Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fill Soda Bottles Up All the Way, You Cheap Bastards

I mean wtf? As usual, I'm the one who has to give voice to what I'm sure is an unspoken, private complaint of millions. My whole life I've looked at that empty neck in the coke bottle, and my passing thought has always been: "Hmmm, I'm sure there's some good reason for that." But no, there is no good reason. The bottlers are cheap bastards, and they'll keep giving us progressively emptier and emptier bottles until we just refuse to take it anymore.

Have you ever thought about how much money you've spent on ATM fees over your whole life? A lot, right? Wouldn't it be nice to have all that money back? Well imagine how much soda you've lost to this 90%-full bottle bullshit over the years? Imagine a truck pulling up to your house with all that missing soda. You'd be sitting pretty, friends. You'd be set.

What are the purported reasons for the empty neck? So the soda can breathe, like a fine wine? So a freshly opened bottle won't spill as easily?

"Well come on Rowsdower, it's a carbonated beverage. It's physics. It's about the pressure building up in the bottle, especially when agitated. Don't complain about things you know nothing about."

Oh yes, of course! The carbonation. Wouldn't want to fill up a soda bottle all the way with all that pressure building up. I take it all bac... wha? Wait a minute.... what's this?

The same shit with bottled water? But I thought it was all about carbonation? Ahhhh, so that was just a pile of BS? I see. You cheap, cheap bastards.

Wouldn't it be nice to open a bottle of soda and see the fizzy, quivering surface right there at the top? To know you've gotten your full $1.25's worth? Look at Gatorade, people. See the way it should be done.

Now as long as we're talking about bottled water, I want to spend just a minute discussing some of the claims made on the water bottles about their purification process.

I always like to look, first of all, at where the bottle is maintaining the water comes from. And for the record, I trust something like "Bottled from an Idaho Municipal Water Source" about ten times as much as I trust something like "Bottled from the finest protected natural streams in the United States and Canada". Sometimes it's just "Bottled in Roanoke, Virginia" which tells you virtually nothing, although you can pretty easily assume it means somebody's tap. But my general rule of thumb is to trust the water that proudly claims that it's from a municipal source, and not to trust the bottles that get all vague about crystal streams and leafy glades and babbling brooks and sylvan glens. There's something ugly in that sylvan glen. Something they don't want you to know about. I steer clear of those waters.

But the latest trend is for the water to admit that it's bottled locally from the tap, but then to claim that all kind of purification rituals are performed on it, returning it to a pristine H2O state. I am deeply suspicious of this.

To understand my suspicions you need to understand the sorry state of Las Vegas tap water. For those of you who don't live here I'll break it down. We are serviced by the artificial reservoir Lake Mead - water diverted from the Colorado river. This wide open pool of standing water is pumped into our homes, and when the water is pumped out as sewage.... it gets a sewage treatment plant once-over..... and is dumped back into Lake Mead. Now recycling sewage back into drinking water might be okay on the international space station, but this is America's fastest growing city. If you actually drive out to lake Mead to look at our drinking supply, it's an alarming sight. People bathe in it. There are watersports. Jet skis zip around. Blue smoke pours out of outboard motors. Makes you thirsty, doesn't it?

By the time this reclaimed sewage has had the jet ski treatment and is pumped back into our homes it's been generously dosed with foul-tasting chemicals to make it safe for drinking. Which is a long way of saying that Las Vegas tap water sucks. It tastes like a children's pool.

So along comes a bottler like Niagara, claiming that they've purified our tap water. Suuuuuure.
The bottle says that they treat the water with:
1. Carbon Filtration
2. Reverse Osmosis
3. Microfiltration
4. UV Treatment
5. Ozonation

A list like this sets off all my warning bells. A name like "Reverse Osmosis" sounds too technical. It sounds like a name designed to pacify you into thinking that it's some really robust purification technique, when it fact all it means is that they've hired a person to blow on the water. If reverse osmosis means "blowing on water to make it colder" I am not going to be surprised. Okay, let's look it up....

Here's the scoop. Reverse Osmosis means "filtering". It's a screen that you push the water through. The water goes through, solid particles don't. Ah. How does that differ from... microfiltration? It doesn't. From wikipedia: "Microfiltration is not fundamentally different from reverse osmosis"

Ozonation and carbon filtering involve introducing carbon and ozone to the water to soak up bad things like bacteria. I have nothing to say about this.

Niagara water does taste pretty good, so maybe I shouldn't complain. But I can't shake the suspicion that purified Las Vegas tap water can't be much better than Kevin Costner's purified urine that he made on his Waterworld trimaran. The whole enterprise just seems wrong. I'll stick with my Idaho municipal water, if it's all the same to everyone.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gas Station American Flags

And now, let's talk about flags at gas stations. Huge, ginormous American Flags. Really big flags. Flags so large you need powerful, gale force winds to actually see them stream. The new home of the enormous American flag has become, for whatever reason, the suburban gas station. The Alamo never had flags this big. Tranquility Base on the moon didn't have a flag this big. Even George C. Scott would say, "Damn, that's one big gas station flag."

I have no problem with enormous gas station American flags; in fact they're nice to see. Plus, they sometimes offer urgent news bulletins. When Ronald Reagan died, how I did I find out? Word of mouth? A TV interruption? Nope, it was a gigantic gas station American flag, flying at half mast, alerting all that something was amiss. It's too bad we have to rely on something like a Chevron to uphold our civic traditions, but there you have it.

But friends, all is not well in the suburban gas station community. Was I the only one that noticed that the death of Gerald Ford threw them all into confusion? Did anyone notice (in whatever part of America you live in) that no one seemed to know when to return the flag to full staff? Ford died the morning of December 26th, and the flag is lowered for 30 days for the death of a president. But no one seemed quite sure when the 30 days were up. Was it 30 days to the minute of the death? 30 days from the presidential order to lower the flag? Or one month from the day of death? (Real answer: the flag could return to full staff after sundown on the 25th)

On the 25th, some flags were back up. Others stayed at half staff for days too long. My feeling is, if you're going to fly the largest American flags on earth as part of some who's-more-patriotic gas station arms race, you at least owe it to the people to obey the rules.

So my question is: who at Shell or Mobil headquarters is in charge of sending out flag bulletins? Does Exxon have a "Director of Enormous-Flag Affairs"? Does AM/PM have a Dead President Flag Coordination department? Does the slurpee guy actually do the raising and lowering? Does he fold a retired flag into the proper triangle.

I visited a local Terribles gas station (it's a Nevada chain) to get the answers. The clerk blinked a few times and referred me to the manager. The manager, for her part, seemed deeply suspicious that someone was asking about the flag. That particular flag is this one, although the picture doesn't really do justice to its size.

"We got a crew that takes care of that." she said. A crew?

"They do all the Terribles."

I wanted to know the name of the company, but I couldn't get any more information from the suspicious manager. Maybe if I get the chance I'll do a little more digging. For now though, lets just be thankful that we get to see businesses flying flags at all, even if it is just a transparent marketing ploy to try to erase the old public perception that gas stations are run by foreigners, and to somehow tie gas-buying with a feeling of patriotism. Despite all that, a giant flag is a welcome addition to our neighborhood skyline. Just learn the rules for raising and lowering it. That's all.

Celebrity Chefs

Continuing on, since I haven't posted in a while, I'd like to blow the whistle on the wild abuse of the term Celebrity Chef. You can't just go around claiming that your restaurant features a Celebrity Chef. You see, without any kind of controlling, regulatory body to assign people official Celebrity Chef status, just about anyone can claim to be a CC, based on nothing more than publishing a cookbook or making one or two TV appearances. That's a load of crap.

Emeril is a Celebrity Chef. Julia Childs was a Celebrity Chef. Paul Prudhomme. Maybe Wolfgang Puck. That's it. Chefs that manage to cross that boundary into the public consciousness. Everyone knows Emeril. BAM! But come on - being on the Food Netowrk a couple of times doesn't qualify you. It's the Food Network. It's a niche channel with a niche audience buried among hundreds of little cable channels. And being generally well known or well respected within the insular chef community - someone like Joel Robuchon - that doesn't cut it either. Publishing some books? Nope. Having a mildly well known restaurant that bears your name? Nope. That's a rich and successful chef, not a celebrity.

David Hasselhoff is a celebrity. Bobby Flay is not. Ohhhh, poor Bobby Flay. Go make me a steak, chef. That's right, put on a ridiculous hat and make my dinner. You're a food cooker. You prepare meals so that others can spend that time on other, more important matters. Oh, you're going to make some little artistic design with the onions on top? You're going to swirl the raspberry sauce around the cheesecake in some wild, crazy way? Oh yeah, that's art. You're a real celebrity. Please.

These Footnotes in the "Barnes & Nobles Classics" Books.

This requires a little explanation. Barnes and Noble publishes a series of "Classic" books - basically the more accessible classics like Huck Finn and Dracula - for reduced prices. It's a good deal all around: they've got relatively attractive covers, some new interviews or commentary, and you can't argue with the price. And if the goal is to introduce a new generation to the joy of great literature through some of the more readable books, who can object?

Well I do, damnit!

I was browsing through B&N, and when I saw the complete Sherlock Holmes in the Classics series for only $14.95, I couldn't pass it up. I love Holmes stories, and I had never read the novels. So I get home with these two fat volumes, I put on a pot of English breakfast, I get a crackling fire going in the hearth, and I settle in to read some Holmes. (all true except for the tea and the fire)

The first story, A Study in Scarlet, is a thrilling mystery with all of the anti-Mormon prejudice that you could possibly want. (and I like a lot) But on almost every page... there is a footnote. A big ol' asterisk with a note from the editor down at the bottom. Now, I didn't buy an annotated Sherlock Holmes, I wouldn't have wanted to. But according to Barnes and Nobles, these footnotes are simply:

"Designed to inform, and never to intrude. The elegant superscripts are clearly visible within the text, and the corresponding notes appear on the foot of the page for ease of reference. With a glance, footnotes briefly identify historical figures, gloss obsolete terms, and translate foreign words and phrases."

Yeah, except, these are the most asinine and unnecessary footnotes I've ever seen. How retarded does Barnes and Nobles Classics think its readers are? Check some of these out:

Sentence in the text: "With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case* in the corner."

*Locked stand in which decanters of liquor and wine are displayed

Really? Wow, thanks Barnes & Nobles! Thanks for the interruption!

"There was a parallel instance in Aberdeen some years back, and something on very much the same lines at Munich the year after the Franco-Prussian war*."

*Conflict between France and Prussia, from 1870 through early 1871.

Ohhhhhhhhh, so it was a waaaaaar between France and Prussia! I thought it was a Franco-Prussian dance, or maybe a Franco-Prussian soup.

"I was standing at the Criterion Bar, when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round I recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser* under me at Bart's."

*Medical assistant whose duties include bandaging, or "dressing," wounds.

I still don't understand. You mean someone who puts on the band-aid?

Some other terms that are helpfully footnoted:

And, worst of all, every single literary allusion or reference is footnoted. Every time Holmes tosses out a phrase from the bible, or Shakespeare, or any other great work of literature we get the asterisk. Imagine for a moment how annoying that is. When Holmes says "There is nothing new under the sun." do you, the reader, really need to know at that moment what verse of the bible that's from? Does every French word require a translation? Isn't part of the richness of the reading experience either a) catching these allusions naturally and letting them sweep you further into the story or b) knowing you didn't understand something and following up on it later on your own time? I don't know what's worse: being spoon fed like this, or having your ignorance presumed on what the London Underground is.

Go away, footnotes! Stop adding value to my purchase!