Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Union

I used to watch State of the Union addresses, as I figured they'd be good ways to find out what direction the president would try to lead the country into for the coming year. Then I started making friends and having a life.

Sad to say, the contents of every State of the Union speech are always leaked out ahead of time, so you can practically read the speech in the news before it is even given. And of course it hardly matters what's going on in the world that year, because the president is always going to touch on the same themes: we need more bipartisanship, we need to cut spending, we need a better life for all Americans, we need to be a beacon for freedom in the world. About a half hour of the speech is taken up by standing ovations by the president's party, and about twenty minutes are taken up by the opposition party scowling and smirking for the cameras. Then you get the opposition party's rebuttal afterwards, where he explains that the president is totally full of it.

I'm hoping one year we get some great surprises, such as any of the following:

1) One very bad curse word. And "ass", "damn" or "crap" don't count.

2) One pretty good impression of another famous politician or world leader.

3) One swig from a beer that was kept under the podium.

4) Just one product endorsement from the president. He can then point out that the Coca Cola Corporation is putting ten million dollars towards paying off our debt just for that.

5) The president showing up in a tux, and his first words being "I seriously was told that this would be black tie".

6) A good thirty minutes of the speech focusing entirely on his theory as to how the show "Lost" is going to end.

7) A promise to invade Canada, and then saying "I'm just making sure you're all listening."

8) At the end of the speech, point out that the guy giving the rebuttal afterwards is not wearing pants. This will force the rebuttal guy to prove that he is actually wearing pants, and will totally throw him off his speaking points.

9) Do the whole speech wearing sunglasses.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'd Like to See a Movie From the Zombie's Point of View

Last night's film was "Night of the Living Dead", George Romero's first foray into zombie pics (and a movie that never used the word "zombie", just as "The Godfather" never used the words "mafia" or "mob"). The movie had the traditional type of zombie--slow moving, wanting to eat people, scared of fire--and also focused on the breakdown of the human survivors who fight over their own fears and hopes of getting away alive. It was a bit visionary for its time (1967) in that the hero was black, and yet at no point in the film did any character even make a reference to his being black. (It seems in most films these days if a black guy has an argument with a white guy, someone has to say "you people" and start a whole big thing). Sadly, it did maintain the horror film stereotype of women being totally useless and hysterical at all times.

What did I learn from Night of the Living Dead?

1) If you can run at a soft trot, you should have no problem staying ahead of the zombies.

2) Apparently, even nailing several layers of two-by-fours over your windows and doors won't stop zombies who can push with their bare hands.

3) If you're a bald man and you're not played by Bruce Willis or Jason Statham, you're just an hysterical ninny who's going to hurt more than help the group.

4) If you see a strange figure lurching through a graveyard, don't run up to him to see if he's okay. He'll probably bite you and stuff.

5) Coat yourself with barbecue sauce, so that if in fact the zombies end up eating you they at least get a taste of some decent cuisine.

What I sort of don't get is why it's so bad to be killed by the zombies--after all, it just means that you get to be a zombie too. Then it's a lifetime of wandering around and eating other people, which must be a total blast because all the other zombies are doing it. No stress about jobs, no trying to please the opposite sex--what's the problem?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Man Caving

Last weekend I helped move some furniture for old pal and soon-to-be father Don Niccolo, and in the process noticed the space he is making available in his basement. Currently, this is a very unfinished basement--cement floor, rafters, brick walls--but it is his plan to make it eventually into a man cave.

Now, "man caves" have been around since the days of cavemen, the difference then being that the whole family lived in the cave, so for men to have their own special place they'd have to hang out on a rock outside. "Man rocks" had serious disadvantages, though, because of the likelihood of being mauled by a lion or stomped on by a mammoth (plus, no television hookup). Man caves today are usually basements or attics, and feature all that furniture that wives don't want messing up the decor of the rest of the house. They also are the location of the beer supply, and those neon beer signs that look so cool but are the first to go when you cohabitate.

Being an apartment dweller, I don't really have space for a man cave--I suppose you could argue my entire apartment is sort of a man cave--but I'm always up for helping set up the man cave of another. There's nothing a good deal of cleaning and fixing won't accomplish, and before you know it we'll be playing ping pong and playing Led Zeppelin for days on end.

Man cave? More like man palace.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fry Me to the Moon

From here on out I shall separate my life into two sections--PFD (Pre-FryDaddy) and AFD (Anno FryDaddius, or "In the Year of Our FryDaddy"). This is because this weekend I used one for the first time to make home made french fries.

Speaking of which, does anyone still call them "Freedom Fries"? Remember that bit of Congressional retardation? Lord knows that showed those pesky French, who now know that you cannot oppose U.S. foreign policy without serious repercussions, such as having the Congressional cafeteria re-name a food item so that a Belgian creation is no longer attributed to you. That must sting!

It was a rather easy thing to make, by just hand slicing the potatoes and plopping them into the boiling vegetable oil. Was it wise to do this while not wearing a shirt? Well, when has that ever stopped me? Cooking while wearing a shirt is sort of like sleeping with a bag over your head. It's just not done.

The fries came out terrific, nice and crispy and no salt was needed. The plan is now to find new things to fry. We are in the dawn of a new era.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ugh, Twenty More Hours to Go!

I just started to watch the first season of "24", a show I'd never seen any of because of (a) my disinterest in dramas that don't involve islands and time travel, and (b) the gimmick of showing each episode covering an hour of Jack Bauer's life would be pretty boring during the parts where he's sleeping or making himself cereal. Besides, what if the show were cancelled mid-season? They'd have to change the show to "8" or "12" or something like that. And if there's one thing this guy can't stand, it's confusion!

The show starts out promising enough, making Bauer an agent in some counterterrorism unit. A black presidential candidate is targeted for assassination which seems pretty silly to me because if you want to stop a presidential candidate you don't kill him--you put out a raunchy YouTube clip of him with a rodeo clown and before you know it he's out of the race. No brainer, folks! But in the midst of all this, Bauer's teenage daughter gets kidnapped.

Now, I've only gotten through episode 4, but I already can't stand the daughter and sort of hope something bad will happen to her, like maybe someone will slap the smug right off of her bratty face. (She was being a real pill to Bauer and his estranged wife back in episode one) And of course Bauer is all distraught about her kidnapping. Now, call me a cold hearted automaton, but if I had a daughter that lousy--sneaking out of the house, sassing back--I'd have reacted to the news of her kidnapping much differently. I'd have said to the kidnappers "ha, good luck, you'll need it! You try getting her to listen to you." Then I'd turn her bedroom into a den before she's been missing six hours.

I think this is a major failing with TV and film dramas--they just assume parents are going to do anything possible to save their kids or spouses, without establishing first that the kids or spouses don't actually suck. As an audience member, I can only think "geez, the kidnapping sort of solved this action hero's problems! He should go get lunch".

And of course there's the part where the bad guy has one of the good guys (or girl in this case) held at gunpoint, and the bad guy shouts to the unseen Jack Bauer "I have a hostage! Come out and drop your gun" Of course, the good guy (girl) shouts "don't do it, he'll kill us both" which I think is a bit unrealistic. I mean, sure it's likely that the armed good guy is going to accidently shoot you, or you'll get shot by the bad guy when the armed good guy shows himself, but seriously, you're probably going to get shot anyway. Give Jack Bauer a chance to take a head shot! You have a 50/50 chance that it's not your head that'll get shot.

We'll see how the rest of the season goes--I'm guessing the black president guy goes on to win the election, only to have to deal with a tea party movement afterwards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lardass of the Flies

Having just seen the 1963 version of one of my favorite novels, Lord of the Flies, it brought back the dramatic emotions I felt upon reading that book in high school. (It wasn't required reading, since the only stuff they required us to read was crap like "A Separate Peace" which taught me that if I wanted to kill someone all I needed to do was push them off a tree and then make them mad later). The story, for those of you who were busy reading about that pain in the ass in "Catcher in the Rye" (seriously, Holden needed a good kick in the ass and the damn book never had that!), goes like this:

A bunch of fancy school kids are the only survivors of a trip across the Pacific and find themselves on a deserted island. There's apparently a lot of food to eat, but they lack any sort of organization without adults around to tell them what to do. A normal, reasonable kid named Ralph takes leadership of the gang, and comes up with rules such as anyone who wants to address the group has to be holding a conch shell, and he tries to rule by consensus. Sadly, his best ally is a fat kid named Piggy who has the social skills of a broken coconut and if he were around today and had wealthy parents he would have been diagnosed with Aspbergers because god forbid anyone accept the fact that some kids are just nerdy weirdos.

Things seem to be going okay until this douchebag kid named Jack encourages a bunch of his followers to break off from the group, since they want to spend all day hunting and not sharing their meat with the others--after all, if they need anything like Piggy's glasses in order to start a fire, why not just steal them? It worked for the Nazis! Unfortunately, Ralph turned out to be more like France than the U.S. and the whole thing goes to pieces by the end.

Watching the film adaptation, I couldn't help but think--what if my kid were stuck on a desert island with a bunch of nerds and douchebags? How would I raise my kid so he doesn't meet the sad fates of the kids in the novel/movie?

1) If my kid were like Ralph--well, I'd teach him a lot about judgment. Piggy's not a bad kid, but a terrible ally! He complains a lot and doesn't help make friends, and it's crucial to have allies against Jack and his thugs. Best to keep Piggy in low profile, and get some tough sneaky but loyal kids on your side. Also, try to go along with Jack like you think he's just awesome. Then when he's not expecting it brain him with a coconut and turn to his followers and sneer "Where's your god now??? Ha ha ha ha" they'll think you went mad, and learn not to mess with Mr. Nice Guy.

2) If my kid were like Jack--I'd not have to worry about him taking the trip in the first place. I'd be so busy smacking the evil right out of the little bastard that I'd forget to buy his ticket. When he asks why he can't take the trip I'd trick him into thinking he smothered his nice sweet twin brother when he was a toddler and that maybe if he wasn't so rotten he'd get to do nice things.

3) If my kid were like Piggy--oh dear lord I hope not. A weak kid is even worse than an evil kid. But I'd spend every day training him to box, to make weapons out of palm fronds (he doesn't have to know why!), and to connivingly play people off against one another. Then I'd strap a roll of gold coins to his ankle so that when everything else doesn't work out he can at least pay one of the other kids to protect him.

I really hope this doesn't fall into the hands of Child Services if I'm trying to adopt some day.

The Massholes Have Spoken

I'm not incredibly surprised by Republican Scott Brown's defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley in yesterday's Senate election in Massachusett(e)s. Despite the fact that we're talking about perhaps the most solidly Democratic state in the Union, there were a number of reasons for this upset:

1) Scott Brown campaigned tirelessly from day one, while Coakley sat back on her 30 point lead for several months until she was shocked into action by recent polls showing that lead evaporating.

2) The closing of the margin had the effect of generating national attention, bringing money in from around the country which erased Coakley's fundraising advantage.

3) Any way you cut it, Coakley was not a good retail campaigner. She avoided the stump, and dismissed the idea of "shaking hands in the cold outside Fenway Park". She also forgot that Curt Schilling was a Red Sox hero, which is sacrilege to the blue collar Bostonians that the Democrats need to count on.

4) The expectation that the Senate seat was "the Kennedy seat" actually worked against the Democrats. First, it implied some sort of entitlement, and swing voters don't like being told that anyone or any party is "entitled" to a political office. At the same time, Coakley wasn't actually a Kennedy so the affection that a lot of Massholes had for the Kennedys didn't draw them to vote for her.

5) Coakley had some late breaking scandals, particularly a sex abuse case involing the Amiraults family.

6) Coakley's campaign had gone very negative in the closing weeks, which likely turned off a lot of voters. (Arguing that your opponent would turn away rape victims at hospitals is one of those charges that is a little too far fetched to be believable.) She'd have been better off toning that down, or at least using the negative attacks much earlier in the campaign when it might have given the voters a first impression of Brown.

7) The health care bill has become a complete disaster at this point, uniting the right and now having a number of prominent liberals (including Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean) wanting to kill the beast. While voters correctly don't see an election of Scott Brown as advancing a GOP agenda--after all, even now the GOP only has 41 Senators--they did see him as a last hope of derailing a bill that is likely to be a total turkey.

8) Finally, the economy--let's face it, at over 10% unemployment (not to mention the fact that this number greatly undercounts the underemployed and those who have given up looking for work) the economy is in the crapper. Any time the economy is doing that poorly, incumbent parties are going to suffer, particularly if they're not seen as fixing the problem. A year after the stimulus package was passed, voters are sending a clear message and the "in" party--the Democrats--would be wise to take notice. What they can actually do about this, on the other hand, is anyone's guess.

All in all, it was a bad move in hindsight for Obama to go to Massachusetts to campaign for Coakley. It helped nationalize the campaign, and makes the election more identified with him and his policies. Expect plenty of spin in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weekend Wrap Up

The weekend wasn't a great one for my physical health. After all manner of German beers and then cognac Friday--on an empty stomach, unless you count the beer as dinner which I did--the followup on Saturday wasn't much healthier. Foggy had the gang over to watch the football playoffs, where he served a hearty gumbo and no one found the phrase "okra-dokey" even the slightest bit amusing. (But that's probably because it wasn't said loud enough!) My contribution to the menu was a new homemade salsa I'd been meaning to try, but the process of cutting the onions made me cry uncontrollably. I'm not sure what the issue is--I don't see why I'm so much more emotionally attached to onions than say tomatoes or corn. But every time, I tear up the minute I start chopping up the onions. Weird!

Sunday was rainy, so the day was spent watching movies and eating beef stew at the Scannerjockey's place, and then Monday I took advantage of the high 50s weather to get my car washed and stroll over to the art store. (Incidentally, I was wearing shorts comfortably--if this is the price we pay for global warming, you'll forgive me for opening that oil refinery in Mexico) Sounds pretty healthy for Monday at least, right? Wrong! I rewarded myself for taking this short walk by visiting McDonalds and trying out their new snack wrap. Yes, it comes with a side of self-loathing.

In sad news, I express my condolences to Scannerjockey whose cousin Peanut passed away recently. It's always sad to lose a loved one.

Friday, January 15, 2010


In the middle of the horrible news about Haiti--and sadly, that phrase could be written at almost any point during the past four hundred years--we're able to get some choice quotes from various pundits. First, we hear Pat Robertson blame the Haitians for making a "pact with the devil". I've gotten to the point where I can't even get disgusted by anything Robertson says anymore, I just feel sorry for him because I think he's lost his mind. He really needs help. Then of course Rush Limbaugh felt like it had been too long since he said something insensitive and rotten, and put in his two cents claiming that we shouldn't make donations to the Red Cross to help the Haitians because we've already paid that country enough foreign aid. Maybe on some level he was trying for a laugh, but it fell flat and was in really poor taste.

Taking the absurdity of the comments of these two men at face value, we can see the basic point--Haiti is and long has been a complete mess. It is the poorest country among a neighborhood of poor countries, and its history has been slavery (under arguably worse conditions than U.S. slavery was at the time) and colonialism, followed by corruption, dictatorships and violence. It's hard to imagine what, if anything, could turn that country around.

That said, this is an instance where American aid and logistical support (such as through our military) can restore order and save lives on a large scale. The country--which was in bad shape even before the earthquake--has practically ceased to exist, with no infrastructure or organization whatsoever. (There were reports of aid arriving by boat but with no one at the docks to unload it) In the short term, at least, it seems that providing aid is a no-brainer. Whether we're involved for a longer period is what's up for debate.

And what's with right-wing pundits these days? Bad enough that the Democrats are flopping around like a fish in a rowboat, the way they're handling health care, banking and the economy. Do we really need the right to be completely insane?

City or Suburbs?

The other day, my friend Foggy solicited advice as to whether it made more sense for him to move from VA into the District, or stay in VA--from a cost-benefit point of view. I've had the experience of living on both sides of the Potomac over the years--college and law school in D.C., then during my first job living in Arlington, and short stints in Alexandria and Falls Church. Now, after a 5-year period in Maine, back living and working in Fairfax.

Frankly, the suburbs generally suck. You have to drive everywhere--in most places you can't even go grab a beer without having to hop in your car first (and that's always a great idea!). Traffic is absolutely horrible because the road system was designed by a team of low-functioning chimps (at least I hope so, because human beings would have no excuse for it). The layout of buildings for housing, commerce and business is so haphazard and aesthetically disgusting that it could hardly be more inefficient if that was the intention. And the Metro has over the years gotten more crowded, more expensive, and with degraded service, which demonstrates that it is run with a combination of the worst that both capitalism and government monopoly have to offer.

However, as you start making a higher salary you also realize that Virginia has a much lower income tax rate than DC, and this translates to several thousand dollars each year. On average, housing is cheaper, and the cost of keeping a car is much cheaper as well. There is a definite tradeoff for the benefits of urban living. (And, strangely, some people prefer the "car culture" and don't mind traffic that much--if they'd lived in the city they'd be driving everywhere anyway. These people are insane).

What else has to be considered? You can own a gun in Virginia, which is nice if you want to turn your television off and can't find the remote. D.C. does have its share of crazies, but just the other day on the way home from work I nearly hit a bicyclist who was going the wrong way in the middle of the right lane on Route 50. People in D.C. don't get their own congressman, but they're more than welcome to have mine. The school system is pretty awful in D.C. but at least your kids will learn hand-to-hand combat.

On the whole, I'd have to say that I'd be living in the city myself if I wasn't working out in the 'burbs--I'm someone who doesn't like to be dependent on a car and I like being close to things. But for everyone it's just a matter of personal lifestyle.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conan and Leno

There's been a lot of brouhaha over the mess at NBC--the Conan-Leno debacle that should (if there was any sense at NBC) cost network head Jeffrey Zucker his job. To recap: Conan O'Brien, the host of the 12:35AM Late Night show since 1993, was considering leaving the network, so Zucker offered him the plum 11:35 PM Tonight Show slot (which Jay Leno had held since 1992). To placate Leno, Zucker offered him a 10PM spot for his own show. Brilliant plan, right?

It turned into lose-lose--Conan's ratings at the 11:35 slot were lower than Leno's had been, and Leno's ratings at the 10PM slot were so bad they were being beaten by reruns of CSI. This not only lost the network money, but angered the local affiliates who needed something strong at 10 to lead into their 11PM local news. Complete and total FAIL.

I understand the spot Zucker was in--Conan has a solid following and has been acing at his Late Night spot, and does well among younger viewers. It would make sense for NBC to keep him, grooming him for the Tonight Show. But at the same time, Leno has been dominating the ratings at the Tonight Show for fifteen years. The problem was that in trying to keep both, NBC ended up angering both of them and losing plenty of money and ratings in the process.

Then, NBC offered up a "split the baby" solution--give Leno back the 11:35 slot, and move Conan up to 12 midnight and bump Jimmy Fallon (who took Conan's old spot at 12:35AM) to 1AM. This is such a bad idea it's not worth considering. It makes Leno an usurper, it moves Conan and Fallon both back by a half hour (losing audience share, as fewer people will be awake) and demonstrates a move out of weakness and not strength. Conan this week smartly (and publicly) rejected this idea, claiming that it would ruin the Tonight Show and Late Night franchises. Either he keeps Tonight Show at 11:35, or he leaves NBC.

My own personal bias is that I never found Leno particularly funny, even though he seems like a nice guy. NBC probably could have found some sort of medium for him--maybe a celebrity interview show only, or something car-related. Perhaps offer him a deal for a series of periodic specials--the sort of exposure that could help his nightclub act. Maybe offer him a sitcom deal, or some reality show. I've been a fan of Conan for a long time, and the guy's humor--while too wacky for some viewers--is nothing short of smart and brilliant. If NBC had the vision to promote his show and give him time to find his rhythm at the 11:35 slot, he could have dominated the ratings. As the now-younger audience ages, his appeal would only expand over time. (Remember, it took even Leno a couple years to beat his rivals at that slot--NBC could at least remember enough from its own past to show some patience)

How will this end? I know how I'd LIKE it to end--Leno and Conan both bolting NBC since they both got screwed in the deal. There are plenty of other networks (cable and broadcast) and Fox has indicated interest in Conan. I think it's a better fit for him anyway--generally Fox viewers are younger, and that network has taken many more risks over the years compared with its more conservative rivals (for example, the Simpsons--a prime time cartoon for the first time since Flintstones, and that led to a host of prime time cartoons on all networks). Fox does need a late night show and Conan's style would work great there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We Need a New Ethnic Holiday

It's fashionable to take pride in your ethnic background, wherever your ancestors hail from. Part of being in this melting pot has been that we each change the flavor of the stew a bit, to add color and character. Not spicy enough? Add some Mexicans (or Guatemalans, if you want to kick it up a notch). Need more garlic? Some Italians are getting off the boat now! Need to do something will all those extra potatoes? That's what the Jews are here for! And you can tell I'm writing this just before lunch.

Even groups which aren't very "ethnic" anymore (that is, mostly assimilated to the point of not standing out) still have their pride days. Every St. Patrick's day, some totally white guy who discovered that eight generations ago one of his English ancestors got knocked up by a man named O'Reilly will celebrate this fact by drinking green beer and getting into drunken fistfights (though actual Irish people don't really celebrate this). In fact, the only group of people who have to be wary of over-celebrating their ethnic pride are the Germans, and that's because last time they got too excited about their heritage they ended up invading half of Europe.

However, the month of January seems to lack any real ethnic holiday. Sure, we have MLK Day on Monday, but that's more to honor a single person rather than an ethnic group (Black History Month isn't until the following month). That's more of a solemn holiday, anyway. After all, you don't see white guys who claim a tiny portion of black ancestry going out and getting plastered on MLK Day.

Any suggestions for a left-out ethnic group that could use a January holiday? The requirements are as follows:

1) The group cannot already have a recognized celebratory holiday. This leaves out the Irish (St. Pats), Mexicans (Cinco de Mayo), the Italians (Columbus Day), and the Tree People (Arbor Day).

2) The group must have delicious food. Sorry, Russians!

3) The holiday cannot involve suffering and depriving yourself. Sorry, Jews!

Any takers?

Yet Another Handy Guide to People

Years ago I found my father's wallet and only saw about ten bucks worth of currency in there, and thought that was all the money our family had in the world--I was very worried about how we were going to live on that ten dollars! (Don't think it's cute--I was nineteen years old at the time). Of course in subsequent years I learned that most people keep only a fraction of their net worth in cash.

How much cash we carry on ourselves varies from person to person, depending on the following:

1) Cocaine addicts only need a few crisp twenties in their wallets, since everyone knows that genuine Medellin Marching Powder always snorts best with a twenty.

2) Mobsters have to carry a fat bankroll since they do most of their transactions in unmarked currency. A roll of hundreds will do just fine. No wallet necessary.

3) High paid executives (with millions on their balance sheets) generally carry less than a buck in currency, preferring to do everything on the company card. To them, cash is for poor people! Unless of course they want to buy a hotdog in which case their assistant needs to come along to do the transaction.

4) Germaphobes also don't work with cash, since it carries the germs of all previous users of the cash. Instead they prefer to shout their credit card numbers and expiration dates to the cashiers from a safe distance.

5) Anyone carrying a large stack of ones is probably a stripper who hasnt' been to the bank yet. But if television has taught me nothing else, that stripper has a heart of gold and is trying to raise her son in this tough world. Don't judge her!

6) Anyone carrying foreign currency is either (a) a jetsetting businessperson or (b) a hipster douchebag who's trying to show off that "he just can't find a bank that will exchange his 'bahts' without charging an outrageous fee". If they're wearing a fancy suit, it's (a). If they just gave you a compliment but did it with "air quotes" then it's (b).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aggrieved? Call This Guy!

Short Recap--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in hot water for "praising" Barack Obama for being able to speak without a "negro dialect", and of course the Republicans are pouncing on this story since had that statement come from a Republican he'd have been run out of town on a rail. Without going into whether Reid's statement was offensive--it was, in the sense that it was racially paternalistic, up there with saying "my friend Stan is very smart for a Polack!"--one thing did stick out when reading the story.

In this article, (8th paragraph) it mentions that Obama and Al Sharpton accepted Reid's apology. (Sharpton's statement is here) Obama I understand--after all, it was he who was the subject of the comment. But Al Sharpton? Really? In the eyes of the media, he gets to speak for black people? This is like letting Roman Polanski speak for all Jewish people. Except that while Polanski may have raped a girl, he didn't actual incite any murders.

I also like that in the eyes of the media, if Sharpton gives Reid a pass--or more accurately, if Sharpton decides that it's politically convenient for him to give Reid a pass--then the comments are forgiven. (Hope Reid is smart enough to stay on Reverand Al's good side!)

Who appointed Sharpton as "Official Black Spokesman"? After much research (okay, no research at all) it appears he appointed himself! Rather than being outraged that the "official black voice" is a bigoted Jew-hating blowhard who doesn't seem to have ever held an actual job in his life--I'll leave it to black folks to get pissed by that--I'm actually inspired.

From now on, I'm the official spokesman for all Americans of Italian and Russian descent. Next time MTV wants to air a show called "Lower East Side" featuring Russians dressed like hipsters, the newsfolks can reach me for comment. Next time a movie portrays Italians as gangsters--or if Tony Danza gets a TV series--the newsfolks can reach me for comment. Next time McDonalds markets a "Beef McStroganoff" the newsfolks can reach me for comment.

I plan to do a lot of aggrieving!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Humor Around the World

My extensive travels to foreign lands (Little Italy, Chinatown, and that string of Salvadorian stores out on Route 50) have taught me a lot about human nature--specifically, how different cultures have evolved humor. What is funny to a Mongolian will not be funny to an Argentine, and will probably move a Ugandan to such uproarious guffaws that he will lose all control over his body parts. It's one reason why comedy films have to be edited extensively before being distributed for theaters overseas. Were you aware that "Ghostbusters" was sold in India as a tragic drama? (They also added a dance number that really had no place being in the movie).

In case you ever have to bring merriment and mirth to people of other cultures (and it may be required, if you ever run over someone's goat on a windy mountain road in a far off land), here's a handy guide to what will be considered funny:

1) Spanish Cultures: throw in a large breasted woman wearing a miniskirt and slapping an obese grown man dressed in a sailor suit. It works great on the laugh tracks.

2) Japanese Culture: tentacle porn.

3) Russian Culture: someone getting seriously hurt will always make them laugh. Particularly if that person did nothing to deserve it and didn't expect it.

4) British Culture: whatever it is, make it dry and subtle. So subtle you're not even really sure it's a joke. Just emphasize one syllable at the end of what you're saying and leave it at that.

5) German Culture: the joke needs to be coldly rational and rhythmic, with a clear beginning and end. It's not a bad idea to add "that was the joke" after telling it. Try to keep a level monotone so you don't confuse listeners.

6) Canadian Culture: they don't have humor up there anymore since they exported all of it to the United States.

7) Chinese Culture: all jokes are actually more like cryptic riddles that make you think.

8) Arab Culture: just stay away from any Borscht Belt humor.

9) Scandanavian Culture: there actually is no humor in Scandanavia. They traded it in for Legos and Volvos and IKEA.

10) American Culture: you can always make an American laugh by following these simple rules: (a) the fatter the guy, the funnier he is; (b) nothing is ever so funny it can't be improved by showing someone getting kicked in the nuts; and (c) unnecessary screaming.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Chilli Time

When someone says you are "without equal" it's not always a compliment. After all, the dumbest kid in the class is "without equal" and one could easily argue that when I played football I was "without equal" because no one else on the team had such lack of drive and ambition. But it is my goal this weekend to invent a chilli that is truly without equal. This shall be the mega-chilli.

In previous years, I've made "accidental" chillis. Some weeks back I forgot to bring ground beef (I'd remembered to buy it but left it in the fridge at work) so it turned into "bacon chilli". (Could I have made it "veggie chilli"? Perhaps, and perhaps you should go ask your Commissar you America-hating Bolshevik!) Years back, I'd picked up tomato paste instead of tomato soup for the base, and the chilli came out a lot more like a jacked-up spaghetti sauce than a hearty southwestern style chilli.

What is going to make this weekend's chilli special? It's going to depend on what the good folks at Safeway--whose mantra is "we don't sell that"--have in store. Because this guy's feeling creative! Peppers, onions, ground beef, chicken? Who knows! Maybe some cookie dough will find its way into the delicious sauce.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bats the Ticket

If you're anything like me, you don't like the idea of being eaten alive by mutant bats. However, I did discover something almost as bad--a movie about people being eaten alive by mutant bats. This movie was 1999's "Bats", where the title probably resulted from late night brainstorming sessions at the producer's office where all of Hollywood's top minds were trying to come up with titles ranging from the Oscar-worthy (like "Darkness Descends on Man") to the catchy (like "Bats All, Folks!") and finally could not agree on something so they let one of the guys from accounting come up with the title.

This movie answers the question "what ever happened to Lou Diamond Phillips?" but it never answers a better question, which is "hey is Lou Diamond Phillips any relation to Neil Diamond?" Apparently, Mr. Diamond Phillips' movie career had a shelf life of a soufflee on a Texas sidewalk (yes my metaphors/similies need work). Here he plays a Texas sherriff with all the subtlety of a brick, and apparently has to work with a sexy lady scientist (apparently in films like this, M.I.T.'s graduating class would be like an NFL cheerleader convention) and of course her wisecracking comic relief black sidekick. In lousy horror films, the minute you see a black guy you just know the laughs will ensue! It makes me wonder why all the black people I know are holding back their hilarious one-liners. It must be because I'm not a sexy lady scientist!

Of course, like all bad horror films, this one had the attacks by swarming bats result from some scientific experiment (by a non-sexy lady scientist, as it turns out. Even an NFL cheerleader convention has to have an old, unattractive guy, apparently). I don't really see why it's necessary to show WHY the calamity of bat attacks happened. It'd be far more effective if the message was "hey, the bats are just going to mess you up for no good reason, that's life"--sort of like the Birds in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". Which was probably given its title by the same accountant who named "Bats".

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Red Ribbon Panel to Convene

It seems every time there's some kind of crisis, the powers that be like to appoint a "blue ribbon panel". As if, ooh, hey look, BLUE ribbon, that's pretty high intensity right there! They're not wasting any time screwing around with red or yellow ribbons, not these geniuses in Congress/City Council/Faceless Corporation. Nothing is unimportant when it gets the blue ribbon treatment.

Of course, that leaves out all the minor problems in the world, which need at least some red ribbon panel to look into it. A red ribbon panel could consist of mid-level managment types, not exactly stars of their given field but passable. Think Alan Thicke and the girl from Family Ties whose brother is a lot more famous since he did Arrested Development.

A red ribbon panel could be called to deal with any of the following issues:

1) Why they dont' make modern cars with those cool tail fins anymore.
2) What can be done about my damn allergies.
3) Why they only make three-flavored iced cream in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry and not more fun flavors like peanut butter, super-deep dark chocolate, and mint.
4) On the subject of chocolate, how come they still make things with milk chocolate when it's clear that dark chocolate is superb?
5) Shouldn't they just combine a lot of our states, like the two Dakotas, or Connecticut and Rhode Island? It'd make it a lot easier for kids to memorize.
6) How come in high school the foreign kid always has to sit with the nerds? They're going to think all Americans are nerds and then go back to their countries telling the people about what weak nerds we Americans are! Which might explain why every country tries to fight us.
7) Delaware just doesn't have a purpose anymore. Out they go!
8) Is it financially feasible to charge rich people to write cool stuff on the surface of the moon so it can be seen from earth.
9) If we could make it so that trees could talk, would that be awesome, or would we get really sick of the trees bothering us with their problems?
10) Why don't they sell canned wine?

Blasted Allergies and their Mysterious Ways

For many years now I've made peace with the fact that I get springtime allergies--for several days during a several week period the allergies would be so bad I'd need medication for them to stop the fits of sneezing and nose running and the furious anger that ensues. It was a tradeoff for the benefits of longer days and spring leaves and warm weather. It meant, hey, sneeze a bit now, but soon you'll be eating hot dogs and drinking beer outside like a Kennedy. I could deal with it!

But for some reason I've been plagued by allergies this winter. I don't think ever in my life have I had winter allergies. If it were fall or summer allergies, I'd figure it was some change in nature (a horrible flower or plant that needs killin'), but in winter nothing's growing so it makes no sense. (And I can't be allergic to snow since there's very little on the ground here and we had more than enough in Maine). It can't be anything dust or mold related--my home, office and car are as clean or cleaner than anything I've ever lived, worked or driven in, and the allergies bother me there as well as when I'm at friends' homes. I have been unable to locate the source of these allergies!

In the meantime the only solution is to burn, boil and destroy everything in my path like Atilla the Hun. Or maybe keep on the medicine.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


There is nothing quite like that first five minutes after waking up in the winter. When your body is in full coccoon stage, and it feels like a forty degree difference between the air under the covers and the air in the rest of the room. When the very thought of getting out from that lair, and good gravy having to actually run a razor over your face and strip naked in order to shower when it's so damn cold and you feel so damn toasty in that lair is just a thought you can't contemplate.

Of course, I could jack up the central air to 80 degrees, or leave a space heater running all night so that it feels like I'm waking up in the summer and my only complaint is how dark it is outside. Or I could get a timer for the space heater so it fires up about an hour before I plan to wake up. But it's more fun to complain.

As for these cold snaps, I'm getting mighty sick of weather folk (you know who you are!) saying every single year "we're in for a colder winter than usual". News flash! If every single year is "colder than usual" then there is no "usual"--there's just constant cold!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Film Review--The Born Losers

The late '60s were known for a number of things--long wars in jungles, bathing suits that weren't flattering by today's standards, and low budget biker movies. Whenever you see that you're about to watch something made by "American International Pictures" you know you're in for a pure biker schlockfest.

Last night I saw one of the greats, a film called "The Born Losers". It started out inauspiciously enough--Danny, the head of the biker gang, is in traffic with some of his fellow ruffians, and a car--a VW Beetle, for that matter!--bumps into his bike. Uh oh, you're thinking, as you see Danny get off his ride and inspect the scene! He's going to turn the preppy who bumped him into his own personal sock puppet.

However, Danny calmly tells the preppy "well, you're lucky, there was no damage--be careful!" as he gets back on his bike. This seems more like the actions of a hall monitor than the leader of a motorcycle gang. Just as we're about to see the gang ride off--probably on their way to a charity fundraiser for orphaned kittens--the preppy from the "safety" of his VW curses out the biker and mocks him. This is odd, of course, because the biker is bigger than the car itself, to say nothing of the nerdy guy driving it, and the biker has about five thugs there to back him up. The preppy rolls up his window, because of course no one has ever figured out a way to smash open a car window. Except Danny! Danny soon yanks the preppy out of his car and starts going all Ike Turner on him.

Enter Billy Jack. You may remember him from the sequel to this film, which was called "Billy Jack" and involved more hippies and bare feet than would be appropriate in respectable movie theaters. Billy Jack is apparently a Vietnam Vet (keep in mind that this movie came out in 1967, so Billy Jack hadn't seen action at the Tet Offensive yet--so he probably wasn't TOTALLY nuts yet), and American Indian though you wouldn't know it because he's played by Tom Laughlin who is whiter than Pat Boone. Billy Jack is also a woodsman and an expert in Kung Fu because why not.

(I should note that while it is stated in the narration that Billy Jack is "part Indian" and the actor portraying him looks at best "part Polish" it seems that all the other characters in the film keep calling him "Indian" and refer to his "beads" and "wampum" and "heap big trouble". It is not clear how just by looking at him they can tell that this man is part Indian. It would make more sense for them to comment about pierogies and "go back to Warsaw" and "shouldn't you be at a bowling alley?" or something like that.)

Billy Jack saves the preppy with the help of his Eastern Martial Arts and force of his personality. Just kidding, he uses his M-1 rifle and blasts the kneecaps off of one of the bikers. This of course gets him more jail time than the bikers got for assaulting the preppy (which makes sense, since Billy Jack used a deadly weapon, but the movie wants us pissed at the law for being ineffective!). Billy Jack's lawyer trades the jail time for a fine (again , not a bad move for the lawyer who was most likely court appointed), and Billy Jack needs to sell his jeep to get the money to pay it. This is because the local banker won't be able to give him a loan, even though Billy Jack "knows" that he will win money at a rodeo in a month. Lousy banker! Don't you know that credit checks and collateral and proof of income are nothing compared to Billy Jack's confidence in his rodeo abilities? The man wears a cowboy hat, for crying out loud!

Meanwhile, a college girl goes driving by on her motorcycle wearing a bikini and go-go boots (seriously, to explain that would take several paragraphs and frankly still make no sense) and this of course leads the biker gang to chase and capture her. Faced with the prospect of gang rape, she uses a clever ruse by asking one of the gang members to bend down while she clobbers him with a wrench and drives off. However, she is later captured and raped (off camera, but still a dark turn for a movie that was pretty laughable otherwise), and next thing we know the bikers want to intimidate her from testifying.

But hark! Billy Jack happens upon these bikers, and saves the college girl, and in some rather labored "romance" scenes he wins her over. That is, if by "romance" you mean playing a game called "grab my hand" (I'm not making that up either). The bikers retaliate by stealing Billy Jack's cash (the cash he got for his jeep!) and then pouring gasoline in his cowboy hat. Big mistake, bikers! You should know Billy Jack only takes unleaded!

Billy Jack beats up the toughest of the bikers, a guy named "Gangrene" which is proof that mothers shouldn't be allowed to name their sons when they're still high on the anasthesia. The bikers, led by the wily Danny, use another girl as a hostage and manage to force Billy Jack and college girl to come to their lair. Once there, they knock out Billy Jack because despite his kung fu he can't see a 400 pound guy coming behind him with a crowbar. The local law proves useless, refusing to go to the bikers' lair without "riot gear" which is strange because there's maybe a dozen bikers, unarmed, and I'd figure even four or five cops with guns could make the arrest. Plus, don't they deputize citizens in cases like this?

In the end, it turns out how you'd expect, Billy Jack saves the day, one of the cops shoots him in the back by accident, and the college girl gets him airlifted to the hospital. The biker gang, I can only imagine, are no longer roaming the highways and so obnoxious preppies who start trouble after ramming bikes can roam free without fear of reprisal.

2010 Begins

The Christmas holiday involved feverish driving with the fambly from DC to Atlanta, spending a few days there, and then on to Sarasota for a few more days before flying back to DC. Interstate 75 had more than its share of traffic, and a part of me died on that road. But I did make it through, had quality fambly time, and back in time for New Year's Eve.

The dinner party was a seafood fest, accompanied by many exotic drinks (some involving grapefruit juice!) and not one person tried to ruin things by singing "Auld Lang Syne". Most of the gang passed out on blowup mattresses, and some staggered to brunch in a car that was simply not meant for more than two people. The rest of the weekend became a struggle against the cold snap that is now blanketing the area, which better freaking end soon because those global warming people have been teasing me about it for years.

Here's hoping for a good 2010!