Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pake Two: The Sequel

Those with functional memories may recall the recent posting on the topic of pake.

I am pleased to report that a pake was successfully constructed and consumed in our household over the holidays, and after initial skepticism, even the initial skeptics were won over. (The initial skeptics - you know who you are - are forgiven for their tendency to treat me like a dolt and tell me how to do everything, even though they had the exact same amount of pake experience I had going in - zero. I will concede that I left out the important step of placing a baking sheet under the pie tin, and received some needed support when there was a blossom of smoke in the kitchen - which turned out to be not the only smoke-filled house episode of the holidays so far, but that is perhaps another story for another time.) It should also be pointed out that my pake did not look anything like the photo I used in the initial post. That photo, according to one of the initial skeptics, was "gross."

So again with credit to the Amstrong and Getty radio show on KNEW-AM, here's the recipe, with a minor adjustment or two based on my now extensive experience:

Cranberry Pake (Pie+Cake)

Prepare your favorite pie crust to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Place in pan, flute edges, and leave unbaked.

Cranberry Layer:
3 cups fresh whole cranberries, rinsed and drained
½ cup sugar
½ cup chopped pecans (I might up this to a full cup next time)
Mix all ingredients and place in unbaked crust.

Cake Layer:
¾ cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Add flour and mix thoroughly. Dollop the mixture by spoonfuls over the cranberry layer and smooth the top with a spatula.

Place the pake on a baking sheet to catch drips while baking. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

So there you go. I am sure you will have as much enjoyment as I had saying "pake" over and over, to the point of fully annoying the initial skeptics. I will also invite you to engage liberally in the making of such rollicking puns as "that takes the pake!" and "let them eat pake" and "you can't have your pake and eat it, too" and "if I knew you were coming I'd a baked a pake" etc. Such hilarity! Stop it, my sides are splitting!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Present

Oh, the glorious anticipation of it all! Lying in bed knowing there was some kind of magic going on in the night, that when you woke in the morning there would be a passel of presents under the tree, that Santa would have made his visit. There was no doubt that the big day was at hand, since we went to bed having heard the local weatherman report that NORAD was tracking an object flying south from the North Pole!

I you were smart you would make sure mom and dad thought you still believed long after you didn't anymore. That would insure that the presents kept coming. Why mess up good thing? But eventually the gravy train would run out, and the littler kids were getting all the good stuff and no one knew what to buy for the awkward adolescent.

Before you know it, you've got kids of your own and you're re-creating old family traditions, or making new ones of your own. Nobody knows what NORAD is anymore, but you can live chat with Santa or text message the elves. The absolute necessity of rushing out of bed at the crack of dawn to see what Santa has delivered suddenly seems so absolutely unnecessary - but you suck it up and try to put a smile on your face even if you've only had 4 hours of sleep.

And then you blink and your kids are grown and have kids of their own, and it's Christmas Day again. Kids everywhere are tearing into miles of wrapping paper and parents are shooting miles of video. There a palpable feel of love and longing in the air. If you are lucky enough to hear a bird singing at sunrise and there's a bright blue sky and a houseful of family you start to think you've figured it out after all.

Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Being a 7 year-old Santa

Christmas is like Asian food - you can get sweet and sour in the same bite. And you stuff yourself with festivity, but find you are hungry for more just an hour later. And you get a choice of steamed or fried rice. I guess that doesn't apply to Christmas so much. Let's move on from the analogy.

Christmas of 1967 I was in the second grade at Stapleton School. I got a sweet and sour taste that year, all because of the Christmas production that was cooked up. It was a little play with Santa and elves and kids getting toys. There were some songs to be sung, and it was all your basic elementary school effort, to be performed for the parents. I was eager to be part of the chorus that would be featured in this masterwork - but one day the teacher called me aside and asked if I would play Santa Claus. I didn't feel like I could say no, and was devastated that I wouldn't be in the chorus. I cried and said to the teacher "You only want me to be Santa because I'm fat." And she said, "No! We want you to be Santa because you're fat AND you're a ham!" That might not be a verbatim quote, but it was something like that.

As it turned out, I discovered the depth of my ham-osity that year. A few days after I was cast in this critical role, she called me up to the front of the classroom while everyone was cutting and pasting on some crappy art project, and two teachers whipped out some white greasepaint and started experimenting on my face, seeing if they could draw on a mustache and bushy eyebrows. When they were tickled at the result, I was compelled to turn around and show it off to the whole class, and got a big laugh. My hambone grew three sizes that day.

So that's me in the photo. You can see that I was not only portly and jolly (but hell, there is some padding in there, I wasn't THAT fat) I also towered over my classmates, being an early bloomer and all.

The Christmas play was a big hit, and we toured through the Catskills, polished it in New Haven and opened on Broadway in the spring of 1968. Ha! Got you there! Just kidding, we didn't really go to Broadway! But I learned some important things that year:
  • People who are trim are never asked to play Santa. Deal with it.
  • You can neutralize the little rat elf who's trying to steal the scene with his cute dimples with some simple upstaging and stepping on his lines with a hearty ho ho ho.
  • Humiliating yourself in return for a laugh is a fair trade.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yuletide tales of days gone by

Christmas 1981 we were young and wild and crazy in love. We lived on the third floor of the Olivia Apartments on 4th and Moffet - classic old building with a tile lobby that made me feel like we were cosmopolitan. The meekest kid from my grade school lived down on the first floor. By now he had a long beard and a long coat and a drug habit. On the floor above us was a girl who had a bad reputation from high school. I don't know if she deserved it or not. I felt like I was becoming an adult, working a job and paying rent - a rent than ran $110 a month, because this was one of the nicer apartments in town. No problem, because I believe I was grossing more than $10k per annum - major moolah, in my mind, not too shabby. But that big money flowed through me like shit through a goose, always living with champagne taste on a beer budget, as Daddy would have said. No problem, because when we ran out of cash we'd just have popcorn for dinner a couple of nights. You don't need much when you're young and in love.

We bought as much Christmas tree as we could afford, but it looked squat under those high ceilings. I remember buying an ornament or two from an overpriced gift shop on Main Street (next door to the Closet, the Attic and the Dud's Shop, for those who know their Joplin geography) and we decorated our chunky tree. We added some strings of popcorn, since there was always some left over. All in all, we did a good job of making a sincere little Christmas in our sophisticated downtown world, playing at being adults. The highlight was opening gifts on Christmas morning, when the future Mrs. Blogger saw the delicate watch I had found for her delicate little wrist (from Newton's, 5th and Main) and she uttered the immortal line, "Oh, honey, a Bulova!" I knew I had scored. I think it cost $50 in 1981 - the equivalent today of $1,743,587.00 or something close to that.

I procrastinated on getting rid of the Christmas tree so long it became a running joke. Around the end of February it was so dry I snapped off the branches and just rolled them between my palms until they turned to dust. We left the trunk of the tree in the tree holder and used it to hang our car keys on. I think it stayed with us until we moved out in the summer of 1982.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pake: An Answer to All Our Prayers?

We interrupt the planned "Christmas memories" today for this late breaking news:

There's always so much bad news and negativosity these days, it's reassuring when you become aware of something exciting and new - in fact, it's inspiring to learn that the great American spirit of inventiveness lives on. I refer here to the culinary break through of the decade - pake.

Pake is a combination of pie + cake. (Artists' rendition of what a pake might look like at left. Pronounce it like "cake" not like Japanese rice wine.) Why did it take so long for someone to come up with this heavenly creation? This forever solves that perplexing question at potlucks and holiday family gatherings: "Which would you like, pie or cake?" My usual answer is "a little bit of both," which of course is a lie because I never want a "little bit," I want a boatload of both. If pake takes the world by storm as I expect, no longer will I need to humble myself.

I heard about pake from the morning show guys I listen to (Armstrong and Getty on KNEW-AM) and I have to admit I haven't eaten it yet, but I did drool all over the recipe as I read it, so I think it will be good. More later after a run through in test kitchens.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Seems like he hated it

Ahhh, Christmas memories.
  • Gingerbread houses, sugar-covered cookies, and an orange in the bottom of your stocking.
  • Ornaments made from macaroni, tinsel wrapped around the roller on the vacuum, and always some fricking walnuts in the bottom of my stocking.
  • Getting the toy you really wanted, getting a cheaper version of the toy you really wanted, not getting anything you really wanted.
  • Getting clothes, getting clothes that are butt ugly, getting clothes that don't fit.
Ah Christmas, sweet Christmas! Hope springs eternal!

Of all the thoughts that visit me like Marley's ghosts this time of year, one memory of Christmas stands out above them all - how my dad hated the whole thing.

Maybe there was a time when he was younger, before I was born, when he got some joy from the rituals. But by the time I was old enough to know what was going on he was in his late 40s and pretty fed up with all of it. It wasn't any of that cutesy Darrin McGavin in "Christmas Story" annoyance, or "damn these lights are tangled and this is all such a hassle" fussiness - it seemed to me more like an abiding hate-hate relationship with the whole holiday.

First you had the whole Christmas tree routine. Here you had a man who had planted 5 acres of pine trees on his property, mainly because I think he liked the way they looked out there in the woods, and he was supposed to go to the Thriftway and pay $10 for some pine tree from Oregon or someplace that was probably on a truck for three weeks and was a dried-out fire trap, and bring that thing right into the house and stand it up next to the wood stove. The logic of this activity was lost on a man who had a lifelong fear of fire - a fear that I believe originated in his childhood when he and his brothers caught a garage on fire. I don't think he was very old at that time, and it seems to have left a lasting impression. So while I reveled in the bliss of getting a Christmas tree, all he could see was the house going up in flames.

And then there was the whole gift giving component. Daddy was not a man who hesitated to give a gift, but like a lot of us I think he resented the proposition that there was a specific time when it was required. I know he had no use for the growing consumer culture, the buying of things that you really didn't need. I can't recall a time when he ever "went shopping" in the sense of the phrase as we use it today. His "shopping trips" were to May's for wine and whisky, to Carlson's for some work gloves. Somewhere he bought boots for work, and now and then some Bic fine-point pens, black ink, and as far as I can remember, very little else. (Later in life he did become a fairly avid consumer of second-hand golf clubs and "experienced" golf balls, no doubt making the rounds of rummage sales.) He was all about having just what you need, keeping it forever, getting the very last use out of it. Spending a lot of money on things that would be useless beyond a momentary thrill was a repugnant idea to him.

He was no Scrooge - he loved having the family together - but the kind of Christmas that everyone else was trying to have was a foreign concept to him. Maybe he had seen too much of the real world to invest in fantasy and sentimentality.

Hey kids, more sparkling Christmas memories coming up right here! Don't miss a single installment!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Botox burrito, anyone?

Reuters news 10/17/07 (Berlin)

Germany, Mexico and Austria were world's top three searchers of the word "Hitler" while "Nazi" scored the most hits in Chile, Australia and the United Kingdom, data from 2004 to the present retrievable on the "Google Trends" Web site showed.

Chile also came in first place searching for the word "gay", followed by Mexico and Colombia.

Our perpetual American self hate leads us to assume that we are the most screwed up people on the planet. But I nominate instead, Chile-ers! Chile-ites! People from Chile! The nation most likely to Google the words "Nazi" and "gay" - now that's whack. (Needing empirical proof, I Googled "Nazi gay" and my top hit led me to "Scott Lively is co-author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuals and the Nazi Party (Keizer, Oregon: Founders Publishing Company, 1995)." Do you think there are a lot of Chile-ites who are working on their Master's Thesis in Sociology?) (I also Googled "Nazi gay Chile" - nothing good there - so tried "Nazi gay green chile" - got some good recipes that way - then went to "gay hitler" which led to to the MySpace page of a guy? called Zombie Lesbian Cannibal Hitler where I retrieved the lovely illustration now enhancing this item. Ain't it a wonderful diverse, twisted, mocking, people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands world we live in?)

But perhaps I digress?

The central thought here is that one can gain a certain insight into the world simply by reviewing what words and terms have been searched for, whether by an individual or by a group. For example, this same Reuters new item tells us the USandA comes in highly ranked in searching for these words and terms:
  • Hangover (understandable)
  • Burrito (greater knowledge a necessity)
  • Iraq (still trying to figure out where it is)
  • Love (ah, ain't that sweet?)
  • Tom Cruise (he'd make a great gay Hitler)
  • Botox (makes sense)
  • Car bomb (now I'm nervous)
  • Marijuana ("Dude, let's get ripped and Google some weed!")
Who are the people most likely to Google "David Beckham"? Venezuelans
Who are the people most likely to Google "Britney Spears"? Mexicans
Who are the people most likely to Google "Viagra"? Italians (people who apparently don't have their Viagra needs covered by email spam already - or maybe "Viagra" is the name of some popular Italian resort town.)

What does it all mean? When I Googled that phrase, I got this site with this wisdom:
    What does it all mean?It is now the summer of my freshman year at university. In other words, I will be a sophomore in the fall of 2000. After two semester's worth of classes, I'm filled with more questions than when I began paying out thousands of dollars a year to continue my education. ..
    In searching over the web, one finds people displaying information that is questionable in verification, information that has been stolen and reproduced, and generally a lot of idiots vying for the attention of other idiots looking to replicate and reproduce what they find, wether (sic) what they find is true or not. I'm attempting not to do that. You're welcome.

So what does your search history say about you?

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    The Holiday Slowdown

    It's a form of "mission creep" I suppose. (Mission creep is "the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes." Thank you, Mr. Wikipedia.) I'm talking about the Holiday Slowdown here. The initial success a few years back was the adoption of the day after Thanksgiving as a standard holiday, and the general agreement that the day before or the day after Christmas should also be time off work. So now most people don't work on these days. That's all good, but the mission creep began when people started saying "Oh, since I'm already off two days of that week I'll just take the rest of that week off, too." And that was followed by "Nobody else is working those days between Christmas and New Years Day so I'm taking that week off." All of a sudden we went from having a day off in November and a day off in December, to a five-week period when there aren't enough people on the the job for the rest of the people who are working to get anything done. So you find yourself looking at some project on November 15th and saying "I'll just wait until January to start on that."

    Now don't get me wrong - I am a big fan of time off work. I like my job, but that doesn't mean I want to go to work. And I will contribute to the Holiday Slowdown this year by taking off all those unproductive days around Christmas and New Years. Oh boy, am I looking forward to it. Glorious free time! Crossword puzzles! Trimming of toenails! The Jerry Springer Show!

    And besides, we Americans still work too much anyway. In Europe (I love it when people make comparisons to the lifestyle in Europe as if they'd really prefer to live there, when in reality we'd all go nuts from the tiny little apartments and the tiny little cars and the overpowering waves of body odor in the air) everybody has 41 weeks of vacation per year. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Then again, what do Europeans really have to do? Regardless of their positions of employment, their main task is to sit around cafes and mope, start new fashion trends that fat Americans can't wear, and foster a mood of general disdain. That's not easy going, and you need a lot of time off to recuperate from the stress of it all. On the other hand, in Japan they work even more than we do, and look what it's gotten them? Manga, bad haircuts, and enthusiastically bad karaoke. Wow.

    I think the worst part of the big Holiday slowdown for me is how the news dries up. Since so much of what we get in the news is generated by government, and so much of the government takes part in (you could say, causes) the slowdown, you don't get a lot of news this time of year. And when there's less news there's less crazy stuff to read about, and less chance of getting a good laugh at someone else's expense. For example, the only funny thing I've heard all week is that George Bush is going to lead the conference on peace in the Middle East. As Sally from Peanuts might have replied, HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!

    So the trade off for the slowdown and the time off work is all the time you are supposed to spend writing Christmas cards and putting up lights and making peanut brittle and fashioning nativity scenes out of dryer lint. I'm making a list of all those holiday things I need to do, and I'll get started on it right after the first of the year. So if you don't get a card from me, you'll know I'm watching Jerry Springer.

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    Black Friday, Cyber Monday, No Specific Name Tuesday


    That's how many hits you get when you Google "black Friday."

    I am a little agog at how this Black Friday insanity has taken root. We all know that the day after Thanksgiving has been big for shopping for many years. I remember the first Cabbage Patch doll riot, back in the early 80s - I think that happened on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But I don't think it had this name Black Friday until recently. (It refers to the idea that this the day when retailers go into the black. Imagine that, you have to go 47 weeks into the year to get to profitability? Remind me not to buy stock in a company like that.) And so once it had a name, it's become another American holidays, with ritual observances and the required pressure, tension, frustration, and exhaustion that make our holidays the treasured occasions that they are.

    Let's get real here, people. You're getting up at 3am so you can stand in line to buy some crap that will still be on the shelves the next day. OK, granted you will pay a few dollars more if you wait another day, but think about it. You couldn't get that many people out of bed at 3am for the second coming of Christ, for Christ's sake! 3am is a time that people who have 2 hour commutes get out of bed, and we know these people who have 2 hour commutes are certifiably insane. It's just daffy. Mass insanity.

    Lo and behold, once Black Friday got a name we needed other days to have names, so now there's Cyber Monday - the supposed big online shopping day. This is followed by Buyer's Remorse Tuesday, Over Your Credit Limit Wednesday, and We've Run Out of Names So It's Just Regular Thursday.

    The inevitable result of this Black Friday madness is that eventually we will have to top it somehow. Already the game is on:
    Bentonville-based Wal-Mart decided it wasn't going to settle for Black Friday alone or even wait until Cyber Monday, getting the jump with a slew of special online deals on Thanksgiving Day. Among the specially-priced items featured at on Thanksgiving were...
    Won't be long before Thanksgiving itself will become a day for shopping, and people will start having their turkey dinners on Wednesday evening to get ahead of the curve. Then some smarty pants will start pushing the start of the shopping frenzy back to the weekend before Thanksgiving, then Halloween, then Labor Day, and in a few years we'll all be getting up a 3am on the Fifth of July to get half-off on "The Best of Garth Brooks" CDs and George Foreman grills.

    I will continue to do my part as a rabid American consumer to keep our economy afloat, but when it comes to getting out of bed in the dark to stand in a line, you're asking too much. Unless there's a good price break on Tickle Me Elmo - then we can talk.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Appropos of nothing

    This is really random, but I ran across this most amazing photo while wasting my life on the internet. Look closely.

    You can get the story behind this here from Snopes. The description makes the photo even more amazing. Then you should go here to the Carl Hammer Gallery and see another 20 or so like this. Colossal. Astonishing. A real honest "wow."

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Dogs and pastries molested - details inside

    "It's a terrible thing to waste a mind," said our President once, in an attempt to relate the line from that notable ad for the United Negro (yes, that's their word) College Fund.

    (Or was it Dan Quayle who said that? Yes, it was Dan Quayle, and the exact quote was

    What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

    Whatever happened to Dan Quayle? Wait, I realize I don't care.)

    I was using my mind a little yesterday, happily multitasking, and out of the blue the phrase "screw the pooch" popped in. There was no context, no conversation, no reason - just a curious phrase come a'visiting. I treasure these little ADD moments when I am engaged in something "serious" but gleefully follow the mental pied piper as he passes by. So off I went, in pursuit of the origins and true meaning of "screw the pooch."

    As is the case with so many of our most vigorous and useful phrases, "screw the pooch" appears to have originated with the military. Sources say the original remark was "f***ing the dog," and was related to the perpetual "hurry up and wait" of military life - a lot of people standing around, waiting for orders, so you might as well - um...have sex with an animal? OK, it's colorful and descriptive, but perhaps not grounded in reality.

    Nevertheless, the original phrase got sanitized and became "screw the pooch," but it is less clear how the meaning shifted from "having nothing to do" to "doing something badly," which is the current meaning of "screw the pooch." See if you can work it into conversation today.

    Meanwhile, I took a moment to ponder another crafty expression that's always a crowd pleaser - "take a flying f*** at a rolling donut." Sadly, there are not many moments in life when you can successfully whip this one from your quiver of barbs, and that's too bad, because it so thoroughly pierces the recipient while making everyone else laugh. I think Kurt Vonnegut did a lot to popularize the phrase when he used it in his book Slapstick, but I still don't hear it nearly often enough. So it goes.

    So what have we learned today? Our beautiful American English is a fertile field sprouting nutritious and delicious turns of phrase. Have some, they're good for you.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Flab, Schmab - We Can Still Be Number One!

    By Kimi Yoshino, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    November 9, 2007
    The annoyingly catchy song at Disneyland's "It's a Small World" attraction reminds riders that "the oceans are wide."
    Whether they're deep enough is another story.

    Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park,Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift -- and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.
    Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots...
    Perhaps in an effort to protect visitors' egos, the park insists that fat tourists aren't to blame.
    The boats get stuck because "layers and layers" of fiberglass have built up where maintenance teams have patched and re-patched problem areas, said Disneyland Resort spokesman Bob Tucker. (Whole story here.)

    Oh yeah. that's why my pants are so tight, too - layers and layers of fiberglass have built up around my waist.

    The truth is, it's NOT a small world after all, it's a big fat world, a rollicking, roly-poly world populated by walking tubs of lard, two hundred pounds of blubber in a hundred pound sack, a world of the "big boned" and those with a "large frame." It's a world where we sneakily widen the seats in movie theaters and apply a sort of grade inflation to clothing so a woman who used to wear a size six can still wear a size six 25 pounds later. We are simultaneously bombarded with stories about how ungodly fat we are, and actively taking measures to maintain denial. We consume Jumbo Jacks and Oreo Blizzards in between calls to Jenny Craig. We watch competitive eating on ESPN. We have a prime time TV show about obese people losing weight. No, my friends, it is not a small world after all.

    So considering how hard it is to lose all this extra baggage (and trust me, I know - I tried to lose weight for several hours yesterday, between breakfast and lunch, and it doesn't seem to have worked) I offer an alternative plan.

    All I read and hear these days is how China is about to break through and become the dominant super power in the world, how they have all these factories and are consuming all the resources. I think we can stave them off by out-eating them. Look, even scrawny child laborers need some kind of sustenance, right? I say if we Americans stop holding back and just consume the way we want to, we can eat the rug right out from under them. We'll be packing away all the world's calories and they won't have the energy to get up off their mats and bike to work. Sort of a colossal scorched earth policy, but maybe we call it the scrumptious earth policy instead. We eat them into submission. I don't know about you, but I'm sure that in one meal, I can eat all the calories that a 10-year old Chinese girl consumes in a week. In fact, I think I did that yesterday. Maybe three or four times.

    So here we go, America, it's time to change the future. Go to the closet and get your fat pants and then go to the fridge and get to work. I know we can do it if we all chew together.

    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Don't be hating on yourself, broseph

    The pigeon is one of the lowliest of creatures. I think it was the great Herb Caen who first called them "rats with wings." Rats themselves are pretty despicable. And not being much of an animal guy, I can think of lots of other critters that gross me out - frogs get no love from me, and if I never see another possum that will be fine.

    No matter what I think about these beasts, it doesn't seem to bother them to be what they are. You don't notice any pigeons being annoyed by all the other freaking pigeons swarming around. You don't see rats going off about how crowded the rat den has become. They just climb all over each other and keep doing whatever rats do. So what is it with is home sapiens that makes us hate on our own species so much?

    I pondered this issue at a meeting last night where people were up in arms because some more houses are going to be built in their neighborhood. If there's one thing we can generally agree on here in Northern California, it's that we definitely have way too many houses in our own neighborhoods as it is. Whether we live on a street with three houses or 300, it's way too many. We can just barely tolerate the existing neighbors we have, let alone adding any more. What's that? My subdivision was only built 10 years ago? And if the neighbors had their way then, I wouldn't be living here? Hmmm.

    I've gotten used to hearing this anti-people argument but it always makes me shake my head. What is it about the presence of more people - our own kind, our own species - that we so despise? What makes us want to deny to someone else the simple joys we get from home and family? What is the root of this pervasive NIMBYism?

    Somehow it comes around to self-loathing - if I don't want to have more people like me around, doesn't that mean I don't want to be around myself? After all, if they build some new homes in your neighborhood chances are the people who move in will be a lot like you, and they will have the same wants and needs you have. So what if there are a few more people around? There is always some earlier time when there were less of us, fewer cars, less noise -would we turn back the clock if we could? Turn it back to before we were all born, to make the world a better place?

    If you see a bird building a nest, you might appreciate nature in action. But if you see a human building a house, it's time to get up a petition. Go figure.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    Blue Collar = Genuine and other perceptions

    I'm in a meeting the other day and this guy is describing a part of town as "a historically a blue-collar neighborhood." He went on to make remarks about the people who used to live in that part of town and used words like "genuine." His overall tone was that to be blue collar, which equates to working class, which equates to making less money, is somehow a more honest state of being than to be white collar. (I don't know what other kinds of collar descriptions should be accounted for in today's work world, since there is a lot of diversity these days. There must be more than just blue and white, right? Are there workers with collars of other colors? What about people who work from home in their bathrobes, are they robe collar workers? Are there people who only work in t-shirts who would be "no collar" workers? Dog collar? Shock collar? I need to do more research.)

    I've run into this type of thinking before, the "people who work with their hands are the honest, dependable people, they're sincere and authentic." They essentially say that blue collar work is pure and anything else is tainted. They glorify the factory man over the salary man.

    The inverse (or is it converse? Or Nike?) is that people who don't work with their hands are the opposite, i.e., white collar workers are dishonest, unreliable, phony - can't be trusted, always manipulating. It strikes me as funny that the same kind of people who show this blue collar bias would probably be offended if someone made broad generalizations about groups of people by gender, or race, or religion - but to generalize about people based on the kind of work they do is ok. Hmmm.

    Maybe it comes from the assumption that if you wear a suit, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, got it all handed to you, never had to work. Or maybe it comes from looking at the world through a lens where aspiring to something can't be trusted, "that guy who used to work down here with us, now he wants to work up there in the bosses' office, he gonna screw us over now."

    However you get to it, it makes me laugh when I hear people who probably have never really lived a blue collar life talk about how wonderful it is. I guess they think it would be just glorious to roll off to the plant every morning and do ten hours with sweat dripping off you, and get up again the next day and do it again, and again, and again, for years. And work all the overtime you can get because you need to, every chance you get. I'd bet these mushy-headed people who talk about what's "genuine" don't really know much about it. They are some kind of "artisans" who make decorative geegaws for people's garden fences, or coffee tables made from old barn wood, and they think of themselves as the "workers of the world" or something. They don't know that most people who have busted their asses in real blue collar jobs, in factories and shipyards and quarries, they want something different for their kids. They want them to get an education and not have to bust their asses.

    So the next time you hear somebody talking about the real authentic genuine people who do the blue collar jobs, check his fingernails and see if you think he knows what he's talking about.

    Friday, October 26, 2007

    That's it, you've gone too far

    So we live in a consumer society that is driven by advertising. I get it. I participate in it. I sometimes even enjoy the feeling that I just have to go out and buy whatever new thing is being pushed, even though I'm surely old enough to know I will just feel cheap and used in the morning. What if we all suddenly developed resistance to advertising and stopped buying stuff? We would bring a curse upon all our houses - stocks would tumble (that's what stocks always do, unless they're soaring or crashing) liquidity would become a big problem (even bigger that the problem with understanding what liquidity means) and in general, the economy would go down the toilet. Now I've never been down the toilet, but there have been a few occasions when I've been up close and personal with the toilet after a particularly enthusiastic party, and it doesn't look like something you want to go down. So let's just agree we all need to keep buying stuff all the time, forever and ever, amen.

    That said, there are moments when the advertising culture just takes it over the line. One of those moments came last night. I'm watching the World Series, and all of a sudden they're talking about how everybody in American gets a free taco next week because some guy just stole a base. They show it on the scoreboard and make this plug for a minute. Free Taco Bell taco. Whoop-dee-frickin-doo.

    During the next commercial break, I'm flipping around and we end up watching Jeopardy for awhile. I come back to the game later, and here they are again, going on about the stupid free taco. And they're showing a replay, and the free taco sign, and interviewing the idiot king of Taco Bell, who, of course, just coincidentally happens to sitting in a $1,000 seat close by. Three ridiculously long, drawn out, rhapsodic pieces on the lame ass 39 cent free taco. Let me remind you, your honor, that the defendant perpetrated this heinous act during the World Series! The Fall Classic, ladies and gentlemen! Is this the legacy our forefathers wished to be bestowed on their progeny? One of the great, revered moments in American sports, a World Series game, besmirched by goofballs running off at the mouth about a free taco? (And if they actually eat a few of those, it won't be only at the mouth where there will be running off.) I had to turn the game off after that, before Curt Schilling pulled a bean and cheese burrito out of his bloody sock or something.

    So Mr. Taco Bell Inc., I ask you, sir - have you no sense of decency?

    May he who came up with this idea, and he who let it happen in a World Series game, be visited by the e coli fairy soon.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Mouser's cramp crimps blogging

    I feel I owe an apology to the dozens of readers...well, tens.....OK, any individual who may read here accidentally, for being more than usually spare in my offerings. Taking note that the topic category for this post is "whining and complaining," here's why.

    After about six months of work, today we are scheduled to launch the new website I have been working on for the City of Napa. I say scheduled, because we have scheduled to launch several other times and had to abort. Today I think it will happen.

    A few months ago when it was in the news that I would be re-making the City's website, some wisenheimer wrote to the Napa Valley Register something to the effect of "any teenager with a MySpace can make a website." True in some sense, but most teenager's MySpaces don't have 300+pages and hundreds of documents, and most importantly, teenagers don't have to coordinate, coerce and cajole several dozen other people to provide, and then approve, the content on the site. (On the other hand, you can get teenagers to work for $12 an hour, so maybe I should have subbed the whole job out.)

    So beyond all that messy human interaction, I have been spending hour upon hour in a chair staring at a screen, mousing, mousing, mousing, click-and-drag, right click, copy, paste, correct the spelling, bold it, enter, enter, mousing, mousing, mousing - you get the idea. My mousing hand and arm are bulked up like Bonds, my inactive midsection out-Gores Al Gore, and if it turns out that this computer screen is emitting radiation, I am certain to come down with face cancer.

    Wish me luck. We're T-minus a few hours, and either the whole thing soars or blows up on the pad.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Stop the presses! Special Edition!

    I bought some newspapers this week. The SF Chronicle called to tell me my subscription had run out, and offered to renew it. $25 for 26 weeks, they said. I told them that sounded like more than I paid last time, and so they looked it up and sure enough, last subscription was $20 for 26 weeks but that was a "promotional" rate. So I asked if they had a promotional rate this week, and so they looked it up and said yes, and so I paid $15 for 26 weeks. A little more than 50 cents a week for the Wednesday through Sunday service, because apparently nothing you'd want to know about ever happens on Monday or Tuesday, or they can't find enough people in the Bay Area willing to work for a living to staff up and deliver all seven days.

    Lest you think I am now going to describe how I did my laundry or went grocery shopping, never fear, I have not become the world's most mundane blogger. (I'm still third most mundane.) There is an actual point here.

    Granted the Chronicle is not a particularly great newspaper, but what does it say when they are on the verge of paying me to take the thing off their hands? What is happening to our fourth estate when the price of the product is rapidly sliding and still they want to dicker? Reminds me of the joke for which the punchline is "We've determined what you are, now we're just negotiating the price." (If you don't know the setup that goes with that punchline, call 1-800-HARDYHARHAR and ask for Prince Albert. If he's not in, try Seymour Butts.)

    Granted also that the radio business has had a reputation for this same kind of loose morals around the value of the product. We used to speculate that some radio ad salesmen (this was before they became "account executives") would respond to their clients resistance to sign contracts by saying "Well, how many ads do you think you should get for $100?"

    The problem is, as much as I love my internet (Al Gore, you da man!) and get approximately 93.6% of my news there, for free, I still love newspapers. (OK, I don't love the Chronicle, but I still read it.) Even if all the stories in print are 20 hours old by the time I see it, and even if it's the most un-green thing in the world to use all that paper to print it and gasoline to drive it to my house, and even if there hasn't been a funny comic strip since Bloom County, and even if I can find more good stuff to buy in sixty seconds on Craigslist than an hour in the classifieds, and even if everything else in the paper is as predictable as the outcome of the Patriots-Dolphins game this weekend, I still want newspapers around. Not just news sites, but newspapers.

    So come on, traditional print journalism! Believe in yourself! Be all you can be! There are still old fashioned suckers out here who are counting on you as a comfort in our dotage. You are the meatloaf and mashed potatoes of daily news consumption, and the classics never go out of style.

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Hard drive ruptures, ones and zeroes all over the floor

    I think my computer is failing. It makes these weird noises lately, lots of clicking and a little screeching, which means either the hard drive is going or it has Tourette's. Although the sudden outbursts of foul language usually come from me, so it's probably the hard drive.

    I always get a little panic attack when I think the computer's dying. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, since this is maybe PC number five that is suffering from end-stage hard drive error. But the panic comes from the feeling that I'm going to lose something precious - something I can't even specifically identify - that is saved somewhere in this box. Maybe it's a photo, or a song, or a piece of video, or something I started writing and didn't finish, a link to something that was really important at the moment that I have forgotten about, an email I meant to answer but haven't - somehow something's going to get left behind. I have to remind myself that although each of these PCs has been like a trusted friend, I have survived their passage to the trash heap. (Let me clarify that it's only metaphorical trusted friends, like old PCs, go to the trash heap, not actual trusted friends. With some exceptions.)

    And the panic is compounded by the fear that, with a dead computer, I will not be able to tap into the ocean of information that I wallow in at the start of each day. God forbid I should have to get my news from a newspaper (who knows when it will show up?) or radio (who knows when they will shut up?) or - gasp! - morning television (there's something so sad about all those people standing around outside the studio for a chance to wave at the camera while Mr. Smarmy does the weather.)

    But I will fight the wave of fear and lug in the next magic box, and plug in all my gadgets, and I will keep my connections always on, pedal to the metal on the Information Superhighway (thanks again, Al Gore - why no Nobel for inventing the internet, I ask?) because I have an aching need to know.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Let's all waste our time

    My normal mode is enthusiasm on a Monday morning. When Monday rolls around, I have that feeling that if I just get a good early start, today will be the day I tie up all those loose ends and get caught up at work. Usually it takes until about 11:30am for the enthusiasm to wane. Today, the waning has already begun at 7:17am. Not a good sign.

    So perhaps today is a good day for some diversion, and I think I have just the ticket. It's a site called Uncyclopedia. I am a regular user of Wikipedia, and I ignore the small minds who criticize it's "wisdom of crowds" comprehensiveness, so this Uncyclopedia site is a hoot since it is a satire on Wikpedia. If you don't use Wikipedia then the whole satire thing is not going to gain much traction with you, so look, you're on your own today.

    In just a quick look I got some good smirks from

    Ice Cream Flavors Not in the Top 100

    HowTo:Use IYDKWTAAMTYSUTOFRAITYTTAAMYYY to Help You Figure out What Other Abbreviations Mean

    Wooden branch with slight bend (subtitled Origins of the stick)

    And I also found this defintion of "writing":
    Writing is the act of removing excess ink from a pen or typewriter ribbon by marking up one or more sheets of paper. In contemporary usage, writing is the primary means of preventing a computer screen from freezing. In either case, literature, or even a remotely coherent string of text, is a coincidental by-product of the process. However, this by-product occurs distressingly often and if unchecked can lead to publication, which in turn may cause widespread entertainment, learned discourse, cultural enhancement, and other forms of pollution.
    Like a lot of Web 2.0 collective efforts, the Uncyclopedia is a big unwieldy mishmash of brilliance and stupidity and trying too hard and chips on shoulders and brash youth and inside jokes. Like the last half hour of Saturday Night Live, it has a lot of "the premise was funnier than the bit." But on a Monday morning, with a waning sense of purpose, anything that elicits even a flicker of a smile is golden.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Collective survivor's guilt

    In the last week, I've heard about an old friend who's just had a big tumor taken out of his head, and another friend who is paralyzed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome (one of those afflictions you'd just as soon you'd never heard about.) These guys are both in the 40 to 45 years old range. And today there is a funeral for a local police officer who died from cancer at 39.

    It puts me in mind of those "storming the beach" scenes. There are always lots of troops making it through, but alongside others are falling, some wounded and some dead. Middle age seems to be that way. You keep trudging forward while the casualties mount up, wondering if there's a blood clot with your name on it out there waiting for you.

    With all the awareness we have of these everyday casualties, and knowing that there is inevitably some suffering just around the next corner, it's amazing that so many people can screw up the courage to keep getting out of bed everyday. And not only to get out of bed, but to hold down a job, show up on time, save money for the future, go to the gym, eat flax, and scorn the pleasures of the flesh, all with hopes of making a little further across the beachhead before the mortars cut you down.

    I know there are lots of people who are sustained by faith, and believe whatever pain and suffering we find in the life is short term and the reward will come later. Or you can go Calvinist and choose to believe the Big Guy has a plan and you are just a bit player in your life. I'm glad for those who find their comfort, but the utter randomness of it all leaves me in doubt. Why have I made it this far across the beach when so many others are down? Kind of makes me feel obligated to do something worthwhile - at least part of the time.

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Hard chargers, parasites, and Christopher Columbus

    Today I am observing Columbus Day by not getting dressed. To be more specific, not dressed for work. I could say I am observing Columbus Day by having a day off work, but I worked a few hours so that wouldn't be true. So all I can say for my "day off" is that it was really a half day off.

    Seems there aren't many people any more who have any respect for the 40 hour work week. Seeing as how there were lots of union guys and gals who got their heads caved in to earn the right to a 40 hour week, shouldn't we all honor that by not working our asses off 10 or 12 hours a day and half the weekend, too? Everywhere I look there are people putting in huge amounts of hours, week after week. And a lot of these people have kids, too, little ones. I worry they will be looking back very soon and wondering why they put work ahead of their kids - and we're not talking about people who are working two jobs to pay the rent, right? It's a choice, a mindset. Got to work more to get ahead, get promoted, make sure my value is known. Hmmm.

    On the other hand, there are the parasites who don't seem to work at all. Did I say parasites? That's harsh, I meant to say leeches. Sorry, that was also harsh. Spongers? Deadbeats? I just can't find the right word. But you know who I mean - people who just plain don't contribute. Not only don't do any work that matters, but don't earn enough to stimulate the economy with their spending or pay much in taxes. If you're going to be poor, why not join the Peace Corps and do something worthwhile? Or go to a monastery and scourge yourself.

    Gee, somehow Columbus Day has made me a judgmental a-hole.

    OK, more of a judgmental a-hole.

    Stupid Columbus. What did he ever really do? Begged for money to go sailing, and then never knew where he was, and when he got there (to the place he didn't know he was in) started right in with the patriarchal bullshit and spreading disease all over the place like he owned it.

    There I go again. Must be something I ate. Did I grab a box of "Judgmental Flakes" off the shelf this morning?

    On the other hand, Columbus did do enough to get a holiday in his honor, and as a result I got a (half) day off work. I think I'll go try to enjoy what's left of it, because when you have a day off you should have a day off, even if it's only half a day off.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    If we had to, could we do it today?

    It's been a few days since I wrote. I've been feeling kind of low since Jimmy and the other boys at the malt shop made fun of my shoes. I don't know why Janice needs to be so mean. After all, she---WAIT a minute. That's my diary entry from October 1955, not my blog post. Sometimes I forget which decade I'm writing in. Hang on there...I know I've got 2007 right here somwhere...OK, all set. Let's go.

    I am one of millions who are watching Ken Burns' latest documentary The War. Goes without saying that it is another masterwork, like Baseball and The Civil War. Burns is a special story teller. You've got to love a guy who makes 15 hour film projects that take seven years. (Took him longer to make the film than it took Hitler to conquer, and lose, the free world.)

    I'm a believer in regular review of key moments in history. Since we're always trying to make sense of the present-day world, it's worthwhile to touch base with the past and recognize when we made good decisions and when we screwed up. That way maybe we'll recognize the key moment when it comes up next time. In that light, it is astonishing to consider that we (us Americans) let that war go so far and did not get involved. (My dad - that's him in Germany in 1945 - enlisted in September of 1939, shortly after the Nazis took Poland. He could see what was coming. And like a lot of guys, he didn't have a job, so what the hell.) I know we were still smarting from our losses in WW1, a war that a lot of people thought we did not need to join, and there was a strong sentiment to let Europe deal with its own problems. But for crying out loud - we let Hitler run wild for four or five years, and Japan the same, and in the long run our reluctance to get involved just made it that much harder and more costly when we finally did get down to business. Give that some thought the next time the topic of "pre-emption" comes up.

    It is a challenge, from the perspective of our cushy American life today, to imagine what life was like for those who fought that war. You can read history to say we could have never lost in the long run, that our industrial capacity would win in the end - or that our indomitable American spirit was destined to prevail. But I think the truth is in a gray area. Take away some specific individuals, change the luck in some specific battles, and who knows what the result might have been.

    Above it all, what boggles the mind is the selflessness that was required for millions of men and women to put their lives on the line for the cause. More than that, for so many to willingly go into battle zones where they knew there was a good chance they would not survive. For those who were there, perhaps there really was no choice. You hear the veterans and those who sacrificed on the home front say "it was something that had to be done." (My mom - that's her on the homefront in '44 or '45 with her firstborn and Grandma Sallie - taught us all about "doing what you have to do.") This attitude is so foreign to our American life today. There doesn't seem to be anything that simply "has to be done." We are so spoiled and so accustomed to having everything just the way we want it every day, if there was a true need would we remember how to sacrifice for the common good? I like to think we still have the capacity to do things that "have to be done" but it's been so long since we had a unified sense of purpose, I wonder if our national will has atrophied.

    I learned some things watching The War. Like why my mom always kept a coffee can on the stove and put leftover bacon grease in it. It wasn't just a convenience for the next fried egg, I think it was a habit from the war, recycling the fat for the glycerin to make bombs. And I learned that the concept of the "butterfly effect" is very real. It would have only taken one bullet in the Rhineland - or for that matter, a munitions accident or an overturned truck - and my dad would not have survived, and I wouldn't be here, and my kids wouldn't be here, and their kids wouldn't be here. Think of all the families that lost not only their "today," but their "tomorrow," too, in that war...

    I'm recording all 15 hours of The War. If I get to feeling sorry for myself and thinking I don't have anything to be thankful for, I've got the antidote.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    Some1 gots a computr

    I am living in the World Wide Web these days. My waking hours, and sometimes my dreams, revolve around building web pages, uploading files, and trying to decipher little bits of code and the lingo of the Uber Nerds around me.

    Along the way, one can collect some entertainment if one tries. Case in point, the offerings here, contributed by people from all over who carry the exalted title of Webmaster for some public agency. These are some actual emails from actual citizens that were actually sent to some actual public employee somewhere in this great land of ours. I think you will find them inspiring.

    "When is some1 comin to cut my grass? I bought this house and the grass is gettng tall. My neighbor says if I wait long enuf the city will cut it for me." (Now that's what I call good old American ingenuity! Of course, this same person will complain loudly when the City sends a bill for cutting the grass after a bunch of complaints and time-wasting paperwork, all burning up the taxpayer dollar.)

    "My trash was not picked up today. My trash needs to be emptied NOW." (As if often the case with the loudest, most demanding complaints, this citizens gave no name, address, or return email.)

    "How much does it cost to get married?" ( If you have to ask, you can't afford it.)

    "Ii gots me a warant for my arest for not cumin too coorts. can I post bail from my computr?" (Note that "post bail" is spelled correctly.)

    "I searched the City website and didn't find this info. Is there a City Noise Ordinance for loud motorcycles in my neighborhood constantly up and down the streets as late as 3:00 A.M. in the morning? How do I apply for a gun permit?"
    (If more citizens would take the initiative to resolve these little neighborhood problems on their own, we'd all benefit, don't you agree?)

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    Endlessly answering questions

    If you are familiar with the myspace bulletin, this will make sense. If this does not make sense, well, you know, it's Friday and it's been a long week so get off my back!

    1. What is the status of you and the last person you kissed?
    still married as far as I know

    2. What's bothering you right now?

    3. What is in your wallet?
    i don't have a wallet, I carry everything in my hands all the time

    4. Wallpaper on your computer's desktop?
    i don't have wallpaper but the desktop is freshly painted

    5. Background on your cell phone?
    well, it's a Razr and I bought it at the mall. It's black.

    6. What do you want in your life right now?
    bowl of cereal but there isn't any

    7. Listening to?
    the voices in my head, always the voices

    8. Have you ever kissed anyone named Billy?
    actually yes, which might be embarassing but he's 14 months old

    9. Eating/chewing?
    i am in favor of both.

    10. What's your favorite thing to have on your bed?
    a canned ham

    11. Do you believe in a soulmate?
    yes, a soulmate is like coffeemate, something to add to your own soul that makes it better. But also there's a lot of chemical additives so not too much.

    12. What do you wear to bed?
    wetsuit, just in case there's a tsunami

    13. Do you remember your dreams?
    why, did I do something wrong?

    14. Who will you sleep with tomorrow?
    my soulmate. Or my coffeemate.

    15. Have you ever been gambling?
    does betting on the pig races at the fair count?

    16. What's something you wish you could understand better?
    why i'm writing this

    17. What did you do last weekend?
    spent a lot of time visualizing world peace. Didn't help.

    19. Who is the last person you hugged?
    winston churchill. Or that may have been a dream.

    20. Orange or apple juice?
    a little splash of orange, please, but don't dilute the vodka

    21. Who was the last person you went somewhere with?
    my soulmate and I went upstairs, and later we came back down

    22. What was the last text message you got?
    Sarah said she was fixing dinner and then she bailed

    23. Have you ever kissed anyone on your top 8?
    yes, but I have not kissed the movie "300"

    24. What was the last thing you drank?
    wish i could remember, need to cut down on that

    25. Whose house did you go to last night?
    Ask not whose house I go to, ask what you can do for the houses!

    26. Who was the last person you visited in the hospital?
    sarah like a year and a half ago

    27. Are you bored?

    28. What is the last movie you watched?
    the last king of Scotland - which is not about scotland at all so don't be fooled...

    29. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink:
    coffee (with coffeemate), lemonade, wine - sometimes all mixed together

    30. What are you excited about?
    world peace. or world war, I forget

    31. Do you want someone you can't have?
    yes, i want a butler and a maid

    32. Who was last to slap your butt?
    some Senator in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport

    33. Where was the last place you went?
    the kitchen, physically, but my spirit recently visited the planet Gondar in the purple universe.

    35. Have you cried recently?
    i'm crying right now

    36. Whats on tv?
    many wonderful programs chock full of enlightenment, but I'll be watching something else

    37. Is taking a shower a daily habit?
    yes, and I sure wish I could remember to do it BEFORE i get dressed

    38. What's your favorite song?
    i love to hear the birthday song sung to me because it reminds me that I am just a little closer to dying

    39. Do you like the town you live in?
    Well, let's just say we're more than friends...

    40. Height?
    Yes, I have some, but I'm more into width these days.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Hey! Hey, look at me! Over here! Look!

    It's a little marginal for a person with a totally voluntary, non-profit blog to suggest that some people are crying out for attention, but I always say if you're going to be a hypocrite, be a big, fat, in-your-face hypocrite, so here goes. (OK, I've never "always said that" but I'm going to start saying it now.)

    There are two stories in the news this week that have a whiff of "gimme some attention." Story 1 is the case of this kid from the University of Florida, Andrew Meyer. He's the one who got tasered and dragged off at a John Kerry appearance. (John Kerry - he's still alive?) If you haven't seen the video...

    There are a couple of indications that Meyer was planning to make some kind of a scene. For one, he handed his video camera to a stranger and asked them to record him asking his question. Then, according to the police reports:

    "As (Meyer) was escorted down stairs (at the University Auditorium) with no cameras in sight, he remained quiet, but once the cameras made their way down stairs he started screaming and yelling again," Mallo wrote.

    Mallo was one of two officers who actually rode in the vehicle as Meyer was escorted to the Alachua County jail...

    Mallo also wrote in her report that he asked, at one point, if cameras would be present at the jail.
    Hmmmm....just politically passionate, or trying to get his name known? Either way, there are two meaningful suggestions I will make.

    1. When the cops have decided they're arresting you, yell all you want but it's probably better to lie down on your stomach and let them cuff you. You probably won't talk them out of it once they put their hands on you. Unless you like the feel of the electricity shooting out of your fingertips.

    2. If you are a Senator, a supposed statesman, a man of power and influence, and the cops start arresting a college kid because he's asking a question, it would be a good thing if you walked out there and tried to stop the whole thing, rather than just keep talking like nothing's happening.

    Story 2 in the "Hey, look at me!" files is OJ. If I never saw this guy's face again it would be too soon, but here he is again. Don't you think if you were this notorious, if three out of four people who passed you on the street were thinking "there goes a cold-blooded, remorseless murderer" that maybe you would sort of lay low, and not take part in activities involving guns and stealing? I know some people are claiming this was a set up. I don't care. Seeing some of the smirking photos that have been taken of Simpson this week just makes me think he's happy to be getting all the attention.

    Look, I've got to run. Now that I've posted to my blog I need to go stand by the freeway in my underwear, and later I'm planning to glue a lot of little plastic toys to my car. I hope nobody notices.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    Why we are in Iraq and why we need to stay

    One of my dad's many expressive figures of speech was describing someone as a person who "woke up in a new world every day." This, surprisingly, was not a compliment. It was a way of indicating that a person did not have any wisdom, mature judgment, ability to remember what came before and act accordingly. In short, the person in question was a simpleton - unable to grasp the complexities of life.

    On 9/11/07, I wrote: "In my next post, I will explain in the simplest terms exactly why we are in Iraq and why we need to stay." I address this to those who believe they are thoughtful about geo-politics and US foreign policy, but in fact, seem to wake up in a new world every day.

    1. The war between Islamic fundamentalism and the US did not begin with the invasion if Iraq in 2003. It began in 1979 when the Iranian revolution took place and the US hostages were taken. For those who forget, the Ayatollah Khomeini was a bad guy of the first order in our view, and his assumption of power in Iran can be compared now to Hitler's "beer hall putsch" - the rise to prominence of an individual who would have far-reaching impact.

    2. For more than twenty years, we tried to ignore all the signs. The Islamic fundamentalists were at war with us but we didn't acknowledge it. In retrospect it's hard to understand how we could have just walked away after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. A court ruled in 2003 that Iran was responsible for that bombing.

    3. The first Gulf War didn't have anything to do with our war against Islamic fundamentalists. As we all know, Saddam Hussein was not a fundamentalist - he was secular, western-looking Sunni - and all he did was over-estimate how far the US would let him go. It was in our interest to make sure Iraq was strong back then, but not too strong. Iraq was our ally as a counter to Iran.

    Through the 1980s and 1990s, we looked the other way, or retaliated in small, politically-safe ways, when Muslim fundamentalists took over governments and Americans were attacked in other parts of the world. It was only in 2001, after the 9-11 attacks, that we committed to the inevitable war against the Islamic fundamentalists.

    So why invade Iraq if Iran is really the problem? If it takes more than a brief look at this map to get the answer, you're just not trying.

    The fact is this: the Administration wanted to attack the larger problem; Iran is a powerful fundamentalist state that funds and inspires people who create the problem; there was no justifiable reason to attack Iran directly, but it was easy to trump up a case against Saddam; we needed strategic positions to isolate Iran; strong presence in Iraq on the west and Afghanistan on the east created that strategic position. I wish our national leaders had possessed the huevos back in 2002-2003 to come out and tell the American people the truth - this is what we need to do, and this is why we need to do it. We'd all be better off today to face up to the facts: we are an empire, and if we want to remain so we have to protect our interests.

    Is it about oil? Yes. It's not only about oil, but oil matters a lot. The world economy needs oil, and the US economy needs the world economy, and your job and my job need the US economy, and what's for dinner tonight needs your job and my job.

    If you step back and look at the map, and think about the way things work, it's all really simple - even if you wake up in a new world every day.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    We all need to grow a spine

    This photo was taken in Iraq on 9 September 2003
    by Baker Company, 7th Marines, 1st Battalion.

    It takes a lot for me to be appalled, but that's the best word to describe the way I felt last week. I heard someone on TV or radio doing a tease for an upcoming segment along the lines of "9-11 remembrances - when is enough enough?" A few days later I read an editorial page item with the same tone - "I can't get too worked up over the fact that 9-11 happened six years ago."

    Generally I'm all for living in the moment and not in the past, what's done is done, let bygones be bygones. Generally, but not absolutely. There's no statute of limitations on murder.

    If you want to get back in touch with the emotions of 9-11 and all that has followed in these last six years, I recommend seeing HBO's Alive Day Memories. (If you don't have HBO, it says on their site you can watch the entire film online.)

    This film is very simple. Ten people, male and female, who went to Iraq and got blown up in one way or another and lived to tell about it. Some are coping with it well, others not so well. As a film it works on many levels. Whether you are a hawk and think we should stay the course, or a dove who thinks we should get out today, you will be moved by these stories.

    What's that? I hear someone shouting in the back....what are you saying? Oh, yes, I was expecting that question - "what does Iraq have to do with 9-11? Iraq didn't blown up the twin towers! Osama is not Iraqi! "

    Tell you what. Today I will hold my tongue and keep my thoughts on the innocents who died six years ago today, and all those who have sacrificed life and limb in the days since. In my next post, I will explain in the simplest terms exactly why we are in Iraq and why we need to stay.

    Fly your flag today.

    Monday, September 10, 2007

    Osama explains it all for you

    Bin Laden has a new tape out, and I'm a little disappointed. He says that all this fighting and tension can be over and we can all get along fine, if we just give up on capitalism and democracy and convert to Hinduism. Or maybe it was Buddhism. Anyway, one of those.

    I'm disappointed because I think ol' Bin has been playing it passive-aggressive these past six years, trying to get us to read his mind - why does it take so long to just come out and say what you want? Binny, baby, don't be coy.

    Now that we know what it takes to make everything right, I'm sure you will join me in renouncing those meaningless, shallow beliefs that seem to be causing all the trouble. Let's look at some pros and cons:

    Pros: Any person with drive can get rich, and with drive and some brains, incredibly rich.
    Cons: Most of us don't have enough drive and/or brains.
    Verdict: Dump it. I'd much rather have a wise holy man in a beard tell me how many goats I can have. Then I can just sit back and enjoy life.

    Pros: Any person can run for office and get elected.
    Cons: Any person can run for office and get elected.
    Verdict: It's so 20th century! We need a system for the future, like Hinduism! Or Buddhism or whatnot.

    Pros: Sustaining faith of my ancestors; basic New Testament tenets of love answering all questions provides comfort and solace to billions worldwide.
    Cons: Basic New Testament tenets appear to be plagiarized from The Beatles; not enough chopping off of hands.
    Verdict: Time to try something different. Hug me, Osama, I am filled with the spirit of Hindu-ness!

    So I am making a tape of my own. You'll probably see it on all the news soon. I will renounce all the bad stuff Bin's been pointing out, and profess my new beliefs, and I'm sure you will want to join me and stop the violence.

    I mean, what are we fighting for anyway?...

    Saturday, September 8, 2007

    Crazy like a frog

    Just the other day some friends were talking about a new game they had developed in their office. More intellectual than wadded-paper-and-trash-can basketball, or the uber-nerdlinger four square that's now popular in Silicon Valley, this game is all about mixed metaphors. The objective is to come up with a combination that, while failing to make sense, is funny.

    The oldest example of this kind of mixed metaphor that I can recall is "smokes like a fish," which combines "smokes like a chimney" (logical) with "drinks like a fish" (not really logical since it refers to alcohol consumption and I don't think fish really hit it that hard, except on weekends.) That one's been around a long time, and I have a feeling somebody came up with on purpose. Likewise, "that's not rocket surgery!" which always tends to get a delayed laugh, feels like a line that belongs to some stand up comedian.

    Most of your most entertaining mixed metaphors just happen. This topic started cooking with gas on my front burner yesterday when I read somebody's reference to a "carrot on a rope." (Feasible, if not as conceptually pure as the more common "carrot on a stick." And honestly if you want to lure people, rather than horses, to some forward objective, you might be better off with a cheeseburger on a stick or rope, as the case may be.)

    Once you start thinking about these linguistic gymnastics, you can get addicted. Here are few faves I found here.
    • A rolling stone is worth two in the bush.
    • Dirty laundry is coming home to roost. (Sourced to Ray Romano.)
    • He clams up tighter than a drum. (From a "Walker, Texas Ranger" script. That's a double MM.)
    • I can read him like an open can of worms.
    • I'm no Monday morning shortstop.
    • If you let that sort of thing go on, your bread and butter will be cut right out from under your feet. (Sourced to British foreign minister Ernet Bevin)
    • Now that the ball is in our court, let's go for the touchdown.
    • No use beating him over the head with a dead horse.
    • You buttered your bread, now sleep in it! (Jiminy Cricket)
    • You can take that to the bank and smoke it. (Stephen J. Cannell)
    • That fish won’t hunt.
    • That really hacks me to a crisp.
    OK, I could keep this going 'til the cows turn blue in the face. But I'm as busy as a one-armed paper hanger in an ass-kicking contest today, and I've got to make hay while the iron is hot.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    John, Fred, and you-know-who

    With a scant 14 months to go, time is running out and we will soon need to make a choice for our next President. The time has come to confront the most intriguing question of the campaign, the unspoken question that everyone is quietly pondering - is John Edwards bisexual?

    No, sorry, that's not the question I meant to ask. The real unspoken question that everyone is quietly pondering is this - doesn't Fred Thompson look like he might just kick your ass?

    Sorry again, so sorry, not where I was really going. Just a little distracted today. Let's get to the REAL unspoken question, the whispered query, the question even true believers hear inside their heads, the question my pal Big Tex actually gave voice to the other day - Hillary can get the nomination, but can she win the office?Face it, even the most die-hard Dems must be tussling over this question. After all, the 2008 election is a walk-over for their party, agreed? There's nothing the Democrats could possibly do in one year to fumble this chance away, right? Well, none of that is really true, but for sure they have a leg up on the GOP, what with the sitting President's approval rating approaching absolute zero. He's blown it, the Republicans have become the party of scandal, and so the Democrats walk into the White House.

    But can it really happen with Hillary at the top of the ticket?

    Seems to me we reserve a particular type of disdain for women like Hillary. They make the mistake of achieving success and positions of power by acting a little too much like men. Not deferential enough. Not concerned enough with hairstyles and Italian shoes. Too self-assured. Something fishy about a woman who doesn't seem like she needs to be rescued. "Iron Maiden." "Ice Queen." "Bitch on wheels." Strangely enough, other women are often far more harsh toward a woman like Hillary that men could ever be. And it says something about our progress toward "equality for women" that the unspoken question is more "can Hillary really win a general election?" than "could America really elect a black man?"

    Granted, these are foreign concepts to a lot of the people I know here in coastal California. Hillary wins on both coasts, no contest. But can she carry the "heartland?" Can you picture her beating a white male Republican (insert any name here) in November '08 in Nevada? Arizona? Texas? Kansas? Kentucky? Florida? Need I go on? It has all the makings of another 50/50 election, even a repeat of the "popular vote winner-electoral vote loser" scenario we've already seen played out. And boy, that's just what we need.

    Friday, August 31, 2007

    "This above all: to thine own self be true..."

    I guess among all the people who feel trapped in a life situation they can't control, some are better off than others. There are women who put up with abusive men because they are physically threatened, or fear they can't make it on their own. There are poor and unskilled people who put up with shabby treatment at work because they need the money. And there are people who are so miserable inside they pulverize themselves with drugs, or mutilate themselves, or jump off a bridge. All considerations made, being a US Senator who is gay but can't admit it because his constituency won't accept him for what he is - and maybe he can't accept himself for what he is - that's probably not a guy who deserves a full-blown pity parade. After all, he's a man with power and influence, lives among the educated elite, and should have the wisdom of experience to know how the world works. He could have changed his situation in any number of ways.

    All the same, I do feel sorry for Senator Larry Craig - soon to be the ex-Senator from Idaho, if what's rumored in the news today is true - because he is so clearly stuck in a situation where he lives a lie every day. Let's be honest, we all lie to ourselves in some ways. But to be known to cruise for casual gay sex for the last 25 years, get caught doing it, and stand up there with the cameras in your face and say "I am not gay" - well, that just can't be good for the soul.

    Is there a chance the whole things is a misunderstanding, and the Senator is really telling the truth? Here's an interesting excerpt from a Newsweek piece, with Brian Braiker interviewing Keith Griffiths, the founder of the web site

    But wasn’t he making moves that are understood in the cruising community to be overtures?
    Absolutely. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not disputing what I think is pretty obvious. It’s very, very clear what he was doing—assuming the police officer is telling the truth. He was cruising. Tapping the foot is one thing and it’s a signal; no doubt about it. The fact that he went out of his way to run his hand under the partition, that’s another signal. This man must have studied up on this. He’s got experience. He’s definitely cruising. But he didn’t take it to the step where it would have been a crime.

    Some people are certainly taking glee in the fact that in the past Craig has endorsed anti-gay policies.
    He’s a f—-ing hypocrite, no doubt about it.

    And there you have it - "He’s a f—-ing hypocrite, no doubt about it" - a nice inscription for the statue of Sen. Craig that I'm sure someone will want to put up in Boise.

    Moral of our story: Another page in your life script is written every day, and you are the author. You really do have control over how your story turns out.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2007

    Afraid of public speaking? You could never be this bad...

    You may have seen or heard this since it's been making the rounds this week, but it is worth a second or third look. It's from the Miss Teen USA pageant that aired on Friday August 24, 2007. I like this version of the video because of the subtitles - you can confirm that the gibberish you think you're hearing is really what's being said.

    And now she's trying to spin it? Miss South Carolina Teen USA: 'I misunderstood the question'

    This is an example of how not all fame is good fame.

    "More Fun From AOL News Blogger: Use her words to rewrite her "answer": WIN BIG: It's The Miss South Carolina Word Scramble!!"

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    If Shakespeare was alive today he'd write for TV

    "...That's what the universe gives us every morning. No matter how far we have veered from reverence for the miraculous fact that we exist in a universe that we don't understand, every day we get a chance to start over..."
    -Steve Hawk

    "...all I ever had, redemption songs..."
    -Bob Marley

    I know that the proper pose for the educated man is to say "I don't watch TV" or "I only watch PBS." So I run afoul of that guideline by professing my ongoing, if tempestuous, affair with the tube. (In truth, a plasma screen doesn't have a tube, but I'm sure the nickname will keep its currency for a few decades. ) I remember the excitement when a new television station signed on in my hometown. (September 2, 1967 - you can find anything on the internet, you know?) It was KUHI, Channel 16, using the daring new UHF broadcast band, and giving us the grand total of three channels to choose from rather than the two channels we were used to. Oh, the glorious array of choices to be made!

    All this by way of saying that the quote from Steve Hawk above is a reference to the theme of a TV series that I have watched for the last 10 weeks or so, a show I have watched with a slack jaw, called John from Cincinnati. (I wrote about this show back when it started. The word this week is that there will not be a second season.) Although I don't know anyone personally who can say definitively where this show was going, it seemed to be about redemption, about cleaning your slate, about having the power within yourself to start over again today. And along with its elevated theme, it delivered a quality of language, a beauty of dialog, that rivals anything being done on the "legitimate" stage these days. Much like Deadwood, another favorite series, both of which were the brain-children of David Milch.

    If I were more outwardly the pompous, didactic, bloviating ass that I am inwardly, I would smack down those people who say "Oh, I only watch PBS" when the subject of TV comes up, and point out that most of the great theatrical art of the past that we revere was produced for a mass audience, not for the elite few. Shakespeare is a good example. He was commissioned by the Queen but wrote for the commoner - like today, it's the regular folks who make up the bulk of the audience (at least when the performance doesn't cost $100 a seat.) And I might make the case that our favorite TV today echoes the themes we've been soaking up since before Chaucer - probably the same themes cavemen scratched on their walls - star crossed young lovers, the seduction of power, jealousy and envy and the search for the true identity, heroes seeking their great challenge that reveals their destiny - as someone who wrote for the masses once said, "there is nothing new under the sun." TV is just the current medium for delivering the message.

    When I am caught up in the language and the story telling that is so captivating in the best television today, I feel a little sorry for those people who only watch PBS. There's not much chance of a cleansing catharsis watching "Wildebeests of Katmandu." (Then again, Ken Burns' new mega-documentary on WW2 is coming in a few weeks, so I will be there for that.) In the end, I think there is redemption enough to go around, even enough for those who turn up their noses at television, that product made for the commoners.