When the Tax Is On the Punkin', In the Corn State It's A Shock

Weird news, weird news. Topical for today, this story from Iowa: Tax Law: Are You Eating Those Pumpkins?

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Department of Revenue is taxing jack-o'-lanterns this Halloween. The new department policy was implemented after officials decided that pumpkins are used primarily for Halloween decorations, not food, and should be taxed, said Renee Mulvey, the department's spokeswoman.

"We made the change because we wanted the sales tax law to match what we thought the predominant use was," Mulvey said. "We thought the predominant use was for decorations or jack-o'-lanterns."

Previously, pumpkins had been considered an edible squash and exempted from the tax. The department ruled this year that pumpkins are taxable - with some exceptions - if they are advertised for use as jack-'o-lanterns or decorations.

Iowans planning to eat pumpkins can still get a tax exemption if they fill out a form.

Question: Will Iowa tax peppermint candy canes in December? After all, most people will be using them to decorate Christmas trees. (Yes, on this blog, they are still called "Christmas trees," not "holiday trees," political correctness be damned!) Sure, they'll eat them afterwards, but the candy canes are still primarily for decorative purposes.

Filling out a form to get small change back (six cents on the dollar for whatever the pumpkin cost) would undoubtedly be too much effort for the average Iowan, which is probably what the bureaucrats are hoping for. The cost of the postage to send in the form for a tax refund would probably be more than they would get back, so what's the point? But personally, I'd love to see each and every person who is charged that sales tax turn around and fill one of those forms out and send it in, just on general principles. The rules say that you're not supposed to tax food. And folks,

this is food.


Minorities, Spammers To Be Hardest Hit

At least, that's how I'd read this story in the Daily Mail: Human race will 'split into two different species'
The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years.

"Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates," says the report, which suggests that advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques will effectively homogenise our appearance.

Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.

If the men will all be well-hung and the women will all be stacked, what will the poor spammers do? To whom will they hawk pills to enlarge those body parts?

And if everybody will be "coffee-coloured", then everyone will be a minority and nobody will have grounds for affirmative action preferences. Who will be our future Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons?

My problem with the whole theory is that it assumes that beautiful women seek to marry handsome men. However, the evidence outside of Hollywood is that beautiful women often seek to marry wealthy, powerful men, who may or may not be physically attractive. Look at the late Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. Or any of the women hanging around Hugh Hefner, for that matter. Wealth and power are a powerful aphrodisiac.


Goin' Fishin'

The National Football League is doing its best to undermine our international relations with Great Britain, sending the woeful 0-7 Miami Dolphins to London to play a regular season game on Sunday against the New York Giants. For most Floridians, that's not far enough! Perhaps playing the game in Beijing, 13 time zones ahead and starting at 2 a.m., would be better. Then there would be less chance of turning on the television and accidentally seeing the game.

I don't understand the logic of playing a regular season game that actually counts in a foreign country. Preseason exhibition games? Fine, no problem. But there are only eight regular season home games during an NFL season, and the Dolphins gave up one of them for this game to be played in London. Sure, they suck this year, but there's a principle here: You don't stiff your home fans by taking away a regular season game and traveling a few thousand miles to play it on the road.

Sure, Major League Baseball does it too. They've had some teams open up with a three-game series in Japan in recent years, but still, that's only about 1/27th of a team's home schedule. Each game in the NFL is far more important because they only play 1/10th as many games as MLB does.

You know that the stadium in London will probably be only half-full at best; after all, what they call "football" in England is played with a round, black-and-white ball. A third-tier soccer game would probably draw a larger crowd.


President Colbert?

What does it say about the mood of the American people when comedian Stephen Colbert's satirical presidential campaign polls in the double digits? According to Rasmussen Reports, in a hypothetical three-way race between Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Colbert, the comedian draws 13% of the vote. If the match-up is Clinton, Fred Thompson and Colbert, then Colbert gets 12% He's a distant third in both match-ups, but then, he's only been in the race for one week. Perhaps Colbertmania is just beginning to surge.

And among the 18-29 age group that is more likely to watch Colbert's show on Comedy Central, he gets 28% of the vote in the match-up involving Giuliani, and 31% of the vote in one involving Thompson, more than either Republican candidate does among that age group, according to Rasmussen.

Now maybe the people being polled just decided to pull the pollster's leg. And without a real party apparatus behind him, Colbert has no chance of being elected. Still, it seems to me that this shows that there is a sizable portion of the electorate that would pull the lever for "None of the Above," given the choices that seem to be available.


Some Days...

It just doesn't pay to put on the Homer Simpson t-shirt.

I had a book that was a couple of days overdue at the library. In a case like that, I normally wait until I have to make a trip into town; the small fine is cheaper than the cost of gasoline to make a special trip. So, today it was time to go grocery shopping, and I grabbed the book on the way out the door. It was only a little farther out of the way to go to the library and then double back to the store.

Well, I had a stack of books by the computer, and I had moved the overdue book to the top of the stack. I got to the library, pulled the printed-out slip out (I use them as bookmarks) and put the book into the night depository, since the library didn't open for another half-hour. It was only as the book left my hand that I realized I had grabbed the wrong book! I had just returned the book I was reading, William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just gotten on Saturday. Sure enough, when I checked the slip, there it was. I swore and barely resisted the impulse to thwack myself on the forehead. Meanwhile, the book that was overdue was still sitting in my computer chair at home, and if I want to read Spook Country, I'll have to go through the whole rigmarole of putting a hold on it and waiting for several more weeks to get it again.



The REAL Outrage

Fox News has been showing a clip this morning of some of the Democrat presidential candidates at some sort of outdoor event, with the national anthem being sung in the background. Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton are standing with their right hands over their hearts, as they should. Barack Obama, however, is standing with his hands folded over his crotch. Combined with his recent "I'm not going to wear a flag pin on my lapel" flap, Fox News wants to know if people think this is outrageous or not.

While it was improper protocol (and anyone who wants to be president had damn well better know protocol), the REAL outrage was the horrific version of the national anthem in the background. It was "sung" by one of those artiste types who screech and warble and couldn't hit a note cleanly to save her life. She actually made Hillary Clinton's singing sound good! Yeah, she was THAT bad!

Gov. Richardson and Sen. Clinton: One thumb up for knowing what they were doing. Sen. Obama: One thumb down for NOT knowing what he was doing. For the "singer": Two thumbs way down and a ball-gag. Go and sin(g) no more, honey.

Yeah, that's one of my pet peeves. It's a tough enough song to sing without intentionally botching it up by thinking it's a scat number. It ain't "The Star-Spangled Bebop." Just sing it like it's written!

World Series

Well, my Phillies vs. Indians pick at the beginning of the month didn't quite pan out. I live in the area where the Red Sox train in the spring, and I've been to both Red Sox spring training games and a few games at Fenway Park a couple of decades ago, but I'm going to have to root for the Rockies, just because it's such a great story.

Tomorrow night we'll find out whether the eight-day layoff will have any effect on the Rockies. They'll certainly be well-rested, and anyone who was banged up will have had plenty of time to heal.

I'm sure that the Fox network is happy that the Red Sox are in the Series rather than the Indians, since Boston is a bigger market and perhaps might draw better ratings.

Girl Power

A couple of stories about empowered women:

First, women protesting against the brutal regime in Myanmar (Burma) are sending their panties to their local Myanmar embassies. Seems that in Burma, it's a "culturally insulting" gesture, because some of the local men, including junta leader General Than Shwe, believe that touching a woman's underwear will sap their power. Protest group Lanna Action for Burma is trying to make them lose their mojo. "Panty-gram for the tyrant!"

Second, when the shuttle Discovery goes up this morning, weather permitting, both the commander of the shuttle and the commander of the International Space Station will be women. This will be the first time that has occurred.


They Only Come Out At Night

On DirecTV, the really bizarre stuff comes out after midnight. Not just the "adult"-themed programming on the pay movie channels like Skinemax, but even on more mainstream channels like the music video channel Fuse. This morning, I was surfing and found that Fuse had a show on called "Pants-Off Dance-Off." And it's about what you would expect from that title: Five amateurs (of both sexes) stripping down and dancing with a music video in the background, complete with trash-talking both from the "professional" dancer judges and the other competitors. No nudity is shown; after a certain point, the show's logo pops up and blocks strategic areas of the screen. However, the show pimps its web site, where it promises viewers the Full Monty. Some people will do anything for their 15 minutes of fame.

Then there is the Shop Erotic channel, where two attractive women show a variety of sex toys and describe their various features. Interestingly, they have two different phone lines for customers to order their products: One for men and one for women, who no doubt are more comfortable talking with a female customer service representative when ordering that sort of thing. There are a surprising variety of products available, and they range from inexpensive to pricey: Some of them run up around a couple of hundred dollars. This show goes off the air around 4 or 5 a.m.

The most bizarre thing I saw over the weekend was down in the 100s, a channel called IAC which is basically for advertising. Right now, it's running a promo for "The All-New 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan," but earlier it had some kind of an "Ultimate Dirty Movie" film/Axe body gel tie-in involving David Spade, where people uploaded clips of themselves rolling around wrestling in mud, teeter-tottering in green paint, and in one case, having a guy fall over in the kitchen and spill milk all over himself and two women in cat costumes then licked the milk off his shirt. There were perhaps five or six of these uploaded clips. Very, very weird stuff. Probably almost as weird as Dodge thinking anyone is going to watch their infomercial.


Thoughts on Stuff I Didn't Blog Last Week

I'm on vacation and in slacker mode. Plus Blogger has been uncooperative on the few occasions when I felt like blogging something. Blogging is likely to continue to be light for the rest of the month. Here's the stuff I didn't write about.

The Flaming Pope: Perhaps you saw the news story last week with the picture of a bonfire, with the flames resembling the late John Paul II. Some called it a miracle; I suspected Photoshop.

Chocolate Jesus returns: Fox News was running this story about the return of the life-sized anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus, which the artist is going to exhibit at an art gallery in New York. My take: It's like when you shop on Amazon.com, and they make a recommendation that says "Better Together," about two related items that can be purchased at the same time. Flaming Pope and Chocolate Jesus: Better Together, with the end result a melted chocolate puddle.

Benazir Bhutto's explosive return to Pakistan: What were they thinking?! She's going to drive in a motorcade for hours through the densely crowded streets of a city of 15 million people, which is chock-full of Muslim extremists. She's gotten death threats from Al-Qaeda and the local Muslim terrorist groups. And she thinks she's going to be able to just ride through the streets and NOT have suicide bombers try to blow her up?! So they ended up with over 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. The only good news is that this is likely to make the Pakistani government become a bit more serious about dealing with the extremists in their midst. Good luck to them; they'll need it.

Joe Torre and the Yankees: The Yankees made their former manager an offer he could refuse, with a lower base salary and up to $3 million in incentives. Torre rightly saw this as an insulting offer, one that showed that the Yankees management brain trust didn't really want him back, despite the fact that the Yankees made the playoffs every year for the past twelve years and won four World Series championships under Torre. Of course, those World Series wins were all back in the 1990s, and the expectation in New York is that the Yankees should have won the World Series twelve times in those twelve years. It's an impossible situation for whoever the Yankees hire to replace Torre: The Yankees will spend a ton of money on the best players that they can get, and the expectation will be that the new manager will win, or else. Contrast that with Trey Hillman, who was just hired by the Kansas City Royals, a team that hasn't been to the playoffs at all since winning the World Series in 1985. No pressure there.

Orionids meteor shower this morning: You can't see meteors when it's raining. Maybe I'll have better luck with the Leonids next month.


A Gut Feeling About Chocolate

An interesting story in the science news: Scientists Explain Chocolate Cravings

WASHINGTON - If that craving for chocolate sometimes feels like it is coming from deep in your gut, that's because maybe it is.

A small study links the type of bacteria living in people's digestive system to a desire for chocolate. Everyone has a vast community of microbes in their guts. But people who crave daily chocolate show signs of having different colonies of bacteria than people who are immune to chocolate's allure.

That may be the case for other foods, too. The idea could eventually lead to treating some types of obesity by changing the composition of the trillions of bacteria occupying the intestines and stomach, said Sunil Kochhar, co-author of the study. It appears Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Proteome Research.

Yes, the bacteria in your digestive tract are making your food choices for you. The microbes don't want macrobiotic; oh, no, they want pizza and beer, and lots and lots of chocolate. There was a show of little bacterial hands, and that's the choices they made. They nixed the eggplant and limberger cheese casserole, though. And perhaps you should thank them for that.

The story notes that they had trouble finding eleven men who don't each chocolate at all. One wonders how much more difficult it would have been to find eleven women who never eat chocolate.


She Can Run, But She Can't Hide

Over the weekend, we've watched the denouement of the Marion Jones story, as she pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators regarding her taking steroids prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She has now returned the medals that she won at that Olympics and has been stripped of the victories. She's looking at jail time. She has gone from being a national heroine to being a poster child for cheaters who will do anything to win, including risking their health by taking dangerous and illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

She's not alone, of course. Other athletes like cyclist Floyd Landis have recently had the same thing happen, and there are numerous baseball players under a cloud of suspicion, including current career home run leader* Barry Bonds and former slugger Mark McGwire, who was denied entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his initial year of eligibility. These athletes, and a host of others, all share one thing in common: They believed that they were so clever that they wouldn't get caught. It turned out that they weren't half as clever as they thought they were.

Americans don't like cheaters and liars. When these athletes cheated and told us that they weren't using performance-enhancing drugs, they lied to us. They set a bad example for our children. They let us down. And when you saw Marion Jones giving her mea culpa over the weekend, you could tell that she knew that she had let us all down.

Say it ain't so, Marion. Say it ain't so, Floyd and Barry and Mark.

I'm sorry, kid. I'm afraid it is.


Places You'd Probably Already Be Dead

The CIA World Factbook is quite informative, and will tell you just about anything you want to know about every country in the world. One page I found interesting was a ranking of average life expectancies for all of the world's 222 countries. I found out that actuarially speaking, I'd already be toast if I lived in any of the 18 countries at the bottom of the rankings, ranging from Nigeria (47.44 years) all the way down to the downright lethal Swaziland (32.23 years). 17 of the 18 countries in that group are in Africa; the sole exception is Afghanistan at #209 (43.77 years). Most of those African nations have high death rates from AIDS, which skews their numbers way down.

If you're curious, the United States ranks at #45, with an average life expectancy of 78.00 years. The place you'd live the longest? The tiny principality of Andorra (pop. 71,822), with an average life expectancy of 83.52 years. Must be that clear mountain air...


Playoff Picks

The Major League Baseball wild card series start today, and they offer some interesting story lines. None of the four teams that made the League Championship Series last year made it back this year, so we're guaranteed new champions in both leagues and in the World Series. All four American League teams have better records than the four teams from the National League, and the AL will have the home field advantage in the World Series. However, my hunch is that the winner of the Colorado-Philadelphia series may just run the table. The Rockies have won 14 of their last 15 games; you can't get much hotter than that. The Phillies made up a 7-game deficit as of September 12th and stunned the choking New York Mets by winning the NL East on the last day of the season. Whichever team wins that matchup will have a whole lot of momentum.

My picks: Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs in the NL, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians in the AL, the Phillies and the Indians winning their respective League Championship Series, and then the Phillies beating the Indians in the World Series.

Note that the only team that is returning to the postseason field this year is the New York Yankees, the AL wild card team. No other team has as much postseason experience, but not all of that experience has been good in recent years. The key player is Alex Rodriguez, who has not played well in the playoffs. If A-Rod has a good series against Cleveland, the Yankees could be the team to beat.


In the News

You can take the Mao out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the Mao: China bans bra, underwear, sex toy ads

Really. It made me think of the old Chinese propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution. Via this site, I found the perfect poster:

My caption: "Fight the social pollution of the capitalist running dogs and their lingerie and sex toy ads!"