Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Everything Has Cilantro On It Edition

I have returned from Los Angeles. It was very, very nice out there all week, the people were nice or at least indifferent (save for the occasional crazy-aggressive driver who'd be going about 20 mph faster than everyone else so he could dart into a lane of traffic with about two inches of clearance on either side), got some beautiful pictures- the Pacific Coast Highway in particular was just breathtaking, both from visual appeal and the fact that I was not exhaling or inhaling very much because I was driving on it during a red-flag warning and that was not a little bit harrowing when you've got high cliffs on one side, a big drop to the ocean on the other and no place to pull over and let people pass you so you can cower behind the wheel in peace.

There were really only three bad things about the trip:

A) You cannot find a Mountain Dew in that town for love or money. It's like every place I went was a Coke place.

B) There is waaaaaaay too much driving to be done. The dread of Los Angeles traffic, I think, is a little overblown- I didn't find it quite as awful as it's made out to be. It's bad. Certainly. But it's not unmanageably bad. You just have to be a little patient and a little calm and you'll be fine. (Having a Taylor Swift CD going during this process helps. About half the radio stations on my dial seemed to be up-tempo Latin stations, and really, what is going to be more helpful for your mood during a traffic jam, 'Back To December' or remixed salsa music?) The real sticking point is the act of driving itself. Getting from anywhere to anywhere is a good half-hour at least. I really wish LA was more compact than it is, and not spread out, blob-like, across the Southern California landscape.

C) Back in September, I noted the presence of LA's Skid Row district and its notoriety for being essentially a dumping ground for the homeless. The thing is, it doesn't matter where in Los Angeles you go. You will see the homeless. Often. Do not travel to Los Angeles thinking you're going to get some sanitized, totally touristy experience with no unpleasant sights whatsoever. They're there. They are wherever you are. They are in the tourist areas, they are in the parks, they are walking alongside major streets at red lights- and sometimes IN those streets during red lights- hoping someone will roll down the window and help somehow. Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem you cannot run from, Skid Row or no Skid Row.

But from that bad thing comes at least one good thing. At one major tourist area in Santa Monica, the Third Street Promenade, if you look, you'll see a big bronze dolphin with a coin slot where its spout would be. It's one of several set up in Santa Monica (including another dolphin on Santa Monica Pier), as part of something called the Dolphin Change Program. The idea is, instead of giving to panhandlers directly, you're supposed to put money in a dolphin instead, and the money collected from the dolphins will go to various local homelessness nonprofits that can put the money to a little more effective use.

Yes, of course I put money in the dolphin.

I also brought home a whole lot of books. One was bought for the plane ride in; the others were bought in Los Angeles itself.

Bathroom Readers' Institute- Uncle John's Bathroom Reader: Vroom! A World Of Motorized Marvels (the one bought for the plane)
Foer, Franklin- How Soccer Explains The World: An Unlikely Theory Of Globalization
Huang, Yunte- Charlie Chan: The Untold Story Of The Honorable Detective And His Rendezvous With American History
Muller, Eric L.- Free To Die For Their Country: The Story Of The Japanese American Draft Resisters In World War II
Myers, B.R.- The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves- And Why It Matters
Napoli, James- The Official Dictionary Of Sarcasm: A Lexicon For Those Of Us Who Are Better And Smarter Than The Rest Of You (think Devil's Dictionary, 2010 Edition)
Richardson, Peter- A Bomb In Every Issue: How The Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dear Occupy Oakland Protestors

Trashing City Hall and burning an American flag? Is not helping your cause or anyone else's. Just about all the other protestors, the Wisconsin ones of course among them, are going out of their way to be peaceful and respectful and did I mention peaceful which is the opposite of whatever it is you're doing. Stop it. You're undercutting everyone else.

I should not have had to get up out of my nice hotel room and come down to the lobby just to have to tell you this.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Programming Note

This is going to be the last post made before I head out to Los Angeles. Should my computer situation pan out, maybe I'll be able to fire something off while out there, but if it's similar to the situation in Hawaii, you might not see me again for the next week.

Now, while I'm gone, I need you to do a couple things for me...

*Do not spend all your money getting celebrities to tweet about you.
*Do not kill the cat of a campaign manager, spraypaint the word 'liberal' on its carcass, and leave it on the doorstep for his four kids to find. I never thought I'd have to actually tell you not to do that, but apparently we have some sick, sick excuses for people around here.
*By the same note, please do not use sports as an excuse to mob a hospital and/or raise general mayhem in search of a fan of your own team who does not root for your team the way you want them to root for them.
*Remember to set the clocks back one second. I left a note for you on the microwave. Should only take you a couple seconds.
*Please don't drop little Billy on his head. You'll make him stupid.
*You don't have to seize cities on behalf of Moammar Gadhafi anymore. He's dead. Stop it. You're embarrassing yourself.
*And don't bet food on the Super Bowl. Making food bets on playoff games is really, really stupid. Take the Packers/Giants game back in the divisional round. What Packers fan could be so stupidly overconfident in victory that he made a bet where if the Packers lost, he had to haul cheese all the way down to Los Angeles to deliver to the Giants fan he made the bet with? Who DOES that?

...oh. Me. That's right. I'm an idiot.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Abbey Road Cup

I went and did it again. I went and drew up a factoid in search of a purpose. At the end of 2011, Pollstar released its annual ranking of the musical acts that have earned the most money touring North America over the course of the calendar year. You may have seen it yourself, but in case you haven't, I won't mention who that is now because it'll come up later on. Just about all of the articles put the top two acts in the headline, though only the top two; everyone below was saved for the main body of the articles.

Coming as it did around the end of the NFL regular season, for some reason I started wondering what would happen if you took the top two in that ranking every year, and matched them in some kind of championship-game battle of the bands. I mean, we have awards shows to say who did best over the year, but this would be a way to 'settle it on the field', as it were. And then I went and fleshed out a whole entire format, tossing in football-like elements because it is football season and I am totally insane. I even named the darned thing: the Abbey Road Cup. (Or, for sponsorship purposes, the Pollstar Cup.)

Here's what I came up with for a format:

*The two competing acts would be placed on dual stages, one right next to the other. They spend all night long staring each other right in the face. Obviously you would need a stadium for this; we could have cities bid to host it.

*Each act will complete a 12-song set. The two will alternate. Band A will do Song 1, then Band B will do their Song 1, then Band A will do their Song 2, and so on until Band B closes with their Song 12. Because we're theming things after football, the battle will be split into quarters, three songs each per quarter. There will be short breaks between quarters, with a longer break at halftime. Maybe we'll tack on a halftime show featuring the #3 band according to Pollstar, which will be high in hilarious awkward bitterness at not being part of the match itself.

*Who goes first- or, more alternatively, who gets to go last- will be decided by seeding. The #1 seed- the band that earned the most touring- will get to decide whether to go first or second.

*For each song they perform, a band can earn up to 7 points- the value of a touchdown and PAT, of course- depending on the decibel volume of the crowd after each song. (Which won't automatically max out every time; we'll calibrate the thresholds to make it very possible for a band to come in under 7. Remember, both sets of fans are in the stadium at the same time, and some will have a clear favorite. A big fan of Band A is not going to do anything to help Band B if they can help it.)

*Prior to any three of their songs, a band can announce their intention to "go for two"- that is, make their next song worth a potential eight points, the value of a touchdown and two-point conversion.

*Each band is also given three 'interceptions' to use during the concert. Both bands will have a big red button at the front of their stage. After any verse of any song their opponent is singing, a band can hit the button and 'intercept' the song. The intercepted band must stop playing immediately; if possible, maybe we can just shut off their sound equipment. The intercepting band must then take over that song and cover it, from that exact point, or until the opponent decides to take their song back with an interception of their own. As soon as an interception is triggered, it's automatically worth maximum points, awarded to whoever registers higher on the decibel scale when the audience is asked to vote for who did the song better.

*Whoever has the most points at the end of the night wins. In case of a tie, each band will do a 13th 'overtime' song, without interceptions. Higher decibel level from the crowd wins.

This is something I'd want to see. This is something I'd want televised, with a pregame show and colliding CGI helmets and a championship trophy and everything. In fact, tell me this isn't something you'd want to see on TV every year. The only thing left to determine was who would have actually competed in the Abbey Road Cup had it existed in previous years. This seemed a simple, simple search, but actually turned out to be quite difficult, especially when looking for second place. Pollstar didn't go back very far on this on their website, so I had to cobble together names piece by piece, year by year, random site by random nowhere-backwater-that-managed-to-pull-exactly-one-statistical-bit fansite. Eventually, though, I managed to get the matchups running back to 1984, save for 1986, where I only found half the matchup. After 1984, it gets really, really choppy.

Now all any of this needed was a excuse to actually use it for something. Anything.

Then I remembered: I have a blog, and this is something people are clearly having a lot of trouble finding.

So here goes. The Abbey Road Cup matchups from 1984 on, save the #2 seed from 1986 which I couldn't dig up- again, this is the top two touring acts in North America in each given year, as rated by Pollstar. (At least, Pollstar is the measure dating back to 1985. It appears as if Billboard was the stat-keeper prior to that.) The top earner, the #1 seed, is listed first, followed by the second-highest earner, the #2 seed:

2011: U2 vs. Taylor Swift
2010: Bon Jovi vs. Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd)
2009: U2 vs. Bruce Springsteen
2008: Madonna vs. Celine Dion
2007: The Police vs. Kenny Chesney
2006: Rolling Stones vs. Barbra Streisand
2005: Rolling Stones vs. U2
2004: Prince vs. Celine Dion
2003: Bruce Springsteen vs. 50 Cent
2002: Paul McCartney vs. Rolling Stones
2001: U2 vs. 'NSync
2000: Tina Turner vs. 'NSync
1999: Rolling Stones vs. Bruce Springsteen
1998: Elton John vs. Dave Matthews Band
1997: Rolling Stones vs. U2
1996: Kiss vs. Garth Brooks
1995: The Eagles vs. Boyz II Men
1994: Rolling Stones vs. Pink Floyd
1993: The Grateful Dead vs. Rod Stewart
1992: U2 vs. The Grateful Dead
1991: The Grateful Dead vs. ZZ Top
1990: New Kids on the Block vs. Billy Joel
1989: Rolling Stones vs. The Who
1988: Pink Floyd vs. Michael Jackson
1987: U2 vs. Bon Jovi
1986: The Monkees vs. ? (if I had to guess, without confirmation, I'd go with Van Halen, Kiss or Metallica, in that order of confidence, but don't take that for gospel)
1985: Bruce Springsteen vs. Prince
1984: The Jacksons vs. Bruce Springsteen

Go on. Tell me you wouldn't want to see some of these matchups. Tell me a Rolling Stones vs. U2 match in 1997- and a rematch eight years later- wouldn't be the greatest thing ever. Heck, the two look like the Lakers and Celtics for all the times they'd make appearances. Tell me the fans of the Rolling Stones and Barbra Streisand wouldn't look weird at each other all night. Tell me Kiss wouldn't be thinking long and hard about whether they really wanted to intercept a song from Garth Brooks.

Now tell me Pollstar and the bands want to see it. Please?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Corn Is Always Interesting

One good thing about SOPA and PIPA being put on the defensive: it means I can play Wikipedia Roulette without fear. And in doing so, we are brought the following story of a man who thought he was above the law, and tried to become the law. Strangely topical in a post-Citizens United world.

We go back to the Roman Empire to find a man named Spurius Maelius. (The link is an epic wall of text, and it's pretty dense, so be aware of that. Skip to 4.12 in the text for where we pick up.)

In 439 BCE, Rome was undergoing a famine. Why there was a famine, the text isn't sure; it was either the weather, people getting too wrapped up in city life to tend to crops, or both. But there was a famine. Corn was the chief crop, so the Senate put one Lucius Minucius in charge of the corn market to see what he could do. What he did was, he made everyone who had any corn declare how much they had. They got to keep one month's supply, but they were made to sell the rest to the government.

This, clearly, was intended to cut down on hoarding. What it actually did, though, was tell everyone exactly how bad things were, and it was worse than people thought. Several citizens flung themselves into the Tiber and drowned.

So that didn't work.

Enter a very rich, very opportunistic, and very ambitious Spurius Maelius. Through his connections, he not only managed to buy up corn during this period, he more or less cornered the market. Except he made sure there wasn't much of a market, as he then distributed the corn for free. Why did he do this? Originally, he was going for a consulship. The idea was that by handing out so much corn to so many people in what has to be the weirdest variation on the Robin Hood principle ever, he could get popular enough to win election to consul. But then he kept handing it out, and he kept getting more popular, and his head got bigger... and Maelius eventually got it into his head that he ought to be not merely a consul, but emperor.

So people started meeting in his house, and an arsenal began to pile up. Soon, consul elections were rapidly approaching, and though any plans to go for the throne weren't ready yet, they were getting close as well; everyone that needed to be bribed had been bribed. Before Maelius could make his move, though, someone noticed all the goings-on at Maelius' house and all the weapons going in but not coming out. Minicius called Maelius out on the carpet, as well as the consuls for not catching it and handling it themselves and allowing things to get to the point they did. One of the consuls, Quinctius Capitolinus, blamed bureaucracy for the delay and called for a dictator that could cut through all the red tape and do something.

'Dictator' here being used in its original context, and without the modern connotations, though they were aware of them.

His nomination was Cincinnatus. Yes, that one. He had already cemented his legacy by resigning the post in 458 BCE the second he was no longer needed, and hoped not to have to do this again. After all, he was 80 years old at the time, and if that sounds old now, remember how much longer we live these days compared to ancient Rome. The Senate more or less begged him to take over, though, and eventually, Cincinnatus agreed to do it.

Cincinnatus' first decree: name a Master of the Horse (read: right-hand man, the first thing any dictator was required to do), Caius Servilius Ahala.

Second decree: post some guards. This is the point where Maelius started to get wise to the fact that they're on to him.

Third decree: send Servilius to go fetch Maelius and haul him in for trial. When Servilius read Maelius the summons, Maelius, with a crowd gathered, feigned outrage, then stalled for time, then kind of just looked around and began to back away.

Retreat was not a good idea in ancient Rome.

One of Servilius' officers grabbed Maelius, but couldn't hang onto him, as the crowd, who was as you will recall on Maelius' side, grabbed him back. Maelius ran off, crying for help and that it was all a big conspiracy and save me I don't wanna die. He didn't get far. Servilius ran Maelius down himself and stabbed him to death, after which he reported back to Cincinnatus, who then had to go explain to the jittery populace that even if Maelius was innocent of trying to start a coup, he was guilty of failing to respond to a dictatorial summons and of resisting arrest, and besides, he would have been declared guilty and executed anyway had the trial gone forward as planned.

He made it up to them, though. After ordering Maelius' house torn down to prevent it from becoming a symbol, Cincinnatus confiscated Maelius' remaining corn- that which had caused the whole incident- and sold it off at rock-bottom prices. Corn being all the people really wanted in the first place, that settled them down enough to where any threat of a coup died with Maelius.

Then he stepped down. Again. The first time he was dictator, it was for 16 days. This second time, he was in charge for roughly a week.

Something Maelius, had he taken over, clearly had no intention of doing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

That Does Very Complicated, That Does Sophisticated, That Does Whoa, Amazing, And That Does Whizz Bang Far Too Technical To Explain

Trip prep is ramping up, so nothing big. Well, nothing that takes a lot of time to get prepped, anyway. It's time for another X In Y Minutes quiz.

Here is a list of 200 historical events, all of which happened in a CE year (remember, that's what we call AD now). For each event, you are to supply the year in which it happened. You have 20 minutes to get as many as you can.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kaj: Money

Today we welcome a new name to the Journalism All-Star Team.

First, let's recap the 18 current members, in no particular order: Soledad O'Brien, Gwen Ifill, Christiane Amanpour, Louis Theroux, Matt Taibbi, Jeremy Schaap, Fareed Zakaria, Lisa and Laura Ling, Jon Stewart, Nate Silver, Mariana van Zeller, Sanjay Gupta, Bob Ley, Stephen Colbert, Andrew Sullivan, Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow.

Two of the All-Stars, Laura Ling and Mariana van Zeller, have logged time as members of Current's Vanguard team. van Zeller won a Peabody for a report she did for Vanguard, and when Laura was abducted by North Korea, it too was during filming of a Vanguard episode. Needless to say, the Vanguard team was not playing around.

Then came Keith Olbermann.

After leaving MSNBC, Olbermann arrived at Current last February. Not only was he to import his old show, Countdown, he was also named Chief News Officer of Current and given an equity stake in the network. Current quickly underwent a makeover to put Olbermann on the air as much as possible, and to bring in people friendly to Olbermann, chief among them Cenk Uygur (who also left MSNBC acrimoniously). By September, when the AV Club checked in to write an overview of the network, they found a lot of Olbermann and not a lot of much else, to the point where Current had nearly become the Keith Olbermann Network.

The Vanguard team was not among Olbermann's people. Last month, citing budget cuts, most of the team was laid off, G4TechTV-style, with the announcement that further episodes would be done by freelancers. van Zeller was among the cuts, though she's quickly been snapped up as a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. Which tells you right there the caliber of reporting Current was kicking to the curb. Her first report, 'Guerilla Gold Rush', is unavailable online but will next air at 8 AM Central on Sunday morning on National Geographic.

Another of the cuts has been taken in by CNN, and his first report, 'Narco Wars', will air 11 hours later, at 7 PM Central Sunday night. This is our inductee, the third member of Team Vanguard to make the squad.

Welcome to the team, Kaj Larsen.

Reporting on the drug war from various fronts in the United States, Mexico and Central America is getting to be almost a rite of passage for the All-Stars. van Zeller got her Peabody from a report on Oxycontin trafficking, and she's also reported from a trafficking route along the Amazon and a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Both Laura and Lisa Ling have been to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, an epicenter of drug-related violence. Anderson Cooper reported on drug tunnels burrowed underneath the US/Mexico border. Sanjay Gupta attended a drug bust in Peru. Christiane Amanpour, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow have said their piece as well, albeit from the desk, and Fareed Zakaria particpated in this debate over it.

On Sunday, it becomes Larsen's turn. Truthfully, Larsen probably should have been named to the team earlier. That's my fault for not doing so. I think what it was, was that I didn't want to go hog-wild and name the entire Vanguard crew to the team, for fear of devaluing the All-Star designation. The 1927 Yankees are widely considered the greatest baseball team of all time, but you wouldn't name starting catcher Pat Collins to the Hall of Fame. So I only took one or two from the group, and Laura and Mariana made the cut. In any case, I'm past that hang-up, and now Kaj joins them.

As usual when we name someone to the team, we post a clip of them at their best. For Kaj, it's a pair of Vanguard episodes done alongside Christof Putzel (Putzel and Adam Yamaguchi, the other two members of Vanguard's core group, have been retained by Current after the layoffs), in which they reported on Somalia. Somalia is notable for being the nation on Earth where journalists are seemingly more afraid to visit, due to the danger involved, than anywhere else on the planet. There may be countries that attract fewer journalists, but that's due to apathy. Somalia actively scares them away. There are some very courageous journalists out there who will look at Somalia and conclude that it's just not worth it.

Kaj- and Christof- went.

Twice. Kind of.

This is the original report, called 'Mogadishu Madness'. Christof is narrator in both; Kaj is helping with camerawork.

This is the second report, called 'Beach of Death', in which they reported from Yemen about refugees from Somalia.

As you can see, while Kaj is the one named today, Christof may well be joining him very, very soon; the reason he and Adam currently remain on the outside looking in is that, in the wake of Olbermann's effective takeover, the Vanguard team had to shift to more Olbermann-friendly topics. Kaj, now with CNN, no longer operates under that restriction. Christof and Adam, though, are still both very, very good, and who knows? Maybe the entire team will eventually make it in after all.

Smooth move, Olbermann.

UPDATE: Kaj has written back, accepting his induction. In doing so, he passed along three of his other pieces: a third piece from Somalia- his favorite- where he and Christof purchase an AK-47, a solo report on gun culture in America, "and of course, the waterboarding video."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Random News Blitz

There is now less than a week before I start my vacation to Los Angeles. There may or may not be any updates during the trip, which lasts from the 25th to the 31st, but don't count on them.

That said, today we'll run through five quick spins of the Random News Generator. A speed round, if you will.

ROUND 1: Oman

In the wake of American sanctions on Iran over their nuclear program, South Korea's prime minister, Kim Hwang-Sik, will be traveled to Oman and the UAE to try and figure out how they're going to cope without Iranian oil. South Korea gets 10% of their oil from Iran. Their first choice, if they can get it, is to get a waiver from having to join in. Their second choice is to make up the difference from other nations, such as the UAE, which contributes another 10% of South Korea's oil supply, and Oman, which contributes 2%. Both nations have assured South Korea of a stable oil supply.

ROUND 2: Botswana

Botswana is dealing with a rise in laptop thefts. 2,114 laptops were reported stolen over the past year, which to Western ears may not sound like too much, but remember this is a sub-Saharan nation of only two million people. Some of the laptops are being ferried to Zimbabwe.

Those people in Botswana who still have them, well, at least one of them is not worrying about whether they could make you sterile.

ROUND 3: England

The staff of Nottingham Prison has walked out in protest, as a response to a rise in inmate attacks. Ten officers have been assaulted by inmates over the past month. The BBC article notes one of the incidents left an officer needing 12 stitches after he was beaten in the back of the head with a chair leg; another unnamed incident left an officer unconscious. The prison contains some 1,000 inmates; some 100 staffers walked out.

ROUND 4: Ghana

Well, if South Korea needs oil, here you go. A deep-water well off Ghana's coast has discovered a "significant" amount of oil. This comes with a caveat, though: Ghana has no idea what they're doing. They don't know how to deal with oil reserves, and the money gained from oil doesn't tend to go back to the Ghanaian people, and like much of western Africa, the presence of oil is generally agreed to just make life worse, as this report from last May details...

This has recently led to a decision to cut oil subsidies...

ROUND 5: South Sudan

...just... know what? Just... read this and then go hug your kids. Just do it. Now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Just A Heads-Up

On Wednesday, Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, Scribd, and the Cheezburger network of sites, among others, will be going dark for the day as a measure of protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, currently pending in the House of Representatives, and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act.

I'd go dark here too, except I'm not too good at coding and I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to get this place up and running again afterwards. What I can do, though, is this.

A) There will be no article posted here tomorrow.
B) I'm tacking on a little widget that's going to appear in the top-right corner of your screen when you come here until SOPA and PIPA are declared dead. If you have a Blogger account and want the widget as well, go here; I saw no widget that will allow for a blackout. If you're on WordPress and want to join the blackout, well, you DO have some temporary-shutdown widgets available to you, so go here for instructions.

If you're annoyed by all this blacking out... well, yeah. Of course you're annoyed. That's the point.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How To Steal Rare Coins

Step 1: Do not steal rare coins.
Step 2: If you must steal rare coins, try to make sure that they are in fact rare coins.
Step 3: Do not put the rare coins into a counting machine. The counting machine does not know your coins are rare and will only give you face value.
Step 4: Do not steal rare coins from your own dad.
Step 5: Make sure you weren't going to get the coins anyway as an inheritance.
Step 6: Never do anything that would make your own dad say about you, "Just really a stupid person. Makes me feel good he was a stupid person and didn't realize what he had."

Luckily for the dad, most of the coins are able to be recovered; Coinstar, who owns the machine, allowed the dad to go looking through the machine for as many of the coins as he can retrieve. Some of the coins were never taken in the first place; they were placed in a bank, which held and returned them.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Disgusting Things You'll Be Eating Less Of

Over the past decade or so, more and more attention has been given to ammoniated beef. If you're not yet aware, ammoniated beef is beef trimmings which are treated with ammonia hydroxide in an effort to kill bacteria, and then sold to consumers as hamburger filler when it would otherwise be placed into pet food. The USDA termed it as "pink slime" in 2002, and since then, word has slowly trickled out to the general public in various forms, who in turn became increasingly disgusted (although no less fat) as they were informed by such chefs as Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain, and the 2008 documentary Food Inc., exactly what was going into that fast-food burger.

We should single out Oliver and his short-lived ABC show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. This is how he taught this particular lesson:

Well, not anymore, at least if you eat at McDonald's, Burger King or Taco Bell. Those three restaurants have announced that they will no longer be using ammoniated beef. Yes, you were eating this stuff at those places. You won't be anymore.

That still, however, leaves the National School Lunch Program, which you'd have thought, hoped, would be ahead of the fast-food places on this. In fact, at least one former USDA employee blames Oliver for the fact that this is even an issue. While the fast-food chains didn't mention Oliver in their statements explaining their decision, Dr. Richard Raymond, the USDA's former Under Secretary for Food Safety, rebuts:

"This move, although not exactly described as such by the three fast food chains, was because of the 'ick factor' as revealed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver... I guess after the two prior attacks, the Oliver video must have been over the top, and it is scary that an activist can potentially take away one of our interventions that makes our food safer. That is not how food safety policy should be determined... If consumers and restaurants are up in arms about the use of ammonia and can potentially drive a company out of business by their actions, I can only wonder what they are going to do when they look at the other chemicals in use to try and protect us from foodborne illnesses, chemicals like liquid chlorine and lactic acid just to name a couple... There are just certain unpleasant realities of how meat is processed in this country. Those of us with farm backgrounds maybe can accept them a little more readily than someone who has led a life sheltered from these realities."

Yeah, Raymond. What ARE we going to do when you tell us about the liquid chlorine that goes into the beef alongside the ammonia. I eat steak- beef that presumably hasn't been through that process- and I'm fine. For God's sake, I eat sushi- raw, uncooked fish- and I'm still here. I've got an immune system. What do I keep it around for?

Also, I may live in what amounts to suburbia, but it's still Wisconsin, America's Dairyland, and you've got farms ringing this town on all sides. I've taken my fair share of field trips to farms. I've watched my share of videos of slaughterings and the aftermath thereof, the entire process from which the animal goes from living being to corpse to separated animal parts to food product. I'm a big boy. I can take it.

I'm not sure I could take watching ammonia and chlorine go into my food, though.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Words You'll Never Use Even Once

At some point in your life, you probably were told that some words had no rhymes. This isn't really in dispute. For example, orange and purple. You were probably also told that only a few words end in 'gry'- angry and hungry. They don't rhyme, so they can't have rhymes, right?

Well, first off, there are more than a few words that end in gry. They're just not commonly used. Several of the words counted in the link cheat by being two words that end with a hyphenated -angry or -hungry, but a lot more count legitimately, including 'gry' itself, which means either a small measurement, or anything of little value. Other words, such as scavengry, meagry, and managry, take the same approach angry and hungry do: use 'gry' as a suffix to say that someone or something is acting like the base word: anger, hunger, scavenger, meager, manager. Angry and hungry are just the only words that avoided falling into the realm of the archaic.

One of those words, 'rungry', rhymes with hungry, although that list appears to be the only place 'rungry' even counts as a word and not a part of someone's Scooby Doo imitation. Angry still has no rhyme, though.

As for orange and purple, they both have rhymes too. Orange has 'sporange', a form of sporangium, which is where spores get formed. Purple has two. There's curple (which is, to put it bluntly, a horse's ass), as well as hirple (walking with a limp).

A lot of other common words with obscure rhymes can be found at this Wikipedia page. Silver, for instance, rhymes with chilver, a female lamb. Circle rhymes with hurkle, a word meaning to pull in all your limbs, as if to cower. Pint rhymes with rynt, a word milkmaids use to order a cow to move after they're done milking them. Month goes into the realm of the mathematical to find its rhyme with 'oneth', as in something like 'hundred-and-oneth', which is obscure because you'd just say 'hundred-and-first' instead. Music has, among a couple others, ageusic, which means someone who doesn't have a sense of taste. Plankton rhymes with Yankton, a branch of the Sioux tribe.

I'd go on, but even to me this is starting to become very gry.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wisconsin Recall Update

While there's no official word on the signature-gathering effort against Scott Walker (keyword: official), a concurrent effort against state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has, according to organizers, gathered the necessary signatures. This comes on the heels of Fitzgerald claiming that the organizers were given a few too many days, and that the true deadline for signatures against him was today at 5 PM. The organizers have announced their initial victory in relation to his deadline.

Walker's effort, of course, ends in the next few days. The verification process, meanwhile, is scheduled to last 60 days, but is expected to last beyond that. Any final recall elections are currently expected to take place around June, and the Government Accountability Board is hoping to ensure that all recall elections happen on the same day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who The Hell Is Robert Sobukwe?

Tiny entry's all we're going to really be able to guarantee will get posted today. My dad fell off a ladder yesterday, broke two ribs and an ankle, and so the rest of the family's going to have to play nurse for a little while.

That established, I was going to link you to a Journeyman Pictures video which notes the 100th anniversary this year of the Pan-Africanist Congress in 1912. The video, 23 minutes long, commemorates Robert Sobukwe of South Africa, who in 1960 kicked off a nonviolent movement against the apartheid system's "pass laws", a key feature of apartheid that you'd probably better know as a "papers, please" law. Nonwhites had restricted movement, and had to carry around pass books when not in their designated home areas; failure to have the pass book on hand could mean arrest.

However, YouTube doesn't want to let me embed the video. So we'll link it from the original source instead, which isn't an embed either but it's the original source: the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The director is Kevin Harris.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club: Ready, Aim Edition

I seem to have forgotten a book that I need to include in the Rapid-Fire Book Club, gained from, as so many others were, Downtown Books in Milwaukee.

Although Downtown Books is no longer the massive two-story spend-hours-browsing place I loved going into. They've recently moved into a much more modestly-sized location around the corner, which when I went in they were still in the process of stocking. They said it was because the old location was so big they were losing track of their customers and couldn't help them out as efficiently as a smaller store would let them do, and I respect that. It was still a hell of a shock to see, though, and given that the size was my favorite part, a bit of a disappointment.

It's still better than Milwaukee's other major used bookstore has made out, though. That's Renaissance Books, which when I mention Downtown Books is the place that keeps getting brought up by locals. I was in there once a year or two ago and I did not stay long. It is hands-down the messiest bookstore I've ever seen and ever hope to see. Maybe half the books were actually on shelves. The other half were either in stacks on the floor or, more commonly, giant piles on the floor. Piles up to my shoulders. I couldn't find a damn thing in there, and yet I almost wanted to buy something anyway if only to save the poor defenseless books from the bad, bad man that did this to them.

After my stop at Downtown Books, I swung by Renaissance Books a second time. I did not go in. I was not permitted to go in. Why? Because the police had declared the building unfit for human habitation. A look inside the front window revealed the piles of books, if anything, in even higher piles than the first time. It was almost painful to see. I know nothing about the physical state of the building itself, but I could only agree with the cops as I walked away.

But as it stands, I have one book to log, and in an unusual development for the Rapid-Fire Book Club, I've actually read this one before logging it. (Standard procedure is to log it as soon as it's in my possession. The point is mainly to just log the books I buy.)

The book is Some Girls: My Life In A Harem by Jillian Lauren. In the early 1990's, Lauren, who was at the time, for lack of a better term working as a high-class call girl, was invited to Brunei for two weeks to be eye candy at parties thrown by Prince Jefri Bolkiah, part of the Sultanate of Brunei. It turned out she'd stay on for a lot longer than that; as the book's title implies, she'd be part of the prince's harem-- though she, like the vast majority of the girls in the harem, would have to figure out on their own that they were in fact in one. She would, it turns out, have a couple fleeting encounters with the sultan himself.

Are you at all familiar with the phrase 'Sultan of Brunei'? Then you know how much money is going to be thrown around over the course of the book.

The events of the book took place prior to 1997, when former Miss USA Shannon Marketic unsuccessfully attempted to sue the Sultan for being held against her will in the process (it was unsuccessful due to the fact that the Sultan had diplomatic immunity), and it was a tad more relaxed when Lauren was there. Not by much, though, and this was by design.

In 2004, there was a show on FOX that shot 25 episodes but was cancelled in seven, called Forever Eden. The way they billed the show was that a number of single people would stay at the show's luxury resort, hook up, and engage in whatever dramas are presented by the show. Participants would be regularly kicked out, to be replaced by new faces. The longer you managed to remain on the show, the more you would earn, and theoretically, you could stay, well, forever, or at least as long as the show aired.

The harem, at least at the time of Lauren's presence, worked much the same way. The underlying thread behind everything was that Prince Jefri could keep four wives according to local law, but had only three at the time. Which meant he had room for one more. Fresh-faced, beautiful young women from all around the globe would be brought to Brunei, eventually realize what was going on, and hopefully, they'd be attracted enough to him- or, failing that, the money- to want to make a play for him, and compete against each other for his affections. Failing that, the longer you stay, the more money and gifts you rack up, and the more you endear yourself to Jefri, the faster you rack them up. Manage to get him to ask for your hand in marriage- or get impregnated by him- and you win. You get to spend forever in Eden as a royal princess, or at least as close as Brunei comes to that. In the process, you have to stay ahead of the other women who are vying for the same thing, and may be trying to get Jefri to send you home. Of course, someone going home doesn't necessarily get the others any closer to the grand prize. It just means someone new will be showing up, someone who may be a bigger threat than the someone that's gone home.

To operate such a thing these days, to say the least, requires a delicate hand, even if you're royalty. A properly-functioning harem requires that all the women a man keeps, however many that is (and Lauren notes somewhere in the range of 40 at a time), are kept, if not joyously happy, at least content enough to be willing to continue to participate at his pleasure. The whole point of a harem is that all the women want, ultimately, to please the man running the harem. If the women aren't happy, they're not going to want to make the man happy either. And with a harem full of women from countries that are not your own, the stakes increase higher, especially in modern times and women from more socially progressive nations. It only takes one woman from some other nation to be unhappy enough, to want to make an international incident out of things- say, Shannon Marketic- for the whole operation to fall apart, which over the following few years is exactly what happened. We're not endorsing harems here by any stretch of the imagination. That's just the operative logic behind them.

Obviously, Lauren didn't get Jefri's hand. She did get something else, though. In the 2010 Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Brunei ranks 142nd out of 178 nations. And that's what Lauren got.

She got her book banned in Brunei.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Random News Generator- Haiti

We were updating Haiti about a month ago, noting that maybe half the rubble from the earthquake of two years ago has been cleared, basic living conditions remain difficult to obtain, aid has about dried up with recovery efforts slowing accordingly, and that many Haitians are opting not to wait around and to try and rebuild their lives anywhere else that will have them.

As Haiti comes up on the RNG, two days prior to the second anniversary of the quake, that's all still true.

In the meantime, another group in the country, Partners in Health, believes they've located the origin of the cholera epidemic that struck the country a few months later and is only now showing signs of subsiding; their report in the American Journal of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine is here (though it's a pay-per-view). They've traced the origin to the Meye River, where the water was contaminated by raw sewage from a group of Nepali peacekeepers from the UN. The researchers think an unnamed 28-year-old man known in the village as the "moun fou"- crazy person- was the first victim; he had mental problems that had gone untreated. Those mental problems led him to eschew the clean water his family had access to in order to drink from the Latem River, which is fed into by the Meye. After he died, the people who handled his body became sick themselves, and the epidemic took off from there.

Despite this, the researchers note that the river is still used by many families, and that if it wasn't him, it would have been someone else.

Meanwhile, any promises of actually rebuilding anything, for now, ring hollow in the ears of the locals, half a million of whom still live in camps and many more of whom can't even say that. The various plans to move people into real housing have been haphazard, half-assed, leaderless, uncoordinated, bogged down in political bickering, overambitious, underfunded, or a combination of several of those things. What meager arrangements and shantytowns that have resulted are increasingly regarded by the locals as the homes that they're just going to be ending up with.

The presidential palace sits pretty much like it did when it fell in during the quake. It's rather fitting that political bickering be part of the problem. The bickering started after a contentious election brought in Michel Martelly as president; after he won election in April 2011, the musician formerly known as "Sweet Micky" overstepped authority to a degree that turned the legislature against him. They've been acting to obstruct his progress since then, and questions have been raised about Martelly's citizenship. Haiti doesn't recognize dual citizenship, and opponents charge Martelly with being an American, which would disqualify him from office.

UNICEF is still in Haiti; here's a donation link if you're inclined to keep things moving, though be advised that you may not even be able to help that way; about half the donation money hasn't even been distributed yet, much of the governmental money was never given in the first place, and the locals are beginning to question whether the rest of us are actually serious or if the donations were just to make us feel better about ourselves.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Occupy The Spin Room

Last night, there was a Republican debate in Concord, New Hampshire. It went a lot like all the others: Mitt Romney remained the frontrunner while the others tore each other apart. What specifically happened is not our focus, although highlights included Rick Perry expressing a desire to send troops back into Iraq, and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul getting into it over service in Vietnam. (Both Gingrich and Paul are correct in their stories, though Paul left out one little bit of info- Gingrich had a paternal exemption, and Paul did not have it available to him, plus Gingrich already had his father serving at the time- but Paul absolutely came out the better of the exchange.)

No, our focus is on what happened afterwards. As you probably know, after every debate the media proceeds to a 'spin room', where staffers of the candidates and perhaps the candidates themselves tell the media why they won the debate. (Because nobody's ever going to claim that they lost.) The media goes there, listens to the spin, and then files their stories in the most blatant, brazen example of bad journalism there is.

So the media, so used to the trappings of the spin room, was miffed when their passage into the room was blocked and delayed by a "security issue", which turned out to be the Occupiers, who delayed the media enough to cause them to miss being able to talk to Rick Santorum before he had to be off to South Carolina.

This isn't really about the Occupiers (although rock on, Occupiers). This is about the spin room. Jon Stewart, on the night in 2004 he essentially got Crossfire cancelled, made note of this. Here's the transcript of that:

JON STEWART: But let me ask you guys, again, a question, because we talked a little bit about, you're actually doing honest debate and all that. But, after the debates, where do you guys head to right afterwards?
TUCKER CARLSON: The men's room.
STEWART: Right after that?
STEWART: Spin alley.
STEWART: No, spin alley.
BEGALA: What are you talking about? You mean at these debates?
STEWART: Yes. You go to spin alley, the place called spin alley. Now, don't you think that, for people watching at home, that's kind of a drag, that you're literally walking to a place called deception lane? (LAUGHTER) Like, it's spin alley. It's -- don't you see, that's the issue I'm trying to talk to you guys...
BEGALA: No, I actually believe -- I have a lot of friends who work for President Bush. I went to college with some of them.
CARLSON: Neither of us was ever in the spin room, actually.
BEGALA: No, I did -- I went to do the Larry King show. They actually believe what they're saying. They want to persuade you. That's what they're trying to do by spinning. But I don't doubt for a minute these people who work for President Bush, who I disagree with on everything, they believe that stuff, Jon. This is not a lie or a deception at all. They believe in him, just like I believe in my guy.
STEWART: I think they believe President Bush would do a better job. And I believe the Kerry guys believe President Kerry would do a better job. But what I believe is, they're not making honest arguments. So what they're doing is, in their mind, the ends justify the means.

And this is why I cheer the Occupiers here. Whether or not it was their goal to do so, they blocked off the spin room, if only for a little while. The mere existence of the spin room is bad journalism. Here you've just sat through a whole Presidential debate, the thing you're here to cover. You at that moment have all you need to start filing your report. Why in the world would you want this report colored by going into a room that announces, up front, 'This room is full of people who are at best biased and at worst attempting to deceive you', and then incorporating what those people say into the report, very possibly without even fact-checking or disputing what they say? What good comes of that?

And why does it take a protest movement to even delay them from going there again?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

You've Got Your Smog On The Lens

Quick one today, because apparently I've decided to spend the morning napping. In the 1970's, the just-born EPA hired freelance photographers to catalog the state of the country at that point, during the period spanning from 1971-1977, though mostly towards the start of that timeline. Some 15,000 pictures were taken in a project dubbed "Documerica", many highlighting environmental issues of the day.

Those pictures then more or less sat dormant, until now. You can view them here, picturing every state save North Dakota. The difference between then and now is stark:

*These are the San Gabriel Mountains, just north of Los Angeles, in 1972.
*Lest you think I'm just picking on Los Angeles and going after the low-hanging fruit, here's Tacoma, Washington, also in 1972.
*And Boston, Massachusetts in 1973.
*And Salt Lake City, Utah in 1972.
*Or Louisville, Kentucky in 1972. I promise you there's a city in there somewhere.
*The Maid of the Mist boat at Niagara Falls in 1973 is seen here amidst built-up foam. The foam is not from the falls. It's sewage waste.
*Or to take waterfalls completely out of the equation, here's the Colorado River in 1972.
*Here's an illegal dumping area just off the New Jersey Turnpike, taken in 1973.
*This looks to be an area outside Ogden, Utah, in 1974.
*The Moab, Utah city dump when it closed in 1972. It sits 15 miles from one national park and three miles from another one.
*And, of course, the Cuyahoga River. This picture was taken near Jaite, Ohio, south of Cleveland, in 1975. What are those in the background dipping into the river? Cars.

Documerica has no pictures of the Cuyahoga being actively on fire. That was because it caught fire in 1969, before the project, though that fire was a major factor in the EPA's creation.

EDIT: Apparently, none of those later links actually work, as they came from live search results that worked for me at the time I looked at them but no longer do. The first link, the one leading to the entire archive, does work. You'll have to go to that. Sorry.

Friday, January 6, 2012

They Paid A Bribe

The United States is not exactly famous these days among its countrymen for honesty concerning money, or allowing others to get or keep it. You've got your questionable fees, you've got your much-maligned tax plans, you've got your lobbying, you've got embezzlement and insider trading and every manner of gaming of the legal system. Sing along, you know the words.

It could, however, be much worse. There could be bribes.

In countries further down than the United States on the Corruption Perception Index (and the US ranks 24th out of 183), bribes are a part of day-to-day life. In order to get essential services, get a driving license, avoid arrest for minor offenses or have pretty much any part of your day go right, odds are sooner or later you'll be asked to pay a bribe. (Although it's never outright called a bribe. More like a 'fee' or a 'donation' or a 'fine'.)

One tactic being recently explored as of late is to catalog instances of bribes in an effort to stem the tide through shaming. In India, a site popped up in 2010 called I Paid A Bribe. Anyone who has had to do so for any reason can anonymously tell about it. (You don't get to say who you had to bribe, though, on worries that being able to do that would be easily abused.) The amount paid and where it happened is noted, and statistics kept. People can also, if they've managed to get out of paying a bribe, tell about that too, as well as if they ran into someone honest who didn't make them pay one. The idea has already been franchised out to Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines, with several other countries clamoring for their own. Bangladesh, Nepal, Russia and Sri Lanka are mentioned in the link. Further searching shows Greece, Jamaica, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago as also wanting such a site. China also has a spate of sites popping up, though amongst worries of being shut down.

No, there has been nobody, at least nobody that I can find, clamoring for an American equivalent. If someone tried, every last one of these countries- and many others that didn't even get named here- would put the States to shame. Or relief. Or whatever word it is we want in this context.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Get The Hell Out Of My House

I've spent most of the day doing some redecorating. My main bookshelf was on its last legs- as it turned out, it collapsed into all its component boards as it was being hauled out to the curb- and so I had to go get a new one. That's taken up most of my day.

Perhaps you have a similar problem now. Perhaps your Christmas tree is still up; it's entirely possible. What to do with it? If you have an artificial tree, you just take it down and pack it up for next year. But if you have a live tree- one which is likely dumping needles by now and you really ought to be getting rid of if you haven't already- you have a more complicated dilemma.

First off, do not set the tree on fire. I know there's a log in there, but it is not a Yule log.

So now that I've taken away all your fun, what do you do? Probably, it's going to go to a yard-waste site and get converted into mulch or wood chips. But it doesn't necessarily have to be.

*It could get converted into a fishie house. This dropoff, for example, involves the Army Corps of Engineers collecting trees at Riverside Middle School in Evans, Georgia (you can still drop them off through tomorrow), and taking the collected trees to nearby Thurmond Lake. The trees will be bundled and submerged near fishing piers, which will attract fish, which will attract fishing. So more a fishie roach motel than anything. But hey.

Nearby, other trees will be used as brush piles. You just stack them up, leave them on the ground, and let animals use them as shelter and cover from predators.

*It could be used as flood control. Some felled trees in England and Wales are being placed along river banks, and then Christmas trees are used alongside them to filter out silt; this is supposed to help cut down on erosion and, in the meantime, keep fish eggs downstream from getting smothered and killed by dirt that would have eroded and landed on top of them.

*It can be replanted. It's possible if you still have the roots, and if you do, there are some places that could use an extra tree or two. For example, the Linton Zoo in Haverhill, England.

*They can be eaten. Another zoo, the Oakland Zoo, has elephants that consider Christmas trees to be really tasty. Oakland, however, generally only wants the trees that the tree farms were unable to sell over the course of the holidays. In Ottawa, elk and goats will eat the trees.

*They can help build beaches. Brazoria County, Texas, is using some of their Christmas trees to line the beaches. The trees attract and hold sand, and as the sand builds up, so do sand dunes. The dunes need restoration and upkeep, as they and the beaches are prone to erosion during hurricanes.

*You can trade it. Sevierville, Tennessee's Department of Parks and Recreation gave the first 100 people to drop off a tree a seedling for a new tree. It didn't have to be a pine, either.

*Okay, fine, burn the damn thing. Tomorrow is January 6, also known as Twelfth Night- as in, the twelfth night after Christmas, when the Three Kings are supposed to have made it to the birthplace of Christ. Although some observe it tonight. Some people believe that it's actually bad luck to leave your tree up after Twelfth Night, so... you know. Hurry up. As part of the observance, some people do in fact set fire to the tree.

*In East Village, Christmas tree set fire to you! Eh? Eh? Vhat a cahntry!

*Finally, you can suck it. If you've "flocked" your tree- if you sprayed it with that fake-snow stuff- most places don't want it for anything. It serves you right for using that garbage. Get a plastic tree next year if you're going to bust out the spray.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Just Browsing

Back in June, we provided an update on the slow, lingering death of Internet Explorer 6, as tracked by IE6 Countdown, which seeks to get global usage of IE6 below 1%, so that developers can feel more free to stop supporting it. I bring it up again because the United States has just dropped below that 1% target number.

As of June, the numbers we reported were 10.9% global usage, with Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland under 1%. Globally, the number is now at 7.7%, with Austria, the Czech Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, and again, the United States. In June, the US was at 2.3%; they're now at 0.9%. Canada sat at 2.7%; they're now at 1.4%. The United Kingdom was at 2.7%; they've also dropped to 1.4%. The bottom five in June were China at 33.9% (still bottom, but now at 25.2%), South Korea at 22.3% (still 2nd, now at 7.2%), Vietnam at 11.6% (now 4th at 5.5%), India at 11.5% (now 5th at 5.4%), and Taiwan at 8.6% (now 6th at 4.9%). Japan is now in 3rd, at 5.9%.

Also, the guy who showed up here using Netscape? Apparently still using Netscape. Or whoever it is that showed up here during the last month. Also, who browses the Web on a PSP? Or a Wii? Really, you guys?

Meanwhile in Browser Land, there's Google Chrome, which Google is voluntarily demoting on its search results for the next two months after violating their own policy. They had been promoting Chrome through sponsoring blog posts which would praise and link to Chrome. You could note the ones they sponsored through the disclaimer "This post is sponsored by Google".

Though if you are using Chrome, while we're bringing it up, there is an app now available called No SOPA. When you use the app, as you're browsing, the app will alert you as to when you're visiting a site run by someone that supports the Stop Online Piracy Act. The app itself is available through that last link. Once you know, it's up to you to determine what to do with that information, though you could probably at least fire off a letter in opposition. To the site, to your legislators, to all of the above if you want.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Post-Christmas Gift Certificate Edition

Among the other books I got for Christmas, I also got a gift certificate to Watertown Booksellers. That certificate has now been used on two more books.

First is Onion Sports: The Ecstasy of Defeat from the Onion. We shouldn't have to get too much into that; it's a reprint book.

Second is Have Glove, Will Travel: Adventures of a Baseball Vagabond by Bill "Spaceman" Lee and Richard Lally. From 1969-1982, Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, and drove the management of both teams crazy with a counterculture, down-with-the-man attitude. Eventually, The Man opted to no longer deal with him; after being released by the Expos, no other team wanted him. As a result, Lee went barnstorming. On four continents. And although the book was published in 2005, he's still barnstorming today.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Roof Over My Head

Last night it finally happened. We got a night of bitter winter cold. It was a long time in coming this winter, not arriving until January, and it's predicted to be at least temporarily fleeting as temperatures creep upwards again, but there it was.

Weather Underground will say that the conditions in Watertown last night showed a low temperature of 28 degrees, wind gusts up to 37 miles, and no precipitation. I have two things to say to that. First, don't tell me there was no precipitation. Snow was absolutely coming down, blowing sideways at that. It may not have been the heaviest snowfall, only barely enough to cover the ground and even then leaving the occasional blade of grass to poke out its head as a reminder of our unusually mild winter, but it was snow nonetheless. Second, the numbers, on a night like that, don't adequately describe the conditions. There is no weather statistic for 'bitter'. There is no statistic for "howling". You can only rely on feel to obtain those descriptions, like it was in the days when people were forced to predict weather through animal behavior and popping joints.

Whenever I observe a night like that- when you can hear the wind, when the cold seeps weakly through the walls of your house as the snow makes its futile attempt to batter them down, when the windows are frigid to the touch- there's one thing I find myself saying every time, almost to the word. 'This is one of those nights where you're glad you've got a roof over your head.' In fact, I said it right here last winter.

Of course, you ought to be glad every day that's the case, but typically, in milder weather, you don't really think about it much. Unless you've actually spent time homeless, you're probably not spending a May night where it's 68 degrees outside and it was sunny all day long being glad for a roof. In fact, in those conditions, there are some people who will deliberately spend the night outside. But on nights where the light fades early, when the dull roar of the wind aches to make itself heard, when you're chilled almost to the bone the second you step outside, and nobody really wants to go outside for anything because of that, I for one become a whole lot more grateful to be able to not be outside.

Imagine spending the night out in that. Just one night, let alone for now every night. The closest I can come is the November night I spent waiting in line for a Wii, and even then, there was no snow, it wasn't below freezing, there were plenty of people around to share supplies with and family and store employees to check up on me, I was out of the cold by 6 AM, and besides, at the end of it, there was a brand-new Nintendo Wii waiting for me. Those are not normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, if you're homeless and can't find a shelter- which is entirely possible- you're out in it all night, and then all day, and then, potentially, the next night as well, and the next, and the next, until you find a place to stay or until you die of exposure.

How long do you think you'd last? It wouldn't be long. Think to all the times you hear- and you probably hear it about once or twice per winter- about someone, usually elderly, that died because the heating in their house failed. All that's needed to kill them is the cold. No wind, no snow, just the drop in temperature. Add in the wind and snow, and it's not hard to figure out what can happen to someone who has to spend their nights out in it, very possibly alone and at the mercy of whoever passes by. Maybe they're offered shelter. Maybe they're shooed away to go be cold somewhere else. Or maybe they're simply left to endure the continual dropping of their body temperature and, in turn, life expectancy.

Every night you have a roof over your head is a good one. In fact, as I note the wind continuing to make its presence known and felt outside in the early afternoon, so is every day. But there are some days and nights when you're happier to have it than others.

I'll close out by putting up a link for the National Coalition for the Homeless. Do with it what you will.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Los Angeles Is Burning

Reminder, I am going to be in Los Angeles later this month, from the 25th to the 31st. Things are a tad eventful there at the moment. In Pasadena, there are Recall Walker petitions being circulated by visiting Wisconsin Badger fans. In Hollywood, everything's on fire; an arsonist or perhaps a group of arsonists have now set more of the city ablaze than at any time since the Rodney King riots. And in South LA, some guy fired a gun into the air to celebrate New Year's and the bullet crashed through someone's roof and hit another guy in the leg.

Meanwhile, a lot of laws take effect on January 1st; it's a convenient default date when something isn't supposed to take effect immediately, so when they don't, that's generally going to be the go-to date. Because clearly we're focusing on California today, here is a rundown of what takes effect today in California. Among the highlights (the full list is here in a PDF file):

*Californians can't carry handguns openly in public anymore.
*They can't buy alcohol at the self-checkout.
*You can't sell beer to which caffeine has been added as a separate ingredient, on the basis that that stuff will mess you up good.
*You can, however, inject fruits and veggies into the drink now.
*Health insurers have to cover autism.
*You can't sell shark fins for food (except for the ones you bought prior to January 1).
*You have to put your kid in a booster seat until age 8 or until the child hits a height of 4'11".
*If a state park's about to be closed for budgetary problems, nonprofits can step in and save it.
*$4 million is made available to start work on high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Diego.
*Employers can't look at credit ratings anymore when making employment decisions.
*Food stamp recipients no longer have to be fingerprinted.
*Farmers get a tax credit for donating crops to food banks.
*You can't sell expired baby food or baby formula.
*Schools can suspend students for cyber-bullying.
*A third DUI in a ten-year period can now result in your license being revoked for up to a decade.
*You can't sell live animals on the side of the road.
*Doctors can't prescribe anything to workers-comp patients where they have a financial interest.
*Missing-persons reports have to be filed for people 21 or under now, as opposed to the previous 16 or under.
*If you're an elected official and you get caught claiming military decorations you don't have, you're fired. Technically it's a forced resignation, but in essence, you're fired.

Which totally crimps my vacation plans to sell arson-smoked de-finned pet sharks to a food bank on Hollywood and Highland, complete with self-serve double-caff minibar.