Friday, April 30, 2010

Kentucky Derby Party Weekend

The upcoming weekend brings with it festivities for celebrating the Kentucky Derby, which for those of us with no ties whatsoever to Kentucky or horse racing does indeed present a challenge. What I can say is that my favorite whiskey is bourbon, so I have that going, and I like my chicken fried (or grilled, baked, sauteed, stewed), so I can get in on that part of it. But a two minute horse race? Watching very short men whip horses until they reach breakneck speeds? Can't say that's my thing!

Besides mint juleps and fried chicken, Kentucky is also known for burgoo, a sort of stew. And by "is also known for" I mean "isn't really known for this unless you go through a few pages of google searching". KFC really should be serving it as a side dish if they care about promoting the bluegrass state's top dishes!

Beyond that, a Kentucky Derby party needs to celebrate famous Kentuckians, such as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Cassius "Mohammed Ali" Clay. As well as the Judds, Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle.

Other fine activities (besides the two minutes of race-watching) include making each other honorary "Kentucky Colonels" (it's fun for the fambly! See who gets honorary court martialed first) and mining some coal. A party isn't a party without bits of anthracite all over your hands.

Theme tunes? Any bluegrass music, or Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman", or Elvis' "Kentucky Rain".


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gas Price Spike? Egads!

You know what I hate? Jerks. Let's start with the nightly news which does some jerk-like things that totally boil my potatoes.

Here I am, watching some TV, as I often do, thinking about how I just got my first aid certificate and can't wait to treat someone for a snakebite and just hope I get a good idea of what type of snake it is so the EMTs know what antivenom to prepare. A promo for the news comes on, saying something about gas going up to $9 a gallon. I'm thinking, "hey, that's not good! I need gas to power my automobile!" (Thought it in exactly those words) I didn't dismiss this out of hand, because I know about the tragic oil platform explosion that happened off the coast of Louisiana and is currently dumping a whole lot of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. After Hurricane Katrina knocked out some refineries, there was a temporary oil spike, doubling gas prices to $4 a gallon (not so much now, but back then oil was around $2). Perhaps we were about to see a similar spike! If so, maybe I need to fill my tank before the gas prices go up, or see if I can hold out until they settle back down.

So I sit through all sorts of news, about 17 minutes worth, hearing about Obama chickening out on immigration reform, another shooting in P.G. County, and another plane diverted because some idiot wrote "bomb" on an airplane bathroom mirror (probably warning others about the in-flight movie starring Lindsay Lohan). Finally, we get to the story about gas prices.

Turns out, gas prices were going up to $9 a gallon in some remote town in Alaska, because they hadn't kept enough of a supply in that town for the winter and were running out and extra gas had to be flown in.

Well, they got me to watch their earlier segments I guess.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why is it....

Why is it that...

...I think asking for something "as soon as possible" sounds more friendly and casual than asking for it "ASAP"?

...I wait until the secretary leaves my office before I toss out the junk mail she just brought in?

...On TV shows they never show people watching nearly as much TV as people actually do?

...They don't sell beer in convenient 2 Liter bottles?

...KFC hasn't yet developed fried hamburger?

...In politically correct times such as these, we still have an NFL franchise called the Washington "Redskins"?

...Anyone ever invented the musical? What part of writing a play made someone say "hey what if they sang this part instead"?

...People get gigantic strollers for their toddlers when a skateboard and some duct tape will clearly do the trick?

Civil War Re-enacters (or is it "Re-enactors"?)

Civil war re-enacters do serve a purpose, in that whenever someone wants to make a movie featuring battle scenes from that war they always have a large group of extras with their own uniforms that they can use. But outside of anyone filming the re-enactments it seems a bit grotesque to recreate (in a "nobody is actually going to get hurt here" sort of way) the most brutal fighting this country has ever seen. Mind you, I can certainly sympathize with "playing war", having done that a lot as a kid, though it got a lot less fun when my brother insisted on us being an Army field hospital instead of combat infantrymen and you know what's a lot of fun? If you guessed "pretending to be an Army medic in the woods of Westchester when you're 8" then I'd have gladly traded places with you back then.

The fascination with the Civil War is particularly strong here in Virginia, where the boulevard I work on is named for Robert E. Lee and there's a Jeff Davis highway nearby. The Lee thing I sort of understand, as Lee (and his ancestors) were prominent in Northern Virginia since the time of the Revolution, but Davis was a Kentucky native who settled in Mississippi. His only connection to Virginia was serving in Richmond as the Confederate president. So clearly this isn't so much about "local pride" as it is "Confederate pride".

I figure the key reasons why even today (150 years after secession) there is so much pride in the Confederacy are as follows:

1) It was a long-shot lost cause from the get go. With less population and industry than the North and West, the South never really had a chance. With better generalship, the Federals should have been able to take Richmond within months and swept into the other state capitols by mid-1962. There is always a certain romanticism about a cause that was hopeless from the beginning.

2) The whole thing might have been a minor event (along the lines of the Whiskey Rebellion, perhaps) if the Federals had only been able to crush it early. Instead, with better generals and more motivated soldiers, the South was able to rack of an impressive string of early victories that extended the war and gave the Confederates hope that they might actually win it. Indeed, their only chance of winning was if the North gave up or foreign countries brought pressure for a truce.

3) There's always something appealing to people about "rebelling". Who always looks more dashing and heroic in popular culture? The James Deans, Marlon Brandos and Bugs Bunnys are always standing up to authority, and regardless of the rightness or wrongness of the cause it's always cooler to be the pluckish upstart. (The fact that the Confederacy was also preserving a more conservative and unyielding system of oppressing slaves is generally downplayed or overlooked by those extolling the Confederacy--which is to be expected, because it's hard to reconcile fighting central authority while siding with another type of oppression)

4) Let's face facts, the Confederate battle flag is just plain cool looking from an aesthetic point of view. It's a freaking red field with a slashy "x" running across it! The only thing that would make it cooler looking is to add a sword and some flaming skulls.

5) The South just had some terrific Generals, most notably Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson who beat stiff odds on many occasions against forces that by any measure should have wiped the floor with them. Even lesser known southern generals like Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jeb Stuart were able to do significant damage against superior forces. While the North's two best Generals--Grant and Sherman--get their due, their reverance in the North and West just don't compare to how the South treats their generals. This is in part due to Sherman being best known for a march across the deep South that was arguably a series of war crimes, and Grant generally operated when he had overwhelming odds over his opponents. Reverance for your generals makes it easier to personify your cause.

This mostly explains why the Confederacy still remains popular among a lot of southerners (and strangely, some northerners, who for all they know are descended from soldiers killed by southern bullets) despite the fact that the Confederacy was an awful time for the people who lived under it--constant shortages of everything, long death rolls, ultimately bluecoats romping through the land destroying everything they could--and despite the fact that the cause was built on a defense of slavery. Perhaps though, in the spirit of accuracy, the Civil War re-enacters will go several days without eating (and even then, only eating hardtack), use only 1860s medical techniques for treating their injuries, and come home to find that their house was burned down.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Birds, The

If you were to ask the average Californian what their greatest fear is, the first answer you'd get is "getting an uneven tan". The second and more thoughtful answer would have to be "getting attacked by swarms of crows and seagulls that developed murderous instincts". This birdaphobia was well explored in last night's film, Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic, "The Birds".

First off, you're probably aware that a group of crows is called a "murder". What you may not be aware of is that a group of sparrows is called a "suicide". Freaky, eh? The film was pretty terrific--no, not in terms of special effects and some of the performances were weak, but the ole master of suspense managed to carefully build up the sense of doom and horror brought on by a flock of seagulls (and this is unrelated to the doom and horror one gets when listening to '80s band "A Flock of Seagulls"). It was almost as though Hitchcock decided to challenge himself, by picking something people aren't normally scared of--everyday birds--and making them the subject of pure terror. Scorpions, snakes, gators, tax assessors--these would all be too easy. But birds, man! Yep, birds.

Also, the flirtations between the two main characters (played by Rod Taylor and Melanie Griffith's mom, Tippi Hendren) never fully developed in the unrealistic way one has come to expect in horror films. They're both a bit unlikeable, but ultimately team together against the avian overlords.

And the tension--Hitchcock knew how to build it. Perhaps the best scene was the one where Tippi was sitting at a bench outside the school waiting for the class to be dismissed, listening to the kids' inane singing, and you see behind her a murder of crows start to gather on the jungle gym. The ensuing bird attack wasn't a "gotcha" moment so much as a careful buildup of suspense.

But to my mind one of the best things about the film--besides its bleak ending, which makes for superior horror--was they never tried to explain what caused the birds to attack the people. Somehow, horror films fall into that trap all the time--say, the bees attack us because of pesticides, or atomic tests cause the monster to come from the deep sea. But having the characters (and the viewers) simply have no idea what caused it gives us an added sense of doom. Sometimes things are just more horrible when we don't know why, because then we can't figure out how to stop it.

And yes, I'm now going to stock up on shotguns and birdshot. Just in case.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Lottery

When we think of the lottery, we mainly think of it as a bad bet for the players--after all, a one in twenty million shot is so close to zero in twenty million that it hardly seems worth parting with the dollar to play. Of course, players will tell you that they're not so much making a sophisticated gamble as they are buying for a short while the chance to imagine what they'd do if they won. And of course, someone has to win.

I remember everyone being pissed once when they found one of the winners of a lottery in New York was some rich heiress who only played the lottery that one time (and for whom winning the lottery was sort of like "hey, now I can upgrade my yacht. Whoo."). But it's heartwarming to hear of some real hard luck case actually pulling it off, like this one. Here's a guy who couldn't afford to replace his front teeth, way buying a 1998 truck on the installment plan from a friend, and was just happy that his jackpot could help him pay utility bills. (He has a family to raise, too). I suppose as long as nice stories like that happen every now and again, it's good press for the lotteries and keeps them popular.

Better Meds Than Reds

Whenever I hear of morons like Sean Penn or Danny Glover canoodling with Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez, I'm reminded of the phrase "useful idiot" which was (apparently incorrectly) attributed to Lenin in describing western sympathizers who could be gullibly manipulated to support the dictator's cause. I won't go into Sean Penn here, because his regular stupidity and humorlessness is well documented, but this is sort of related to last night's film, "Reds", the 1981 epic starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. The film itself was rather well done, if over-long (it clocked in at over 3 hours), and featured Jack Nicholson playing the same character he always plays--wry, sinister, sarcastic bastard you hate to love. In this case his role was the playwright Eugene O'Neill. (BTW--shouldn't "playwright" be spelled "playwrite"? I mean I haven't wrighten any plays myself, but seems pretty obvious.)

"Reds" was about American journalist Jack Reed, who was an active supporter of the Bolsheviks and as a result had a first hand account of the October Revolution and early Russian Civil War. Reed would have been one of the best examples of a "useful idiot", as even once the reality of firing squads and crushing of dissent under Lenin became apparent, he still supported the Bolshies and defended them in his writings. This is rather unforgivable--I can cut some slack to the average Russian, chafing under tsarist rule and not knowing any sort of freedom in the first place, but an American from a wealthy background (as Reed was) should know better. Ultimately, Reed--who was suffering kidney problems--died in the Soviet Union, to become the only American ever buried at the Kremlin.

For the film coming out in 1981--when the Cold War was still going, with hardliner Leo Brezhnev in the Kremlin--it showed a timely view into the early days of the Evil Empire, back when idealistic communists and anarchists were full of ebullience and before their spirits were crushed by reality. (BTW--what's the deal with pro-communist anarchists? That would seem a contradiction in terms!) Now, in 2010 it seems far less relevant. Any "communist" countries still around have essentially adopted a corporatist (or even "fascist") structure, paying only lip service to the original revolutions that got the current gangs in power. China and Vietnam are economic rivals in the marketplace, rather than true command economies. Cuba is soon enough going to be the next resortocracy, once we open up trade and travel there. North Korea is just a weird cult-state more concerned with how to cook rocks than spreading any communist revolution anywhere. Too bad Lenin isn't alive to choke on it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Aid Class

Back in high school, there was the part of gym class that was no fun at all for anyone--CPR training. This was where a room full of students sat around putting the CPR dummies in compromising positions and whipping latex gloves at each other in a manner that was in no way erotic. Throughout all of this a hard luck gym teacher tried to get through the basic points that the geniuses in Albany required all of us to absorb in order to pass the class. In the end, if anyone actually collapsed in the hallway at school, they were pretty much doomed to be gawked at until a real paramedic showed up.

Last night, as part of our new workplace safety program, we were required to go through CPR training that took nearly four hours (fortunately, we ordered Chinese food). The instructor--a man who looked like a somewhat thinner version of the "comedian" Sinbad but with a thick Caribbbean accent--had an easier time than high school gym teachers, not so much because a room of thirty to forty year olds was more mature than high schoolers but more because we sort of wanted to learn how to use the AED devices (sort of like a defribillator) that we were going to be keeping on site. Just think of what one of those things would do if used on a laptop!

But what struck me most about the training was how much things have changed since we first learned basic lifesaving as kids. One thing I had absorbed from those childhood lessons was that if someone's choking, you do a sweep of the mouth and then the Heimlich--never smack their back. Now they teach us to alternate between Heimlichs and back pounds, and not to sweep the mouth with your finger lest you push the blockage further down the throat. Sort of makes me wonder what more will change in the future, when they determine that maybe the Heimlich isn't such a good idea after all, and tell us to smack the side of the head for some reason.

As for the videos giving us instruction, I have to say the characters were poorly developed and their acting range was weak--I just didn't feel they WANTED to save the victim. How nice would it have been to see the actors really fall into the role, using method acting techniques or classically trained stage techniques. They'll never make the big leagues at this rate!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth May Suck, But Humans Are Scum Too

Every now and again I wonder whether mankind is a stinky cesspool of rottenness that can only be cleansed away with a rather powerful comet. An article like this one gets me to really root for the comet.

In a nutshell, three drunk idiots--two girls and a guy, how cute--are walking the streets and shout out anti-gay slurs to a male passerby. The man grabs and slaps one of the women, and her dashing male defender of her honor punches the man in the face, knocking him to the ground unconscious where the two lovely women proceeded to stomp him to death. These three tributes to the glory of mankind are now facing murder charges. It's in Britain, so you know they're going to wuss out and let these people off with short sentences.

Now, if I'm walking down the street and one of my female friends starts making loud bigoted slurs at a random passerby? Not only would I let that passerby slap her, I'd probably give out slapping tips like "try to cuff the ears a bit" and "a bit more on the nose there". Okay, maybe not--after all, assaulting someone for mere words--as offensive as the words may be--crosses the line, and one can argue that the man who threw the punch was acting in defense of his friend. But then the kicking and stomping of an unconscious man? There's a special part of hell for you, missy! I hope you like wiping up after Hitler.

Earth Day, Bah Humbug!

Either today is Earth Day, or we're close to it--I don't even care enough to look it up and I'm actually at a computer so it wouldn't be so hard to do it if I wanted. That's just how little I care about Earth Day.

What, you ask? You don't love the Earth? What sort of monster are you? Come off it, swampy--I have many reasons for hating this Earth you love so dear. The history of humans is just one long struggle between us and nature, with Earth committing mass murder on a regular scale between hurricanes and tusnamis and islands of the damned. (Yes, that island with five snakes for every square meter? Only a sick hell-bitch like Mother Nature could dream that up) And what do we do in every single culture around the world? We constantly worship this nature, even while we have to build houses to fend off Nature's constant attempts to kill us. Hell, right now I'm suffering the usual seasonal allergies that would probably leave me a shaking mess on the ground if it weren't for central air and medication--created by humans in our struggle against, you guessed it, Nature!

Up yours, Earth! I'm going to go kick a tree during my lunch break.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Airline Fees

After airlines started charging for checked baggage, it was only a matter of time before they started charging for carry-on bags. Granted, only a small carrier (Spirit Airlines) is doing this right now, as all the other major airlines have said that they won't, but considering that those "biggies" are perennial money losers it's only a matter of time before they all realize they can trim costs this way.

Of course, consumers are up in arms, and even New York's Senator Chuck "I'm Still Smarting From Those High School Wedgies" Schumer is getting in on the act by calling for hearings. (Why Congress should micromanage this is beyond me--when they're not bailing out some private company they're restricting its ability to make up for its budget shortfall. Congress is made up of truly, truly stupid people. Someone please exile them somewhere.) The complaining consumers are probably the same jerks who carry-on bags big enough to fit a dead body and always wait until the last second to take the bag out of the compartment so they hold up the line getting out of the plane. These people suck and if I had my way they'd be riding in the storage compartments themselves because they are classless mouth-breathers.

I actually think this fee idea is fine, since it just takes a fee that's built into the ticket price and makes it more of an "a la carte" option. This is sort of like when they stopped providing free meals and let you buy snacks on the plane. Of course, the difference here is that virtually everyone will have to pay the fee one way or another--a checked bag fee or a carry-on fee--since almost nobody travels without some sort of baggage. And it doesn't really stop someone from bringing extra carry-ons, since passengers are already limited in what they can carry anyhow. Perhaps if checked baggage and anything you can fit under the seat in front of you is made free, this would discourage heavy carryons, making unloading a plane much quicker (not to mention shorter security lines). But there are also a lot of other things I would change first:

1) If you get "randomly" picked for a security screening at the checkpoint, they agree to call to hold your plane until five minutes after you're checked through so you don't miss it. And they have to give you say $20 for your trouble. Mind you, this shouldn't count if you weren't "randomly" picked--in other words, if you thought bringing your samurai sword on the plane was a good idea, then you created your own mess, idiot.

2) If you're really fat or tall? Sucks. Let the uncomfortable ride teach you a thing about losing weight....and shortening yourself? Okay, this needs more thought. But you shouldn't be able to spill into another seat on a full plane.

3) If you have a screaming kid on the plane? You pay an extra charge of $10 for each passenger sitting within a 10 foot radius of you. Hint--it's cheaper if you are in the last row and window seat! Note, you do not have to pay any passenger with a screaming baby of their own.

4) If the captain makes a bad joke on the intercom he has to provide free booze for everyone on the plane.

5) If you're one of those geniuses who gets to the security line and hasnt' figured out that yes, you do have to take your shoes, belt and keys and put them in the conveyor belt, then you have to go immediately to the back of the line.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Apparently, spitting on a cop will get you put in prison, according to this article (see third item down). To this I say--terrific! There is little out there as gross as spitting, let alone spitting INTO ANOTHER PERSON'S MOUTH. If I were that cop I probably would have strangled that lady with my handcuffs.

What kind of sick weirdo says "hey, this cop is pissing me off, I have a great idea I'll spit in his mouth and that'll show him!"? I just feel sorry for whoever has to share a prison cell with her.

And yes, people who kiss their pets on the mouths are also gross and disgusting. Accept it, dog kissers!

Crowded Places

With an approaching weekend where I'll likely be eating or drinking out in the city, the usual debate among friends begins as to where to go, and one thing we're almost in universal agreement about is that no one wants to go anywhere crowded. This is tricky, as the weekend is when the D.C. equivalent of NYC's "bridge and tunnel" folks come swarming in and packing the bars and restaurants. ("Bridge and tunnels" got their name because they are Jersey-ites and Long Islanders who have to take a bridge or tunnel to get into Manhattan. Technically, this should also include Westchesterites, Connecticutters and anyone in the outer borroughs, but the reputation of Jersey-ites and Long Islanders has caused much more trauma for Manhattanites) Full disclosure: Being a Virginia resident, I'd count as a DC equivalent of a "bridge and tunnel" so I can't really blame other suburbanites for overfilling the bars and restaurants on weekends. The options for eating and drinking in Vienna or Bethesda or Annandale are limited.

The trick is how to find a place that's good and yet not yet swamped? After all, any good place will eventually reach the hoi polloi by word of mouth and soon have lines out the door. Short of dressing up as an exterminator and saying to the crowd out front that you're there to deal with "the scorpion situation" (which I don't recommend, since there might actually be a scorpion situation and next thing you know you're trying to kill scorpions in their stock room with nothing but a bucket and a sponge), the best bet is to start eating your dinners at 4 PM like the old folks. (Don't steal sugar packets though, at least not if you're under 70). The plus side? You get your meal early and have a head start at getting a seat at the bar afterwards. The down side? You have to eat at 4 PM.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Mess With Taxes

Today is Tax Day, a day that Congress has wisely decided to put (calendar-wise) as far away as possible from Election Day. (After all, if we voted right after or right during the time we had to fill out the needlessly complicated forms we might not think so highly of our incumbents). In theory, income taxes make sense--everyone pays a percentage of what they make each year. But then it gets complicated--Congress wants to raise more money than before, so the theory goes that we should get a higher percentage from the higher earners. (Of course, if you're wealthy from making your money on capital gains or inheritance, or have a creative accountant, you won't have to worry about those higher taxes! Congress has you covered). Okay, still simple enough.

But then they decide how about a break for those who have to raise children or other dependents? After all, the childless sad sacks shouldn't have all the fun. And what about deducting payments for home mortgage interest? Screw the renters! People should be encouraged to own their homes, look how good that works out for the economy. So we have deductions for that too.

And if you donated to charity, well, let's add some self-interest to your altruism and give you a tax deduction for that too. Did you have to move for a job, or pay medical expenses? More deductions! And that's just the basic stuff. By the time Congress got done we ended up with a tax code that's over 50,000 pages long.

Don't expect this to ever change. Every few years some "tax reformer" politician comes out and promises tax simplification. They say they'll make a tax return that can be filled out on the size of a postcard (presumably with more privacy than a postcard). No exemptions or deductions or credits. Except maybe for the home mortgage deduction (since it's popular). Or for charitable deductions (since we want to encourage that). Or medical expenses.....and so forth.

You know what's simple? Sales tax. On your receipt you see what you pay, and the merchant is the one responsible for charging it and paying it to the government. Hits everyone evenly so any increase will need to be equally justified to the public at large (rather than just telling the voters that someone else will be paying it).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shakespeare and Hookers In the Same Post

We've all wondered about William Shakespeare's love-life. I mean, just the other day, I was asking a friend "hey do you ever wonder about Shakespeare's love-life?" Okay, that's total baloney, but it was the premise for last night's film, "Shakespeare In Love" which starred Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth, and Gwyneth "Yes I'm better than you" Paltrow. The idea was that Shakespeare had a terrible original idea for "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter" but then was inspired by the love he felt for a pasty woman (played by Paltrow) who dressed like a man and made him feel all sorts of sexual confusion (ha, now we know how the guy from Coldplay feels! Take that, Coldplay!) but ultimately regains his muse and writes Romeo and Juliet and then a bunch of other plays that have gone on to plague high school English students for centuries.

Frankly, making kids read plays in high school? Not only cruel, but stupid. I mean, you don't come home after a hard day's work and say "I really like NBC's 'The Office', so instead of watching the show being performed on the telly by actors, I'll just read the script for this week's episode." Plays are fine to watch, but read? Weak!

Anyway, Dame Judy Densch (who got the "Dame" title from hanging out with the Rat Pack far too much in her youth; had she spent more time with them we'd be knowing her as "Broad Judy Densch") got the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her 8 minutes of acting time as Queen Elizabeth, and of course Ben Affleck played a pompous, vacuous actor which I'm sure was a stretch for him. The director probably had to just say "be yourself, but do it with an unconvincing English accent".

But the main question I had was with the arranged marriage between Paltrow's character and Firth's character (Lord Wessex), where the Lord was all about the marriage and Paltrow wasn't because she didn't love him. This is a common theme in movies that take place in olden days or India--marriages are arranged for the families or politics, and one or both parties doesn't feel "love" and so they rebel against it. Just once I'd like to see the cliche broken, where there's an obvious arranged marriage and yet BOTH parties are like "hey, there's no love, but plenty of money, and you can always buy hookers."

Just ONCE.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Battle of the Belge

Last weekend featured what should become the first of many such occasions--a Belgian Feast! Yes, it had everything, mussels, pomme frites, Belgian ale, waffles, chocolates, cheese, salad, baguettes--we even had a genuine German and Frenchwoman fighting for territory at the table. (The table, I'll note, remained neutral)

My task was making the french fries (yes, technically "Belgian fries") and was aided by two things--a potato slicer and a Frydaddy (basically, a pot to boil oil in). Were there burns on my hand by the end of the night? Of course. Was it totally worth it to have delicious thin fries to go with my mussels? Totally.

Originally the idea was to have this feast back in the dead of winter, when we're lacking in holidays and need an excuse to come up with something to look forward to. This of course got delayed, what with snowstorms and coldness and all, and basically I'd forgotten about it until some friends started reminding me and suddenly my bluff was called. But it worked out well, and hopefully will inspire people around the country to do it as the Belgians do for one day a year.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Confederate History Month Gone With the Wind

Having just finished the novel "Gone With the Wind" I've come to a number of conclusions drawn from the book:

1) Everyone was very happy during the height of slavery, including the plantation owners and slaves themselves. No one ever beat or neglected the health of their slaves.

2) The only people who weren't happy during slavery was nasty "white trash" who didn't own slaves and were totally jealous. These people would later team up with the Yankees to take their revenge out on the former plantation owners.

3) The Yankees were a bunch of meddlers who didn't like the slaves anyway and after the war only used the freed slaves as political pawns to dominate the South. In fact, the Yankees were the real racists!

4) Most "good" slaves were upset with freedom and clung to their benevolent masters after the war. Mammy and Prissy and Pork and Cookie and Uncle Peter? They all stayed with their former masters, and apparently were never paid. In fact, when Scarlett tried dismissing Mammy she was rebuked.

5) The Ku Kux Klan was really just a resistance movement against those meddling carpetbaggers and scalawags and "uppity" freed slaves.

6) Damn it, why couldn't the Yankees leave well enough alone? Everyone was happy before. Except those nasty white trash.

At first, I thought "well, this was written in the South in the 1930s, when Jim Crow was still dominant, maybe the author was a bigot" but by the time I finished the book I looked at it slightly differently. The opinions about the slaves, Yankees, and society at the time were really showing the reader the mindset of the defenders of the "old ways"--after all, if you were going to profit off of slavery and fight for the Confederacy, you had to be able to convince yourself that you were on the moral side. You had to imagine that the slaves were happy, and that the masters were benevolent, and that the Yankees were just cynical invaders bent on domination. That narrative simply showed us how those die-hards could live with themselves, rather than argued that this was the reality--even if the author didn't intend it that way.

(I had heard that there was a version of this novel written from Mammy's point of view, which might be interesting except that Mammy (like the other slaves) was given such an extreme accent that it would be almost unreadable.)

This comes at a time when Virginia's governor has proclaimed Confederate History Month, and there was some uproar over the fact that the proclamation omitted discussion of slavery (the governor has since apologized, but damage was done). It sort of rankles me because there's plenty that southerners can be proud of, from producing great food and culture (novelists, artists, musical forms), sports figures, and some of this country's greatest leaders (Virginia alone produced four of our greatest presidents). The time when eleven of the southern states seceded from the country really shouldn't be considered their moment of crowning glory--particularly in Virginia, which was one of the last states to secede and where nearly a majority of its citizens were against secession (which led the western third of the state to actually secede from Virginia itself, one bit of irony in history). While the Virginia was a key part of the Confederacy (housing the national capital, and producing some of the best fighting men and officers of the army, and being host to many key battlefields), the entire endeavor was a terrible failure resulting in death and destruction for everyone involved. 150 years later, isn't it time to say "oops"?

That isn't to say that there were other factors animating the Confederates who fought--many not too keen on slavery itself but with more loyalty to their states and hating the idea of Federals marching in. And the North wasn't exactly a bunch of Boy Scouts what with Sherman's march, etc. And one could argue that any mechanism by which we bring states into the Union should have another mechanism by which states can leave (yes, I'm thinking of New Jersey). But it can't be denied that the Confederates were at war with the U.S., that they were fighting to preserve slavery, and that had they managed to win it would have been disastrous for the South in the long run. These are facts. It's about time we Virginians directed our pride towards more deserving things.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ninjas v. Pirates, Continued, Continued

So besides the fact that pirates have the benefit of an easier training regimen compared to ninjas, and the pirates also have a Major League baseball team named after them and yet no one is planning to name a new NFL franchise "The Los Angeles Ninjas", among other cultural advantages, what else is there to measure ninjas and pirates? It really comes down to who will win in a fight.

Now, ninjas of course are quite formidable, what with their sneaking around and their variety of silent but deadly weapons. Chances are, a ninja is watching you right now as you read this. (And yes, your secretary is very likely a ninja at night so don't piss her off) Ninjas are known for stealth and ruthlessness (which means no one named Ruth can ever date a ninja) and an uncanny ability to hide in ventilation shafts. (This is also why there are no fat ninjas, and don't bring up that awful movie "Beverly Hills Ninja" because Chris Farley's corpse has suffered enough) I think I'd much rather have a pirate coming after me than a ninja, because then at least I could try and bribe the pirate with rum and candy. Ninjas? They can't be bribed. AT ALL.

However, this all changes the minute you are at sea. Ninjas are notoriously seasick, which is why they stay on land (and the original ninjas couldnt' leave Japan, since it was an island at the time. Yes, Japan is a peninsula now). Pirates operate best when they are "on the briny" and see some "scurvy dog" on the horizon, and hope to find plenty of "booty" on the other vessel (ships full of treasure were considered especially "booty-licious"). Next time you ride a Carnival Cruise ship, ask yourself whether you'd rather see a pirate boat on the horizon or a ninja ship. The pirate ship meant you were about to walk some planks and give up your loot. The ninja ship meant you were going to be nursing some seasick ninjas for a while.

I need not point out for you that oceans cover most of the surface of our planet, so this is one big advantage for the pirates. Now, in terms of weapons, ninjas have better swords, but pirates have guns. So long as the pirates don't wander into narrow alleyways or forests, the gun gives them a decisive advantage. And when's the last time you saw a pirate in a narrow alleyway or a forest? That's right, never.

On the whole, it looks like the pirates win yet again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ninjas or Pirates, Continued

Since it's been determined that it is much easier to train to become a pirate than a ninja, the next question is which of the two gets you more street cred?

1) Movies. Ninja movies are notoriously terrible--Chuck Norris' "Octagon" was about what you'd expect from a man who is mostly beard and fist. And the "American Ninja" series had the distinction of teaching us nothing about Americans or ninjas. To be fair, though, I've also never seen the "Pirates of the Carribean" films, since they're based on an amusement park ride and I refuse to see movies based on rides ever since the flop "Ferris Wheel of Death 2, Electric Boogaloo". But "Princess Bride" had the Dread Pirate Roberts in it and that was pretty good, so point goes to pirates on this one.

2) Song. Apparently there was a musical out called "Pirates of Pensance" (sp?) and there are a number of old Irish drinking songs that sing of the glories of piracy. Let's face it, those long ocean voyages have one simple effect on you, besides scurvy--a lust for song! Ninjas, on the other hand, are terrible singers. The closest thing to a singing ninja I can think of is Grace Jones and I can't even remember what she sounds like. Point goes to Pirates.

3) Liquor. A number of pirates have had liquor named after them, from Captain Morgan, to Jebediah "Redbeard" Jagermeister. Ninjas, on the other hand, have not had a single drink named after them, even though it was widely believed that Adolph Coors enjoyed dressing in black and murdering people silently. Point goes to pirates.

4) Fashion. Ninjas do have a lot of copycats, from girls who wear black leggings (seriously, what's with that trend? Did someone find it hot?) to the "goth" and "emo" movements of the '90s and beyond. Yes, black is a slimming color! Pirates on the other hand have not seen their type of dress catch on. If you wear a puffy shirt or a tri-corner hat in a bar, people will think you're a "pickup artists" trying to "peacock" and "attract attention" from "ladies". But no one dresses like a pirate unironically. Point goes to ninjas.

5) Common expressions. We've all heard of "pirating" software, but have you heard of anyone "ninja-ing around"? Nope, point goes to pirates.

Looks like from a cultural relevance point of view, the pirates win this one.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Training Requirements for Pirates and Ninjas

One question everyone seems to be asking these days is "should I become a ninja, or should I become a pirate?" The first thing you should ask yourself before deciding, is which training regimen is right for you.

Ninja Training Requirements:

1) Buy a de-fanged rattlesnake for practice. Spend at least ten hours a week letting it lunge at you until you learn to dodge the attacks.

2) Practice walking around with slick oil at the bottom of the soles of your shoes. Eventually you'll get used to the sliding, and your walking will be as gingerly as that of the wind and ghosts.

3) Learn to shut the hell up.

4) Order all your drinks "neat". If ice is clinking in your glass you will give away your position.

5) No more stairs. You will from now on get to the second floor by crawling up a rope. Want to make it interesting? Set the bottom of the rope on fire.

6) Don't ask your mom permission before installing the burning rope in the foyer. Moms just don't understand ninjas.

Pirate Training Requirements:

1) Drink plenty of rum. Aaargh!

2) Don't ask for anything where punching will get the point across twice as fast.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Pasta Recipe

I don't normally write about cooking, as anything with instructions tends to bring back flashbacks to that P.O.W. camp. (The one I took a tour of with my fourth grade class, and man were there a lot of instructions and bitching from that teacher. Sometimes I still wake up screaming...) But yesterday for Easter dinner I tried a new concoction which I would highly recommend. I call it "Pasta Alla Brandonio". To make this, you'll have to follow the below steps with absolute precision. Or wing it a bit.

1) Gather a large onion, clump of garlic, two bell peppers, diced tomatoes, olive oil, sweet Italian sausage, squash, and bowtie pasta.

2) Fry the sausage into little bits. That splatter that lands on your feet will make you wish you weren't wearing flip flops. It'll keep you at attention.

3) Cut open the squash, then realize that squash really has no place in this recipe. Realize that squash is sort of like pumpkin in that it's got seeds, goo and a rind but you haven't the foggiest idea what to do with it. Put the squash back in the fridge.

4) Chop up the entire onion. For some reason, chopping the onion will make you tear up uncontrollably, even though this doesn't happen with any other vegetable. I believe this is because humans are descended from onions and we feel some sort of kinship when we chop them up.

5) Chop the garlic, yes it will give you that delicious garlic smell for your fingers.

6) Fry the onion and garlic with a bit of the olive oil, and add to the fried sausage.

7) Fry the peppers and tomatoes, also with a bit of oil, and then add that to the mix.

8) Start cursing because the water for the pasta is taking too damn long to boil. Goddam water.

9) Watch the pot of water, and curse the fact that it's not boiling while you're watching it. Then go look a gift horse in the mouth.

10) Finally, it boils, and you can cook the bowtie pasta for about ten minutes or until it sticks to the wall when you throw it at the wall. Your landlord will understand.

11) Add the sauce to the cooked and drained pasta, and serve!

This is an ideal dish to serve, as it can serve as few as two people and as many as ten. Will you smell of garlic the next day? Let your co-workers worry about that!

Friday, April 2, 2010


Having filled out my census form, I noticed there was a lot of emphasis on race, with numerous categories to fit all sorts of groups that don't want to be lumped together. This makes some sense, as Pacific Islanders probably don't want to be categorized with ethnic Chinese, as I imagine they once were. (The racial categories in the census forms in the 1800s were probably limited to "Damned Irish", "Chinaman" and "Glorious, glorious white people". We have come a long way since then.) I wonder how many decades it'll be before the racial categories are discarded, due to so many mixed race people having to check so many boxes that it becomes meaningless. After all, the Irish are now counted as "white". I'm not sure how they pulled off that coup!

More importantly, what questions should they have been asking that they did not? There were no questions about income or sex, probably because for both of these questions everyone would have responded "Yes, please!" There should have been a question about whether we still enjoy the TV show "Lost" or if we're just watching it for closure at this point. No question about whether we like living where we do, or whether we're in a short walking distance from the nearest bar. (Though I guess the local zoning authorities need that info more than the U.S. Census) There should be at least one trick question as to whether we have any fugitives from justice living in our household, because surely one of these days someone will slip up and give away the hiding place of an escaped convict.

I have heard that there is a group of people that wants to make "Confederate American" a special racial category on the Census, covering any American whose ancestry came from the eleven states that seceded from the U.S. from 1861-65. I think this would be neat because then we could require all the people who check that box to also take a loyalty oath, since I'm not sure everyone did so once they were admitted back into the Union. There should also be a special category for people who originated in New Jersey, just so we could see where all those people are moving to. It would answer a lot of questions.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Beer Can Sculptures

Every now and again I feel as though my life needs some purpose--after all, it should be about more than drinking outdoors, repeating offensive jokes, and trying to find the worst movies ever made. And then, just when I feel like I have no mission in life, I find something like this. Finally, a chance to combine my love of creating and my appreciation for beer.

Up until now, beer cans and bottles were nuisances (when they were empty--when full, they were foul temptresses) which would require me to throw them away or move to the side of my table so that the waitstaff could discard them. But now I see them for what they truly are--art supplies!

It's times like this that I wish I had a nice studio space in which to do these projects. Because then, every time I'm polishing off a six pack, anyone complaining that it's poor form to attend the symphony with that much beer in my system will hear my simple retort--"it's not drinking, it's collecting art supplies. Now fetch me some trail mix."

New Charity Idea

By now you've probably heard of this group called the "Westboro Baptist Church" led by a man named Fred Phelps--they're the ones who carry "God Hates Fags" signs at their protests, and have managed to piss off everyone on the left and the right by protesting funerals of servicemembers killed in combat. The reasoning--if you could call it that--behind protesting the funerals is that our soldiers are being killed because the U.S. is far too accepting of gay people, so the combat deaths are God's retribution or something like that. Phelps and his flock are so completely insane that it's hard to feel anything towards them except a hope that they get the psychiatric help they so desperately need. These are truly deranged people.

Their torment of grieving families--at the funerals, no less--is just plain evil, but apparently after being taken to court on this matter the WBC's right to free speech trumped any right the families' had to privacy at these funerals. The father of a Marine whose funeral was protested by WBC was ordered to pay the WBC's legal fees (about $16K) after losing against them at the Appeals level, and conservative commentator Bill "We'll Do It Live!" O'Reilly kicked in the $16K to cover it.

This got me wondering though--not only is O'Reilly a very rich man, but certainly people around the country could put together a massive legal fund totalling in the millions of dollars to cover the legal fees of a group of people that ended up in court against the WBC. If you see what I'm getting at, then perhaps you'll also agree that this fund could also pay for a helicopter to hover over the next WBC protest and dump a couple tons of sticky caramel and sprinkles on these nutjobs. Sure, the helicopter pilot and caramel supplier would get sued, but with a hefty legal fund to cover such losses it'd all be paid for. And maybe eventually the WBC folks would get tired of the caramel and neighborhood dogs that love caramel and it would occur to one of them that maybe their church could spend their time doing food drives for the needy instead of tormenting families in grief.

Folks, it'd be better than donating your hard earned money to help cure motion sickness.