Friday, August 30, 2013

Tree Killers

I think that if we wanted to wrap the world with receipt tape, we'd only need to buy a couple of loaves of bread and a gallon of milk for maybe a week. That ought to do it.

If we ever run out of firewood in this country, I am blaming America's retailers. Their receipts surely must be killing trees by the truckload.

Have you looked at receipts lately? I could decorate our Christmas tree with one trip to Target.

Receipts are getting longer by the day. In fact, receipts are about as long as the day is long.

At my local CVS, the spitting out of the receipt by the register is tantamount to a winner at a slot machine. It keeps going and going, to the point where I am expecting to hear sirens and bells go off, and a spotlight shine on me from the ceiling.

You think you're the store's lucky customer of the week, as the receipt flows out of the register and spills onto the floor until the clerk is covered in white paper from head to toe.

But alas, 95% of what is on the receipt is not of any use to me. It's filled with coupons I'll never use, offers that will never apply to me and information that has no consequence in my life. The other five percent is what I bought, at what price and on what date. That could come in handy, but even that info rarely does.

The receipts nowadays give the register number (I don't care), the cashier's name (don't care), the store number (don't care), the store's address (I already know where I bought my stuff, so don't need it), and the transaction number (don't care).

Once you've waded through all that, you are finally able to find some useful data, such as the items purchased, their prices, and the date and time.

But it's what comes after all this stuff that is making our forests endangered.

Coupons. More coupons. Solicitations to take surveys. Ads.

The receipt is so long that the cashier has to fold it into layers, like ribboned candy, just to fit it into the bag. I think some receipts have weighed more than the items I've purchased.

Now, I know some of this data that is useless to me is helpful to the retailer. Right?

Sweetie, I feel your pain (one gallon of milk=3 feet worth of receipt!)

But maybe it doesn't really matter that Steve, who is cashier #0981353, using register #04, rang me up under transaction #6458 at store #8019, for a Snickers bar.

The above numerical data, I pulled directly from a recent CVS receipt that I managed to stuff into my wallet without needing a new wallet---or a valise.

I guess retailers, Lord knows why, need those indicators on their receipts. I really won't get on their case too much for that.

It's the add-ons to the receipt that bug me. The stuff that turns a receipt into a length of sash that could be cut up and used for all 50 contestants at a Miss America pageant.

Of course, these days, you can't buy a taco without being begged and pleaded with to fill out a survey.

Too bad one of the questions isn't, "Are our receipts too long?"

America's retailers have turned into serial killers of trees. I am thinking that it won't be much longer before your receipt at the grocery store will reach from the cash register to your car.

K-Mart asks you if you want your receipt e-mailed to you. Seriously. At this rate, I'm afraid that if I say yes, the memory on my hard drive will run out during the download.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh, Miley!

Maybe behind the scenes, Miley Cyrus is getting a talking to. Maybe when nobody is looking, she is being sent to her room. Maybe her Internet use is being revoked. She has no more access to the family car, until further notice.

If only.

No one said that the transformation from bubble gum pop to grown up music is an easy one. It's like child actors who struggle in becoming mature adults.

But music means live performances. Not every song is recorded in a sterile studio. And there isn't a director, yelling "CUT!" There's no Take Two.

Too bad.

But there ARE parents. Theoretically, anyway.

Miley Cyrus seemed to have a built in defense system against the pitfalls of growing up in the music industry as a performer. Her father, Billy Ray, is in the business himself. He's seen some things. Certainly things that he'd want to keep his little girl from getting mixed up in.

But the parenting has been of the hands off variety in Miley's case, and the results haven't been pretty.

You know it's not good when, instead of using "performance," folks substitute the word "display" in describing what they saw you do on stage.

Or debacle. Or other d-words, such as disgusting, derelict, demeaning and dumb.

Miley took to the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday and if you saw it, you wanted to wash your eyes out with soap, or maybe even ammonia. The sting might have been worth it.

It's not for me, some 48 hours later, to regurgitate what Miley did in front of a disturbed (another d-word) crowd inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn that night. You all know by now what lewd and lascivious behavior she engaged in. There doesn't need to be a recapping.

Two questions come to mind. What was she thinking? And, why don't her parents seem to care about what she is thinking?

Billy Ray has been down this road before. When video surfaced of Miley doing drugs at a party a couple of years ago, Billy Ray threw up his hands and pretty much said that, hey, his daughter is over 18, so what the heck can he do?

And Miley's mother, at the VMAs, gushed about her daughter like a fangirl after witnessing Miley's rehearsal of her "act" with Robin Thicke.

"Like I look at her and go, ‘Holy crap, that’s my kid!. It’s just so impressive. Honestly. Just tune in. It will blow people’s minds. You’ll be shocked. There are a few surprises, too. She’s so cool and so awesome,” Tish Cyrus told

And this. "I’m so proud of her, and just honestly, I’m in awe of who she’s become as a performer.”

This isn't helping.

Billy Ray spoke to Entertainment Tonight about Miley amid the VMA fallout.

"She's still my little girl and I'm still her Dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change."

Of course he still loves her. But how about showing it a little more?

You can start, Billy Ray, by yanking Miley aside and knocking some sense into that girl. And no, I don't mean physically.

If your "little girl" was caught using drugs on video, would you shrug it off, because she's 18 and so what the hell can you do?

Wouldn't you counsel her about fame and how fleeting and fickle it can be? Especially when you yourself became suddenly famous as a sort of one-hit wonder?

As for Tish Cyrus, she's acting more like the president of Miley's fan club than her mother.

It's the classic syndrome. Big star has his/her inner circle, but the inner circle never challenges or says no to the star. Instead, they show their "love" and adoration to a fault. They mistake insulation for nurturing.

Michael Jackson, anyone?

So it is apparent that Miley Cyrus will be allowed to do whatever she damn well pleases. Neither of her parents seems to mind. In the here today, gone tomorrow world of show business, the worst people to have blinders on if you're fresh out of adolescence are your folks---especially when they should know better.

Miley Cyrus's mom and dad aren't a homemaker and an auto worker from Ohio. They know all about the bright lights and big city.

Too bad neither of them are imparting any wisdom.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Polar Eclipse

Maybe if Facebook, Twitter et al had been around when John Kennedy ran for president as the first Roman Catholic candidate, I could properly compare.

Or when Dick Nixon was trying to serpentine around the Watergate investigation, and social media was all the rage at the time, that would be another base line study.

Hey, what if we had the Internet during the Civil War? That would be something.

I'm talking about polarization, and boy does it seem to be at a peak these days---the days where there is the Internet and everyone races to their keyboards to post the latest good stuff for their side and the bad stuff for the other folks'.

I am on Facebook often, and it seems like people are using it strictly as a propaganda tool.

I prefer to think of myself as a Facebooker with diversity. My stuff ranges from food to sports to humor to cute animals. And more.

But there are some folks whose timeline is filled with mostly political rhetoric and smarmy comments about what they're sharing. Both sides do it, lest you think I'm picking on the right (I lean to the left, as you probably know by now).

The funny thing is, no one's mind is being changed.

It would be like Coke posting a bunch of nasty stuff about Pepsi, or vice versa. None of it will convert the drinkers of either beverage. And the independents will continue to buy what's on sale. (That's what we do in our house).

This really isn't funny, or cute, by the way.

In fact, it got me to wondering whether we are, at this time, the most polarized we've ever been, politically.

Hence the references above to JFK, Nixon and the Civil War.

Had Facebook been around in those days, would we be as separated as we are now?

I know that's rhetorical, ironically.

But I find it hard to believe that at any time in our nation's history have we been further apart on the political and sometimes social spectrum, as we are currently.

You either like President Obama or you hate him. And it was like that when Bush II was in office, though Facebook (my primary barometer of the political landscape, for good or for bad) wasn't as widely used when the latter was president.

I am starting to believe that Obama is the most polarizing president we've ever had, though I can't truly make that statement factually, having only memories of the presidents from Nixon to now.

But I am confident that no president has elicited so much passion, on both sides of the political coin, as Barack Obama. Even Nixon, at the peak of his being a villain, didn't rankle as much as Obama bothers the right.

Obama comes with a lot to pick on, though much of it is baloney. His birth certificate, his upbringing, his race---it's a volatile place to start, if you lean away from him. And that's before you even get to his political views and policies---at least the ones he has been able to push through a stubborn Congress.

That's another thing. Has a political party been more vociferous and contrary against a president as the GOP has against Obama?

The outrage, and just pure rage, against this president is as palpable as I've ever seen. Almost daily you read of comments and actions and political events that border on criminal.

Look no further than social media to see how divided we are. I fear we are at the low point. Sensible dialogue is almost totally absent. That goes for TV networks, too. Thank God for "Meet the Press" on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is shouting and posting and hitting "send" with some of the most outrageous venom you'll ever see.

And nobody is changing their minds. Everyone is digging their heels in more firmly.

No wonder we can't get anything done.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Yogurt's Hostile Takeover

Years ago, a comedian I saw on TV said it.

"Yogurt: it looks better than it sounds, and tastes better than it looks."


But I doubt you'll find this as a slogan for any of today's yogurt producers, which is suddenly a crowded boat's worth of companies.

In my day (up to you to figure out when that was), it was Dannon. That was pretty much it. The yogurt came in cardboard containers and you had to scoop the fruit up from the bottom. I always mixed the heck out of it, because I was terrified to find out what even a drop of unmixed, plain yogurt tasted like.

Then Yoplait came on the scene, with its tapered-top plastic containers. The Yoplait stuff was already mixed, perhaps done as a counter to Dannon's mix-it-yourself product.

That was your competition, and your choices. Dannon, or Yoplait. Unless you count your grocer's own brand.

Today, the yogurt consumer is being courted like no other. The country of Greece has become associated with yogurt like Italy with pasta.

In fact, the term "Greek yogurt" carries with it a sort of hubris and elegance. It's supposed to make your eyes dance and your mouth say, "Ooooh."

GREEK yogurt? Well, excuse me!

Have you checked out your grocer's dairy section lately? The cottage cheese and sour cream is being elbowed out of the way by the voluminous brands, flavors and styles of yogurt. Forget going to the grocer. All you need to do is flip on the telly.

There's John Stamos. And Jamie Lee Curtis. And a bunch of other actors, all hawking the magical healing powers of yogurt, which has become the 21st century's elixir of choice.


I also don't recall ever needing a degree in chemistry in order to make a smart yogurt purchase, but it seems as if that wouldn't hurt. The labels are filled with periodic table and mathematical symbols, and words that are typically found in a textbook or a medical journal.

Yogurt does this, yogurt does that. It regulates you. It repairs your heart. It puts you into a state of ecstasy, judging by some of the women who eat it in commercials, sprawled across their sofas, unable to keep the smiles off their faces.

Then there are the flavors, the different shapes and sizes of the packaging, and the brands.

Yogurt's aim appears to be a hostile takeover of the refrigerated section of your local market.

Yogurt is not to be stopped. Advertisers are buying up air time on television like mad, filling the breaks with 30-second spots espousing the powers of yogurt.

Here's how defines yogurt: a prepared food having the consistency of custard, made from milk curdled by the action of cultures, sometimes sweetened or flavored.

That would never sell.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Woodward Nightmare Cruise?

This is Dream Cruise Week.

Not sure what that means, other than this is the week leading up to the Dream Cruise, down Woodward Avenue.

It's also time for me to reflect on my experiences at the Cruise, which began in 1995, the brainchild of a plumber from Ferndale named Nelson House.

OK, ready for my experiences?

Well, back in 2003 or 2004, my family and I decided to head into Royal Oak to eat at Siam Spicy on Woodward north of 11 Mile. And we forgot that it was Dream Cruise Saturday. And we in our 1992 Mustang (I still drive it) got accidentally caught up in the Cruise as we turned north onto Woodward.

People hooted and hollered at us from their roadside seats. They thought our car was part of the Cruise.

Little did they know, we were wayward souls looking for some Thai food, with timing that couldn't have been worse.

That's it---that's the depth of my Dream Cruising.

The Dream Cruise is one of those events that I think I should give a go one of these days, but never seem to get around to doing it.

I don't like traffic jams, number one. So maybe the last thing I want to do is drive toward one, willingly.

Near as I can tell, the enjoyment garnered from the Cruise involves driving toward the traffic jam, parking God knows where, walking God knows how far, setting up some lawn chairs and a cooler and watching classic cars inch by. And I do mean inch, because the Cruise draws tens of thousands of cars every year and they certainly aren't threatening the speed limit, if you know what I mean.

So that's what I think the appeal of the Cruise is. We are celebrating Detroit being the Motor City in general, and Woodward Avenue as being a historical main pike for cruising, specifically.

I think that's it.

Does this appeal to me? After 18 years, I'm still not sure

I guess my wariness of trying the Cruise---willingly, not by accident while looking for Thai food---is that I am not sure what my tolerance is of watching classic cars inch by me. Even if I am plying myself with beer or other alcohol beverages.

Would we drive there, park, walk a mile, set up our chairs, open our cooler, and then after 15 minutes look at each other and say, "You wanna get going?"

Or maybe we wouldn't be able to get enough of it. Dunno.

It's that uncertainty that causes me to take a pass every year.

"Maybe next year," I think.

The Renaissance Festival used to be in that category as well.

The annual medieval celebration in Holly had always intrigued me, but never enough to pack up the family and head north.

But two years ago, through the generosity of my employer, we scored some free tickets. So we went, and our then-18-year-old daughter loved it. So we went again last year. She loved it again. And we'll go again this year---again thanks to my employer.

So scratch the Renaissance Festival off the Bucket List, I suppose.

As for the Dream Cruise?

It's happening this Saturday. It's Dream Cruise Week, as I said.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bucking the System (For Now)

The question may no longer be, will Detroit's residents elect a white mayor? It may be, by how large of a margin?

Mike Duggan kicked butt in Tuesday's primary election---as a write-in candidate. He captured nearly 50% of the (granted, paltry) voter turnout, garnering about 16,000 more votes than Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

Again, Duggan did all this as a write-in candidate.

Now, write-in candidates typically don't register a blip in elections, let alone in a big city like Detroit. Their candidacies are usually symbolic in nature; afterthoughts, or in protest.

Normally, the only place you can get written in and win is in a high school student council election.

So this is big doings, that Duggan, the former CEO of the DMC and a deputy Wayne County Executive under Ed McNamara, whose mayoral candidacy looked to be dead less than two months ago, not only gathered traction with his write-in candidacy, he trampled the competition.

Duggan got about 44,000 write-ins. Tom Barrow, the oft candidate who 20+ years ago gave Coleman Young a mild scare and who was Duggan's biggest legal thorn in trying to keep Duggan off the ballot, managed a meager 3,500 votes, give or take.

Think about this for a moment. Detroit, a city that some thought would never see a white mayor again---ever---has written in a white man to the tune of a 60/40 split between he and his closest competitor, who just happens to be a former Detroit Police Chief as well.

Conventional wisdom says that, based on Tuesday's primary results, Duggan should wipe the floor with Napoleon in the general election in November.

But Detroit is anything but a conventional electorate, and this has been anything but a conventional race.

It's one thing to finish in the top two in August. It's quite another to finish first in November. That goes for just about every municipality in the country.

Duggan won Tuesday's primary with ease. Despite being removed from the printed ballot on a technicality in June, and even saying that he was no longer a candidate at that time, Duggan decided to go the write-in route when his supporters urged him to continue the battle.

Good thing he listened to them.

Duggan didn't have much time to gather grass root support. The primary was less than 8 weeks away when his name was ordered off the ballot due to a technicality regarding when he officially became a city resident versus the filing deadline rules. Which is exactly what Barrow wanted.

If you know you can't beat a guy at the polls, knock him out of the race.

Barrow tried to stomp out Duggan's candidacy and thus remove one road block in his path to the Manoogian Mansion, but it didn't work.

The irony is, Barrow was waylaid by the very spirit that he purported to represent.

The staggering victory by Duggan illuminated a truism in Detroit politics: the city loves an underdog. It loves the idea of someone bucking "the system," and bouncing back when that system tries to squash the "victim"---white or black, apparently.

The voters looked at Duggan and didn't see skin color---they saw determination and grit.

Now, how that will play out in November, when Duggan---his name still must be written in---goes up against Napoleon, remains to be seen. It's likely that Duggan will have to rely on more than "I was the guy they tried to get rid of", as he seemingly did on Tuesday.

It will come down to message and that all-too-important factor of spending---Duggan outspent Napoleon by an estimated 4-1 leading up to Tuesday's primary.

Mike Duggan, should voters care to scratch past the surface of a man they feel was wronged, has some unsavory skeletons, politically. His close ties to McNamara and the late County Executive's political machine will make some folks squirm. Undoubtedly the Napoleon camp will try to twist the DMC era under Duggan into something less than spectacular and more about opportunism.

Regardless, this promises to be the most intriguing race for Detroit mayor in many people's lifetimes, especially when you consider the backdrop of bankruptcy and the still present Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr.

Mike Duggan has his primary victory, built largely on voter sympathy. He was, in their eyes, a harassed man who refused to give up---even though his first inclination after a judge's decision to keep him off the ballot was to do just that. No matter. He didn't give up, ultimately. And that plays well in Detroit, particularly when it's not a general election.

But will it play in November?

It's going to be a fun 90 days.