Answer: They are proof that, even at this late date, Newton's Law of Cooling remains firmly in effect.
OK, so maybe the Law of Cooling doesn't get the boldface fawning Newton's Laws of Motion enjoy, but that doesn't mean the Law of Cooling isn't plenty important. We see it each time we drink a cup of coffee.
Simply put, the Law of Cooling posits that the more a substance's temperature diverges from that of its ambient environment, the more quickly it will cool to reach a state of equilibrium.
What does this have to do with those sisters of dissolution, Spears and Smith?
Take Anna Nicole. Even though she died at the young age of 39, by today's pop-cultural standards her career was positively George Burnsian in length.
Newton's Law of Cooling, of course.
You see, even at her buxom Guess?-model prime, Anna Nicole never ventured far beyond her humble (yet tawdry!) Texas roots. Oh, she may have held the trappings of wealth and fame, but she never forgot that it was the good old T&A of her trailer-park days that got her there.
So it was that she pressed her ersatz sexuality into the pages of Playboy and onto the silly octogenarian who jeopardized his family's millions for the quixotic chance to grope her mythic boobs. Even as the bloated star of The Anna Nicole Show, a study in self-mockery if ever there was one, Anna Nicole never tried to be anything other than what she was: a readily available, excessive body.
If the world of Anna Nicole's childhood is her own ambient cultural temperature, her brand of fame never diverged from her roots. So according to Newton's Law of Cooling, her return to that ambient temperature would be slowed and is there really any doubt that, had she not died young, Anna Nicole's descent into obscurity would have been an excruciatingly slow and very public process?
Britney, on the other hand, dreamt big. During her early days performing as pop's archetypal schoolgirl virgin, she never left the cozy confines of her Mickey Mouse Club roots. Then she kissed Madonna and everything went to hell.
Now here she is: a (soon to be) twice-divorced mother of two who's not only shown her clean-shaven pudenda to the blogospheric masses, but has meanwhile turned into a sweaty hulk of a tabloid presence, shaving her head and inking a few ill-considered tattoos.
In other words, if we apply the Law of Cooling, the end is near for Britney. By trying to move from pop princess to party girl, Britney betrayed the culture that gave her fame. Accordingly, her reabsorption into strip-mall obscurity will surely be swift.
What does all this have to do with Keep It Down? Well, some have gently pointed out that I've strayed from my eat-it-so-you-don't-have-to ethos.
If Keep It Down is indeed experiencing a Britney Moment, what better antidote than an expiating jar of Margarita Orejas en Vinagre y Vegetales, dropped off at the office by reader Barry Drucker?
Mr. Drucker seemed trustworthy. So when I notice the crusty remnants of a pickle stream down the side of my jar of Margarita Orejas en Vinagre y Vegetales evidence of a break in the container's vacuum seal I ignore it. But if that crusted stream doesn't faze me, going head to head with an ear strip jiggling and pink, shot through by an internal plane of white cartilage and pocked with the occasional pickled pig hair strikes fear in my heart. (And vegetables? What vegetables? Unless you mean the translucent flecks of gray sediment hovering at the bottom of the jar.)
The ear's flesh yields easily down to the cartilage, which is a crunchy bit of skeletal matter that no amount of vinegar could soften. Against the better judgment of my tongue, which moves to expel the porcine intruder, I chew on. The pig vinegar burrows deep into my taste buds, making it impossible to distinguish human tongue from pig ear.
I force myself to swallow, willing the ear down my throat.
No, it isn't pretty. But now, at least, I come by it honestly when I say, "Oops!...I did it again."