Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things to be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

1) I'll be thankful if I make it to NY and back in one piece considering the high volume of dangerously stupid drivers on the NJ Turnpike.

2) I'll be thankful to not be a member of the military, forced to consider pay and benefit cuts because Congress seems pretty much agreed that neither taxpayers nor the heavily subsidized elderly should have to make any sacrifice whatsoever to pay for our massive deficits.

3) I'll be thankful not to be among the thousands of Americans convinced that sleeping over in public parks is somehow going to fix this nation's problems, since the squalor conditions in those tent cities are only going to get worse as the weather gets colder.

4) I'll be thankful to still have a job and healthy fambly.

5) I'll be thankful that everyone in attendance is too jaded to have heated political arguments, since political debate these days makes me yearn for the sober reasoning of the monkey cage at the zoo.

6) I'll be thankful that my parents haven't yet discovered the greatness of deep-fried turkey, since if they had we'd have ballooned up a long time ago.

7) I'll be thankful that I have no driving to do after dinner on Thanksgiving, since I'll likely be passed out ten minutes after dessert.

Friday, November 18, 2011

They Called Me Satan

Picture it--you're Russ Tamblyn, one of the two leads in the Oscar-winning and wildly popular 1961 film "West Side Story", and the world's your oyster. Things can only go up from there, and the 1960s would surely go on to be known as the "Russ Tamblyn Era". So where do you end up by 1969?

My friends, I bring you: "Satan's Sadists". This film stars Tamblyn as "Anchor", the leader of the "Satans", and if that doesn't scare you enough, then you're made of stone or something. The Satans are a feared biker gang, though they come across a bit hippie. The opening theme tune says it all:

"I was born mean, since I was three, they called me Satan...."

Now, in fairness, most three-year olds are quite the rapscallions. Satans, though? A bit harsh!

Anyway, the Satans terrorize a diner in the middle of the desert, taking hostages of an old couple, the diner owner, and a counter-girl who had a choice between spending her money on acting lessons or go-go boots and I think we can tell which choice she made. Oh, and one more hostage--a Marine back from 'NAM!!!

Anchor and his Satans prove their cruelty by letting the female member of their gang dance on the diner tables and ordering a dozen coffees. This causes trouble in predictable ways, and after much unpleasantness the Satans execute everyone except the Marine and the counter girl.

Unfortunately for these thugs, the Marine was trained in many things in Vietnam, such as surviving in Vietnam's vast deserts and killing a man by drowning his head in a toilet bowl. (The imdb page indicates this is the first film to show death by toilet bowl). A chase in the desert ensues, much killing is to be had (including tossing a rattlesnake onto someone), and there you have it. The 1960s officially ended with "Satan's Sadists".

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Thing With Two Heads! A Scientific Journey

Last night's film was "The Thing With Two Heads", the title which pretty much describes the plot. The film answered the question many of us have asked--what happens when the heads of a former NFL star and an acclaimed Oscar winner are grafted onto the same body? The answer, of course, is top notch hijinks.

Ray Milland stars as a bigoted but brilliant scientist who has created advances in the field of sticking extra heads on the bodies of primates. I wish I were making this up, because seeing that written out makes me realize just how complete nonsense this movie was. (Yes, it was an "American International Pictures" release, how did you know?) Milland is also dying, and so he arranges for the state of California to donate a death row inmate so that they can graft his (Milland's) head onto the inmate's body, then once the head is fully supportable on the body, the inmate's original head can be sawed off. Presto, new body for the scientist!

Well, imagine this bigoted scientist's shock when he realizes that his flunkies secured not a white inmate but a black death row inmate for the grafting! Yes, former NFL star Rosey Grier plays the hapless inmate who will now have to share his body with the head of an old white bigot. The two escape, go on a nonsensical chase involving motorcycles, and ultimately find Grier's girlfriend so she can help prove his innocence of the charges he was put on death row for. Milland, of course, just hates black people and wants to saw off Grier's head.

But in the end, the two have learned to overcome their differences, Milland learns that blacks are people too, and he grows as a person. No, wait, he pretty much stays bigoted and Grier manages to remove Milland's head and leave it in a bucket of ice, making clear to Milland and the audience that black people will just up and leave you for dead if it benefits them. This is a terrible lesson for audiences, even in 1972!

Amazingly, "Frogs" wasn't the stupidest film that Ray Milland was in that year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State Morons

Now, football is a great sport, probably the one I enjoy watching more than any other (baseball too slow, hockey too fast, basketball too repetitive). And at the school level, I can certainly understand the pride in having your students best another school's students in the sport (certainly helps when your recognize your classmates and have friends on the team).

It gets a little murkier in college, though--the players are a special elite, carefully recruited and coddled, given free rides and separated from the rest of us (unless your school has a weak program, in which case they are more likely to treat the players like regular students). It's less clear as to why the rank and file students at such schools get excited for the team that is basically sponsored by them--at least when "Joe's Pizza" sponsors a Little League team the players have to go eat the pizza their sponsor provides after the game (and maybe sneak a bit of beer as well--oops!). Why go nuts because you attend Altoona State, and Altoona State has a group of "students" who you never get to see and they go and win games? Simply because you get a discount on seeing those games, maybe?

So the confusion hits a level of disgust when we see the Penn State Football mess. Longtime and legendary coach Joe Paterno has been ousted as a result of his alleged coverup of a child sex scandal involving one of his former assistant coaches, as the school of course wants to be as far from this scandal as Rick Perry wants to be from a debate question. So after all this, the intelligent, thoughtful and well-bred students of Penn State did the natural thing--they expressed mournful shame and disappointment that their hero coach allowed and enabled such a foul occurrence by one of his assitant coaches, and applauded the school administration for handling this promptly.

Oh, wait no, they rioted because Paterno could do no wrong. Way to prove that all that education was wasted on you, dumbassses. (The extra "s" is for "sstupid". The second extra "s" was a typo).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Super Guide to Fine Dining

Now, you may have eaten out once or twice, but I eat out all the time. Oh, I'm not bragging--it's just a simple fact. When you're a slick wheeler-dealer like myself, you get used to reading quite a few restaurant menus in your day--and not just out of curiosity, either. Most of the time, it's to order food.

As an experienced restaurant patron, I've learned quite a bit that can be very useful when it comes to choosing whether to go ahead and eat something or to say "no thanks!" and order a Coke to go along with the sandwich you brought from home:

1) Don't bring a sandwich from home. There's nothing a restaurant frowns on more than you bringing your own food. Caveat--bringing your own booze is ok as long as your state doesn't have stupid Khmer Rouge-esque laws against bringing your own booze. (Yes I compared such restaurants to the Cambodian genocide. I feel a bit awful.)

2) If you do bring your own booze, it should really be a bottle of wine. Bringing your own case of National Bohemian, while it will bring you street cred, will certainly result in the wine waiter quitting his job on the spot. Same goes for plastic-bottle vodka.

3) Anything on the menu that says "reduction" as in "a raspberry reduction" will certainly result in a reduction to your net worth!

4) If the prices on the menu are in numbers without "$" signs or decimal points or fractions of dollars, it's going to be pricey. And if there are no prices at all, look out.

5) Any time you see "truffle oil" on the menu, here's what you need to decide--do you want to pay twice as much for something that you can't tell from ordinary grease?

6) If someone won't leave the table that you've reserved and the hostess obviously can't rudely tell them to GTFO, remember that you are not an employee of the restaurant and therefore you have free rein to start picking bits of leftover food off their plates. When they express astonishment at your effrontery, calmly say something like "oh, I'm so sorry! See I'm supposed to be dining at this table now, so I got a bit confused. Now saddle up and get out before I do something you won't want to witness with the centerpieces."

7) If the wait staff introduces themselves by name, whatever you do, don't use their name by trying to get their attention later. They don't actually expect anyone to get familiar.

8) If you're looking for the restroom and accidentally walk into the kitchen, don't stupidly admit that you couldn't follow the hostess' simple directions. Instead tell them you're from the Board of Health, and you are going to conduct a surprise inspection unless maybe they can convince you to sample some of their finer wines instead.

9) Make sure the restaurant actually has valet parking before you just start tossing your keys to any guy on the sidewalk in a windbreaker.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Protest Tips!

In the wake of the "Occupy Wall Street--Oakland Division" mess that's been going on this week, I have decided to offer all future protesters some useful tips in getting a good protest going:

1) No matter what your demands are, or how much effort you go through to control your rallies, they will get taken over by the insane/hateful/stupid. Because anyone who opposes you will know exactly who to interview for their news clips. When MSNBC covers a Tea Party rally, who are they going to get a quote from--the unemployed father of four who can't sell his house? Or the guy carrying the "Obama is Slavemaster!" sign?

2) If you're itching for a "fight" it's a good idea to remember that the police are well trained in crowd control and use some very uncomfortable tactics to deal with you. Pepper spray, tasers, and tear gas are not fun, and the standard for "resisting arrest" is pretty damn low. Not to mention the many jobs in your future that may do a criminal background check before hire.

3) If you're going to "occupy" any park in a northern city, springtime may be a good time to start. You catching hypothermia isn't going to make some Wall Street banker return their bonus. You may be giving jobs to lots of EMTs though.

4) If you're a white guy with dreadlocks, seriously stay home. You could have the most eloquent argument in favor of a complex plan to restructure education loan debt, but all anyone's going to see is a weirdo they'd never let get past their HR department.

5) Make sure you know your numbers. "99%" of this country happens to include a lot of millionaires, and a lot of the people responsible for the mess we're in. And surely some of the "1%", though wealthy, are part of the solution and not the problem. So why not better define what you're against?

6) Drum circles? Really? Are we going for the full Eric Cartman stereotype? At least the Tea Partiers didn't show up to rallies with their firearms . . . oh, right.

7) Anyone with a misspelled sign should be sent home with a copy of the dictionary. No exceptions.

8) Just a thought--show up in your nicest clothes--business attire. A teeming mass of people dressed very nicely would definitely stand out from the dime-a-dozen rallies that go on every damn weekend (at least in D.C.). And I note the last time well-dressed protesters marched in this country we got Civil Rights legislation.

9) And before anyone goes "b-b-but Vietnam war demonstrators dressed like crap!" I'll point out that Vietnam war demonstrators achieved Nixon's election. Enough said.

Fried Chicken Controversies

Racism is one of those strange things that becomes hard to define once it falls into gray areas. For example, a statement along the lines of "I don't trust Kosovars because they are a naturally shifty people" is a racist statement, but something like "I don't do business with Kosovars because culturally they are opposed to signing written documents" wouldn't be. (Whether that statement is true or not is more the issue). What I don't get, though, is this idea that associating certain racial or ethnic groups with certain foods is racist.

Enter the latest controversy--fried chicken joints using Barack Obama's name in their title. Al Sharpton cries "racism", which is about as serious as Jessica Alba crying out "terrible actress!" so let's ignore his involvement in this. Is there anything inherently racist about associating a famous black person with fried chicken?

Fact--fried chicken is a staple of Southern cooking (believed to be imported by Scottish immigrants). Fact--most black Americans descend from the slave culture in the South, likely adopting many culinary traits from that region. (It's no coincidence that soul food and southern cuisine are very similar) Fact--fried chicken happens to be delicious and while obviously unhealthy there is simply nothing pejorative about associating blacks with a popular way to prepare chicken.

Think about it--calling an Italian a "pasta eater" happens to be true, and there's nothing negative there. (We do love our pasta! But don't put catsup on it or I'll accuse you of being from the Midwest) Calling a Mexican a taco eater might be less true (I think more Americans eat tacos than actual Mexicans), but it's hard to find the negativity in claiming they like that tasty snack.

Can something be racist if there's no negativity involved?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

School Loans

They say the mind is a terrible thing, and I couldn't agree more--particularly when it results in massive student loans! Back in the old days when you could make a living as a cobbler (maker of shoes, rather than the delicious kind) you just had to apprentice out for a few years until you learned the trade enough to do it yourself. No debt required! But these days, it's normal for people to enter the working world already in as much as six figures worth of student loan debt. And these loans are, for the most part, not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

A new poll shows that 66% of people oppose forgiveness of student loans. Now, I'd have to consider myself part of the 66%--forgiveness of the loans would mean substantial costs to the U.S. Treasury, which already is trying to decide just how much heating oil our Social Security recipients should be able to live with and just how few cops can be on the street before muggings turn into full blown riots. Plus, these are not unexpected hardships--when you sign the loan documents you know full well you have to pay them back, and you chose to take the loan out anyway. This isn't the same as the guy taking out a loan to pay for his wife's uninsured cancer treatments--this is adults signing up to pay for what is frankly way overpriced tuition with the hope that the degree they're going to get will pay off much more over their lifetimes.

I do sympathize with these borrowers though--the conventional wisdom thrown around for decades (by government, school administrators, the previous generation of parents) was that a degree was going to be worth all the money, even if it meant massive loans. The fact that the unemployment rate for college-educated people is and has been a lot lower than that for the non-degreed also weighs heavily. And I remember from my own experience of graduating with massive loans the fear that unless I made enough money out of school I would be crippled by financial hardship. At certain levels the monthly loan payments are greater than your rent payments.

I was fortunate in finding well paying work after graduation, but that's obviously not going to be the case for everyone. And so obviously a lot of people are going to default, and the lenders (and federal government) are going to have to work through that one way or another. It doesn't help that the loan infrastructure only encourages schools to keep increasing tuition way beyond annual inflation, and still offer courseloads that make the graduates uncompetitive.

I fear this will get worse before it gets better.