Monday, January 31, 2011


January is well known as an awful month during which I would try to literally hibernate if it weren't for the requirement to work at my job in order to make money to afford goods and services, but there are little things we can do to make the month more bearable. One of these things is Pizzastravaganza.

For a while I have been discussing how a cold day can be much improved with making plenty of hot homemade pizza (and drinking non-homemade beer to go with it), if only the nearby stores sold pre-made dough in a bag. Safeway is notable for not having such wonderful inventions, and the idea of making the dough from scratch does not appeal. What am I, some kind of hippie? Dough in a bag, folks! So my friend Lady Z (who conveniently lives right down the hall) offered to host Pizzastravaganza at her place, and to supply the doughs from a trip to Whole Foods. Things were coming together.

So the gang comes over, and everyone brought plenty of key ingredients--peppers, pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms, cheese, basil, sauce, olives--even some things that should be no where near a pizza. I'm talking about the inexplicably popular pineapple.

See, the Hawaiians are good at some things--volcanos, surfing, the occasional putting of curses on the Brady Bunch--but pizza is just not one of them. Pineapple, you see, is a fruit, and fruits belong on pizzas about as much as Cousin Oliver belonged on Brady Bunch. (Full disclosure--I don't actually watch the Brady Bunch because I have a deep aversion to astroturf lawns) This is also why we don't have apple pizza or strawberry pizza or Simon Cowell pizza. Fruit belongs in desserts and breakfasts. Let's leave it at that, people!

Still, gotta give the crowd what the crowd wants, so pineapple pizza we make, along with many other loaded pies. What impressed me most was our rapid pizza efficiency--no sooner did one pizza come out of the oven than another was slid in, making for a rate of five pizzas per hour (just imagine if the apartments were next door to one another, and both ovens could be used!). The gang, which had devoured Shannon's antipasta platter and several Doritos, was ravenous and attacked those pizzas like the critics attacked the Brady Bunch.

All told, a successful late January Sunday, all the best to bid farewell to the worst month.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Not So Secret Shame!

Recently it came to my attention that a friend of mine harbors what should have been a shameful secret--owning a full collection of the "Sex and the City" DVDs. It also happens that this friend of mine is a straight male, but I should note this would have been scandalous even if he were gay or a woman--the show is basically crap. One good looking woman, one woman who used to be good looking, one so-plain-you'll-miss-her woman, and one talking horse all scoot around a version of Manhattan that only exists in the mind of teenage girls who've never actually been to the city. None of that gritty, urban New York for the SATC fans--just cosmopolitans, expensive shoes, and random sex with very rich men. The show is basically unwatchable unless you're really into fashions and want to believe that rich men are seriously desperate for any shallow hag that will sleep with them.

Now, this friend of mine apparently has been displaying this collection prominently in his apartment and I somehow missed it each time I've been over there, perhaps because my brain developed a blind spot as an evolutionary precaution against the level of shame I'd feel for my friends in such situations. (Similarly, the blind spot should kick in if one of my friends were caught pleasuring a cat or something, but hey, let's not test this theory) Of course, we all have our secret shames--love for Miley Cyrus music, a preference for eggs on pizza, a leg warmer fetish--but these shames are best left discreet. The big question was raised among this guy's friends--why on earth would he PROUDLY display a SATC collection for all to see? Some theories:

1) He is a foreigner with no understanding of English, and has absolutely no idea what those DVDs are, and is hoping it's some sort of freak porn. However, this is not the case--he speaks English quite well, and is as American as an obesity epidemic.

2) He is using the DVD case for SATC to cover for illegal snuff films. This theory doesn't fly--after all, snuff films would be less embarrassing than the SATC collection.

3) He is cynically displaying the DVDs in a crass attempt to convince visiting women that he is a sensitive guy so they'll sleep with him. However, only the dumbest of women would fall for such a transparent ploy.

4) He genuinely likes the show, because he's really really into fashion and overpriced shoes. However, this guy always wears dark jeans with white sneakers, which only works if you're a gangster rapper or a mafia hood.

5) He genuinely likes the show, because he has a very low opinion of women but plans to buy a woman some day. A very unattractive woman who is unaware of her own unattractiveness and resemblance to a horse. Well, if we see bags of oats in his kitchen then I guess we'll know.

Note to my friend if he reads this--no hard feelings, just gotta rib you over this.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

United States of Shame Chart

This here chart has been making the rounds lately, and of course squeals of protest have been rising across the lands. Apparently some statistics were cobbled together and each of the 50 states has been ranked "worst" in some category--Montana being most drunk driving deaths, New Hampshire with the worst corporate tax rates, New York with the worst commute--and made a handy map to help us guide our lives. See, if you're planning on having some seriously unprotected sex (by which I mean using only one layer of Saran Wrap between you and your partner of the evening), then definitely don't go to Louisiana, which ranks worst with gonorrhea. People from Ohio (nerdiest state) will have a hard time getting by in Maine (dumbest state). The Michiganders can get over their being the worst unemployment by binge drinking in neighboring Wisconsin. I suppose North Dakotans (ugliest residents) have trouble attracting sexual partners, so they travel to South Dakota to get sex by force (most rapes per capita), and when that doesn't work, they go south one more state to Nebraska to vent their anger (most violence on females--not sure what "violence on female" means, sounds more like two guys standing on a layer of women and fighting each other).

Alaska's "most suicides" surprised me a bit though, since it's hard to kill yourself jumping off the top floor of an igloo. And I'm not sure why Utah's "problem"--highest rate of online porn subscriptions--is a problem at all. Wouldn't you rather live in a place where everyone's too busy looking at porn to commit violence on women?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar Bait

Well, the Oscar nominations have been released, and yet again I haven't seen any of them yet (though a couple are in the ole Netflix queue). It doesn't seem as though there are a lot of surprises as to what gets nominated and what wins--usually Oscar bait comes in the following forms:

1) Films that took place in the past, preferably an important historical era. Had "Die Hard" taken place in a skyscraper taken over by terrorists back in the 1700s, with muskets and swords, Bruce Willis would be our generation's Laurence Olivier.

2) Performances where the actor mimics a famous character. This form of acting is more like doing impressions--Jamie Fox in "Ray" or Will Smith in "Ali" or Joaquin Phoenix in "Walk the Line" are recent examples, but this was even done in the '80s by Ben Kingsley when he did a great sendup of Ghandi. Since this standard wins Oscars, I'm waiting for Rich Little to get his Lifetime Achievement Award. Or maybe Christian Slater for portraying Jack Nicholson in all of his films.

3) Performances that were passable but not "great", by actors who were "due". This is the de facto Lifetime Achievement Oscar--Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart" or Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman". Look for Wynona Ryder to win an Oscar in 2025 for playing a housewife who switches bodies with her "cool kid" teenage daughter--all to make up for her not getting the Oscar in 2018 for playing Queen Victoria in "Sunset Never Falls".

4) Movies with pretentious titles like "Sunset Never Falls."

5) Movies where a well-known actor plays a completely different accent. Like when Sean Penn played a townie moron in "Mystic River" or Daniel Day Lewis played a non-Irishman in "There Will Be Blood" or Tom Hanks kept his thick cockney accent hidden for his whole career.

So how best to score an easy Oscar? Simple--make a movie taking place in 1866 war-torn Mexico starring John Travolta doing a German accent as he plays Emperor Maximilian who tried to rule Mexico (despite his Austrian-ness). You could call the movie "Under the Blood Red Sun".

If Soderbergh steals that idea I'm suing the hell out of him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's All in the Title

After watching "Hot Tub Time Machine" yesterday--an amusing farce that satisfied my need for time travel as well as seeing limbs ripped from torsos--I did my usual read through the trivia section of the movie's IMDB page. There, I learned that John Cusack agreed to do the film solely because of the goofy title (if you can't count on user-generated comments on IMDB, then I don't want to live in your untrusting world!). This is similar to when Samuel L Jackson agreed to do "Snakes on a Plane" solely due to that movie's goofy title, going so far as threatening to back out of the picture when it was suggested the title would be changed. Sometimes, the goofy plain-ness of a movie title will make or break the film itself.

Giving a movie the proper title has become an actual cottage industry in Hollywood, as special firms are used to come up with just the right title to sell the film. Consider when "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" came out, or "Breakin' 2--Electric Boogaloo". You could almost taste the disaster! And the makers of "Oceans 12" opted for that title, rather than "Oceans 11, 2" which would have been just confusing. "Die Harder" probably tested better than "More Die Hard" or "Die Hard Strikes Again". The film "The Madness of King George" was retitled from "The Madness of George III" so that viewers wouldn't think it was a second sequel, driving off moviegoers who assumed they missed the first two. Incidentally, I'd have been one of the moviegoers who'd actually watch it if I thought it WAS a sequel--I'd have to think "what will that mad King George do next? Hijinks ensue!"

But now, the new trend (after "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Snakes on a Plane") I predict will be titles that basically sum up the whole plot of the movie. Under this rule, classic films could be released under new titles:

1) "Gone With the Wind" can be "Spoiled Conniving Bitch and Classy Dude Who Screws With Her". Of course, that could also be the title of most Katherine Hepburn films.

2) "Casablanca" could be released as "Cynical Bar Owner Helping Refugees". Doesn't have the right ring to it.

3) "Poltergeist" can be "Wacky Ghost Messes With The Guy from Coach". Of course TV's "Coach" didn't come out before the film did, so that would be yet another eerie coincidence related to that film.

4) "Back to the Future" can be "One Long Incest Joke".

5) "The Godfather" can be "Don't Mess With That Olive Oil Salesman".

Monday, January 24, 2011

When Does a TV Show Hit Its Peak

Perusing through Netflix selections I've been noticing many classic television shows can fall into one of three categories: shows that were cancelled too soon, shows that weren't cancelled soon enough, and shows that ended at just the right time. Of course, there are also some shows that defy easy characterization--"Family Guy", for instance, started out very funny, got stale and weak, then seems to have improved. There are also the many "filler" shows that NBC stuck into coveted timeslots between "Friends" and "Seinfeld" and "ER" during their '90s heydey--shows like "Union Square" and "The Single Guy" and "Caroline in the City" and "Veronica's Closet" and "Fired Up!" (Yes it's sad that I remember those . . .) But in the three principal categories we have:

1) Shows cancelled too soon--these shows probably had at least another quality season left in them when they went off the air. "Party Down", "Arrested Development", "Freaks and Geeks"--in these cases there was no sign of decline, but they simply either failed to gain an audience or were shuffled into poor timeslots. Generally, there aren't too many of these--quality shows can usually get an audience, and devoted fans can even encourage a smaller audience cable channel to pick it up.

2) Shows not cancelled soon enough--in these cases no one could really be upset that the show was cancelled, since it was clear any further episodes would have served only as a painful reminder that the show used to be good. "All in the Family" is a great example of this--after Mike and Gloria moved out (leaving Archie without his primary foil), the Jeffersons were no longer next door, and Nixon was out of the White House, the show just didn't have the oomph. "Married With Children" is another example--a show that started weak, got pretty funny in an awful way, then declined into self-parody with worse and worse seasons. "NewsRadio" had been solid through its fourth season, but the fifth and final season after Phil Hartman's death was just unbearable to watch.

3) Shows that were cancelled at the right time--this is often a more tricky call--without seeing what additional episodes there might have been, it's hard to say that the show couldn't have churned out additional good ones or alternatively, the well was dry. For this category, the show has to have shown some wear, still coming out with quality episodes but with nowhere else to go with the characters. In this case, you usually go from a show you made a point of watching regularly to it being a show you'll only watch if you happen to have nothing else to do. "Friends" and "Seinfeld" and "Cheers" come to mind--but maybe the best example is a non-comedy, the ABC hit show "Lost". The episodes of the last season were worth watching, as they still had you hooked on the whole "what the hell is going on here?" question that stretched from the first season. But viewers were rightly getting annoyed with the "answer one mystery with another mystery" layering, as well as the whole "someone getting shot before they can reveal something big" and the "characters not pressing for answers the way the audience would" getting formulaic.

That said, when thinking about the shows I try to catch every week--"It's Always Sunny", "30 Rock", "Office", "Modern Fambly", "Simpsons"--I wonder for each of them whether they'll end on a strong note, or have a long, lingering demise.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Show Ending Before it Goes Crappy

The other day we finished watching the 3-season show "Arrested Development" on Netflix, which I had last seen when it was on the air half a decade ago. This clever and untraditional sitcom had become a cult favorite among die-hard fans, but never picked up a strong enough following and was eventually cancelled due to low ratings. It's not hard to figure out why the ratings were so poor--unlike a lot of shows, the "Arrested" episodes don't really stand alone, and it takes a few episodes to "get" the characters and understand the references to recurring issues from earlier shows. Still, there was quite an outcry when the show was cancelled, though, and a lot of fans had hoped some other channel would pick it up (as FX did for "It's Always Sunny" after that show was cancelled on Fox).

Though the third (and final) season of "Arrested" was excellent, I'm not so sure additional seasosn would have been a good thing. Generally, a series goes through the following steps:

1) First season--a bit dry, showing some promise, but characters not fully fleshed out yet. See, Seinfeld, Simpsons.

2) Second season--gaining a strong following, finding its rhythm, great episodes with fresh ideas. Characters now finding their groove.

3) Third season--now strong, with best writers brought on board, characters hitting on all cyllinders, the best shows coming out here.

4) Fourth season--still pretty good, but showing some wear. Some good episodes, but a number of "filler" ones, and characters starting to get "cheered" by the studio audience just for stepping into the room (see, Seinfeld, with Kramer). Worth watching, but the signs of decline are there.

5) Fifth season--show is beginning to coast, writers getting lazy, episodes resorting to gimmicks such as "visits to strange lands" and "new characters" and "characters having sex with each other" and "ooh, a baby!" Also, this is where original characters begin leaving the show. The viewer doesn't feel too bad missing some of these episodes.

7) Sixth season--show is in obvious decline. Episodes become painful to watch, as you see the once-great show no longer entertaining, and you see characters you used to love become insipid. Nerds start discussing when exactly the show "jumped the shark" but it's pretty clear that the shark has been jumped a while ago. Viewers tune out now.

8) Seventh season--absolute crap, cancellation threatened.

Now, some shows work off a different timeline--the Simpsons, for example, hit their stride by the second season and took many more than three seasons to show signs of laziness and decline. And, even today, the show can put out some solid episodes, and even their weaker ones can stand up to much of what's on TV today (and they're on a mind-blowing 21st season). But most shows do fall into that pattern, and I'll prefer to remember "Arrested Development" as one that ended at its peak rather than slid down the hole of crap.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

1) Use of the word "sir" should really be discontinued, and here's why--it is so much more frequently used in sarcasm ("please put your pants back on, SIR, this is a family restaurant") than sincerity that it lost all meaning.

2) At some point in American history, we went from British accents to our current "American" accents. No one knows precisely when this changeover took place, but according to movies it was between 1800 and 1860, when we suddenly developed Northern and Southern accents. This is why George Washington and Robert E Lee are both Virginians and one sounds like he could announce the Queen and the other sounds like he could announce a NASCAR race.

3) When we translate foreign alphabets to our own, it makes no sense that we screw up the spelling. For example, the Vietnamese soup we spell as "pho" is pronounced "fuh". Why aren't we just spelling it the way we pronounce it? It's not like the Vietnamese even spell it with our letters.

4) Movies and TV shows where a fun loving redneck is speeding away from the cops (e.g., Smokey and the Bandit, Dukes of Hazard) often are careful to show that in the massive car wrecks caused by the pursuit, the cops crawl out of their smashed cars humiliated but unhurt. This is to appease the consciences of viewers who would find it a bit dark to see Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltrane paralyzed after hitting a tree while chasing them Duke Boys. But what they don't show is the impoverished southern town having to shut down its hospital or schools because they have so many more police cars to pay for.

5) I can understand how our ancestors discovered most food--eating raw fruit and veggies and meat, and then learning that they're better cooked over fire--but how in hell did they first invent bread? Who looked at grain stalks and said to themselves "if I thresh the wheat, grind it up, add egg, a bit of mold, put it near fire for a bit, this will come out really awesome..."?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Smokey Bear

The other night I had the pleasure of re-watching the classic road film "Smokey and the Bandit", where Burt Reynolds plays a "legend" who goes by the CB handle "Bandit" who takes on a bet that he can't drive from Atlanta to Texarcana and back in 28 hours (picking up then-prohibited Coors beer in Texas and bringing it back on the return trip). He enlists the help of his friend Cletus "Snowman" Snow (played by acting legend Jerry Reed) who drives the rig while Bandit rides a Trans Am to "block" for the truck--essentially, attracting all the local fuzz so that the Snowman can speed along without problems. Of course, Bandit finds love on the way in the form of Sally Field and runs afoul of a relentless cop, Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason. The film is incredibly dated--the hairstyles, bell bottoms, CB radios--and pure mindless fun. It is also Burt Reynolds at his Burt Reynoldsiest.

Watching this though reminded me of discussions with friends where we pondered why this classic hit film was never re-made by the studios (which, having run out of original ideas decades ago, have been remaking and rebooting everything from "Stepford Wives" to "Amityville Horror"). Remember, "Smokey" was the biggest hit film of 1977 until Star Wars knocked it off its perch, and the film spawned two lesser sequels and hundreds of imitators (the Cannonball Run series, Dukes of Hazard, BJ and the Bear). As a kid in the '80s, I remember Trans Ams being incredibly popular, largely due to this film. Surely a remake is ripe?

Of course, a remake would have to follow certain rules:

1) The film still has to take place in the '70s. The CB radio culture would not translate well in the modern era, nor would it make sense for the police not to use aircraft radar for interstate pursuits. Plus, the '70s fashions just work well for it.

2) Keep the "cargo" just as benign as in the original--taking Coors beer east of the Mississippi (which was illegal back then) is a lot more good-hearted than say, moving a truckload of explosives and crack cocaine that distance.

3) Cast the parts well. This is the tricky part--sure, a Randy Quaid type could play the part of Buford T. Justice, and the Sally Field character can be handled by any "artsy" type actress in her 30s. Snowman could probably be played by any country singer who can play himself (as was the case with Jerry Reed)--maybe Tim McGraw, say. But the key part--Bandit himself--would be tricky. It'd have to be a hotshot actor, at least in his late 30s (since he's playing a man who's already a "legend"), and with good "southern" cred.

4) Some twists and turns would be necessary to keep this from being a "shot for shot" remake. Maybe Bandit drives through a parade, or across an airport tarmac. Maybe they picked up the wrong shipment of Coors and they also get pursued by Hells Angels going after their stolen beer.

Sadly, what we can probably expect is Hollywood to screw up the remake so bad we'll never speak of it again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Station Naming Rights for DC Metro

One way the DC Metro is planning to overcome its budget shortfall is to sell naming rights to its various stations. I think this is a capital idea! (Pun not intended until I saw how it looked, then pun intended) Of course, the sponsors of the various stations should be appropriate for the neighborhoods that they represent. Like so:

1) Pentagon: this should be named "Lockheed Martin" after one of the biggest defense contractors out there.

2) Arlington Cemetary: name this one "American Legion Station".

3) Reagan National Airport: the Democratic National Committee should pull out all the stops to secure naming rights for this one.

4) Capitol South: since allowing all the Capitol Hill lobbyists to duke it out over this one would be a mess, just compromise with "Lobbyist Station."

5) Woodley Park/Adams Morgan: this should be named "Miller High Life".

6) Gallery Place/Chinatown: name this for "Colonial Parking" since good luck finding a spot on the street if you're not getting there by metro.

7) Vienna: I'd suggest "Folgers" or "Starbucks" buy rights for this one, to appeal to the dewy-eyed morning commuters.

8) Rhode Island Avenue: I suggest "Remington Firearms" station.

9) Bethesda: I would love to see this get named "Wal-Mart" station just because of how much it would rankle the Bethesda blue-bloods. Of course, the really blue bloods don't ride Metro.

Colds--Another Thing Sucky About January

My special lady is entering her second week of a bad cold, which has kept her from work until yesterday and finally required a doctor's visit. As expected, the doctor said "yep, you have a cold!" Now, I'm no fancy big city doctor (as I hook my thumbs in my suspenders), but my usual regimen for dealing with colds consists of:

1) Bedrest. As much as possible.

2) Can't sleep? Nyquil. Down it like Janis Joplin if you have to.

3) Bundle up when you sleep to induce fever.

4) Drown it with three things: water, hot tea, and chicken soup. Have so much of it that you're sick of it.

I've been told to think of the immune system as the world's most efficient killing machine, ordinarily destroying germs before you even notice, and when the germs get an early foothold (in the form of a cold) that's when the killers go into action. Being asleep let's them do their business undisturbed, the liquids help them drown the cold germs, and the fever helps boil the buggers away. Until there's some cure, that's really all you can do with a cold.

However, this one doesn't seem to be going away--and it's frustrating to have to miss work when it piles up, and not be able to do anything fun (besides TV), or eat or drink what you really want to. Chicken soup is no substitute for pizza and beer on the fun scale.

Meantime, I get to put my caregiving to the test with soup and tea prepping--here's hoping we get this thing knocked out!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Additional Thoughts on Arizona Shooting

1) Reading about the "alleged" shooter Jared Loughner, it's hard for me to gin up anger towards him despite the evil act he's accused of. I suppose the reason is because of the complete irrationality of what he did--this isn't, say, a guy who committed murder to serve some material aim (stealing a wallet, say) or to fulfill a political goal (like the 9/11 hijackers) or some hateful end (such as someone who murders a person because of their race/ethnicity). The guy was so clearly off the deep end--or at least it appears that way now, an investigation may uncover more--that the whole thing is just sad. Here's a truly crazy, sad person whose brain was so off that he did something like this. And his mugshot just reinforces that.

2) Sarah Palin yet again reinforces what her critics have always said about her. Here she had a chance to display class and statesmanship, and if she is planning to run for Prez in 2012 (as many believe, though I have doubts she even wants that), this could be a chance to boost her ratings. Due to the shooting of a congresswoman that Palin had "targeted" for defeat last year, and due to Palin's gun imagery in her campaigning, the former VP candidate has been under the spotlight this past week. This was a chance for her to address that--to take an opportunity to call for greater civility in our political discourse, to express regret for having used unfortunate imagery that, while it did not lead to this shooting incident, was at least in poor taste. Instead, Sarah goes ahead and (a) spreads blame for all this across the political spectrum; (b) contradicts this point by noting that political discourse has always been violent, as debates used to be settled with dueling; and (c) made herself the victim, using the unfortunate phrase "blood libel", comparing (most likely unwittingly) her plight to that of medieval Jews who were blamed falsely for murdering Christian babies. Way to go, you class act!

3) Again, there just seems to be no way to prevent this sort of thing. Politicians are always going to trade down personal security in favor of access to voters, and even under the strictest gun control regime we cannot keep a determined person from getting a firearm. Can we pass some law preventing anyone from bringing a gun within 1000 feet of a federal official? Sure, but absent searching everyone who wants to get near their representative, this isn't going to do much.

4) This also illustrates how helpless we are in dealing with the mentally ill. Loughner had displayed a lot of signs over the years, though it seems the behavior only really looks that bad in retrospect. An antisocial person who rants on the Internet and has strained friendships, can't hold a job, unnerves others? Hell, that's half of society. Haven't you seen teenagers these days? Even when we're clear that someone has a problem there's no easy treatment. Had it not been for this incident, it's entirely possibly this guy would have just suffered along unnoticed.

Chain Restaurants That We Need

My neighborhood--Southwest quadrant of D.C.--sorely lacks restaurants, though that is likely to change in the coming years with redevelopments and opening retail space. Inevitably, some chain restaurants will try to open there, and this will likely cause acrimony in the community.

One thing on which I differ from a number of my friends is the fact that I don't have an aversion to chain restaurants--some chains are successful for a reason. Sure, some just plan suck like Taco Bell--how can they screw up something so simple as Mexican?--but there are a few that I wouldn't mind seeing open in my neighborhood:

1) Silver Diner. They have a pretty broad menu, late hours, and can satisfy the need for blunch.

2) Ruby Tuesday--their fries are the best of any sit-down chain restaurant. Plus the burgers are pretty good.

3) Red Lobster--I get a lot of crap for this one, but their cheesy bread is delicious and no I don't want to know what their calorie count is. Sure, it's not great seafood--but it's servicable!

4) Cracker Barrel. They generally put together a solid breakfast--it may not be authentic southern fried (or maybe it is? I'm not a real southerner) but their chicken fried steak is solid.

5) Steak n' Shake. Why oh why don't we have one in D.C.?

6) Cosi. It's a sign that your neighborhood is hip when they put in a Cosi! It's like Starbucks but not awful.

7) Moby Dick. They do something with the rice that I am unable to replicate at home.

8) Sonny's BBQ. Okay, now I'm starting to think that a chain restaurant in our neighborhood is going to give me a heart attack.

9) Stuckeys. My arteries are clogging just thinking about this....

10) Longhorn Steakhouse. Damn doctors and their scolding....

11) Cheeburger Cheeburger. Is it normal to sweat when you eat?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A No Pants Day Occurred

I have long been a crusader against the tyranny of pants, what with their constrictiveness and discomfort during hot summery months. To my surprise, I learn that in many urban centers (D.C. included) there's a "No Pants Day" where thousands of what appear to be hipsters young and old all decide to ride subways and metros without wearing pants. Now, I'll be the first to applaud striking a blow against our pant oppressors, but it seems they decided last weekend was the time to do so, despite below-freezing temperatures. This was likely to draw more attention to the lack of pant-wearing (during a time when everyone's legs are covered, except for Russian au pairs who seem impervious to cold).

Now, I don't know the first thing about the motives behind the No Pants folks that organize this--from the photos it looks like they're making a lot of effort to not pose but instead appear as though there's nothing different about them. Perhaps it's a hipster irony thing, maybe they're trying to symbolize the violence in the Congo, maybe they're trying to draw attention to threatened budget cuts for public transportation. In any event, a few things are clear:

1) Men really shouldn't wear tighty whities.

2) It takes a certain amount of daring or unselfawareness (yes that's a word) to display pasty white legs with stretch marks. More power to them!

3) Considering the various things that happen on subway seats, it's probably a good idea to bring your own sitting mat when you ride in your underwear.

In any case, kudos to these hipsters for bringing attention to the need to fight against pants!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More Info on the Tucson Shooter

Now that info has been pouring out about Jared Loughner, the gunman who (allegedly???) shot up a crowd at a political meet-n'-greet in Tucson Arizona last weekend, it's becoming clear that this guy doesn't fit into any simple political niche. Despite what commenters on the left have argued, this guy likely wasn't spurred to do what he did by right wing rhetoric and bombast (though as I noted yesterday, it's still in poor taste to draw targets on your political opponents and refer to them the same way we do for truly evil folks). Loughner's background seems to be that of a mentally disturbed individual whose strongest justification for trying to kill a politician is the politician's "assault on language". The crazy runs deep with this guy.

Still, there's a natural tendency after every awful event to take some sort of action to prevent it from ever happening again. After 9/11, we've entered two far-flung wars and instituted security measures ranging from "this might actually prevent something" to "this is bone-chillingly stupid" (see, the ban on shampoo above a certain size). This, despite the fact that due to 9/11 no one will ever be able to hijack a plane again without being stomped to death by the passengers. Here, we've seen three types of reactions:

1) We should pressure political pundits to tone down their bombastic speeches. As I said, it's poor taste to talk of "war" against your "enemies" when your enemies are Democrats/Republicans and the "war" is over tax rates. This is also stupid. But it's a stretch to argue that that sort of talk is what causes random nuts to do this sort of thing. If we have to worry that the latest stupidity from Sarah Palin is going to make someone literally go murderous, then for that sort of "easily touched off" person we'd have to be careful of pretty much anything. Even a statement such as "Senator Doe's policies are bad for America" would then be the "dog whistle" necessary for the next Loughner to go shooting.

2) We should have more bans on handguns. Now, some added safeguards--background checks, psychological evaluations--might have been able to prevent Loughner from getting armed. But at the end of the day, I have a hard time believing that a determined person who has no problem committing murder would be unable to get a weapon somehow. At the same time, the argument that more guns in the hands of bystanders would have prevented this by letting them shoot him immediately is also far fetched. If anything, a bunch of citizens whipping out their hand cannons in that crowd would likely have put the death toll up a lot more. The "handgun as self defense for law abiding citizens" argument works in many scenarios, this really isn't one of them.

While having a ready solution--"of course this could have been prevented if we'd just done this!"--can make us feel better or at least more in control, this seems to be one of those cases where something awful happened and we can't make sense of it.

January--the Lousiest Month

There is hardly a less depressing time than the middle of January. We're in the dead of winter, when very little of the day has sunlight, and storms and threatened storms make any form of commute hazardous. No festive holidays are on the horizon until Easter (which I prefer to call "Poor Man's Xmas"), and no one has taken me up on my suggestion to make Martin Luther King Day a festive, joyous occasion for mirth and good food and decorations in the streets. On top of it all, everyone seems to be suffering colds.

Also, my friend's dad is going in for cancer surgery--though the surgery should be successful, this is hardly something to look forward to. Here's hoping all goes well! But yeah, January sucks.

Too cold, dark, long (31 days! Eek!), surgery, colds, no holidays. A good time to hibernate. Yep, the bears have the right idea.

Here's hoping for February! Ugh, I can't believe I'm looking forward to February.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Maybe The Target List Wasn't Such a Great Idea

In the wake of Saturday's shooting spree in Arizona that put Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition, blame has now been shifted towards inflammatory political pundits who are being accused of whipping up the masses into a frenzy. While no one seriously thinks that the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are literally suggesting a wave of assassinations to punish politicians who, say, voted for Obama's health care mess, the accusation is that such rhetoric can have an unintended but easily predictable effect on unstable nutjobs like Saturday's gunman.

(An aside--I love when news reports refer to the "alleged gunman". I mean, they caught him in the act. Is he somehow going to prove that he wasn't a gunman? That what he was really carrying on him was a novelty lighter, and the bullets were coming from somewhere else?)

No one can really prove that it was talk-show diatribes that made an unstable person decide to go shooting, rather than simply his mental illness. The shooter supposedly is all over the map politically, influenced by Marx as well as Hitler and from some reports may be schizophrenic. But let's grant for a minute the Palin-ite argument that she obviously never meant for this shooting to happen and clearly no one should have interpreted her statements to encourage this. Even still--shouldn't a person with a bit of sense at least understand that it's in very poor taste to publish photos of targets aimed at your political opponents, and saying things like "don't retreat, reload" when talking about domestic politics?

At a certain point we should tone it down, not because the law requires it and not because anything you say can be interpreted by a nutjob to be a literal call to arms. But instead, simply because we're talking about things like taxes, spending, regulations and subsidies--nothing of a nature that justifies dehumanizing our political opponents. It was wrong for Obama to refer to Republicans as "enemies" rather than opponents--not because they're wonderful people that he should love but because enemies are people you shoot and bomb while opponents are people you try to beat at the ballot box. And the only true Hitler has been for 65 years. It's just bad taste to act as though Democrats and Republicans in power are evil and worthy of assassination. There are plenty of genuinely evil thugs in the world (cough, cough, Chavez, Mugabe) if you really need to aim your vitriol at someone.

Of course, it's nice to see the Palin-ites try and downplay her earlier violent rhetoric. In one exchange, a supporter even argues that the "targets" on her "target list" of Congressman to beat were not "targets" at all, but "surveyors symbols". That's some top notch political spin, there. Obama must be praying that this joker somehow gets the GOP nomination.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Taxes Taxes Taxes....

Whenever I stop and think about taxes, I get all ragey and full of furious anger. Not that I'm overtaxed, mind you--in total percentage amount it's not that bad compared to what people in other countries or higher income brackets pay--but why on earth should taxes be so damn complicated? This article just got my blood boiling to 11.

See, the tax code is hideously complicated for one simple reason--Congress is run by vile, corrupt morons who can't be trusted to construct a doghouse let alone write laws. And yet, year after year the torch wielding mobs have yet to form. See, the tax code has to be complicated because there are thousands of interest groups that each want to get some goodie, so certain credits, deductions and alternative schedules are necessary to please the various pigs at the trough. And the politics--consider, the tax code is yet another tool by which Congress can try and control society. It's not enough that they target spending to meet all their pet projects' needs--and it's not enough that they've regulated the hell out of everything. (Reagan I think was the one who said that from government's perspective, "If if moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.")

So the thousands of pages in the code and the hundreds of annual "tweaks" to it are really just due to some jerkwad morons trying to control everything and get more campaign support. And this is why it doesn't matter which party is in charge, they just keep at it.

In a world with decent members of Congress, they would take office and things would go like this:

Day One: We're scrapping the Income Tax Code completely. Toss it in the fire with Joe Biden's bad hairpiece. Sorry Joe.

Day Two: We're starting fresh with a simple code from scratch.

Day Three: Oh, special interests want to add stuff? Forget it, pal!

Sadly, we're just going to have to be content with more of this crap.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Things I Learned from "Black Belt Jones"

Having seen the 1974 Blaxsploitation classic "Black Belt Jones" with Jim Kelly (the tall, afro-ed black guy from "Enter the Dragon") and Gloria Hendry (the James Bond girl from "Live and Let Die" who wasn't Jane Seymour) I learned a lot about that era and what film could tell us about life.

1) Apparently, it's perfectly normal for a top government agent who is "the best" and happens to be over 6 feet tall to drive around in an AMC Gremlin.

2) It's also perfectly acceptable for a movie heroine to repeatedly make anti-gay slurs in challenging the manhood of the hero.

3) Any Italians you ever meet are going to be gangsters. Even if the actors playing them look about as Italian as a Pizza Hut.

4) The Mafia regularly guards its headquarters with completely unarmed men who aren't any good at fighting. Fortunately, the bad guys never try to use guns, and stick to the tried and true "attack him one man at a time" approach.

5) If you're a gangster, you can kill every government agent sent to investigate you because you are friends with some crooked politicians. But if you kill an old lecher who runs a Karate Studio and is played by the black guy from "The Shining", you're going to be inviting a world of hurt.

6) If these mobsters were so connected, what was the point of capturing and bringing them to the police at the end? Especially when this involved bringing absolutely no evidence of a crime with you??? Did no one ask the director about this when they filmed it????

7) Apparently when someone says "we have you surrounded" that really means they're sitting in a car on the side of the road near your house. Don't worry, you can just get in your own car and drive right past them like Black Belt Jones did.

8) You can apparently take multiple hard blows to the groin and still pop up to fight a few seconds later. Kids, don't try that at home!

9) If the last six guys who (one at a time) tried to fight Black Belt Jones and he beat the hell out of them, go ahead and be the seventh guy, you might get a lucky punch in. Or not.

10) Getting kicked or smacked will make a sound like a paddle smashing into plywood.

11) Everyone was pretty damn ugly in 1974. No wonder Nixon resigned. Who'd want to be president of an ugly country?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tea Pain

As a regular reader of Christopher Hitchens, I noticed this week's column took a departure from his usual criticisms of international dictators and those that enable them (cough, cough, Henry Kissinger) to write a screed about lousy tea habits. As a tea enthusiast myself, I had to agree with a number of the Englishman's points.

First off, tea rules. When the British first started importing it from their Asian outposts (perhaps filling the ships for the return journeys after sending over India Pale Ale), it must have come as a welcome relief to have something tasty to counterbalance the bland cooking of the British Isles. Tea of course became big business, and the taxes imposed on it were a key cause of the American break with the mother country and the subsequent rise in popularity of coffee here. Which is sort of a shame, because while coffee has its moments, tea is both better for you and better tasting. Just contrast the responses in two scenarios:

Jolly English Chap: Hey, good sir, we're out of tea. Pity.

Rough American Dude: We're out of coffee??? This isn't good for my rage issues....

Second, Hitchens is completely right about the fact that the hot water must be poured on the teabag (or better yet, unbagged tea), rather than the bag dipped in the cooling water. Gotta unlock the flavor, folks! Though his discussion of milk or cream in the tea is lost on me, since I'm a purist on that front. No dairy in the tea for this guy!

I guess the one paragraph that was left out of his article was the part about how if you go to a restaurant and they provide you bad iced tea rather than the fresh brewed kind you're supposed to beat them over the head with your placemat.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Joys of Averageness

Whoever first said "nothing ventured, nothing gained" was clearly unaware of the concept of inherited wealth. Most of us get a bit jealous when we read of people born into money, since of course life would be a lot easier starting out from a top rung. And the jealousy turns to pure contempt when we see the inheritors are lowlife sacks of crap who waste their opportunities and act like entitled monsters destroying everything in their slovenly paths (see, the Hiltons, the Kennedys). But this has more to do with how such people go about in the world rather than simply the fact that they were born into wealth. There are just as many examples of people born to rich pedigrees who have taken advantage of those opportunities to go much further--Winston Churchill, J.P. Morgan, Batman--and give us the idea of someone standing on the shoulders of a giant to reach just a bit further.

As for the jealousy though--is it really warranted? Sure, the wealthy have a much better life than the poor--not having to worry about how to pay for your kids' health care or having to stretch your food budget to incorporate Spam is definitely better--but beyond a certain comfort level it's hardly clear that the rich are happier than the average. Having money will make one used to a standard of living that no longer feels special, and yet forced to worry a lot more about maintaining that standard of living which can be more precarious for the wealthy. While it seems hard to imagine someone getting upset that they have to trade in their Bentley for a used Honda, try to imagine that for most of us that's like trading in a mattress for some bags of rolled up newspapers. I'm not suggested we regular folk cry for the wealthy--but this may explain why they're not necessarily as happy as we think they ought to be.

So what is this happy medium between anxiety-producing wealth and anxiety-producing poverty? About $75 K.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Good and Evil

There is an old expression that goes: "evil is what happens when good men do nothing." This is utter hogwash--when good men do nothing, what we end up with is a typical Sunday on the couch. Sloth, my friends, is what happens when good men do nothing! Evil requires some evil guy doing something. Something evil.

Now, good men doing nothing sure makes it easier for evil to happen. But then there's the question as to whether you're still good if you did nothing while knowing that evil was happening. Sitting idly by while Hitler massacred Jews and other innocent folks during WWII was one of the things that made FDR and Churchill less good--not to mention doing nothing while Stalin did his share of evil before, during and after the war. So maybe it's more correct to say that evil requires some evil guy doing something evil, and weak guys letting it happen.

So where are the good guys in this? Well, if you're good, and evil happens, it's either because you don't know evil is happening, or you are good but powerless. So the new equation goes as follows:

Evil = Evil guy doing evil stuff + weak guys doing nothing + (good guys + ignorance or good guys + powerlessness)

Of course, George Orwell probably wouldn't want to try and fit that on a poster.