Saturday, September 29, 2012


My wife does this thing where she gets companies to send her little product samples for free and she sends them reviews of those products. However, since she doesn't know how to write, I actually write the reviews. Today she handed me a box of Ice Breakers Duo mints for me to review. I'm actually pretty happy with what I wrote, so I figured I'd share it here as well...

I don't like mints. It's important that I preface with that statement so you can understand where I'm coming from here. It's not that I'm against the concept of mints nor do I harbor any manner of grudge against them for some past transgressions. Mints didn't tease me in grammar school. They didn't rear-end my car on the highway. I'm just not a fan of mint in general. Even when served in the form of ice cream with chocolate chips or when delivered to my front door in cookie form by a young girl raising money for her "den." (On both occasions the inclusion of chocolate is a noble gesture, but I'm afraid it remained overpowered by the mint.)

I simply find the flavor of mint aesthetically displeasing. The air of minty freshness it releases chokes me.

So you can imagine my reaction upon receipt of a box of mints in the post. Is there an opposite to elation? Apathy, perhaps? Needless to say, I wasn't interested in trying some new mints. My wife assured me, however, that these mints were somehow different. They were in some way "fruity, not minty." First of all, if that's the case then they're not in fact "mints." They're... "fruits"? No, clearly not. That name has been taken. Something else, perhaps.

But the package clearly says "mints" upon it. The term is downplayed, to be certain, found just beneath the phrase "sugar free" (which also doesn't instill much confidence in me, truth be told). The packaging is also clearly of the "mints" variety. A small plastic cylinder, blue and white primarily, with various ice-inspired designs to convey a feeling of coldness... All features one would expect from mints. But central to the label and more prominent than the word "mint" was the word "strawberry."

Surely, said I, surely that is some gimmicky apparatus. Let me see then what thereat is and this mystery explore. Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore. Tis a mint and nothing more.

I'll be honest with you, or at least as honest as I can be in anonymous internet written form. It's good. I dare say it's not a mint at all. It's a fruit. (No, that name's been taken. The product clearly needs better marketing. We should brainstorm product names on the back of a pub napkin someday.) Well, it's half-fruit. The other half is auspiciously referred to as "cool." Therein lies the marketing, I suppose. It's not a mint, it's a "cool." At least in part.

The overall sensation providing the aftertaste from the entire experience isn't quite as overpowering, quite as curiously strong as competing products may provide. While I can't speak for the majority of the population in this matter, I can attest to my own appreciation of this. It doesn't fully cleanse the palette, but it does provide flavor. As any after-dinner... non-mint... should. And I don't want my palette cleansed. That is to say, I don't want to choke on a cloud of "coolness" while it overpowers the remnants of a perfectly good meal that I would like to continue to enjoy.

In the span of writing this, I've eaten several more of these non-mints. The packaging has two openings, one labeled "to share" which is small and allows only a single non-mint to escape upon shaking and the other labeled "not to share" which opens half of the lid and allows the owner to greedily finger about the contents and take as many as one likes. Be assured that only the latter opening is needed. Though the poetic reference of the option is neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

For the past couple of years the center console of my car has more often than not been equipped with a particular brand of gum. It's a very good gum. But it is still gum, which inevitably means that it must be disposed of when one is finished with it. This is never a pleasant or dignified process, no matter how discretely executed. I'd have replaced this small portion of my life with mints long ago, were it not for the small detail that mints are vile and unpleasant things. Non-mints, however, may indeed succeed in breaking into the niche market that is the center console of my car. All that remains is to find these at the checkout aisle as conveniently located as my chosen brand of gum so that these can instead be purchased with as much convenience. Then the transition from gum would be complete.

I still don't like mints. Non-mints, however, are thoroughly enjoyable.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Purchased Valor

Apparently the Supreme Court is on a roll while I'm abroad. If you have any visibility into the Internet at all, particularly on Twitter or Facebook, then you're aware of the recent ruling on government healthcare. I don't really follow it, mostly because I don't really care. (Though I am thoroughly amused by the people who claim that they will now move to Canada in order to escape socialized healthcare. Bloody brilliant.)

But there was another decision that, at least in my social circles, has caused a stir. The Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act. For the uninitiated, this act was passed several years ago in order to make it a federal crime to use otherwise-acquired military decorations of valor (Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, etc.) to falsify a decorated military career. Basically... You can wear costumes of course; You can keep your dad's medals around; You can even buy medals as a collector; But you can not claim to have earned those medals.

Makes sense, right? Wait, does the act make sense or does the overturn make sense? It's an interesting debate, and one that apparently made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, I'm about to make a statement that will make me very unpopular with some of my friends...
I agree with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Stolen Valor Act.
Hear me out. Don't just get all emotional and fly off the handle. (Or, to put it another way... At ease, soldier.)

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with the motives behind the act. What the act was attempting to prevent is, in every way, reprehensible behavior. It is morally and socially corrupt. It is, for lack of a better vocabulary on my part, a really shitty thing to do. And people shouldn't do it. Period. End of discussion.

But it should not be a state-prosecutable crime. I do not agree with heavy-handed government. I do not support the endless creation of more and more laws to make more and more things illegal without a damn good reason. And, I'm sorry to tell you this, but moral outrage is not a good enough reason. Just because something offends you does not make it a state-prosecutable crime.

A lot of people are offended by homosexuality. A lot of people are offended by the Muslim religion. A lot of people are offended by pornography. Should these be state-prosecutable crimes? You may argue that these are not morally reprehensible things and that stolen valor is. I agree with you. Seriously, I do. However, while these are values that we share and upon which we agree, they are not immutable principles of social interaction. And, to that end, the government has no right dictating our values. Other people have different values.

Just because you are offended does not mean that somebody has done harm to your person or property. Whether or not you are offended by it is entirely internal to you and has no bearing on the act itself. While I agree with you that it's wrong, I do not support the state detaining and prosecuting people because of it. That's a pretty serious line to cross and, again, you need a damn good reason to convince me to cross it.

We live in, for lack of a better term, a free country. Sure, people bitch and moan all the time about how our freedoms are being eroded away and how we're not allowed to do whatever we want and blah blah blah. Many times I agree with them, other times I don't. But that's not what freedom is. Don't confuse liberty with anarchy. Freedom is at its core our ability to be heard and be counted.

For example, an old friend of mine was recently ranting about how we're not a free country because he's not allowed to drive without a seatbelt. Again, don't confuse liberty with anarchy. Here's a list of things he is free to do:

  • He is free to openly complain about it.
  • He is free to fight it in open court.
  • He is free to appeal the court's decision.
  • He is free to appeal to the press for public support.
  • He is free to gather public support himself (petitions, etc.).
  • He is free to publicly speak out against what he believes is an unjust law.
  • He is free to assemble and lead others who support his cause.
  • He is free to openly protest.
  • He is free to appeal to his legislative and executive representatives.
  • (He is free to realize that it's a state law and not a federal one.)
  • (He is free to understand that local municipalities can locally overturn state laws.)
  • He is free to propose ballot questions and gather the requisite public support to get those questions on the ballot.
  • He is free to vote on such a ballot question.
  • He is free to vote against any representative who does not agree with his position.
  • He is free to vote for any representative who does agree with his position.
  • He is free to run for office.
  • And, of course, he is free to choose to do none of these things.
A lot of people have laid down their lives to defend and uphold these freedoms. A lot. And while this may be a comparatively minor case when considered against directly attacking any of those aforementioned freedoms, it's still a case nonetheless. I refuse to erode personal liberty just a tiny bit more. It's a very short path between a government which mandates that a morally reprehensible act is illegal to a government which mandates a set of morals. The latter sounds a bit more frightening, doesn't it?

Doing something that offends you does no harm. Wielding vast state power to incarcerate somebody does. Without a truly compelling argument, I will err on the side of limiting state power.

Now, maybe there is a compelling argument. Maybe there's something I haven't considered. (Could it be? Surely you jest!) And I'm willing to hear such an argument. (With the caveat that arguing on the internet is a fool's debate and I wouldn't give that debate any serious attention. But I'm still willing to hear it, so go ahead.)

Now there are websites which actively seek to "out" these individuals in their morally reprehensible act. And for that, bravo. If someone has the freedom to lie then someone else has the freedom to call them a liar. Tread carefully, mind you, lest you wield the great arm of the social mob to bring undue harm upon such an individual. Don't cross that line. If you provide information about somebody's public actions, that's one thing. If you incite people to act against that somebody, you start to enter dangerous territory. However, without such crossing of lines to be had, I'm all for it.

The act of stealing valor is a heinous and terrible thing to do. The Stolen Valor Act is not a just response. Sorry, but being an asshole isn't a state-prosecutable crime.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sure, I Can Write Something Again

For some reason this blog got a bunch of page views a few days ago. I have no idea why; I haven't written anything in almost a year. But, hey, what the hell, I can write again I suppose. So, what random bit of nonsense crosses my fancy right now...

You know what really bugged me about Star Trek: First Contact? I mean, aside from the fact that it was terrible. No matter what happened, no matter how many sharks they jumped, no matter how many times they used the word "time" in a pun, there was one thing that bothered the crap out of me.

When Zephram Cochrane was standing on the hillside and Geordi La Forge said, "You know, I wish I had a picture of this."

How do you not have a camera?

You have bionic eyes. Your bionic eyes can see light on all spectrums. They can record and transmit sensor data that your writers can't even fully explain. Also, you're carrying all kinds of gadgets and gizmos for taking sensor readings on things.

Here in the beginning of the 21st century everything has a camera. Why don't you? If this movie had been made 40 years ago then you might have an excuse. But this movie came out in 1996. Camera phones weren't around yet, but they were getting close. Surely it wasn't a stretch of the imagination. Especially not for a science fiction show set in the 24th century filled with amazing technology.

Handheld device that can record vast amounts of information on all measurable matter and energy? Check. Bionic eyes? Check. Ability to capture a single image of your surroundings? No.