April 26, 2008

The "Sign" of Healthy Lawns...Ha!

I had to stop today and do a double take on my way back from Barnes and Nobles today. Down here in "The Rouge" spring has been in full swing for several weeks now. Yes, I know, many of you have not even started spring or are just on the upswing. But with spring comes the upswing in the frequency of cutting America's greatest crop...our lawns. Yes, you read that right.

Americans have an obsession with "the perfect" lawn, and at a rate of over $17 Billion (US) every year, you'd think we were obsessed. Americans also mow over 31 million acres of that "perfect lawn." I think we could cut our dependence on foreign oil if we cut our lawn mowing significantly. A "healthy" lawn is really a dead lawn ecological. The variety of organisms in a lawn are nearly non existent and its naturally impossible to maintain that perfect green color. Yet we pump the chemicals and pesticides on our turf to get that perfect look.

So back to that double take and the picture of the sign. What is wrong with this sign? I think its terrible marketing for your product, but it proves just how toxic our quest for the perfect lawn is. The "Sign" that the sign is talking about is Massey's lawn sign after pesticide application which has the image of an adult, child, and a pet warning them not to get on the lawn. Studies have shown that the chemical residue is tracked into our homes and our pets accumulate dangerous levels of these chemicals. This sign doesn't elicit my idea of a healthy lawn at all, more like a toxic wasteland. Just thought you might find the twisted humor...maybe not.

April 25, 2008


Cash Costs More
I read this today and could not pass up the opportunity to talk about how fee based corporate America has become. Sure 10 cents here, or a dollar there for "service fee's" or whatever they get called may not seem a lot, but stop and think back to how much nickel and diming goes on. And then add to it the fact that you have no way of avoiding or opting out of these service fee's. So I bring to you exhibit A on another reason why this society has become backwards and out of touch.

If you have never read the Red Tape Chronicles on msnbc.com or never read "Gotcha Capatilism" by Bob Sullivan, then your blood pressure is probably close to normal. If you have, well you know how angry you can become at such STUPID ideas. Early this year AT&T started to charge customers a $2 US fee to pay their bill in person and with cash. The fee is about to go up to $5 soon. An AT&T service rep was quoted as saying,

"It is a way of saving money ... it helps us keep our costs lower," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. "We want our associates to spend their time helping customers as they are thinking about their wireless plans or looking at phones."

Personally I read this as "our customer service sucks, so we have to beg people to start up new contracts with us because we are loosing customers on a daily business because of our poor business model."

Anyways...AT&T should not take the brunt of this argument, as they are just following along with a policy that the American consumer has allowed to happen. In our 'convenience' driven age, real people have been replaced with automated tellers that ask us to say yes or press 1. When you want to speak with a person, that will probably cost you extra, or you will not be able to understand them as the company you are wanting to talk to has outsourced their call centers. I recently came across this when I opened a new credit card with Bank ___. This was after a bit of trouble with my number getting stolen from a local eatery here in "The Rouge."

I got it sorted out and had the new credit card in my possession and as soon as I got it had signed up for paperless statements and it showed up with all of my other bank accounts that I have. I loved it, a one stop shop for all of my financial needs, until it was time for the first statement. As a "security measure" they, Bank ___, removes your account from your online bank view and you have to go through a verification stage. I followed all the steps and was told that I would be allowed to have access to my online credit card portal in 8-10 business days. What? Seriously, 8-10 days in an electronic banking world? Are you kidding me? I was worried that I would get a late fee for not paying the card off in time as I had no clue when the due date and billing cycle officially ended, so I contacted Bank ___ directly to pay the bill. I got everything squared away and was ready to pay off the bill and the polite woman on the phone state that there was a 'convenience fee' of $15 to pay the bill. I had to ask the her to repeat that amount to take payment over the phone. I politely declined and hung up. Seriously $15 to pay MY bill off?

Why are fee's so prevalent? How can we opt out? What options, do we as consumers and customers have when faced with these unwarranted charges? Its enough to make you scream...but its perfect for businesses. What better way to get more money than by charging customers for the right to do business with them...love it!

Day and Night for $300,000? WTF?
So, the tax rebate checks will soon be coming out and I have just the perfect gift you can get to help stimulate the economy! Ok, so you'll need your check and 500 of your closest friends, but who's counting right? So for $300,000 US you and your 500 closest friends can buy a watch...that does not tell time. Thats right...instead you will know perfectly well when its night and day.

The Day & Night watch by Swiss watchmaker Romain Jerome sold out in just 48 hours after its launch. Chief Executive Yvan Arpa told Reuters,

"Why do people buy expensive watches? To have a trophy. A watch (costing) $9 gives the time as well as a watch at $500,000, so they really buy a trophy."

A trophy for what? Being a pompous rich snob? A trophy for 'making it' in the world? To show that you have more money than you need? Going to far am I? Clearly my propensity towards meagerness and being happy with what I have is clearly not the right frame of mind one would have to purchase and wear such a watch. Granted the design is amazing, but for $300,000 you could have me around and I'll remind you when its night and day, though I will be honest, I probably would not look as good on your arm as that watch does...:-D

April 24, 2008

CPR for CRP???

CRP Program
A disturbing trend is on the horizon like a looming thunderhead across the Great Plains. It is one that has mixed emotions and something I am sadden to notice happening. The government has released figures stating that the total number of acreage of US farmland that is in the Conservation Reserve Program has declined sharply in the last year, primarily due to increased grain prices which has in part been driven by the lucrative, yet highly subsidized, corn ethanol boom.

For the international readers: 1 hectare = ~2.5 acres

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is the largest government conservation program which pays farmers by the acre to take that acreage out of production. It was begun to offset the glut of grains that arose out of the era of over abundance and mass plantings. The old adage of planting fence post to fence post. This over abundance has, like cheap oil, made American's addicted to cheap food. As more countries strive to be more "American," meaning increased consumption of beef, dairy, and refined grain products, the global supply of grains have slowly been dwindling. Combine this with rising energy costs and environmental factors of droughts and floods and you are creating a perfect storm for protests.

If these farmers were taking these fields out of CRP rotation to help alleviate world hunger, I probably wouldn't cringe nearly as much...though I still do, but nearly all acreage being brought back into production will be used to grow corn! Corn to feed our livestock (which makes them sick, yet we like cheap steaks), make our terribly unhealthy snacks (What products don't have corn syrup in them?), feed our hailed savior of the energy crisis..ethanol. Can you tell I'm not a fan?

Not only will native species loose valuable habitat, but greater environmental damage will be done, thus hurting us (humans) in the long run. Increased pesticide inputs, fertilizer inputs, and diesel inputs all have detrimental effects. The 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by to much nitrogen in the water, primarily from runoff of corn fields, which causes algal blooms leading to the depletion of oxygen in the water. This leads to valuable fishing grounds in the Gulf being affected as well as the nations waterways, creating expensive purification processes for those communities who depend on those waterways for drinking water. I am opposed to this on many levels, the CRP program is one of the governments few success stories when it comes to environmental protection and I would hate to see the greedy consumeristic society that we have become lead us down a path in which will cause greater pain in the future.

I realize my posts have sort of been doom and gloom lately...just had to get on my soap box for a bit. Please keep coming back, as I have great posts in the works for some big dates in the next couple of weeks. Cheers!

April 23, 2008

Designer Big Mac's...

Designer McD's
The employees of UK McDonald's will soon be sporting designer clothing made by one the more well known fashion guru's, Bruce Oldfield. In an attempt to spruce up their image, the new styles will reflect class and eloquence, something the old uniforms left to be desired. Unfortunately this new look will not make it into the US markets any time soon. I think they have bigger issues to solve such as their customer service and health issues surround their products...think 'Supersize Me.' K Wags brought me to this article, thought it was fun and different. Clearly its a slow day in the office today!

April 22, 2008

Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day 2008 and I feel that more than ever this day is receiving a lot of attention of late. Why is this? Have, we the consumer, become more ecologically tuned to our 'surroundings?' Highly unlikely, as most people rarely notice the shifts in the seasons, can name a local plant species, or tell you the name of a bird singing. BUT they can tell you off hand about a 100 different corporate brands.

This is what I was thinking today when I got up knowing that today is Earth Day. Back a few years ago in a sustainability class in college, the professor, Dr. K., asked us to use a piece of clear overhead projector plastic and divide it into two columns. He then proceeded to ask us to draw the logo of any brand we could think of. I think we had something like 2-3 minutes or so. We then tallied how many different brands/logos we had compiled. A decent list to boot. Example: Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Ford, Chevy, Dolche, Starbucks, etc etc etc.

He then asked us to draw on the other half, the name and shape of leaf of the local trees (southwest Ohio). I flubbed, which is hard to admit, as I knew roughly 4 times more brand names than tree species. Maybe a red oak? Possibly a sycamore? Oh yea, Honeysuckle...oh wait that is invasive...It really was a wake-up to show how 'out of touch' we are to our surroundings...I say try it, see if you can do better!

So why, Zachawii, this rant? I just ask that don't let yourself get caught up in the 'green' movement just because its there. There is a lot of marketing and corporate hoopla going into today that can detract from the real message: care and respect for Mother Nature. The corporate influence of today is starting to feel like Christmas, which has been so corporatized that many probably do not know the origins of the celebration.

One last sour grape; the ubiquitous phrase of 'Save the Planet?' Save the Planet from what? The world works on one very basic principal, establishing equilibrium. If something is out of equilibrium Mother Nature corrects it. Humanity is but a blink, and the Earth has function fined with out us. We (humanity) may throw the planet out of balance (global warming) but Mother Nature will reestablish equilibrium, whether we are around to see it or not is another question. Its not saving the planet, its more of preserving the planet so that it hospitable for the human race to continue to flourish, which I'm all for. I love living, I love the planet...and I love Earth Day for what it is...a celebration of nature in its glory...not about the promotion of Clorox Green Works! I promise my rant is over ;-)

April 21, 2008

Bad Witch of the West!

Twister, Tornado, Cyclone, Oh My!
Today marks the 7th anniversary of the event that drastically changed my life. On this day, seven years ago (really it was that long ago?) I anxiously awaited that high school highlight...PROM. I had the hot car, hot date, and was ready to go, but mother nature had other plans. Shortly after 9pm (cst) an F4 tornado ripped through my home town leveling a swath of homes and businesses. After a frantic phone call from the parents, I, after convincing some of the chaperone's, headed home to dig my parents out of the basement...they were trapped. Driving home, the landscape before my eyes changed from small town life to war zone HELL.

After surveying the damage the next morning it was and still is hard to fathom that only one person died in this particular storm. There was no warning for this storm as the power had gone out. The town has since moved on, rebuilt, and somewhat recovered. I lost all of my original neighbors that I grew up loving, and to this day only one lives. The rest have passed away all of natural causes, but when I close my eyes I can still picture my town, my neighborhood, and my house just the way it was on that warm and beautiful April afternoon...

Below is the infamous Prom Car...1991 Red Corvette...totaled.

Leaves stood still, and our hearts stood still,
But the sky was a-boil with clouds,
A coppery wrack, and the greenish black
Of shrouds.
We dove for shelter and none too soon.
The universe swayed and swirled,
And the monstrous horn of a unicorn
Gored the world.
-May Williams Ward

This was dads 2001 Chevy Silverado pickup which was parked next to the Corvette. For some reason Mother Nature wanted to play with it. You are looking at the front of the truck.

My house the next morning...

My house again, different angle...The brown truck was sitting on what used to be our front porch.

Aerial shot of the path of destruction. You are looking east, north east in this photo.

Huge burn pits were dug to dump the debris from the storm in. Not the most environmentally friendly option, but every now and then I look the other way.

I call this the tornado money shot. This was a brand new Chevy Tahoe, just down the street from my house.

For a more in depth look at the particular tornado, in particular my story, go to the link below. Just be sure not to laugh!
Video Link

April 20, 2008

Geaux Turena

Olympic Trials
Today was the 2008 Womens Olympic Trials held in Boston, MA. Now normally, don't hate ladies, I would not pay much attention to the womens trials. Yes, the Olympics, but not the trials. This changed this year as a friend of the running club I frequent here in "The Rouge" was running in the trials. This morning, at "Ellis Island" the Boston "T" party was had, which included fresh blueberry and walnut pancakes, various fruits, breakfast casseroles, and of course OJ, milk, coffee and champagne.

Turena Johnson Lane ran a great race and ran a personal best for the marathon at 2:34:17 and came in at 6th place. A great showing indeed, especially considering the interesting race tactics that were had by several of the competitors. It was a great get together and we are all proud of how well Turena ran and represented the US and "The Rouge" Geaux Turena! Watch the video below, you'll see Turena at the 37-38 second mark and also her finish at the 1:15 minute mark. Brief but sweet :-)

Deena Kastor, the pre-race favorite, battled back from being over two minutes down to beat Magdalena Lewy Boulet who led the race from nearly the beginning. Kastor holds the U.S. marathon record at 2:19:36 and her experience and strength showed in the later miles. Averaging close to 5:30 miles for the last 12 miles, Kastor caught Boulet at mile 23 and never looked back. Don't forget, tomorrow is the real Boston Marathon. Good luck to everyone!