Tuesday, December 30, 2003...because they are so damned hard to keep. If a resolution is worth keeping, I think it's worth doing no matter what time of year it is. As if the fact of tacking up a new calendar should be motivation to keep a promise.
It's like the old Yiddish joke about the town mohel's odd storefront decoration: a bare window, with only a clock. When asked why he kept a clock in his front window, the mohel replies, "well, what should I put there?" Good question.
Anyway, here goes my list of non-resolutions for 2004.
- I would like to learn how to play chess.
- I would like to vacation overseas. Where? Who cares? It's vacation!!
- I would like to stay in better touch with family and friends, because none of us has an infinite number of trips around the sun.
- I would like to read The Lord of the Rings cover-to-cover. I've seen the movie.
- I'd like to try ice skating, because there's a lovely rink outside my office window.
- I want to learn how to use Cascading Style Sheets. No, they are not an upscale laundry product.
- I would like to get back into doing yoga, before my back gets done in.
- I want to try making a homemade haggis. The alternative? Buying one.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003There's a wonderful website dedicated to the surprisingly long history of Christmas lights and lighting at oldchristmaslights.com. When I was a kid we had this beautiful set of Italian minature lights that I've never seen anywhere since - so I dropped a note to the site's owner asking if he knew anything about these:
..."I do have a question about an unusual and attractive set of Christmas lights my family used when I was a child, but that I have not been able to find any reference to so far. The lights were purchased in 1971 at the Two Guys discount chain in central New Jersey. They came packaged in the standard "Genuine Italian Miniature Lights" two-piece cardboard box with cello front window (similar to the type shown here - the Chris Cuff collection from the early 1960's).Did you ever own or see a set of lights like the ones in the drawing? If you do - or did - let me know!
The lights came in five colors: a deep ruby red, golden yellow, magenta pink, green, and blue, and each push-in lamp had a matching colored transparent plastic "reflector" that consisted of three concentric, increasingly angled rows of "petals" that looked like "crowns" with small circular points on their tips (I've included a small rough .gif sketch, from memory). If I recall correctly, the smallest (inner) ring had 6 points, the center ring had 8 and the outer ring had 12. Each light was about 2-1/2 inches both in diameter and height, and while the sets were the "one burns out, the rest stay lit" variety, the material the plastic reflectors were made of had the unfortunate quality of softening with the lamp's heat, and the rather fragile tips would fold down over the hot bulb - making replacement almost impossible without breaking the light. I don't think they were UL listed!
We used the set for about 10 years; unfortunately, we discarded the lights back in the early 1980's. I was wondering - have you ever come across a set of lights like this in your travels, or perhaps you might know someone who has?
"Martin Mistletoe! That's what we'll call him." He couldn't stay in the chilly hallway overnight - but since we already have an older cat at home with some medical problems, we decided to "quarantine" 'Martin' in our bathroom with his own litterbox and food dishes until we could schedule a vet appointment for him.
Last night we took Martin to our Wrigleyville vet, and while we were there we asked if they could scan him for an implanted AVID ID chip, just in case he had an owner. One of the veterinary assistants passed the cell-phone sized scanner over Martin's head and shoulders. After about five seconds the machine emitted a short "beep", and the implanted chip's number appeared on its display. He was a 'marked cat' - and he had an owner somewhere.
After a few false leads and phone calls, the vet's office tracked down the registrant of the AVID chip - we discovered 'Martin' belonged to a woman who lived only about four blocks away from us, and his real name was Frankie. By about 8 pm, Frankie's "mom" arrived at our place for a joyous reunion with her pet, whom she believed permanently lost - or dead. We learned that he'd been missing since Hallowe'en night - nearly 2 months - and that Frankie was 18 years old. Frankie was 126 in cat years? I thought he didn't look a day over 3.
If you're looking for a pet I.D. chip success story, this is one: Frankie's owner told us he's a cat who absolutely refuses to wear collars, and she decided to have him "chipped" in August of this year. If he hadn't had the implanted chip, I believe he'd never have made his way back home after such a long time. I know there are stories of animals returning home from amazingly long distances, but I think these are usually rural pets; our neighborhood is filled with cars, trucks, and myriad dangers and confusing ground smells that would make even a four-block return trip very difficult indeed. It's amazing that such an elderly cat could survive for so long in cold weather in the city, without medical attention and a regular healthy diet. As Frankie's owner said to us last night, "it's a real Christmas miracle!"
A bizarre side-note: Frankie's owner had been alarmed after receiving several strange phones calls Sunday, from someone who would just say "we have your cat" and then hang up. We certainly hadn't made those calls, and Frankie's owner hadn't been receiving any calls from her "Missing" posters for many weeks; in fact there were no longer any posters in neighborhood, except for a single one on her garage door.
Was it the Ghost of Christmas Cats?
Monday, December 22, 2003An earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale shakes California, its epicenter near the Hearst Castle in San Simeon; and a shipload of green bananas washes up on the shore of Lithuania. Note: I said shipload. With a "p."
Coincidence? We think not.
Friday, December 19, 2003At first, I was a bit skeptical. Earlier this year when I first saw the winning design by Daniel Liebeskind Studios, my initial impression of the ethereal, angular silhouette was that it was just too "pie-in-the-sky," too memorial, and insufficiently robust to replace the hearty, square-shouldered Twin Towers. Granted, the first draft of the winning WTC2 design has been modified somewhat - and the new downtown skyscraper cluster will feature three smaller towers with slanted Smurfit-Stone®-like top surfaces.
Interestingly enough, I think the new New York skyline will bear a slight resemblance to Chicago's (a beautiful shot on community.webshots.com by keithesaan) - albeit with a uniquely Gothamesque flavour and imperial hauteur, as the recently-dubbed Freedom Tower will once again claim status as the World's Tallest Building. Come to think of it, Chicago will now look more like New York than New York will, if that makes any sense.
That makes me very happy, although undoubtedly some naysayers around the world will see it as renewed evidence of "American Excess." I am very glad the city's powers-that-be decided not to pursue a purely memorial-only usage of the WTC site: I really believe that would send the wrong message to everyone at home and abroad, and as a recent Time magazine editorial opined on the "woe is us - look at how we're suffering, World!" attitude of some post-9/11 folks, "to hell with sympathy."
Seriously, why should Malaysia, Taiwan and Dubai have all the glory? It's our turn to shine in the skyscraper stakes once again.
After all New York City's been through, it certainly deserves the bragging rights.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
"Considering the age of this transfer, it looks quite good. The print is marred by the expected scratches/dust/debris that come with a 35 year old master, but the digitally remastered video looks good. Due to the source, the colors are muted and far from vibrant - but any sensible person cannot expect this show to look as good as Ice Age or Monsters Inc."Has anyone out there heard any scuttlebutt on more Speed? Will there be a release of Episodes 12-up? I know Artisan spent a good amount on the limited edition rubber-tyre DVD jackets, and I think sales of the first disc were fairly strong.
I'm actually really looking forward to Episodes 12 and 13, "Race for Revenge" - I saw it once as a child on TV, and it's stuck in my memory as a creepy, dark and sci-fi-ish tale of a robotic racecar, the Mallenge (named after Napoleon's horse) X3, that forces other cars off the road to their doom - and calls out in a Kraftwerk-like mechanical voice, "the Mallenge still races..." Oooh...it sure scared the heck out of my 5-year old self. I could barely stand to look at the shots of the steel-gray robotic driver - I was so freaked out - but in retrospect the robot looked pretty much like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. In any case, I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for an old VHS out-of-print copy on eBay when someone's got their fingers on the original masters. I am holding out.
Actually, the quote above is from Upcomingdiscs.com's review of the April 2003 release of the first season of Speed Racer on DVD by Artisan Family Home Entertainment. The Artisan story is a bit complicated, because on December 16th they purchased and merged with financially troubled Lion's Gate Films. A websearch for "Artisan" and "Speed Racer" is bit elusive - and no word anywhere on a possible date for the next release in the series.
Artisan unfortunately doesn't provide a contact number, name or address anywhere on their site - at least that I could find, and in their defense, they may be restructuring. But that's still a personal peeve of mine: commercial websites that don't provide readers with a means to ask a question or contact someone at the organization. I don't need the company president's home address; but they could at least set up a generic e-mail drop like "email@example.com," and have an office lackey clear out the spam once a week and forward legitimate requests for information. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe they could hire the old "Mallenge X3" robot to do it.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003If we're to believe the U.S. Army, 32-year old Sgt. Andreas Pogany - a five-year veteran with a heretofore exemplary service record - is a coward, only because he approached a superior officer and asked permission "to see someone" for help for a panic attack he suffered after seeing an Iraqi soldier cut in half by machine gun fire before him.
From Unknown News.net:
"From his waistline to his head, everything was missing," Sergeant Pogany said. Sergeant Pogany said he has seen the bodies of people killed in car accidents and that he is not squeamish. "But nothing could have prepared me for that," he said. He also said some of the other soldiers were laughing. The sight disturbed him so much, he said, he threw up and shook for hours. His head pounded and his chest hurt.On December 9th, the Army dropped the charge of cowardice against Pogany, but he still faces a charge of dereliction of duty. He has been stripped of his weapon and demoted to cleaning duty at Fort Carson in Colorado.
"I couldn't function," Sergeant Pogany said in an interview on Tuesday in his lawyer's office in Colorado Springs, not far from Fort Carson. "I had this overwhelming sense of my own mortality. I kept looking at that body thinking that could be me two seconds from now."
When he informed his superior that he was having a panic attack and needed to see someone, Sergeant Pogany said he was given two sleeping pills and told to go away. A few days later, Sergeant Pogany was put on a plane and sent home. Now he faces a possible court-martial. If convicted, the punishment could range from a dock in pay to death.
After reading some details of the story, I think it's unconscionable that the military would treat one of their own in this way - someone faced with a legitimate medical problem, being punished in this manner. Pogany did not "misbehave," he did not retreat - he asked for assistance, and what he got from the country he serves was a boot-kick in the face.
Unfortunately, this case illustrates the culture of macho callousness that often exists in the military. Soldiers need to be tough, without a doubt; but no one, not even the best soldiers, can be expected to absorb every vicious, gruesome experience and emerge unscathed. The truth of the matter is, that although it often takes amazing callousness to survive the horrors of battle, that insensitivity serves no one outside the theater of war - and rarely serves well those within it.
What can happen if a soldier like Pogany ingores his human best instincts and represses the trauma? We get occasional blips on the screen of the sequelae of these psychic boils: news stories of people who explode in murderous or suicidal violence against the inhuman pain they carry inside them, when they can carry the load no longer. Stories that make the evening news or front pages for a day, but are quickly forgotten by most. The majority - those who don't make the news - often live in private anguish and suffer untold personal misery.
No one - not even soldiers - should have to live alone with that kind pain within, only because the cost of asking for help could be their careers, their reputations or even their lives. The pain of war is pain enough, and I hope that the troubling case of Sergeant Pogany will at least serve to open our eyes to the injustices the military often inflicts on it own.
The men and women who put their lives on the line for our country deserve far, far better than this.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003Historians have recently discovered that a few years before Leonardo da Vinci created his legendary Mona Lisa, he had painted a different version using another model.
After years of intensive artistic labor, Leonardo cried out in ecstasy at the climactic completion of his masterpiece - "bellisima!"
However, upon donning his new pair of spectacles purchased from an itinerant Chinese merchant, Leonardo realized his assistant had dialed the wrong Model from the Florence Bell phonebook - and that he had not actually portrayed the young wife of Francesco di Bartolommeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, one of the Italian city's noblest citizens.
Realizing he was at imminent risk of being whacked by Francesco's hitmen, Leonardo promptly fired his nearsighted assistant and used this painting to patch the hole in his drafty outhouse.
Sotheby's had attempted to sell this older, rougher version several times, but no takers, so far.
[Note: This post will be funny to only about two dozen people in the known universe. - Ed.]
Monday, December 15, 2003On my usual morning blog jaunt, I noticed Crescat Sententia had posted about this interesting little online quiz - the Ethical Philosophy Selector. It works like most other online quizzes, but the results are designed to indicate how strongly your individual answers regarding personal moral beliefs correlate with those of a range of well-known philosophers. My strongest correlations were:
1. Aquinas (100%)
2. Spinoza (90%)
3. Jean-Paul Sartre (81%)
4. Aristotle (69%)
Now I'm curious. Looks like I should start reading up on St. Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza.
...and you thought I was going to say something about the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Friday, December 12, 2003Before you pick up that bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 this weekend, consider this: there may be something to the old Temperance ploy of dropping a worm into a glass of booze to visually demonstrate alcohol's toxicity to habitual tipplers. The old joke says the worm shrivels up and dies horribly, at which point the lecturer sternly announces - "so what does this teach you?" - only to have a red-faced wino answer, "if you drink, you'll never get worms!"
Well, researchers at the University of California San Francisco have now found the alcoholism gene in - you guessed it - worms:
After six years of work on the project, [UCSF researcher Dr. Steven] McIntire *can now spot a soused worm about as well as a highway patrol trooper can spot a drunken driver. He and the other scientists dosed hundreds of thousands of worms with enough alcohol that they would be too drunk to drive legally -- if they were human with the same blood-to-alcohol levels. The **drunken worms moved slower and more awkwardly than sober ones, and laid fewer eggs. Teetotaler worms form a neat S shape to power propulsion while the bodies of drunken worms were straighter and less active.* Now that's something to put on the resumé...and a great pickup line at a cocktail party.
** Do drunk drivers lay fewer eggs than sober drivers?
Margaret Cho on Dim Sum dining:
I went to eat dim sum in Chinatown. The hierarchy between the dim sum ladies still exists. What it is broken down into is a kind of terrible ranking system in which the young and attractive dim sum ladies are in charge of the glass carts, filled with the crisp fried balls of dough filled with shrimp and pork, the taro rolls, spring rolls, egg tarts. The delicate, onyx eyed raven haired Lucy Liu beauties push the sumptuous carts containing the steamer baskets, filled with whiter than white pork buns and translucent shrimp shu mai. Then the metal carts, filled with scary shit that nobody wants, like chicken feet or broccoli rabe, the funky gluey rice cakes that need to be fried at the table, are given to the older dim sum ladies, the ones who are long in the tooth, soon to be put out to pasture, about to be made into glue themselves, proving yet again, sex sells. Even dim sum.
I've been a Red Meat fan for years, but this week's strip is a slow-burn stone twisted funny-bone classic.
Thursday, December 11, 2003Here's a lovely shagalicious item we should encourage the return of: the aluminum Christmas Tree!
Imagine the patriotic - and politically correct - possibilities! We can bolster the economy by boosting domestic aluminum manufacture, save energy because electric lights are verboten on metal branches (use the funky rotating color wheel instead!) - not to mention we can save thousands of poor natural Christmas trees, who can survive another year or two.
I'm sure they'd rather end up as a National Enquirers somewhere than as dried-up, discarded living room ornaments. No; seriously though, I think aluminum trees are very chic - my Christmas sensibilities definitely lean towards 1960's Modern Style. Even Starbucks® Coffee has aluminum-tree style holiday decor this year.
Hmm...I would love to have a Gobbler-era Christmas tree. Thanks, Traveling In Style!
[P.S.] "You know you're from Jersey when..."
It's all about perspective, I suppose. Teachers in the Uttar Pradesh region of India are reportedly threatening to go on strike for the right to knit during class hours...yes, you read correctly: the right to knit. Parents' groups there had recently mounted a protest against the purling pedagogues, saying teachers should be paying attention to their students, not their rowcounts.
"What's wrong if they sit in the staff room and knit during free periods?" asked R.P. Mishra, a spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Teachers' Association, calling the ban "dictatorial."[AP]: "They are often more interested in knitting than in teaching," Neera Yadav, the principal secretary of education for Uttar Pradesh, told in the state capital Lucknow on Wednesday. "All the officials — including teachers and clerks — in the primary and secondary sections have been banned from knitting on school premises during teaching hours."
Wednesday, December 10, 2003Very nicely put, Will (of Crescat Sententia):
"Foul language is like saffron, vermouth, or sea salt: A light and fearless touch adds flavor and edge that can be gotten in no other way, though a heavy hand is oppressive."Come to think of it, let's do a little experiment in linguistic synesthaesia - what spices do these expletives recall?
- F--k: Cayenne pepper, or asafoetida - pungent, stinging and forceful, even from a cautious distance.
- S--t: I would say asafoetida, but I've associated that seasoning with f--k already, and s--t is so darn common these days. Perhaps chocolate, or valerian root?
- D--n: Is this even an expletive any more? Think perdition and commonality; in which case an appropriate spice would be salt.
- C--k: Black Pepper - achoo.
- C--t: Cumin. 'Nuff said.
- P-ss: Chamomile, if only because of the color of the tea and its occasional aroma.
- H-ll: Anything with blue food coloring, artificial banana flavour or marshmallows.
- M----------r: I don't know...you fill in the blank, folks - I'm drawing one right now. This isn't one of the expletives in my personal canon.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003You people on the East Coast - shoveling your way blithely through feet of dense white snow like mechanical Santa's Elves, traversing slippery highways and byways to get to work, home, and play...we at farkleberries salute you and your shovels.
Here in Chicago, we're trying to stay dry and holiday-spirited on this soggy foggy Tuesday. Thick grey mist obscures the skyline and any semblance of urban beauty; drenching cold rain seeps under your collar like a thief, and shorts out strings of Christmas lights on wrought iron gates around the city. Yecch.
For soakers and snowdiggers alike, here's a recipe from My God, It's Full of Squirrels! to warm you from your chapped red nose to your frostbitten crooked toes: Swedish Andersonville Glogg. Pronounced Gloog, the recipe posted on Squirrels is the high-test, Aquavit-bolstered version fit for Vikings and Uptown boozers. Personally, I like to make mine with wine only - here's the official house recipe.
Farkleberries' GloggThere you have it - Glogg at home! You don't even have to travel to Sweden or Andersonville - just think of us when you quaff some. Let me know how you like the recipe, and feel free to provide suggestions.
1 gallon of decent quality, full-bodied red wine. Concha y Toro™, Gallo™, or Turning Leaf™ are good inexpensive brands, or try one that comes in a glass jug (which you can re-use as a stylish retro terrarium). For heaven's sake, don't use the kind in a box - boxes are for gifts and dead bodies, not wine.
2 clean ripe oranges cut in halves, studded with a few whole cloves. Don't cheap out and toss a couple of unsmoked Djarums into the pot - use actual cloves. You don't have to turn them into pomanders or little Hellraiser-head Cenobites, just stick about a dozen into each orange for that spicy good flavor.
1 clean lemon cut in half, no cloves. It'll do the job adequately by itself. Why clean?
What, you want germs from a hundred holiday shoppers' fingers cooked into your glogg?
3-4 cinnamon sticks
1" chunk fresh or dried gingerroot
1 cup dark brown sugar, adjust more or less to taste
5 bruised cardamom pods
Place all of the above in a clean glass or enameled pot with a close-fitting cover - or try a Crock Pot™ if you have a few hours before your party. Slowly bring the mixture to a low simmer (it should never boil) and hold for 20-30 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust sugar, and serve in mugs.
And remember, don't glogg and drive. Take the "el".
Monday, December 08, 2003Rosa Parks, the lady who famously refused to sit at the back of the bus, is now also the lady who refuses to let her name be co-opted for commercial gain by the rap duo OutKast. Parks, 90, has won the right to sue the Atlanta rappers for "violat[ing] her publicity and trademark rights and defam[ing] her." OutKast say that "the song is neither false advertising nor a violation of Parks' publicity rights and is protected by the First Amendment."
Here are the lyrics to the song that bears her name:
Ah ha, hush that fussPut yourself in Ms. Parks' shoes. Would you want your name as the title of this song? Case closed. OutKast could've at least asked first. Guys - you should know who you're messing with here. This is the woman that bucked the system on December 1st, 1955, when she said no, I will not give up my seat on the bus to a white man...and I don't she's lost any of her moxie in the intervening fifty years.
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk
Many a day has passed, the night has gone by
But still I find the time to put that bump off in your eye
Total chaos, for these playas, thought we was absent
We takin another route to represent the Dungeon Family
Like Great Day, me and my nigga decide to take the back way
We stabbing every city then we headed to that bat cave
A - T - L, Georgia, what we do for ya
Bull doggin hoes like them Georgetown Hoyas
Boy you sounding silly, thank my Brougham aint sittin pretty
Doing doughnuts round you suckas like then circles around titties
Damn we the committee gone burn it down
But us gone bust you in the mouth with the chorus now
I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game
To stimulate then activate the left and right brain
Said baby boy you only funky as your last cut
You focus on the past your ass'll be a has what
Thats one to live by or either that one to die to
I try to just throw it at you determine your own adventure
Andre, got to her station here's my destination
She got off the bus, the conversation lingered in my head for hours
Took a shower kinda sour cause my favorite group ain't comin with it
But I'm witcha you cause you probably goin through it anyway
But anyhow when in doubt went on out and bought it
Cause I thought it would be jammin but examine all the flawsky - wawsky
Awfully, it's sad and it's costly, but that's all she wrote
And I hope I never have to float in that boat
Up sh!t creek it's weak is the last quote
That I want to hear when I'm goin down when all's said and done
And we got a new joe in town
When the record player get to skippin and slowin down
All yawl can say is them n____s earned that crown but until then...
Friday, December 05, 2003I like catching up with old friends and acquaintances, especially around holiday time.
Walt B., a old co-worker of mine from WPTZ Channel 5 has set up a new website, Waltsweb.com. One of my favorite pages is this one dedicated to Artwork by Frenchy (another WPTZ alumnus), which lampoons yet another former WPTZ employee, who shall remain nameless for now.
If you worked at WPTZ Channel 5 anytime in the late 1990's - or attended SUNY Plattsburgh around them - you will probably recognize the face in question, and these drawings will put a knowing smile on your face and a sparkle in your day. If not, you will probably fall over in your chair laughing anyway. These pictures are hilarious.
(P.S.) A picture of me circa 1998 appears somewhere on this page, but I won't tell you where. You'll have to guess. Hint: cue in on a group photo.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003Here's a shocker - an age-progressed photo generated from a childhood image) of what Michael Jackson might have looked like today, had he not undergone a Palm Beach nursing home's worth of plastic surgery. Wow.
Thanks to Negative Velocity.
From New York Newsday: "'This whole process intrigues me,' Jett told The Associated Press Wednesday. 'I am a virgin here. I'm stepping into new territory. It's very exciting. I want to learn a lot and try to pay attention.' If she is elected during New York's March 2 presidential primary, Jett would go to the Democratic National Convention next summer as a Dean delegate.I've been a Dean fan since my Vermont days (okay, okay, I never actually lived in Vermont - I lived in Plattsburgh, New York, right across the ferry. Close enough; put it this way - when Vermont sneezes, Plattsburgh catches a cold.) and it's just icing on the cake to have one of my fave musical artists be so big a supporter as to run for delegate. Rock on, Joan! Or is that "run on"?
Dean's New York campaign director, Ethan Geto, said Jett was an early and active supporter of Dean's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, including performing at fund-raising events. 'I am very impressed with Howard Dean,' Jett said. 'I care about our country and our troops and I want things to go well.' Jett, 43, said she agrees with Dean's stance against the war in Iraq, though she is a champion of members of the U.S. military. She performed twice for troops in the Afghanistan military theater in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, and has also performed for American troops in Bosnia.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003Oh, good heavens: DaimlerChrysler is sponsoring a $30 Pay-Per-View event called the Dodge Lingerie Bowl. What is it? A 7-on-7 tackle football game played by female models wearing - you guessed it - lingerie.
As I mentioned before, a moment in the back pages is just that, but 'Google is forever' - a cursory websearch now reveals a high proportion of listings referring to the article. Remember, this is a "light" story, relatively speaking - what newsers would call a "folo" (pronouced "follow"), a follow-up reaction to a more important breaking news piece.
I guess it's what you'd calling getting your toes wet in the media pool.