Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beating a dead womp rat

So, my son the Wookie came in and informed me of some sad news last night. George Lucas is planning on yet another release of the Star Wars six-pack in two years. This time, in 3-D. Maybe this is what the Mayans meant when they prophesized that the world would end in 2012.

Did anyone have any question whether or not George Lucas was a whore?

I'll admit, he isn't a cheap whore. It's not like he'll sell himself to any syphilitic leather-freak for a rock of crack. He's definitely a top-of-the-line, high-dollar prostitute - an extravagant courtesan, if you will. But in the end, an expensive whore is still a whore, right?

And the worst part of the whole story? He's releasing the second trilogy first. He's so enamored of his own "vision" that he can't seem to realize that, even by adding a coat of 3-D gloss to the prequels, they're still going to be a matched set of turds. It will just look like you can reach out and touch them, and who wants that? They're still turds, just in 3-D.
He has said that the "Avatar" experience convinced him that "Star Wars" is ready for the state-of-the-art 3D treatment.
What lesson did that teach you, George? When there's nothing new in the story, you should just make it prettier?

Look, it's simple. The first movie came out, and it was campy pulp science fiction, but it was well-done. (OK, I thought the first twenty minutes or so, with all the whining and exposition on Tatooine, were slow and plodding, but maybe that's just me.) And yes, George, I know, you want all the cool kids to call it "A New Hope."

But fuck you, George. It's Star Wars. Live with it.

Then came the The Empire Strikes Back, and it was flashier and better, but still essentially just well-done 1930's space opera in a shinier coat. It had issues, but it was a good movie.

And then there was Return of the Jedi, which had the Ewoks. But other than that, it was a decent piece of cinema that wrapped everything up nicely. It, too, was a good movie. Weaker than the second one (and, incidentally, did I mention that it had Ewoks?), but not everything has to be bigger and flashier, right?

But George, I'm sorry: somewhere between 1983 and 1997, the bovine spongiform encephalopathy kicked in, didn't it? Our first evidence was that initial re-release, where you cleaned up the special effects and tweaked it just a little. That's fine. That wasn't the problem. In fact, in a lot of cases, it was an improvement.

Here's the thing, George. I know you want to mythologize your characters. I know they're all special little snowflakes to you, and you want them to be good people, and you want flowers to spring up wherever they step. But you know what, George?

Han shot first!

Jesus Christ on a popsickle stick, he's the fucking anti-hero! He's allowed to shoot the guy in the goofy green rubber mask!

Let's be honest: Greedo has already explained that Han's about to get ass-raped by Jabba the Slugg, so Han has every right to blow a hole in Greedo's chest. I know you want to paint a halo on him, but this is part of Han's character. It doesn't make him a bad man, it just makes him a less-perfect man.

And then, George, oh, then, everything just went to hell, didn't it? You sank deeper into madness, and you released the second trilogy. Why did you have to do that? I just have three words for you. (Or two words, depending on how you count it. I don't really care.)

Jar Jar Binks.

There's more. Oh, there's so much more - there's the whiny kid who couldn't act, who you decided should be play Mannequin Skywalker; there's the "yellow peril" Trade Federation; there's just so much to bitch about. But overshadowing them all, there's Jar Jar Binks.

Nobody liked him, George. He was a ridiculous, vaguely racist stereotype that sucked the life out of any scene he was in. And with so little life in the movie to begin with, why would you want to fuck it up further?

(Yes, George, "racist." Just because the guy modeling for Jar Jar, who you completely covered with CGI, was black, this doesn't mean that the character wasn't a bad mutation of Stepin Fetchit crossed with the Easter Bunny and pumped full of crystal meth.)

You know, George, it's starting to get sad. There's the second trilogy, there's the re-release (and the re-re-release, and on into infinity), there's the board games and the video games and the "interactive" hand-held games, and the books and the toys and the crappy TV shows, and the mugs shaped like character heads, and the fucking comic books, and the Landspeeder beds, and all of the worst merchandising ever invented. You've done everything you can to keep pulling milk out of this cash cow, and at this point, you're just sucking dust.

Or to put it another way, you can masturbate a corpse all you want, but you know something? Maybe you should save your lotion and tissues for somebody who'll appreciate it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Unchained Melody

The 1965 hit Unchained Melody was one of the biggest successes of the Righteous Brothers' career. Twice. But few people actually know anything about it.

Let's start with the fact that it was not written by, or for, the Righteous Brothers - it was already ten years old before they released it as the B-side of the single Hung on You, penned by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. But DJ's preferred the B-side, and played that instead.

This rebellion of the radio stations (who were being bribed to play what he wanted them to play, after all) annoyed producer Phil Spector; one continuing rumor says that the main reason was that Spector hadn't actually produced Unchained Melody - it was just a B-side, so he'd left those duties to Bill Medley, one of the two singers (which is why, if you listen, it's essentially a solo by Bobby Hatfield, the other half of the duo - in fact, Hatfield later recorded it as a solo, after the duo broke up).

The Righteous Brothers' 1965 original became a hit again when it was used as the love theme for the 1990 movie Ghost.

(This video uses Italian overdubs of the dialog, because Paramount cracks down on clean copies of the original whenever they're posted on YouTube.)

Unfortunately for the movie studio, they underestimated how big a hit this 25-year-old re-release was going to be, and didn't use it extensively to promote the movie. It was only available as a 45 RPM single, which sold out quickly. The Righteous Brothers, who weren't making a dime off the song anymore, quickly rerecorded it, and Curb Records released it as a cassette single.

The original 1965 version, with limited sales and on the strength of the radio airplay, reached #13 on the Top 40 charts. The rerecording, with limited airplay and on the strength of sales almost entirely, reached #19. And for eight weeks in mid-1990, both songs were simultaneously sharing space in the Hot 100; the re-release became their second UK #1.

Despite being the most famous version, the Righteous Brothers' versions were not the first. The song was originally written as the theme for a 1955 prison movie called "Unchained."

This explains the title of the song, since the lyrics don't actually contain the word "unchained" at all. In fact, it brings a new light on lyrics which I've always heard but never thought about.
Oh, my love
my darling
I've hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
are you still mine?

...I'll be coming home,
wait for me
The song was written by Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret, and operatic baritone Todd Duncan sang it for the movie. As well as the soundtrack version, six different artists (Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, Jimmy Young, Roy Hamilton, Liberace and June Valli) released versions in 1955 which charted in both the US and UK (Valli's version being the only one that wasn't a Top 10 hit in one country or the other).

The next year, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song of 1955; at the ceremony, it was sung by Harry Belafonte, who had just released his own version of the song.

It has gone on to become one of the most recorded songs in history, released by over 500 artists in dozens of languages. It's been done by Roy Orbison, U2, the Supremes, Sarah McLachlan, Ricky Nelson and Cyndi Lauper, among so many others.

In his last television appearance in June 1977 (six weeks before his death), Elvis Presley performed the song for Elvis in Concert. It was also on Moody Blue, the last album released while he was alive, with Elvis accompanying himself on piano.

There was also one other version performed in 1955, though. It was from an album by "the Goons," composed of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and others. But the publishers of the song didn't appreciate the flippant version, and it remained unreleased until 1990.


(Note: h/t to Left-Leaning Lady for catching my typo on Elvis' performance. Date corrected.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rules for the Empire

The agenda is now public, thanks to PF at Forever in Hell. I bow before our new Empress.
Here it is folks, I'm laying out the Atheist Agenda™ for all the world to see: to leverage this minor blog into my becoming Empress of the Entire Freakin' World. I know, who would've seen that coming?

Anyway, so you can be prepared when I seize power (during an incident that will later be known as the Improbable Soup Disaster), I thought I'd give you a preview of what the Empire will be all about.

Hats. Everyone will wear hats because I like them. If you don’t like your assigned hat, you are welcome to fight someone else for their hat. If you think your hat looks stupid, that’s probably because I don’t like you. You're welcome to complain, but then again, maybe I was complimenting you with that hat- is that a risk you're willing to take?

Health care. Universal. Free. Will include dental and vision. If you don’t like it, you can feel free to die of an infected papercut.

Birth Control. Free, available at every gas station convenient store and it will come in designer colours.

Jeggings. Jeggings will be a form of punishment only. Due to the universal and free healthcare, we will no longer be able to incarcerate any but the most dangerous criminals. This will result in a series of increasingly bizarre and amusing punishments, eventually culminating in a Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome dance contest, after which I assume people will no longer commit minor crimes.

Gay marriage. Of course.

Religion. I will allow major religions, but only so I can promote quirky, offbeat religions, so I suggest you work out the tenets of your faith in advance. Extra points for pageantry that creates an element of otherwise avoidable danger!

Grammar. The Grammar Police will be consuming fully 25% of our former defense budget. I suggest everyone learn how commas work now, before soldiers in lavender berets waltz through your front door and teach you at the end of a bayonet. A reciprocating saw bayonet. And they will literally waltz. It will be delightful.

Food, shelter water, electricity, internet, heat. No one will do without. End of story. I don’t see why people should freeze or starve in the dark, smelly and ignorant of the world around them.

Access. I see no reason why the disabled shouldn't enjoy shopping, dining out, libraries, museums, movies and other forms of, you know, living life. Therefore, everything and every place will be made accessible immediately. Also, I'm going to publicly execute the first 50 closed captioners who caption live TV as nf5njn7qiurft?!, which should greatly improve the quality of future captioning. Or at least the captioning of executions.

Taxes. Will be epic.

Complaints about taxes. You will be forced to address complaints about taxes directly to the beneficiaries of said taxes. So go ahead and threaten to shrug your atlas, bad boy, I’ll put you in a room with the parents of a child with cancer and you can explain to them why you don’t want to pay for their child’s treatment. The parents will be provided with rope and a baseball bat. I wonder what order they’ll use them in?

The Armed Forces. Well, I'll be Empress of the Entire Freakin' World, so other than the occasional doomed rebellion, I'm not sure what I'd really need an army for. So I will disband most of it. I've got all the world's nukes after all. And probably some bitchin' biological/chemical weapons. Disbanding the world's armies will have the added benefit of paying for things we really need, like food. And shelter. And gas lines that don’t explode. And bridges that don’t collapse. And the Grammar Police.

Pears. Will be free.

Books. Every citizen will receive a $5,000 yearly book allowance. Any book you want, paper or electronic. This allowance will come in the form of a card that, when used, triggers a recording of me dramatically yelling, “Are you not entertained?!” (Well, I at least will be entertained.)

That's what the Atheist Agenda™ has so far. You should probably claim your overpaid cabinet position today.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where's the rum gone?

Avast, ye dogs! Listen up or it's the lash fer ye!

While a warship from those dogs what broke away from the accursed British East Inja Company dishonorably prevented a poor pirate ship from defendin' hisself against attacks, we don' hardly care fer that, now, do we? The Bay of Aden is halfway around the world, an' almost where the map tells us there be dragons. So enough of those scurvy wretches, then. We has more important things ta speak of.

There be rum wars afoot!

Aye, it seems that Puerto Rico is screaming like a midshipman getting his barnacles crushed because the Virgin Islands has stolen their rum. O' course, instead o' weighing anchor and hoisting the Jolly Roger, they be whinging about it like a cabin boy told it's his turn in the dress, saying that the Virgin Islands did some nefarious deal, when really, they just made Captain Morgan a better offer.

O'course, ye can trust me on this much; since Captain Morgan is going there, we'll just be calling them "the Islands" from now on.

Friday, September 17, 2010

America the Poorhouse

Words of wisdom from the Rude Pundit
In Fort Myers, Florida, the Salvation Army reports a 60% jump in families seeking its services.

In Tucscon, Arizona, a local soup kitchen has seen the number of people it serves nightly go from an 40 to 150-200.

In the last year, in Livingston County, Michigan, the number of people looking for food and cash assistance has risen by over 30%. In Jackson County, it's up over 24%.

In Texas, more than one out of every four kids under the age of 18 lives in poverty. That's higher than the national average of one out of every five. And over a quarter of the entire state is without health insurance. Charities there report 25-50% more demand for food and assistance since 2008.

In Steuben County, New York, homelessness has risen by 15% since 2009. And Catholic Charities says that it's serving 33% more people than last year.

In Minnesota, "At Families Moving Forward, a Minneapolis network of churches offering shelter to families with children, the number of calls for housing has shot up from 50 for every opening to 150."

According to the census, the poverty rate in the United States has risen from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009. For those of you doing math, that's one out of every seven Americans. Income has fallen. The number of people without health insurance has risen. Extended unemployment benefits are all that kept 3.3 million more people from falling below the cruel poverty line.

Oh, and by the way: "The top fifth of households accounted for 50.3% of all pre-tax income; the bottom two-fifths got 12%." When it comes to tax cuts and discretionary spending cuts, we're arguing about what now?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Submitted almost entirely without comment

...except to say that this is kind of awesome. I wonder if you can get this ice cream in the States? They've got to be loving the free advertising from the controversy.

Pregnant Nun Ice Cream Advert Banned For 'Mockery'

An ice cream company banned from using an advert displaying a pregnant nun has vowed to position similar posters in London in time for the Pope's visit.

Antonio Federici's advert showed a pregnant nun eating ice cream in a church, together with the strap line "immaculately conceived".

The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered it to be discontinued, saying it mocked Roman Catholic beliefs.

Antonio Federici says it will now put up new posters near Westminster Abbey.

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Westminster Abbey on Friday, before holding Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday.

Antonio Federici, a UK-based company, has yet to reveal what image will be portrayed in the new advert, saying only that it would be "a continuation of the theme".

A spokeswoman for the company said the new image intended to "defy" the ban from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). She added: "We are in the process of securing a series of billboards close to and along the planned route of the Pope's cavalcade around Westminster Cathedral."

A spokesman for the ASA said its rulings "must be followed and we are taking steps to ensure Antonio Federici do so".

He added: "We do not comment on the likely compliance of ads that have not yet appeared. However, we are continuing to conduct work behind the scenes, including with the advertiser, to ensure they comply with the rules."

Defending the banned nun advert, Antonio Federici said the idea of "conception" represented the development of their ice cream. It added that the use of religious imagery represented its strong feeling towards its product.

The firm said it also wished to "comment on and question, using satire and gentle humour, the relevance and hypocrisy of religion and the attitudes of the church to social issues."

The ASA banned another advert for Antonio Federici in July 2009 that showed a priest and a nun appearing as if they were about to kiss.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Your media narrative is going kill us all (part 2 - updated)

The current media narrative is that the elections in November are going to be a disaster for the Democrats, with massive numbers of Republicans getting elected. (This message is often accompanied by metaphorical battlefield narrative, with the victorious conquerors striding over the bleeding bodies of their fallen foes.)

And this has many people panicked about the fate of America, with teabaggers coming into office and strengthening the obstructionist Republicans who are doing their best to ensure that the first black president's term in office is an abject failure. Because, after all, Americans have notoriously short memories and will always choose instant gratification over long-term gains: it actually sounds plausible that, since Obama did not immediately create untold wealth and prosperity, the small-minded people will decide to give the keys back to the people who drove the car into the lake in the first place.

What they're failing to rememeber, of course, is that the media narrative is usually wrong. For one thing, it's being driven by people who are motivated to tell you that the Republicans will save us all.
While right-wing media chooses stories that serve its political agenda, progressive media increasingly covers the same "news." True, the focus is on disproving right-wing accounts, but from the "death panels" for granny to the alleged "Ground Zero" mosque, the right wing is setting the agenda for the progressive media.

No wonder Americans are unaware of President Obama's many accomplishments, or think that he, rather than President Bush, signed the unpopular bank bailout bill. With progressive media primarily focused on rebutting conservative "news," little time is left to promote stories that build support for progressive policies.

And, unlike progressive media, Fox and right-wing radio feel no obligation to cover stories that boost their opponents. The right-wing media avoids news that does not serve their cause, which limits stories from echoing through the broader public.

That's why so few Americans know about the Ensign, Vitter and other Republican political scandals, but everyone knows about Charles Rangel's problems. And why so many are unaware of the jobs created and preserved by the Obama stimulus, or about the many positive actions Obama officials at the EPA have taken to improve the environment.

Many noted how the media never connected former President Bush to the Exxon Valdez spill, but directly associated Obama with BP's reckless conduct. That's because Fox News and others made Obama the issue from the start, and traditional media either parroted this line or joined progressives in noting that the Bush Administration imposed lax oil drilling regulations; either way, Fox's framing of Obama as a central figure in the spill prevailed.
The slant even makes itself apparent in who they choose to tell the narrative. A new study from George Mason University School of Law shows that among the panel guests making up the Sunday Morning talk shows, "diversity" is a myth. The most common panelist is overwhelmingly an older, white, male Republican.
The study, of the five network Sunday shows from February to December 2009, found that while 14.6 percent of members of Congress were minorities, just 2.5 percent of the Congressional TV guests were minorities; and that while 16.9 percent of members were female, 13.5 percent of the guests were female.

A supplement to the study also singled out a group of “30 white, male U.S. senators in office six plus years” who represented 5.6 percent of the Congressional populace, but 61.4 percent of the TV guests.
Other fine examples of media compliance with promoting a false narrative can be found with allowing Republicans to call the act of allowing the Bush tax cuts expire a "tax increase," or the continual references to a community center as the "Ground Zero Mosque" (despite the fact that it's partly modeled on the 92nd Street Y, which is a Jewish community center, and nobody ever calls it "the Upper East Side Temple").

So, where does that leave us? Where should we turn?

Perhaps to the facts.
Flash back with me to February, 2008. Check out the headlines. If you alter the search terms from "Clinton leads" to "McCain can win", you get results like this. I love that first headline, don't you? October 29, 2008, just a couple of days ahead of the election, and the headline from the Seattle Times and others around the country is "McCain can still win..." Just for more fun, look at the news results for August-September 2008 when Palin came onboard -- she was a "game-changer".
We don't know what will happen. But really, we almost never do.

In the end, all we can bring away with us is that things are probably not as cut and dried as the "liberal media" would like us to believe.

Update (9/16): So meanwhile, if you're looking for more reasons to doubt the media's narrative about the unstoppable GOP machine, perhaps you should consider that the Republican party is currently curled up in the corner, trying to gnaw its leg off. And as for the public, well, it turns out that while they don't like the Democrats much, they like the Republicans even less, and they believe the Democrats have a better chance of fixing the mess we're in. So, you know, calm down. And don't forget to vote.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't try to lay no boogie woogie

As a teenager in Germany, the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service had one channel of each to listen to. And, aside from the news and a couple of half-hour local-interest things, everything was syndicated and brought in from America.

I have no idea what the show was, but I first heard Long Tom Baldry on the radio, sometime after I was supposed to have been in bed, singing a song that I had only heard once until this week. But I have always remembered it.

He was a British-born singer who later became a Canadian citizen (there you go, Nicole - a reason to like him). At 6'7", you can see how he earned the name "Long Tom." He was one of the first British vocalists to sing the blues, and actually, listening to him now, his voice is most similar to (of all people) Welsh-born Tom Jones.

He performed with many of the best blues and rock (and pop, technically) musicians of the Sixties British scene - he was friends with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Paul McCartney, and opened for or played in TV specials with both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
In 1963, Baldry joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars with Jimmy Page on guitar and Nicky Hopkins playing piano. He took over in 1964 after the death of Cyril Davies. It became Long John Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men featuring Rod Stewart on vocals and Geoff Bradford on guitar. Stewart was recruited after Baldry heard him busking a Muddy Waters song at Twickenham station after Stewart had been to a gig at Eel Pie Island.

In 1965, the Hoochie Coochie Men became Steampacket with Baldry and Stewart as male vocalists, Julie Driscoll as the female vocalist and Brian Auger on Hammond organ. After Steampacket broke up in 1966, Baldry formed Bluesology featuring Reg Dwight on keyboards and Elton Dean, later of Soft Machine, as well as Caleb Quaye on guitar. Dwight adopted the name "Elton John," his first name from Dean and his surname from Baldry.
And the song I've always remembered, having only heard it once?

It was his biggest US hit, from his album It Ain't Easy. Well, let's go to Crawdaddy magazine and writer Paul Myers.
In order to fully appreciate Long John Baldry’s 1971 album, It Ain't Easy, it helps to know a little about the events leading up to its release. At the dawn of the 1970s, the British blues pioneer was sitting on the sidelines of rock, pondering his imminent plunge to the bottom after two wild rides to the top in the UK. His career had begun in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when the 6’7”, white, gay Englishman had become the unlikely father of the British blues, helping to promulgate the African-American art form in the London clubs with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies’ Blues Incorporated, and later discovering Rod Stewart, whom Baldry featured in his band the Hoochie Coochie Men. Next came England’s "first supergroup," the legendary, if ephemeral, Steampacket, starring Baldry and Stewart with Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll. Additionally, Baldry directly inspired Mick Taylor, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones to form the Rolling Stones and even demonstrated to a young Eric Clapton that white English boys could in fact play the blues.

Then came a bittersweet misstep; he transformed himself into an Engelbert Humperdinck-styled balladeer and went, literally, to Top of the Pops in 1967 with a sappy hit called "Let the Heartaches Begin." While it probably netted him a few pounds, he all but stained his blues legacy in Britain forever, becoming the darling of housewives and schoolgirls, an audience he secretly had little time for. In the meantime, John Mayall, Clapton, and others stole his blues mantle out from under him. After the demise of his band, Bluesology—which launched the career of Reggie Dwight, the future Elton John—Baldry’s career soon dissipated into in a boozy haze of artistic and commercial recession.

By 1971, a despondent Baldry sat in his Muswell Hill, London flat, feeding his pet goat and finding himself suddenly in the rearview of history at the precise moment when his protégés, Rod Stewart and Elton John, were catapulting to rock stardom in the US.

To save himself, Baldry signed with Faces manager, Billy Gaff, who urged him to get back into the blues-based rock business, with not a moment to waste. Gaff enlisted Baldry’s two star protégés, Stewart and John, to pay back their mentor by producing what would become his American debut.

It Ain’t Easy features balls-up bluesy rave-ups with electric guitars screeching, back beats thwacking, and gospel-tinged female vocalists surrounding your charismatic host, Long John Baldry—a charming English sophisticate who sang like a man with a throat full of Mississippi gravel.

Stewart and John each produced one side of It Ain't Easy. in separate studios and on opposing schedules. This gave the album, in its side-segregated vinyl form, a slightly schizophrenic feel. The Rod Stewart side is more in keeping with his Every Picture Tells a Story album, while the Elton John side works with the piano-fied sonic palette he had employed on his own Tumbleweed Connection.

The first thing you hear, however, is the barrelhouse boogie of pianist Ian Armitt, vamping behind Baldry’s autobiographical spoken word soliloquy, "Conditional Discharge", in which Baldry recounted his late ’50s arrest for busking in London’s Wardour Street. He then slams seamlessly into the album’s rocking manifesto, "Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock & Roll." It’s one of the great one-two punches in the history of recorded rock, and FM and underground radio frequently played the two as one long song.
John William Baldry died on 21 July 2005 in Vancouver, Canada, of a lung infection. Most people alive today are more likely to remember him as the voice of Dr Robotnik, in the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, or one of his many other cartoon voiceovers.


John_Baldry-Conditional_King_of_Rock_&_Roll from"
h/t Devon306 (2 years late) on

Update (11/21/10): Well, went out of business. Probably due to the additional drag of this song from their bandwidth. I can't seem to find a legal audio version of the song anywhere, and don't feel like downloading it. Instead, here's the same song off Youtube, with a picture of his album cover.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is this like syndication?

Ah, as my fame spreads, I will soon be establishing the Excellence in Blogging Network (or EIB Network).

More accurately, thanks to the kind invitation of Slutticia the Heretik, one of the co-writers at Mature Landscaping, many of my posts of a less personal nature (for instance, the one immediately previous to this) will also be cross-posted over at The Swash Zone.

And they have a set of relatively ferocious staff of writers and editors, so I'll be joining will be 18 other people dedicated to pointing out the ignorance of the many in America, the foibles of modern life, and reminding you about all that history you're forgetting. And kicking the louder idiots.

This doesn't mean that there will be less of me here, there'll just be a little of me spilled over there. (Here, let me get you a towel...) Now, if I could just find a way to get this to pay...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Your media narrative is going to kill us all

In case you've been living in a cave for the past several months, Terry Jones, relatively unknown pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center and Yosemite Sam impersonator, burst onto the world stage by threatening to burn Qu'rans on 9/11. Well, now he's cancelled that event, although he isn't clear on the reason: at first, he said he'd cancel if plans to build Park51 were scrapped, or perhaps if he got a call from the president.

Despite that, it seemed only fair to call it off, since he was told that this was a bad idea by pretty much everybody in the world, from both sides of every political and religious spectrum: from President Barack Obama to professional quitter and loudmouth Sarah Palin, to the Prime Minister of Canada; from every possible Islamic organization, to a major group of atheists and free-thinkers, to the National Association of Evangelicals and even the fucking Vatican.

The thing is, this wasn't something that should ever have been seen in the national news. This self-important pastor was a self-aggrandizing lunatic, known to create potentially newsworthy controversy, simply to increase his own notoriety. There were only fifty people in his congregation! How did he become an international headline?

It was the media who felt that his voice should be amplified, to be heard by the entire world. Terry Jones should have been ignored, except that "news" organizations, desperate for ratings, saw conflict in his story. Had he been simply overlooked, like some random racist screaming "nigger," he would have faded away as nothing more than a blip on the world radar screen.

(In a rational world, you could even ask why the burning of a group of bound pages would make anyone angry. Then again, ask PZ Myers why the "desecration" of the Eucharist would cause death threats and controversy. So we'll just take that argument as a given.)

Of course, as each voice spoke out to tell him he was wrong, Jones gained power. The President of the United States should have had nothing to say about some minor ruckus involving a redneck Florida lunatic with a bad mustache. But, by exaggerating Jones's profile, the media forced Obama's hand. (And god knows Obama seems more than willing to jump in whatever direction the media is pointing this week.)

Really, with every word Jones spewed out onto the public scene, this jumped-up Florida firebrand proved that he didn't even care about his own religion, much less the random mythology of the Middle East.

After all, he'd been denied a permit to burn anything. In order to perform his ignorant display of bigotry, Jones would have to break the law. And, just for giggles, what does the Bible say about that?
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 NIV)
Of course, if you're going to be rude enough to go to the Scripture, you should also consider words from earlier in that same book.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (Romans 2:1-2 NIV)
But it hardly mattered that Jones was a crappy Christian; he reflected the media's narrative about the "holy war" between Islam and the western world. And even better, this was a new slant - instead of a radical imam screaming "Death to America!" this was a radical priest screaming "Death to Islam!" (Sadly, a philosophy echoed far too often these days).

So the news networks gave Terry Jones his unjustified fifteen minutes.

In the end, the problem is simple. Radical adherents to any religion are dangerous. They don't need to have their voices heard - they need to be ignored. If Terry Jones hadn't been elevated to an international stage, he would have been considered a random lunatic with a minor cult following him. Instead of a flashpoint inciting riots.

But sadly, because of the current, violently partisan political scene, where the most insane people are considered newsworthy, there's a good chance it will happen again.

The best option? A counter-protest. But a relatively peaceful one (emphasis on the "relatively"). Terry Jones wanted headlines for burning the Qu'ran, and he got them.

So, with the news media in full force, you have to wonder what the reaction have been if he was met by a small group of people with no weapons and no combative attitude. Just fire extinguishers.

People willing to spray down everybody in the neighborhood with non-toxic white foam.

Sure. There would have been some danger - these aren't just idiots, they're armed idiots. But sometimes, your only choice is to change the narrative.

It's just a thought.

Update (9/11/10): OK, so Shaw Kinawe just turned me onto this. I guess it's related...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sarah Palin's Never Going to Run for President

A summation of what I've been thinking, by Lindsay Beyerstein on Big Think

Please note that my opinion is not even universal in my own house. The Trophy Wife (widely known to be a much better human being than I am) is scared to death of a Palin presidency, because she feels, with some justification, that there are just that many stupid Americans.
Will Sarah Palin run for president? Could she win? Garance Franke-Ruta argues that Palin's best strategy would be to remake herself as a leader within the Republican Party. She notes that female candidates in other democracies have used own-party leadership to break through the glass ceiling and attain executive power.

Franke-Ruta acknowledges that being a party leader in a parliamentary system is very different from being a Republican Party official, or a mover and shaker within the party. For one thing, you can become Prime Minister without campaigning for the job, which is one way to circumvent the ingrained sexism of the electorate. But let's set that issue aside for now.

If party leadership is Palin's most viable path to the White House, we can all breathe easily. It's too late for Sarah Palin to remake herself as the natural leader of the Republican Party. She's not even the undisputed head of the conservative wing of the GOP. If the GOP picks its nominee based on leadership within the party, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi will blow Palin out of the water.

In order to lead a political party, as opposed to a cult of personality, you have seem like you give a damn about an institution larger than yourself.

Palin has made it clear at every step of her career that she's out for number one. That's a great script for reality TV, but it's not a path to the presidency of the United States. Palin went rogue on McCain's ticket and burned her remaining bridges in her memoir. She quit being governor of Alaska to flog her book on the lecture circuit.

I doubt Palin will ever run for office again. She clearly prefers being a celebrity without portfolio. She has to keep flirting with the possibility of running, because she knows her brand will go stale when her followers give up hope that she will hold national office. Her facebook updates are only compelling if you read them as promissory notes backed by some imagined political future.

Monday, September 06, 2010

When the moon hits your eye...

Pizza seems to be the all-American food, despite its suspicious Italianate origins.

Something very similar to pizza was served as street food in Naples, where it was modified from the Greek idea of herbs, olive oil and a little bit of cheese on a flat bread; the Neapolitans added tomato into the mix and chowed on this for years. It wasn't until 1889, when the Royal Palace commissioned a special pizza in honor of visiting Queen Margherita, which was made in the colors of the Italian flag - red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella), and voilà (to add yet another country to this story), we have the basic cheese pizza, referred to in Italian as the pizza margherita.

(Bonus trivia time: technically, Margherita Maria Teresa Giovanna of Savoy was only the Queen Consort to King Umberto of Italy, but nobody really cares about that. Also, the tomato was brought to Europe from America in the seventeenth century, but wasn't very popular after it arrived. Because it was a member of the nightshade family, they figured it was poisonous. But it grew easily in Italy, and became popular among the poor people in, for example, Naples. So there you go.)

Nobody can agree on when the pizza came to America first, but sometime, probably in the early twentieth century, Italian immigrants brought it to America, possibly to New York, or Chicago, or even possibly New Haven, Connecticut. But it's hard to tell, since 3.2 million Italians immigrated to the United States just in the first two decades, and several of them are claimed to be the first Pizza Guy.

But it actually took a while for pizza to catch on.
Food writers in the 1940s who were worldly enough to take note of the traditional Italian treat struggled to explain the dish to their readers, who persisted in imagining oversized apple-pie crusts stuffed with tomatoes and coated with cheese. “The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if Americans only knew about it,” The New York Times lamented in 1947, illustrating its plaint with a photograph of a pie subdivided into dozens of canapé-sized slices.
But when it finally took off, it did so in a big way. The standard estimate (widely spread across the internet, so it must be right) is that Americans eat 23 pounds of pizza per person per year. As a group, we eat 3 billion pizzas every year - around 350 slices of pizza every second, or 90-100 acres of pizza per day. A $30 billion industry, with almost 62,000 pizzerias across the country.

And yes, there is a, to help you find pizza parlors in your area. (It has a couple of other pizza-related functions, incidentally. As you'd expect from "," I guess.)

While rankings vary depending on who compiles the list, pizza is usually pretty high on any list of "Favorite American Foods." Unless the word "homemade" is added to the title. And that's kind of a shame, because pizza isn't as difficult as some people think.

First, of course, you need the crust. We used to use Alton Brown's recipe, but this one is actually easier - it's modified from a recipe by Andrea Meyers. We have a KitchenAid stand mixer - you'll have to adjust if you're using anything else.

(By the way, you need some standard all-purpose flour for the gluten to give you a crust, but I haven't figured how much yet. The flour needs to add up to 2 cups, basically - you can go with 100% standard white flour if you want.)

Pizza dough

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 package of quick-rising yeast)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Stick them all in your mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, set at low, and add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 3/4 cup hot water.

(The yeast blooms better with a little warmth - not boiling, though. Tap water is fine. And you can use extra virgin olive oil or not. Nobody will notice.)

Once the dough comes together, switch out for the bread hook, and beat it on medium for just a minute to knead.

Lightly flour your work surface (cutting board, counter, whatever you want), take the dough (which should be a ball right now), and slap it down on the floured area. Oil one side of a piece of plastic wrap, and cover the dough. Let it rest for fifteen minutes (a half hour wouldn't hurt) while the yeast does its thing.

Once it's rested, preheat your oven to 500°, cut the dough in half, and deal with it. Two choices:

The easy way: Roll it out with a rolling pin. Make it round-ish. (The gluten won't really make a solid mesh, so it might fall apart on you a little. But you'll save time.)

The pizza way: Lightly flour your hands. Flatten the dough with your palms, then pick it up and hold it by the edge, rotating the dough in a circle. This stretches the dough and strengthens the gluten. Lay the stretched dough on a floured surface. Take that rolling pin again, and roll out the dough, rotating a quarter turn every couple of passes. Keep going until you have a 12" (or so) circle.

Somewhere between those two methods lies happiness. You'll have to judge exactly how much work you want to do.

(And to be honest, the true pizza auteur would eschew even that much rolling pin work, in favor of hand stretching - using your knuckles, press the pizza dough out in a rolling motion from the center and moving out, until it's about the thickness you want. It tends to be more amorphic than round, with the characteristic edge that marks a homemade pizza. If you're really into this whole thing, the traditional spinning is supposed to round the dough out with centrifugal force [although you'll lose a lot of dough until you practice]. Again, it all depends on how much work you want to do.)

You can do this on a cookie sheet, a pizza pan or peel (I agree with Alton Brown regarding unitaskers, though), or whatever you want to use. However, you need to dust it with cornmeal, or it's going to stick like duct tape.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until the edge is lightly browned; the bottom is usually done by that point.

Now, a couple of thoughts on the rest of the pizza:

• Spaghetti sauce is pizza sauce. Don't be fooled. If you like it on pasta, you'll like it on pizza.

• Too much sauce is a mistake. If you can't see most of the crust through a thin layer of sauce, everything's going to slide off on you. That's bad.

• The type of cheese doesn't matter. If you like it, run with it. Mozzarella is the standard, but I like adding a little bit of whatever cheese is around, for variety. Dust a little Parmesan on before adding the rest; feta isn't going to melt, so keep that in mind when you sprinkle it around; cheddar can overpower the pizza, so use half as much as you do mozzarella (unless you like cheddar). Just not too close to the edge, or it will melt off. And don't make it too thick (unless you like that) - remember, it'll be happy to slide off and mess up the oven.

• Some people like caramelizing the onions. I think it makes them too sweet - you lose too much onion flavor. I think you can just put them straight on; the Trophy Wife, on the other hand, prefers to sauté them (cook them at medium heat with just a little butter or oil) until they just turn translucent. Your choice.

• White pizza is not heresy. Sauté as much garlic as you want (start with four cloves - adjust later), add 3 tablespoons of flour, enough butter or oil to make a roux, add milk, simmer for a while, add more milk to loosen to roughly spaghetti sauce consistency.

• Precook the mushrooms. Trust me on this. If you put raw mushrooms on a pizza, they'll release a bunch of liquid, and your crust will be mushy. That's bad. Sauté them on medium (I like butter) until they release their liquid, and then darken just a little.

• There are no bad toppings, but round things roll off (and if you flatten beans, that's just ugly). I've had corn (don't go crazy - remember, rolling is bad), seafood (the tiny little squids adorning my trilingual pizza frucht de Mer in Trier nearly made my mother-in-law heave), spinach (chop reasonably fine and consider a white sauce instead of tomato), whatever you have lying around (for example, I like artichoke hearts). Just chop them to pizza-sized bits. The only rule is, the pizza is only as good as the toppings - bad sausage won't get better.

Pizza is easy. Life is hard.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ta Daaah!!

(This image is openly stolen from the
somewhat brilliant PF, of Forever
in Hell
. Go there. Read all her stuff.)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bear baiting? Really?

There are some things that you just look at, and you know it's wrong. This is out of South Carolina.
A declawed, defanged bear is chained to a stake as hunting dogs bark and snap, trying to force the bear to stand on its hind legs. The training exercise called bear baying is intended to make the bears easier to shoot in the wild and it's only allowed in South Carolina.

Armed with new undercover video of four such events, the Humane Society of the United States is pressuring state officials to explicitly outlaw the practice, which the organization says is effectively banned in every other state. Animal rights advocates say it's cruel to the nearly defenseless bears and harms them psychologically.

Hunters say the exercise popular in the state's hilly northwestern corner helps them train their dogs on what to do when they come across a bear during a hunt.

The videos, which were recorded with hidden cameras by activists posing as spectators, show an adult black bear standing on all fours, its back to a 4-foot high wooden fence, tethered to the ground by several feet of chain. Crowds of a few dozen line the dirt pen around it.

Mr. Kelly said the bear is kept in a cage while dogs on 3-foot leashes bark at it, with judges rating the dogs on how well they pay attention to and become accustomed to being close to the much bigger animal.

That description isn't backed up by the Humane Society's videos, which clearly show the dogs and bear swatting each other. The dogs aren't on leashes, and one of them was injured after the bear slapped it, Mr. Markarian said.
I'd like to just say that this is more evidence proving my point that South Carolina is fucked (and, to be honest, it is)...

...but then I remember that it wasn't until 2007 that cockfighting was outlawed in New Mexico.

People suck.