Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Twitter me

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? The Bookseller magazine sponsors a literary contest for books badly named. Odd titles like “Curbside Consultation of the Colon,” and my favorite, “Reusing Old Graves” closely followed by “Strip and Knit with Style.”

My vote for best opening line of a novel goes to: “Goddamned rooster.”

Highbrow alert: Anne Carson has written a translation of “Oresteia” which is brash and slangy, according to one reviewer who goes on to criticize her compound word-coinage. He says such writing smacks “both of Madison Avenue and a blog-clogged cyberspace in which most punctuation has been sucked into a black hole.” I think he means Tweets.

Here’s another: in an essay about boarding houses as literary devices, Caleb Crain writes, “…the unceasing drama of boarding house life – the flirtations, drunkenness, mutual irritation, backbiting, whining, eccentricity, conspiracy, chiseling and deceit – may come as a surprise. The closest modern parallel may be the comments section of a blog.”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Origins of Tex-Mex

Tex-Mex, the national food of Texas, likely came from the Canary Islands in the 1730’s when fifteen island families arrived at the missions in Bexar. They brought cumin, coriander, saffron, chiles, ginger, cinnamon and paprika – and they knew how to use them. Further back, the Canary Islands were originally populated by the Guanche, a Berber people who came from Morocco. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Where would we be without fermentation? It yields vinegar, yogurt, sauerkraut, cheese, prosciutto, vanilla, pickles and divorce.

Many refugees from Somalia have settled in Minneapolis. So many that several grocery stores now sell camel’s milk. Where do they keep the camel during winter?

As much as anything, the Circus is a transportation company. Ringling Bros. rolls from show to show on not one, but two, mile-long trains.

File this under suspicions confirmed: a company owned by the United Arab Emirates will soon be the proud owner of nearly 10 percent of the company that makes Mercedes Benz automobiles. Gas mileage is no matter if you own the refinery, too.

Suspicions confirmed, part deux: Texas can now boast of its most bizarre and slimiest topper: the world’s largest known colony of clonal amoebas. Found it in the muck of a cow pasture, wouldn’t you know. That begs the question: what the hell were they looking for in the first place?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is AARP really your friend?

AARP loves me. AARP wants me. AARP needs me. And I can prove it.

Although I’ve been a reluctant member on and off for more than twenty years, I keep getting solicitations to join the great pretender organization. Just this week, I got their email spam extolling the benefits of AARP membership. Shazaam. While I was putting this post together, yet another AARP spam arrived via email! I’m not kidding.

Just this year, I’ve lost count of how many printed come-ons have arrived through the U.S. mail.

Has this ever happened to you? Damned straight it has. Here’s this week’s case history of from a little old lady who just wants to be left the hell alone:

“George: I decided to join AARP, despite my opposition on several counts. I
joined. Since I joined, I've received three requests for me to join and
three separate "temporary" cards. I already called once and asked them to
correct the problem.

“The latest, and third, mailing prompted me to call again. I explained to
this nice woman on the phone that the cost of compiling, printing, and
mailing three letters with SASEs enclosed and temporary cards was probably
close to $20 bucks in staff time, materials, and postage. And I added that I
didn't want my AARP dues wasted on inefficiency. And that if it happened to
me, I'd estimate that it happened to many others and might be wasting
thousands of dollars.

“Moreover, I wanted a call back to tell me the problem had been fixed. And
finally, until I had been informed of a correction, I was going to tell
everyone I knew that AARP wasted hard-earned savings and retirement dollars
on stupid inefficiencies of which they'd already been notified.

“My way of carrying out this threat, which I didn't want to be an empty one,
is to write you.”

Hint to AARP: buy a merge/purge software program and clean up your lists.

Then, when you aren’t concentrating so hard on selling insurance, maybe you can focus on health care reform, Medicare reform, prescription drug reform. Fix this list and then we'll work on your blatant conflicts of interest. Medicare Part D comes to mind.

…and the beat goes on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bloody Mary morning

The meal was especially good. Tex-Mex is all I remember. Breakfast tacos. Home-made, too. After being away from Texas for 30 years, the Mystery Woman is returning to her culinary roots – with customary abandon.

As I helped clean up dishes, I wondered out loud why the Bloody Mary Mix was out?

“Oh, you know me,” the Mystery Woman said. “We were out of hot sauce so I made some with the Bloody Mary stuff.”

Rare is the recipe that she cannot substitute.

But in this cook-off, I was the accidental sous chef. Our retirement condo, you see, is snug. Everything has a place. Booze, included. The new shipment of wine crowded the storage set-aside for vodka. In a fit of inspiration, I poured vodka into the half-empty bottle of Bloody Mary Mix and never thought to share that genius.

Seasoned cooks will note that tequila can be substituted for vodka.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Liberal writers complain about Obama

Uh-oh. Several liberal columnists have begun to find fault with President Obama, his people and his policies. The Sunday newspapers were filled with tough questions being asked by Obama’s friends in the press.

That didn’t take long.

The headline on Frank Rich’s column in the Sunday NY Times was stark: “Has a ‘Katrina Moment’ Arrived?” AIG, of course, being the current watershed moment.

Most of their ire is aimed at Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner and the way they are handling AIG bonus money, bank bailouts and the economy. What a mess. Transparency? Not much. Sen. Dodd’s skulk amendment to save the AIG bonus plan really stinks. How much money did AIG contribute to his campaign? To Obama?

For the record, I voted for Obama. And would again. But I find Summers arrogant and Geithner ineffective.

Geithner’s and Summers’ pedigree makes them suspect. Both are Wall Street grads. Their professional history clouds their vision, damages their hearing, hurts their understanding. Replace them both. Stop writing bail-out checks, too.

Meanwhile, the populist anger is reaching dangerous levels. Our president needs to forget the politics and go straight to the economic solutions. Fix the economy and politics will fix itself.

Obama just might get it. Hope so.

But I don’t think the shrinking Republicans in congress ever will. Not the way they vote in lock-step.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stop giving AIG money

Nutty. The way the government is playing with the AIG piggy bank makes no sense. It was a stupid plan hatched in a hurry by Bush and Paulson and Bernanke, each of whom abandoned Main Street years ago to shill for Wall Street.

Stop giving AIG money. Sure, we have a contract. Break it. Critics are trying to break the blue collar union contracts in the auto industry. Break the white collar contracts, too.

Stop giving AIG money. Top management might leave without the bonus money. Gasp. Let them leave. In this economy, where are they going to go?

Stop giving AIG money. Top management is an oxymoron. These are the people who got us into this mess in the first place.

Stop giving AIG money. Instead of using American taxpayer money in America, they just shipped a lot of our tax dollars to banks in France. Wha?

Stop giving AIG money. Good money after bad.

Common sense. Try it.

(Note: bold face implies importance.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Politics of ugly

Damn, Dude. President Obama is stripping the Democratic party of any bench strength in its farm teams. The president has filled his Cabinet with some of his party's top political players, making it easier for Republicans to defend Senate seats in Arizona and Iowa, and to compete for an open spot in Kansas. Read more in the L.A. Times.

Speaking of elections, some right-wing bloggers are actually trumpeting a new dream team for the 2012 elections – Palin/Limbaugh. Are you kidding me? Limbaugh would never agree to second banana.

Newly released academic (?) research indicates Sarah Palin might have lost the election because she is so pretty. Nobody looks pretty when their head is that deep in the sand.

Pivot now to Michelle Obama’s sculpted biceps. Amazing arms. But some people have seen enough. Writing in the Sunday NY Times, Maureen Dowd quotes conservative columnist David Brooks as saying, “She’s made her point,” he said. “Now she should put away Thunder and Lightening.”
I call meow.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, no joke

Confession: I get the giggles every time I think about Rush Limbaugh as de facto head of the Republican Party. It’s more than a joke; it’s the truth.

But I think the joke has grown stale and it’s time for some sober reflection.

POTUS has more important stuff demanding his attention. He should drop it. Ditto Rahm. The campaign is over.

James Carville and Paul Begala don’t get it. Their nudge-nudge, wink-wink attack on Limbaugh worked in the short run. But the tactic is a glaring example of old school politics that the voters have overwhelmingly abandoned. We are worn out with this kind of send-up, boys. Cut the crap. Turn your energy and attention to fixing the massive problems facing America. Don’t waste Obama’s high ratings on this low comedy.

Like I said, the scheme worked for the short run. The Republicans are in a box: either they continue to genuflect or they throw Limbaugh under the bus. Tough choice either way, consequences being what they are.

Big winner? Short term? Long term? No surprise. Big Boss Limbaugh. Ratings are up. Audience has doubled (allegedly) and the advertising bucks keep pouring in. Neat trick in this awful economy.

Prediction: without fear of contradiction, I can say that I will be unable to maintain this lofty position. Why? Limbaugh will do something else so outrageous that messes with my marrow. He’s a marketing genius. He knows what he is doing.

Friday, March 6, 2009

On the road again, and again, and again

They say 70 is the new 60. They lie.

By the time you reach age 70, there’s some tough stuff coming down. The only way through the miasma is straight ahead. But it isn’t easy. Naps are easy.

Take today, for example. The bike ride is a challenge. We’ve been riding our bikes ever so gently through the interior roadways serving our condo project. Slowly, briefly.

Super-strength Tylenol notwithstanding, even my skeleton is sore. So is my butt.

Full disclosure: because of my multiple surgeries over the past three years, this born-again exercise effort marks the first serious attempt at a sustained come-back. We’ve flirted with a more healthy life-style in the past, but it was mostly foreplay. The docs didn't know my pacemaker was not firing on all cylinders. It is now.

These days, we’re talking higher heart rates and sweat.

So here we are…two aging heart patients and cancer survivors fumbling with those stupid goddamned helmets and then riding circles around our housing complex. Five loops make a mile. Yes, there are better bike trails but our coordination is not ready for a test of traffic. May never be again.

No matter. The endorphins are just as delightful as they were during highway miles. The sun and the wind still offer a warm caress. This is a wonderful day.

Forget my complaining. This ride does a body good.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Deadbeats -- new meaning

I’m twisted. But I come by it honest. Too much time spent in press, politics, and dark, dingy bars.

Reporters, cops, and EMS people hone a macabre sense of humor as their first line of defense. We’re paid to see stuff that you hope you never will.

But my calluses weren’t thick enough to shield me from this headline:
“You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector”

It was a gnnnuuuhhhh moment in my gut.

You mean we can’t find serenity in the solitude of the grave? What about the poor bastard who ran up credit card debt of $26,000 in medical bills trying to stay alive? Is it right to go after his survivors?

Debt collection from those left behind is a growth industry. Although the law varies state to state, relatives are rarely liable for the dead guy’s bills. Even when the collectors advise them they are not required to pony up, many pay anyway. Ethics. Morality. Memories. Bummer.

Using training in grief therapy, the debt collectors sneak up on you. The good ones can even make you think they care. But still, it’s a tough job. Burn-out rate is high among the new hires despite on-site yoga. (Note: try vodka)

Collection in the old days was more straight up: “Don’t make me send Guido.” But I’m not sure Guido would approve of today’s tactics.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Commercials breaks make TV more fun?

Can this be true? Reader’s Digest is going broke and thinking bankruptcy. Just two years ago, a group of investors paid $2.4 billion for the company, which has offices in 45 countries and publishes 92 magazines. It operates 65 Web sites and sells 68 million books and music or video products every year. And they paid free-lancers fifty bucks if they accepted your “Humor in Uniform” or “Life in these United States.” Allegedly.

These days, nearly 27 percent of people who visit car dealerships convert to used cars. That’s up from the normal 10 percent.

Cube steak is flying out of the meat counters; sales are up 10 percent. Although most often beef, cube steaks can be any kind of meat. And it gets its name not from the shape of the cut but from the surface dimples after the stuff is pounded silly. Don’t call it cube steak in Texas. Hereabouts, it’s chicken fried.

Research can turn up ghastly findings. Two recent studies indicate commercial breaks actually make television viewing more enjoyable. The number crunchers, who like to talk funny, say their data are empirically correct. Further, they claim many of life’s pleasures are made better by well-timed interruptus. I call BS.

Personal privilege: both of us have recovered sufficiently from winter surgeries that we are on the road again with our bicycles. Slow-rolling, to be sure. The first day, we managed only a couple of miles. Our goal is to get our legs, lungs and butts in shape for rides on the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis this spring.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rush Limbaugh squashes GOP chairman

Sure, mainstream media informed us that RNC chairman Michael Steele capitulated and kissed entertainer Rush Limbaugh’s fanny. But they failed to report on whether the chairman also kissed his ring. Few in the GOP can withstand the heat from the de facto leader of the Republicans. Most apologize the very next day. Let’s see if GOP Rep. Eric Cantor caves in. Cantor says he does not support Limbaugh in calling for President Obama’s economic policies to fail.

My CPA tells me that in retirement, I am not earning enough to need to file any income tax with the IRS. Does that mean I am destined to be a cabinet member? Hey, Mr.President, I want to be Secretary of Hollywood.

NASA calls it the first planetary census taker. “It”is a one-ton spacecraft called the Kepler, after a German astronomer who published planetary laws back in 1609. The modern rocket’s job will be to circle our Sun looking for other places where life is possible. Question: in view of today's economic melt-downs, do you persist in calling this living?

Researchers now believe some words have survived 15,000 years or more. These words: thou, I and who. Numbers endure because they are precise. They say nouns evolve more slowly than verbs, and verbs evolve more slowly than adjectives. Words that are used less frequently evolve more quickly than those that are common. Learn more about used words here.

First, we became the nicest apes before we became the smartest. Huh?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, marketing genius at CPAC

The best way to take in a Rush Limbaugh speech is with the sound off. Seriously. Go to YouTube and view his CPAC presentation.

With no sound, no bombast, no bluster to jar your senses, you can measure Limbaugh by the anger in his eyes, the anger in his jaw line and in the trajectory of the spittle as his angry words fly out of his mouth. He clinches his teeth; he clinches his fists. His face gets red and wet with perspiration. His rant goes on and on -- an hour over the time alloted. Yet, he knows what he is doing. He's getting rich off red meat.

You get the uneasy feeling that you’ve seen this anger before.

Of course you have. In the WW II silent newsreels.

Hitler. Mussolini.


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