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A recent Huffpo Health article identified yet another threat to our fragile public health as "Third-hand smoke." This tobacco smoke thrice removed is said to pose a (mostly theoretical) menace to the usual suspects; the old, the young, and those with compromised immune systems. For those of you who wonder what third-hand smoke could possibly be, it is the smell of smoke that lingers on a smoker's clothes or in his or her hair, or in the draperies in a smoking hotel room. That stench contains poisonous chemicals. Imagine that! A smell that annoys you could possibly be imagined to be dangerous. We can now rush in and ban it! Workers at Indiana University Health are now forbidden to smoke during the working day, no matter how far they travel off-campus and how permissible smoking may be there, lest they poison their fellow-workers by coming back with the toxic odors of burnt tobacco clinging to them, even though those fellow-workers would only be injured if they greeted the returning smokers by sucking on their outer garments.

Now, no one has proven that anyone has ever been injured by exposure to third-hand smoke. Even second hand smoke, while commonly accepted as a menace on a par with mustard gas or anthrax spores, has not been unequivocally proven to be a danger to anyone. Smokers have nonetheless become the lepers of our age, hounded outdoors or otherwise banished.  I particularly enjoy the "smoker tanks" at some airports, where tobacco addicts are herded into a glass room with a separate ventilation system, there to puff away in their own atmosphere. I often take a seat outside and watch them. It's like going to the zoo. Sometimes they even have their own bar. It looks like fun. Don't press your face up against the glass like a kid at an aquarium, though. They don't like that.

I was a smoker when smokers ruled the world. We smoked freely anywhere. Even non-smokers produced ashtrays when we invaded their homes. We smoked in stadiums, in restaurants, in lecture halls. We smoked in hospitals, unless the person we were visiting actually was strapped to an oxygen tank. At most, we were segregated to "smoking sections," which meant we were all seated together and could concentrate a stream of lethal gas at the hapless non-smokers. This was especially effective on airplanes.

Somehow, we lost our way. Like the Romans, we stumbled from the pinnacle of world dominance without being aware of our downfall even being a possibility. The hordes of pink-lunged people engulfed us. We were surrounded, shouted down, sprayed with air freshener. Too wheezy to defend ourselves, we allowed our own banishment into the wilderness.

I like to think that part of the reason smokers lost their place in civilized society was that I switched sides. I quit my two-pack a day habit abruptly one morning, when I had a cold. I was planning on starting again when I got over the cold. I succeeded in quitting permanently because  even though I usually  had only one cold a year when I smoked,  it lasted from October until May. Quitting wasn't easy, but it was possible. I chewed gum and sucked lozenges. Eventually, I stopped doing that. It was easier than quitting smoking. I gained weight. I went on a diet. Dieting required less fortitude than quitting smoking. I replaced my then-girlfriend's oil pan gasket on her used Chevy, a task of considerable and unanticipated mechanical complexity that I had not performed before and have not attempted since, in order to keep my fingers from remembering they weren't clutching their usual cigarette. Even that was easier than kicking the tobacco habit.

I wouldn't recommend that course of quitting smoking to anyone else, but it worked for me. I haven't smoked since Reagan was President.

So when the smokers were rounded up and sent puffing into their Gulag of freezing patios and dumpster-laden alleys, I was no longer among them. While they rushed outside the airport to light up after a long plane flight, I just collected my luggage. I watched entire sporting events from breezy upper-deck seats while they missed precious innings climbing down to the sidewalk outside to smoke. Their problems weren't my problems.

Smokers have accepted their banishment. Few of them object to their demonization. With a mixture of guilt and grace, they allow themselves to be segregated. Instinctively, they know that after food, clothing and shelter, the next most urgent human need is to control other people's behavior, and they accept the majority's will.

Sometimes, though, there is resistance. My Significant Other indulges in an occasional cigarette. She always obeys the rules of the smoker's Stalag when she does so, leaving me inside to stand outside, no matter what the weather. The weather was fine last night when we went to a harbor side bar, and the breeze was cool and scented with the nearby ocean when she stepped outside to smoke. An obvious out-of-towner, corpulent enough that any observer could see that he had potentially health-threatening compulsive problems of his own, sniffed when he smelled her Virginia Slim afire and said, apparently sarcastically, "Oh, I really like the smell of cigarette smoke."

My S. O., who has worked in the sarcasm field for much of her life, replied "Oh, I really like the smell of sweaty fat tourists. Isn't it nice we're both getting what we like?"

He glared at us throughout the entire meal. Let him. When they discover the dangers of third-hand obesity, he'll have to eat outside.


 
 
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Presidential candidate Rick Perry of Texas recently advocated the teaching of creationism alongside the theory of evolution in public high schools. Mr. Perry was quoted as saying "Teach them both…the students are smart enough to figure out which one's right."

I don't see any reason to confine Perry's insight to the biological sciences. Letting students figure out all high school subjects for themselves promises to be a boon to school district budgets everywhere, and those hateful teacher's unions will certainly lose a lot of their clout when the position of teacher is eliminated. Of course, strict educational standards have to be maintained, lest our kids lose their position as the 14th or 15th best educated children on the planet. The Rick Perry High School Graduation Test, reprinted in its entirety below, makes certain American high school graduates possess enough knowledge to compete on the world stage.

1. Who was the first President of the United States, Washington  or Lincoln?

  1. Washington
  2. Lincoln
  3. Neither—it was Franklin, because he's on the C-note
  4. I don't know, but isn't it weird they were both born on holidays?
2. Is pi an irrational number beginning with 3.14, or is it something tasty you have with milk?

  1. Irrational
  2. Tasty
  3. I don't like pie
  4. I don't like numbers
3. When did the War of 1812 begin?

  1. 1812
  2. Around 1812
  3. Between 1811 and 1813
  4. After the fall of Saigon
4. If you are standing outside in the Northern Hemisphere at night and facing the North Star and you extend your right hand directly out from your body, it is pointing:

  1. Up
  2. Out
  3. East
  4. To the person to whom I'm passing the joint.
5. The Table of Elements has a bunch of differently-colored squares and some numbers on it. It is important in the science of:

  1. Any CSI show
  2. Chemistry
  3. Home Ec, because if you fold it up right, it becomes the Food Pyramid
  4. Woodworking
6. Cavemen and dinosaurs lived together. True or false?

  1. True
  2. False
  3. They may have lived together, but they weren't allowed to marry
7. The human papillomavirus, for which the girls in this high school weren't vaccinated for political reasons, causes:

  1. Promiscuity
  2. Teenage sex
  3. Acne
  4. Sin
  5. Free condom giveaways
8. The United States is in North America. Which of these other countries is in North America? For extra credit, attach an essay on why we need to build a wall between them and us.

  1. California
  2. Israel
  3. New York City
  4. Mexico
9. Global warming is:

  1. Wrong, because it's cold today
  2. A terrorist plot
  3. A fake theory foisted on us by the wealthy renewable energy lobby to push the impoverished Texas oil industry into bankruptcy
  4. Only acknowledged by people who can  use the word "foisted."
For scoring purposes, all answers are considered correct. Any student who answered three or more questions with "1" may apply to be valedictorian.


 
 
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In an expected development, Standard and Poor downgraded the entire human race today. After downgrading the United States and Google, S&P admitted what many observers have said about them all along—they've soured on the entire human species.

"Nothing about them says AAA anymore," a spokesman for the company said. "Fat, lazy and addicted to video games. And that's the adults. The kids are even worse."

"Most of the interest in them was speculative in the first place," the spokesman continued. "Walking upright and inventing fire certainly drew investor interest in the early days. They basically pushed the other primates out of the market. Anybody holding woolly mammoth or saber-tooth tiger bonds paid a heavy price for not holding at least a long position in human. The invention of stone tools and agriculture sent their shares soaring and they became the backbone of most portfolios. There was a little short-selling during the Dark Ages, but that profit-taking soon gave way to resurgent growth through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age. Even their long-slumping Chinese division began to turn itself around. They even took a position on the Moon! Everybody thought the sky was the limit then, but they've been going on momentum ever since. Instead of walking on moving sidewalks and living in space needles, they invented the PC.  All they do now is flame each other on Facebook. It's time to pull the plug."

But what about evolution? Isn't it possible the human race could yet become something breathtaking?

"Breath is a good word. As in, don't hold it. A million years of evolution and they've got Snooki and Pee Wee Herman. I wouldn't count on any future earnings there. They've always had a problem with internal squabbling, but departmental rivalries are worse than ever now. The Middle East division is a war unto itself. S&P has a reputation for recommending stable investments. We have a responsibility to our clients. This downgrade is long overdue."

That leaves us nowhere. Without humans, what do we have?

"Puppies. Possibly kittens. And everybody loves dolphins. An elegant, streamlined animal willing to jump through hoops for raw fish looks pretty good, especially after you've watched a couple seasons of The Biggest Loser."

Is there any possibility humanity will regain its Triple A rating?

"We don't know. Give us a couple decades of world peace. If they ever really invent flying cars, that would help, too.


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A lot of talk in these politically polarized times turns around comparisons to the Nazi Party. Strident liberals have compared their Tea Party opponents to the leaders of the fascist Third Reich, and Tea Party members have responded in kind. In fact, there's nothing Tea Partiers like more than comparing people to Nazis. Glenn Beck, Tea Party icon, reflexively calls anybody he doesn't like a Nazi, and now rising Tea Party star Kim Simac has accused the entire American public school system of similarity to the Third Reich.

The Nazis under Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, invaded Poland, signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union and then abrogated it by invading that country, enforced a reign of terror over conquered nations such as Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, put an estimated twelve million people to death in concentration camps, many by the use of poison gases, initiated the deliberate bombing of civilians in WWII and defeated France. These are just Nazi perfidities I can recall off the top of my head. Thousands more remain unremembered by me but certainly not by history.

Despite candidate Simac's apprehensions, it is tough to think of any public school district in this country, no matter how big and well-funded, matching that record, except for maybe defeating France. Even if we gave them a geographical pass and let them invade Canada instead of Poland, it's doubtful any public school could equal  Nazi accomplishments in the fields of slaughter and sadism, especially since the Nazis didn't take summers off.

Public school teachers in general don't seem to be imbued with the spirit of the Third Reich. They want to educate kids, thereby safeguarding the nation's future, and be paid at least as much as a car salesman or a journeyman electrician for doing it. That's hardly the blitzkrieg spirit and asking these souls to roll over a defenseless countryside and round up innocents for death camps would really be pushing at the boundaries of their skill sets.

So Simac may be guilty of a stretch here, but that's no reason tolerate libel by the arrogant liberals who have opined that any Nazi lucky enough to be reincarnated as a human being instead of an intestinal fluke would feel quite comfortable in the Tea Party. The difference between the Nazi and Tea Parties are numerous. As an impartial critic, I have undertaken to explain them below.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Tea Party, its membership is composed nearly entirely of right-wing white Christians who believe that they are naturally ordained to lead the nation by virtue of their being superior to other Americans.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nazis, they were right-wing white Christians, who believed that they were naturally ordained to lead the world by virtue of their being superior to other human beings.

Reading the above, it's apparent I haven't made the difference between the two organizations starkly clear. Let me explain it in terms of historical outlook. The Tea Party wants to return America to an earlier epoch, in which an America ruled fully by Caucasians of one religious persuasion dominated North America. The Nazis wanted to return Germany to the days of the Holy Roman Empire, an era when Germans of a singular faith dominated Europe.

If that distinction is still too fine for you, let me elucidate further. The Nazis, although their views were espoused by a minority of Germans, came to power because they succeeded in painting their opponents as unpatriotic weaklings, but eventually they proved themselves willing to destroy Germany rather than abandon their radical beliefs. The Tea Party, although supported by a minority of Americans, looks down its nose at other Americans for being unpatriotic, but they have already proven themselves willing to destroy America's economy rather than abandon their radical agenda.

Still not getting it? Don't be obtuse. The Germans put the Nazis in power because they were persuaded that their national values were being desecrated by a non-German minority, the Jews. The Tea Party wins elections by claiming that our nation is being overrun by a non-American minority, the Mexicans. Not understanding this is like saying you don't know the difference between Jews and Mexicans. That would expose you as an ignoramus. Really, one of the few things Jews and Mexicans have in common is that they're both welcome to stay out of the Tea Party.

The Nazis were known for their mass rallies and slogan chanting. The Tea Party loves mass rallies and slogan chanting, but they also have Fox News.

The Tea Party hates the United Nations. It's because of the Nazis that we have the United Nations.

Most importantly, when the Nazis called somebody a Nazi, they regarded it as a compliment, but when the Tea Party calls somebody a Nazi, they mean it as an insult.

Clear enough?


 
 
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The controversy over the cover of Newsweek featuring Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann puzzles me, since she looks exactly the same in it as she does in all her other pictures, her translucently spooky eyes brimming with insane fervor.

Why does she look that way? Many people who want what Michele Bachmann wants for this country, i.e., a return to an America where black, female, gay and non-Christian Americans stayed in their places, whether it was their slums, their kitchens, their closets or just keeping their mouths shut while the majority religion displayed its symbols and uttered its prayers under color of authority, seem to have been appalled by the Newsweek cover.

"She says all the right things," they whisper among themselves. "Why does Newsweek make her look like a bonk-ass loony?"

The answer is that it has nothing to do with Newsweek. You, too, can achieve the Michele Bachmann optic glow. Here's how:

Think to yourself about all the wonderful things science does for you. It provides you with the monstrous SUV you drive to church, the television on which you watch Fox News, the Internet social networks where you find and keep the company of other bigots and religious zealots like yourself.

Science vaccinated your children. It provided guidance to the bounteous farms and abundant ranches that nourished them. It built the highways you travel. It air-conditions your Sunbelt home, so you can stand to live in the same climate as the Mexican immigrants about whom you complain.

If it has not already done so, it is likely that science will someday provide treatment for a medical condition that would have killed you, had you been born in an earlier time. You'll owe it your life.

So bow your head and thank God for making these scientists absolutely right about every aspect of your life that makes it comfortable and satisfying, even possible. Close your eyes now, and say "Thank you, God for making human beings so brilliant that they were 100% correct about everything that makes 21st century existence unimaginably safer and easier than living at any time before in history. I accept their guidance every time my computer boots up and my microwave dings. I trust my life to them every time I fly or get an MRI, and accept all that they say as beneficent wisdom EXCEPT FOR WHEN THEY TELL ME ANYTHING I DON'T WANT TO BELIEVE IN, LIKE EVOLUTION AND GLOBAL WARMING. AMEN."

Meditate upon this for as long as it takes for it to make sense. It could be a while. Now look in the mirror. If you've convinced yourself, you've got Michele Bachmann eyes.


 
 
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Yesterday's edition of Fox Nation took note of the President's birthday party with the headline "Obama's Hip-Hop Barbecue Didn't Create Jobs."

The fact that the President's 50th birthday was an economic non-starter didn't strike many people as worthy of a headline. Most people's 50th birthdays don't create jobs. They create anxiety, light depression, a sensation of life's passing one by and the realization that one's bird of youth has finally and irretrievably flown, not employment opportunities.

This reporter contacted a fellow member of the third estate, a spokesman for Fox, who agreed to speak anonymously. He admitted the headline was a little aggressive. "We're worried people are not hating the President for the right reasons," the source said.

It was pointed out to the Fox representative that people find plenty of reasons to be displeased with Obama. He's running two wars and a crummy economy, presiding over a sliding stock market and has to deal with the fact that the country, due to the debt crisis, instead of having its usual gold-plated MasterCard to charge government expenses on, now has to beg for credit from Orchard Bank.

"True, but some people might remember that the Republicans started the wars, crashed the economy and precipitated the debt crisis. God knows Fox isn't going to remind anyone of that, but if they recalled it on their own, they might not hate Obama for causing those problems."

That would be a crisis for Fox. How does criticizing the President for having a birthday party help?

"Not a birthday party. A hip-hop barbecue. Nobody would blame Obama for throwing himself a birthday party. And, frankly, no one would blame him for having a barbecue. Everybody loves a barbecue. It's the hip-hop we're nailing him on."

A lot of people listen to hip-hop. Why would people hate Obama for the music he enjoys?

"Hip-hop is simmering with sex and bad language."

So is HBO. What if Obama likes watching that?

"Don't be obtuse. Look, things look bad for Obama now, but it's still more than a year before the next election. The economy could come back some. The price of gas could drop. He could win both wars and send the Seal Team Six on a scavenger hunt for Qaddafi's pillbox hat, with his head still in it. Fox still has to be bitterly opposed to him for something."

You think saying he listens to hip-hop will work?

"Absolutely. What kind of people listen to hip-hop?"

Young people, mostly.

The Fox guy fairly bristled. "You're just not getting it. What kind of people make hip-hop?"

Musicians?

"Look, I'm going to be patient with you, because obviously, you don't get your news from Fox. Look at this picture we ran with our story. Who's in the picture?"

This reporter recognized Obama, Chris Rock, Charles Barkley and Jay-Z.

"Notice how the skin tones of all four men closely resemble each other?"

You mean because they're all…

The Fox spokesman put his finger on my lips.

You want us to hate Obama because he's…

The Fox guy put his cupped hand over this reporter's mouth. It smelled vaguely of plastic and metal, as if he'd been hacking into phones recently.

"Don't say it," he said. "Just remember it. As long as people do that, Fox is doing its job."


 
 
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Questions of style or fashion seldom occur to the male. Indeed, the ideal day for the man lucky enough to be born American, consisting of lying about the house on the weekend, unencumbered by chores or any clothes more binding than an old pair of gym shorts or underwear, clutching a bottle of malt liquor in one hand and the TV remote in the other, snacking on cold pizza while flipping channels from one mindless sporting event to the next, is an idyll as far removed from fashion concerns as has existed since our primitive ancestors decided on the correct way to tie a loincloth.

Even when forced to leave the house, the author, as a heterosexual, middle aged male, is not expected to make much of a fashion statement and this writer is always happy to satisfy low expectations. Looking at his closet, the author sees some evidence of past fashion trends, but it is paleological in nature, requiring excavation and interpretation in order to make a coherent style narrative. There are some Hawaiian shirts, for example, left over from when wearing a Hawaiian shirt everywhere was the rage, or possibly left over from when the author lived in Hawaii. A pair of cowboy boots lingers over from some country-western epoch of style. An item called the "hoodie," was popularized by youth about fifteen years ago, although they had existed since mid last century. No hoodies were owned by this writer for thirty or so years, but now several hang off his closet pegs like gutless, primary-colored ghosts.

The subject of personal grooming, however, is much more important for the male. This is because we only look at our faces in the mirror. Many single men do not even own a full length mirror, whereas women, both single and married, consider it a necessity. We men just contemplate our faces as we shave, completely oblivious to our garment choices and body evolution; for example a t-shirt emblazoned with barbecue sauce stains matched up with souvenir Shamu boxer shorts, pulled tight over the belly of beer and the office-chair trained glutes. We don't even see these fashion and figure flaws. We rinse out our razors and think we look great.

So the only aspect of style in which men can blunder horribly, and be aware of it, is head and facial hair. Horrible blundering gets done anyway; the comb-over, the Grizzly Adams beard, an untrimmed festoon of nose hairs. This writer some time back made the decision to go minimalist in the head hair department. He opted for none, facial or cranial. It's tough to criticize that look. There are no bad hair days when every day's a no-hair day, and one's shampoo habit can be considered kicked for good.

It's an ageless look, too. Hair, gray or thinning, is the first thing women look at when they try to determine a man's age bracket, and the shaved scalp is, at first glance, tough to place on the spectrum of maturity. The author has observed women far too young for him looking at him speculatively, before they realize, with a flash of horror, He's old enough to be my grandfather!

Which is not true. The author is barely old enough to be their father's older brother.

That happy period ended a month ago, when the author's Significant Other, after much wheedling, negotiation, and the rejection of several generous counter-offers involving dinners and vacations, persuaded him to grow a mustache. She wouldn't even let him grow the mustache-goatee combination which, although clearly ugly, is at least currently fashionable. Nope, she insisted on the straight cop stache, the Magnum, PI horror that infested the lip of every police officer in America in the last quarter of the last century, and a sizable percentage of men not in law enforcement as well, including this writer.

So it's a look he's already had. That's one reason it bores him. Another is that when some people see him, they start throwing their drugs in the bushes. The author was certain the mustache would come in shot through with gray, and had wisely left himself that out to shave it off, but the miserable patch of fur betrayed him by growing back the same off-gold he remembered it being when it had last been spotted in '97.

The mustache requires care. True, no electrical instruments are required; no blow-dryers, hair flatteners or hair frizzers are necessary, but it needs to be trimmed with scissors constantly, lest the bristly affectation blossom into something unkissable. This bit of sub-nasal fur needs to be eyeballed with a straight-edge every few days or the edges flare out asymmetrically. It may not seem like much of a problem to those of you who are daily slaves to lather, rinse, repeat, condition, rinse, dry, gel, style and being vaguely unhappy with the result afterwards anyway, but it's complicated to a man whose sole grooming task previously was remembering not to shave off his eyebrows.

These grooming chores mean looking in this full-length mirror constantly, so the author gets a regular eyeful of his entire physiognomy. So it does make him look fat, or at least it makes him look at his fat.

It's got to go. Tough to think of a fatal accident for just your mustache, though. This writer is open to suggestions.