, he was going to sweep the other swing states easily. As he did.)

Of course, all of this is predicated on the assumption that the only swing states are the seven listed above. While this is probably the case, save a state or two that might shake loose either way, it's also possible that more are in play as the campaign progresses.

Let's take a look at the past three elections. We can't go much further back than that, since the political landscape has changed too much to read too far back than that. (One can certainly argue that the landscape has changed simply between 2004 and 2008, but given how the polls look I'm not willing to make that bet quite yet--it seems reasonably clear that 2008 was a spike in Democratic support as opposed to a meaningful realignment, especially given the gains Republicans made in 2010.) By looking at the margin of victory of each candidate the top swing states are (in order of swinginess):

Florida
Ohio
Iowa
Missouri
New Hampshire
Wisconsin
New Mexico
Minnesota
Pennsylvania
Nevada

Everything from Florida to Wisconsin has an average of less than 5% margin of victory per year. The math here's a little wonky, I realize, but we have to go with what we have.

The list would look a lot different if we lopped off 2008; in fact, one of the surprising things looking at the list is how close the 2004 election really was. States that are a given for Obama this year were almost lost by Kerry that year--for example, Kerry won Oregon by only 4%, despite the fact that Obama won it by almost 17%. The same stats apply in Michigan--Kerry won by around 4%, but Obama carried it by 17%. Even in Wisconsin, Kerry won by .3%, while Obama ran away with 14%. (A lot of the percentages are going to be deceptively strong for Obama. There's no way he wins North Carolina again, even though he won by a comfortable margin. The violent reaction in the 2010 congressional elections confirmed that the few states who flipped to Obama, like Indiana and NC, aren't going to be easy for him this time around.)

If the factors that made 2008 so different no longer really apply--if the same enthusiasm that propelled Obama to office four years ago fades and everything reverts back to 2004 levels--then the number of swing states will dramatically increase, probably to over 15 or so. States currently assumed to be safe now become in play; If, say, Pennsylvania (a state Kerry won with barely 3% but Obama won with 10%) suddenly is in contention, a whole new set of math becomes apparent, and Florida is no longer necessary.

And that's the difficulty with identifying the states that are truly in play. It's hard to declare many states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota as true swing states, since they almost always go Democratic. (Of these four states, all of them have gone Democratic in every Presidential election since 1992.) Yet they are declared swing states each year because the margin of victory each election is so small, usually under 5% (the standard threshold for being "in play"). Every year, there's always a chance that they might tip Republican, yet it never happens.

The good news for Democrats is that they never seem to flip to the GOP, so while they seem like swing states they are probably safe. (Even this year, only Wisconsin seems in jeopardy, although Pennsylvania polls are somewhat worrying for Obama--but then again, it's one of those things where if Romney wins PA, the election is over because he's won all the other swing states as well.) The bad news for Democrats is that there aren't many similar GOP states that might tip Democratic. With the exception of Virginia, all of the states likely to tip from blue to red are smaller states like Nevada and Iowa.

There's a lot left of the campaign season to go, so a lot can change. But my predictions are that the original seven states listed above will be true swing states, save Virginia. The surprises will be that Wisconsin leans surprisingly Republican, while Arizona will be vulnerable for Romney. Pennsylvania could be in play as well. Romney will think that Michigan will be in play but it won't; likewise, Obama will try to woo Virginia and North Carolina, two states he did surprisingly well in, but they will not be interested.

And the riskiest prediction? West Virginia just might--might!--go for Romney.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The World Needs A Good Copy Editor, Cont'd

I really should have simply waited a few days before I wrote last week's post about needing a copy editor.

The Mitt Romney campaign, who I am assuming is embarrassed about last week's massively obvious spelling mistake, apparently still hasn't done much to rectify the problem. I'm giving the extraordinarily wealthy campaign some slack because they simply may not have caught it in time, but I doubt it.

Would you like to see a preview of the Romney campaign's new TV ad?


Three thoughts:
1) For crying out loud, you don't put a hyphen in "sneak peek." It's two separate words, not a Welsh divorcee. That's the sort of shit they teach you in Grade School 101, right before "Don't strap your dog to the roof of your car" and after "Don't hold down the new guy and forcibly cut off his hair."
2) Jiminy Pete on a Christmas cracker, it's "peek," not "peak," as in "I'm peeking into my tax returns and noticed I pay less percentage-wise than my secretary," not "I've reached the peak of my cognitive abilities and am rapidly approaching Dan Quayle levels of grammatical mastery."
 3) Seriously, do one better than the current President and get the unemployment rate down by at least one person and hire some unemployed English major to look over your stuff before it goes out. This is downright embarrassing. Gingrich wouldn't be letting this stuff slip by. Just sayin'.

[Edit--Yes, I'm fully aware the original title to this post had a grammatical error. When I start getting paid to do this you can call me a hypocrite.]

When Animals Take To The Interstate Highway System!

It's not very often that the animals rise up against us, but it does, in fact occasionally happen. You will hear stories (that always seem to appear in clusters) of pet apes attacking strangers or alligators in Florida crawling up from the sewers and chomping down in unlucky fishermen or crazy people in Ohio unlocking the gates of their personal zoo and letting them rampage throughout the area. The fact that I had to string the phrase "pet ape" together gives you an idea of whose fault this probably is.

So cue the Pig on the Parkway. Earlier this week in my fair city of Pittsburgh, someone's pet pig managed to escape and run along a major highway. Not only did it cause massive traffic delays, but it also provided headline writers with a giftwrapped present. "Porkway Traffic" was a common one, and "traffic ham," as well as allusions to this being the sort of swine that wasn't going to write you a speeding ticket. It was wearing a scarf which, of course, makes everything involved here even awesomer. Sadly, the pig ran into the woods and has yet to resurface. However, he's taken off enough time to become yet another novelty twitter account.

Of course, not even two days later, livestock much closer to my home decided that the local construction zone was a romantic enough place to have some extraordinarily lengthy relations. Again, it caused plenty of traffic delays (as it supposedly was going on for (wait for it) several hours), and it took the local farm officials over 15 minutes to terminate the coupling. Sadly, I haven't been able to figure out what happened to the apparently happy couple, although I am rather alarmed that enough news outlets have been calling for readers to submit any pictures they have of the cow and bull session.

So who knows what is next? Dogs drag racing down the Turnpike? Rhinos hitching a ride down 279? I'm surprised we haven't seen any rogue Penguins around; not like they are doing anything these days.