Friday afternoon conspiracy theory

It’s Fleet Week in San Francisco. Each year, several Navy ships steam into the Bay through the Golden Gate, dock at berths throughout the city, and open for public tours. The highlight of Fleet Week, for me and many others, is the air show featuring the Blue Angels. I have no great love for the military-industrial complex, but to deny the visceral thrill as a formation of fighters tears across the sky barely fifty yards overhead at hundreds of miles per hour, the roar of their engines nearly liquefying your viscera (making it literally a visceral thrill, unlike most other things), would be to renounce my guyhood utterly. Sorry, Birkenstocks-and-granola crowd: you are my brothers, but that is a line I will not cross.

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve had the first rain of the season on and off all week. But the forecast for the weekend is clear and sunny. Of course it is. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years now and I’ve never once seen it foggy or rainy for the Blue Angels’ performance. This in a city that is foggy almost all summer and drizzly almost all winter. What are the odds?

When you consider that the Bay Area is also a hotbed of liberalism and dissent, it strongly suggests that the government is deliberately keeping San Francisco cloudy and gray with its secret weather-control satellite, which it conveniently switches to “sunny” when its propagandistic stunt-flying team comes to town. Most San Franciscans don’t even realize they’re being trained to equate happy warm feelings with the presence of the U.S. military…

Mixture or mixture?

At the dentist this morning, where I received an otherwise clean bill of dental health, I learned that one of my old fillings is cracked and will have to be replaced. While discussing it with the hygienist, the dentist asked if it was “amalgam or composite?”

An amalgam is a mixture of substances. So is a composite. So really the dentist was asking, “Mixture or mixture?”

Incidentally, my dentist is the one whose office sounds were recorded by the folks at Pixar for the movie Finding Nemo.

Name the moon!

I subscribe to Yahoo!’s Ask Yahoo! daily e-mail newsletter. Yesterday’s question was, “Does our moon have a name other than ‘the moon’?” In short the answer is no.

We like the moon, and we like to name things we like, such as my kids, Jonah and Archer, and my car, the Nimble Imp. So let’s name the moon. And let’s give it a name that will stand the test of time. In thirty thousand years, when spacefaring humans rediscover a long-abandoned Earth, they’ll hardly be inclined to call our moon “the moon”; it’ll be just one of millions they will have catalogued. If we don’t want our distant descendants calling it something like “SZCG-78513/12,” it’s up to us to give it a memorable name that will survive into editions of the future Encyclopedia Galactica.

Obvious names like “Luna” are out, as are off-the-wall names like “Ferdinand” and obscure pop-culture references like “Ouspenskaya.”

While we’re at it, might as well name our sun (“Sol” never did it for me) and our solar system. Here are my slightly overblown suggestions:

Moon Desolatus
Sun Oriri
Solar system Copernica

The candy that wouldn’t die

Who dumped a whole truckload of Fizzies into the swim meet?
— Dean Wormer, Animal House

(Sarah thought he was saying “feces.”)

Some time during the 1990’s I got word that Fizzies were being made again after some three decades of unavailability. I dimly remembered Fizzies from early childhood, when I used to mix up my own soft drinks with Fizzies tablets in my very own Fizzies Fountain. They were discontinued after health concerns arose regarding the sweetener they contained. When I heard about the reformulated version in the 90’s, naturally I ordered a large number of them in every flavor — which were all uniformly disgusting. I brought my stock of Fizzies tablets to work and shared them with a few not-very-enthusiastic colleagues.

Now they’re back again in a third incarnation. I got a shipment of the new ones on Tuesday (a small shipment — I learned my lesson last time) from Old Time Candy. They’re still pretty horrible, but not as vile as Fizzies Mark II were.

I can understand the many attempts to get Fizzies right. A portable way to create instant soda pop is somehow an extremely compelling idea. Unfortunately it seems that the presence of sodium bicarbonate in the recipe dooms it, flavor-wise; there’s no doubt you’re drinking flavored Alka-Seltzer. It may be that in order to really succeed, a Fizzies Mark IV tablet using real sugar might be called for, even if it is the size of a hockey puck (see below).

I regret I can’t recommend the new Fizzies, but I do recommend Old Time Candy, which has a wide selection of vintage candy from yesteryear, and good customer service.

Here is the e-mail message from 2003 in which I invited my co-workers to sample my surplus inventory of second-generation Fizzies.

Subject: “Hooray,” the scientist said

Live the legacy. Come get your very own piece of confection history from the 50’s and 60’s, briefly revived in the 90’s, now no longer available except from eBay and my desk.

I myself am just barely old enough to have some dim, fond memories of Fizzies from very early childhood, but be warned: after ordering a quantity of new improved Fizzies in a variety of flavors a few years ago, I tried one but couldn’t bring myself to try any of the other flavors, the first one was that vile.

Here’s an excerpt from the comically (and now, in retrospect, ironically) cheerful “Fizzies Story,” formerly at

Fizzies were invented by Emerson Drug Company. The idea derived from scientists working with chemical formulas similar to “Bromo Seltzer” and wondering if a fun, fruit flavored drink could be developed the same way. “Wouldn’t it be grand if we could drop a tablet in a glass of water and have an instant soda pop?”

After long hard work, they finally figured out how to combine the right combinations of fruit flavoring, sweetener, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (a substance that is much like baking soda) into a magical tablet that when dropped into water, turned water into an instant sparkling, effervescent fruit drink!

“Hooray,” the scientist said. “Let’s hurry and share this with others!” So in July of 1957, just in time for the hot, summer weather, Fizzies was born and appeared in various local supermarkets.


Fizzies continued to grow in the national and international markets until 1968, many times exceeding Kool-aid in sales and popularity!

But in this same year, one of the ingredients called Cyclamates, an artificial sweetener, was banned in the United States, causing hundreds of food products to be pulled from grocery shelves all across America. At that time, it was believed that products that contained this ingredient were not good for you. Once this problem arose, the scientists who had been so happy to put sparkling smiles on thousands of children’s faces, decided to voluntarily pull Fizzies from all store shelves until they were able to find a better way to sweeten them. This was important, because sugar could not be used. If Fizzies were made with real sugar, a single tablet would have to be about the size of a hockey puck!

Then one day, a group of “Baby Boomers,” who were children when Fizzies was popular and fondly remembered the fun they had with Fizzies, began a six year quest to return Fizzies to the market. Their mission? To fix the sweetener problem.

These Boomers, who had enjoyed the sparkling smiles Fizzies gave them as children, worked extra long hours for many years, but their work paid off.

Once the original formula was purchased, scientists and chemists worked around the clock until one day… HOORAY!!! The new Fizzies was developed!

It’s clear that a lack of marketing might resulted in Fizzies’ latest disappearance. Here’s the much more interesting paranoid conspiracy that resulted in Fizzies’ first demise (from

On Oct. 18 1969, holding a can of Tab, I watched Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Robert Finch tell the nation that because the sweetener posed a risk of cancer it would be banned. Just a few days before, I had seen a Food and Drug Administration scientist on television holding up deformed, sickly chicks that had been injected with cyclamates. At the time I was pursuing a doctoral degree in public health and knew that no sweeteners or other food additives had ever been cited as a possible factor in cancer causation. Why all this attention for a phantom risk? Why were we banning safe, useful products under the guise of cancer prevention? I have pursued an answer to those questions ever since.


FDA scientist Jacqueline Verrett appeared on the “NBC Nightly News” with her cyclamate-injected, malformed chicks. (She did not mention that injections of salt, water or even air would probably have had the same effect.) A few days later the manufacturer of cyclamates, Abbott Laboratories, released a study showing that eight out of 240 rats fed a mixture of saccharin and cyclamates–at levels equivalent to humans ingesting 350 cans of diet soda per day–developed bladder tumors. Finch announced the ban shortly thereafter.


An editorial in the international medical journal Lancet noted that “never have so many pathologists been summoned to opine on so few lesions from so humble a species as the laboratory rat.” The journal Nature warned that “it would be all too easy for public apprehension to be raised to the pitch where a fever of vegetarian faddism drives everything but mothers’ milk from the market,” adding in another editorial that the evidence against cyclamates was “about as solid as candy floss.”

[Cyclamates inventor] Sveda’s obituaries said he was not bitter about the banning of cyclamates, but in fact he was. He claimed that the original FDA decision was based on a combination of bad science and “sugar politics” (he thought the sugar industry was behind the health charges against cyclamates). He accused the FDA of a “massive coverup of elemental blunders,” and believed that the American public was due an apology for withholding an alternative to sugar.

Another darnedest thing

Yesterday after preschool, Jonah rattled off the list of his female classmates who routinely give him kisses, sometimes after chasing him around. Today we learned that there’s been so much kissing, the teachers have asked for it to stop. I asked him appreciatively, “Are you a ‘lover, not a fighter’?” Without missing a beat he answered, “I’m a lover and a fighter.”

I said, “The mree juffer ang flot the marr wuk.” Mree juffer! Mree juffer!

From the I’m-sure-they-meant-well department…

Just now I tried to get some online customer support for my AT&T (formerly SBC [formerly Pacbell]) DSL account. Their website invited me to try an “online chat” with a customer service agent. I gamely clicked the “chat” button and a Java applet window popped up with a text-entry area. In another part of the window I was greeted like this:

Hi Bob Glickstein. How can I assist you?

I typed, “Hi! I have been providing my own SMTP service for my domains but would like to start using an AT&T relay as a smart host (to get around some ISPs’ IP-blocks). What server address can I use and what settings (if any) do I need?”

Here’s how it appeared in the chat window after I pressed return:


I typed, “Whoa, wtf happened to my message?”


“I’ve gotten gibberish from tech support before but this is ridiculous.”


The AT&T guy wrote:

Bob, I apologize, I am unable to understand your words.

I shouldn’t wonder!

As I am only able to assist you in English language.

Thanks for clearing that up. I decided to try putting a space in between each letter. “M a y b e i f I t y p e l i k e t h i s”


“T h e w e b U I i s m a n g l i n g m y w o r d s”


“I h a v e t o p u t a s p a c e b e t w e e n e a c h l e t t e r”


AT&T wrote:

Bob, I suggest that you restart this chat session.

“O K”



The words are really appearing as disturbed.

No kidding. Clicking the “hang up” icon to end the session didn’t work. I dismissed the window and went back through the website to launch a new chat but was placed into the same session, with the same bug. A bit more hilarity ensued (of the rapidly diminishing kind) and then I tried to tell the guy “This is the most broken thing I have ever used,” “I give up,” and “Thanks anyway.”


Though it prevented me from doing what I wanted to do, I can still admire this bug for the impressively gigantic fuck-up it is. I can’t help but wonder if AT&T’s customer support tool was written by disgruntled post-merger SBC or Pacbell engineers in a kind of removing the W’s moment.

Arrr gevalt!

In honor of both International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Rosh Hashanah, this amazing item via Boing Boing:

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean
A forthcoming, untitled book by historian Ed Kritzler argues that many of the “Spanish” pirates of the Caribbean were in fact Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews who took to the seas to flee/avenge the Inquisition. […]

I’ve just finished volume two, “The Confusion,” of Neal Stephenson’s staggering, scholarly, swashbuckling historical romance, The Baroque Cycle. I highly recommend it so far, and I fully expect to recommend it even more highly when I’ve finished the third and final volume, “The System of the World.” More to the point, though, is that volume two features a character exactly like the one described in the Boing Boing post above — a Jewish pirate named Moseh de la Cruz, marauding across most of the globe (though not the Caribbean) in the 17th century with “Half-Cocked” Jack Shaftoe.

Drink up, me hearties, l’chayim!

The more things change, the more he stays the same’s “War Room” blog today quotes Donald Rumsfeld as saying, among other things,

We are truly fortunate to have a leader of resolve at a time of war. Through all the challenges, he remains the same man who stood atop the rubble of lower Manhattan, with a bullhorn, vowing to fight back.

…which, apart from being a wackily facile thing to say, reminds me of one of my favorite Homer Simpsonisms:

I haven’t changed at all since high school, and suddenly I’m uncool?!

It’s a smell world

Here’s something juvenile that I just posted to “sickos,” a humor/gross-out mailing list I belong to.

It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell, smell world

It’s a world of fish guts, a world of feet
It’s a world of mildew and rancid meat
There’s so much in the air
That you’re always aware
It’s a smell world after all

It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell world after all
It’s a smell, smell world

There’s the bathroom in back of the Greyhound bus
There’s the thing in your armpit that’s draining pus
And that ranch on I-5
Makes you sad you’re alive
It’s a smell world after all