Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rock Stars

When I was a child, I never had any dreams of being a rock star or a movie celebrity. The closest I wanted to brush fame was perhaps as a politician, a writer, or--on some days--a sitcom star or a member of a comedy sketch program.* But I was fully aware that the lure of the stage was strong for many, and a glut of Music Education teachers was the result.

But that doesn't mean that I didn't just stumble on an incredibly lucrative idea while bored in the middle of the day today: I'm going to create and manage a new band. But not just any band, mind you. This band will have a twist, though--it will be made out of old guys in their 40's. I'm going to name them the "Mid-Life Crises."

You see, there are no doubt millions of closet musicians out there who didn't have the time, resources, or luck to make it in the music industry. Sure, some people may have played in a garage band or participated in a few events in college, but a minor lucky few turn it into a career, let alone a decent part-time job. But everyone out there at one point wanted to be a rock star. And there are enough accountants, insurance salesmen, and parking lot attendants who had the talent and the ability but just didn't have the breaks. And all I need is many four or five of them.

So I'll get these guys together. They just need to be able to play. Songwriters are easy to come by, so they don't have to have any writing abilities. Most of these guys will just feel lucky to be in a real band, which also means they can get paid cheap. It will all be about promotion, which is why I would charge such hefty fees for the privilege.

And, most importantly, we wouldn't have the tension that normally comes with a hot new band. Young guys love drugs, sex, and freedom from social restraint, and they often fall prey to their excesses. Just as very few hit the big time in the music industry, even less manage to not succumb to the lure of addiction and child support payments.  And egos grow quick and big when you're a 22-year-old millionaire, and soon your working on "outside projects" and "solo careers" while the bassist and the drummer start contacting lawyers. With the Mid-Life Crises, we don't have to worry about any of that. These guys will be too worried about finding an all-night pharmacy to fill their Lipitor prescription and not wanting to sign up for COBRA benefits to fight and ruin their new sweet gig.

I'd gladly join in this band, except for the fact that I 1) can't sing, 2) play an instrument, and 3) am tone deaf. So I wouldn't harbor any ambitions myself outside of the industry standard 10%. I mean 15%.

*Trust me, my big fear is that after I die someone will find a 5 1/4 disk drive, find a bunch of disks in my attic, and will then have access to some of the absolute worst sketch comedy ever created by mankind that I created when I was like 12. I can only hope that the great Magnet Wars will prevent any of that from ever happening.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Week Candy Review: Disgusting Marshmallow Peeps

Blooming flowers. Songbirds in the air. Light afternoon showers. All of the wonderful portents of spring are varied and well-known, but few rival the growing menace of that ever-popular sign of the season: the diabolical Marshmallow Peep.

Let's get this straight: I hate these things. Peeps are disgusting, flavorless gobs of sugar and bile. Parents love them because they are bright and--more importantly--cheap. Children love them because quite frankly if you gave kids the choice between getting a million dollars a year for the rest of their lives or a permanent IV drip of high fructose corn syrup, they would take all of two seconds to wrap a band around their arm and tap their forearm expectantly.

The popularity of the Peeps have lead the manufacturer to create multiple colors and sizes of the things, such as lavender rabbits, orange pumpkins and--assuming this is the method used to be successful in the first place--pitch-black Cthulhus. But make no mistake, there is only one flavor of marshmallow Peep: diabetes.

Pictured here is a toolkit for terrorism. And, yes, this joke is going to keep on going long after it gets old.

Even though the standard Peeps haven't changed, they've tried to branch out into other things. So let's take a look at each of the options available.

 Okaaay...so which one represents North Korea, again?

The standard Peep is pretty self-explanatory: a big gob of sugar and wax, molded into the shape of a chick.

Just so y'all know, cute little chicks grow up to be big dirty chickens. Which more or less accurately describes the digestive itinerary of a Peep.

I think they're nasty. They are tasteless, they are too sweet, they have no redeeming nutritional qualities, and the consistency is kinda gross.

The Spanish-American War had "Remember the Maine." World War II had Rosie the Riveter. Here is me, the mascot of freedom for the new century, destroying awful gobs of sugar for liberty.

I hate them. Don't eat them.

The marketing gurus at the Peeps Laboratory apparently realized a segment of the population was just like me, so they decided to add something a little extra--why not dip the things in chocolate? Everyone loves chocolate!

Look closely. This is the gaze of indigestion.

As you can see, though, the chocolate is kinda thin. The only way this thing is good is if you scrape off the chocolate on the bottom, melt it down into a bar-shaped form, stamp the word "Hershey" on it, and throw away the Peep, sealed in a closed container and shipped to the Yucca mountains.
Lastly is the chocolate covered Peep. This one is a little different; while it seems like this would be simply a Peep dipped wholly in chocolate, the inside is actually slightly different than a regular Peep.

Your covert actions don't fool me. I know exactly who you are.

I don't know how to describe it, aside from "different, but the same level of disgusting." It's not really marshmallow or sugar as much as it is "Peep-like filler." It's all yellow, instead of the creepy white-and-yellow mix of the original. If I was forced at gunpoint to eat one, it would be this, because at least there is chocolate and the consistency isn't as disturbing as a regular Peep. 

Listen, I'm fully aware that plenty of people love these things. Those people are called traitors. Don't buy them or eat them; that will only encourage them to create more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Week Candy Review: Three Random Candy Bars

I've accumulated some different candy bars over the past few weeks, so I figure I'd lump them all together in one review. None of them really have anything in common, aside from the fact that they are reasonably easy to find.

First up: Gardner's S'Mores candy bars

Included in this wrapper is all that is needed to avoid joining the Boy Scouts throughout your childhood.

I do likes me some smores, though I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of marshmallow. When I can make my own smores, I dole out the proportions as I like--which usually means less marshmallow and more chocolate.

So I was conflicted with this candy bar beforehand--the entire appeal of smores is the act of making them, and to wrap it all up in a cold candy bar somehow felt blasphemous. What good is a smore if you're not smearing half-melted sticky marshmallow on your hands and eating it while sitting on a rotten log smelling like burnt wood?

 All the fun of campfire snack-making without all the worrying about being eaten by bears or catching malaria.

My expectations, therefore, were not good. And at least one part of my expectations was met: the marshmallow was pretty strong, which wasn't a good thing for my tastes. However, the chocolate used is very good, and the graham cracker pretty standard. So if you enjoy marshmallow, you'll probably enjoy this, even though it's hardly a substitute for the real thing. But even if you don't, it's not horrible, and I'll gladly eat this on occasion.

Next up is a Hershey bar called the Sweet & Salty Granola Bar.

Sweet & Salty is also a great name for a lady-cop-based action comedy. Sweet will be the Good Cop, and Salty will be the obnoxious pottymouth with an awesome rack. Just...throwing it out there.

They more or less threw everything labeled "sweet" or "salty" in the huge Hershey Confection Warehouse in this bar: pretzels and peanuts on a granola bar with a chocolate layer on the bottom. I love this sort of thing, and I wasn't disappointed.

"Hands against the wall! You have the right to remain...salty!" C'mon, this shit is better than Inception.

Sweet and Salty seems to be a pretty popular combination nowadays, and while some may not like the granola part (which does seem a little out of place), it's a perfect deviation from the standard candy bar fare. I recommend it.

The last candy bar is Twix Coconut.

I've review Twix candy bars in the past, so I'm a fan; I've also reviewed plenty of coconut-flavored things, as it is no secret that I heart coconut. That said...I wasn't really impressed with this. First off, the coconut flavoring is both artificial and strong. Secondly, they still have the normal cookie-and-caramel formula. Coconut and caramel don't really go that well together. It just seems to be a hot mess of a candy bar.  It would be the equivalent of the twitchy informant in Sweet and Salty 2: Back To The Salt Mines.

Okay, maybe I haven't figured out how this whole Sweet & Salty thing works.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Week Candy Review: Taffies of the World

I've always been a lukewarm fan of taffy. To me, it's one of those confections that's hard to screw up but very difficult to make me crave it. And most people (at least around here) have their exposure to saltwater taffy limited to a box picked up in some seaside tourist trap, where three out of the ten different flavors are awesome and the rest taste like Elmer's Glue, and those stay and get rock-hard in the bottom of the candy jar only guests are supposed to eat from.

Anyway, I came across some taffy at a store and decided to give them a try. First, I picked up three flavors called Turkish Taffy--banana, chocolate, and strawberry--and one pack of strawberry French Taffy.

The Turkish taffy is Bonomo, which actually has a pretty interesting history. It's technically neither Turkish nor taffy. Sadly, they no longer appear to have a web site. The French Chew is from Doscher's.

There was also vanilla flavored taffy, but I was unwilling to spend money on something clearly defective, such as vanilla flavored taffy.

First off, let's let the French and the Turks fight it out amongst the strawberry fields. I opened the French strawberry up first.

This is the best PR for French Chews since the resolution of the Dreyfus Affair.

The taffy was a little hard, so I had to break off a chunk. Once eaten, however, it softened up quickly. It's not very strong but is quite light, which is probably a good thing.

The Turkish taffy was more or the less the same, though it was soft right out of the package. Flavor-wise, the French and Turkish strawberry taffies were both the same.

Oddly, while the French taffy was hard enough for me to break off a chunk, while the Turkish taffy was so soft I had to bite it off, the Turkish taffy was the one that had the following slogan:

I can only assume, then,  that this was not related to taffy consistency but was some sort of coded message for Al-Queda.

The chocolate Turkish taffy was up next. Like most chocolate taffy, it was only nominally chocolate. That doesn't make it bad, but don't expect a Hershey bar. Likewise, the banana Turkish taffy was good, mostly because it's very difficult to pull off banana-flavored candy, and taffy is the perfect receptacle for doing so.

Of course, the fact that I had both chocolate taffy and banana taffy made me instantly realize that I could make my own chocolate-covered banana taffy. In a mere few seconds of inspiration, I made the culinary equivalent of the Manhattan project right in my dining room.

Kiss my ass, Paula Deen.

Bottom line: one can only ingest so much taffy. It's good, but unlike chicken wings or pasta, you can't make up in volume what it lacks in flavor. Thankfully, both nationalities of taffy were pretty good if not superb. There may be peace on earth yet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Week Candy Review: Coconut Patties

A few weeks ago my wife and I visited a strange store called Baldinger's. They advertise it as a store with "Foods From All Nations," but they seem to specialize in candy. While browsing the store, I came across a lot of unusual things--at least to me--and then I came across something called Coconut Patties. This, I had to have. The company that makes them is called Anastasia Confections.

You and I both know somewhere in Hawaii is a stripper with the stage name of "Coconut Patty".

I am a huge fan of anything coconut, but I am much less a fan of things that simply have synthetic coconut flavoring added to it. Such of those things can be good, but I can certainly tell the difference. In addition, I actually like the texture of coconut, especially with chocolate, so this particular candy seemed to be the perfect combination.

When the box is opened, you'll find about twenty or so individually wrapped coconut slices (loafs?). It's basically compacted shredded coconut with one end dipped in chocolate. And they are very, very good.

They are also oddly filling. Even though each individual slice isn't that big, the coconut is so condense that you feel like you're eating something much heavier. The taste--either the coconut or the chocolate--is not overpowering, and is not sickeningly sweet. For the record, it stays together well and doesn't crumble.

I was much less impressed with the Key Lime-flavored slices.

They weren't bad, but they were a little too sweet--and, also, it tastes like artificial lime flavoring. If you enjoy the taste of lime you might get more enjoyment out of these, but I didn't.

Apparently, there's also mango, orange, almond, and pina colada flavored patties, but I'm not a fan of any of those flavors, and they weren't available for me anyway. It's a fairly safe assumption that if you like the originals plus one of those flavors, they will be good. 

The price wasn't horrible, but not great--I paid about five bucks and change for the big box. For a specialty item--and one that's of high quality like this one--it's worth it.

If you like coconut and chocolate, you'll love these things. If you don't like coconut--or if the reason you don't like coconut is due to the texture--you may want to pass. Otherwise, I would recommend it greatly.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Week Candy Review: Willy Wonka Exceptional Chocolate Bars, Part II

We're going to have a week of nothing but candy reviews. It's been a while since I've done these, so hopefully this will make up for it. You will be sick and curled up on the couch by Easter; I promise.

Last year, I wrote a post about Willy Wonka's Exceptional Candy Bars, which were unnaturally-sized "specialty" candy bars. They ended up being pretty good, but they were too big to really enjoy as something to just pick up at the checkout counter. They did end up having bite-sizes versions of the Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar which ended up being pretty good.

Anyway, while looking for something completely different--like, um, organic celery or gluten-free granola--I found out that they have come out with two additional flavors: Triple Dazzle Caramel and Fantabulous Fudge.

Amazingly, only one of those words in that last sentence failed the spellcheck.

I find the whole oddly-named candy to be kinda off-putting; I don't know why, since that's half the gimmick, and Old Willy was sort of a creeper anyway. Still, it would seem that the "Wonka" brand and the way that it is marketed would be geared towards children, and yet these candy bars are clearly premium-priced and placed far away on high shelves, nowhere near the eye-level of young kids in most checkout lanes.

The first bar I tried was the Triple Dazzle Caramel. Like the other candy bars, it's huge, on par with if not bigger than those "King" sized bars.

The Tripple Dazzle Chocolate is good, but it really just tastes like a caramel candy bar. The ingredients certainly taste better, and it's one of the better types I've had. Alas, I'm not a huge fan of caramel. That said, it's one of the best caramel candy bars I've ever had.

The other bar, the Fantabulous Fudge, is very similar: it's basically the standard milk chocolate with a rich layer of fudge in the middle.

I liked this one a lot better, but it's also very similar in texture to the Domed Dark Chocolate bar. Obviously, this is fudge and not dark chocolate. They pulled off the fudge well. Many times, candy bars with fudge will be remarkably disappointing; I often find them stale and often dry and hard. Thankfully, the Wonka bar does it well.

Presumably, these two candy bars replace the Waterfall and Domed Dark Chocolate bar released last year. At least from a distribution standpoint, I see the two new bars plus the Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar together, and I never see the original two. (Though I have seen the Waterfall bite-sized candies, and I'm sure the others are available somewhere.)

Aside from the absurd names, they didn't get too creative this time around, which is kind of a shame. Fudge and caramel are pretty standard candy bar fillings. While that makes them easy sells, it also means they're not significantly different than what's already out there. Still, the quality is high, and it seems like they are working their way through all forms of chocolate (dark, white, milk, fudge, etc.) This can only lead to good things.

The bars themselves are probably too big to simply grab on the go, but beyond that they offer some quality flavors wrapped up in creepy marketing.

 Nope. Nothing creepy about this AT ALL.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tune In Next Week

Two of the giants have been killed: All My Children and One Life To Live have gotten the axe.

This is only a few months after other long-running programs, such as Guiding Light and As The World Turns, also got canceled. There are several reasons why soap operas are dropping like flies, and they are all pretty obvious: changes in women's daytime viewing habits being the main one.

Of course, the crooked finger of accusation points straight at the usual suspects: the plethora of television stations and the popularity of reality television. At this point, with audiences dwindling and one of the few shows that has always targeted a broad but specific demographic, cable television rather than networks would seen the natural home.

Still, once shouldn't cry over the demise of the soap opera. We should celebrate the vast influence it's had over our television culture.

For decades, dramas and sitcoms were notoriously self-contained. TV executives were perpetually worried about confusing viewers--the networks, especially, treated the television watchers like slack-jawed window-lickers for years--and so every episode had to begin and conclude on its own. Sure, there was the usual cliffhanger episode, but this was a gimmick, and exceptions like Peyton Place. However, they didn't want to product a show that people wouldn't watch because they missed an earlier episode. Also--and probably more significant--selling shows in syndication, which is much more lucrative but also much more likely to watch scattershotly*, necessitated self-encompassed shows.

Of course, this didn't last. Prime-time television soon filled up with its own soap operas, like Dallas and Falcon Crest. But these were still straight-up soap operas, just fine-tuned for higher production values and subject matter pushed beyond bored housewives. Regular programming still held on to the same self-contained storylines. Season-long story arcs existed, and in some cases were the norm, but by and large the old model stuck.

And yet, today, we see that it's no longer the case, Many shows--not a majority, but certainly a significant number--use soap-opera-like elements on a regular basis. Shows like The Office clearly show this, and others like Friday Night Lights and Grey's Anatomy are slightly changed versions of the formula used in Dallas.

Soap operas may be dying and dead, but it's clear they've fundamentally changed television. And while most people will never admit to watching a soap opera, guess what--you are.

*I swear this is a legitimate word.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Tase of Summer

There has been a lot of local press and varied opinions about the rowdy fan that was tased during a Pittsburgh Pirates game this past weekend. Short version: Big dude gets crazy drunk, becomes violent and annoying, stadium security can't handle it, cops come, and an endless unsolvable debate ensued about whether the fan was asking for it or the police overreacted.

Ballpark security is actually a bit of a hot topic at the moment, ever since a San Fransisco Giants fan was beaten into a coma while watching his team play the Dodgers. Now, to be fair, the only time you'll see anyone slip into a coma at PNC Park is while actually watching the team play. What happened this past weekend was unfortunate, but at least no one was seriously injured, aside from the Bucco's record.

Still, it would be wise for the management of the park to take some precautions to make sure something like this never happens again by cutting down the alcohol consumption and identifying troublesome fans before they escalate into tase-worthy incidents. Here are some helpful tips:

*Equip the Pirate Parrot with a projectile that shoots dispersal bullets out of his beak.
*Raise the price of beer to reduce consumption. That's worked in the past, right?
*Improve the average behavior of the crowd by trading developing fans to St. Louis and bring up some of the promising younger fans currently being trained in Indianapolis.
*If a park staff member needs to quickly sober an unruly fan, they simply need to show them how much of their ticket revenue is going to Seven Springs instead of payroll.  
*Force unruly fans to dress up and run in the Pierogi Race. Anyone who wins a race gets an arbitrator to award them a million and a half dollars. Last place gets season tickets.
*To guide staff in identifying inebriated guests, they simply have to conduct a field sobriety test. The alleged drunk will have to recite the names of the current Pirates roster for this year. OK, perhaps that's too hard.
Maybe only half of the roster. Two? From any roster of the past ten years?
*Gently tell Matt Morris he doesn't have to show up anymore. He never did before, so why start now?
*Limit alcoholic consumption to one shot every time Charlie Morton actually strikes someone out.
*Encourage safety by randomly selecting individuals who can pass a sobriety test and grant them a prize: a half off coupon for a Primanti's sandwich. Or, alternately, play left field.
*Have the team play better so fans don't have to be drunk to sit through it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Into the Woods

My wife, my dogs, and I all went geocaching yesterday, where we found two out of two caches.* This was a marked improvement from in the past. We had actually found a few without even looking for them (visiting the Nellie Bly memorial and tramping around the Black Cross) but then hit a roadblock when we were an awful 1 for 3 a few weekends ago. We'd also attempted some one-offs every once in a while with little success. We picked our battles a little better this time and ended up finding a micro and a standard cache at Crooked Creek park.

A few notes about geocaching I've learned:
1) Film containers (remember those? Or film?) are horrible micro cases. They are NOT--I repeat, NOT--waterproof. Every micro in a film case we've found has been soaked. Stop doing that.
2) Surprisingly, the geocache applications downloaded to our phones/tablets have been...subpar. No matter what we download, the application fails in at least one aspect, and we end up reverting back to the good ol' GPS device. Given how easy the Google Maps integration should be with a GPS locator built into a phone, you'd think a little more quality control would be introduced. I guess it's free, so I shouldn't complain, but still.
3) Dogs are more interested in eating bark and tangling their leashes up with every single conceivable thing possible than geocaching.

Hopefully, we'll get to do some more this summer, and bring some friends along as well. The weather doesn't always cooperate--last summer was notorious for foiling our plans quite often. But we shall see.

*We almost went for a third, but the dogs were very tired. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that we had been walking for a while and I wanted to crawl into a log and sleep for about 20 hours and the 15-degree grade might as well have been Mount Everest. It was the dogs and their short legs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Introducing The Pittsburgh Pirates Care-O-Meter

The major league baseball season has just started. Millions of fans across the nation will watch and root for their favorite team in a heralded sport that for decades has been a beloved American institution despite the fact that I have seen congressional hearings more exciting.

I'm not a huge baseball fan. I like it, I suppose, and I'll watch a game now and then and follow the playoffs when they start. But I'm just not into it, to the chagrin of my wife.

There are several reasons for this, of course. I think Major League Baseball is broken: I don't like the luxury tax, I don't like how a handful of teams can spend so much money to buy mercenary players, I don't like how there is an incentive for small-market teams to lose and still make money, I don't like how baseball purists have stunted needed change to allow the game to evolve, and the strikes, scandals, and steroids has more or less shattered the illusion of "America's Pasttime" and turned it into just another team-based sport. Other sports have had their problems as well, but it seems that only baseball has been monumentally resistant to change for the better.

Of course, the biggest reason I am not a huge fan of baseball is the fact that I live in the Pittsburgh area. The local team is the perennially embarrassing Pittsburgh Pirates, who have an eighteen year losing record. Not eighteen years of missing the playoffs--eighteen years of losing more games than they won. This is the longest streak in the history of modern organized sports.

That said, this year there is a new manager--Clint Hurdle--and the season started off to a promising start, takes two away series and keeping their head well above .500. Then they played four games in their home opener series and managed to scrape only one win. So here we are, about a week in, and the much-maligned Buccos are playing even.

I want to like baseball, and so I was excited that this years seemed to start out promising. I have been shaken, a little, because promising starts followed by a summer of suffering and pestilence have been well-rehearsed for years. I hope for better, but expect nothing less.

So, I present to you, the Crank Crank Revolution Pittsburgh Pirates Care-O-Meter.

I have modeled this Care-O-Meter after the Department of Homeland Security's Terror Alertness Chart. The similarities are...striking. As the team does well, I'll care more about their performance. As they collapse dramatically into the expected depths of comically inept ball playing, my interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates, and baseball in general, will wane. My care will more or less depend on two things: 1) what their record is at any given time, and 2) when I actually remember to update the damn thing. Other factors may get involves, such as if they end up having a Free Julie Bologna Action Figure Night or the Pirate Parrot gets caught selling cocaine again.* You will be able to follow the Care-O-Meter by looking to the bar on your right, right below the Twitter updates.

Honestly, I will probably keep this up long past the point in which it will be funny or meaningful to anybody and I'll probably stop caring about it after a couple of weeks.** Though, to be fair, that more or less accurately describes the state of the Pirates for nearly two decades.

*To those non-Pittsburgers: This is true. The Pirate Parrot sold drugs to the players during the Cocaine Sevel trials back in the 80's. This is not a joke.
**Perhaps I need a Care-O-Meter for the Care-O-Meter. Inception!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Static and Noise: Shut 'er Down!

Barenaked Ladies: The Pandora station on my phone insists that I must absolutely love, love, love two specific bands: Cake and Barenaked Ladies. I don't mind Cake but they get played well out of proportion to my desire to listen to them, so "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" gets skipped more times than it probably should. But as far as the Barenaked Ladies is concerned, I've become a new fan. I first heard them with "Yoko Ono" way back in the day, and I was forced to play "One Week" and "My Old Apartment" each about three times an hour when I worked at the college radio station. This probably explains why I more or less ignored them for a decade; I was burned out. But now they pop up an awful lot, and with few exceptions I love them. I'm experiencing for the first time the wonders of "If I Had $1000000," "Brian Wilson," "Another Postcard," "Pinch Me," and "Bank Job." While certainly not my favorite band--I'm at that age where I don't believe such a beast exists for anyone, and they have a few too many gimmicks in their bag--they've shot up quite a bit in my favor. (As an aside, Pandora also opened me up to an awesome band called Great Big Sea, which had a minor hit a few years ago with "If I Were King" but really end up doing a lot of kickass sea shanties. I was saddened to learn they just played in Pittsburgh about two weeks before I found out about them.)

Government Stoppage: I haven't spoken much about this, mostly because: it doesn't matter. The actual stoppage itself has nothing to do with the budget itself. Tea Party activists who want a shutdown don't realize that getting passports and VA Hospitals are going to be here well after the apocalypse, but the stuff they hate like the Department of Education and sugar subsidies aren't going to change because the gummit shut its doors for a two and a half weeks. And yet the shutdown affect only the former and not the latter. On the other side, the government shut down in 1995 and it had zero impact on anything except inconveniencing a lot of people. Ruined vacations and postponed appointments suck, but life goes on and the government didn't collapse and the budget more or less stayed the same. (I feel kind of bad for the workers, but it's not like this is unprecedented.) If there is a shutdown and it lasts a week--it's doubtful it will go on too terribly much longer than that--it's not the end of the world. But it's also not going to solve anything, either. While I'm always a fan of the government spending less money, the stakes at this point are low enough that the PR fallout isn't worth it.

The End of Rock: Alec Baldwin recently made headlines by claiming that 30 Rock had one year left...but then backed off, restating that he has one year left, but 30 Rock might go on without him. (Unstated: "30 Rock can't survive without me.") I love the show--sometimes it gets caught up in its own smarmy self-righteousness, but on the level it is very cleverly written and much better than most sitcoms, which are in short supply nowadays. Still, it might not be the worst thing in the world if the show shut down next year. The story arcs in 30 Rock are often slim, hollow things with which to hang jokes on, and its gets a little tiresome. The lean stretches of a mature sitcom will only rely more on such things. One of its successful predecessors, The Dick Van Dyke Show, made a point of stopping after five years while the quality was still high. And while I love 30 Rock, they haven't brought anything remarkably new to the show lately--just doing some good, solid writing for five years. Eventually, like all things, even among the best, that will stop.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Crossworder's Lament

I love crossword puzzles. All kinds of them, even the weird gimmicky emo reading-group-that-meets-in-the-basement-of-the-elementary-school kind.

Despite their popularity--they're in virtually all the newspapers, after all--rabid crossword fanatics such as myself are a strange breed. There's a distinct language and style about the clues and the answers that when you step back and view them like a normal person seem remarkably laughable. And you'll become very familiar with some completely useless words like "ecru" or "fohn" that no one in the history of mankind has ever used in a non-crossword context.*

But my dirty little secret is that I'm not very good at them.

I used to think I was pretty good. I could knock out a one-star in one sitting (and possibly--daringly!--in pen) and a twofer could be got with minimal effort. (Three-star and above generally required me to "accidentally" drop the magazine answer-side up.) But then I watched a documentary called Wordplay, which details the competitive crossword market (yes, there is one, and yes, I want to be a part of it someday). And then, after reading Gridlock and Cruciverbalism, both books about crossword fans and the industry as a whole (they're both oddly fascinating in that geekout sort of way), I realized I was a midget amongst giants.

I fully realize that I was watching professional crossword artists and competitive solvers, so I was clearly looking at the best of the best (or, alternately, the most productive unemployed people in America), but I feel inordinately inadequate when I'm doing puzzles now. Mostly, it's because I don't have the will and determination to memorize obscure Italian directors or the third lead in the 1980 London Revival of Oklahoma or anyone else who by fate of the universe has a ton of vowels in their last name.

And sometimes the crossword writer and the solver are on two completely different wavelengths, and no amount of internet research or badgering your clueless coworkers will get the proper answer, which ends up being an archaic past tense version of the word you legitimately knew. Many a cross word** left my lips when I realized "senescent" was the word I was looking for--which as far as I'm concerned is a word that still doesn't exist. ("Getting older" was the clue, something I was rapidly doing at this rate, and to be fair I probably don't seem like I could get any older, what with me being in my 30's and doing crossword puzzles voluntarily for recreational purposes.) I had been dancing around "senile" and various forms of it for quite some time, so I convinced myself I got it right after all.***

Anyway, this entire post was written for the fact that I tried to make "sarane" a real word describing a type of decorative paper and in my mind an "allen horn" was a legitimate object, both fictions that were preferable than looking up the real answers. (Also, I apparently decided that "crossworder" is also a word when I cooked up the title to this post.) So while I'm not the best crossword solver out there, I'm certainly the most creative at making shit up. I should seriously start playing Scrabble for money. 

*This is also my long-standing position on the word "doggone," which no one has ever used ever in the entire world unless they were making a pun about canines. 
**Yes, this is a joke.
***Don't look at me like that. You use the same justification for what you ate for lunch today or how much you spent on those shoes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Holy Steel City, Batman!

Today, after months of speculation, it was officially announced that the Dark Knight Rises will officially shoot partially in Pittsburgh.

Having Pittsburgh as a stand-in for Gotham City has a certain level of charm to it, but director Christopher Nolan and the decades-long tradition of the Batman franchise will have a lot of adapting to do. For example:

*There is no shortage of abandoned warehouses or other industrial buildings--such as, say, oh, I don't know, steel mills--with which to conduct his extralegal "business."
*Everyone has to make sure Michael Keaton isn't hanging around. We don't want Mr. Mom to go all nuts on the new guy or anything. 
*If you honestly think there's not going to be a bat-shaped Smiley Cookie, you haven't been paying close enough attention.
*To truly cut down on crime, Bruce Wayne may have to set up a satellite branch in Milledgeville, Georgia. 
*If Robin is unavailable, he could easily be replaced by Brent Johnson.
*It will be easy to track down some of Batman's most notorious criminals--The Penguin is really Iceberg; Poison Ivy will be hanging out at Matrix; The Scarecrow will be in Butler County; and the Joker will be in charge at the Port Authority.
*If there's ever a need for another sidekick, the Strip District Tranny is available. But be warned--he may have more identity issues than Two-Face.
*Even with all of the technology Lucius Fox will pilfer from CMU, the Batmobile still isn't going to get very far on 28 North. Hopefully the Riddler doesn't try to pull any of his shit at RIDC Park.
*The bat cave is conveniently located within the North Shore Connector. It's not like anyone is going to find it there.
*Instead of the city signaling for Batman, Batman will have to signal the mayor to find out where he is. Hopefully the signal can be seen all the way from Seven Springs or wherever Toby Keith is playing at any particular time.

As Pittsburghers, we have an obligation to the Caped Crusader to make the filming as easy and productive as possible. And for crying out loud, make sure the lighting is properly set up. We don't need to have Christian Bale returning any videotapes down on Liberty Avenue.

Lazy Tuesday

I'm feeling lazy today, so here are some various videos to watch:

It's a few days old now, but if you haven't seen Stephen Colbert (and Friends!) sing Rebecca Black's Friday, here you go:

A awesome little song called "She's Too Good for Everyone":

Here are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Paul, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead fame). There's a couple of these floating around, all of which I recommend even if you're not a Star Wars fan:

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Sadness of Gitmo

Today, President Obama reversed himself, advising that the trials for some of the Gitmo inmates will, indeed, be done as part of a military tribunal and not in a civilian court as he had promised. Add to this that we are well past the one year mark for closing down Gitmo entirely, and you'll see what a massive mess of a ill-handled policy on the President's desk, one in which he has changed the outcome of his initial decisions, if not the intent.

This, of course, defuses what may civil libertarians and progressives charged about Guantanamo Bay. While railing against George W. Bush's policy concerning the inmates, it seems like their most rabid advocate, once elected, got to look at the details and bolted much closer to Bush than his supporters. Best case scenario is that the issue isn't as simple as "try them or let them go."

This isn't a post that's framed as a "See, I Told You So," or at least it's not meant to be. I find the entire situation to be sad. While I'm fully aware of the rationales for running Gitmo as it has been--I don't think it's possible to try war crimes in a civil court, and the tenuous role that the terrorists play creates great big giant legal acrobatics that both sides are scared to discover--the burden of necessity has fallen to the United States to slog through the whole thing. There's something distinctly un-American about denying due process, even though I think a case can be made for the Gitmo situation--just because two presidents of diametrically opposing political and moral philosophies have more or less come to the same conclusion doesn't mean I have to like it.

There is no way America can win this PR battle, whether it be liberal or conservative, so at this point it's a matter of crisis management more than civil liberties, national security, or just plain doing the right thing. It's none of the above, which in and of itself isn't even an answer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I try not to be a jerk to cashiers, waitresses, and clerks and the like. But I don't always succeed.

I went to Wal-Mart today, and decided to grab some lunch in the form of chicken tenders at the hot foods bar. I'm not usually a big fan of Wal-Mart's prepared food--sometimes it just seems one step about compressed chicken sweepings and corn flakes mashed into breading--but I was in the mood for it. It was a bit busy, so when I had to stand in line behind three other people I didn't mind.

Right next to the counter was a big sign that said "Meal Deal: One Entree and One Side." No price was given, however, and given the nature of the Wal-Mart selection it wasn't exactly easy to figure out what was an entree and what was a side. So when it became my turn, I needed clarification. I wanted to do it as quickly as possible, because I knew there were people behind me and I didn't want to become That Guy who asks and orders a million things.

The very unfortunate conversation went like this:

Me: "So, how much is the meal deal?" [I point to the sign, which is also visible to the clerk.]
Her: "The three-for-one deal?
Me: "No." [point to sign again, which, again, she can see.] The one entree, one side deal. How much is it?
Her: "Well, the chicken is charged per pound." [I had not mentioned chicken yet.]
Me: "Um, no. I want one entree and one side. How much is it, first?"
Her: "Each individual entree and side has a different price, so it depends on what you want."
Me: "So the Meal Deal has a different price based on what you want?"
Her: "What deal? The three for one deal?"
Me: "No, this sign says one entree, one side. This sign right here. But there's no price on it. How much is the deal?"
Her: "If you get two entrees, it's going to depend on what you get. There's no deal for two entrees."

At this point, I do the thing that people do in movies but not in real life--I whip my hands above my head, palms open, and shout, "You know what? Never mind. Just forget it." Then I make a big show of sadly shaking my head as I walk away.

I know full well I came across as a jerk. And I honestly think it wasn't either of our faults--I think it was just miscommunication. She was handling the complex orders of the people in front of me with no problem, and she was being quick about it. I had just had enough and didn't want to deal with it anymore. We were just on two different pages.

So I ended up getting a completely shitty meal at the next door McDonald's, which was one step above compressed chicken sweepings and corn flakes mashed into breading.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How Not To Blog

One of the benefits of writing a blog is that you can relay your innermost thoughts and well-crafted ideas to the outside world, otherwise known at ten people who somehow got referred to your site when they typed in "Doctor Who Slash." Personally, I usually just complain, but since 90% of conversations in the world are basically complaining about stuff, it's hardly unique in any way. Unfortunately, if you broaden your subject matter too much, you won't be able to get a hard-core following; but making it too narrow will cause you to never be able to expand your readership.  

It's this last point that's the tricky one--when you have a very narrow subject matter, you often fall prey to the clich├ęs of that genre. When you get pigeonholed as a specific type of blogger--what the old-timers used to call "reporters"--you also tend to become the stereotype you always wanted to avoid. It's just like those old 80's John Hughes movies, only less about hair and teenage alienation and more about praying that your Google AdSense numbers go up.

Here are some helpful ways to avoid becoming a stale shell of a blog. Don't do the following:

Political Blog
  • Here is a graph where the numbers are skewed to prove my point. Since no one else in America has ever taken a statistics course, I will be deemed right.
  • A member of my opposing political philosophy just made a mildly provocative sound bite that was four words long, and on the basis of this, instead of their lifetime of reasonable discourse, that person should be indicted as being unfit to live as a human being and should be torn to pieces and fed to the boars.
  • A member of my own political philosophy just did the EXACT SAME THING as a member of the opposing side, but my person was simply misunderstood while the other person should endure 20 years of prison rape.
Pop Culture Fan Blog
  • Despite the fact that there is at least six decades worth of mass media accumulated over our history, the absolute best television show ever created just HAPPENED to air the moment I turned fourteen.
  • I will go through each and every line of dialogue as if it were a Shakespearean sonnet, and, indeed, at one point in my high school career attempted to persuade my English teacher that the show's premise is a valid basis for a book report.
  • I will also list--and link to on Wikipedia--each and every reference that pops up about this show on the Simpsons or Family Guy
Mommy Blog
  • My kid is the cutest kid ever!
  • Something that happens to every single other person on the face of the earth just happened to my kid THE WORLD IS AN AWFUL AND UNJUST PLACE!
  • Did I mention how cute my kid is? Here are some alarmingly candid pictures.
Cooking Blog
  • Here is this wonderful, beautiful, delicious recipe for a dish that you will under no circumstances ever be able to prepare without charring something unburnable, such as cucumbers, or accidentally substituting paprika with alum.
  • And here are some glorious photographs of the finished product, which will look absolutely nothing like what your own will look like unless you include cello tape and one tube of industrial adhesive.
  • No matter what, anything even remotely palatable will be 8,000 calories, and anything under 500 calories per serving will look like something found in your yard.
Cat Blog
  • Here is a picture of my cat.
  • Here is another picture of my cat.
  • Here is another picture of my cat.
Multi-Level Marketing Blog
  • I am going to write one original blog post to get people interested in my blog. I may even include a picture of myself.
  • Here is a blog entry that is cut and pasted from the corporate email I just received.
  • Here is an entry begging you to buy more orange energy drink or generic Gorilla Glue before the end of the month, pointing out that the 25% markup from the local department store is worth not having to drive to the mall. Shipping not included.
Sports Blog
  • Let be paraphrase what the coach just said, but in my own words so it sounds like something original.
  • Despite the fact that my last foray into sports management was to refill the water bottles for four year olds at the T-ball field twenty-five years ago, the coach that has been coaching in professional sports for fifteen years DOESN'T KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING AND THEY SHOULD IMMEDIATELY FIRE HIM BECAUSE THE TEAM IS 2-3.
  • Everything that has happened in organized sports since some golden moment when I was twelve years old is a horrendous mistake, and I'm going to project my own broken failures onto the people who now wear uniforms.