Pondering the strange, but true


Some things I will never understand.

Like why my husband’s a better cook than I am (hey, I’m not working real hard to win those bragging rights – why ruin a good thing when you’ve got it going?). Or why, since I’m on the subject of food, a New York man is suing McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken claiming fast food caused his obesity and ruined his life.

I don’t buy the logic, if there is any. Never will. Those nasty fast food eateries are not to blame for one’s own ignorance of healthy eating and for one’s own choice to eat a Big Mac or two. But what’s worse than the frivolous lawsuit itself, is the underlying problem rampant in the United States: our inability or refusal to accept personal responsibility for our behavior. Things are always someone else’s fault.

Sounds like my ongoing lecture to my 13-year-old.

Debt-for-nature. In other strange, but true, recent news, I learned of a debt-for-nature swap inked between the United States and Peru, with the “big three” conservation organizations in the background (Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund).

The United States will reduce the sovereign debt of Peru, which, in return, will fund local conservation activities in Peruvian national reserves and tropical forests – an area larger than the state of Virginia – over the next 12 years.

The conservation groups coughed up $1.1 million to help subsidize the deal and the U.S. government is shelling out another $5.5 million to cancel a portion of Peru’s debt to the United States. This is the second such nature-for-debt swap proffered by the United States.

One source puts the international debt held collectively by developing countries at $1.3 trillion (1990 figures). There certainly is laudable rationale for the idea, which is not new, but such swap deals address no more than a fraction of either problem – debt or environment. As one Brazilian editorial put it, the swaps are “yet another expression of industrialized country imperialism.”

School spirits. College alumni are always donating to this cause or that campaign at their alma mater, giving while they’re living and giving from their estates when they’re dead. But there is a strange, but true, trend for the most die-hard alums: buying burial plots on campus.

Yep, it’s the ultimate homecoming, says the Wall Street Journal. Universities are creating “columbariums,” or vaults with niches for cremated remains; others maintain cemeteries. For $1,800, you can send your ashes to the University of Virginia’s columbarium, built, incidentally, with alumni funds. Of course, the niche holds four urns, so you’ll be spending your final college years with new roommates.

According to the Journal, St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy opened its $800,000 burial facility last fall. Cost per niche? $2,300 to $5,500 – depending on your view of the fountain.

So why I am surprised to learn there’s also caskets emblazoned with collegiate emblems? (Schools earn royalties ranging from 7.5 percent to 10 percent on the sales.)

You know, I bet I could buy a Harvard casket and impress my friends.

Only in Ann Arbor. And along with silly lawsuits, I can never understand strange, but true, warning labels. Oh, I know they’re there for a reason – to thwart those silly lawsuits – but here’s one warning sign for your files:

“Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking.” – On a toilet at a public sports facility in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Put there, no doubt, by someone from Columbus, Ohio.


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