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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Solutions

My painfully simple solutions to everything include the following:

1) Foreclosure crisis. Clearly the government should take the money it spent on stimulus, TARP, all that, and just buy the houses directly from the troubled homeowners. House underwater? We'll give you time to pay it back--by tearing out all the parts of the house and selling them at flea markets. Then you have no mortgage owed, government gets housing space that can be sold onto the market over time, and the banks unload their bad mortgages. Win win win, I say!

2) Illegal border crossings from Mexico. Set up signs at our border area that say "Welcome to Canada" and feature the Canadian flag and plenty of people playing hockey and eating poutine and talking with accents. The border crossers will think they went too far, and turn back south to go to "America".

3) Border drug gangs. See, one of the reasons for the immigration is people trying to escape the drug gangs. This is terrible! (The gangs, not the people escaping them) I propose we announce a total reversal on the drug war, and say that cocaine is totally legal and the government wants to buy a lot of it for our troops in Afghanistan to hand out to kids since candy isn't as popular as it used to be. Then, when the drug gangs come to the high school gymnasiums where the buy is "going down", DEA agents swoop in and arrest them all. An elaborate ruse!

4) North Korea going Krazy. Just have our president pretend to be a leader of an entirely different country (we can give it a neat name, like "East Obamastan") and tell Kim Jong Il that we want to have a big summit to discuss an alliance against those awful Americans. Jong will be so excited, he probably won't even try to find East Obamastan on the map (and if he does, we can just say it's "back there near India" and that should suffice), and he'll come to the summit at the Hilton Garden Inn and then get swooped in on by DEA agents (fresh from catching border drug gangs). The crowning moment will be Obama removing the turban and beard, James Bond villain style. Of course he wont' want to get photographed in that getup or it'll give Glenn Beck a field day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Rules for Debates

One of the things most frustrating about watching televised debates is that they're so carefully staged that you rarely see anything worthwhile. Sometimes, a candidate is completely retarded--see, O'Donnell, Christine--or a bit out there--see, Stockdale, John, 1992 VP debate--and you get some good memorable show. Sometimes a candidate makes the mistake of walking into their opponent's trap--like in 1988 when Dan Quayle made a comparison of himself to JFK, giving Lloyd Bentsen a chance to tear him apart with "you're no Jack Kennedy!" At that, Quayle was too stunned to have any witty retort ready.

But usually, it's simply moderators asking common questions, and candidates using canned responses. If the question is a particularly tough one--such as, "how can you cut taxes, have no real spending cuts, and still keep the deficit low?"--the candidate will use a fluff response like "get rid of waste!" which of course implies that his/her opponent just loves waste too much to cut it. Or if the question is pointed--"how do you explain your family values stances with the time you spent at that orgy?"--the candidate simply doesn't answer the question--"I think the issues of the economy are more important, which is why I favor tax cuts..."

How to make the debates a better test of a candidate?

1) Let candidates ask questions to each other directly. The moderators are too concerned with being fair and don't want to be seen favoring one side over the other. The candidates, on the other hand, will definitely ask the toughest questions to one another. It'll give viewers a chance to see how they'd respond to direct confrontation.

2) Require the moderator to keep pressing if the question isn't answered. If the candidate tries to weasel out, then it's "I repeat my question. You will answer it or you will say "I don't know'."

3) Make it a challenge--the answers to the questions could have rules. Like "your answer must be done in haiku form." "Your answer must rhyme." "You have to work the words 'Roman Empire', 'grass skirt', and 'tumbleweeds' into your answer, coherently."

4) Add a bit of civics quiz to see if these people know much about the jobs they seek. Not just "can you name a recent Supreme Court case" but "can you name the nine justices on the Supreme Court" or "can you name at least three secretaries of state" or "name one country we're not allied with but used to be" or "tell me what NATO stands for".

5) Have a fake assassin stage an attack and see how the candidates react to the threat. It'd be telling if one tries to wrestle the assassin to the ground and the other tries to hide behind his wife in the audience.

6) Show off their talents, by asking each candidate to do an impression of their opponent. This can be educational, by getting each candidate to demonstrate what they think their opponent's arguments are really like.

7) Instead of boring suits, ask the candidates to show up dressed as their favorite historical figure or rock star. Yes, that might mean seeing Barbara Boxer dressed as Paul Stanley from KISS, but we'd also see Sarah Palin do her best Meat Loaf impression.

8) Install a laugh track and have it going after every line, even the ones not intended to be funny.

Rise of the Ignoramus

Ah, Christine O'Donnell, if she didn't exist some satirist would have had to invent her. After her lovely performance at the televised debate on Wednesday, I'm sure her blinded supporters are telling her that she did a fantastic job.

That's because her supporters are insane.

The best part of the debate was the simple question of what recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings she disagreed with. After all, as a Senator she would have a vote on approving candidates for the federal bench (besides the Supreme Court, hundreds of other federal judgeships open up from time to time). Her comical answer--to ask the moderator to "name some" for her, only to be told that "no, you have to do that" as if O'Donnell were a second grader, then for O'Donnell to respond that she's sorry, she'll have to list some on her "website" the next day--showed clearly that this woman can only answer questions that she was specifically coached for. In other words, no independent knowledge outside of what her handlers were giving her.

Now, most Senators are pretty dumb, but generally they can think on their feet. Let's say your mind draws a blank on that Supreme Court question--and you're a "conservative" (put aside for a minute whether it's "conservative" to have these radical notions for how you want to destroy government institutions and impose religious law, as some nuts like O'Donnell do). Just take one of your issues--say, school prayer--and say "I have a problem with the current stances that the Supreme Court has taken on school prayer." Of course, this requires knowing that the Supreme Court has consistently ruled on that issue in a way that diverges from what the religious party wants, and O'Donnell may not be aware of that.

So where is all this support coming from? After all, O'Donnell is likely to get at least a third of the vote here. Surely, some of that is protest votes--people are pissed with the way things are going these days, and pissed with the way the Democrats are handling things. It's natural to gravitate towards the harshest critics of the party in power. And some probably feel that whatever lack of qualification O'Donnell has, she'll at least be a reliable GOP vote, and that trumps all else. (I hear Democrats make the same argument when they defend their own crooks and idiots)

But there's also this idea that her lack of qualifications in themselves are pluses. Her "witch" ad made a point of her not going to an Ivy League school. Picture for a minute listing that on your resume--that "I didn't go to an Ivy League School". What job would make that a plus?

The thing is, most people don't like "elitists". And by "elitists" we mean "people who think they're better than me but aren't". Invariably, this is because the "elitists" have all their credentials and such, and DISAGREE WITH MY POINT OF VIEW. That is key--you don't hear the O'Donnell supporters complain about what an elitist George Bush Sr. is, or William F. Buckley for that matter (both men well born Ivy Leaguers). Yet, Obama is considered an elitist by them, despite his much more hardscrabble upbringing (and having finally paid off his school loans just a few years ago). There's simply no doubt that if Obama had political opinions closer to Clarence Thomas he'd be considered just a smart guy by these same critics. (And to be fair, the liberal critics of Thomas would be just as harsh on Obama, calling him a "sellout" or worse)

But there seems to be something damaging about wearing ignorance as a badge of honor and treating credentials as negatives. Don't we want our smartest and most experienced running things? Shouldn't conservatives at least want the smartest conservatives representing them? And maybe an Ivy League degree shouldn't be the sole determinant of intelligence and qualification--but why should that be a negative, either? And how can anyone hold up a proud ignoramus as someone they want making decisions that will affect them in Washington?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm Not Saying...

I have learned that you can really get away with saying anything so long as you qualify your statement by first saying that what you're saying is not what you're actually saying. Yes, that seems confusing, so here are some examples:

1) "I'm not saying all children should have their vocal cords ripped out before they're allowed on airplanes, but something has to be done about those little monsters." See, you're not really endorsing involuntary throat surgery--just puttin' it out there!

2) "I don't think that every German family should be driven from this neighborhood, but I wouldn't exactly call the ACLU if someone were to do that." See, you're not a racist! You just don't want to get in the way of other peoples' racism.

3) "I'm not saying that my marriage to you has been the lifestyle equivalent of a gaping head wound, but it's about time we put an end to this." The important thing is that your marriage is NOT a gaping head wound! The "not" is key here.

4) "I am in no way endorsing the use of poison on my co-workers, but they might want to sniff their coffee carefully before they piss me off any further." A warning or a threat? Who knows!

5) "I'm not saying the president is a secret muslim socialist weasel, but you try and explain why he wants to raise the estate tax!" See, the speaker here is raising the possibility that there could be some other reason for Obama's estate tax policy, aside from being a secret muslim socialist weasel.

6) "I'm not saying Christine O'Donnell is about as intelligent as a slime mold, but if I had to count on her or the slime mold to form an intelligent sentence let's just say I'm going to get out my Mold-to-English dictionary." Okay, this time you're basically calling O'Donnell a moron. Shame! She's obviously very intelligent since Bill Maher doesn't put idiots on his show. Only the top intellects can go head to head with Ricky Shroeder.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anatomy of a Commute

After a month and a half, I've become pretty good at analyzing the intricacies of my daily commute from SW DC to the heart of God's Country (Fairfax, VA). The drive out is about a half hour, the drive back about forty five minutes and rather than listen to the radio like a normal person I coast alone with my thoughts.

Thoughts of murder!

See, the northern Virginia commuter is an odd combination of jerk, moron, and incompetent, and they all gather for little Idiot Conventions on Route 50 twice a day. Unfortunately for me, my drive takes me right through the heart of these conventions. Let me break down each part of the drive out to Fairfax each day:

1) Hop onto the 14th Street Bridge. Avoid the rightmost two lanes as long as possible, since these are backed up with clods who thought the GW Parkway wouldn't be a total mess. Every single day it has been a total mess, starting well before 7 AM. Either they're all first time commuters, or they never learn.

2) Get onto Washington Ave, and avoid the far right lane since that disappears with very little warning and people don't like merging taking place in front of them. Then, merge onto 50 West, taking care that no idiot bikers are using the trail that inconveniently bisects the on-ramp.

3) 50 West is generally smooth, unless you are lucky enough to be behing a Metrobus. Did you know that Metrobus is one of the few companies that hires its drivers directly from insane asylums? I like that they want to do something for the criminally insane, but it'd probably make more sense to give them office jobs instead of commanding a several ton vehicle down highways with no fear of job loss (thanks, labor unions!).

4) From Patrick Henry Drive to Annandale Road in Falls Church, you go through what some call "Seven Corners" (I haven't counted the corners, I'm too busy cursing and weeping) and which I call "the seventh circle of hell". On the way out in the morning, it's usually not too backed up, but in the evenings it gets clogged with suburban bastards who all decided this is the best spot to drive through. I'm not sure why it's so congested--there's nothing but strip malls, big box stores, and despair here. No landmark or metro stop, in fact, population here shouldn't exist. But it does.

5) Once out of the seventh circle of hell, it's relatively smooth past the Beltway, with most lights staying green for a while, and the reverse nature of the commute giving you a chance to whip by while you see the eastbound lanes sitting like a parking lot. You then pass through "Fairfax Circle" which is a pointless exercise in road construction. It's not really a circle--Route 50 goes straight through it--and would have been better constructed as a normal intersection since now it's a jumble of confusing lights.

6) About a mile past the circle, there's a fiendishly clever speed trap, where during key times of day a sign flashes that the speed limit is down to 25 mph. For those of you unfamiliar with this road, Route 50 is a six lane (three in each direction) highway here, and it is about impossible to keep any vehicle under 25 mph for any real length. Hence, the cops here have had an easy time bringing in extra money for the county so they don't have to raise taxes to pay for their lousy roads.

7) On the way back in the evening, GPS comes in handy with it's "traffic" function, so you can tell whether the 14th Street Bridge is completely clogged or whether you're better off taking Constitution through town. This can add time to the commute, but at least you can see the White House and monuments and curse at stupid tourists and joggers on the way in.

And that's the commute. Could be worse--could be going in the direction of most of the traffic (east in the mornings, west in the evenings--meaning not just more congestion but the sun directly in your eyes), and could be far greater distances as some co-workers face. But I'd certainly rather be doing this in a train.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Do Nazi The Point

I'll admit to being a longtime history nerd, and was always fascinated by military history in particular. It's easy to understand why--gather a bunch of 8 year olds and give them toy guns, and they'll be plotting out intricate battlefield scenarios in short order, but if you ask them instead to re-enact the signing of the Magna Carta they will beat you over the head with your own powdered wig. (Yes, I know that powdered wigs were long out of style by the time of the Magna Carta).

My own mother, a Jesse Jackson Democrat who believed there are no winners in war--except for the half of the armies that come out on the winning side--tried to discourage playing war by not buying us toy guns. This was easily remedied by finding sticks in the woods that were shaped like rifles. Yes, the instinct to shoot and kill is inborn!

As an adult, I don't play war anymore. But apparently a number of adults do! A candidate for Congress in Ohio (state motto--"It's Not Kentucky But it Might as Well Be") has had some photos of his war re-enactments surface, and while this might earn some minor sniggers in other circumstances, it turns out that this guy was dressed as--and playing at--a Waffen SS officer. Oops! So much for the Jewish vote!

Of course, he could have mitigated the problem by saying that he had to play the bad guys, because in re-enactments someone has to (after all, we can't all be George Patton), and that dressing a part for a re-enactment is really no different than acting (except without really an audience). I can't help but wonder if they could have eliminated the whole controversy by just asking someone to videotape the whole thing and say you're putting it together for a movie. Like a documentary on grown men with too much time on their hands.

French Spy Films

One neat thing about Netflix is their recommendations for movies based on your previous rentals. For example, they might say "because you liked Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, we recommend Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (since all three had Humphrey Bogart). Of course, when you rent things as diverse as "Barbarian Queen" and "Gettysburg" you never know what sort of recommendation they'll send you--there's a lot of daylight between a cheap B-picture featuring scantily clad warrior women, and a film like Barbarian Queen. (Yes, I know the warrior women in "Gettysburg" weren't all that scantily clad)

Sometimes the recommendations are just weird--because you liked "Dr. Strangelove" and "Friday After Next", they recommend "Herbie Goes Bananas". But sometimes they strike right on the money--as when I was recommended to view a film called "OSS-117: Lost in Rio".

The OSS-117 films are, far as I can tell, a French series taking place in the '50s and '60s with a secret agent who's a bit of a spoof on Sean Connery's James Bond role. The protagonist is incredibly arrogant, bigoted, a dry-witted--much like Connery's Bond. His insensitivity to foreign religions and cultures, his love of France and whoever happened to be President of that country at the time, and his complete unawareness of things happening around him combine to make this secret agent enjoyable to watch.

Unlike most spoofs, "Lost in Rio" (and the other one I've seen, "Cairo, Nest of Spies") avoided pure pratfalls and retreads (as the Austin Powers series sadly fell victim to) and actually stuck to a plot with twists and cleverness. While not the most hilarious films I've ever seen, these are a delightful romp and worth the time to view them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why No Scream Tracks?

Thinking about traditional style sitcoms, I often wondered--where did the "laugh track" come from? At what point did someone watching a television sit com say to themselves "how will I know where the funny parts are if I don't hear others laughing? Oh, television, please guide me!"

I get that live shows would feature laughter from the audience, and perhaps someone at some point decided the audience wasn't laughing enough so maybe they needed to add something. I read somewhere that the actual canned laughter that we hear even today was all part of an original recording from sixty years ago, so who knows what they were laughing at (probably Victor Borge, or some Marx Brothers routine). What is interesting is how it persisted, long after sitcoms were taped. Somehow, though, the use of canned laughter never crossed over into comedy films--when's the last time you heard laughter in a movie theater that was part of the recording?

And why has this not caught on to other genres besides sitcoms? Couldn't we have scary TV shows with piped in screams and gasps from the audience? Couldn't we have clever mysteries (like "Murder, She Wrote") add in some "aha!" from a recording? Couldn't we have pre-recorded groans inserted in CSI: Miami every time David Caruso makes a painfully bad pun?

The Nanny--A Blast From the Past

I've started watching the '90s sitcom "The Nanny" on DVD lately, much to the pain and chagrin of the lady who shares the apartment with me and has to hear Fran Drescher's high pitched whine. The show, for those of you uncultured in the ways of Drescherdom, features a woman named Fran Fine who lost her fiancee and her job at a bridal shop in Queens and happened into a job as a nanny for three privileged children of a wealthy Manhattan widower. Fran, in case you couldn't tell from all the Yiddishisms, is Jewish, and she and her mother are able to embody every stereotype that the ADL spent decades trying to fight. However, we're led to believe she's a kind person--as traditional sitcom protagonists generally are--and most of the "humor" on this show is derived from the "fish out of water" situations involving a tacky, ethnic woman from Queens rolling in stuffy Manhattan high society. (The widower, who Fran appears attracted to in the first season--and will likely consummate this attraction by the end of the series--is a British producer of plays, very repressed, and just the sort of opposite who would be attracted to Ms. Fine. Oh the hijinks that can ensue!)

Watching this show can be a pleasure in that it reminds you that only two decades ago--the show premiered in 1993, when a charlatan named Bill Clinton was just starting his first term--sitcoms were generally a lot more formulaic than they are now. Shows used multiple camera format (compared to single camera, as The Office and Arrested Development use), laugh tracks were used, protagonists were generally good people, and plots were generally self contained in the weekly episode. Today, a show like the Nanny would be a bit of an anachronism.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Makes a Feminist?

The rise of Sarah Palin and the "Mama Grizzlies" has raised a lot of heartache among those on the left as to whether these conservative women can call themselves a form of "feminist". More precisely, the heartache is about whether certain political viewpoints about women's issues can be labelled feminist or anti-feminist, and which these might be. This led to a debate among the online magazine Slate's female writers.

To begin with, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard me opine on the subject that Sarah Palin and her satirical shadow, Christine O'Donnell, are morons with a number of vile beliefs that lead me to think they might be leftist plants sent into the world to make conservatives look awful. (And shame on the conservatives who actually embraced these dolts) And I agree with the first Slate writer's argument that Palin is more a product of feminism than a pioneer--she doesn't seem to be pushing any "feminist" goal except the idea that a woman can soar in the GOP, and frankly there are far better examples than Palin (to name one--Condoleeza Rice).

But first, to use my definition of "feminist"--the notion of gender equality rather than female subservience--what political stances would make someone "feminist"? A lot on the left think this is best accomplished through legislation or court action, but what about a libertarian notion that free markets and private activity will do more for female empowerment than any government action? Even if you disagree with it, does that make such a view "unfeminist"? (After all, if libertarians reject the idea of government action to solve any other social ill, isn't it more consistent for them to assert the same for feminist causes?) So what is it that is particularly unfeminist about a "conservative" feminist agenda--unless it in fact argues in favor of female subservience?

Needless to say, Nora Ephron's short quote managed to pack a lot of stupidity in few words--that one cannot be a feminist if one does not support a right to abortion. That's the sort of narrow minded issue-snobbery I've come to expect from Hollywood. Regardless of your opinion on abortion, if you can't accept that just maybe there are pro-lifers who are guided by beliefs OTHER than the hope that they can make things needlessly difficult for women who find themselves pregnant, then maybe you need to open your narrow mind for a while.

It would seem to me that if you favor equality, you're an egalitarian regardless of the means you favor to achieve that--and there's plenty of room for argument about the proper means. Is that not the same standard for defining a feminist? Or should any person be able to take a broad ideal and define anyone sharing that ideal by whether they agree with your preferred means? Because then perhaps "patriotism" could only be defined by adherence to certain practices. And we know how that turns out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How To Deal With Workplace Orders

Next time someone asks you to do something, just say "hey, who died and made you Napoleon?" It's a good way to challenge their authority, unless of course they reply with "you know very well that I was promoted to manager when the original manager died" in which case you'll just feel awkward. Also, the reference to Napoleon will only make them more unbearable if they're French.

You could also give the old tried and true "hey, Genghis Khan, how about doing your pillaging and looting elsewhere?" but if there's any chance that they were in a big city during the 1960s they may have also suffered at the hands of looters and then you'll have to deal with a lecture about sensitivity. Even worse if they owned a Mongolian bakery in that was burned and robbed during one of those riots--then you're offending on two levels.

There's also the more rare "hey, Stalin, don't you have a five year plan to work on?" but then it could well be that your business division has an actual five year plan to boost sales and increase profit margins, and Lord help you if your taskmaster has a thick mustache and slicked back hair.

Whatever you do, don't say "Captain Ahab, if this is how you run the boat, you can let me off!" if you happen to know that the boss lost some loved ones in a whaling accident. I wouldn't even try it if they have a relative who played on the Hartford Whalers. It hits far too close to home.

Come to think of it, you're better off with the one thing that won't offend anyone--"who died and rose from the dead three days later and made you Christ?"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Snoop Dogg Would Call Her a "Wiaatch".

Now, I'm no professional pundit, but something tells me that when a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate has to put out an ad where she insists that she is not a witch, we have finally hit a new low in this country. I wish I were making this up. Christine "Derp Derp" O'Donnell, the Republican nominee for one of Delaware's Senate seats, has to actually pay good money to produce an air a TV ad where she has to clarify that she is not a witch.

This is unfortunate for her campaign, because for every dollar and minute spent making clear that O'Donnell is not a witch, that is a dollar and minute not spent telling the good people of Delaware (state motto--we make quality beer and you'll love our tollbooths) that she is not completely stupid. I don't know much about her opponent Chris Coons, but I do know that he could run head first into a tree and still be considered the intellectual in this campaign.

I also think this "I'm not a witch" thing is an ill-advised move. O'Donnell has no prayer of winning this race--why not pull a Palin and just set herself up for a lucrative celebrity career after this is over? (I hear she has financial trouble--wouldn't a multi-million dollar per year take as a TV celebrity and being paid to go to dance club openings be better than a U.S. Senate job?) Instead of "I am not a witch" she could do a series of ads saying "I was not a witch between 1985 and 1993", or "Booo!" or "Whether or not I'm a witch has nothing to do with my qualifications. But I still refuse to work during a full moon. No more questions!" She could even do the ad in a pointy hat to get attention.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh, Glorious Future

There's something about having your cell phone out of comission that makes you feel absolutely helpless. In this case, it was my iPhone, and even just having it down for a day was traumatic. How do you call anyone? What if you get lost and need your map? What if you have to check Facebook to see what your friend had for breakfast since she posts that every day and amazingly gets 18 comments and at least ten "likes"?

But the interesting thing about this sense of helplessness is that it wasn't all that long ago that I had no cell phone at all (let alone one that sends texts, takes photos, and can figure out what song is playing on the stereo at the bar) and never felt a big emptyness in my life. Somehow, without a cell phone, I was able to actually arrange airport pickups and meet friends out for dinner. Somehow, I was able to find where I was going with just printed directions. Oh, how dependency has weakened me!

But rather than focus on the technology-dependent blob that I have become, I instead will think about what new essential device will come about in the next decade that will make me stop and wonder how back in 2010 I was able to get by without it. Some newfangled scooter? An electronic food tester? A hangover cure?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tipping Questions

Tipping. We all do it, because for that one moment at the end of a restaurant meal we get to feel generous and nice--saying "I'm paying you, even though I don't have to." Some restaurants have tried to go the way of Europe, paying waiters more and eliminating tipping, but this meets an outcry here from customers who like to have SOME discretion over rewarding their servers and servers who know that if they're good they can make much more through tips than a higher salary. But this raises a number of issues:

1) Tipping is traditionally based on the cost of the meal rather than the difficulty in bringing it to the table. A plate heaped with a burger and fries is just as hard to carry as a plate of caviar stuffed in a Faberge egg, yet the waiter's tip is going to be much higher on the latter. A $2 soda will fetch a much lower tip than a $10 Manhattan, even though the soda is likely to be sent back for refills. Is this really fair to the waiter with the lower cost items?

2) Tipping as a percentage also doesn't work when you're dealing with smaller amounts. 20% sounds great when a meal is $100, but what if some diner patron only orders coffee and a bagel, and the bill comes to about $5? It makes more sense to give extra (and most patrons will), to justify the trip to the table.

3) Also, the tip as a percentage misses another factor. Picture two tables being served, each ordering $100 worth of food, each leaving the customary $20 tip (I keep the math easy). Table One stays for an hour, Table Two stays two hours (let's say they're old friends who haven't seen each other in years). It's expected that the people at the longer duration table will tip better, and when it's an uncommonly long time (say, three hours or more) they usually will leave extra tip since the waiter can turn over fewer tables in that case. But within normal wait periods, the tip will usually be about the same. It seems the tip should reflect some function of the amount of time the table is occupied. (Of course, if the long wait is due to the waiter or kitchen, there's no reason the tip should be higher)

4) Some guests will undertip, because they think 10% is a good tip and that's the way it was in 1951 so of course that's the way it should be. And some Europeans will pretend they don't know any better, even though they so do know better and are just being cheap. But the random nature of this reward system hardly seems fair. Especially since the reward comes after the services are rendered, so it cannot affect the behavior of the waiter in the current instance.

5) Tipping in groups can really suck when you have undertippers in there. Sure, you can throw in extra, but you have to either pretend you're not good at math ("I think I owe an extra five bucks, even though I put in $20 for my fifteen dollar meal") or you have to all out tell the diner their being a cheapskate.

6) As a reward system, the tipping only covers one aspect of the dining experience. Reducing a tip in no way punishes the chef for serving a lousy meal, or the host(ess) for seating you next to the bathroom, or the manager for not throwing out that family with screaming kids.

So is there a better solution? Probably not, or some innovation would have been invented by now. In the meantime, if you can't afford a decent tip, stay in and save your money (those restaurant menu prices don't reflect sales tax and the extra fifth of its cost for tip), and try to consider the effort the server is going through beyond the price of the meal.