Saturday, May 31, 2008


One of my responsibilities during our Shabbat morning services is to serve as Gabbai, standing at the side of the reading table during the Torah service.

There are two Gabbaim: Gabbai Aleph and Gabbai Bet. Gabbai Aleph reads the introductory blessings, announces those who are called up to the Torah, reads the Mi Shebeirakh prayer for the sick, and (in our congregation) recites Kaddish after completion of the main Torah reading. Gabbai Bet announces the page and verse numbers for each reading. Both Gabbaim read along in a printed text while the Ba’al Koreh (reader) reads from the Torah scroll, correcting the reader as the occasion demands.

Most Saturdays, I function as Gabbai Bet, a post that was honorably filled for many years by Gravel-Voice Larry before his untimely passing. But I can handle the other side of the reading table as well. On Mondays and Thursdays, I’m generally Gabbai Aleph.

There will often be breaks between each Torah reading on Shabbat. The rabbi may deliver a sermon, or a speaker may give a talk on a particular subject. During these breaks, the Gabbaim sit down and wait for the Torah service to resume.

This morning, at the end of one such break, as I resumed my position on the left side of the reading table, I leaned over and said, sotto voce, to the other Gabbai: “Okay, coffee break’s over - back on your head.”

Good thing we Jews don’t believe in Hell, ’cause I’d be going right there...


It’s a simple concept, really.

Sh’ma Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is unique.

Other cultures had their pantheons, packed with gods of every description. All of them loosely modeled on humans and replete with the whole laundry list of human frailties. Envy, jealousy, hatred, lust, greed, you name it. So complicated. And so wrong.

“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” William of Ockham said that. My idea, of course. Everything’s my idea, at the end of the day.

One God. That’s Me. What could be simpler?

[The 100 Word Stories Podcast celebrates its third anniversary today with Weekly Challenge #111, the theme of which is One.]

Friday, May 30, 2008


O, horrible poems, I know I’ve wrote ’em,
But at least I’ve not written one about my scrotum.

Sure, I’ve written about Painful Rectal Itch,
A condition that most find an Obnoxious Bitch,
Or an even more evil and heinous complaint:
The dreaded Warhead that resides on the Taint.

I’ve rhapsodized on the strange, perverse beauty
Of crapping a perfectly Tapered Doodie,
Written verse on techniques for the Wipeage of Butts,
But at least I’ve avoided the Sack ’round my Nuts.

The Wrinkly Bag with the Crown Jewels inside,
That under the Meat-Stick doth happily ride,
Well, it “tain’t” a fit subject for song or doggerel
Unless the Author has slipped a coggerel.


Korman RIP 01

Korman RIP 02

Harvey Korman, who cracked people up for years in sketches on “The Carol Burnett Show” and in Mel Brooks’s films, died yesterday at the age of 81 from complications of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Korman’s work with Carol Burnett - often paired with Tim Conway - garnered him four Emmy awards. I’m old enough to remember watching that show when it was in its original run beginning in 1967, and Korman was side-splittingly funny. But his IMDB resumé is loaded with television and film roles, even including voice-over work on “The Flintstones,” on which he portrayed The Great Gazoo.

He’s the second big icon of 1960’s television to die this week, having been preceded in the Big Sleep by Dick Martin, the “Martin” half of the team behind the groundbreaking series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

Throw in Sydney Pollack, who died Monday after a lengthy career as an actor, director, and producer, and Hollywood has hit a Death-Trifecta this week. The loss of these three is a real blow to the entertainment industry...and, especially in the case of Korman and Martin, another nail in the coffin of my youth. Oy.

Ave atque vale, gentlemen. We’ll miss you.

[Be sure to stop by and read the tributes posted by Erica and Big Stupid Tommy.]


Friday at last!

Let’s get some of the routine Housekeeping Matters out of the way. The Friday Ark, now embarked on its 193rd voyage, has been posted at the Modulator. And the Carnival of the Cats, that weekly Feline Foofaraw, will be hosted by Kashim and Othello over at The Catboys Realm. So now you know what to do if you neet a Cat-Fix Sunday evening.

And now we can move on to the Main Event: the Friday Random Ten. Ten musical selections, picked by the Hand o’ Fate from the electronic brain of my iPod. What’s playing this week?
  1. Spanish Key - Miles Davis

    Perhaps my favorite cut from the landmark Bitches Brew album. You will have heard it if you ever saw the movie Collateral, in which Tom Cruise played against type as a cold-blooded hitman.

  2. Beauty Killed the Beast - James Newton Howard, King Kong (2005)

  3. Dead London - Jeff Wayne

  4. Gehn’s Theme - Robin Miller

    Creepy music from the video game Myst II: Riven.

  5. I Can Change - South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut

    Saddam Hussein’s big moment from the South Park movie soundtrack, one of the funniest - and most obscene - collections of songs ever.

  6. Piggy Pig Pig - Procol Harum

  7. I’m the Slime - Frank Zappa

  8. Scene 13: One Wheel Spinning - Philip Glass, Les Enfants Terribles

  9. I See a River - Urinetown - Original Cast Album

  10. Big Black Mariah - Tom Waits

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Update: CotC #220 is up.


Ever since I can remember, there were two of us: my sister and me. We almost never spent a day apart.

Got along pretty well most of the time, especially when we were little. But as you get older, you sometimes get a little more crotchety, a little more set in your ways. Sis was no exception.

Some might say she was a tad controlling, and maybe she was. Telling me when to eat, where I could sit. “Grey Hitler,” I’d call her, but never to her face.

She’s gone now. There’s just me, alone. I miss my sister Matata.


[The 100 Word Stories Podcast celebrates its third anniversary tomorrow with Weekly Challenge #111, the theme of which is One.]

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Mr. Debonair

Traveling the world in search of the exotic and unusual is Mr. Debonair’s bread and butter. When a rare or unfamiliar dish shows up on the menu, he will, often as not, try it so that he will be able to share the experience with his Esteemed Readers.

Turning up his nose at Scary Food - like Singaporean Fish Head Curry, for example - is not an option. It’s all in a day’s work.

Recently, Mr. Debonair had the chance to savor a really unusual treat: Ocean Oysters.

“But, Mr. Debonair!” you will say. “Oysters do not grow in the ocean! They prefer intertidal or subtidal zones!”

True enough, Mister Wikipediapants. But Rocky Mountain oysters (AKA Calf Fries), while they may be found in the Rocky Mountains, are not oysters at all...and neither are their aquatic cousins, Ocean Oysters.

Ocean Oysters are nothing more (or less) than whale testicles. A delicacy! And big enough to satisfy any gourmand, because the average blue whale testicle is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

[The blue whale balzac? Think of a wrinkly raisin, magnified to the dimensions of a small Quonset hut and encased in a thick coating of blubber.]

Cooking one of these Big Boys takes some effort. The usual preparation is to slice the whale testicle into two-inch-thick cross-sections, using a band saw. These can then be subdivided into smaller steaks, each the diameter of a dinner plate. Breaded and fried (in whale oil, of course!), a single Ocean Oyster steak makes a whopping big Dinner Entrée. As with a chicken-fried steak, cream gravy is an appropriate accompaniment.

Now, if only we Americans can get over our silly hang-ups about harvesting and consuming whale protein, we can give them Prime Ribs of Beef a run for their money...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Rhymes with Orange 052708
[Click to embiggen.]

Hilary Price must’ve read this post.


This morning, in addition to helping She Who Must Be Obeyed schlep her school stuff from her old classroom to her new one - a task made more complicated by the fact that she will be teaching in a different school next year - I had the honor of attending a b’rith milah, a ritual circumcision, a tradition amongst us Jews that goes back at least 3,700 years.

The baby - the Guest of Honor at this sort of affair - is the grandson of Hank, one of my Minyan Buddies. Said Hank has three handsome and intelligent sons, all of whom are happily married off to lovely young ladies and all of whom are dutifully engaged in the business of cranking out Progeny. Kein ayin hara, it’s a wonderful family, and my friend and his wife are blessed with several beautiful granddaughters...and now a grandson.

So this morning, after the usual morning Minyan, a pack of us drive down to Hank’s in-laws (also friends from shul), where the ceremony will be conducted. There’s a good-sized mob of guests, including three rabbis (one of whom is the mohel, the guy who will actually perform the surgery) and a passel of grandkids, nieces, and nephews.

The baby is brought in with the appropriate blessings and is placed in Elijah’s Chair to be ooohed and aaaahed over before being taken up and handed to the sandek, upon whose lap he will be placed for the ceremony. The sandek, in this case, is none other than Grandpa Hank.

And then, just before the Moment of Truth, a gentle Juvenile Voice pipes up from the Peanut Gallery:


At which, of course, the crowd erupts in peals of laughter. Right you are, kid!

Meanwhile, the little guy hardly even complains. When he sees all those Home Movies in future years, however, it may well be a different story.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Lemon Rose Cake
Lemon Rose Cake with Rum Glaze.

Couple of weekends ago, we were out visiting Richard (of Shadowscope fame) and Holder, his bride of (nearly) 20 years...the occasion was a Wedding Anniversary Barbecue celebrating the impending Double Decade Event.

By way of a Culinary Gift, I prepared the Lemon Rose Cake pictured above. It’s a nice enough looking cake, and it has a lemony-rummy taste that is both elegant and just plain eat-the-whole-fucking-thing delicious at the same time.

Holder was very taken with the cake and requested the I’ve taken the liberty of presenting it here, courtesy of William-Sonoma. And the timing is perfect, because tomorrow is their actual 20th anniversary. Stop by and wish ’em a good one!

Lemon Rose Cake with Rum Glaze

For the cake:

2½ cups (315 g) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1 Tbsp dark rum
¾ tsp lemon oil (food-grade lemon oil, not the stuff you wax your dining room table with, ya lummox)
16 Tbsp (2 sticks/250 g) unsalted butter
1½ cups (375 g) granulated sugar
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

For the glaze:

6 Tbsp (90 ml) water
¼ cup (60 g) granulated sugar
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 to 2 Tbsp dark rum

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

First off, I’ll tell you that I use Swan’s Down cake flour. Any decent brand of cake flour will do, but don’t try to get by with all-purpose flour if that’s all you have in the pantry. All-purpose flour will not give this cake the meltingly tender crumb it’s supposed to have.

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C).

Grease and flour a rose cake pan.

First, that means get a rose cake pan. You don’t have one? No prob...a Bundt pan will probably work almost as well and be a lot easier to clean, but the cake just won’t look like a rose. It’ll look like a Bundt...whatever the hell that is. If you want a rose cake pan, you can find one at Williams-Sonoma. Getting the bank loan to pay for it is your problem.

Don’t be a wise-ass and try using Pam or any other cooking oil spray; you’ll regret it. [Eric and Fiona can attest to the Dire Results of using cooking oil spray to grease a rose cake pan.] Best way to grease this kind of pan is to brush it with melted butter, then chill it in the fridge until the butter sets, then dust with flour, making sure the flour coats the entire pan. Tap out the excess flour over the sink.

To make the cake: Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the milk, rum and lemon oil and stir to combine; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition just until incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and, using a rubber spatula, spread the batter so the sides are slightly higher than the center.

Bake until the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool upright in the pan for about 15 minutes, then tap the pan gently on a work surface to loosen the cake. Set the rack over a sheet of waxed paper, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan.

To make the glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, granulated sugar, butter and rum. Cook, stirring, until the butter has melted and most of the sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Brush the warm cake with the glaze. Let the cake cool completely before serving. Dust liberally with confectioners’ sugar and serve. Serves 10 to 12...unless you’re really hungry, in which case: Serves 2.

Happy eating!

[Adapted from a recipe by Flo Braker, Author, Sweet Miniatures (Chronicle Books, 2000).]


Many of my Esteemed Readers have been riveted to their screens, following the adventures of Flat Stanley over at T1G’s place.

[If it were up to me, I might’ve named him “Flat Albert.” Hey, hey, hey!]

Flat Stanley, along with the jet-setting garden gnome in the movie Amélie, is a World Traveler. And so is Storyteller, Elder Daughter’s little chunk of carved obsidian.

Meet Storyteller

Meet Storyteller, our favorite Mesoamerican Idol.

I’m not sure if Storyteller can actually tell stories, but he certainly has seen enough Exotic Locales to give him a few ideas.

Elder Daughter schleps him around whenever she travels...and that’s a lot, these days, owing mostly to her work. She’s been to the jungles of Mexico, the sweaty-hot desert of Egypt, the scented hills of Morocco, and the canyons of Los Angeles, all in the past year and all in the course of her Paid Gig. Next stop, in about two weeks, will be Uganda. Oy.

And, of course, there was our vacation trip to Japan. Storyteller was right there, accumulating tales for future entertainment...

Storyteller Zen

...enlightening himself in a Zen garden...

Storyteller Arashiyama

...sightseeing at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest...

Storyteller Tenryu-ji

...contemplating the teachings of Buddha at Tenryu-ji...

Storyteller Calligraphy

...practicing calligraphy...

Storyteller Calligraphy

...preparing to soak in a hot Japanese bath...

Storyteller Futon

...bedding down on a futon in a traditional room...

Storyteller Futon

...and keeping Elder Daughter company on the Hakone Ropeway.

Little dude oughta write a book.


...and I must meow.

Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty, pictured above, is perhaps Japan’s most internationally-recognized cartoon character.

Sure, Mickey Mouse, the quintessential American cartoon icon, has an outpost in Japan. That’s an indication of how all-pervasive American pop culture is, even in the land of the Rising Sun.

But Japan is Hello Kitty’s home turf...and she has a Theme Park of her own. Neither Elder Daughter nor I could summon up the Intestinal Fortitude required to visit Sanrio Puroland, even as a goof. Way, way too much cuteness. But, then again, we wouldn’t have been caught dead at the Tokyo Disney Resort, either.

It’s instructive to compare and contrast the Mouse and the Mouthless Cat. Mickey may have about fifty more years of experience as a pop culture icon, but Hello Kitty has a certain bizarre charm that defies categorization. And although she lacks the Mouse’s humongous - and ever-growing - army of supporting characters, she manages to carry the ball pretty much by herself.

[One could question why Americans love Cartoon Vermin so much. Cats (intelligent, clean predators) are portrayed as vicious boobs in American cartoons, while mice (filthy, disease-bearing nuisances) are heroes. Why is that? Is it our traditional American love for the underdog? The only cartoon cat with any brains is Felix, and who gives a shit about Felix the Cat these days?]

Anyone who has seen American adults wearing Mickey Mouse regalia should have no problem imagining Japanese businessmen with Hello Kitty lunchboxes. People are alike all over, as Rod Serling once observed. But tattoos? Now, that’s different.

Hello Kitty Pirate Tattoo


We had a chance to spend Quality Time with Hello Kitty when we visited Tokyo Tower.

Gotochi Hello Kitty

Gotochi Hello Kitty and Elder Daughter

Elder Daughter strikes a pose with Hello Kitty.

And lest you find a giant, mouthless Kitty disturbing, consider the official mascots of the Tokyo Tower: the Noppon Brothers:

Noppon Brothers

Are they coneheads? Are they squids? Or Giant Uncircumsized Dicks?

Monday, May 26, 2008


I picked up a few pairs of undershorts yesterday.

Every so often, it’s a good idea to replenish the Inventory o’ Underwear. Not only is it necessary to replace old pairs that have worn out, or that have accumulated indelible Repulsive Skidmarkage, it’s nice to have as many as possible in order to stretch the interval between washloads.

I can stretch things out to about two weeks between washloads...twice that if I were, against the advice of Mr. Debonair, to double my Undershorts-Mileage by turning them inside out. Feh.

But I wanted some new shorts, and thus it was that we found ourselves at the local outpost of Kohl’s.

I’m a Briefs Guy. Specifically, a Hanes briefs guy. I know, TMI, but this Bloggity Business is all about the TMI, innit?

I’m a Briefs Guy because, as Kramer famously said, my boys need a home. It took a while to find what I was looking for, though. Lots of boxer shorts. But my boys don’t need a tent.

Lots of something they call “Boxer Briefs,” a garment that combines the worst features of boxers and briefs. My boys don’t need a prison.

[Whenever I wear boxers - or boxer briefs - I feel like I’m wearing two pairs of pants at the same time. Not a good feeling.]

After looking around a while, I finally found something that would work. Mid-rise briefs. Comfortable. My boys have a new home.

Here’s a mystery, though.

My new briefs came in a resealable package, the kind with one of those zip-lock strips. As if I were going to do something other than take them out of the plastic bag and throw the bag away.

Now: I can understand packaging, say, dried fruit in a resealable package. Trail mix. Brown sugar. That kind of stuff. Use some, then seal the package so the rest stays fresh.

But underwear? Is it going to go stale?

Friday, May 23, 2008


Gora Cow-Bell

That was the first thing that came into my head when I saw this Cow-Shaped Bell hanging in the railway station at Gora, Japan.

And Elder Daughter was only too happy to oblige.

Gora Cow-Bell

Elder Daughter rings the Cow-Bell, simultaneously heeding the instructions of an elderly Japanese gentleman at the railway station and an invisible Christopher Walken.

Do any of my Esteemed Readers have any idea what the significance of a Cow-Shaped Railway Station Bell might be? Folk art? Religion? Or just plain Local Dopiness?


The playwright Congreve said it best:
Music hath charms to soothe the Savage Breast.
But as sure as the Sun riseth in the East,
Music also hath power to soothe the Savage Beast.

It’s Friday once again, which means that the Friday Ark is afloat once again. The 192nd Voyage is captained, as usual, by that most capable Modulator.

This Sunday, be sure to take time off from your Memorial Day Weekend festivities and stop by The M-Cats Club to check out the latest Carnival of the Cats.

Friday is not just Friday Ark day, of course. It’s Friday Random Ten day. And you know what that means... it’s time for me to post a list of ten Random Tunes coughed up by the iPod d’Elisson. And given the sort of crap I have on my iPod, “random” is about as good a description as anything else. Listening to my iPod puts me in mind of Forrest Gump’s mama, and her observation that life was like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.

“Random” is also a good way to describe this past week, a week divided between Houston and Atlanta. Sunday evening was Yet Another Winey Event, previously documented here. Monday evening was spent snarfing up deli at Lenny and Squiggy’s Kenny and Ziggy’s in the pleasant company of Nancy, ’Pup, and El Capitan, noteworthy Houston-area bloggers that I first met in Austin back in 2006. Tuesday evening, go-karting and laser tag with my Corporate Colleagues. Wednesday, crammed into a cramped window seat at the back of a Ca-Ca-Nental Silver Aerial Bus, headed home after two days of Salt Mine Togetherness. And Thursday, the usual dinner with the Minyan Gang.

But it’s Friday now. An especially sweet Friday, the Friday before a three-day weekend. Ahhhhhh.

What kind of music will we have to set the stage for that nice long weekend? Let’s just take a look:
  1. Hakumies - Alamaailman Vasarat

  2. How Many Hearts - Travis

  3. Elmer Fudd Kill Da Wabbit - Weird Al Yankovic

  4. Sploosh! - Ozric Tentacles

  5. UFO Tofu - Béla Fleck & The Flecktones

  6. Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse - Minus The Bear

  7. Uncle Meat - Frank Zappa

  8. Long Tall Sally - The Beatles

  9. Killing In The Name - Rage Against The Machine

  10. Pilots - Goldfrapp

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Update: CotC #219 is up.


Hakuna appears to be a sedate dowager of a cat at first blush, but her Inner Kitten comes out as soon as she espies the bright red glow of the Laser-Dot.


Hakuna considers the Laser-Dot.

She’ll move like lightning, trying to grab it. And then, in moments like these, she’ll sit back and consider whether attaining the shimmering Object Of Her Desire is worth all that effort.

A fine metaphor for Human Existence, innit?

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Talk about being eaten up with Music Envy.

Tuesday evening, while I was enmeshed in one of those infernal “Team Building” activities with my colleagues from the Great Corporate Salt Mine - racing go-karts, eating barbecue, and playing laser tag - the Police were playing up in the Woodlands, a mere forty-five minutes away.

Their opening act? Elvis Costello and the Imposters.

Just Damn.

I’ve been listening to Mr. C since he released his first album in 1977 - purely by Perverse Chance, in the same month that Other Elvis rode his Porcelain Throne to eternity. And the Police provided the soundtrack to a good-sized chunk of my life in the early 1980’s onward.

I would have loved to see that show...but alas, it was not meant to be.

Meanwhile, who was there? Our department head, who took her sixteen-year-old daughter along for some Team Building of her own.

Music Envy. Try some today!


At our Corporate Whoop-de-Do this week, I grabbed a bottle of water out of the convenient bin and looked at the label. Ozarka water, it was, and it had a prominent green label on the back touting its new Eco-Shape™ bottle design.

Environmentally friendly, made with 30% less plastic than the average water bottle. Oh, boy! Save the whales! Collect them all, win valuable prizes!

I’m really not convinced there’s anything environmentally friendly about any kind of water bottle, since I can get perfectly good water right out of the tap without using any bottle at all. And if I want to schlep water around with me - ’cause everyone knows how hard it is to find water in this country - I can put it in a reusable water bottle. You know: the kind that has minimal environmental impact because you don’t throw the damn thing away after you’ve used it once.

Good Gawd, we have become a Nation of Pinheads.

We’ll buy those reusable grocery bags - we all want to protect the environment, right? - and then we’ll fill ’em up with bottled water, the most useless Value-Added Product the Madison Avenue marketing geniuses ever foisted upon the American public. I especially love the imported stuff. Fiji water, sucked out of a pristine spring half a world away, then shoved into a disposable plastic bottle and jammed into a container on a steamship to be transported 10,000 miles for your drinking pleasure.

The fact that the suppliers of Fiji water can spend all the money to do that and still make a profit by selling us something that comes out of the tap for practically free tells us how stupid we are.

We’ll happily spend a buck or more on a 20 ounce bottle of water - the equivalent of $6.40 a gallon. Now imagine a magical substance (let’s call it “Gazzo-Leen”), the same 20 ounces of which can push a two-ton chunk of metal, glass, and rubber three miles or more at more in less than three minutes. We’ll piss and moan about having to pay half of that $6.40 a gallon we spend on bottled water on this magical “Gazzo-Leen.”

We’ll piss and moan even more if we can’t buy however much “Gazzo-Leen” we want, whenever we want it.

Every aspect of our country’s infrastructure for the past 60 years or more has been built based on the assumption that we would have cheap petroleum-based energy forever.

Surprise! Eventually, if you assume enough, it makes an ass out of u and me.

In China and India, there are now a billion more people that are being lifted into the middle class by the powerful engine of world economic growth. One billion people...and that number is growing fast.

They all want the same bright ’n’ shiny stuff we’ve taken for granted for years. Cars. Televisions. Whisky. Flush toilets. Movies with plenty explosions and ficky-fick.

And now they’re buying oil, just like us. Which eats up supplies...and makes the prices go up.

Meanwhile, we’ve got our SUV’s to feed so we can commute to work on our Great Big Network o’ Interstate Highways. So let’s put more ethanol in our gas tanks, so we don’t need as much petroleum, why don’t we?

Hmmm, lessee. Ethanol is made from corn. In this country, at least, thanks to the powerful Corn Lobby.

Corn is a high-yield crop that sucks nutrients out of the soil, necessitating the use of chemical fertilizers.

Chemical fertilizers are made from petroleum.

We’re using oil to grow corn to replace oil. So: Just how fucking stupid are we?

Nation of Pinheads, I tell you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008



Twenty-three years ago, when She Who Must Be Obeyed and I visited Hawai‘i for the first time, we spent a goodly chunk of one day visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial: the site where a devastating attack by Japanese forces compelled the United States to enter World War II.

It was a moving and sobering experience. Standing there over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, oil from which continues to seep to the surface of the harbor, brought tears to our eyes. And as if that were not enough, there were veterans of that terrible morning among us, men grizzled with age and care, who were there to tell their own stories of what they saw, what they lived through on that day.

USS Arizona

Oil still seeps from the grave of the USS Arizona.

Seven years later we were back at Pearl Harbor, this time with Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm in tow. Having been there once before did not make our second visit any less moving. In fact, now that the novelty of being in Hawai‘i was gone, we could focus more on the emotion of being in a place where so many lives had been lost, where such destruction had taken place.

It was a little strange to note the astonishing number of Japanese tourists....even more than had been there in 1985.

Pearl Harbor

Japanese tourists at Pearl Harbor, 1985.

Back in the early 1990’s, when the Japanese economy was flying high and Japanese sararimen were beginning to feel their oats, many of them dared to actually take vacations instead of working 24/7. Hawai‘i was, for them, a favorite destination for obvious geographic reasons...and Pearl Harbor, being of significant historical and touristic interest, was a frequent stopping place. They were, by and large, young people, people for whom the events of December 7, 1941 were the dry stuff of history books.

I could not truly begrudge their presence there, if for no other reason that the events of that day created the world we live in now, a world that includes a newly-rebuilt Japan arisen from the destruction of war, a Japan that has worked its way into the position of a first-world economic colossus. Learn about history, I thought, seeing them. Understand what happens when national interests collide. Understand that when you fuck with the bull, you get the horn.

Fast-forward sixteen years.

When Elder Daughter invited me to build the itinerary for our recent trip to Japan, I knew it would have to include a stop in Hiroshima.  It wasn’t only that I had known the story of that ill-fated city - the first city ever to suffer a nuclear attack - since I was a young Snot-Nose. It was because I wanted the other Bookend.

Bookends. Pearl Harbor at one end, Hiroshima at the other, enclosing a four-year shelf containing tomes filled with misery, death, and devastation. It was important that I see both ends of that terrible War-Shelf.

One month ago today, we were there... in that very place that, on August 6, 1945, was kissed by a man-made sun and turned into a charnel house.

Hiroshima is a City with a Mission these days. Its chief industry appears to be the promotion of world peace and disarmament, a sermon this city’s history uniquely qualifies it to preach.

The Peace Museum does not soft-soap Japan’s militarism or the events that led to the United States involvement in World War II. It appears to adopt a cool, analytical stance with respect to its portrayal of the events that culminated in Hiroshima’s selection as the first sacrifice to the Nuclear Gods. [Factors such as good weather and having suffered no prior bombing damage were critical. Low clouds saved Kokura from being Target #2; Nagasaki got that bomb instead.]

Museum Model

Diorama at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima shows the devastation wrought by “Little Boy” - a single 15-kiloton U-235 gun-method bomb detonating at 580 meters altitude. The red ball illustrates the size and position of the fireball one second after detonation, at which time it was 280 meters in diameter.

There are plenty of Western visitors to Hiroshima, and among them many Americans. Americans are not resented here, so many years after the Bomb - as is the case elsewhere in Japan, we are astonishingly well-liked. Maybe not a mirror image of things in Hawai‘i, but close enough.

The Genbaku Domu - the Atomic Bomb Dome, the former Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall that was one of the few structures standing after the Bomb dropped - stands as a mute witness to terrible events, surrounded by the new city grown Phoenix-like around it. The vast number of people who died that day were victims of a chain of events that had been set in motion well before the attack at Pearl Harbor.

River and Dome

The Genbaku Domu, surrounded by a modern Hiroshima reborn from the ashes.

Victims Memorial

The Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.


The hypocenter...580 meters directly below where the Bomb went off.

I will not second-guess the people whose decision it was to drop that Bomb. The alternative, best as they could envision it, was a bloody, drawn-out invasion of the Home Islands, an invasion that would have killed far more Japanese than did the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Japanese lives were not the main consideration at that point. Victory - and American lives - were.

We looked past the thousands upon thousands of paper cranes, the uncountable memorials, the silent specter of the Genbaku Domu, to a vibrant city where the Hiroshima Carp were beginning a new baseball season and where we were greeted with smiles. We sat down and enjoyed a hole-in-the-wall lunch of okonomiyaki (a thin pancake covered with soba noodles, Hiroshima’s famous local oysters, bean sprouts, sweet soy sauce, and a thin omelette) and jizake (the local brew), and thought...of bookends.

Update: Call it synchronicity, but I find it fascinating that the golfer who just snagged his first PGA Tour win at the AT&T Classic (held last week at the TPC Sugarloaf northeast of Atlanta) was none other than Ryuji Imada, a native of (where else?) Hiroshima. Guy really knew how to bomb the fairways, I guess...


Agggh. Time for us long-suffering Sommelier Guild members to choke down yet another Winey Dinner.

This month’s event is the Guild’s Annual Banquet to be held this evening at Eno. I missed the banquet last May as the Missus and I were just returning from our Mini Family Reunion weekend in Washington, D.C. But this year, I just can’t seem to dodge this particular bullet.

Yeah, I know. Shed some crocodile tears for me.

Anyway, here’s the menu, with my favorite wines highlighted in red:

Speaker’s Wines/Appetizers

Schramsberg “J Schram” 1999
Domaine Carneros “Le Reve” 2000
Perrier-Jouet “Belle Epoque” 1999
Veuve Cliquot “La Grande Dame” 1996

Pâté canapé
Local greens, Skatadakis Farms yogurt mousse
Georgia shrimp, asparagus

First Flight

Walter Hansel Estate Chardonnay 2005
Antinori della Sala 2005
Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru “Les Preuses” 2002

Garganelli with lobster, English peas, Benton Farms ham, lemon

Second Flight

Fort Ross Pinot Noir “Fort Ross” 2004
Fred. Magnier Morey St. Denis “Clos Baulet” Cuvée Unique 1999
Mommessin Gevrey-Chambertin “Grande Exception” 2002

Duck breast, Vidalia onions, harissa jus

Third Flight

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 1995
Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan 2000

Spinella steak, carrot pinçage purée, pickled celery


La Tour Blanche Premier Cru Sauternes 1990

Panna cotta, balsamic syrup


Shafer Napa Valley Merlot 2001
Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Combottes
Sichel Sauternes 2002

Ah, the things Denny and I endure on account of our Bloggy Art...

Update: I noted a minor change to the wine menu, as well as highlighting my favorites of the evening. In December, the Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” edged out the Perrier-Jouet “Belle Epoque,” but this time the Cliquot was dull while the Perrier-Jouet sparkled. The Caymus, a last-minute addition, was the overwhelming star of the evening...but the Sauternes was excellent as well. The food was excellent, except for an indifferent first course...but slow service was an issue.

A splendid (and semi-rowdy) time was had by all. Except for Denny, who was a no-show. Oh, well: more for me.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I’m going to be in Sweat City next week for a few days of Great Corporate Salt Mine goodness. Not a lot of free time, alas...but here’s my proposal:

Monday, May 19.

8:00 pm.

Lenny and Squiggy’s Kenny and Ziggy’s.

I’ll be there. Will you?


Seven-year-old Evan’s face glowed with happiness. This was the best birthday party ever!

All his friends were there, having the time of their lives. Mom and Dad were enjoying the party as well, pounding down Margaritas with the other grownups while the kids played party games and wolfed custom-made ice cream sundaes.

Yes, ice cream sundaes. This place not only provided the ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and butterscotch sauces, maraschino cherries, whipped cream, and chopped nuts; there was row after row of multicolored sprinkles to choose from.

Screw Chucky Cheese, thought Evan. Jimmy Buffett’s Jimmy Buffet was waaaay better.

[The theme of Weekly Challenge #109 at the 100 Word Story Podcast is, of course, Jimmy Buffet (sic).]


Hey, kids! What day is it?

It’s Friday! And you know what that means... time once again for me to post the Friday Random Ten, that Coo-Coo Collection of Cacophony barfed out by my Little White Choon-Box.

Not a whole lot going on this week. Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll head out to west Georgia to help a certain couple celebrate two decades of Wedded Bliss. I understand that Spirituous Liquors may be involved...

...and then, Sunday evening, I’ll have the painful task of dealing with yet another Winey Dinner at the Sommelier Guild’s annual banquet. Tough job, I know, but somebody’s got to step up to the plate.

Meanwhile, let’s see what’s playing this week. Listen up:
  1. Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) - Procol Harum

    Though I know the night has fallen
    And the sun’s sailed out to sea
    I will wait here for the band to play
    The trumpet voluntary
    And with one foot on the seashore
    And the other in the sand
    I will stand here plaiting daisies
    Whilst you play the piano-grand

    Caprice, your bugle blew away
    The cobwebs from my ears
    And for once I stood quite naked
    Unashamed, I wept the tears
    Which I tried to hide inside
    Myself from me, I mean from you
    But the shame I found too painful
    And the pain it only grew

    Magdalene, my regal zonophone

  2. Sinister Footwear, 2nd Movement - Frank Zappa

  3. Blue - Joni Mitchell

  4. Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G - 1. Allegro - Johann Sebastian Bach; Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert

  5. Octopus’s Garden - The Beatles

  6. Lemmen jumalatar - Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat

  7. Myst Theme - Robyn Miller

  8. Vanha Lapsuudenystäva - Alamaailman Vasarat

  9. Sandwiches - Mitch Hedberg

  10. Money for Nothing - Dire Straits

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?


Tiger, tiger, burning bright
I wish I may, I wish I might
Go to observe your Vital Spark
By sailing off on the Friday Ark.

This week ma Voyage 191 of the Friday Ark - a number with, as William Blake might have said, “fearful symmetry.” As always, you can locate the Ark without the need for complicated navigational equipment: simply go to the Modulator’s site and there it is.

Sunday, be sure to stop by Artsy Catsy to check out the 218th Carnival of the Cats.

Update: CotC # 218 is up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


At least, so you might assume by looking at certain foods in the Land of the Rising Sun.

You’ve seen brown eggs? Sure you have. Every supermarket has ’em. But in Japan, in the little town of Owakudani, you can get kuro-tamago: black eggs, boiled in the local naturally-occurring hot spring waters (Owakudani means “Great Boiling Valley.”) The high sulfur content of the water turns the eggshells as black as the proverbial Ace of Spades. Scary to look at, but delicious.


Owakudani, the Great Boiling Valley. Click to embiggen, and you can see the people wandering around amidst the sulfurous fumes. Lingering too long is discouraged as the vapors are toxic.


You can buy a sleeve of six black eggs for ¥500, or about $5.

How ’bout other confections?

Kuro-goma na mochi

Kuro-goma na mochi: sweet black sesame rice cakes, all wrapped up in their fancy packaging.

Look at these evil-looking little Chunks o’ Goo. From the ebony color, you’d assume that these were licorice flavored candies, wouldn’t you? Many westerners associate black with the flavor of licorice.

But no. They’re actually little Snacky-Cakes made with rice flour and kuro-goma: black sesame seeds. They have a pleasant fine-grained cakey texture and a mild flavor vaguely reminiscent of halvah.

Elder Daughter is still kicking herself for not having tasted the kuro-goma flavored Häagen-Dazs while we were in Kyoto. Not black, exactly - more of a dark grey.

In Japan, at least, once you go Black, you might never go back...


Well, not so random. I played this in the car yesterday, mainly because I like it.

And imagine my pleasant surprise to find out that Gilad (the Mistress’s BF) knew all the lyrics:

Fine Girl

Oh yeah,
She was a fine girl
She could get down wit de get down
All de way down
She do yer laundry
She change a tire
Chop a little wood for de fire
Poke it around... if it die down

Oh yeah,
She was a fine girl
She go up in the mornin’
She go down in the evenin’... all de way down
She do the dishes
If you wishes
Silverware too
Make it look brand new... when she get through

Oh yeah,
She was a fine girl
Outa this world

Well, yeah, well, yeah, well, yeah, well

Oh yeah,
She was a fine girl
She could get down wit de get down
All de way down
She do your laundry
She change a tire
Chop a little wood for de fire
Poke it around... if it die down

Oh yeah
She was a fine girl
With a lovely smile
With a bucket on her head
Fulla water from de well
She could run a mile

Oh yeah
She wouldn’t spill a drop
It’d stay on top
Her head was kinda flat
But her hair covered that

She was a fine girl
Didn’t need no school
She was built like a mule
With a thong sandal
Well, wasn’t no kinda job she could not handle
She could get down... wit de get down
All de way down

We need some more like dat, in dis kinda tow-win
We need some more like dat, in dis kinda tow-win


Courtesy of Gilad, the Mistress of Sarcasm’s boyfriend, here is a fine recipe for something I would never have thought of in a million years, but which is good...and good for you. Checkit:

Kale and Avocado Salad

One bunch kale
One avocado
Sea salt...about 1-2 tsp
Juice of one lemon
Cayenne pepper

Take the kale and separate the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems...or reserve them for vegetable stock.

Place the leaves in a large bowl and sprinkle with about a teaspoon or two of sea salt. With your hands, mash the leaves and salt together until the leaves are well wilted. Add the flesh from half of the avocado - if you like a more “avocado-ey” salad, add the whole thing - and mash it up with the kale leaves. Add the juice of one lemon and season with cayenne pepper to taste. [Some recipes call for the addition of a couple of diced-up tomatoes. Your call.] Mash it all together and then scrape it into a serving bowl. Delicious!

Kale and Avocado Salad

Kale and Avocado Salad. Mmm-mmmm good.

Kale is one of those scary-looking greens that never appeared on our table when I was growing up...probably because my mother knew it would horrify everyone were she to attempt serving it. But it’s actually quite pleasant, lacking the bitterness that characterizes so many types of greens. This recipe - popular even among Raw Food fanatics - shows it to good advantage.

Good on ya, Gilad. Thanks for sharing. It might even remove the black mark you earned by beating my ass at chess. Three times.



You know your Love Life’s in a pickle
When you get Slap without the Tickle.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


This afternoon, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I joined the Mistress of Sarcasm and Gilad, the Mistress’s Significant Other, for a Food Shopping Expedition over at Harry’s Farmers Market (a subsidiary of Whole Paycheck Foods).

Harry’s is the place to go for exotic international foods, a great assortment of fruits and produce, and fine cheeses. The wine and beer section is superb, too. The prices have moved a bit north since Whole Foods got involved, but the price-to-quality ratio is still reasonable...and beside, it’s just plain fun to shop there once in a while.

There’s a lot of ready-to-serve stuff there too...salads, prepared dishes and the like. And this is where the Mistress saw something that revolted her.

An elderly woman was working her way around the store, gobbling up food out of the various prepared food displays. With her fingers. Even worse, she would lick her fingers, then go back to dip some more food out of the trough.


The Mistress and Gilad observed this nonsense for about ten minutes, but for some reason did not say anything to the woman. But when they told me the story, Mr. Busybodypants went up and watched her...until she started digging into another food trough.

I tried to be polite, and yet firm.

“Lady, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” No, that’s not what I said. This is what I said, accompanied by a powerful blast of Stink-Eye:

“Ma’am, please stop doing that! Keep your fingers out of the food! Other people have to eat that stuff, too, you know!”

She was embarrassed, mumbling an apology and then making herself scarce.

I felt bad for her. She was no spring chicken, this lady, and while she didn’t have the feral look of the Homeless Wino about her, she wasn’t exactly Ritz-Carlton material either. Probably didn’t have an elevator that went all the way to the top. The wheel was turning, but the hamster was dead. May have needed to be in an institution, for all I know.

But if you’re hungry, ask for food. Hell, go ahead and steal food until the store catches you and has you arrested. Just keep your fucking grubby mitts out of the food displays, ya disgusting cunt. It violates the Social Contract.

There, I feel better now. But it’ll be a long time before I eat stuff that sits out for people to poke around in.


Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo.

This is the Rainbow Bridge, the bridge that connects the mainland of Tokyo with the Odaiba section of the city.

Odaiba is a “large artificial island in Tokyo Bay, Japan...initially built for defensive purposes in the 1800’s, dramatically expanded during the late 20th century as a seaport district, and [which] has developed since the 1990’s as a major commercial, residential and leisure area.” (Wikipedia). It’s downright futuristic in spots, and yet it is also home to the bizarre faux-Old Tokyo Oedo Onsen Monogatari. Go figure.

Funny. I’ve crossed the Rainbow Bridge several times, and yet never did I see any Deceased Animal Companions on the other side.


Wait! Who’s that?

Monday, May 12, 2008


If fish is Brain Food, as the popular bromide has it, then the Japanese are a nation of Einsteins.

It only makes sense for an island nation to feed itself with the bounty of the surrounding seas. Fish is the preeminent protein source in Japan, with various kinds of land animal protein following far behind: whatever taste the Japanese have for meat is mainly the result of decadent Western influence.

When Westerners think of fishy Japanese food, we tend to think of sushi and sashimi. (Mostly) raw fish, served over vinegared rice or au naturel. The archetypical Japanese food, it has surpassed hibachi steak in popularity here in the States to the point where it’s now available in supermarkets across the land.

Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that supermarket sushi tastes like real sushi. It is, at best, a way to satisfy your Sushi Jones in much the same way that a Mickey D burger will satisfy your Beefy Jones for a dry-aged prime porterhouse. By comparison, Subway Sushi - the kind of stuff that shows up in the o-bento boxes you can buy at any Japanese train station, or on a shelf in the corner 7-Eleven - beats most American restaurant sushi like a red-headed stepchild.

But as regards fish-based dining in Japan, sushi and sashimi are just the tip of the iceberg. Fish is as essential to Japanese cuisine as, say, corn is to American factory food. Which is to say that it’s pretty much everywhere.

Speaking of corn, where but Japan would you see a street vendor selling (of all things!) roasted corn on the cob...and grilled squid? Now, there’s a natural pairing for you.

Squid ’n’ Corn

Corn on the Cob. And squid. Yum!

Elder Daughter Lends a Hand

Elder Daughter lends a hand.

Our second morning in Tokyo, Elder Daughter and I got up before the Butt-Crack of Dawn™ and took a 20-minute walk down to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is the clearing house for all the fishy victuals that feed the burgeoning hordes of Tokyo and its you can imagine just how huge it is.


A tiny corner of the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Every morning, there are two Tuna Auctions - fresh, then frozen. (As it is written: “Many are cold, but few are frozen.”) Visitors are able to observe the latter from a roped-off walkway, from which row after row of enormous, gelid fish carcasses can be seen.

Tuna Auction

The frozen tuna auction.

Not especially exciting, you think, until you realize that each of those fish has a street value of several thousand dollars. Did I say that the Japanese love their fish?

If it swims and people eat it, you’ll find it at Tsukiji.


All kinds of Fishy Goodness. [Click to embiggen.]

After we spent an hour or so dodging motorized carts amongst the aisles at Tsukiji, we stopped in at one of the local hole-in-the-wall sushi bars for a spot of breakfast, each of us ordering the $35 set menu. The chef then proceeded to hand piece after piece of the freshest, most delicious sushi we have ever eaten (or hope to eat) across the bar. O-toro (fatty tuna belly). Ika (squid). Ama-ebi (shrimp). Tamago (sweetened egg omelet). Uni (sea urchin gonads). Tai (red snapper). Anago (eel). Ikura (salmon roe).

Every single bite was a revelation. It just doesn’t get any fresher than this, unless you haul your catch right onto the boat, hack slabs off the side of the still-living fish with a santoku knife, and gobble ’em up on the spot.

Both Elder Daughter and I are spoiled now. The kind of sushi you get here in the States just doesn’t do it for us the way it used to...because we have been to the Sushi Mountaintop, from which the view is incomparable. But that won’t stop me from hitting the local sushi bar tonight with SWMBO, the Mistress of Sarcasm, and her boyfriend Gilad.

SWMBO and the Mistress love sushi almost as much as I do. And Gilad? Well, he’d better learn to.

As for me, I’ll be waiting for dinnertime...with baited breath.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


This morning, as She Who Must Be Obeyed and I awoke to the distant rumble of thunder in Savannah, we heard the sound of a baby’s wail coming from somewhere on the floor below.

That sound triggered a flood of memories for us no less effectively than did the aroma of Marcel Proust’s madeleine for him. Remembrance of Things Past, indeed.

For it was 29 years ago today that we became parents. Yes, indeedy: it’s Elder Daughter’s birthday!

We remember it so well. SWMBO’s water breaking sometime around midnight - fortunately, we had fortified her side of the bed with a deck of towels for just such a possibility - and the quick dash to the local hospital. My ditty-bag, packed with a half-dozen Forever Yours (now known as Milky Way Midnight) bars, in case I needed fortification. My Intravenous-Bottle Mishap. Nurse Jo “Jo Jitsu” Mutter, squeezing SWMBO like a tube of toothpaste in the final moments of labor. The squalling, red-faced, vernix-encrusted Thing of Beauty that emerged at 8:33 am after a long, sweaty night. Elder Daughter (then Only Daughter) had arrived. It was love at first sight.

Elder Daughter and SWMBO
Elder Daughter’s first day on Planet Earth: May 11, 1979.

And two days later, She Who Must Be Obeyed celebrated her first Mother’s Day as an honoree.

There have been many Mother’s Days since then, and with both girls out of the house and on their own for several years now, it is an increasingly rare treat for SWMBO to enjoy their physical presence on this day. It was therefore especially sweet to be able to spend the weekend with the Mistress of Sarcasm...and to look forward to SWMBO’s next birthday, when Elder Daughter will be with us to celebrate.

As for said Elder Daughter, I miss her dreadfully after having spent close to a fortnight as her Constant Companion enroute to, in and around, and enroute from Japan. She’s an accomplished young woman, this daughter of ours. The course she just taught at Washington D.C.’s “Learn-a-Palooza” on How To Dance at a Party was the most heavily-attended of all 74 events on the schedule...she produced an amazing show two months ago at the D.C. Arts Center in her spare time... she has met with the Ministers of Education of both Egypt and Morocco within the last three months...and she conquered her fear of heights long enough to ride a mountain ropeway gondola with Mt. Fuji looming over the horizon. Can you tell I’m a Proud Daddy?

Elder Daughter on the Hakone Ropeway

Elder Daughter riding the Hakone Ropeway, April 22, 2008. “I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer...”

And so: To Elder Daughter, on the conclusion of her 29th trip around the Sun, the happiest of Happy Birthdays to you, and may you enjoy many, many more (bis hundert-tzvantzik yoor), all in good health.

To She Who Must Be Obeyed, the apple of my eye, the light of my life, a happy 30th Mother’s Day. May our children continue to give you every joy, a joy that is evident whenever you hear their voices on the phone, whenever you hold them in your arms. And may you continue to have sweet memories of those early days of motherhood.

[They may come in handy in a few years, when I’m back to wearing diapers.]

Friday, May 09, 2008


Theodoric was in trouble. Deep trouble.

As an up-and-coming young alchemist at the Magisterium, he had boasted openly of his ability to turn base metal into gold. Too openly...

...for when the Regent’s men overheard him, they were swift to pass word to their master.

Now he shared a fetid cell with a heap of leaden ingots. Transmute or die, they had told him.

Sweating, trembling, he closed his eyes, tonelessly reciting the incantation.

An ill-timed stutter on the last word added fifteen protons and twenty-seven neutrons too many, whereupon the Magisterium, along with the surrounding countryside, ceased to exist.


A brief conversation upon leaving the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium this morning...

Houston Steve: Know why Manhattanites are always in such a bad mood?

Elisson: No, why?

Houston Steve: Because the light at the end of the New Jersey.


Is it Friday yet? Why, so it is!

And you know what that means. It’s time for me to post the Friday Random Ten, that curious assemblage of Musical Miscellany as horked up by the iPod d’Elisson.

Tomorrow morning, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I will set forth upon the interstate highway and journey down to Savannah, there to spend Mother’s Day Weekend with the Mistress of Sarcasm. Not only will we be celebrating Mother’s Day, we’ll also be tipping a glass or two in honor of Elder Daughter - my recent Traveling Companion - who celebrates the completion of twenty-nine circuits around the Sun on that selfsame day.

Meanwhile, let’s see what’s on the box today. Check it out:
  1. Golden Shower of Hit - Circle Jerks

  2. O Grande Amor - Stan Getz and João Gilberto

  3. Pelko Antaa Siivet - Alamaailman Vasarat

  4. Can’t Buy me Love - The Beatles

  5. Act II, Scene 2: I Have My Brief - John Adams, Nixon in China

  6. Señorita - Chick Corea and Béla Fleck

  7. The Blimp (mousetrapreplica) - Captain Beefheart

    From the legendary Trout Mask Replica album.

  8. Little Wing - Derek and the Dominos

  9. House Where Nobody Lives - Tom Waits

  10. I Want You To Hurt Like I Do - Randy Newman

    I ran out on my children
    And I ran out on my wife
    Gonna run out on you too, baby
    I done it all my life
    Everybody cried the night I left
    Well, almost everybody did
    My little boy just hung his head
    And I put my arm, put my arm around his little shoulder
    And this is what I said:
    Sonny I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do

    If I had one wish
    One dream I knew would come true
    I’d want to speak to all the people of the world
    I’d get up there, I’d get up there on that platform
    First I’d sing a song or two you know I would
    Then I’ll tell you what I’d do
    I’d talk to the people and I’d say
    Its a rough rough world, its a tough tough world
    Well, you know
    And things don’t always, things don’t always go the way we plan
    But there’s one thing, one thing we all have in common
    And it’s something everyone can understand
    All over the world sing along

    I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Hakuna is doing fine, thank you, and enjoying an unmolested rest on the ottoman in our family room. Unmolested, that is, save for my sticking a camera in her face.



Update: Friday Ark #190 is afloat over at the Modulator.

This Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats will rotate on over to Bad Kitty Cats they may be, but they are sure to host a Good Carnival.

Update: CotC #217 is up, and a fine one it is.


I write this post from the bowels of America’s Largest Home™, AKA the Biltmore Estate, the country house carved by George Vanderbilt out of a blasted heath in western North Carolina.

Biltmore is the living legacy of Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the great 19th century American robber barons. Centered in Asheville, it occupies roughly one-third of the 52,586 square miles of North Carolina. The showpiece of the estate, Biltmore House, is a 7,246 room mansion set upon a promontory surrounded by over 12,500 square miles of carefully tended gardens and manicured azalea-laden forests, all of which were specially imported by Vanderbilt and planted by hand. Each of the 7,246 rooms - from the richest, most opulent salons to the lowliest of servants’ quarters - is decorated with rare artworks, the walls encrusted with precious stones.

Biltmore’s basement houses not only the working heart of the mansion - kitchens, laundries, even a small oil refinery - but numerous amusements, including five Olympic-size swimming pools, a bowling alley, shopping mall, and a prototypical late-19th century video game parlor that utilized lantern slides and electric lamps to entertain the Vanderbilt children.

Casual visitors such as my Corporate Colleagues and I do not get to stay at the Big House, of course. We are lodged at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a handsome 1,875-room facility that was originally housed in the sub-basement of the main house before being relocated to its own dedicated location several miles away.

I shit you not when I tell you that it takes almost 30 minutes to make the trip from the Inn to the main house, using the estate’s own private fleet of Bullet Trains. This place is huuuuuuuge. It’s big enough to have its own weather. Hell, it’s big enough to have its own gravity.

After suffering through a day and a half of meetings, we all ran over to the Grove Park Inn on the other side of town, where we took advantage of the perfect weather and enjoyed a round of golf. One of the girls in the pro shop bore an uncanny resemblance to the Mistress of Sarcasm...freaky.

Dinner this evening was at the estate’s horse barn (really), where horses are (thankfully) no longer in evidence. A country-style buffet (all-you-can-eat bone-in ribeye steaks!), an excellent bluegrass group (the Whitewater Bluegrass Company), some half-assed Square Dancing, and it was time to head back to the Inn for some late-evening imbibing. MacAllan 12-year-old, Balvenie 21-year-old Port Wood, and (courtesy of the friendly barkeep), a few precious drops of $175-a-shot Louis XIII Cognac, and I’m more than ready for a few hours in the kip.

In a few hours, my limo will pick me up and navigate the multi-mile journey from the Inn to the exit gate. The great airlock doors will swing open, and I will leave the gigantic weatherproof dome that encloses most of the Estate. But my memories of precious memories...will be with me always.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Commenter Tbird takes a look at the Boss Coffee logo in yesterday’s post and notes that the gaijin dude on the Boss coffee can bears a striking resemblance to William Faulkner.

Why, Tbird, I think you’re on to something.


Here’s a pic of Faulkner (expropriated from here)...

Let’s flip it...

Now let’s rotate it a bit, move the pipe, jack up the contrast, throw in a circular vignette, and tinker with the colors...

Say, all we have to do is shine a bright light in his eyes and shoot the photo from a slightly lower angle, and we might get this:

Yep - Tbird, you’re definitely on to something! But Faulkner? Might make more sense if there was something stronger than coffee in them cans...


No Smorking

Bedside control panel, Sunroute Hotel, Hiroshima. [Click to embiggen.]

I had so been looking forward to smorking in bed.


But if you’re a cat, you may be out of luck.


Separated at birth?

As if this weren’t bad enough, here comes Gato Island, posting pictures of cats that look like Wilford Brimley.

One of the pitfalls of having a Distinctive Face, I suppose, is that eventually people will find ways to make fun of it. It’s an occupational hazard of being an actor or politician. [Wait, aren’t those the same thing?]

Why am I posting this? Because...

(wait for it...)’s the Right Thing to Do.


Let’s celebrate Mayo - today is the Cinco.
We can drink some tequila until we’re muy stinko.
“On the fifth, kill a fifth” - that’s the Holiday Motto.
A perfect excuse for us all to get blotto.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Things that may seem mundane to the inhabitants of a particular place will glow with a Surreal Alien Light in the eyes of a foreign observer, a phenomenon that adds greatly to the joy of international travel.

And when you’re in a place that is Far From Home, those joys are multiplied. The Little Differences between home and away are fairly insignificant when visiting, say, a neighboring country like Canada, a land that (mostly) shares a common language with the United States...but on the other side of the Pacific, it’s a Whole ’Nuther Thing.

Herewith, below the fold, a few random observations from our ten days in Japan, in no particular order...

It’s easy to enjoy a Cheap Laugh at mistranslated English, and I will confess to so doing. Some of the miscues arise, I believe, from an earnest attempt to capture something that just does not quite translate...and some are just plain bizarre. Translating Japanese into English brings to mind Dr. Johnson’s comment about women preachers, whom he compared to dogs walking on their hind legs: not that one expected them to do a good job, but that it was remarkable that they were able to do it at all. Nevertheless, from everything to ad copy to sweatshirts, Japlish rears its (often hilarious) head.

“Cause The Crowd All Love Pulling Dolly By The Hair.” WTF!??!

Didn’t you always want to eat a cookie called “Tokyo Night Walker”?

“Do you walk at night of Tokyo? In the town of Tokyo, there is light like starry sky. Watching stars in the stars above and the city can be done.”

“Romantic fragrance began drift in tokyo. Be romantic as you please without minding public gaze.”

Interesting Business Names
Such as the “Tits Cafe” in Kyoto. Really.

Or this:

Must be a place where they sell Yayoi Zombie Food.

“The Glatt Noodle Factory.” Think this is glatt kosher?

Vending Machines
Streetside vending machines are everywhere in Japan, selling everything from tea and coffee drinks, soft drinks, beer and sake, and cigarettes. With no age restrictions on any purchases (anyone can buy alcohol or tobacco) and no crime to speak of, a machine will sit happily unmolested on a city street, supplying both hot and cold beverages. Hard to picture that in, say, New York or Chicago.

“Can coffee” - brewed coffee in a can or plastic bottle - is insanely popular. The two biggest brands are Coca-Cola’s “Georgia” (the market leader) and Suntory’s “Boss,” the logo for which is a serious-looking gaijin dude with a pipe in his mouth. Any time someone would ask me where I was from, I’d say, “ Georgia Coffee.” Always got a laugh, although whether it was the kind of laugh reserved for Happy Idiot Foreigners, I will never know.

Boss Coffee. This dude looks serious about his Can Coffee.

Another vending machine treat: Royal Milk Tea, a combination of sweet tea and milk in a can, which was a big hit with both me and Elder Daughter. It was especially good with a...

Tokyo Banana

We first encountered the Tokyo Banana at a shop in the Tokyo Tower. I don’t know what appealed to me more: the logo, a beribboned banana that resembled Zippy the Pinhead; the Japlish copy that appeared on every package (“People gather to TOKYO from here and there with memories of their home. And then, Tokyo gets the everyone’s home town.”); or the idea of a banana-shaped and -flavored Twinkie, one without the armada of preservatives and artificial flavors with which we are familiar. Tokyo Banana sells a whole boatload of different pastries...the Chizu Usagi (cheese bunny) caught my eye on their website...and only my conscience (and the lack of luggage space) prevented me from buying samples of them all.

KitKat Exotica
For some strange reason, KitKats are very popular in Japan. Perhaps it’s because the Japanified version of the name (kitto katsu, “you will surely win”) is a phrase students traditionally use to wish each other luck during exams. But that does not explain the fact that Japan leads the world in the sheer variety of KitKat flavors.

Assorted KitKats

Japanese KitKat flavors. Clockwise from top center: Cherry blossom, kinoko (soybean flour), Kyoto-style matcha (powdered green tea), mango, green tea. Center: azuki (sweet red soybean paste).

The “cherry blossom” flavor is actually a concoction of lychees and rose water (delicious); kinoko tastes like a combination of peanut butter and malted milk; and the mango version is only available on the island of Kyushu and in Okinawa. Too bad we can’t get some of these here in the States...the green tea versions, especially, are excellent.

Japanese Department Stores
I have already noted that the typical Japanese depaato (department store) is an entirely different animal compared with its American counterparts. We spent one morning wandering the Kyoto branch of Takashimaya, a place that made Nordstrom look like the Busy Bee Mall. Takashimaya, with outlets in New York and Paris, is a Big-Time Store where you can find pretty much anything...but the seventh floor (containing sixteen different restaurants, each specializing in a particular dish or cuisine), and the lower level (entirely devoted to food of all descriptions) fascinated me the most. This is where you can find hyper-expensive fresh fruit, gemlike in its perfection: a box of 16 strawberries for $45, mangoes ranging in price from $15 all the way to $115 apiece, grapes for $62 a bunch. This is where you can find beautifully packaged pastries and confections, each one a work of art (and some completely unfamiliar to the Western palate). This is where you can find bagels - yes, bagels - with alien flavors such as edamame and soy milk, white chocolate and cocoa, white chocolate and green tea, white chocolate and strawberry. There’s fresh fish, meat, produce, and an array of baked goods that would do the French proud.

Little touches, such as baskets on the floor in the restaurants to hold shoppers’ packages while they eat - and the almost surreal level of politesse displayed by the sales staff - make shopping in a Japanese department store a treat. Being a Consummate Consumer, Japan-style, is a Wallet-Lightening Experience....but fun.



The Kabuki-Za in Tokyo.

Elder Daughter and I managed to catch an act at the Kabuki-Za, an ornate theatre conveniently located two blocks from our hotel in the Ginza. Full performances last for five or more hours and tickets are expensive, but many people - even locals - will grab an o-bento (boxed lunch) and plump for the $10 one-act ducats, which give you a spot in the Fourth-Floor Nosebleeds from which to get a taste of Real Japanese Culture. And, to keep it real, we didn’t bother with the English-commentary headsets. Screw that, we thought...and we were right.

Despite its highly stylized nature - ritualized performance, exotic costumes and scenery, incomprehensible dialogue, and totally alien music - I found Kabuki to be a surprisingly affecting experience. The actors (all of whom are men, even in women’s roles) are skilled enough to invest a single facial expression with heartbreaking emotion even a Western gaijin can understand.

Cell-Phone Danglies
Which, for lack of a better term, is what I call the little charms that people - men and women alike - attach to their cell phones. They’re everywhere. Sometimes it seemed to us that all the recent advances in electronic miniaturization are solely for the purpose of creating ever-shrinking cell-phones, the better to accommodate ever-expanding dangly charms. Weird...but no weirder, I suppose, than grown people who walk around with clothing bearing the image of a Cartoon Mouse.