Category: Culture

Flight of the penguin

I saw the “cute penguin movie” today (March of the Penguins).  Rather than bore you with the details (cute movie; Emperor penguins are remarkable creatures), I’ll skip right to the funny part.  I noticed in the credits the following three people listed consecutively: pianist, bassoonist, accountant.  My mind immediately fluttered to two courtly musicians and a guy with a giant calculator.

We don’t have liftoff

Mary and David Savoie had returned to their favorite viewing spot along the Indian River, bringing cousins from Pennsylvania to watch the shuttle launching in the distance.  Joshua Lacy had settled beside them with a cooler, and nearby, Tony Vivian had fired up his radio and grill.

All had staked out a grassy lot beside Route 1 to watch the first space shuttle liftoff in more than two years, but after hearing that the launching had been scrubbed, all left dejected.

“It was going to be so perfect,” said Ms. Savoie, casting one last glance at the Discovery, barely a glimmer across the water, before driving home to Sanford, near Orlando.  “Oh, well, make that past tense now.”

New York Times, 14 July 2005

No, damn it, make that subjunctive!  Regular old past tense is used for things that actually happened in the past!  Grammar idiocy is killing this nation.

Give till it hurts

The millionaire families of Laguna Beach need help!  They can’t afford to pay their expenses from the awful landslide.  Here is a list of profiles of the families who need your money.  The city wants to give each family $3,000 a month for 30 months and $60,000 for geological studies.

Click here to donate thousands.

I like how the obviously gay couples — “Jo and Jm,” and HC and DK, the flight attendant whose Steinway piano was lost — are referred to in carefully gender-neutral ways or their sex is just left out, whereas everybody else is Mr. and Mrs. W.

It’s also amusing that they actually admit one house was “red-tagged” in a previous 1978 landslide.  Now the same set of spoiled Californians is back for more money.  I was just in Laguna Beach a month ago, telling people it was all a dream and it wouldn’t last.  I was proven right sooner than I thought I would be.  These people have no sense of perspective.  One of them actually told me, “It’s hard to believe that places like Houston and Ohio really exist.  It’s like the whole rest of the country is a big bubble.”  No, you’re in the bubble.

By the way, the city mayor doesn’t want you to think they are millionaires, but before the landslide, they used to be — especially the one family that bought its house for $280,000 eighteen years ago.

Berlin trip photos

Still continuing the monthlong extravaganza of returning from vacation. I actually think coming home and getting all those text messages and voice mails was more exciting than going on the trip! Happy new year to all y’all brothers and sisters, etc. (What song did they play at Axis at midnight???)

I finally got around to writing up descriptions for all the good photos from Berlin, which was only the first half of my trip. (I might do Amsterdam later, but let’s be honest, I wasn’t there as long and I didn’t take as many good pictures anyway. Also, I’m kind of busy all the time.) But, you’ll look at the Berlin pictures and you’ll like them!

It was such a fun time. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of everything that happened, for example, visiting Cafe Maredo on the first day because my mother had discovered it the night before. (When I was in high school, we learned that Maredo was a kind of cheesy chain, and it was.) The hateful waiter put a bib on me solely out of spite, or else it was because Matt and I ordered the fajitas. I guess I actually do have this photo, but I’m not giving it to you. I also don’t have a picture of the little girl on the subway to whom, at the last second, my mom gave a euro because she felt sorry that the girl had to travel around with her mother and “that loser boyfriend.” (This was the unlikely Geschenk.)

In other news, if you get BBC America, I suggest you look for the ten-minute science filmstrip spoof “Look Around You.”

America loses a friend

Last night, Alistair Cooke, a veteran BBC reporter and general world culture figure, died at home in New York. He was 95 years old.

I think he was a great man, a master of subtlety, very endearing, and touchingly funny and sincere. Even in his eighties and nineties, which are the only years I had to get to know him, he stayed sharp, and put together a weekly radio segment known as the “Letter From America.” He is best known for this segment, where he observes and comments on our country from a British point of view, and I listened dozens of times. For an Anglophile like me, Cooke’s dispatches let me feel as though he and I were sharing a joke, rolling our eyes over the dotty, amusing ways of our over-eager, good-natured American cousins. Alistair Cooke was a connoisseur of absurdity, like I am, and his gentle presence will be missed. You can read the BBC’s leader on his life and career.

Some advertising in today’s New York Times on the Web, however, creates a jarring scene for those who read about Cooke’s long and fruitful life. The obituary contained an ad for the movie Never Die Alone. If you are interested, the full Times article is still available.


It’s 11:30 p.m., and my upstairs neighbors are running their washing machine, again, though only the experienced would know that it is not a helicopter landing. Three polite notes have done nothing to stop it.

New York Times, 21 March 2004, in an article on filtering out life, including by using noise-canceling headphones

The real message to readers: “If you cannot get results by polite means, try adjudicating your disputes in front of a million people in the Sunday Times.”

Religious musings

I recently discovered a religious paradox while having a discussion with a Muslim friend at work. He is fasting while observing Ramadan, an Islamic holy month.

His definition of the fast is that no food or drink can be consumed between sunrise and sunset. Consequently, he has to get up around 5am to eat a big meal before work, then goes all day without food. There are other restrictions as part of the fast, such as no smoking, I think no swearing, and so on.

However, there is apparently an important exception to the fast. It is OK to break the fast if you are traveling. We both figure the exemption comes because traveling out of town can be exhausting, so you have to eat something.

We think this may have come because when all this fasting business began centuries ago, people pretty much walked wherever they were going. It is certainly unreasonable to expect somebody to walk miles each day with no nutrition, particularly if you don’t know where the food is going to be on the way.

The problem arises with the definition of “traveling.” My friend says there is a specific distance, set by Islamic law, that you must go to be considered a traveler. He didn’t know it exactly, but said it’s about ten miles. We joked that he can get McDonald’s in Reynoldsburg any time he wants and he would be cool with God.

Now, conservative Muslims are more likely to fast — some liberal followers don’t observe it at all. But conservatives are also more likely to stick to a strict interpretation of “traveling” and use the ancient measure of ten miles. I think liberal followers would be more willing to look at the traveling exemption and take into account several obvious differences in 21st-century travel — it’s much faster these days, food is readily available everywhere, and you can travel thousands of miles in a day with no serious physical exertion. Certainly, liberal Muslims should interpret the rules differently based on today’s realities. And ironically, conservatives have given themselves a free pass on fasting as long as they manage to skip a few miles out of town. As I understand it, theoretically, you could do this every day and be considered to have fasted in accordance with Islamic law.

I’m not making a commentary on Islam per se, and I certainly don’t claim to understand the full story here or on all of its precepts generally. But I find it interesting to highlight a situation where it seems clear to me that following the rules strictly (eating ten miles away) produces an outcome that is generally opposite to the actual intent of those rules (fasting as a sign of strength and commitment in one’s religious beliefs). Conservative adherents to all faiths should take a look at their regulations and consider whether the practice actually encourages the desired outcome.

Labor Day weekend

First off, it really looks like the economy is picking up, despite the apparent firings of two of my friends. (Who knew.) How do I know? The newspapers are getting thicker again. Last year, I could carry around three, four days worth of papers in my little purse. I’d buy this skinny-ass little Times and think, “That’s all?” Back in 1999, 2000, man, the Times was so thick you couldn’t always fold it up! Well, these days, it’s getting to be heavier and harder to cram into the bag. I even ran across a copy of Wired (again, who knew?) and it had some decent heft to it also. So, I perceive this as a good sign for the economy (but bad for my back and shoulders).

I went to the OSU-Washington game last night. And oh my God, for the first time ever, I actually understand how the game works! My lovely friend Marc explained all about the downs and the ten-yard deal and even a couple of crazy topics like “safeties.” I felt so empowered. Why couldn’t anyone ever get this across before? I think my incomprehension of football was the last thing standing between me and becoming a man. Is there some kind of sports bar mitzvah I can hold for myself to commemorate the occasion? Everybody over to my place for buffalo wings.

Finally, if you happen to be reading this in the next couple of days, go over to COSI (T9: BORG) for the Supernova3 installation. It’s by Hiro Yamagata, of course, and it’s amazing. It was half like some crystal meth nightmare and half just really dangerous-seeming. (Rotating sharp pieces of glass, mirrors, hanging from the ceiling everywhere, while the lighting rapidly shifts and disorients you.) Yeah, don’t miss it.

Uh-Oh Oreos

I attended a really great party last night, with a lot of witty and engaging people.  If you’re reading, you guys were fun!

But definitely, the highlight of the party had to be “Uh-Oh Oreos.” The bag helpfully explains (and I am paraphrasing here), “Oops! We put the chocolate flavor into the creme instead of the cookie!” Longstanding complaints about “creme” notwithstanding, this leaves a few questions.

  • First of all, so they messed up about ten million Oreos, and instead of chucking them into the River Scioto, they decided to make up a cute little bag about them and sell them for money?
  • Secondly, if the chocolate was left out of the cookie, what flavor is the cookie? The cookie looked to be vanilla, but if the bag were honest about it, the cookie should have been, like, tasteless… or clear… or pocked with holes where the missing chocolate flavor molecules should have been. The absence of flavor is not vanilla; vanilla is its own flavor, dammit.
  • Finally, what does this inverse cookie do for race relations?

More small thoughts

I guess all I have these days are small thoughts.  But hey, it’s summertime, the reality shows dominate, and you just gotta have some reality web log entries.  If you really want substance, America, go read my famous Michael Moore entry (still one of the most popular pages on my site).  I’ll be back with serious commentary in September.

That out of the way, here are more small thoughts!

  • Virginia’s new license plates advertise the state’s 400th anniversary — “1607-2007.” Couple of points for you, Virginia. 1) 2007 is four years away. There’s no guarantee you’ll even exist. Some guy from West Virginia might organize a recall election, and your whole state could be replaced by Arianna Huffington. 2) 400 years, huh? And it took you, what, 260 years to free all the slaves? 370 years to legalize interracial marriage? 400+ to spit that chaw out? My state is only 200 years old, and we’re way more sophisticated. Maybe you should catch up to the inland provinces before bragging about your proud history.
  • E-mail I got recently: “Bill F Cash, It’s a world of wine and United [Airlines] can take you there!” God, if only it were that simple.
  • News story about today’s California ballot lottery: “The letters H, B and S, were drawn as eighth, ninth and tenth, meaning that some high-profile candidates, commentator Arianna Huffington, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be relatively near each other on most ballots.” This is what passes for news? The order — not even the content — of the California ballot? Well, their state is only 150 years old. :) Still, pretty tragic.
  • Finally, I’ve come up with a couple of new shows for Bravo to air:
    Boy Meets Girl. Here’s the setup: a pretty gay boy shows up and has a shot at meeting fifteen potential fag hags. They line up the women, and they each claim to know so much about things near and dear to the gay boy’s heart, like eyebrows or dance music, while complimenting him on his “zaniness” and “totally sensitive side.” But what the gay boy doesn’t know is that some of the potential gal pals are actually scary dykes who’ve been recently shaven. The big finale of the show has the girl revealing the particular horrific personal insecurity — weight, height, breast size, awful middle name — that will come to dominate their fledgling best-friendship. Grand prize? Trip to a gay bar, of course, where the boy will ignore the girl and the girl will silently lust after hundreds of cute unavailables.
    Queer Eye for the Straight Teenager. A lecherous group of hairy fortysomethings drive around in an Impala cruising for hotboys in backward ballcaps. When they find them (typically at auto battery stores or maybe NASCAR), they offer smart fashion and dating tips such as: wearing less fashion and dating older men.

Small thoughts

So, ah, let’s talk about this liquid yogurt business. Apparently Dannon has some kind of “Light ‘n’ Fit smoothie” they’re selling. There also appears to be a Yoplait entry (but since their website is Flash, I refuse to view it). But I saw some commercial for some other kind of liquid yogurt drink — it involved hundreds of beautiful women all waking up and drinking this crap on the way to work. They all back out of their driveways in their SUV’s at the same time, but because they are all drinking a delicious yogurt smoothie and they’re so nice, they all wave each other on and (apparently) nobody can leave her driveway. Yes, suburbia is populated with hundreds of identical SUV-driving women. But liquid yogurt? Come on. The only word coming to mind is “gloppy.” Do I really need a “whole new way” to be revolted?

I would also like to apologize to all those who commented on my outfit as I biked past the Coffee Table. Some guy called out, “Ooh, you got the complete look, baby!” That’s when I looked down and realized I was accidentally wearing an orange Adidas T-shirt, black Adidas soccer shorts, and my classic Adidas Sambas. Swear to God, it was accidental — I’m not a label freak.

Books to explore

Well, I’m reading this book called Empire Express, which is about the building of the transcontinental railway.  This is turning out to be a quick read for me — the historian uses easy words and the subject matter is not difficult to comprehend.  Also, you know that in the end, the boy wins the girl, I mean, the railway does get built.  This stands in contrast to Six Days of War, a new book I read recently (critically acclaimed!), which took ages to finish; it was about the infidel Arab aggression committed against fair Israel in 1967 (not that I have an opinion on it).  In that case, I spent all this time looking places up and trying to play Jumble with all of the acronyms, and I didn’t know about the great suspense item of the book: whether Israel or Egypt would start the war.  (Spoiler: it was both.)  Still a great read, however — I recommend it, and if any of my readers know a good book on the 1973 war, I’d like to hear about that.

Anyway, Empire Express, long story short: good book so far, check it out if you care about the building of the American West.  I thought I would shut up now and share a small gem of a quote from the book with you.  The original source is identified as J. H. Beadle in a work called The Undeveloped West, or, Five Years in the Territories (1873), and he is describing Nebraska’s Platte River, which the railwaymen are building alongside.

…a dirty and uninviting lagoon, only differing from a slough in having a current from half a mile to two miles wide, and with barely water enough to fill an average canal; six inches of fluid water running over another stream of six feet or more of treacherous sand; too thin to walk on, too thick to drink, too shallow for navigation, too deep for safe fording, too yellow to wash in, too pale to paint with — the most disappointing and least useful stream in America.

Upcoming TV events

The first Ohio gubernatorial debate will be televised on a number of stations around the state on Tuesday at 7pm.  On those occasions when I say politics is my favorite sport, this is the sort of thing I’m referring to.

Sting Forever premieres October 19th on BBC America.  I think we all know what to do here.  Click here to write the British Ambassador in protest.

Curb Your Enthusiasm continues to run on HBO.  It’s not TV, it’s HBO.  If you liked Seinfeld, watch this show, or just borrow the tape from me.  Indescribable but rapidly becoming my role model.

Entry zero

Welcome to this, the first of many web log entries. I am very happy to be here! This is being set up as a bit of an experiment for me. I’m not planning to write one of those web logs that tells you what I’m eating, wearing, listening to, thinking about, looking at, etc. (This is my life, not The Truman Show.) But, I will write if I have something to say and if I decide I like the web log format. So let the comments fly and I promise I’ll do my best to keep you entertained.