Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best and Worst of 2010

As the year ends, it is time to award the 2010 prizes in our "best of" segment:

1) Best political campaign of the year: this has to go to Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell. Many candidates can lose big in longshot races, but she managed to become a lightning rod of media attention by repeatedly saying and doing inexplicably stupid things. But maybe she's smarter than we think--she's going to be a high paid media personality before we know it. Proof of the pudding--name the loser in the Colorado, Florida or West Virginia Senate races from this year--each of which did better than O'Donnell in the final vote tally.

2) Dumbest political battle of the year: Sarah Palin supporters trying to stack the votes to keep her daughter on "Dancing With the Stars". This is really about as dumb as Obama supporters trying to stack to vote to help out Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino on that same show.

3) Worst idea for a remake that shouldn't be done: the Red Dawn remake. Apparently the Chinese are going to invade, probably as a result of our bonds defaulting and them coming to repossess everything. Of course, this wouldn't be done with tanks and troops, but with lawyers (many of them American lawyers!) and papers indicating a security interest in our government's assets. Pass!

4) Best idea for a remake that was surprisingly not made: Road House. I mean, if you're going to do a Swayze film, make it Road House, not Red Dawn! If you hate the Chinese so damn much then make it so the Double Douce is owned by China or something.

5) Worst stories regarding the economy: anything by the New York Times about rich people complaining about how hard it is to live rich when their several millions were reduced to only a few millions. That family in Michigan eating ketchup off of cardboard really feels for you.

6) Best TV show discovery: "Party Down". Sadly, it never picked up an audience.

7) Worst State to Drive Through: move over, Delaware--New Jersey takes back the perch.

8) Dumbest trend: Justin Beiber. Looks like 2010 has an answer to Leif Garrett! If you don't know who that is then good for you.

9) Best Party Held at Shanadu: it's a six-way tie: Mardi Gras; Superbowl, Kentucky Derby; 4th of July; Labor Day; Shannon's Birthday.

10) Best things to be happy about as 2010 draws to a close--good friends, fambly, loved ones, health, employment, and pizza.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Xmas Wrap Up

Xmas with the fambly was, as always, a fun treat with a bit of nostalgia mixed with modernism. We drove up early on Xmas Eve, and had the Five Fishes (we still haven't been able to make it to the mighty seven fishes, but there's always next year...) followed by presents, roaring fire, and fine beaujolais wine. The Five Fishes this year were smelts, homemade crab cakes, scrimps and scallops over linguini, and salmon dip made by Shan who is becoming quite the honorary Italian. The following day it was scotch (or "scottish" as we call it in the streets. The streets of SW DC, I mean, specifically G Street), and homemade ravioli and treats. Then came the news.

The East Coast was once again going to be smacked by a blizzard. Oh, joy! Blizzards of course are God's way of saying "the hell with you, my most shameful creation! I should have stopped after inventing monkeys". Because this was going to screw travel plans big time.

Sunday, during the blizzard we stuck with homemade pizza and beer, and hey, why not more scottish, and some bloody marys to round it out. The snow just kept falling.

So on Monday, we decide to brave it--the roads were mostly clear, and traffic should be light. What we didn't count on was New Jersey deciding against keeping their on-ramps free of big rocks.

So this bit of destiny--a rock about the size of a baseball--was hidden among sorockme unplo, wed bit of snow on the on-ramp where the Garden State Parkway meets the Turnpike. "Turnpike" comes from the Iroquois word for "up yours, Jersey!" and sure enough, I blow my tire when I hit the rock. I limp the car past the toll booth and off to the side to change it.

Ever change a tire in cold wind on messy pavement? It's not as fun as it sounds! The whole ordeal might have taken about a half hour, during which no fewer than six drivers (Shannon counted!) pulled over near us, to wipe snow off their roofs and drive off without asking if we needed help. Yes, Jerseyites are all basically Hitler. Screw them and their fat cheapass governor, who can't clear rocks off of his main roads and certainly can't get help for stranded motorists. Say what you will about Southerners, but they will at least stop and help stranded motorists without a second thought. New Jerseyites on the other hand are scum and this is probably a result of the decades of raw sewage dumped in their state by New Yorkers. May they rot in hell.

After changing the tire, I needed to add air to it, and hobbled to the nearest rest stop to do that. Ah, a rest stop--the very name "rest" implying some relaxation. Not in Jersey, friends! This one was crowded and inadequately plowed, with a line for gas resembling the Jimmy Carter years and making me wonder why there was no disco music in the background. After a ridiculously long time--made worse by the cheap hipster ahead of me who was chagrined that they only sold "super" that day--hey, dumbass! Just pay the extra and go back to penny pinching tomorrow. We gotta get gas, twerp!--I finally gas up, add air to the tire, and finish the drive. New Jersey, I shall now do everything possible to never drive in your worthless state again.

And today, after doing some work remotely, I attempt to put up a shelf and drop the goddam thing on my bare toe. What a way to end 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Invite Etiquette

I've been a longtime reader of the Dan Savage advice columns--the readers write in with questions about sexual issues, relationship problems, and in some cases political issues related to sex and relationships. What I've liked about Savage is his gruff and blunt approach to readers problems and a willingness to tell you what you don't want to hear.

I have to say, though, this week's advice to a gay man whose boyfriend isn't invited to his sister's wedding misses the mark (it's the second item in the column). Apparently, the writer's family hasn't accepted his homosexuality and doesn't approve of his boyfriend (it isn't clear how long they've been dating, though Savage's answer suggests 2 years, which info might have been edited out of the writer's question in print). The invite to the sister's wedding was to the brother only, without a "guest" or "plus one" on the invite. Savage's response focused on the assumption that it was the family's homophobia that was behind this, and he advised telling the sister that he (the brother) plans on bringing the boyfriend to the wedding, or otherwise won't attend.

Now, I'm all in favor of a confrontation over the family's homophobia, if that is in fact the issue here. Clearing the air sooner rather than later would be if nothing else cathartic. But it's not entirely clear that the lack of "plus one" on the invite wasn't due to other factors--maybe this is a very small wedding and guests (even long term boyfriends) are discouraged, or maybe this boyfriend is an offensive brute and the sister would prefer him not being at the wedding.

But there's also the issue of basic wedding etiquette. Weddings are expensive, and space is often limited, and each additional "plus one" makes an impact. Letting an invitee bring a guest often means not being able to invite an old friend or relative. Sure, it's tacky to invite a person and not their spouse, but on the other extreme is the single dude (or dudette) who simply wants to bring along company to the event and invites someone they just started seeing or is just casual friends with. Anyone wanting to do that should approach it with the host(ess) tactfully and be willing to take "no" for an answer.

Dan Savage in this case seems to have hooked onto a family's need to accept their son's sexual orientation but has overlooked the difficulties of managing a wedding guest list and the need to handle it reasonably.

Of course, if the sister is just bowing to the family's homophobia, then screw that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

500th Post

Well, this is my 500th post. What has been accomplished over the course of this blog? A quick survey of my previous posts indicates that this blog consists of:

1) Reviews of films, both brilliant and downright horrible.

2) Complaints about stupid idiots that piss me off.

3) Politics, which is basically the same as (2) but with more anger.

4) Longing for food.

5) Cultural criticism.

What will I cover in the next 500 posts? Will they include creative writing? Poetry? Intricate discussions of controversial economic models? Only time will tell! Bear with me for the next 500.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Xmas Tree Time

Ah, the Yuletide season, when we sit by the Yule Log, we sing Yule Songs, and we watch Yul Brynner films. What could be better than the twinkling of strung lights and the cooking of seven fishes and the inevitable Xmas hangover?

Of course, a key part of this all is the tree. Now, Xmas trees have changed a lot over the years, from the natural trees brought inside and decorated with real (and quite dangerous!) candles, to the aluminum silver colored trees of the Eisenhower era, to new fangled contraptions like "upside down" trees that hang from the ceiling (bonus for these--less floor space taken up, decorations easier to see, and more room for presents!). My own fambly used to always use natural trees, and over the years the number of homemade ornaments increased until the damn thing looked like a garbage can was emptied on it. Then, one year my dad thought he'd be clever and buy a realistic-looking fake tree, to save us from the trek up to Dutchess County and having to pick out and cut and haul a tree back home with the inevitable cries of "can't we stop at that diner to eat?" He even went and bought fancy ornaments to class the tree up--only white lights, and everything silver. The sort of tree you might see in a corporation's lobby.

Of course, a few snide remarks from the kids and ole dad had to go and pick out a real tree as well, so each year we became a fambly of two trees--one fake but nice looking one, and one real tree covered with our homemade tacky ornaments. The number of presents though, did not increase.

In our current apartment we have a red aluminum tree, which I insisted on keeping up after the holidays last year and as a result it has remained up the whole year. This meant not having to go through the trouble of taking it down and putting it back up again, so in a way you could say I beat the system.

When I have kids, though, my plan is to draw a big picture of a tree and put it up on the wall in the den. I can even draw in little presents below the tree, and tell the kids that if they're not good then I can easily erase the presents.

Yes, I do plan on saving up for my own retirement home....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Undercover Boss!

I've been recently catching up on this show "Undercover Boss" and have to say a more brilliant piece of public relations I have yet to see! The idea behind this reality show is that each week, a large company will send its CEO undercover (with disguises, fake names, etc.) to work each day at an entry level job at some part of the company to get an idea of what the bottom level employees go through and what's on their minds. The excuse for the camera crews following them around is that there's a documentary being filmed about entry level jobs, so the hope is that the CEO then gets a better sense of the challenges facing their workers and can improve the company with this new perspective. Brilliant, eh?

It seems to follow a very set formula--the boss fails miserably at each entry-level task, looking foolish on the camera and demonstrating just how much better the day-to-day employees really are. (I think the bosses sort of intentionally screw up--the show would go very badly if the boss was excellent at working a lathe, for instance, and then comments "hey, this is easier than they make it look! Why am I paying my people so much???") The boss (in the guise of a "new guy") also chats with the employees, finds out what makes them tick (one may have financial difficulties, a bad back, or overcome some other disability), and we get to see the boss feeling bad about what their people have to go through. In the end, he (so far, it's always a "he") reveals himself to the employees, talks about what he's learned, and explains how he's going to improve, and usually does something nice for the individual employees he worked with (a vacation, a promotion, etc.). (In some cases, a boss will catch an employee being rude to customers and staff, and have to chew them out in the end, but this is rare).

The brilliant PR part of it? An hour episode of free advertising for the company, making the boss and the employees look like good people doing good work (the cameras never catch anyone doing a half-assed job or stealing, obviously). I'd say it'd be nuts for any company NOT to go on this show.

Of course, the formula will get old quick, so I can see some ways to spice it up:

1) Undercover Crime Boss. See what happens when the Godfather of the Gambino Fambly decides to see just how hard his hired goons have to work, muscling in on local retailers.

2) Undercover President. See Obama pretend to be an entry level staffer at the Department of Energy, and find out the waste and corruption that needs to be fixed.

3) Undercover Bad Boss. See the boss find out how much life sucks for his employee with too many mouths to feed--and then decide to fix it by kidnapping the extra kids.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow....Damn Snow

So, they're predicting snow today. Lovely. I get to spend my evening sitting on the highway behind severe traffic backups because some mouth-breather in their SUV decided to speed on the ice and create a wreck, shutting down a lane. This, my friends, is the suck.

I have come to dread snow as an adult, because snow doesn't mean not having to go to school, or making snow forts, or sledding. Besides kids, the only people who can possibly enjoy snow are:

1) Ski bums. Yeah, they just love their cumbersome hobby that requires serious equipment maintenance and access to chair lifts. This is probably because they haven't discovered drinking by a fire. They'll learn!

2) Russians defending themselves from the Nazis. However, while Jack Frost did help save Russia in WWII, the Russians were still stuck with a problem. They lived in a frozen hell that only a nut like Hitler would want.

3) Midwestern serial killers. These guys love hiding bodies in the snow, which can hide evidence for long enough to flee the country. But I have no plans to move to the midwest. Or, er, become a serial killer.

Sadly, leaving Maine I must have brought the winters with me. At least the Mainers can rejoice in milder days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Office Dress Code Nuttiness

The creation of an office dress code can be a tricky beast, as you want to straddle the line between letting your workers be comfortable and maintaining an appropriate businesslike appearance--all while avoiding any rules that could lead to discrimination claims. But it seems like someone in Human Resources at Swiss bank UBS has taken this full retard. They now have a 43 page manual outlining their dress code, with items such as "don't eat onions" and "cut your hair once every four weeks".

Now, part of me thinks a lot of these rules are probably borne of necessity--some guy wears loafers with no socks, then you gotta make a rule, some woman has her thong poke up over her dress pants, gotta make a rule--but 43 pages? I don't think I could come up with 43 pages worth of dress code discussion even if I listed every type of inappropriate style of footwear (open toed sandals, clown shoes, platform shoes with fish tank bottoms). This is clearly a level of micromanagement that makes you wonder why UBS didn't finally just decide to issue uniforms to all employees and shave them all bald each morning before they marched in unison to the work plant for soulless banter followed by rote work.

What's the right mix, in my view?

1) Get rid of neckties as a requirement. They're literally nooses, and send the wrong message. Plus they get in your food way too often.

2) If you can't tell they're sneakers from a distance, they'll count as work shoes.

3) I don't understand pantyhose requirements. If you're looking close enough to tell whether a woman at the office has bare legs, you're doing something wrong anyway.

4) It's sad that anyone should have to point out that clothes must be clean, but there we are.

5) Pajamas are ok if you've been having one hell of a week. Don't judge.

Clockwork Orange

I'd seen the movie "A Clockwork Orange" years ago, but only just now finished reading the book it was based on. For those who haven't read or seen it, the plot is this (SPOILERS AHEAD): Alex, a rotten youngster, gets into all sorts of hijinks with his thug friends, attacking and robbing innocent people and other thugs alike, and when Alex's friends betray him he ends up in prison as a result of one of their attacks. In prison, the government decides to "reform" him by conditioning his mind and body so that he would become violently ill at the thought of violence or sex (a side effect was that during the conditioning--which involved forcing him to watch violence and sex on film while injected drugs were making him ill--they were playing the films to the sound of classical music, which made him also react horribly to the music he once loved). Once "reformed" back into society, Alex becomes easy prey for his traitorous former friends, who attack him while he is unable to defend himself due to his fear of violence. Badly beaten, Alex staggers to a nearby home, which turns out to be a house in which he and his friends had previously committed a vicious attack. The owner of the house takes Alex in and nourishes him, before discovering that Alex was one of the attackers from years ago. To get revenge, the owner locks Alex in a bedroom and blasts classical music, forcing him to jump from the window to take his own life. The suicide attempt fails, Alex ends up in the hospital, and the government decides the "reform" was an embarrassment to them and they de-program him while he's convalescing. The film ends with Alex realizing that he "was cured, all right..."

The book goes on to have Alex out of the hospital and a little older, still a bit of a ruffian, and discovering that he was aging and would need to make the conscious choice to change his life. This more upbeat ending (for the book, compared to the film) does fit more with the book's theme that depriving a person of the choice to choose good will make them less human (hence taking a living thing, like an orange, and making it "clockwork", that is, machine-like). But that's not the only significant difference between the book and the film. In the film, Alex appears to be in his 20s or late teens, and at one point seduces a couple young women close to his age. The book makes Alex start at 15, and the women he "seduces" are actually 10 or 11. The book also has chapters taking place in prison, where Alex kills another prisoner, and the chaplain objects to the "reform" procedure. But Stanley Kubrick (the director) managed to tighten the story a bit, not only with the darker ending (which sends the message that one can't reform the bad, the bad shall remain bad) but with other clever tricks. During his attack on the house owner and his wife, Alex is singing "Singing in the Rain", a creepy version that must have haunted Gene Kelly more than the film "Xanadu" ever could. When Alex is being cared for by that same house owner later in the film, he sings the same tune while resting in the bath--the fatal slip that lets the house owner know Alex was one of the thugs from before. And of course, while the movie did use a bit of the "nadsat" (teenage slang) such as "in-out" and "ultra-violence" and "welly welly welly well", it doesn't go nearly so heavy on it as the book does. (At times, the book requires the reader to make a lot of guesses as to the meaning of the slang words that Alex, the narrator, uses)

On the whole, this is one of those rare instances where the book and the movie are both excellent, and one can't really judge that one is superior to the other.

But it also got me thinking--was the real problem that they were trying to reform Alex, or was it teh nature of how they did it? By making him averse to any violence, they made him defenseless. Perhaps the "conditioning" could have been done in such a way that he would have reacted aversely to offensive violence rather than self-defense. If such a thing were possible, you'd still have the issue of taking away his moral choices, but would that have been such a bad thing--especially when it was clear that as a youngster Alex had been making all the wrong moral choices?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Hibernation Plan

Sure, if you were to ask me when I'm wide awake and at work or home, I'd probably say that I can function just well in the winter, but during those first few moments of getting up in the morning a strong case can be made for hibernation. The bears are onto something--just pre-pay your rent and utilities for a few months, bundle up and shut down completely. It's not like you're going to miss much:

1) Xmas--yes, colored lights and food and drink, the sound of carols on the radio for a bit before they get annoying--okay, maybe hibernation can wait until after December 25.

2) New Years--the taste of bubbly, a fine meal put together, and ringing in another year with loved ones. Surely another week before hibernation can work.

3) Super bowl. Ok, good things are being done with nachos these days, and you want to see the best commercials the ad industry can put together. Plus, there's some football. That's about another month delay for the hibernation.

4) Presidents Day. Who doesn't rock out on Presidents Day? And, before you know it, we're into spring again.

Maybe they can invent some sort of hibernation where you wake up a bit every now and then.

Monday, December 13, 2010

New NFL Team Names

Despite the onset of cold weather and usual holiday stress, there is something to be happy about--the Redskins' losing ways! My disgust with the team has more to do with their awful owner, Dan Snyder, than anything personal against the players and coaches (of which there have been many since Snyder first meddled his way into ownership). Of course, there's also the taint of their racially insensitive name. I've suggested that they could even keep the name and avoid the controversy by simply changing their helmet design to put a redskin potato on the side instead of the Indian chief. I mean, how cool would that be--the only team in the league named after food (except for the Dolphins, but the only people eating dolphin are in Japan).

Other NFL teams could replace controversial names with ones that are very appropriate:

1) The New York Jets got their name because they used to play in Shea Stadium, which was near the Queens airports. Now that they play in a shared stadium in Jersey, they should really change their name to the "Tollbooths". Or, if they're playing really badly, the "Rest Stops".

2) The Buffalo Bills have an incredibly stupid name, because a "bill" is, in reality, an invoice you have to pay. Who the hell would name their team after an invoice? How about "Buffalo Buffaloes" or even better, the "Buffalo Wings"? They could then stay with the food theme.

3) The Houston Texans get an award for complete lack of imagination. Plus, what if they moved and became the Chicago Texans? Weak! Though it's better than their second choice name, the Houston Houstonians.

4) The Detroit Lions have a particularly offensive name. They should change it to the Michigan Lions.

5) The San Diego Chargers probably have a colorful story behind how they came up with their name. But no one really cares.

6) The Cincinnati Bengals are the only team in the NFL to be named after another nationality, particularly since the nation of Seahawkia was dissolved after the fall of communism. If the people of Bangladesh complain, I'd point out that they have much bigger fish to fry.

7) The Minnesota Vikings serve as a reminder that the people of Scandanavia were once mighty warriors, not the Volvo driving IKEA Lego meatball socialized medicine folk we know today. What happened, Scandanavia? Was it the rise of ABBA?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tacky Taxes

The big hubbub in Washington right now is this new deal worked out by Barack Obama and the GOP--namely, keeping the current income tax rates for two more years (the Bush tax cuts for all income levels were set to expire January 1st) and cutting the payroll tax (that Ponzi scheme we call Social Security, instituted by Crook-in-Chief FDR) by 2%, plus extending unemployment insurance by 13 more months (currently it taps out at 99 weeks--meaning the unemployed would be eligible for about three years of unemployment). The whole thing is supposed to cost about $900 billion, even more than the last stimulus. A few thoughts:

1) Smart move from Obama's perspective. This is bipartisan, so if it works, and juices the economy, he gets credit. If it just increases the deficit and helps nothing, the GOP has partial ownership of it so they can't bludgeon him with it. Add to the fact that every American taxpayer, rather than seeing their taxes go up (which would happen if there was no deal at all), will actually see more in their paycheck due to the payroll tax cut. And--the chronically unemployed get another few months breathing room while waiting for jobs to materialize. This is better news for him than the GOP, which wanted to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, and instead are just getting a two year extension.

2) The House Democrats who are rejecting this bill are retards. The bill gives them absolutely everything else they wanted--unemployment extension, payroll tax cut, extension of cuts for middle class and poorer Americans--and they're fighting to scuttle this thing simply because rich people get to keep their tax cut too??? Try explaining that to the millions of Americans making under $250K--"sorry your taxes had to shoot up during this recession, but we'd rather everyone pay more than allow rich people to get a tax cut." Frankly, their as dogmatic on this issue as the GOP is with keeping those cuts. Obama would be wise to ignore the hell out of those morons from here on out if he wants to be a lock for 2012. Bill Clinton learned that same lesson.

3) That said, this whole thing is a mess for the deficit, and proves that neither Obama nor the GOP are serious about that issue. Spending and entitlements need to be cut, well before we reduce our revenues further. Granted, it's hard to make that argument when unemployment creeps back up towards 10%, but this hole we're in is only getting worse and itself will wreck the economy further when interest rates start getting affected. I'd have some respect for House Democrats if they were arguing against ALL of these goodies, rather than basing everything on a hatred for wealth.

4) Maybe if the hole gets deep enough, that'll make politicians get serious? Already some plans are being floated to cut the deficit by cutting entitlements and simplifying the tax code, and maybe we need a bigger crisis to make that happen. But the reason I'm skeptical is that deficits don't vote--no politician was rewarded at the ballot box for cutting the deficit, and no politician was punished at the ballot box simply for increasing it. And as I've noted before, our country is run by idiots.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Over The Top!

Sylvester Stallone has hardly shied away from starring in truly crappy films. So maybe it's inevitable that during his '80s heyday, he would star in that one movie that answered the question nobody asked--namely, "why hasn't there been a film about a truck driver who competes in arm wrestling competitions?"

Well, to arm wrestlers everywhere, this film was a glowing tribute. But it was also about so much more! Stallone's character--named Lincoln Hawk, because of course--has to bond with his son after his estranged wife succumbs to cancer. (Tragically, the hospital makes a mistake and has her removed from the cancer, rather than the other way around. This is why we need health reform, people!) He picks up the young boy at military school so they can drive from Colorado to Los Angeles to visit the mother before she expires. Despite the kid's reasonable question of why the two of them had to drive halfway across the country when there were airplanes available in 1986, Stallone decides they needed the bonding time. Of course, this results in them showing up too late and finding out the mother was dead when they got to the hospital. But hey, father and son couldn't wait to do their bonding after visiting her! They have to live in the moment.

There is also essentially no chemistry between father and son--in fact, one scene feeatures a "montage" of them chatting silently while the theme music plays! I mean, I've seen training scenes, travelling scenes, even romantic romp scenes being reduced to a montage before, but I've never seen CONVERSATIONS reduced to montage. This, my friends, is the sign of a director who says "screw it, my audience are douches, time to give them the cinematic equivalent of a swirly".

Of course, arm wrestling, truck driving and father-son bonding--involving even a scene where Stallone/Hawk decides to risk lives and his trucker license by letting his ten year old son drive the truck for a bit--are not all this film has to offer. No, that would be letting you off easy! The film needed Robert Loggia at his hammiest, as the kid's rich, evil grandfather who will stop at nothing to keep the kid away from Stallone/Hawk.

Ok, let's see--a rich man raises his daughter with all the finest things, only for her to marry a truck driving arm wrestler with the fine diction and charm of a Stallone character. This prize of a son-in-law abandons your daughter and their son, and when the time comes to visit her when she's dying of cancer, they decide to make a road trip instead of taking a same-day flight. Gee, I wonder why Loggia/rich-guy didn't bond with him right away? Of course, it does get stupider--Stallone drives his truck over Loggia's front gate and smashes up the estate before getting arrested, because Loggia had been keeping the kid there--yep, no chance people including the boy would get seriously injured with that stunt.

Do I even need to explain how this ends? Certainly the father and son grow close, Loggia and his goons get foiled, Stallone wins an arm wrestling championship, and the audience of this farce lose two hours of their lives. In a way, they got StallOWNED.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hamburger Hill Review

Last night's film was the Vietnam War classic, "Hamburger Hill". This was the true story of the 101st Airborne's assault on an NVA held position in 1969, and the action scenes were pretty solid--plenty of carnage, shooting at targets that were nearly impossible to see, for reasons that weren't clearly defined. In that sense, it was pretty enjoyable.

Less enjoyable were the cliches--the not-so-subtle references to lousy war protesters back home, the racial divide among the black and white soldiers, the whole "I may be a tough bastard leader but I'm going to save your lives you greenhorns!", and of course the wise-ass Italian guy who is really into cars. The one cliche they didn't go for was a bit of a surprise--the guy who "had the girl back home he was going to marry" wasn't torn up in a hail of gunfire. (If I were ever in the military, and we were on patrol, and the guy next to me talks about his girl back home, I'm getting as far from him as possible because he's going to be turned into Swiss cheese pronto!).

Another thing that sort of bugged me was the hairstyles of the soldiers that reminded you that this film was made in 1987. Really, people, you're actors! Would it kill you to get the haircuts authentic? I mean, you're not wearing digital watches or looking at pin-up shots of Carmen Elektra, so why not go the whole hog and have your hair cut military style?

One final historical note--in the battle that "Hamburger Hill" was based on, the U.S. military abandoned the hill shortly after taking it from the NVA. The movie didn't mention this, perhaps because the message was more one of appreciating the soldiers that fought rather than criticizing the brass who put them through what they went through. I don't think that omission was necessary--it seems generally accepted that the guys who fought in Vietnam deserved admiration even while the war aims were muddy and controversial. (Except if you ask Jane Fonda and the Chicago Seven, but they suck anyway and no one cares what they have to say).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Laws That Should Be On the Books

1) Any customer service number has to go to a human being directly. Yes, they can put you on hold until one is available, but any business that has that "automatic options" crap with the "enter your number" crap, immediately gets shut down by the police and its Board of Directors gets beaten in the streets to make an example.

2) It is still illegal to key someone's car, unless they are taking up two parking spaces or double parked. Then it's fair game.

3) Everything charged in every store or restaurant has to come to an even dollar amount when sales tax is included. We have the technology. We can make small change a thing of the past.

4) There needs to be a fourth color for traffic signals. There should be go, stop, slow down, and seriously, slow down because it's about to go red like right now.

5) Shaving cream should really come out in different colors. Maybe this shouldn't be a law, but it'd be pretty cool. Especially since the color could be different for when you're really close to the bottom and need a new can.

6) The qualifications to be president should remain the same--35 years old, natural born citizen, lived in the U.S. for 14 years--but they should add a corrollary that if you quit halfway in the middle of your one term as governor of Alaska, AND you use Twitter as your primary means of communication, you're disqualified.

7) Any city or state that won't let you carry a handgun has to at least let you carry a cool trident or broadsword.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Greatest American City, Final Round!

The final round of the Greatest American City tournament comes amid a great deal of controversy. San Francisco was unable to make it to the tournament, because the refs got lost in the fog and ended up in Oakland, and Oakland will never win anything. And don't bring up the 1980 Raiders, because that's crap. Oakland loses, sorry Oakland! Unfortunately they took down the Golden Gate City with them.

Denver didn't make the finals, because they're too far away from any other strong cities to bask in any glory. Plus, they're nowhere near a water source. How do you drink, Denver? While you think of that, let's also skip over St. Louis and Dallas for obvious reasons. And of course, Toronto was disqualified once it was discovered they're not an American city at all, despite their dirty trick of having a Major League Baseball team--in the American League, no less! (As for those of you commies who think "America" means more than just the U.S., get with the times, man! When's the last time you saw an Argentine with a "proud to be an American" t-shirt? Either they have no pride, or they gave up the name to the U.S.)

In the end, it came down to two cities--New York, and D.C. We always knew it would come to them.

New York, with its homegrown charm, starting from a small river outpost by the Atlantic, a first stop for immigrants, a center of finance and culture, a city so big that it encompasses five full-sized counties (while most cities fit inside one county). It is a city with a population larger than most states. It is a city that has had mayors of African, Jewish, and Italian descent. The best pizza in the world, as well as the second, third and fourth best pizza, all call New York their home. It is big enough to have two NFL franchises, two NBA franchises, two MLB franchises, and three NHL franchises all in its metropolitan area. New York is collossal.

DC, on the other hand, is the seat of the world's most powerful government, where history has been raging from its early burning by the British during the War of 1812, to Civil War battles in its backyard, to various political histories ever since. It was set up artificially, under a plan to use unwanted swamp in what was then the geographic center of the country. It's home to historic neighborhoods, new ethnicities and the country's most thriving black population. It cannot match New York in size, but it packs a good punch with numerous ethnic groups, charming and historic neighborhoods, and arguably more sightseeing opportunities than any other American city. And unlike NYC, you don't have to pay any tolls to enter, and the museums are free. Also unlike NYC, the buildings are never so tall you can't see the sun at noon, and you can afford to live there on a modest salary.

It is a hard call as to which city wins this one.

1) NYC's most infamous recent mayor has been Rudy "Crazy Train" Guiliani. DC's most infamous recent mayor was Marion "Bitch Set Me Up" Barry.

2) NYC's host to the country's best Italian cuisine. DC's host to the country's best Ethiopian cuisine.

3) NYC is home to the douchebag who works in finance, screaming into his bluetooth. DC is home to the douchebag lawyer/lobbyist/congresstaffer, screaming into his blackberry.

4) NYC has the East Village. DC has Adams Morgan.

5) NYC has the West Village. DC has Dupont.

6) NYC has Central Park. DC has the Mall.

So what'll it be? I'll accept voting in the comments!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Long Island Keeping it Classy

Every now and again emerges a civil liberties hero. And every now and again, there's this guy. A volunteer fire chief in Long Island was suspended for having put up fake testicles on his truck. Initially, the offending orbs were hung below the back of the truck, as though they were the trucks own male organs, and then when the mayor asked him to take them down, the chief decided to hang them inside the truck instead.

Now, I'm not bothered by parts of the human anatomy being represented on vehicles, though I can see why for a public official it would be considered unprofessional and unbecoming to hang such things from one's truck. But what really gets me is that at some point this public servant was told by his boss to remove the balls, and he said to himself "these balls are so important to my truck, I refuse to castrate my truck!" and risked his job over this.

I just think the proper response would have been to wrap them in a Speedo.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time Keeps on Ticking

Turning 36 is a celebration of sorts, managing to make it another year in good health and still not squashed flat by one of the terrible northern Virginia drivers in massive vehicles who have no respect for anything. Having been born at a time when television was a wasteland (and not the center of cultural fulfillment that it is today) and music was mindless disco beats rather than the scientifically advanced brilliance we see now--in '74 they didn't even have auto-tune!--I'm glad to be living in a time when we've come so very far. At the time I was born, this country was in a never-ending recession and still not fully disengaged from a drawn out foreign war. Good thing that's not the case today!

Sadly, I also reflect that I've never flown a plane, ridden a horse, been on the ballot, or visited Asia or South America. But on the other hand, I've also never declared bankruptcy, served a day in jail, or broken a bone. I call that a wash!

I often use Winston Churchill's life as a guide for my own, since he was born on the exact same day as me but one hundred years earlier. By this time, he'd been a popular hero in the Boer War, a published correspondent, and a member of Parliament. There's still time to catch up, if I get appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in time for our next World War (which, by that logic, should start in four years when Germany invades France again. It could happen!). As long as I avoid the mistake of attacking the Turkish straits, I should even be ahead!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday is Black Like Your Heart

One bit of Thanksgiving related news that I found a bit jarring was the news that Black Friday is no longer an accurate term for the madness of bargain hunting that is now beginning on Thanksgiving Day itself, or even earlier. Yes, cheap classless people are now camping out for hours to crush helpless Wal Mart employees in their quest to get a good deal on electronics rather than spend some quality time with their loved ones.

Here's the thing about these wonderful deals--there is no amount one can save on any number of consumer goods that can justify camping out in the cold and waiting on long lines to shove other people to grab and buy. Can't afford nice gifts for the fambly? Then make a macaroni drawing or write them a poem about the value of not getting gifts. Sure, they'll hate you on December 25th, but they'd hate you anyway for better reasons than not getting them a cool gift.

A better solution? Start celebrating Christmas a couple weeks later, with the Orthodox Christians. Then you can do your holiday shopping in early January, after everyone's made their gift returns, and enjoy some hassle-free shopping.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, I'm gearing up for the usual delicious delectables: turkey leg, mashed taters, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce (from a can, the best way), antipasta platter, homemade bread, apple pie, and beaujulais nouveau. It's an interesting combination, in that it is the same combination every year and everything seems to go together in complementary fashion. The cranberry offers sweetness to balance the saltiness of the turkey and gravy, the carb effect of the taters balance the cheese, meats and veggies of the antipasta, and the beauj helps bring everything down. Throw that combo off balance, and you need to take other action.

If the turkey gets taken out of the equation, for example, you can't just substitute steak. You'd need to toss in some salad (preferably Caesar, the Emperor of Salads), in place of the antipasta, and of course the homemade bread would need to be replaced with a baguette. With that, the cranberry wouldn't really go, so you'd need to replace it with applesauce (I suppose). Before long, the stuffing is all that's left of the original meal, but that can never stand alone--stuffing without taters, turkey and cranberry is sort of like going to a Doors concert and seeing only Ray Manzarek showed up.

Here's wishing all a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goddam Delaware

Some people wonder why Delaware, a small intrusive state, earns so much bile from me that I have re-named it "New Jersey's Ugly Brother". Sure, they produce luminaries such as Christine "I Know All Sixteen Amendments By Heart" O'Donnell and Joe "Has Anyone Seen My Underwear?" Biden. Sure, they put a massive toll on a very short stretch of Interstate 95 to fleece travellers between NY and DC. Sure, they call themselves "The First State" even though they only ratified the Constitution first because there's literally nothing else going on in that stupid state.

But now, they decided to close off a bunch of lanes on I-95 on Thanksgiving weekend for construction. Great idea, jerks! Just because you're staying in your stupid Wilmington and Dover homes eating turkey doesn't mean you should screw over those of us who have to drive that day! Keep pushing us and we'll find a way to sever you off from the mainland, never to be seen again, just like we did to East Virginia.

And the best part? The construction in question is being paid for by federal stimulus funds. So we'll be paying taxes down the road for Delaware to do repairs on a 20 mile stretch of highway that they already make big toll money on. Next time you see Joe Biden give him the finger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Six!

As we move along in our "Greatest American City" tournament, a lot of people (mostly from cities that suck) have complained about the methodology used in selecting winners. Here are some FAQs:

Q: What makes you an authority on American cities when you've never even been to Seattle?

A: I've seen the movie Singles. Okay, heard the soundtrack.

Q: Do you use a special methodology to decide which cities face off against one another?

A: Yes, assuming you have no followup questions.

Q: It seems pretty arbitrary to base points on whether a song includes the city in its lyrics, or whether you had a good meal there. Millions of people are being judged!

A: That's not really a question.

So, today we have a face-off between perennial favorite, New Orleans, and up and coming Indianapolis. Indy did well in the regionals against Cleveland and Cincinnati but it remains to be seen whether they can fight off the infamous Crescent City!

1) Indy: was featured as the setting for TV's "One Day at a Time". Since that show really sucked (sorry Valerie Bertinelli fans!) Indy loses points to N.O.

2) New Orleans has a colorful pronunciation from its locals, who call it "Nawlins". How quaint and charming! Indy natives mispronounce their city "Andyapolis". Or at least some guy named Andy did that, and it really was lame. Points for Nawlins!

3) New Orleans is often called the Big Easy because it's easy to live there if you're big. (This is because it has so many great buffets). Indy is nicknamed "The City You Stay in When You Run Out of Gas On Your Way To Chicago'. Points for N.O.!

4) New Orleans residents have created muffaletta sandwiches, beignets, po-boys, and numerous Creole dishes. Indy is best known for being close enough to Chicago to drive for a nice meal. Points to N.O. again! Indy better catch up!

5) Indy is home to the Colts, a franchise that was really excellent back in the '50s and '60s....when it was in Baltimore. Okay, I'll give them credit for a Peyton Manning too....though the Saints won the last Superbowl, playing against....eek, that was Indy! Slight edge to N.O.

So it looks like New Orleans survived Katrina and roared back to a resounding victory against Indy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

One of the great things about America is our abundance with food and our ability to flaunt that abundance in ways that can only make less fortunate peoples learn to hate us. Now, before you say "other countries only hate us for our freedoms!" think for a minute how ridiculous that is. Remember that kid in high school who had no curfew and no obligations and had all the freedom in the world? You didn't hate him because of his freedom. You hated him because he was a douchebag about it and wasn't cool about selling you weed.

How are we flaunting our abundance for all the world to see?

1) Stuffed crust pizza. At some point, someone said "this pizza doesn't have enough calories and fat. There's got to be a better way!" and their assistant said "but boss! We put cheese and meat and veggies on every square inch of surface! Where else can we put extra food on this thing??" And voila, the stuffed crust pizza was born.

2) Turkey. We have never accepted turkey on its own. Nope, we've managed to stuff it with stuffing (which is where stuffing gets its name!), and even other meats (duck, chicken, beef, spare ribs) because there's a part of Thanksgiving dinner where Uncle Joe says "whew, that wasn't bad turkey, but I'm STILL STARVING!" And baking the turkey isn't enough, no sir! We've found ways to deep fry and smoke turkeys for extra fattening goodness.

3) Hamburgers. Ah, the simple days when a McDonalds small hamburger was what an adult got with their fries and Coke. Then, this wasn't enough, and they created the "Big Mac"--a double decker burger! This was the greatest thing to come out of 1968, with the possible exception of the White Album. Wait, I take that back, the Big Mac is way better than the White Album. (Ducks as pairs of Beatle Boots are tossed at me). But then, that wasn't enough and the "Quarter Pounder With Cheese" came about. Now, we have the Angus Third Pounders, and we all know that it's only a matter of time before the "Pounder" becomes standard. Sadly, the Big Mac looks positively small on the menu these days.

4) State Fairs. They have now deep fried everything, including Coke and Bourbon. At least a deep fried potato could provide you essential starch--but now, it's all about that crazed sugar rush. My prediction for the next state fair entry? Deep fried deep fry. Yes, that's no typo--they will find a way to deep fry the batter with nothing else, since that's what we're getting to next.

5) Bacon bacon bacon! Yes, this brilliant bit of meat can serve as a topping (in "bit" form), a main course (as the meat for a BLT sammich), and even casing for any other food (bacon-wrapped anything). The Canadians have tried to keep up with us but their bacon is basically ham. Bacon also probably makes a good stuffing, but the folks don't let me do that for Thanksgiving.

So, we're a land of plenty, due in part to a massive farm belt, the best of farming techniques and generous federal subsidies that keep the prices low. If anything, our problem is how to cut back on fat, a problem that anyone who had to scrounge for a meal would consider a good problem to have. I guess I really shouldn't complain.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport Security Madness

Air travel sucks. Airports are always located way too far from anything, unless you're some sad sack living in outer Queens or Dulles, so it always takes forever to get there. Planes are overly fragile, so flights often get delayed or cancelled due to rain (though most pilots will tell you that a plan can get struck by lightning repeatedly and still fly just fine). And now airport security has reached new levels of ridiculous crapulence so you have a great combination of having to leave early to drive extra far to get to the airport extra early to get through security just in time to wait extra hours for your delayed flight. Add flight time and travel from your destination airport to your destination--providing you don't prefer to just hang out near the airport at your destination!--and you basically save no time flying instead of driving for any flight that isn't cross-country.

Some of these problems can't be solved--airports always have to be far out from cities, since they take up too much land, and flights will always be delayed until some airline establishes "do you feel lucky" flights where people can knowingly accept a riskier flight if it means taking off on time. But airport security--what can possibly be done to make us safe from all those terrorists trying to set their shoes or underwear on fire on our planes?

To that I'd say--what really needs to be done there? Both of those plots were foiled easily, because last I checked you're not even allowed to smoke on the plane so surely anyone whipping out a lighter and trying to have a go at their clothing is going to attract immediate suspicion. It seems anyone wanting to blow up a plane would have an easier time bribing an underpaid baggage handler to let a suitcase full of bombs get past the metal detectors and detonate in the hold. In this day and age there's pretty much no way to get up to no good in the cabin.

Of course, some incompetents like Richard Reid will try to sneak a shoe bomb onto the plane from time to time. In which case I think an adequate punishment would be forcing him to spend the rest of his life inspecting passengers' smelly shoes at the security checkpoint, followed by a flight wedged in between two obese passengers with a screaming baby in front and behind. Film it for a reality show, and you'll have all the deterrant you need for any future bombers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

City Nicknames

A lot of people wonder how certain cities get their nicknames. New York is famously known as "the Big Apple", because of its legendary pie-bakeoffs, and Chicago is known as "the Windy City" because it was named after a woman named Wendy who was notorious for misspelling her name. It's sort of sad when a city has no cool nickname of its own, because a nickname can really put it on the cultural map. I've suggested a few names based on cities I'm familiar with:

1) Washington, D.C.--the Big Swampy. You don't venture into the Big Swampy during July without a sweat-rag, y'hear???

2) Portland, ME--the Big Frosty. The best wintertime souvenir a Mainer can give you is a case of the shivers, courtesy of the Big Frosty!

3) Sarasota, FL--Retirement Alley. Self explanatory.

4) Baltimore--Crabtown, U.S.A. Not to be mistaken for Bangkok, which is a different sort of Crabtown.

5) Philadelphia--the City Where Directions Won't Help You. Update your maps, people!

6) Syracuse, NY--Pity City. You pity those who live here, and they pity you for having to visit.

7) Boston, MA--Meathead Alley. How a city that boasts some top notch colleges and an economy that attracts such high intelligence can be also a haven for low functioning townies is truly a testament to the duality of man.

8) Los Angeles--New Jersey With Palm Trees.

Any city chamber of commerce that uses those terms will owe me big money.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Five!

There's been a lot of regional acrimony over which city will eventually win the Greatest City in America Tournament. It's a little-known fact that a dispute back in the 1861 tournament between Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts led to the respective states going to war and bringing their fellow states in with them. Such disputes are impossible in this modern day of civility and intelligent debate.

Today's matchup--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania versus Atlanta, Georgia!

1) Philly has a good deal of history, being the place that the Declaration of Independence was signed, and where Rocky ran up a flight of steps. Atlanta on the other hand was razed to the ground by cruel General Sherman, and to my knowledge Rocky never even visited the city. Sadness, and points for Philly.

2) Philly has the cheesesteak. Unfortunately, they often put squeeze cheese on it, which is just nasty. Points for Atlanta, yech!

3) Atlanta was originally named Marthasville, and then Terminus, and finally got its name from the Ocean on which it sits. Except that it's pretty far inland. Oops! Philadelphia on the other hand has not been named after anyone named Philip, or Delph. So what we have is a couple of liars! Push!

4) Philly is host to the great TV show, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Atlanta, however, was host of "Designing Women." So take that, er, um, oh . . . points for Philly.

5) Atlanta was where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record, and also hosted the '96 Olympics. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was where Eagles fans tossed snowballs at Santa Claus. What the hell, Philly???? Points for Atlanta!

6) Atlanta is the capital of its state, and the largest city and cultural center of the Deep South. Philly is the most desirable city in its region, unless you're able to get into NYC or Washington easily. But, Philly also has a lot of Jersey commuters, so . . . hmm. Atlanta with more points.

Looks like an upset win for Atlanta, which is a bit odd since I generally prefer visiting Philly for its good restaurants, walkable neighborhoods, and easy proximity to DC. Unfortunately I hadn't thought of those elements in making point scores. Who designs these contests, anyway?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Four!

Boy, is this City vs. City tournament getting heated! Kansas City-ites throwing bottles at Seattlers, Boise Folk hollering curses at Miliwaukeeans--hopefully they can all work out their differences in a civil manner, sort of like the States did last time they had a conflict. (They didn't call it the "Civil" war for nothing) In this round we have Portland Maine duking it out with Washington, DC. Full disclosure--these are the two cities I've lived in longer than any other, so my affinity for both is well established. Let's go to the battle:

1) Portland boasts a sizable Somali population, while Washington has a large number of Ethiopians. While the latter have established a number of good ethnic restaurants, the Portland area has no Somalian restaurants to speak of. Boo! What's up with that, Portland? Would Somalian food be a little too "real" for you? Point to DC!

2) Portland has a number of quality restaurants and dive bars--in fact, most of the bars are of the dive quality. DC does have a number of bars, but in terms of restaurants it falls about equal to Portland (despite the latter's tiny size--DC has about ten times the population of Portland). Points to Portland for batting above its weight.

3) Portland is absolutely horrendous in the winter, with extreme darkness (due to its far north and far east location), extreme cold, and enough snow to make Jack Frost go batshit. DC is a fetid swamp during the summer. Breaking the tie is the long, temperate fall and spring in DC. Points to DC on weather.

4) Both towns have cheap baseball, since Portland has only a double-A team (the SeaDogs) and DC has a team that may as well be double-A (the hapless Nationals!). Push.

5) DC has a fairly extensive and state of the art metro system, connecting most of its neighborhoods and key urban points. Portland's most worthwhile points are all in walking distance from one another. Point to Portland.

6) Portland is definitely cheaper in terms of housing, but the pitifully low salaries are so far below the cost of living that many white collar workers are forced to work extra jobs. Boo! Points to DC.

7) When you have out of town guests in DC, you can send (or take) them to see monuments, free museums, open air markets, events, etc. When you have out of town guests in Portland, you can . . . hope the weather is nice enough to do something outside. (It won't be.) Points to DC.

8) Portland has a scenic location right on the Atlantic, with a rocky cove and many barrier islands nearby. DC is just sort of in the middle of a swamp. Points to Portland.

Looks like DC edges out my former home of Portland--though, Portland should be proud to put up a good fight against a heavyweight like that. It should also be noted that both towns blew the doors off Boston in the Northeast Regionals, because any town producing "Good Will Hunting" deserves to lose.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Three!

Next up in our City vs. City, This Time It's Personal tournament is old scrapper Sarasota, Florida against Houston, Texas. Let's go to the videotape!

1) Houston is named after Sam Houston, one of the leaders in the Texas Republic and an ardent foe of secession (from the U.S.--he didn't mind seceding from Mexico, obviously). Sarasota was named after Floyd Sarasota, a brilliant politician and landowner who convinced General Andrew Jackson to let him open up beachfront condos after the Seminole War. Houston is definitely better known--points to Houston!

2) Sarasota has beaches. Points to Sarasota.

3) Houston boasts some great sports franchises, including NBA's Rockets, Baseball's Astros, and NFL's Texans. Er....okay, Houston somehow loses points here....

4) Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. Sarasota is so small that when Houston eats lunch, it flosses afterwards and little Sarasotas pop out of Houston's teeth. Points to big ole Houston.

5) Houston is the center of the American oil business. Sarasota is the center of the American retirement community business. More points for Houston.

6) People often say "I'm taking a pleasure trip to Sarasota." Conversely, anyone going to Houston puts it this way: "I have to go to Houston. Sigh." Points to Sarasota.

7) Looks like a close one, and these very different cities are going to need some sort of tiebreaker. Let's go with this one: Houston's town motto is "At least we're not El Paso." Sarasota's motto is "Wait, you're not my regular valet guy." Points and match to Sarasota!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greatest American City, Round Two!

In Round Two, we have longtime contenders Detroit and Memphis. Detroit made it through the regionals, beating upstart Saginaw, while Memphis managed to pull off an upset against Gary, Indiana. (Sorry to all residents of Gary--but you can't rest on your laurels just because you're the origin city of the Jackson Five. You gotta fight on in all categories!)

1) Musical Influence: Memphis has produced a lot of blues music, and some terrific R&B under the Stax label. Detroit, of course, brought us the Motown sound of the sixties. This will have to be a push.

2) Food: Memphis is well known for its barbecue, particularly its ribs. Detroit is also well known for its ribs, particularly the ribs of a tourist who had his inisdes gutted while mistakenly walking into the wrong neighborhood. Points go to Memphis.

3) View: people in Memphis get a nice view of the Mississippi River, the longest river in North America. Detroiters get a view of Canada, the most wannabe-U.S. country in North America. (Mexico is too busy trying to be Argentina to waste its time trying to be us). Much as I like Canada, I have to give points to Memphis. Better catch up, Detroit!

4) Memphis has no NFL franchise, while Detroit has the Lions. I have to give points to Memphis here, since the Lions are so bad the city would be better off with no team at all. Not looking good, Detroit!

5) Famous Natives: Memphis is home to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry commander and founding member of the KKK. Ok, Detroit HAS to be able to top that! Detroit has produced Eminem. It's hard to say which guy white people should be more ashamed of, so this will also be a push.

6) Great Companies: Memphis has FedEx, which was featured with excellent product placement in the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. Ok, let's see what Detroit has--General Motors. Featured in that Michael Moore film, "Roger and Me". (Which I thought would have been about the director's brother, Roger, who played James Bond. Boy was I disappointed!) Points go to Memphis, since Moore's film hardly made anyone want to buy a GM.

Well, looks like Memphis took this one pretty handily. Sorry Michiganders!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Greatest American City, Round One!

In today's first round of the "Greatest American City" tournament, we have the contenders Chicago, weighing in as the country's third largest city, with broad shoulders and thick midwestern accents, and New York--slick and fast paced! Let's begin the battle:

1) Nickname: Chicago takes "The Windy City" and New York takes "The Big Apple". Frankly, the apple thing makes no sense, especially since apple country is much further upstate. Point goes to Chicago.

2) Pizza style: Chicago basically serves a pot pie that's pizza-flavored. New York pizza is incomparable. Many points to NY!

3) Director who bases all their films there: Chicago has John Hughes. Those films don't age so well! New York has Martin Scorcese, whose films are excellent. But wait! Scorcese's Oscar-winning epic, "The Departed", actually took place in Boston. Disqualification! Point to Chicago.

4) Sports: Chicago has exactly one football team, with a storied history and greats such as George Halas, Walter Payton, and those guys from "Brian's Song". (No, I'm not crying, it's just dusty in here!) New York has, count 'em, TWO football teams! Except they both share a Jersey. I cry for real now, as I give points to Chicago.

5) Buildings: New York has the Empire State Building, which beats Chicago's Sears Tower. (Fun fact--as a native New Yorker, I've never climbed the ESB, but did climb the Sears when I was a tourist in Chicago.) Granted, Sears is taller, but the ESB is instantly recognizable with its art-deco style, and attraction for large apes. Point to NYC.

6) Famous criminals: Chicago has Al Capone, Sam Giancana and that Dr. Holmes guy who murdered all those people at the 1893 Worlds Fair. NYC has Son of Sam, John Gotti, and Elliot Spitzer. Ugh, points to Chicago!

7) Presidents: Chicago produced Barack Obama, which is very impressive until you remember that NYC produced Teddy Roosevelt who shot so many animals he became a conservationist just so he could save a few animals to shoot for later. NYC has to get the point on this one.

8) Songs Referencing the City: Chicago has Elvis' "In the Ghetto". New York has Sinatra's "New York, New York." Points to NYC--unless you want to be "face down with a gun in [your] hand" like the subject of Elvis' ballad.

Hmm, tie score! We'll have to see both NYC and Chicago advance to the next round. Stay tuned for more...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rat Pack Party

Today marks the birthday of my fiancee/roommate/enabler Shannon, and among the big plans for her special occasion is a party tomorrow with a '60s "Rat Pack" theme. For those of you who don't know, the Rat Pack was a gang of celebrities from the early '60s who hung around in a close knit group, doing Vegas shows together, television specials, and even a few movies--the best known being 1960's "Oceans Eleven". These celebrities--singer/actors Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop--epitomized the idea of early '60s coolness and "classy" partying.

So how to do a perfect Rat Pack party? First, make sure you have plenty of martini glasses, olives, and booze. Make sure there's plenty of whiskey. Jazzy tunes on the sound system add a nice touch, and guests should be decked out in their coolest suits and dresses. And cigarettes, oh the cigarettes. It should also be noted that the Rat Packers participated in some great celebrity roasts later on, hosted by Dean Martin and featuring everyone from John Wayne to Muhammad Ali. Croon out a few songs, do a bit of tap dance and standup, and you're all there daddy-o.

So here's to some great Rat Packin' times with good friends, and a celebration of a special day for a special lady.

Happy Birthday, Shannon!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Thoughts

Whatever your political leanings, you can appreciate some of the silver linings about yesterday's election results:

1) After two years of my liberal friends being insufferably smug and my conservative friends being completely insane, it'll be nice to see my conservative friends become insufferably smug and my liberal friends become completely insane.

2) The color barrier will be broken with our first ever orange-colored Speaker of the House, John Boehner. If he and Snooki had a child it would be an Oompa Loompa.

3) Since the Democrats were able to successfully smear the GOP for trying to touch Social Security in 2006, and the GOP was able to successfully smear the Democrats for trying to touch Medicare in 2010, I can look forward to growing old with both programs completely untouched. Of course, those programs will swamp the federal budget and the economy and we'll have to sell our children to China to pay off our debts, but at least I can retire in unearned luxury.

4) Democrats and Republicans can fight back and forth over which group of gerrymandered incompetents gets to run this country into the ground, but at least we D.C. residents don't have to worry about that because we don't get a vote. Fun fact--eleven states actually seceded from the country and took up arms against the U.S. Army from 1861-65, and all of those states had full autonomy and representation in Congress within a decade after that. D.C., which never seceded from anything, still gets nothing. Sounds pretty fair!

5) California had to decide whether to elect as governor a woman who thinks the job is worth over $150 million of her own money, or a washed up moonbeam who drove the state into a ditch back in the '70s when he was governor. And at the same time, they decided not to legalize pot. For that, I take back all the jokes I made about Florida.

6) 99% of New York voters have decided that their Rent is NOT Too Damn High. Sounds good!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My predictions from yesterday came out pretty close in the Senate (with Democrats keeping 51 seats to the GOP's 46, and 3 undecided so far) and I'd underestimated the GOP House total by 11 seats. The spin has begun already--Tea Partiers are going to take credit for providing the enthusiasm and energy for the GOP pickups, and some of their annointed candidates have won (Toomey in PA, Rubio in FL). They will try and downplay the fact that they also gave up at least two easy Senate pickups in Nevada and Delaware.

Sarah Palin will try and take credit for much of this, because that is the sort of person she is. Will she be dumb enough to run for President? I doubt it, since it's much easier to sit on the sidelines and get paid a lot of money and not have to answer pesky reporters' questions about whether she reads. But there will surely be a "Tea Party" contender for the nomination and likely that insurgent group will influence the 2012 primary.

Also, the legislative gridlock will ensure that the only things that can get passed in the next two years will require an overwhelming lack of controversy. No hard decisions will be made on cutting federal spending or reforming the tax system--the Bush tax cuts will likely expire at the end of this year (little chance of a lame duck session doing anything about that) meaning every taxpayer will be hit by some form of increase during a recession. The regulatory burdens on businesses are likely to remain. The GOP will have to contend with Tea Party pressure in a way that they didn't have to when they were in the distinct minority. And Obama is going to have to learn to deal with these people.

What did we learn from this election season?

1) Crazy works in crazy times, but sometimes there's such a thing as "too crazy". Sharron Angle ran against perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent in the country--Harry Reid--in a state that has a 14% unemployment rate and is itching to throw out the bum. But she consistently came across as a fundamentalist nut, and crossed the line with racially incendiary ads aimed at Hispanics. She turned out to be just too much for Nevada's voters.

2) Party switching comes back to bite you. Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector switched to the Democrats last year and ended up losing the primary to a more liberal candidate--Joe Sestak--who in turn went on to lose against the Tea Party favorite, Pat Toomey. Charlie Crist in Florida went from being a potential GOP running mate for John McCain (before McCain went and picked the most unqualified person in the country) to dropping out of his own party's primary for the U.S. Senate to run as an independent. He was then blown out of the water by the eventual GOP nominee, Marco Rubio.

3) Proudly embracing Obama's agenda won't help in swing districts. Leading up to the campaign, liberals argued that the most endangered Democrats would be those who ran away from the party's agenda and tried to triangulate. To be sure, a number of those "blue dogs" did lose, as the independents and GOP voters were energized and eager to "dump Pelosi" and replace their moderate Democrats with conservative Republicans. But Democrats in swing districts who tried the alternate approach--embracing Obama and his record--found themselves defeated as well, such as Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly of Virginia. It's damned if you do, damned if you don't, this year in swing districts.

4) It's a 50-50 nation. That is, this country is about evenly divided among those leaning liberal and those leaning conservative. So when one party takes power, they'd be well advised to consider that if they try and push an agenda that leans too far towards their own base, they're going to (a) energize the opposing base and (b) alienate moderates/independents. The GOP learned this in the past decade, when they had the White House and all of Congress. Obama and Pelosi made the same mistake this time around. And politics being what it is, the GOP is likely to do the same thing yet again. Governing from the center is really the only way to hold power for a long time. (Of course, one could also argue that there is no point in having power if you don't use it--but just don't expect to hold power for much longer than that if you have that attitude). It is overreach that explains why Americans usually prefer divided government.

5) The economy is still the defining issue here. With official unemployment at 9.6% (and if having been over 9% for almost two years), housing values still in the toilet, and sluggish GDP growth, the mood in this country is still grim. Could Obama and company have had better results if they'd spent more time working out a more effective and perhaps popular stimulus plan (such as my plan--just write checks directly to the taxpayers, no strings attached, to pump money into the economy)? Would it have helped if the health care reform plan were put on the backburner, while direct attention to economic growth was focused? It's hard to say, even with hindsight. But the same issue that burned the GOP two years ago remains to burn the in-party.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Predictions

Today being election day, it's time for my predictions! Let's see how many of these I get right:

1) House of Representatives: the final count will be GOP with 229 seats, Democrats with 206 seats. Nancy Pelosi will step down as caucus leader and be replaced by Steny Hoyer.

2) Senate: the final count will be GOP with 47 seats, Democrats with 50 seats (plus two Independents that caucus with the Democrats, and one (Lisa Murkowski in Alaska) that caucuses with the GOP). Christine O'Donnell will lose with a percentage around 40% of the Delaware vote, and any Republican with a brain will curse Sarah Palin for helping turn a sure winner in Delaware (with Mike Castle) to a sure loser by meddling. Thanks Sarah!

3) In key Governor races, the GOP will win in Texas, Florida, and Illinois. Meg Whitman will lose in California, after having spent over $150 million of her own money, proving you just can't buy an election if you aren't a good politician. In NY, Cuomo will win, but there's going to be a surprisingly strong showing for the Rent is Too High party, as a protest vote.

4) In Maine, Independent Elliott Cutler will make a strong showing and keep it remarkably close, but (sorry to my friends who are backing him) it's been too little too late in getting the Democrats' votes to break for him, and that split plus an electorate that is furious with the "in-party" will give the edge to GOPer Paul LePage.

5) The GOP will have the distinction of having two governors of Indian (of the subcontinent) ancestry in Deep South states--Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Also, Tim Scott is poised to be the first black Republican to represent a district in South Carolina since Reconstruction, and I understand his district is majority white. If you were to tell an 1860s South Carolinian that white South Carolinians would some day elect a black man--of the GOP no less--to represent them in Congress he'd probably spit up his mint julep.

6) The big challenge over the next two years will not be just Obama trying to deal with a resurgent GOP in Congress--it'll be a GOP establishment trying to deal with Palin-Americans trying to "purify" their party and insist on somehow cutting taxes and the deficit without any meaningful spending cuts, using magic. Hold on, it'll be a bumpy ride....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sanity or Insanity

Taking my pleasant weekend stroll is one of the things I enjoy most about fall--the charming neighborhoods, parks, and city folk who populate the sidewalk seating at the bars and cafes. Saturday was to be like any other. Of course, I knew a rally was going on at the Mall, but figured I'd cut through the crowd, see some clever signs and costumes, and be on my way.

Alas, the Mall was packed to the gills! And people were not moving out of the way. Hipsters, hipsters everywhere! And more than a few yuppies. Trying to navigate a crowd is hard enough, but a crowd carrying big signs is even worse. And if some clod decided to get there super early and lay out a blanket so they could sit on the Mall all day, and you needed to walk past and had no choice but to step on their blanket, you were going to get a "hipster scolding".

("Hipster scolding" is defined by a remark laden with such an overdose of sarcasm that you aren't even sure if it's sarcastic. It's like a black hole of sarcasm.)

I did manage to use fancy footwork to wheedle through the crowd and finally get to the other side of the Mall, and continue my walk, and at every Metro stop more rallygoers streamed in. I made a mental note to give the Mall a wide berth on my walk back later, and figured that'd be the end of that.

But then, later needed to go to the store for groceries. As our Safeway is the closest one to the Mall, well, you guessed it--packed with hipsters yet again! Which would be fine if they didn't keep running into you on their way to use the bathrooms and buy up as much PBR as the store would keep in stock. I wish I were making up that tired stereotype, but seriously, they took ALL the PBR. (Fortunately, I'm a Dos Equis sort of guy).

Did they restore sanity, you ask? Well, not to my neighborhood they didn't!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Parties

Usually at Halloween parties I attend in the costume of "that guy who drinks all the beer and eats all the chips and man does he ever stop???" The first several minutes of the party are spent ooh-ing and aah-ing over costumes both clever ("I'm going as my husband's dashed hopes and dreams!") and common ("I'm going as a sexy vampiric nurse with a cowboy hat! Yes, I need to clean out my closet..."). You can always count on one girl in fishnet stockings, and one guy with no shirt on.

When we were little and these parties were chaperoned, you could also count on the hostess (no man ever chaperones his kid's Halloween party, that's just not a manly thing to do!) getting rid of all of her cold spaghetti and grapes (which, in the dark, are supposedly guts and eyeballs) and coming up with games like "try not to break our stuff" and "stop poking me with that damn fake spear". Some kid's costume gets ripped, some kid starts crying, and it's usually over early in the day. When we're teenagers, we're up to mischief--eggings and toilet paperings create their own reign of terror on the lands!--but then we get to an age where we're out of the house, able to drink legally, and then the parties about yet again. But what activities can you participate in at Halloween parties as an adult? Passing around goo and pretending it's brains doesn't work anymore. Here are some suggestions:

1) A prize for whoever can eat the oldest thing still in the host's fridge. Scary!

2) A prize for the female guest who actually dressed modestly.

3) A game of "who wants to check to see if that's really a gas leak".

4) A ritual beating for the guy who dripped candle wax on the stereo speakers.

5) A murder mystery! To make it more authentic, invite an actual paroled murderer and have him wait out back by the beer cooler and send guests out to get beers one by one. Also helps if you have an amateur detective--preferably with a Belgian accent!--as another guest.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Costume Ideas

As the weekend approaches, and Halloween parties approach as well, it comes time to decide what brilliant costume to wear. There are a number of iconic possibilities:

1) Want to be political? You can put on a witch hat and go as "not Christine O'Donnell" as my fiancee suggested. You could wear an old white wool blanket and red sunglasses and go as the "demon sheep" from Carly Fiorina's "demon sheep" ad (look at 2:40 in). You could don the facial hair and gloves and go as the "Rent is too damn high" guy.

2) Want to show people how educated you are? Go dressed as "Newton's Theory of Gravity" and stay plopped on the couch during the party, asking people to bring you drinks. Carry a frame around and go as the picture of Dorian Gray, telling people that your better half is around somewhere. Go as whatever you went as last year, and be "history repeating itself".

3) Want to let people know of the plight of kids from the early '80s? Wear a cheap plastic mask of Ponch (or John) from CHiPs, coming complete with a plastic smock that says "CHiPs" on the front with a photo of a motorcycle. Yes, in the early '80s that's what passed for a costume of going as the guy from CHiPs. They were a dark time.

4) Want to get away with slapping people you don't like? Go as Ike Turner.

5) Want to reach for some cartoon nostalgia? Wear a sheet with dozens of holes, a la Charlie Brown.

6) Want to save lots of time and money? Go dressed in your street clothes, and say you're going as a 7th grader who's too cool for dressing up for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


You've probably seen a number of films where the protagonist is given a great deal on a house to buy, and moves in, only to discover that the house is haunted by a ghost. The audience is left to thinking that no deal is good enough to justify living with a ghost, because then you get no rest and no peace and the ghost watches you shower and stuff. But then, keep in mind this is no picnic for the ghost! Last I checked, no one asks the ghost if he wants to share the house with a fambly of lovable scamps.

Besides my short attention span, one reason why I never could make a good stalker is that PEOPLE ARE VERY BORING. Imagine spending hours on end following someone, watching them shop, talk on the phone, watch TV, drink coffee--ugh! It'd never be like it is in spy movies, where the stalkee is doing interesting, cool stuff, or at least the women being spied on will walk around in neat lingerie. In real life, I bet the victim is just wearing granny panties, because of course she doesn't know she's being watched so doesn't care how it looks. Who wants to stalk that?

So I figure being a ghost is about the same thing as being a stalker. Just boring as hell, and every time you try and mix it up a bit by showing yourself or making noise, the humans just freak out and it gets unpleasant with all the screaming. And then they bring in the priest to exorcise the place, which is just sad because really, why would a ghost care if they sprinkle holy water around and carry a crucifix? That'd only work if the ghost has Christian faith, and if that were the case the ghost would be busy trying to convert atheists or something. Not hanging around an old house trying to scare gentrifyers.

And if the house has teenagers, that's even worse. The minute the kids think there's a ghost in the house, you know they're going to break out the Ouija board (made from Parker Brothers, which makes you know it's authentic since the good people at Parker Brothers have a direct line to the occult forces of the universe) and try to talk to you. Who wants to talk to a teenager? They have nothing of value to say, except what that bitch Stacy did last week oh I don't believe she went there, she's going to get hers that's for sure. Boring!

Yeah if I'm a ghost someday, I'm totally going to hang out at the beach or something. Screw that haunting crap.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

DC Statehood

As a new DC resident and a charter member of the "The Heat in Our Building is Too Damn High" party, I've come to focus on some key local issues. Namely, DC Statehood!

One of the best arguments used against DC statehood has been the dreadful mismanagement of the city by its elected leaders. Not that this should be a disqualifier--we let California still be a state, and look at the mess they're in! And now Californians are deciding whether their state will be led by an overcooked aged hippie or a woman who wants the job so badly she's willing to spend $140 million of her own money to get it. (Mind you, this is more than Al Gore spent in 2000 running for president). DC deserves to mismanage itself, thank you very much!

But then there's the issue--what if we did become a state? Would we have a Governor AND a mayor, each with the same jurisdiction? Would our state troopers be distinct from our city cops? Could we invade Virginia so that we could take back Arlington? These are the answers we need!

Obviously, one of the other issues blocking DC statehood is that Republicans don't want to hand the Democrats an easy two Senate seats, since that would be the sure result of statehood. The Democrats would have to find something to offer in return--maybe take an overwhelmingly Republican state and divide it in two, like East Wyoming or North Utah. But I like the idea of taking a nice chunk of Canada just because we can. (Canada's Motto--We're America's Hat.) I mean, sure they're nice and all, but would they really go to war over Alberta? I think not!

So, if you know any Canadians, talk to them about how much of a drag it is to keep Alberta, how it sucks up their resources and really upsets the nice balance the rest of the country has. Maybe, just maybe we can trick them into offering it to us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In New York, one of the candidates for governor is Jimmy McMillan, of the "Rent is Too Damn High" party. Sure, he's gotten a lot of laughs in the debates, and his goattee has an unfortunate resemblance to a part of the male anatomy, but this guy would make a far better governor than that thug Andrew Cuomo or that nut Carl Palladino. And considering the last guy that state elected was the power-mad jerk who doesn't know a good price for a trashy hooker (I'm talking about Elliot Spitzer--George Pataki definitely knows the price for a trashy hooker), New York could do a lot worse than McMillan.

Now, most would say that the problem with his campaign is that he doesn't really offer a solution to New York's rent problems, and doesn't really opine on other issues (how would he deal with taxes? How about bringing jobs to the state? Road construction? Crime?). But let's face it--the other jerks don't have solutions either. Cuomo will back the usual parasitic Democratic party interest groups (cough cough unions) that impede reform, and Palladino is likely to end up in an insane asylum before his term is through. Why not try the single issue candidate for a chance?

It also raises other possibilities for single issue political parties:

1) The "My Cable Package Sucks" party.

2) The "Why Do I Have to Tip at Bars?" party.

3) The "Fat People With Strollers Ruin the Mall" party.

4) The "Enough With the Leggings!" party.

5) The "You Call Those French Fries?" party.

Man Up!

There's a disturbing trend in this recent political season--female candidates (generally Tea Party Republicans it seems) mocking the manhood of their male opponents. Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Christine "I can count to potato!" O'Donnell--each has used some form of the phrase "man up!" in chastising men who aren't doing what they like. Some, like Palin, have even accused their targets of lacking "cojones" as she did to Obama for his action on illegal immigration. This of course puts the men in a very tricky situation, because if they responded in kind they'd be trashed as sexist, condescending, or cruel for picking on a woman. It's a tricky double standard that these female candidates are happy to exploit (while still calling themselves feminists, of course. Remember when Susan B. Anthony told President Cleveland to "grow a pair and deal with those tricky Spaniards"?).

How to handle something like this? As I said, you can't strike back in the same fashion, by questioning your opponent's womanhood or sexual organs, as much fun as that might be. I'd suggest these responses to any complaint that you lack manhood:

1) "My wife could beat up that limpass you call a husband, so watch it, toots."

2) "If you're challenging me to a contest of masculinity, I confess I couldn't grow as nice a mustache as you have."

3) "Just because you managed to grow male organs doesn't give you the right to talk that way to me."

4) "Do you really want to talk that way to a man who did what I did in Vietnam?"

5) "I couldn't hear you through the sound of your penis envy."

6) "Are sweet words like that how you landed your current husband? Because the way he's sitting in the audience right now is reminiscent of a castrated rooster."

7) "Aren't you supposed to still be governing Alaska? How's that working out for you?"

8) "If you keep talking to me like a fifth grader, I will have no choice but to sneak over to your house and pee in your pool."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Potpourri and Miscellany

  • I'm a bit saddened that the bizarre failtacular of Christine O'Donnell's Senate candidacy will be all over in under two weeks. She keeps on giving! Now she's denied that the First Amendment enshrines a separation of church and state (yes, it's true that that exact phrase isn't used in the text of the Amendment, but she should at least know that the Supreme Court has long interpreted the "no establishment of religion" clause to mean exactly that). I'm just sad that this will be over soon. Sure, she'll get a gig on Fox News, but she won't be quite as outrageous in that setting because she wont' be asked questions by reporters, or expected to debate real candidates. Though Sarah Palin isn't officially running for anything, and we're getting a good amount of nonsense from her, so there's hope.
  • I also just found out that O'Donnell's father was Bozo the Clown! That actually is pretty neat.
  • Chicken and waffles is one of those things that makes you think "hey, maybe that's a great combo if people are willing to eat them together." But it's not--chicken and waffles is basically what you'd expect--two things that really don't go together.
  • Bacon is one of those things that tastes better than it smells, and coffee is one of those things that smells better than it tastes. So maybe bacon flavored coffee would be terrific, or maybe it'd be like chicken and waffles.
  • It doesn't matter how sure you are that your gas cap is fastened securely--if you see a fellow motorist step out of their car to close their gas cap, you'll instinctively check your own.

Juan Williams Fired

Journalist and NPR personality Juan Williams was just fired by NPR (they no longer go by "National Public Radio", probably for the same reason Kentucky Fried Chicken is now "KFC"--how edgy and modern!). Apparently, he made some untoward comments about Muslims, particularly that if he saw people in Muslim garb on an airplane he'd fear for his safety. Now, I'm the sort of flyer that would take 100 people in Muslim garb on an airplane before one crying or fidgety baby, but then that's because crying and fidgety babies make me all stabby and the airlines won't let me carry any knife not made of plastic. And no, now that you ask, I never did get that job at the day care center.

First, I've got to say that the last thing you should fear on an airplane is a person dressed in Muslim garb. The 9/11 hijackers may have been Muslim, but they were savvy enough not to dress in any way that drew attention to them. Nor, does it appear, were they particularly religious, in that they drank and visited strippers just before their rotten mission. If you want to fear a hijacker, fear the one who looks like anyone else but is nervous. That chick next to me on my flight back from Puerto Rico last fall who kept shaking? She was about to get an elbow to the throat if she tried any sudden moves. Fellow passengers, I got your back!

Second, can anyone really hijack a plane anymore? I figured after 9/11, passengers know that their hijackers very well could turn the plane into a missile and so they'll storm the cockpit every time. There's more reason to fear someone launching an RPG from the ground as you're taking off or landing, or to fear a bomb being smuggled into luggage, or to fear drunk or tired pilots. When's the last time a plane was successfully hijacked?

Whether Juan Williams should have lost his job is not for me to say--a news organization like NPR has to weigh both encouraging the airing of diverging and controversial opinions from its staff as well as whether it wants to be represented as condoning such views. In any event, a high profile talking head like Williams is likely to find a perch somewhere (Fox News, likely) so it's hard to feel too bad for him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Today is "anti-bullying day" which I'm all for, though I think it'd be a lot more effective if it were "let the bullying victims bring a baseball bat to school day". There's something about a face-full of Louisville Slugger that tells you not to pick on the four-eyed kid!

In my youth, I wore thick glasses and only managed to evade serious bullying the only way I knew how--make friends with the Japanese kid who everyone would think knew Karate. Unfortunately, this fooled absolutely no one, and so in my third grade mind it occurred to me that the tough and cool kids on TV shows were always the dumb ones (the only TV shows I watched back then were reruns of "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Happy Days"), so my strategy at that point was to always pretend in class that I had the wrong answers. Fortunately I was no longer "four eyes" as I was promoted to "that dumb kid who has glasses but not the smarts that go with them". This is not a good strategy for bully victims.

What is the best way to deal with bullies? The usual solutions seem useless.

1) Talk to the teacher about it. Waste of time--the teachers aren't allowed to smack students anymore (thank you, Supreme Court) and a firm talking to or detention for the bully only means the victim is going to get it far worse next time the teacher isn't around.

2) Laugh along with the bullies, so they see you're not vulnerable. This only makes them think you don't get that they're making fun of you! Then you can add "clueless" to the playground taunts.

3) Remember that the bullies have bad home lives, and are unloved. Er, what are you supposed to do with this information? Feel better about getting shoved and mocked? Or worse, tell the bully that you understand their pain??? That's just the sort of Phil Donahue advice that's going to make things worse.

4) Wait until no one is looking, and smash the bully's head in with a lunch tray. This works in prison, but not so much on the outside. You'll end up in juvenile hall, explaining to therapists about your anger issues. Until you bash the therapist in the head.

5) Don't make yourself a victim. There's something to this--the ones who stand out and are loners are most likely to be picked on. But not everyone can make friends easily, and in the meantime they're getting harassed pretty severely. It's like telling the people of Mexico to "fix your economic and political system". If it were easy it'd have been done.

Sadly, teachers and school administrators can only do so much, since their eyes will miss most of what goes on in the schoolyard and afterward. The only realistic thing to do will come from the parents--teach your kids to toughen up if they're the victims of bullying, and to remember that the day will come when they can swing by in a limo to their former tormenter's home and pay him to clean the hubcaps with their tongue. If you're the parents of bullies, give them the rigid discipline and love they sorely crave, and teach them to use their violence for good instead of evil (like becoming a mercenary with a heart of gold, or a bouncer for a bar that really needs one).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

British and Americans

Most people can't tell the British apart from the Americans, but there are a number of subtle ways to see the difference. It's more than just "the Americans have 'Bandstand', the British have 'Top of the Pops'" or "they have Prime Ministers, we have Presidents". It runs much deeper than this!

1) For one, British humor involves a dry response to an otherwise outrageous situation. Picture an alien attack on Parliament, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer (bear with me, those are British words that mean something over there) gets zapped into a giant ball of strawberry jam. A British person would reach the height of humor by saying "pity this happens just when I run out of biscuits." An American would walk over, slip onto the jelly, make a giant mess, and say "I think I landed on his crotch."

2) The British also have a great deal of patience compared to Americans. Their cricket games can last days, and of course it took them hundreds of years to establish free elections. Americans, by contrast, can call the results of an election before the polls are closed and with only 2% of precincts reporting. We also invented pop tarts, for those who found the process of toasting bread to be far too time consuming.

3) Whle the British get credit for subtlety, the same is not true for their sweets! I just wanted to complain about how ridiculously sweet their chocolate is.

4) The British got rid of the Beckhams. It'd only be fair if we could send them Kanye West in return. Maybe they could figure out what to do with him.

5) The British are far more trusting than Americans. They don't even have a written constitution--they just count on the Royal Fambly to not usurp power and start beheading members of Parliament. In America you can be sure that the President would do that in ten minutes if he didn't have that damn scrap of parchment to prevent him from doing so.

6) The British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, glossing over the poor treatment of Catholics at that time in history. The Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, which is based on a time in American history that we didn't do anything wrong to anybody. Ever.

7) The British have a charming highland folk, who talk in distinct accents and value their autonomy and eat food boiled in a sheep's intestine. The Americans have Arkansas.