After Words On Afterwords

Collective Soul's "Afterwords" album coverLast month I was fired up about Collective Soul’s forthcoming Afterwords CD.   Well, the album released yesterday and sure enough, it’s great stuff!

I quickly got the feeling that they’ve worked hard to pay homage to some of their own favorite musicians.   On "Bearing Witness," you’d almost swear they had George Harrison on guitar.   There’s the distictive chimey guitar reminiscent of U2’s Edge in "Good Morning After All."   You can easily hear The Cars influence on the CD’s bouncy, fun, first single "Hollywood."   Dede & I both picked up on some Cheap Trick and on "What I Can Give You," there’s even a nod to The Killers.

Even atop all of that, the album still has the signature Collective Soul sound.   If you liked their previous albums, you’re sure to enjoy this one, too!   Grab the CD for $10 this week at Target and let us know how you like it!


Milton & his red Swingline staplerOh yeah, I was confident in my complete mastery of the movie.   Yup, the way we spout off the lines, you’d think all of us at work had a hand in writing the script for Office Space.

Yet, when it came time to prove my stuff?   Well, not so much.   Think you can fare better?   Take the Office Space Movie Quiz for yourself and let’s just see how many you can score correctly out of the 100 questions.

A word of warning, some of these questions are brutally tough even for the most hardcore of fans!   Good luck, Lumberghs!

Big props go out to Eric J. for the link to the Bill Lumbergh Soundboard.   Pop on over there and listen to some hilarious sound clips of Gary Cole’s character from the movie.

Update:   Be sure to check out the "Office Space: Recut" that recasts Milton as a creepy, mumbling, stapler-wielding psycho in a horror flick!

Accidentally Catholic

We attended Ethan’s baptism yesterday.   Little "E" did great!   This was the first Catholic baptism that Rob & I have ever attended so it was quite an experience for us.

First off, we arrived at the ceremony right after attending a funeral (talk about a yin-yang situation).   We were a little early for the baptism (we thought we were right on time) and there were people gathered and singing.   We slipped in on the back row next to Pete & Becky (the only faces we recognized) and tried to get into the flow of the ceremony.   There was a lot of knee-bench kneeling, chanting and other stuff going on.   I asked Pete where the baby was and he informed us that the baptism would take place after mass was over.   Mass???   Uh oh, we had just walked in on the end of a Catholic church service; no wonder we were so lost!   I didn’t even know they’d let you in without a membership card or at least knowing all the hand signals.   😉

After we finished up with mass, we moved up closer to the front so we would have a good view of the baptism.   Finally, Clems & family showed up and we were relieved to see some familiar faces.   We were still lost with all the ceremonial stuff and not sure how much of it was Catholic ways and how much was Filipino ways (see dress attire in photo) but it was a nice ceremony and Little "E" sure has a lot of family that loves him.

After the ceremony, we headed over to Brenda & Barney’s for a celebration dinner with food and family galore.   It was also an opportunity to spend some time getting to know Clems’ family.   His brother Arnold and parents are in from the Philippines and this was the first time we had ever met his parents.   They’re all very nice people and we feel lucky to be an honarary part of the family.

Ethan's baptism


Corny Considerations

photo of a corn man sculpture in claySeems that corn, in one form or another, is a dominant subject in much of the news these days.   Between the very justified villainization of high-fructose corn syrup that’s infiltrating nearly every otherwise healthful food product to the demand for corn-based biofuel causing a rise in the cost of meats to stories about how corn crops are edging out other crops, corn is making headlines.

With that in mind, several themes that revolve around this common topic – corn – have been swirling around in my brain lately…

Are We Children of the Corn?

I’ve just begun reading Michael Pollan’s
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals in which he traces, step by step, the journey our food takes from the soil to the plate.   I’m not far into the book and already it’s some very thought-provoking stuff.   Pollan contends that we are indeed what we eat — and what we eat remakes the world.   And what we eat, by and large, is corn:

Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak.   Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn.   The eggs are made of corn.   The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.

Pollan goes to to make the corn connection to a vast array of many of the other foods we purchase & consume – 1 in every 4 items for sale in the average American supermarket contains corn.   A staggering number of even the non-consumable items in your local stores are derivatives of Zea mays, the giant tropical grass we know as corn.   In fact, the Ontario Corn Producers Association insists that there are A Zillion Uses for Corn!   Given how most of the corn grown in this country is processed into unrecognizable bits & pieces, you may never look at a cornfield – or the food in your shopping cart – the same way again…

The Bitter Taste of Corn Sweeteners

In 2006 alone, more than 700 million bushels of corn were refined into corn sweeteners – primarily High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).   Read the labels on beverages & foods and you’ll find HFCS has insidiously wormed its way into all kinds of foods you might never suspect – lunch meats, whole-wheat breads, crackers, salad dressings, soups, cheese, milk, yogurt, vitamins, and even medicines.   Perhaps worse yet, many of the foods laced with this nasty stuff are promoted as being suitable for a healthy lifestyle or weight loss!

Despite the considerable processing required to create HFCS, it’s considerably cheaper, easier to transport, and much sweeter than sugar.   In part, this is because our government artificially fixes sugar prices while heavily subsidizing corn.   But the net result is that this translates into lower costs and higher profits for food producers, so there’ a tremendous economics incentive for them to use corn-based sweeteners.   Since HFCS comes from corn, products that feature it can be billed as "natural" foods but this couldn’t be further from the truth.   In fact, the process of breaking down cornstarch into syrup requires 3 different enzymes – the first of which, alpha-amylase, is industrially produced by a bacterium.

Studies have linked a number of health issues with the use of HFCS.   Some suggest that HFCS may alter intracellular metabolism, which in turn facilitates accelerated aging through oxidative damage.   There’s also connections with HFCS contributing to obesity & diabetes.   So why are these health risks tolerated and the use of HFCS continuing to escalate?   Consumer apathy.   There are simply too few people thinking about the ingredients or nutritional value of the foods they ingest.   We’ve got to let our dollars do the talking – if enough consumers stop buying foods made with corn sweeteners, the producers will have little choice but to abandon the use of HFCS.

Biofuel Causing Corn Shortages?

Not enough that we use innumerable amounts of corn to fuel our bodies, we’ve now been snookered into using it to fuel our cars too.   But the use of corn-based biofuel seems to be coming at the expense of corn as a food crop.

I recently read about a surprising situation in David Bollier’s article on the Mexican corn crisis and although it isn’t quite the same, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845.

Like Ireland’s potato, corn is a food that defines Mexico.   There’s evidence that corn was domesticated in central Mexico more than 7000 years ago and as early as 1500 BC, corn was a primary staple food for most South American and much of the North American cultures.   Corn, in the form of tortillas, is a critical mainstay of their diet & culture but tortilla prices have tripled or quadrupled in some parts of Mexico since last summer.   Why?   Biofuel.

Now it’s true that yellow corn earmarked (rimshot!) for fuel production is not the same variety used for food, but with the increased demand for biofuels, the corn destined for ethanol is fetching a significantly higher price.   So farmers in Mexico are enticed to grow that crop instead of corn for human and/or livestock consumption and instead import cheaper, food-grade white corn from us to offset.   Farmers here in the U.S. are failling prey to similar economic pressures.   Sounds simple, no?   It gets worse…

Not much more than a year ago, Mexico was exporting more than 137,000 tons of its annual corn crop.   Yet at the same time, Mexico is facing a corn shortage and is set to import more than 800,000 tons of corn for its people from the U.S. & other countries.   The price of tortillas has risen so dramatically that Mexicans have taken to mass protests in the streets.

Now it gets really interesting — statistically, the U.S. grew 42% of the world’s total corn crop last year but ethanol production is projected to consume half of our annual corn harvest by 2008.   So, the demand for biofuels is about to chew up 20% of the world’s corn harvest.

Despite the fact that there are other, potentially far more efficient non-food crop sources that can produce ethanol, the push for corn-based biofuel continues.   And this is accompanied by a score of problems:   it requires vast amounts of energy (including fossil fuel) & water to produce, it does nothing to encourage us to reduce our use of fossil fuel, it burns less efficiently than straight gasoline, & overall doesn’t have a net effect of reducing global-warming-causing pollution.   And since corn is heavily subsidized by the government, as the demand for corn-based ethanol to run our cars increases, so too do our taxes — those government subsidies have to come from somewhere, right?

Although I haven’t seen anything documenting this, it’s a safe bet that corn-based biofuel benefits "Big Oil" significantly.   It’s probably also a safe bet that those companies are already snapping up the farms that grow corn.   Once again, seems like a win-win scenario for "Big Oil."

Anybody else find this whole thing frustrating and/or "cornfusing?"

A Perfect Birthday Gift for the Kid in Me

Rob gave me a Crayola Executive Pen for my birthday. It is a perfect gift for me because it combines 3 things that I love: pens, crayons and the color red. It also came with the little rubber monster finger puppet thingy shown in the picture. Not sure what that has to do with Crayola but hey, I never turn down a toy. I can’t wait to use this at work in my next important meeting!

Crayola executive pen


How Did Shopping Become a Holiday?

tax-free graphicThe new school year is just around the corner and along with it comes the much-anticipated 2007 back-to-school sales tax holiday.   On the specified days, you’ll be able to purchase children’s clothing, shoes, & certain other merchandise (of less than a $100 value) tax-free.   You can view the tax-free holiday dates for most states on the Raising 4 Boys website.   If you’re in Texas, you can follow this link to view a list of selected items and their exemption status (either tax-free or taxed) that will be in effect on the weekend of August 17-19th.   Now I’m all for having another holiday (especially if I get the day off) but is this occasion really a "holiday" or is it more of a scam?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a holiday is defined as:

A day free from work that one may spend at leisure, especially a day on which custom or the law dictates a halting of general business activity to commemorate or celebrate a particular event.

Sales tax holidays are a temporary suspension of state & local sales taxes charged on certain items that are quickly becoming a huge annual event in many states — perhaps even rivalling that other notorious shopping holiday: Black Friday.   I applaud anyone savvy enough to make the most of this slight savings that this opportunity (potentially) offers, but is this really worthy of being deemed a "holiday?"   And I’m more than a little suspicious of the motives behind this annual outpouring of generiousity.

For starters, it should come as no great surprise that the biggest fan of these tax-free holidays is the retail industry — this feeding frenzy gives businesses a sorely needed influx of income to stave off the pre-Christmas sales slump.   Some retailers that normally might reduce prices during the back-to-school season hold off on doing so and, in some rare cases, may actually increase prices on key items.

Secondly, these tax-free bonanzas steamroll consumers into purchases that retailers want them to make.   For example, you might have every intent to equip your child with a nifty messenger-style bag, but because that type of bag is exempt from the tax-free incentive, you’re subtly steered towards a backpack instead.   This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just so long as you’re aware of the manipulation tactics being used on you.

So, is Uncle Sam looking out for our interests, seeking to help us poor consumers stretch our meager earnings?   Or is it more likely that we’re being ever-so-slyly pushed to shop, shop, shop until we drop — into the poorhouse?   Is this just a scheme to herd us like cattle into the stores where we’ll graze needlessly on goods that we might not have otherwise splurged on without the artificial incentive?

Whatever the case, how will you be spending the tax-free holiday?

Guest Blogging

Grace over at NeonScent put out a call back in mid-July for some guest blogger articles to help fill the void while she’s away for a few weeks in August. I had a couple of ideas for blog posts that had been simmering in the pot but really weren’t a good fit here on 2Dolphins so, I submitted them for consideration…

You can follow this link to read my Blogging With Character blogging tip article that’s featured over on NeonScent.

August ’07 Blogtipping

Blogtipping iconSeems like lots of picture-snapping people we know are jumping into digital cameras for the first time or upgrading to newer, cooler equipment lately.   So August’s round of Blogtipping is, in honor of Summer vacations, dedicated to digital camera & photography sites.

Steve’s Digicams is an Internet institution that’s well worth visiting again & again because of:

  1. 10 years of digital camera purchasing advice to point you in the right direction!
  2. Camera reviews are incredibly thorough, detailed, & unbiased.
  3. Discussion forums provide an opportunity to interact with other photographers & digital camera owners.
  • Tip: Dede would love to see Steve beef up the site by adding camcorder reviews rather than just advertisements for them.

Photojojo from Amit & Kara Gupta features can’t-miss photography projects, technical tips, & gadget reviews:

  1. They showcase loads of fun & funky DIY photo creations.
  2. Twice-weekly newsletters are delivered via email and/or RSS feed.
  3. Swap stories, ideas, or questions with other photo junkies in the Forum.
  • Tip: There needs to be more cool stuff in the Photojojo Store, Amit!

Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School offers simple tips to help digital camera owners get the most out of their cameras.   Whether you’re a rank novice or budding semi-pro shutterbug, you’ll find plenty to like:

  1. Practical & timely tips for seasonal photo taking.
  2. Easy-to-use & lively discussion forums for digital photography enthusiasts.
  3. Weekly assignments help get you motivated to learn new tricks & techniques.
  • Tip: Email & RSS subscription options bring DPS’s weekly newsletter right to you, but I’d like to see full feeds instead of the partial teasers.

Bonus:   Want a glimpse of just how incredible digital photography can be?   Check out Austin, Texas photographer Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs.   Trey’s photoblog features pics that’re nothing short of spectacular covering the topical & geographical gamut.

Now it’s your turn – have a priceless digital camera or photography-related site you’d like to share?   Post a comment!

Prince (aka TBFKAD)

Newly-crowned “Prince Dimitry” (TBFKAD) emerged victorious at yesterday’s Spirit of Women’s Fourth Annual Breastfed Baby Pageant held at Music City Mall.   The award-winner was too modest to don the bejeweled crown, so his momma wore it in his honor.

Marsha & Dimitry at the baby pageant