Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fantasy Office League

Fantasy Football is ending in a few weeks. And, thankfully, there are plenty of other options for those who enjoy the fantasy leagues, such as hockey, soccer and basketb--er, well, maybe not.

Still, it's a shame that there aren't any good non-sports fantasy leagues. Granted, a proper fantasy setup requires some form of competition, and there aren't many viable options aside from sports. Still, it shouldn't take much to look around at all the everyday things we do in our life to find a way to make it more interesting. Such as, say, your office?

Position: The Skirter
  • 1 point for every minute they are late and every minute they leave early
  • 2 points for every committee they put their name on without actually attending any meetings or contributing anything
  • 5 points for every hour they spend gossiping instead of working, then blaming everyone else when a project isn't completed
Position: Cat Lady
  • 1 point for every picture of a cat in their cube
  • 2 points instead if the cat in question is wearing clothing
  • 3 points instead if the clothing in question was knitted by the cat's owner
  • 1 point for each coupon clipped at their desk

Position: IT
  • 2 points every time they yell at you to change your password
  • 3 points every time they blame "corporate policies" for some problem they can't figure out
  • 4 points every day they get away with having clothing and a hairstyle that would be unacceptable under any other condition aside from the fact that they know all the porn sites their boss visits each day

Position: Human Resources Representative
  • 1 point for every moment they suck the joy and life out of
  • 3 points for every motivational poster they insist on hanging up
  • 5 points for acting on complaints about cleavage
Position: The Obsolete Embarrassment  
  • 1 point for each year they "intend on working" so their Social Security payment gets increased
  • 3 points for every time they assume that learning how to successfully copy and paste puts them on an equal computer literacy level as their co-workers
  • 1 point for each Window they have open at any given time

Position: The Clueless Annoyance
  • 3 points for each they they heat up something obnoxious in the break room microwave
  • Extra 2 points if it is burnt popcorn
  • 4 points for using the last of the coffee and not making a new pot*
  • 4 points every time they leave the bathroom without washing their hands
  • 1 point each day their iPod headphones are turned up loud enough for all neighbors to hear
Position: The Overdressed Female
  • 1 point each time she says something about how quickly she is going to be promoted
  • 2 points each time she mentions how successful her sorority sisters are and how that is why she will also succeed
  • 3 points each time she becomes the Shirker because she is clearly better suited to a more prominent position so why waste her time doing her job?
  • 5 points each time she flirts with her male superiors
  • 10 points each time she is denied a promotion and she claims it is sexism

Position: The Intern
  • 4 points every time he hits on the Overdressed Female
  • 2 points every time he runs to the convenience store on his break
  • 4 points every time he complains that work is ruining his plans for Burning Man
  • 6 points each time he mistakenly thinks that his internship is going to matter in the real working world
Position: Overenthusiastic Local Professional Sports Follower
  • 2 points every time they wear a licensed jersey as business casual
  • 4 points every time they question the local coach's decision and assume that this brave stance is the equivalent of the "I Have A Dream," "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You," and "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall" speeches combined
  • 10 points for somehow managing to maintain a job as an administrative sales support project manager while still knowing more than all of the current NFL head coaches, staff, and commentators

Position: The Peter Principle
  • 1 point for each corporate buzzword used to cover up the fact that they don't know the answer to something or do not care to divulge bad news
  • 2 points for each time they mention what university they attended, as if that mattered the moment they graduated 
  • 4 points for each spelling and/or grammatical error on a company-wide email that is sent out
 However this works out, I'm not sure I want to be around for the playoffs.

*Dick.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Breakfast Review: Gingerbread Pop Tarts

As has been previous noted with the release of Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts, I am a huge fan of seasonal flavors and also a huge fan of eating candy for breakfast. So when my wife brought home a package of Gingerbread Pop Tarts, I was very excited to give it a try.

 Limited Edition? Oh, you sweet, sweet temptress, how wrong you are. I will find you again at Big Lots in the spring.

The Pop Tart itself is made out of gingerbread (or at least some decent version of gingerbread-style crust). It smells delicious out of the package, and even better when you heat it up--it permeates the air with a wonderful smell that makes you want to eat every baked good dessert in existence. It is filled with the standard icing filling you will find on most gingerbread confections.

As part of the fun--since this product has a target market of small children and myself, apparently--each Pop Tart is printed with a seasonal image of some sort. It could be skiers, ice skaters, snowboarders, snowflakes or...hockey players?

That's right, Martin Brodeur is Santa Claus, and you are getting nothing for Christmas.

Each package notes that--as if they are proud of the fact--these Pop Tarts are perfectly sized so that you could, in theory, build a gingerbread house out of Pop Tarts. This is one of the few times you'll see a food product that not only can be used as construction material, but encourages you to do so.

Anyway, so how are the Pop Tarts? Pretty good, actually. The gingerbread flavor isn't nearly as strong as it smells, which might be a good thing but I would have preferred it a little stronger. The icing filling isn't horribly sweet, which if you know me is good but may disappoint some looking for the equivalent of a gingerbread cake.

It's not going to replace the standard gingerbread man cookie, but they are a fairly good substitute for heating up and eating first thing in the morning.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Candy Review: Christmas Peeps

It's the holiday season, which means an entirely new crop of Christmas-themed candy is now on the shelves!

Of course, that means a lot of other things are on the shelf, including things that should not be classified as food.

Yes, given the fact that I don't care for the Peeps brand of candy, these appear to be different enough that I thought it prudent to at least give them a try. 'Tis the season and all that nonsense, so let's take a look at an entirely new line of Peeps-related confections.





Photo Credit: Guantanamo Bay Public Relations Department

First, let us take a look at the Milk Chocolate Dipped Caramel Peeps. I am not a huge fan of caramel, so I started off not thinking too much of this candy. However, it does have a reasonably strong caramel flavor--I was expecting marshmallow with perhaps a hint of caramel, but the flavor is fairly pervasive. Being dipped in chocolate also helps. While I'm not a huge fan of this selection due to the caramel, this is a fairly decent candy. They also come in dark chocolate.
They also apparently like to get in barfights.

Next up is the Sugar-Free Peppermint Stars. This is certainly a different beast; as should be obvious, first, it's sugar-free, and, second, it's minty. It certainly doesn't taste sugar-free, most likely because the peppermint is pretty strong. While I am not certain this would replace a normal Peep or a normal mint, it's not a bad combination, and I could see eating these under normal, non-review circumstances.

Don't let Frosty make buffalo chicken dip for the party ever again. He doesn't...get it.

Next up is the Chocolate Mousse, which are actually shaped like reindeer (get it)?

Call Blitzen's wife that one more time...

These were actually pretty good. Keep in mind that while these are chocolate, they are not chocolate dipped, and also it's mousse, so the flavor is a little different. I'm not sure I would prefer this over something that is actually chocolate, but it's certainly different enough of a flavor from the regular Peeps that I would consider it a pretty big step up.

Also, have that money ready by next Wednesday. Kapish?

Last, we have the Milk Chocolate Covered Mint Christmas Tree. It is very similar to the Chocolate Covered Peep that I reviewed before, except that the Peep-like filling (which is not the same as the normal Peep) is mint-flavored. Oddly, this is much better. While before that Peep-like filling (PLF?) still more or less tasted like a marshmallow Peep, here, the mint flavoring kind of masks it. And I mean "mask" in a good way. Add to that chocolate, and you have something that actually pretty good.

Thankfully, it does not smell like pine. Unless your tree smells like an Altoid.

So, what is the verdict? I am still not a huge fan of marshmallow peeps; I don't care for the consistency and the flavor is kinda gross. But here are four items that have enough "other" flavor that, aside from the caramel, I would voluntarily eat again. In particular, the Christmas Tree is pretty flavorful. Now, I doubt this will ever be my snack of choice; I suspect these have a fairly steep drop-off point for tolerance. But they are good, and both Peeps fans will still like it and non-Peeps fans such as myself will find something legitimately new.

So, Merry Christmas, one and all--a decent review of a Peeps product.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Wife's Irrational Fear of the Muppets

For some reason my wife does not care for the Muppets.

I don't quite understand why. Her standards are: the television show was tolerable; the movies creeped her out, because Muppets were not meant to walk around and play banjos. (In her words, "Muppets spend their lives getting fisted by humans. That makes them whores.") Yet for some reason everyone on Sesame Street is fine. ("Sesame Street is OK because they stay in their own little world. They're not going out ruining classics like A Christmas Carol or Treasure Island.")

Now, I, personally, can't see the difference between Bid Bird chicken-scratching his big orange feet to Gordon's apartment for celery and PB and Miss Piggy stomping her way around a sound stage. Then again, I am not a true Muppetarian.

Not that I don't like them, of course. Even if you don't care for their brand of humor, I still think people can easily identify with the wide range of personalities that Jim Henson carefully crafted. Even if you don't latch on to Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, or Fozzie Bear, you can find common cause with Statler and Waldolf or even Gonzo the Great or Sam the Eagle.

Of course, part of it might be because a majority of children grow up watching at least some Sesame Street, where Muppets reside and get occasional visits from Kermit himself. (I have one particularly pervasive memory of Disco Frog. Which, if anything, is creepier than Kermit riding a bike down the street in Manhattan.) With such an early intervention, it's no wonder the Muppets continue to be popular.

The new movie released this Thanksgiving is, by all accounts, a pretty good movie, appealing to young and old alike. I haven't seen it, although I probably eventually will, and about the only lamentable thing is that Frank Oz passed on the project. Considering he was one of the main puppeteers (and voices) for a lot of the Muppets in their history.

I didn't get to watch the TV show much as a kid--they just weren't shown on the stations we got--and so my exposure to them was somewhat limited. Still, I think the Muppets are a perfectly acceptable Anglo-American institution that should be treated with respect. Alas, my wife ("Muppet movies are like porn--I know they exist, I just don't want any in my house") disagrees.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Team Fortress 2: A User's Guide

I play Team Fortress 2. It is a mediocre arena-style first-person shooter game. It's not a bad game, of course, and it actually has quite a few innovative things going on for it, but it plays and seems a few releases too old compared with what is out there now.

However, the main benefit it has is that it's free. At one point it was sold as part of the fabled Orange Box (which also had the classic Portal and one of the Half-Life games). Now it is free to play and download, and they make money off of microtransactions (i.e., buying small and cheap items, often, and by lots of players).

The game has a nice sense of humor and doesn't take itself too seriously. Even if you don't intend on playing the game, you should check out their promotional trailers on YouTube (Type in "Meet the" and one of the classes below. The Medic in particular is fun to watch.)

Anyway, I've been playing it for a few months now, and I realized quite too late that I kind of suck at the game. I still have fun, but as with all online games, there are a lot of folks out there that take the game WAAAY too seriously and do not like the fact that I can barely hold my own while in comat.

Anyway, the list below gives an overview of how to play each class. This is probably only amusing to those who play the game, but still.

The Scout:
What I Should Be Doing: Using speed as an advantage to get point-blank shots and hit-and-run maneuvers.
What I End Up Doing:  Getting slaughtered by sentries and rockets while trying to pull off some lame trick with Mad Milk or the Holy Mackerel.

The Soldier:

What I Should Be Doing: Committing long-range attacks and positioning explosions to maximize damage

What I End Up Doing: Killing myself by shooting the payload in error at close range.

The Pyro:

What I Should Be Doing: Burning down rivals and checking for spies

What I End Up Doing: Running straight at opponents and getting mowed down before the flamethrower gets in range, and never changing this tactic for any reason whatsoever

The Demoman:

What I Should Be Doing: Bouncing bombs off of walls for sneaky indirect hits

What I End Up Doing: Bouncing bombs off of walls so they bounce right back at me, and repeatedly doing it as if somehow that is going to change.

The Heavy:

What I Should Be Doing: Mowing down rivals and absorbing massive amounts of damage to help my teammates.
What I End Up Doing: Eating sandviches out in the open.

The Engineer:

What I Should Be Doing: Strategically placing buildings to hide from enemies and help my teammates.

What I End Up Doing: Finding the exact spot to have a sentry destroyed two seconds after building it up to level 3.


The Medic:

What I Should Be Doing: Healing my teammates

What I End Up Doing: Failing at bumping up my Strange Syringe Gun's kill record.

The Sniper:

What I Should Be Doing: Standing in the shadows and picking off unsuspecting combatants.

What I End Up Doing: Lying face down in a pool of my own blood with a dancing Spy on top of me.

The Spy:
What I Should Be Doing: Backstabbing opponents and frying sentry guns.
What I End Up Doing:  Getting slaughtered the moment an enemy sees me despite the fact that I am cloaked or disguised.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftovers

I am lazy today, so here are a few turkey leftovers:

Why is the price of turkeys increasing?

Did Harper's Bazaar invent Thanksgiving?

Here is the modern science of turkey procreation. (Hint: "turkey baster" has a whole new meaning.)

A turkey took revenge in a Pittsburgh restaurant.

If for some reason you don't know how to make a hand turkey, you are an idiot. But here is a step-by-step process if you are so inclined. 

And, finally, so help you, if you've never watched this, it's worth the 24 minutes. Also: you are not a true American.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Awesome Black Friday Deals!

Black Friday is tomorrow, so I figured that as a service to my reading public I would compile all of the awesome Black Friday deals in one place so you can plan your long, cold nightmare of a shopping trip tonight. Happy consumering!

  • Liquor stores open an hour before midnight. Retail employees only.
  • Awesome deals have already started prior to Black Friday, as the entire stock of clothes from Banana Republic were sold to Old Navy, and vice versa, and so far no one has noticed.
  • For those more pretentious customers, grab some awesome deals at Target. The premium customers pay for the sole purpose of being able to claim that they never shop at Wal-Mart for the exact same items will be slightly reduced (but not too much, lest you become part of the proletariat!) for the winter season.
  • Pier 1 Imports has fantastic deals on shit you can’t afford and don’t need.
  • You can still nab a few post-Thanksgiving turkeys on the cheap, as Warner Brothers releases new supplies of The Green Lantern on DVD.
  • You can get Skyrim for only a portion of your soul. Limited time only.
  • Radio Shack will celebrate the holiday season by somehow managing to stay in business for another year.
  • Stop at CVS for all of your needs which curiously do not involve pharmaceuticals.
  • “WE ARE PENN STATE” apparel available for very, very cheap in size S.
  • In a bold move, Apple announced that an industry-wide sale of all Apple products starts of Friday, where retail price has been reduced to only a leg. (Arm still required for extended warranty.)
  • So far, there have been no sales alerts on Italian bonds. Keep an eye open in your inbox, though!
  • Crates of “I’m A Cainiac” bumper stickers can be found very cheap in a variety of outlets.
  • Savvy shoppers may be able to pick up a BOGO for former Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks. (No refunds or warranties available). Also look for sweet deals in Seattle, Kansas City, and San Diego.
  • Kohl’s has a special discount for those who promise not to take their child out into the parking lot and beat them.*
  • Sears has a few flyer where they will sell you anything at a reduced price as long as you please, please come shop at our stores. We’re begging you! Just walk into our store! We don’t want to be the new Montgomery Wards! We used to do those Wish catalogues! You remember those, right? Aren’t those sweet memories from your childhood worth paying inflated prices for shitty products?
  • If you are looking to get a reduced cost on the massive amount of additional features for electronics that you will never figure out how to use but are willing to pay additional actual cash for so that you don’t look stupid in front of your friends or the salespeople, Best Buy has exactly what you need.
  • Stop by Panera Bread after you are done shopping, where thanks to the holiday the workers will promise not to mock you behind your back for paying ten bucks for bread, lettuce, and a quarter slice of honey ham
  • Wal-Mart, as always, will have rural Chinese workers for sale at steep discounts off of full retail.

*YOU THOUGHT WE FORGOT ABOUT THAT, DIDN’T YOU

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back and to the Left

Yesterday marked the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. (This probably would have been a more appropriate post for yesterday, but I forgot.)

As y'all should know at this point, I am a conspiracy theory fan. I don't believe in too many of them--I think it's too damn hard to keep a secret that is known by more than one person, at any point in history--but I love learning about them. A lot of them fill gaps in knowledge that people have a thirst to know, and so a lot of fanciful conjecture is created with plausible-sounding ideas to help explain the unexplainable.

That said, I've always been slightly uninterested in the JFK assassination. I think part of it was that there were way too many people offering their own explanations, and none of it will ever get verified. (Contrast this to, say, Watergate, where everyone and their brother wrote a book about the thing; I'm still fascinated about it because at some point enough details will be released and unclassified that we'll be able to construct a more accurate model of what happened.) Still, I'm interested enough when I learn something new about it, and I'm always up for a well-constructed book or documentary.

So, each year on the anniversary something new pops up. Sometimes it is new information, though rarely is it more than a morsel of conjecture backed up by some misremembered fact. Sometimes it is a rehashing of something old that people forgot about.

The same was true for this year. For some reason this year's "connection" was the Umbrella Man. None of this is new--we knew all the information about the Umbrella Man since the late 70's. But while most people who follow the assassination know who he is, they may not know what his role was--which, it turns out, is not much.

The Umbrella Man was significant because he was so unusual: it was a sunny day in the upper 60's. There was no need for an umbrella, unless it was to CONCEAL A WEAPON or SIGNAL AN ASSASSIN or SHOOT A POISON DART. Turns out--not so much. The man was heckling Kennedy--he was mocking him for being another Neville Chamberlain, the well-known appeaser to Hitler (and well-known for his signature umbrella). Back then, of course, Kennedy was under fire for appeasing the Soviet Union, so the Umbrella Man thought this would be an easy way to heckle the president in a subtle but flashy way. (In case you think such a reference would be too obscure, Kennedy did his thesis largely about Chamberlain, and even back then Chamberlain's actions were pretty fresh in history.)

The skeptics have a point--umbrellas are well-known assassin tools. But ultimately, it's an anticlimactic answer to a question many were asking.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Candy Review: Thanksgiving Bubble Gum

Have you ever wanted to have that full Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings feel, but without all of the cooking, cleaning, and planning involved? Well, worry no more, because you can now buy Thanksgiving-flavored bubble gum!

You can see my hand in the background impatiently reaching for the tin because they are that good. Or, I'm a zombie.

Produced by Accoutrement, it promises three mouth-watering flavors: turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce.

This is like a cornucopia of amazingness. A literal cornucopia.

If you've made it this far, I would like to point out that this is not a joke--this is a full-on real product, that I purchased with my hard-earned money and taste-tested for my reader's benefit. If you are so inclined you may purchase this item as well (it seems to retail at around $4.00 per tin, which is approximately 20 gumballs. The retailer I purchased it from does not appear to carry it anymore, but a quick search found plenty of people pushing it, so it shouldn't be difficult to find.)

The gumballs come in three different colors. Cranberry's easy to see, but for those of more skittish constitutions it is worth noting that the off-orange color for both pumpkin pie and turkey are alarmingly similar.

 Oh, sweet  sweet temptress.

First off, the cranberry: It's pretty good. It kind of has a generic "berry" flavor, like when you rashly pick up the fruity gum at the checkout counter when you think it's somehow going to be healthier than Super Sugar Crystal Bubble Gum. But it will pass for cranberry, and it's not bad.

The pumpkin pie gum is...less good. But not bad. Basically, it tastes like the fake pumpkin spice flavoring they throw in everything from coffee to cupcakes to broasted chicken from about October 1st until St. Patrick's Day. Still, that fake pumpkin flavoring isn't bad, so while not the best of the bunch it's still pretty good.

Now, the turkey. Let me first off state that if you are expecting anything besides gum that tastes like processed meat, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Thankfully, this gum does not disappoint.

 Yeah, it's like that.

Remarkably, I was able to convince a test lab of volunteers (i.e., co-workers) to taste the turkey gum, and what they thought it actually tasted like had a rather wide range:
  • Salami
  • Burnt Rubber
  • Pre-packaged turkey slices (this was the closest to turkey as it got)
  • A chemical factory that vomited
  • Beef jerky
  • That liquid you pour in toy trains to make smoke come out of it (the question as to how they would know what that tasted like was not resolved)
My wife, alas, could not make it past two seconds, and so her results were inconclusive.

As a novelty, it's pretty darn successful: nearly everyone who was offered this gum was willing to give it a try. Those who stuck it out said it ended up not tasting that bad; it's just the shock of chewing on something that tastes like meat immediately turns people off.

As an actual candy, don't expect it to replace your Teaberry anytime soon. They still sell Teaberry, right?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Last Minute Holiday Supercommittee Ideas

It appears that the so-called Supercommittee is poised to admit defeat--all of the hand-wringing about the debt ceiling a few months ago was all for naught. (Or, really, who knows. Both sides are most likely prepared to unleashed horrible things. Happy Thanksgiving!)

Since the deadline technically isn't until later in the week, I propose this set of budget decisions that may go a long way in helping both sides reach an agreement.
  • Make sure anyone who bet the Colts to win the Superbowl this year never works in government again.
  • License Barack Obama's likeness for Obama's Presidential Slam 2K for the Kinect, where players try to navigate through one term of office actually accomplishing something that doesn't massively piss off half the country (aside from shooting bin Laden, offered in the convenient first-person shooter segment)
  • Put a swear jar in Joe Biden's office.
  • We all know that Rick Perry has a map to the Rio Grande Treasure on his person, so just have him rustle up a posse--which should include at minimum one half-drunk Irishman, one silent but indefensible Indian, an old prospector (i.e., Newt Gingrich) and a good-natured Negro--and set off against all odds to find it, where he may encounter deadly snakes, Mexican bandits, and the worst trial of all--human greed. Next on TBS.
  • Charge Rick Santorum ten bucks every time his mug shows up unnecessarily on TV. 
  • Does Ross Perot have any money left? Because I think we can still make that deal. (Don't tell Trump. Yet.)
  • Just get Ron Paul in the same locked room as the Supercommittee with some flat pine board, a bucket, leather restraints, and an endless supply of water. No questions asked.
  • Get the prostitutes that are servicing the Arabian delegation of diplomats to charge triple, diverting a third to the government in exchange for a blind eye.
  • Convince alumni of Penn State to donate funds to the government instead of their alma mater by promising to use the money in a more worthwhile endeavor, such as burning huge piles of cash on the mall before then tossing it down the bottomless rathole known as government spending. 
  • Send someone down to Occupy Wall Street with a backpack of dime bags, pirated copies of Rage Against the Machine CDs, and cheap subscriptions to Mother Jones.
  • Go back in time and hook a bunch of WWII servicemen on cigarettes so that they die earlier and put less of a burden on Social Security OH WAIT WE ALREADY DID THAT 
  • Plow all profits from the Twilight franchise into the federal coffers so at least some form of social good can come of it
  • Tell Europe to stop screwing around and get their shit together.
  • Barney Frank in a dunk tank on the grand mall. PROBLEM SOLVED.
  • Get Herman Cain to create and head the Department of Godfather's Pizza, with all profits generated (less any sexual harassment settlements) to pay down the debt.
  • Partially privatize Social Security and enact Medicare reimbursement methods to bring it in line with more realistic market-based models. LOL J/K! Just sell the Washington Monument to the Chinese.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Slugger McMucus

We came home tonight (after eating at the Harmony Inn--which if you haven't yet means you are a criminal and must rectify this fact immediately) and while it was dark and rainy and a pain in the neck to drive home, I certainly wasn't expecting to come home to see this on our front steps:


Slugs are hardly uncommon around here, but this sucker was HUGE. Must slugs I have known and grown acquainted with are usually the size of, say, pen caps, and more often than not just remind me of snails that got drunk and lost their shell on the long crawl home. But this guy was easily the size of two or three index fingers, giving him more of a look of a small fat snake with antennae.

He looks the charmer, though, doesn't he? I'm pretty sure from the looks of this snapshot that he is wearing what the equivalent in the slug world is a three-piece suit--notice the abrupt change in pattern. Perhaps he was on his way to a charity ball that was cancelled due to excessive rain. I envision that his name is something like Nathanial Slugston III, but his friends commonly refer to him--due to his exploits in college--as Slugger McMucus.

Either way, he will most likely be gone in the morning, which is probably for the best, since my dogs would refer to him kindly as breakfast.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Toonseum

Today my wife and I went to the Toonseum. She took some pictures, so I will link to her blog later, but it was a fun time. I recommend that anyone in the Pittsburgh area go to see it--it's cheap, there are a lot of fun things to do, and while it's relatively small they get a reasonably regular rotation of exhibits coming in and out.

I've always held a certain fascination with the craft; at one point, it was my preferred vocation. (The notion of hitting it big in the creative arts requiring a lot of back-slapping, bribery, and sexual favors instead of talent did not occur to me until later.) So there is something a little mystical about seeing the old hand-drawn sketches the artists worked on; it seems ages ago since everything was digitized (even though it was merely about 15 years ago). While most of animation and comics are digital, a lot of the base still relies on the techniques that were used in the early 20th Century.

So, anyway, yay for cartoons!

Friday, November 18, 2011

High Five

FOr those anal-retentive OCD-type people like me, who also happen to follow sports, the news that the Houston Astros are moving to the AL West is the BEST NEWS EVER.

Those that don't follow baseball have no idea why this is important. Hell, people who do follow baseball don't know what I'm talking about. The important thing is this: For way too long, the National League Central division--the Astro's home--has had six teams. All other divisions in Major League Baseball have five teams, except one: the American League West.

With this one move, all six divisions will have five teams, as well they should.

I'm sorry, but this has always bothered me. With a sports league as stories and successful as baseball, one would think that they would have gotten their shit together. But thanks to the existence of sports purists who insist on grinding every speck of fun out of the pasttime, moving teams around is always a pain in the neck. Thankfully, the Astros have sucked ass for so long they could finally rip it from its crowded home and placed it where it was needed. (The only drawback: The Pittsburgh Pirates no longer have a team to compete with for worst in their division.)

Of course, unlike other major league sports, the conferences in baseball have small but crucial differences, namely, the designated hitter rule. Still, it's not unprecedented; the Cleveland Indians skipped conferences a decade or two ago with little to no impact; again, it helped that they sucked.

When I first started to get into sports at a very late date in my life, the one thing that attracted me was the division system in football. It was probably the boardgamer in me, but I loved poring over how the schedules were constructed and the slick symmetry of the playoff seeding. Sure, basketball and hockey are similar, but with four divisions instead of three the NFL could play around with their numbers a lot easier.

Of course, when changes occur, rivalries get upended and scheduled get wonky. Thanks to the Thrashers moving to become the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets, the NHL is proposing a new realignment that is roughly time-zone based. While it makes sense, it also causes some heated battles to disappear--mostly involving teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh. It also reduces it down to four divisions--too few, in my opinion--and also, since there are only 30 teams, will require uneven divisions. (Thankfully, they will at least be symmetrical, and no doubt there are expansion plans in the future.)

Still, since I am a proponent of more teams for everyone, I would like to see all four major sports leagues to match the system that the NFL uses now. This would add two new teams to the NBA, NHL, and MLB (yay!), and force the leagues to break out of the 5-team 6-division system to the more malleable eight-division four-team system.

Of course, the more important thing is who makes the most money, which will more or less dictate how this all plays out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spoiler Alert

I tend to have a reasonably high threshold for getting bullshitted--my default position on any issue is that someone is lying to me to get something out of it. So it is not particularly often that I get hoodwinked by something on the internet.

Now, we're not talking a four-alarm case of the sleight of hand that Pierre Salinger got caught believing. This is something of much greater importance: Harry Potter.

(I should point out that this is more or less the worst spoiler possible with the Harry Potter universe, so don't read any further until DUMBLEDORE DIES.)

Now, I haven't read any of the books, but I've seen all but one of the movies. I am an armchair fan--the whole thing seems childish at first, but it grows a little more complex and interesting by the time it reaches the end. So since I'm not versed in all of the details that the books have, so in my defense I'm probably a little easier to fool than a more hardcore fan.

Anyway, I read on some post somewhere the following quote from J.K. Rowling: "Yes, it's rather funny, really, that next to no one realized the snake that Harry set free in Philosopher's Stone turned out to be Voldemort's final horcrux, Nagini."

It. Made. Perfect. Sense.

In the Philosopher's Stone, of course, Harry is drawn to the snake at the zoo and they talk--a crucial point noting that Harry has the gift of talking to snakes. He then sets it free. Knowing what we know of Harry's background later in the series, this is a pretty significant moment of foreshadowing that many people did not see.

So, given the gift of this knowledge (thank goodness no one else has access to the internet) I immediately text my wife, and go and tell the one Harry Potter fan at work. Both are astounded at this piece of information.

Alas, I then had the temerity to check the validity of this quote, which turns out to be false. It's apparently been going around for a while now, and I just happened to come across it and started to spread the word like gospel like the moron I am. I quickly had to issue retractions before I caused any more damage to humankind.

Of course, what makes this all disappointing is that it would have been awesome had it been true. And there's the crux--it's something that's plausible in the storyline, and also appreciated by fans. That is one reason why it is so believable.

Of course, I haven't checked either the books or the movie--I am, again, basing this hoax on the exact same source material (i.e., the internet) that fooled me in the first place. Some people never learn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Daschund Rhapsody

I have recounted the tale of Chloe's great escape not that long ago, but as an update, this now necessitates her to have a guardian when we let her out lest she try another jailbreak. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, of course, it's dark at noon, so this requires that whoever goes out with the little dog has to bring a flashlight and (ideally) a good pair of running shoes. This is not something one wants to deal with at three in the morning, but that's what you get when you're raising a career runaway. As part of a coping mechanism for housing a delinquent, I indulged on a pint of peanut butter chocolate ice cream.

It's been unseasonably warm around these parts--even though there was snow on the ground at the beginning of the month--so thankfully I've been able to get away with stepping outside without bundling up like Shackleton. I've been getting away with wearing slippers outside, although if Chloe does make a break for it I will not be a happy camper. This is what is known as a "calculated risk."

Chloe has also gotten into the habit of not exactly eating her dinner. Or breakfast, for that matter. This isn't a case of her being sick; this is her way of making some statement that I'm sure is something like "I am protesting the conditions of my crate" but actually comes out as "I am not hungry." As any dog owner knows, that latter statement is an outright lie.

Last night was not any different. Dexter happily ate his bowl of food within seconds, while Chloe refused. Since SO HELP YOU if you let one dog out and leave the other in, this meant that poor Dexter couldn't play. Chloe, stubborn as ever, refused to eat all night long until we retired upstairs, and then, when it was clear we were not accommodating her peculiar digestive habits, licked the bowl clean. Because of this, she was let out much, much later than normal.

This is the point in the story when I should say something along the lines of, "If you had told me five years ago I would be standing outside on my porch in my slippers in November eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream while watching my dog poop while I shine a flashlight on her," there is a decent change I would have told you that you were crazy. But I won't say that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NCAA Down

The recent issues at Penn State (along with Ohio State, USC, and a litany of others) have shown that college sports is more or less at a rotted crossroads; while there are a lot of good school that play by the rules, it's not a coincidence that some of the most successful schools, sports-wise, are also some of the most corrupt, in some form or another.

(Before we go much farther, obviously what happened at Penn State is much worse by comparison than selling memorabilia and handing cash to students, and that breaking NCAA rules aren't against the law, but I'll be using the common "illegal" parlance jsut to make things easier. But what happened at Penn State does tie in with this--had someone in the coaching staff sounded the alarm, there is no doubt it would have contributed detrimentally to Paterno's recruiting efforts, it would have been a huge distraction and staff turnover, and would have reflected the general success of the team. I'm also focusing on football, but the same applies to basketball as well.)

Still, I've always thought that college sports was kind of a joke. I can certainly understand people's devotion to a team--that's what sports fealty is for--but this quasi-indentured servitude system built around the sham framework of education has got to end.

First off, read this article from The Atlantic by Taylor Branch. It does a pretty good job of describing exactly how these athletes--sorry, "student athletes"--are treated. Most are willing to do so because it is the gateway to stardom, and there are certainly good things that come of it. And I am not a complete philistine--I think that sports can certainly contribute to a well-rounded education at the collegiate level.

That said, college football (and, to a lesser extent, basketball) has become a beast onto its own. They make a lot of money, which goes to subsidize the other, non-profitable sports, and in most cases the university itself. This has always been one of the most common defenses of the NCAA--it provides money for the universities, and provides kids with scholarships who may not otherwise go to college. And yet is that what we want? Kids unprepared for the rigorous academics, who once the 99% of them who don't go pro won't have an athletic department pulling strings to make them successful? And shouldn't the academics of a university stand on its own?

Personally, I think the entire system should be scrapped; basically, universities, who should be focusing on academics, have more or less provided the NFL with a minor league. Since that is what it's become, why not just make it a minor league? We all know people would still watch, and a case can be made to affiliate them with the colleges and universities that house them now (but kept as a separate legal entity, and actually paying players without the pretense of providing them with a fake education).

I am often at odds with professional sports traditionalists, where their sport of choice should not change from that magical moment when they were 12 and everything was perfect. OSU and Penn State and USC and LSU and FSU fans will whine and cry about destroying "cherished traditions" that have lasted for decades. These are the same individuals who do not realize that they are destroying them right now.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Halftime at the NFL

Well, we are a little past the halfway point of the NFL season. It's time to take a look around the league and see how things are shaping up.

As usual,. a disclaimer: I don't know enough about football to offer any analysis, so I am basically stating the blatantly obvious below.

WTF is up with Indianapolis? Sure, Peyton Manning is a good player, probably the best of his era. But the remainder of that team isn't so bad that they fall apart without him. But that is exactly what's happened: the vaunted Indianapolis Colts, who for nearly a decade have been in the playoffs and winning their division each of those years save one, are currently winless. Even once-great teams that fall on a bad year eke out 6-10 years. Given the fact that Manning may not be coming back, this should have most Colts fans worried.

WTF is up with Buffalo and Detroit? Both of these teams, generally miserable for the past decade or so, started out very, very strong. Both have dropped off recently, and their records are now a modest 5-4 and 6-3. (The Lions, alas, have the misfortune to be in the same division as the undefeated Green Bay Packers, so they may be fighting for only a wild card slot during this glorious year.) Does this mean that these teams have finally got something right, or is this a fluke (like Cincinnati seems to have every few years or so)? From the little that I've seen, the Bills are hit-or-miss enough that this may simply be an anomaly, but the Lions appear to have gotten some semblance of a team started up.

WTF is up with the West? Everyone in the West? All eight teams in the west, with the exception of the 8-1 San Francisco 49ers, are pretty bad. No team in the NFC aside from the 49ers have managed to scrape together more than 3 wins, and they all still have to face the 49ers twice (save Seattle). the AFC looks a little better; the Oakland Raiders are 5-4, and the rest are tied at 4-5. This appears to be a continuation from last year, when somehow the Seattle Seahawks cracked the playoffs despite having a losing record (but still managing to stiff the New Orleans Saints).

WTF is up with the AFC North? It's not horribly unusual to have a three-way tie this late in the season, but it is a bit strange to have that tie be as high up as 6-3. Things shook out a little this past weekend, with Pittsburgh beating Cincinnati and Baltimore losing, but still.  A Ravens-Steelers knockout is fairly common these days, but a surprisingly strong resurgence from the long-suffering Bengals has made things interesting. At one point, I believe, three of the four top teams in the AFC were in this division.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Investigative Reports: Five Things Horribly Wrong With "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"

My wife and I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving last night. It is deservedly a classic, but while watching it last night I found some major issues with the plotline. I determined that this required a full investigation.

It's The Special Prosecutor, Charlie Brown!

1. Sally complains about not getting any Halloween candy, yet as we all know from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! we know that Sally didn't get any Halloween candy because she was in the pumpkin patch. Lucy got candy for Linus, but Charlie Brown could only share his rocks with his sister. Even if someone was kind enough to share, it certainly wouldn't be enough to last more than a day or so.
2. When Snoopy wakes up Woodstock and he get trapped behind the bicycle wheel, he can't just walk around the bike? And, somehow, the solution is spinning the wheel, which somehow makes easier to walk through? This is the bird we're entrusting dinner with?
3. After it is clear that not many kids will be eating the popcorn--and there is still clearly uneaten popcorn on the table on every plate--Snoopy insists on popping more, to the extent of setting up the grill outside to do so.
4. So, when the kids need a meal, the best Charlie Brown and Linus can come up with is toast and pretzel sticks. Snoopy steps in like a champ and helps out, to disastrous and embarrassing results. And yet at the end of the show, Snoopy whips up a full-on turkey dinner with all the dressings within a matter of seconds. He couldn't help a brother out earlier? What a dick.
5. And then Woodstock happily chows down on a slice of turkey. HIS OWN KIND.

There are some other questionable actions taken by the characters. For example, Snoopy is clearly preparing something for the meal that requires a simmering pot and a spoon. And yet there is nothing served during the meal that would require this. No soups, no sauces. I suppose that it could have been hot butter for the popcorn, but I don't think that was the culinary style of the times--I assumed pats of butter directly on piping hot popcorn would make more sense. But then again, none of this makes sense.

So this begs some unanswered questions:
1. Peppermint Patty's father was "unexpectedly called out of town" on Thanksgiving Day. It is probably career-related; a family emergency would not have left Peppermint Patty and alone to hang out with friends. What job could her father have that would require an emergency call out of town?
2. Woodstock gets the wishbone wish, but it is never stated what he wishes for, but looks knowingly at the screen. What nefarious scheme could he have cooked up in his head?
3. Lucy Van Pelt was conspicuously absent from the episode after the opening despite the fact that her brother was available. And this is after declaring that "some traditions just fade away." What did she know and when did she know it?

These children are up to something suspicious. In addition, the cartoon that accompanied this cartoon,  The Mayflower Voyagers, involves adults who actually talk and aren't simply muted trombones. I smell foul play. Homeland Security should probably get involved at this point.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Copywriters Shrugged

When I heard that Ayn Rand's gran novel, Atlas Shrugged, was going to be finally converted into a movie, I was initially excited. But also a bit alarmed; Atlas bumped around in Hollywood purgatory for years. The book has got some exciting stuff in it that is movie-worthy--Rand started out as a screenwriter--but it also has pages* of abstract objectivist philosophy that no way could be translated onto the big screen and still have the fans not burst a synapse. I thought it was a daunting task that easily could turn into a failure.

And it turns out I was right.

Well, not quite. I have not seen the movie itself, though I probably should just because it's the sort of thing I am supposed to watch before I criticize. But by all accounts--even by fans--while it's fairly faithful to the novel, it is also incredibly boooring. It's exactly what you think--a lot of people sitting around and talking about philosophy, interrupted by trains.

(For the record: I love the book, although it could have used an editor and be about 200 pages less. It gets windy and overblown at times, and as such is a turn-off to people who may otherwise enjoy her work. And--as it is set in a quite industrial America--there is a reasonable amount of action and suspense to make it interesting. The most accessible Rand novel--and the one I prefer--is We The Living. People who normally would be scared of reading Rand would probably enjoy this book; it is a fictionalized pseudo autobiography. The philosophical pontification is left at a minimum, it is a reasonable-length book, and is, thankfully, interesting.)

Anyway, the whole point is that I learned two things: they are continuing with parts II and III, even though the first one bombed. The second thing is this news article, which for some reason I find infinitely humorous.  Basically, they let a non-Objectivist write the blurb on the back of the DVD, in which he described the movie--in its usually uninformative and overblown prose--as one of "self-sacrifice." Anyone who has ever had even a whiff of Rand's work knows this is rolling Hitler, Stalin, Mao, child molesters, ax murderers, and EPA regulators all into one and hurling it at Rand's corpse. The production company has since set up a method in which purchasers of the DVD can get free replacement title cards.

It is fun when ideologues get angry.


*When I say pages, I mean that to the fullest extent of its definition.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Amish-A-Go-Go


Sometimes when you grow up around something, you assume that everyone lives that same experience. I more or less assumed, growing up, that having road crews setting up and working on the same stretch of road for eighteen months straight was the normal situation across the country, as is the inability to purchase hard liquor without walking into a government-owned establishment. 

Growing up in Western PA, I assumed that the Amish were an everyday aspect of every American's life, as if every city and community in the United States had a small but noticeable percentage of citizens who think that every day is Halloween and the only costume option is Abraham Lincoln.

Living in this area--for those keeping score, the Amish are mostly in rural parts of western PA as well as upstate New York , Indiana, and Ohio--thus produces some very strange rumors and headlines. The current Amish salacious news story--bigger than the Butter-Churning Scandal of 1765*--is a beard-cutting assault, which sounds vaguely hilarious but also remarkably creepy. In the end, it's probably both.

The Amish, as most know, are those who choose to live simply. They live primarily as farmers and industrialists--they are known for their high-quality furniture, cheese, and quilts. They shun most technology and, while they will accommodate when necessary by law (such as turn signals on their horse-drawn buggies) they tend to find solutions around compromising their faith. They do shop at department stores and partake in modern medicine, though they certainly have standards as to what they are willing to buy and do.**

Of course, as with any enclosed community, they have their share of problems. Drugs are becoming increasingly problematic (although this is probably exaggerated; the thought of bearded phone-shunning Mennonites freebasing off the bumper of their buggy is too absurd to leave without comment.) The shrinking gene pool is causing more medical problems, which has also given rise to a persistent rumor about exactly how much they will pay "the English" to help them diversify by bumping buggies***. 

(As an aside, another rumor--that the Amish don't pay taxes--is more or less wrong. They don't pay in to Social Security, since their faith specifically forbids procuring insurance, but otherwise more or less pay normal federal and state taxes. Given they are primarily farmers and as such don't accept the massive swill known as farm subsidies--and plenty of the labor laws they don't follow are also exempted by non-Amish farms--the taxpayer probably comes out ahead.) 

I've always been slightly fascinated by the Amish lifestyle. The few cultural references that exist--namely Witness and a few awful comedies--only glance at the entire culture, although the surface-level portrayal is reasonably accurate. Obviously, little theology gets in there, which arguably is the main facet of how and why they live their lives but also not particularly exciting.

Still, the Amish are probably best observed from afar. We all love technology, and living with only 30 other families your entire life would make Desperate Housewives look like a narcoleptic Bible study. (Plus, it's not like the Amish go door to door handing out pamphlets trawling for converts.) So we will all just have to live with enjoying their cheese.

*This didn't actually happen, though I wish that it did every day of my life
**Of course, as with all things, there are various sects of Amish, and each have their own rules (Ordnung). Some permit shopping at Wal Mart and some don't, so I don't want to generalize too much.
**Sorry. I could have gone with a "barn raising" joke, but I'm too classy for that sort of thing.