Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What about defending democracy at home?

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Vote Count Goes On

This quote from a Dec 24th New York Times says is all:

A State Supreme Court justice in Washington State, Susan Owens, put it best when she addressed Republican attempts to disallow more than 700 uncounted ballots in the photo-finish governor's race there. "You're looking at it from the point of view of the winner or the loser," she said. "Shouldn't we be looking at it from the point of view of the voter?"

I can think of dozens of things that aggravate me about American politics --and there are offenders at every point on the political compass. But the abscence of any real appreciation for democracy and the democratic process has become a defining characteristic of party politics. Democracy isn't respected, it's manipulated.

We have a multi-party (there are more than two, after all) system because no single perspective can have all the answers. But the American political system has evolved into a truly scary practice that relies on demonization rather than debate, on propoganda rather than public discourse. Politicians don't care what you think, only about what they can make you think. They can't stop talking long enough to listen to what anyone has to say.

Compromise is product of wisdom, not weakness. Only a fool, a dangerous and small-minded fool, thinks he/she has all the answers all the time. That's why libraries have more than one book.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Making the Cuisine Scene with Anthony Bourdain

If the television is on in our house, it's tuned to the Food Network. This sad state of affairs is likely to remain unchanged until I can locate a twelve-step program or rehab clinic that will treat my wife Kathy's addiction to cooking shows. For Kathy, a very busy HR manager for a local technology company, it's as much a matter of stress relief as it is an interest in cooking. For me, watching chef after chatty chef deftly wielding a knife to produce yet another mound of finely chopped shallots scores just below any NASCAR event on my list of things that make me want to stab myself in the brain with a pencil. There is, however, one notable exception, and that is Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour series, which, sadly, only recently ended its run on Kathy's favorite TV network.

A Cook's Tour was unique among cooking shows for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Bourdain never actually cooked anything, and only infrequently stepped inside a kitchen. The show's premise took Bourdain to exotic locations around the globe, where he sampled the local fare as served by street vendors and lunch stands far more often than he ventured into any place with a maitre d', let alone tablecloths and metal utensils.

But more than the locations and the food it was Bourdain's running commentary and street-savvy attitude that made the show so entertaining and turned me into a fan. Bourdain often appeared on camera unrepentantly puffing a cigarette or imbibing enthusiastically in the local spirits -- sometimes both. His observations and narration offered ample evidence of a sharp wit and a writer's eye for irony. One episode featured a trip far up a Cambodian river for lunch at a small outdoor café in a jungle village where assault rifles are a commonplace fashion accessory for the local dudes. But even with the far-flung locations and strange cultural practices, the show rarely ventured into Fear Factor territory, although the episode involving the still-beating snake heart appetizer very nearly brought my lunch back for a curtain call.

Bourdain's program was hipper, funnier, smarter, and far more entertaining than any other program on the Food Network, or most programming on any other network, for that matter. Given a choice between the funky urbanity of Bourdain's perspective on, say, the practice downing alternating shots of tequila and hot sauce in a Mexican sidewalk café, versus watching Emeril Lagasse incite a studio audience of whooping douche bags, I gotta go with my man Tony.

Given Bourdain's on-screen persona I was not at all surprised to learn that in addition to a his food-related nonfiction, including the 2000 best-seller Kitchen Confidential, he has also written a handful of hard-boiled crime novels. The most recent is The Bobby Gold Stories, a slim but eminently palatable noir novel of wiseguy dirty dealing set against a backdrop of a trendy Manhattan bistro. It's a great read, and only cemented my opinion that Bourdain is way cool.

So when Kathy mentioned that Lola Bistro (home of Cleveland's own Food Network celebrity chef, Michael Symon) would be hosting a "book dinner" to promote the release of Bourdain's new Les Halles Cookbook, attended by the man himself, I was happy to shell out the $150 each. The deal included a copy of the book, plenty of wine, a four-course French bistro dinner based on recipes from the book, and chance to rub elbows, however briefly, Bourdain.

When we arrived we were a bit surprised to learn that we would be sharing a table with two other diners -- the event was a sell out and Lola was packed. But our table mates turned out to be quite pleasant, and as we meandered through the champagne and into the wine the conversation became more and more like the kind of conversation people have when they're getting their grape on.

Bourdain, in a black leather jacket and black slacks, arrived just ahead of the first course, making his way from table to table, chatting amiably and stooping to sign books. It doesn't come across on TV, but from my seated perspective Bourdain appeared to be well over nine feet tall. When he stopped at -- or should I say "loomed over" -- our table our companions were suddenly transformed into giggling seventh-grade school girls. One asked Bourdain to sign her book "to the light of my life." Bourdain added, "and the fire in my loins." I had a brief moment to ask if he had any plans to write any more fiction (he does), and he also mentioned that he's working on a new series for the Travel Channel. He moved on, and we got about the business of stuffing our faces, French bistro style.

The first course was something called "paté de lapin", which, the menu revealed, included rabbit, truffle, foie gras, and sweetbreads. Sweetbreads, according to the Food Network's website, are "the thymus glands of veal, young beef, lamb and pork." So it's readily apparent why they're called sweetbreads; I can't imagine the waitress coming around offering, "More thymus glands, Hon?" But the paté was delicious. I ate my share, and when one of our companions offered me her portion, I snarfed that, too. Accompanying the paté de lapin was a lovely Reisling, which is a crisp, slightly sweet white wine, not a cute fraulein in lederhosen.

The second course, "quenelles de brochet", consisted of a half-dozen small dumplings made of walleye and lobster, in a light cognac sauce. Delicate, delicious, and surprisingly filling, the dish was nicely complemented by a '99 Savigny-les-Beaune. I think that was the wine. There was a lot of wine.

Course number three was identified as "choucroute garnie", which, roughly translated, means "big plate of many meats that you should not mention to your physician." The choucroute garnie consisted of a hunk of smoked pork loin, a big, fatty cube of bacon, four inches of garlic sausage, and something called "boudin blanc," which, I suspect, is French for, "another kind of sausage." The accompanying wine, also something French, apparently, and a 2000 vintage, contained alcohol, and might have inspired me to enter the limbo contest had there been a limbo contest.

At this point in the dinner I realized that the single roasted carrot on my plate was the only vegetable I'd seen all night, with the exception of a spoonful of pickled something -- onion? cabbage? -- that garnished the bunny and thymus paté two courses earlier. But the dearth of veggies wasn't a high-priority issue, as evidenced by the fact that when the very pleasant waitress removed my plate there wasn't much left for the dishwasher to do. Could it be that French bistros subscribe to a belief system that allows the harvesting of paté ingredients from the local petting zoo, but draws the line at making vegetables uncomfortable? But who am I to question this, especially when the result is tasty enough to convert even the most fervent vegan?

The dessert course was an incredible surprise. If you had asked me to conjure up the most exotic ice cream flavor, I never would have thought of Roquefort cheese. Crumbled on a salad, sure. But blue cheese ice cream? But there it was, a rich, white scoop sharing a plate with two halves of a pear poached in spiced red wine and lightly sprinkled with candied walnuts. An intoxicating combination of flavors, to be sure, though I already had a pretty good head start, what with the Reisling and the Savigny-les-Beaune and the champagne and the wine we ordered before the dinner officially began. And just to seal the deal the dessert course arrived with tiny glass of Bonnezeaux as an aperitif. If only I knew what the hell "Bonnezaux" meant -- though by then it hardly mattered. Between the wonderful food and the wonderful wine, Elvis had left the building, and my wife was driving.

When I got up to powder my nose I noticed that Bourdain had settled in at a table near the door, and was engaged in a quiet conversation with a couple while digging in to his own dinner. Diners at the surrounding tables stole glances at the celebrity chef, and the room hummed with the vibe that can only come from a concentration of contented people. Kathy and I bid good evening to our table mates and made our way into the night, feeling mellow and well-fed. When we got home, she turned on the Food Network, and I watched it, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

DVD Review: SCTV, Volume 2

I first stumbled onto SCTV while channel surfing late on a Sunday night during the Carter administration. Saturday Night Live was still going strong at the time, but this was SUNDAY night, so SCTV was a much needed comedy fix several hours before I had to begin yet another miserable work week at a job that was almost as much fun as walking barefoot on thumbtacks.

I quickly became a rabid SCTV fan, searching out the syndicated show as it moved from station to station and time-slot to time-slot. Over the years the show wound its way through syndication (in its 30-minute format) to eventually land, in a 90-minute format, in a late-night slot on Fridays at NBC. The show and its cast enjoyed enormous critical success, earning 13 Emmy nominations and winning two Emmys for writing. One hundred eighty-five of the original 30-minute shows were produced, and continue to run in syndication.

But the on-again, off-again availability of the show in syndication offered me no guarantee that I could get my SCTV fix. So I began taping any episode I could find as the show popped up on various cable networks. Of course, I taped them in Betamax format, which eventually meant starting from scratch to capture as many episodes as possible on VHS.

My stack of SCTV tapes includes one on which I captured an SCTV Christmas special, which consisted of several holiday-themed sketches, apparently pieced together from earlier bits. That tape gets trotted out every year when we set up the family Christmas tree. The audio-video quality of this aging tape has seen better days, and that's exactly why I was so excited to learn that SCTV would be available on DVD.

As with SCTV, Volume 1 - Network 90, the recently released SCTV, Volume 2 draws on the show's 90-minute format as repacked for NBC. The five-disk set includes nine episodes, including the SCTV Staff Christmas Party. This episode consists of several extended sketches, including Street Beef, which finds the late John Candy in his Johnny LaRue persona, drunk, dressed as Santa, trying to conduct man-on-the-street interviews. Also included is the Dusty Towne Christmas Special, featuring Catherine O'Hara as the raunchy dirty joke queen, and John Candy in an over the top impersonation of John Waters mainstay Divine.

The stuff is brilliant, of course, as is everything in this new collection. Watching the SCTV cast in action, it's little wonder that the surviving members continue to make significant contributions to the art of comedy. And the superb quality and clarity of the digitized programs beats the hell out of watching grainy, muffled, deteriorating video tapes.

A third volume of SCTV on DVD is due early in 2005. I've already cleared a spot on my shelf.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Yahoo! News - Ga. Evolution Dispute Embarrasses Some

Last week, the morning after the election, I traded quips via email with Scott Ambler, a Canadian IT consultant and the author of several books on software development.

I mentioned to Scott that the success of the religious right in determining the outcome of the election made the Great White North look even more like an inviting if chilly oasis of Liberalism.

This was Scott's reply:

"Strangely enough, at Software Development in September I had 4 or 5 complete strangers come up to me at the conference and ask me how hard it was to emigrate to Canada. A lot of people seem pretty frustrated with the political situation. Welcome to democracy in action.

Actually, from Cleveland your best bet would be to get into a row boat, go across the lake, and claim political refugee status. We'd likely have you set up in a condo on the outskirts of Toronto with a check for a few thousand dollars by the end of the week."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Mystery Post-it

Just now, after making my regular afternoon Diet Coke run, I discovered a Post-it note stuck to the control panel of the elevator. The contents of that note are exactly as follows:

"Dave says not theirs. They came home w/all their clothes on, but had a great time. Must have been a wild party after they left!"

What does it all mean? How do I get invited to the next party?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Hunt for little green men yields only a pink slip

This story just plain pissed me off. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' dismissal of Charles E. Smith is wildly, incredibly unfair, and the coverage of the story falls far short of explaining the nature of Mr. Smith's "offense."

The software in question is an ingenious screensaver developed by SETI that processes a tiny amount of data during periods when the host computer would otherwise be unoccupied. I've had the same software on my home machine and my work machine for years, as have several colleagues. The software is unobtrusive, and would in no way affect the perfomance of the ODJFS computers, or Mr. Smith, for that matter.

I hope Mr. Smith finds a very good lawyer and sues the bejabbers out of the hyper-reactive morons at ODJFS.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Yahoo! News - Intel Officials Have Bleak View for Iraq

Is there any question that this entire Iraq fiasco was mismananged from the beginning? George W. Bush entered the Whitehouse with a horrendous record as a businessman, and now we're paying for his blunder with blood. And there's no end in sight, regardless of who wins the election.

Can you say "quagmire?"

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Yahoo! News - Philly Considers Wireless Internet for All

The OneCleveland intiative was out in front on this kind of effort, and gets a nice mention in this AP article. But it's unclear at this point if enough has been done to make Clevelanders aware of this remarkable plan. And beyond basic awareness, what has been done to describe the benefits of such a plan, beyond free or low-cost Internet access? What is being done to sell the value of Wifi mobility, not just to the end user, but to businesses that can leverage this latest innovation?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The New York Times > Business > Media & Advertising > Advertising: A Radio Giant Moves to Limit Commercials

I subscribe to the National Lampoon Radio Hour, delivered on a weekly basis to my account at Audible.com. The actual program, minus the commercials, runs just over 30 minutes. I'm happy to pay for the content (dirt cheap, actually, with an Audible subscription) rather than put up with 30 minutes of commercials.

With the exception of NPR (yeah, yeah, I know), I rarely listen to broadcast radio. Why would I? There's so much great music available via other sources, like MusicChoice on my cable system, or dozens of Internet "radio" stations.

Clear Channel, like the other media conglomerates, has to do something to retain an audience that, despite the numbers cited in this article, is being siphoned off by alternatives that offer a broader and far more accurate picture of what's really going on in music.

But I don't think Clear Channel and similar companies are inherently evil or bent on destroying music. If they're guilty of anything it's a narrow, artless, and thoroughly commercial sensibility with regard to serving up music. They're in the business to make money, not to promote music. To them, music is a commodity. If (or rather, when) music stops making money for them, they'll move on to something else. Radio, as a vehicle for delivering music to fans, doesn't make sense anymore. At least, not in its current state. But changing that will take more than a reduction in the number of commercials.

Welcome to the Home of the Original California Pocket Bike TM

If you're over three feet tall, you're not going to look cool riding a pocket bike, and you're definitely not going to meet hot blondes in black leather outfits. Any girl who thinks you look cool on one of these tiny little cycles was probably raised by circus folk.

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Little Dipper - Memphis Kiddie Park

I'm doing research for an article on the Memphis Drive-in in Brooklyn, Ohio. As it happens, the family that has owned the drive-in for more than half a century also owns the Memphis Kiddie Park, across the street. The kiddie park has the distinction of being the site of the Little Dipper, which, according to UltimateRolloercoaster.com, is the oldest operating steel rollercoaster in North America.

I can't remember how many times I rode that thing as a kid. It's comforting to know that it's still around.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Yahoo! News - House GOP Leaders Kill Effort to Limit Patriot Act

The 9/11 hearings revealed that the US government had information about several of the 9/11 terrorists and the plans to use airplanes as missiles to attack tall buildings. The problem was that the Bushies failed to act on that information. So why do we need the Patriot Act? What good has it done?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Haggard Communes With UFO Enthusiasts

Proud to be an Okie from Alpha Centauri...

But you gotta love the Hag, especially since he's part of a dying breed of no-shit country musicians. What happens when we lose all of these people? Have you heard what's coming out of Nashville?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Cellphones become jukeboxes as ring-tone sales take off | csmonitor.com

OK, somebody explain this to me...

Why is it that I can go to iTunes or any other music download site and buy an entire song for 99 cents, but Cingular charges more than twice that much to purchase a ring tone version of the same song?

The music industry has made a lot of noise about sagging CD sales, blaming it all on file-sharing, naturally. How much are they raking in from this new market?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

On the bus this morning looked up from my book for moment and glanced out the window just as a car was passing. Through the car's window I could see a middle-aged couple, the woman driving. They were holding hands. Something about the image struck me, a feeling that this wasn't a romantic moment, but rather one of comfort or consolation.

I'm getting sappy and sentimental in my old age...

Friday, June 04, 2004

Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

Moments ago, while watching a scene from the original 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate, I noticed something very odd. In the scene, Maj. Marco (Sinatra) enters his apartment carrying a newspaper. The headline on the newspaper reports the murder of a senator and his daughter. But on that same newspaper, clearly visible in type at the very top of the page, is a headline for another story, which reads, "Violent Hurricane Sweeps Midwest."

Hurricanes in the midwest? Hel-lo! We don't get hurricanes in the midwest. We get tornadoes.

Why is this important? It isn't. Not at all.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Outsourcing Debate - Part I

There are those who believe, or at least want others to believe, that the American troops in Iraq are there at least in part to defend the American way of life. But the practice of offshore outsourcing poses a far greater and more immediate threat to that way of life than anyone in Iraq.

This series of articles from YaleGlobal Online offers something more than the usual superficial coverage of the issue, and is well worth reading.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Cleveland.com: Search

Chris Seper interviewed me for at least 20 minutes, and all I got were two lousy quotes.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Cleveland.com: Search

The OneCleveland project has my complete support, and I think it's wonderful that Shaker Hts. is getting involved. But I don't understand the suggestion to set up hotspots along jogging trails. I have a hard enough time typing when my laptop is sitting on my desk. Multitasking is necessary skill, but let's be rational.
On the bus this morning the woman sitting in front of me spent the entire trip putting on her make-up, clutching a small, smudged mirror in one hand while deflty working the various tools -- including that same kind of eyelash tool that I remember my mother using when I was a child. Can that be the state of the art in eyelash manipulation?

As she applied her make-up, the woman kept glancing cautiously over her shoulder at the man in the seat behind me. I had headphones on, but could just make out low mumbling. I turned the volume down on the headphones the better hear what was going on, and was surprised to hear that the guy was singing. It wasn't a recognizable song, but rather a rambling, stream of conscsiousness rumbling.

I got off the bus, went into Mike's on Superior and 6th to by a donut. The woman with the make-up entered just ahead of me. She looked nice.

A few minutes later, waiting to cross the street at 6th and St.Clair, I noticed perfectly normal-looking guy walking downthe street, sipping coffee and talking animatedly to himself.

You don't see this kind of stuff in Bay Village.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Yahoo! News - Jackson Comes Undone at Super Bowl; MTV Says Sorry

It wasn't so long ago that the halftime entertainment at the Superbowl consisted of several dozen fresh-faced young people in matching sweaters singing selections from "The Music Man" and various patriotic songs. Now we get to watch Janet Jackson rub her butt against Justin Timberlake's crotch.