26 December 2007
Anyway, my parents were kind enough to give Debra and me a digital camera, which I spent yesterday experimenting with. Very cool. So I decided to document my activity last night, which was to smoke a slab of spare ribs. This was my second attempt at ribs and I hoped to improve on my first attempt. Anyway, here is the humble budget grill upon which I am going to attempt to do this:
As you can see, it's not exactly pretty, or fancy. It is still holding together, barely, after a season of very hard usage. The bottom is almost completely rusted out, but it still holds together.
Here you can see the platter of ribs prior to smoking:
Preparation was fairly basic; I removed the membrane on the back and dumped a healthy amount of Fiorella's Jack Stack general purpose meat rub onto it, and rubbed it in. It sat overnight in the fridge after the dry rub went on.
And of course, the ideal companions for an evening in the cold tending the grill/smoker:
That would be a Wodehouse book, and a glass of homebrewed Rye IPA, a hoppy and spicy ale that is very flavourful. It is more of a dark amber than a brown, as the picture seems to suggest. And I've already waxed on about my fondness for P.G. Wodehouse's writing, but I've since made it a completely non-optional ritual to sit reading one of these books while meat is wicking up the rather pleasing-to-the-nose air pollution caused by smoldering chunks of hickory.
And here we are getting started:
As you can see I had to lop a section off the end to get the bally thing to fit, but no matter, I placed it over the coals themselves and thus had a quicker-cooking mid-session snack. The slab was placed on the rear half of the grill, with a fire of natural lump charcoal in front, near the air vents. An aluminum drip pan full of water was placed underneath the ribs to keep the environment moist and to ensure that no stray coals made their way underneath the ribs. Final touch was several handfuls of soaked hickory chunks on top of the hot coals. These were a nice size, about 1" cubes, better than the really large chunks or the tiny chips that smoke only for a short period of time before burning out. You can see the smoke starting to go to town.
Here it is somewhere in the middle, after stoking the fires a bit for a heavier smoke. Puffing like a chimney...
And here they are after 3 hours:
Nowhere near actually done, but I know the limits of my "smoker". It can't hold a constant temperature for that long no matter how you twiddle the vents, and so I've resigned that for things that are cooked indirectly for a long period of time (turkey, ribs, my Famed Smoked Meatloaf) I will smoke them for as long as possible, then finish it up in the oven.
I used a variant of what is sometimes called the "Texas Crutch" method to steam and tenderize the meat for an hour, by placing the ribs in a glass casserole dish, pouring in a small layer of liquid, and then covering with foil and cooking at 250 degrees. I was going to use apple juice, but owing to a lack thereof, I used a spiced apple wine that I had made. Does the job, but certainly not necessary to use that, other liquids will work as well. Then, I removed the foil, continued cooking for half an hour to dry out the outer "bark" of the meat, and finally dosed on some barbecue sauce and gave it another 30 minutes in the oven. End result:
Honestly I would rate my attempt as better, but still, not quite there, not the "fall off the bone" goodness. The flavour is spot on, but the texture of the meat is lacking, a bit too stringy and tough compared to, say, a platter of Jack Stack's ribs.
So sometime next year, I'll be looking at an offset box smoker. Going to do it right!
All things considered, a rather enjoyable way to spend Christmas evening. Happy Boxing Day, all.
24 December 2007
The following was a bit of an archaeological find, something I downloaded back in the 90s, I think. It was a Quicktime movie split into 5 parts, but I finally found it stored away on my hard drive (from my old Win98 computer) and I used a Mac Mini to piece the 5 files into one and then upload it to YouTube. The site that previously hosted it is long gone, but now the Bootsy Collins cartoon can live again in all its funky, kitschy glory!
Pilot Episode of "The Name is Bootsy, Baby"
This definitely fits the category of So Awful It's Good.
You all have yo' selves a very funky Christmas.
20 December 2007
Mikhail Kalashnikov's Address to a UN Arms Trade Conference
Here's the money quote:
Remember the ancient saying: Vis pacem - para bellum - if you want peace - be ready for the war. Within the whole history of our civilization, no one disproved it. So let the weapons be not the means of terror, but the way to defend peace, democracy and law. I wish you all health, success and fruitful work. With best wishes, Mikhail Kalashnikov
Mikhail Kalashnikov is probably the most noteworthy living small arms designer (no, not a small designer of arms, a designer of small arms), as Sam Colt and John Browning have been out of commission for some time now. But it is interesting as the designer of what is probably the most universally villified rifle justifies his invention. The AK-47 is the Rodney Dangerfield assault rifle, it gets no respect, dismissed as a mass manufactured weapon of terrorists, while in actual fact it is one of the best designs of the past 60 years, which certainly helps explain its longevity. I've heard military types talk about how a modernized AK platform like the Galil and other recent adaptations ought to be considered to eventually replace Eugene Stoner's AR platform, but I doubt patriotism would allow that.
But regardless I thought Kalashnikov, aside from being a commie, had some great points.
18 December 2007
I just want to point out how poor Blogger's coding is. A post with zero comments is labeled "0 Comments". A post with three comments is naturally labeled "3 Comments". It would stand to reason that the geniuses of logical design at Blogger would be capable of putting a simple IF THEN ELSE statement in to ensure that a post with a single comment would be labeled "1 Comment", but no, a post with a solitary comment is nonsensically labeled "1 Comments".
Is it that hard?
// x = number of comments
if (x = 1)
cout << x << " Comment";
cout << x << " Comments";
Really basic stuff here. With as long as Blogger has been around it is baffling that such a piddly little design flaw has persevered.
"All I Need" is a good track, reminiscent of "Climbing Up The Walls" although slightly less creepy. I like the resounding piano bass that drives the track, slowly taking over from the synth bass about halfway through, right before the final crescendo, which builds off of discordant piano comping into rather a nice climax. I particularly like this YouTuber's take on the song, paired with some interesting close-in video of plants and insects and the like:
Radiohead - All I Need
This isn't necessarily a standout track, I just added it because of the neat editing of the YouTube video.
And on a more comic note, some months back I was exposed to some very, very strange music. The acquaintances that were telling me about this music were very serious about it, but I couldn't help finding it absurd to the point of hilarious. Yes, I am talking about Tanz-metal. Particularly Laibach and Rammstein. Watching some of their videos on YouTube, I am baffled by how they are taken as serious music. I'm not saying it's utter crap, I'm just saying that it is so spectacularly craptastic that it is brilliant in its crapliciousness. How can you take trashy Euro-electronica dance beats, combine them with deep, resounding spoken German that sounds like it is pulled from the audiobook version of Heinrich Himmler's autobiography. Throw in a video with uniformed band members strutting to the beat and the silliness is over the top. As mentioned, the silliness is sufficient to make it quite amusing in its own way, and I have to think that that was the original intention of the artists, but what I don't understand is the people that love the music in a very serious, unfunny way. Like Bootsy Collins, half the enjoyment is the silly over-the-top humour of it all.
Bootsy Collins - Stretchin' Out
Long Live Bootzilla!
17 December 2007
- The 10mm, despite its numerically impressive muzzle energy, wasn't as bad on the hand as I thought it might be. Recoil and muzzle flip were definitely there, but not unmanageable at all.
- The firearm shoots low...either the front sight needs to be filed, or the rear sight needs to be raised.
- The Tanfoglio Witness is a very ergonomic design, borrowed from the CZ-75. The grip and the overall feel is excellent.
- The recoil springs are underpowered, resulting in the occasional "clunk" as the slide bottoms out on the frame. This must be rectified, possibly with a recoil buffer or replacement springs.
- 10mm is expensive. I resisted the idea of a single-stage reloading press, but I may have to give the idea of reloading a second glance if I intend to shoot this with any frequency. The cheapest factory ammo is about 40 cents a round.
12 December 2007
I may try that next time I sell a car in the newspaper; using the Radiohead model, I will say, the car will be sold to the first person that offers me a price, from zero dollars on up.
Anyway, putting aside their infantile attempts to make political statements via really abysmal mathematics, the music is what I would call the best Radiohead since the 90s. Now, don't take that to mean more than it does. With Kid A, I was an enthusiastic fan and I tried to like it more than I probably did. With Amnesiac, I was a sympathetic listener, again trying to like it, but not trying so hard...it didn't meet me half way. With Hail to the Thief, which was painfully comic in its unironic, uninspired, and deadeningly flat title, I washed my hands of them...the band was descending into unmusical mediocrity.
This one seems to be significantly better...as if the band remembered it was a band and not a bunch of guys who stand around while Thom Yorke squeals out shallow poetry over his beatbox. One of the songs, forgive me I don't know which one, struck me as having a surprising amount of chordal complexity, with a wash of discordant piano layered over the main riff, very similar to a couple songs on Chris Squire's "Fish Out of Water". It still is much simpler than a true progressive rock sound, but there is more meat to dig into, as a musician, than the previously mentioned sparse moonscapes of third rate half-spoken, half-squealed verses about the Evil Don Rumsfeld or whatnot. I haven't really listened to the lyrics on this one, and honestly I don't really need to because there is actual MUSIC to pay attention to.
Anyway, I smoked a meatloaf (no, not the Meat Loaf, a meatloaf) on Monday night, as the freezing rain was coming down. I can't remember all the components, but it was basically a pound of beef and a pound of Italian sausage, with a good deal of seasonings and the usual components (eggs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper). I smoked it for 2 1/2 hours, and then let it finish in the oven til well over the safe internal temperature. I've never been a big fan of meatloaf, but sandwiches made with this and a bit of BBQ sauce are very good. The hickory smoke adds quite a bit to it, I think.
Lastly, a hats-off, kudos, and all around standing ovation for Jeanne Assam. She was the church volunteer security worker in Colorado that stopped Matthew Murray from using more than a fraction of a percent of the ammunition he was hoping to expend killing innocents (he had a rifle, two handguns, and 1000 rds of ammunition). It is tragic that he was able to kill as many as he did, but with him walking into a church of 7000, she prevented the loss of many, many more lives. It was interesting that after he was shot six times by Assam, he chose to off himself. I suppose the humiliation of being thwarted (by a civilian woman, at that) was too much and he wanted to use what little control he had left to take his own life. Also interesting that in his writings he stated that Christians are responsible for most of the wrongs of the world. Sounds peculiarly similar to the position of half of my liberal arts professors at UMKC. Of course, that doesn't mean any further similarity, any more than Bin Laden's copious use of Democrat talking points during the 2004 election means that the Democrats are terrorists.
I'm getting off track; just wanted to send out a cheer for the sheepdog that protected the sheep from the wolves. Many times sheep can't see any difference between wolves and sheepdogs, as they both have sharp teeth, but times like this the difference is immensely clear. And thank God the sheepdog in this case was not muzzled, so to speak. And I seem to have fallen into a huge vat of unexplained metaphors; they are not my own, if you need clarification, read this excellent piece by Dave Grossman:
06 December 2007
I find it interesting that it is only very recently, probably the last couple centuries or so, that we have had alternative cooking fuel sources such as electricity, charcoal, propane, and natural gas. Most of these (charcoal, a derivative of wood, to a lesser extent) impart a flavour-neutral heat to food. However, every time I cook over a wood fire, I don't know, but somehow the woodsmoke and meat combine to form something greater than the sum of the two parts. Centuries ago this is how most food was cooked in many cultures worldwide: roasted or grilled over wood fires. I'll admit, it is much, much too cold to be sitting outside tending a cooking fire these days, but I still find an excuse to cook outside once a week or so.
And as I've mentioned before, to please the hippies: wood is a renewable resource. Especially mesquite, which grows like a weed in Texas. Hickory I'm less certain about, but it is certainly easier to replenish than, say, natural gas.
Some might want to amend my definition of God's purpose for plants (combustion and smoke production below animal meat) by adding the smoking of certain plant leaves (no, not THAT plant leaf!), but I'd have to say, tobacco smoke, even tobacco from an excellent cigar, holds little appeal to me personally, based on my very minimal experimentation. I use the word "experimentation" and it probably brings to mind the idea of pre-teens huddling behind the shed and hacking their way through a stolen pack of auntie's Camels, but in actuality it was more like a confused adult sitting in his dining room, muttering curses and grievous pronouncements at an overly priced cigar that haughtily refused to stay lit.
No, as for me, the best smoke is the smoke of the classic American hardwoods. Oak, apple, cherry, mesquite, hickory, and pecan. I've used about half of these in my cooking, and those three (apple, mesquite, and hickory) all seem to impart a different flavour. Hickory was the most conventional, and some would say ideal for BBQ smoking. Mesquite has a sharper flavour and burns hot, great for searing steaks and general direct cooking (on Monday I cooked "lamburgers" over mesquite wood, which was very good). Apple wood was interesting; the smoke was thick and instead of the expected "fruity" smoke flavour I've read about it seemed to me to be slightly more "buttery" than the other woods.
You might ask what prompted this blog entry ("not get your eggs and b. this morning, eh, 'Feld?"), and while I did enjoy a rather fun grilling session last evening, the main catalyst was when I walked into work this morning, our corporate neighbors (some sort of manufacturing or machine shop) had as usual a plume of smoke rising from their chimney. Apparently they use lumber scraps such as old wooden pallets to fire their industrial oven. Even as low quality as that lumber may be, the smell was great. I wanted to hang a slab of spare ribs in their chimney and come back at lunch time.
And I'll leave you with this. Another comic song from the Jeeves and Wooster series, it is stuck in my head, and so now I'm attempting to stick it in yours. Avoid the comments section, unless you desire to be thoroughly nauseated by descriptions of Mr. Laurie as a "cutie" and other even more ghastly epithets:
Nagasaki, as performed by B.W.W.
03 December 2007
47 Ginger Headed Sailors
It's all the rage at the Drones at the moment.
After a brutal, disheartening failure to reproduce a true, slow smoked Kansas City BBQ slab of pork ribs last week, I've rallied the morale and am making plans to attack the challenge next year again, this time with a proper offset box smoker. There is only so much one can do with a small cheap charcoal grill designed for hot dogs and hamburgers. I'm sure the experts could have done better even with that, but hey, Rembrandt could have probably used a child's watercolor set to paint a masterpiece. My skill is not anywhere near that level, and I'll need to get the right tool for the job next year.
While I initially rooted a bit for Army given their underdog status on Saturday's game, I eventually returned to my senses, and realized that my heart was still in Annapolis, and so I cheered Navy on to win for the sixth straight time. That is my favourite football game of the year; each member of both teams is a scholar and an athlete, and the contest is unstained with the big business and professional overtones of college football in general. It is true that either team would probably get slaughtered by one of the big state college teams, but it is nice watching the Army Navy game because more than the other college football contests, this is truly just a game. It's not a job, it's not an internship, it isn't some sort of springboard into a pro career, and so there is a nice civility and sporting nature to it. These players will go on to be officers, engineers, pilots, astronauts, scientists, and government leaders. That in itself is quite impressive, and to these players (since in all likelihood they will never go "pro", having to serve 6 or so years in the service after graduation) the Army Navy game represents the climax of their years playing football, every bit as important to them as a Superbowl to a pro player. I'm not a football nut by any stretch, but I do like these games, they have a classic spirit to them, like some sort of older style of college sports, where it was more a game and less a business.
27 November 2007
Todd Friel on Hugging Jesus
Kind of one of those articles I don't want to resoundingly agree with publicly, because of the potential backlash of Jesus Boyfriends and Girlfriends out there that dig those kind of songs, but definitely worth a read. While I've been interminably frustrated with the über-lame "Jesus is my boyfriend" style of music, I'd never before considered that one of the reasons these songs are so lame is a fault of the English language. Because we have one predominant word for love, which in Greek and other languages can be translated in different ways, we end up lumping shallow, feel-good emotional love, romantic eros love, and agape charity-love all into one devil of a four letter word. It is an interesting point he makes.
It is a bit ironic when you consider what is viewed as the "secularization of Christian music". Commonly this refers to adopting the sounds, styles, instruments, and techniques of secular popular music, with guitars, electric instruments, drums, "avant garde" compositions and the like, but to me the far more relevant side is the secularization of lyrics. While still under the pretense of being "Christian", we've basically taken the lyrics of classic love songs and interspersed them with "Jesus" and "King" and wallah, Christian music.
"Wallah" is one of the better words in this world. I'm not sure if I found the correct source for its etymology, but here is a possibility:
I was listening to Rubber Soul by the Fabbissimo Quattro today and I heard the following line delivered by Lennon on the song "The Word"..."now that I know what I feel must be right, I'm here to show everybody the Light!" All too often that is what we run into, in political ideology, religious discussions, debates on terminal ballistics of handgun ammunition (ha!), whatever. Somebody feels something they assume to be right, and then they have to take that Gospel to everyone else. If only we could depend a little less on feeling, and more on more substantive measures, perhaps our differences wouldn't be debated with such rancor. Sing it, John...
"It's SO fine, it's SUNshine, it's the WORD! LOVE!"
26 November 2007
An American would realise the point at issue if he could conceive that after the founding of the United States the Dutch inhabitants of the State of New York had trekked to the westward and established fresh communities under a new flag. Then, when the American population overtook these western States, they would be face to face with the problem which this country has had to solve. If they found these new States fiercely anti-American and extremely unprogressive, they would experience that aggravation of their difficulties with which our statesmen have had to deal.This is admittedly obscure and uninteresting to the general reader (who rarely tends to share my strange fascination with 19th Century South African history), but for me it was an enormous revelation. I had somewhat bought into the forgone conclusion that the British Empire was purely interested in expanding its grip and spreading its empire across continents when it found itself at war with the Boers in 1899. I can't help this, I'm sure it has to do with the way we are educated today; it was a popular refrain to bash "imperialism" with the Brits as Exhibit A (until we overtake them!). But Conan Doyle's illustration above seemed to make the British motivation (other than Milner's personal ambitions) for war much clearer and more reasonable.
Another rather quotable bit is his eloquent praise for the hardy nobility of the Boer blood, with which he opens the first chapter:
Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and fortune and left their country for ever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances under which no weakling could survive, place them so that they acquire exceptional skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman, and the rider. Then, finally, put a finer temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual, and you have the modern Boer-the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial Britain. Our military history has largely consisted in our conflicts with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have never treated us so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their ancient theology and their inconveniently modern rifles.
"Inconveniently modern rifles" made me chuckle a bit...the British, who enjoyed the advantage of outclassing their rivals in firearms technology in most colonial wars of the era, found themselves outclassed by that immensely impressive design, the Mauser magazine rifle. The British by this time were using a relatively advanced bolt design in the Lee-Metford, but they were still using a blackpowder cartridge. From the numbers I've seen, the Mausers (using high-tech smokeless powder) had approximately 800 fps higher muzzle velocity than the Lee-Metfords, which gave them better range and accuracy, not to mention kept them hidden by obscuring the white puffs of smoke after firing from hidden positions. The British fielded some Lee-Enfields at that time, which used a new rifling and fired a smokeless cartridge, the venerable .303 British.
Although I will say I didn't realize that I did not have to pay for this book. I found out later it is public domain, and available all across the web. If you're interested, get started here:
The Great Boer War
Another book worthy of mention is "The Washing of the Spears" by Donald Morris. History of the Zulu kingdom from Shaka to Cetswayo (downfall under the latter). Very entertaining and enlightening.
19 November 2007
Coffee root beer is a creation of my younger days, working long hours (or what seemed to me at the time to be long hours) at a barbeque restaurant as a dishwasher. Our benefits package included run of the soda fountain (barring unreasonable abuse). This is the time when black coffee, in copious quantity, became a staple beverage of mine, but I also concocted a somewhat unique beverage that was a little more thirst quenching than a slug of day-old cold coffee, but still with a bit of extra caffeine kick for those long evenings .
There is nothing complex to the making of coffee root beer; it is as simple as it sounds, with a variable ratio depending on taste. I like a ratio of three parts root beer, 1 part good black coffee. One is best off chilling the coffee before adding it to the root beer, and never (as I did) try to funnel hot coffee into a 2-liter almost full of root beer. This will release all the carbonation into foam, and generally make a mess.
The resulting coffee root beer has the bitterness and flavour of the coffee balanced by the nutty sweetness of the root beer. Coca-Cola's "Blak" product was an annoying preemption of my idea, marketed towards the energy drink crowd and ridiculously overpriced. But simple, humble coffee root beer is an excellent drink.
16 November 2007
OK, I'm going to play the pretentious film critic here for a while, so bear with me. I've recently taken a liking to Japanese movies (at least, the ones I have seen, which are all Akira Kurosawa films) and I was a bit bored, so I thought I'd run through with some brief comments on each one. So crack out the nigori nihonshu, grill up some teriyaki and udon, and open your Netflix queue!
Stray Dog - 1949 - A very young Toshiro Mifune stars in this depiction of a rookie cop that loses his firearm to a pickpocket. For those that carry or own guns, this is a particularly relevant story because it details the horrifying emotions that sweep the main character as he realizes the evils that his gun has done in the hands of a criminal. The storyline seems pretty simple or dull (stolen gun, big deal) but it is surprising how much suspense Kurosawa packs into this. Takashi Shimura also stars as the wise mentor cop, in a very likable role.
Rashomon - 1950 - This is the one beloved of wine guzzling art-film lovers because of its alleged refutation of absolute truth. It tells the story of a crime out in the woods, the rape of a woman and murder of her husband. The story is told four times, first by the suspect, secondly by the woman, thirdly by the summoned spirit of the husband, and lastly by a woodcutter who was in the area and saw what went on. The differences in the stories they tell are supposed to make a brilliant point about how all truth is relative, but it seems to me that unlike the first three accounts, the fourth is essentially impartial and has no motive to tell anything but truth in the matter. The popular interpretation is that all four accounts are wrong and all four accounts are yet also right, but I take the traditional interpretation of the first three accounts were wrong and the last account was probably right. Call me a philistine if you must. But still, a good movie. Mifune is the wild-eyed suspect and Shimura is the woodcutter.
Seven Samurai - 1954 - The first Kurosawa film I saw, this is probably one of the best known. It tells the story of a group of samurai that band together to defend a village of destitute peasants from roving bandits. Shimura has the lead role in this one as the head of the samurai, and Mifune had a memorable role as the childish, immature, and overcompensating Kikuchiyo [sic?], who eventually proves his worth and earns a place with the others.
Throne of Blood - 1957 - This is a dark, dark film, but I like it. Mifune shifts dramatically here, into a brooding, older character beset by ambition, malice, and greed. It is an adaptation of Macbeth, and a very good one at that! The "Lady Macbeth" character is particularly loathsome in her needling words of manipulation to Mifune's Macbeth. Not a particularly happy film, but a good one!
Yojimbo - 1961 - One of my favorites, this establishes Toshiro Mifune as the Eastern Eastwood. Or rather, that's a bit backwards...Eastwood became the Western version of Mifune after this movie. It is a story of a wandering ronin samurai that enters a town split by two warring factions, and he ends up playing both against each other. Sergio Leone remade this movie with the young Clint Eastwood as "A Fistful of Dollars", a great film in its own right, but a near carbon copy of this film.
Sanjuro - 1962 - Sanjuro is a continuation of the Yojimbo character, and while it was a good movie, it didn't strike me as a particularly memorable one, in the company of these other movies. Mifune's character throws his lot in to help a group of generally witless and inexperienced samurai that are embroiled in a political fight involving their masters.
High and Low - 1963 - Another one of my favorites, this one ventures out of feudal Japan and into the contemporary. Mifune (again!) does really well in this one as an ambitious executive that is blackmailed by the kidnapping of his chauffeur's only son. I won't disclose any more of the plot, as this one is particularly suspenseful. It is surprising and frustrating to me, when I consider how great a movie like this is, and how relatively thrilling it can be made to be, without the almost requisite staples of modern crime drama (shocking violence and sex). The final scene is particularly effective (I did promise not to give away the plot details). All in all, a very recommendable movie!
13 November 2007
Get your cats indoors, folks, because Jimmy Carter is on the prowl, he's got birdshot loaded, and he's ANGRY!
A 17 year old letter, stored in a museum, tells the story of Carter's feline intolerance in a colourful way. My first theory was that President Carter mistook the animal, from a distance, for the giant swimming rabbit that tormented him over ten years prior, back to finish the job once and for all. Another possibility is that Gerry Ford swung by with a couple cases of Natural Light and halfway through the second case, the 38th President bet the 39th President he couldn't zing that mangy cat out on the lawn with his over-and-under.
Perhaps this can be taken as an exoneration of Dick Cheney. Apparently politicians fail to separate the effects of a shotgun in Looney Tunes shorts from the effects of a shotgun in real life, and assumedly the Dark Lord Chenu was just trying to "sting" Mr. Whittington, like Carter with his sister-in-law's cat.
12 November 2007
I am a friend of the zoo!
I am a friend of the zoo!
I am a friend of the zoo!
They call me friend!
If you know that song, and I just got my edited version implanted into your brain (where it will repeatedly resound for the next 12-16 hours), I am sorry. If you don't know to which song I am referring, do yourself a favour, let it go, don't go looking it up.
But anyway, we are now friends of the zoo, which means we've spent the last two weekends at the Kansas City Zoo. It's our form of exercise; we get a lot of walking in, and now instead of it costing $20 a visit for both of us, it is $50 per year (actually the term is about a year and a half). It beats a health club subscription, in my opinion. Heck of a lot more entertaining. The animals seem more active in cooler weather; the African Wild Dogs were having a domestic squabble last week. They look kind of strange, and you'd think they'd almost make a good breed to own until they start fighting; they don't so much bark or howl, as scream. Although, that might make a great home watchdog. Instead of the all-too-familiar bark, intruders would be warned by a high pitch banshee screech, like the Devil himself coming for your soul. Woowee! Of course, as my wife duly pointed out, they would eat our cat. I suppose that is a deal breaker.
The meerkats are pathetic little beggars. I think someone has been feeding them.
All in all we've got a pretty decent zoo in Kansas City, and I find that I enjoy simple things, like a zoo, more than I might have several years earlier. Doesn't hurt that we get exercise in at the same time.
And lastly, received my Tanfoglio Witness 10mm Compact this weekend. Rather elegant lines reminiscent of the CZ-75 family, excellent craftsmanship, great fit and finish. And it fits the hand just right; 10mm may be heavy on the recoil but this feels like it has enough ergonomics to help you deal with it. Nice trigger, not too touchy or too heavy, balanced just right. I'm going to get some ammo straight away and get this thing out to the range.
02 November 2007
First, after noting a particular passage of Wodehouse this evening, while supervising the slow smoking of a beef brisket, I thought about the unique virtues of the "one" pronoun. One doesn't normally consider this pronoun with any special thought, but tonight I understood it a bit better. "One" is a pronoun of discretion. It can be used in the first person sense to impart an element of privacy: "one doesn't wish to complain, but the noise from downstairs is quite disturbing." It can also be used in second person to impart a sense of cordial distance in otherwise confrontational situations: "please refrain from using ethnic slurs, Mr. Connery; one should not use the term 'dego' on live television." Of course, it can also be used in third person, and in plural senses with equal utility.
Secondly, thanks to the "Instant Watch" feature of Netflix, I watched a comically dated film last night. I watched for the first time (and the last time, until last night) the film "So I Married an Axe Murderer" from 1993. I found the introduction to the film the most comical, in the way it focused on the then-hip coffeehouse, a scene which has gone drastically out of style since the mid 90s. I had forgotten how cool coffeehouses once were. And Mike Myers, while generally funny, seemed to be an amalgam of Austin Powers, Doctor Evil, and Fat Bastard. It is hard watching him prior to his prudent dissection of these different comic personalities.
And as an extra, I have a 10mm Witness on the way, after winning a gunbroker.com auction. Needless to say, I am excited.
We watched the final of Leone's "No Name" trilogy again last night, and I can't expunge Morricone's soundtrack from my head, try as I might with live tracks of the Who. So for your enjoyment, skip ahead to the climax and enjoy:
29 October 2007
16 October 2007
6 Oct 2007
Day One: Tucumcari, New Mexico
So Debra and I packed up our stuff and headed out this morning at 0-dark-thirty, and now sitting in a hotel room in New Mexico. I'd like to say I've seen as much of Kansas as I think might be necessary to see. Some of it actually was quite beautiful. But we're rather excited as the Southwest seems to have a little more variety in the scenery, at least for Midwesterners, unaccustomed as we are to oblique, non-rounded hills. And what is a "gulch" and why don't we have those in Missouri? Answer me that.
We drove through Greensburg, Kansas, purely by accident, and while I tried to approximate an appropriate Alan Jackson style 9/11 tear-jerker ("were ya there, when that twister came down, did it make ya cry, when the cow flew past yer windshield...like on that movie...") my wife made the astute observation that "HEY! It didn't destroy the WHOLE TOWN!!!". Although another quarter-mile or so, wow, it looked like Hiroshima, minus the glowing radioactive waste, and with a lot more Red Cross porta-potties. So, we apologize to the good citizens of Greensburg, Kansas for doubting the wrath of the tornado. We think Alan Jackson should write TWO songs about it.
We stopped in Liberal, Kansas, just before we passed into a region under the cloud of God's perpetual wrath (the panhandle of Oklahoma, which neither Texas nor Kansas would claim, thus pushed off on the Okies). The Panhandle featured such booming towns as "Hooker" Oklahoma, which wasn't so much of a good joke until I passed by the 10 x 10 shack labelled as the "Hooker Chamber of Commerce", replete with curly-lashed eyes for the two o's. It would have been worth stopping to take a picture if we weren't flying along like banshees seeking to escape the area.
But no, I was telling you about Liberal, which is home to the Mid-America Air Museum. I went their with my family years ago, so it was great to come back. Very sad to see how empty the place was; perhaps seeing these majestic and historic planes no longer interests the younger generations. Still, it brought me back, even that air museum / plane hangar smell. If you can get out there, go, and donate a buck or two if you can. I'm hoping they'll be around long enough I could take my kids.
On to Texas. We started seeing what no doubt were that most glorious of weed trees, the Mesquite. A raggedy, brush-like tree that apparently is very frustrating to farmers and ranchers, it is my favourite cooking wood and I wanted to chop down a truckful and bring it back, but no dice. No truck, actually, but no dice sounded like the right thing to say at the time.
My wife noted a keen difference between Texas and New Mexico. In Texas, the highway signs say NO PASSING or PASSING ZONE, and the motto greeting you on entry is DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS. When you pass into New Mexico, the motto is Land of Enchantment, and the highway signs say things like "Pass with care!" and "Courtesy costs nothing!". So basically we found much humour in the contrast between Texas' macho bravado and New Mexico's metrosexual sensitivity.
Which was kind of a common theme...we found a lot of things far more funny than they should have been. It could have been getting up before the dawn of...dawn, or it could have been the gloriously noxious fumes from the Texas cattle pens UNTHINKABLY LOCATED NEXT TO A PUBLIC HIGHWAY. But at one point I should point out that the following phrase was uttered:
"I think 'dillhole' might be my favourite word."
7 Oct 2007
Day Two: Kingman, Arizona
Today was mildly less eventful, I'm happy/sorry to say. We departed from beneath the shadow of the mesa in Tucumcari around seven-ish, after partaking of the copious bounty of the Econolodge continental breakfast, which included soft-boiled eggs clever disguised as hard-boiled eggs (which facilitated a rather comic episode as I unwittingly allowed my wife to demonstrate the way to briskly crack open a hard-boiled egg).
New Mexico continued in its manner of sensitive niceness, with hot air balloons sent up for display over Albuquerque as we passed through (very kind of them) and pink and blue seeming to be the state's official colours, with the highway overpasses painted that way. Even the dirt is pink. The mesas seem to be mountains restrained and lopped off out of concern for the self esteem of the smaller hills. This combined with the road signs imploring all manner of nice niceness and sweet goodygums politeness on the roadways, and New Mexico is sort of the Disney version of the Southwest.
Passing into Arizona, we encountered a new road sign phenomenom. In Arizona they seem to have a preoccupation with ice. Presumably because they rarely see it outside of their highball glasses, they appear to have a mortal fear of frozen water, and road signs saying "WATCH FOR ICE!" and "ICE ON BRIDGE!" abound all across the state. Now, I haven't seen these very often in Missouri, much less places to our north, and we get plenty of hail/sleet/snow/ice during the winters.
Also, "WATCH FOR ROCKS!" was common, and rounding up the trio of watch-for signs was my favourite, "WATCH FOR ELK!". I'm not sure what we were supposed to do if we did manage to see an elk; the sign neglected to give further detail. Were we to walk up and shake its hand? Arrest it? Take a picture of it? Arizona needs to stop with these incomplete instructions.
Speaking of rocks, we stopped and saw a great bally lot of them along the way, at the Petrified Forest Nat'l Park. We didn't actually go in, but milled around near the entrance, looking at examples laid out of petrified wood. Sufficiently satisfied, we determined that petrified wood looks like a cross between wood and rock, and once you've seen one petrified log you've seen them all, so we got back on the interstate post-haste.
Flagstaff, Arizona was quite a pleasant surprise, though we only stopped briefly to give our vehicle a full draught of fresh petrol. High in altitude with very beautiful flora, it's an area we wouldn't mind spending more time in again.
Here in Kingman we have passed the mountains and are essentially in the honest-to-goodness desert; the locals here have carefully tended dirt lawns. Lucky bastards! What I wouldn't give to be able to get away with that. However they do have one thing, leaked across the border to the west...In-N-Out. The best fast-food burger joint in the country. Dinner was good.
As I said, a much less varied day today, but tomorrow, we push on through the Mojave to visit San Diego, then back up to Santa Ana/Anaheim.
Day Three: Santa Ana, California
8 Oct 2007
Today started with us bidding our fond farewell to Arizona, filling up with an excellent complimentary breakfast at the hotel, and filling our car up with a not-so-complimentary breakfast at an antiquated filling station in the quaintly dusty town of Yucca, Arizona.
But nothing could prepare us for the border crossing.
All vehicles entering into California had to stop for an inspection. We naturally started to feel a little anxious. Upon pulling up to the inspection clerk, we expected something like "do you have any illicit drugs" or "are you smuggling illegal aliens", but instead, he asked the hard questions. DO YOU HAVE ANY FRUIT??!! Why yes, officer, we have an apple or two. FROM MISSOURI?! Yes, we bought it in Missouri, I have no idea where it was grown. The officer seemed to breathe a huge sigh of relief as he noted we only had a total of two Honeycrisp apples in storage, and he relaxed his grip on his sidearm and called off the request for backup. Once again California has shown its excellent priorities. There was no concern over whether our Model 12 and P3-AT were safely and legally stowed (they were), as the only thing on the minds of the Fruit Patrol was stopping rogue tangelos from crossing the border.
Then after crossing the Mojave desert (with myself humming the theme of "Lawrence of Arabia" incessantly) we eventually started getting into city traffic. Let me just say, we have at this point driven in seven states in the past three days, and virtually everywhere people drove with some semblance of sanity, and even the speedier ones were generally considerate on the roadways. Excepting Southern California. As much as I mocked the "kinder gentler" road signs of New Mexico, the one place those would be worthwhile would be in California. These people are insane! Apparently they are so energy conscious out here that they refuse to use turn signals, because of the carbon footprint of the incandescent bulbs. Instead they use the "California turn signal", which is the same for right or left turns: stick your arm at a 45 degree angle out of your window, and make a fist, and extend the middle finger while retaining the fist with the remaining fingers. It is also recommended to pass on the right whenever feasible, and to never change lanes while passing unless within 12 inches of another car's bumper.
We eventually got to the harbor in San Diego, which was quite beautiful. With a backdrop of some extremely cool USN aircraft carriers at the naval base, we visited the San Diego Maritime Museum. We saw the B-39, a Soviet post-war diesel attack submarine. There I realized my youthful ambitions of submarine service were far misguided, as a man over six foot on one of those boats is in for a cramped tour, that's for certain. But it was immensely interesting to actually tour a Soviet submarine. We also got to see the H.M.S. Surprise, a replica 19th century warship used in the movie Master and Commander. I got to stand where Russell Crowe stood, and I sang (not quite as boisterously as I wanted) "makin' movies, makin' songs, and foightin' round the world!", the theme song of Russell Crowe's Fighting Round The World series.
Then back on those blasted roads again, and cheating death we arrived at our somewhat lackluster motel in Santa Ana, but we trotted over for an early dinner at The Olde Ship, a British pub and restaurant in the area that I first tried a year and a half ago, while in Anaheim for a convention. Very good food as expected, and fantastic British beer.
Tomorrow will be duller still, I'm afraid, as it involves primarily visiting familial relations, which is of course of great interest to us, but of scant interest to you, loyal reader.
Quote of the day:
"Car pool lane violators PISS ME OFF!"
Days Four and Five: Burbank, California
9-10 Oct 2007
Yesterday and today are made up primarily of visiting family, which of course involves a healthy quantity of driving about Los Angeles, which of course involves a healthy quantity of fear for one's life. Still, we're getting a good deal of rest, which is nice.
I fear there may be a dearth of interesting information to add on this joint blog entry, so I'll just jabber on about some various topics.
Is capsaicin spray food grade, I wonder? How would it compare to habanero sauce?
Does anyone else struggle, upon visiting Los Angeles, with the highly embarrassing tendency to adopt an overly exaggerated and borderline offensive Mexican accent? I have the same problem when I've been on the phone with my company's dealers in the UK. I tend to start lapsing into a standard British accent, slightly chirpier than my typical non-descript Midwestern accent that I've adopted since moving here as a child. And that devolves into very nearly a drawl when talking to some of my more country-ish acquaintances at work. I am an accent chameleon, which is fun, but also dangerous. You don't want to exclaim, "hey, esé, whatchoo doo-eeng, man?" in line at El Pollo Loco. It's just offensive. But me gusta May-hee-can food, muy mucho, si si si! Alas, it is my cross to bear. It disappears when I leave the state, strangely enough.
Tomorrow we drive up to San Simeon. G'night all!
Day Six: Cambria, California
11 Oct 2007
Today we drove up from the sprawling tacolopolis that is Los Angeles, and first we visited Solvang for breakfast. Solvang is a great little town 100 miles or so north of LA...basically a Danish-settlement-turned-tourist-magnet, with quaint Scandinavian shops and restaurants. Paula's Pancake House is the requisite stop, for the thin style of Danish pancakes, accompanied with medisterpolse (Danish sausage). We toured the area a bit but didn't feel like emptying our wallets in shopping the local vendors of trinkets and assorted junk. One of the stranger things we noticed was the Rabobank branch. A mildly dyslexic moment had me registering that as Rob-a-Bank, to which I cheerfully replied, "don't mind if I do!" Upon which I got a jab in the ribs from my dear wife.
Back on the road, we stopped in San Luis Opisbo at the local Trader Joe's. I would love for Trader Joe's to open up in KC, but its not likely. They did open a couple branches in St Louis, strangely enough, but most of their locations are concentrated in the West. They have an "anniversary ale" which is a contract brew from Unibroue in French Canada. Very good Belgian quadrupel style.
Up at San Simeon (or Cambria, technically the town name) we spent an hour or so before check-in time searching the coast for elephant seals, but the ugly beasts played hard to get.
For dinner, we traipsed across the road to the beach, which is a state park and thus has the traditional BBQ grills and picnic tables. We grilled a mammoth KC strip (acquired from the aforementioned hippie grocery store) and we were swiftly surrounded by a flock of sneaky, greedy seagulls. As amusing as they were, we were under an obligation not to feed the local fauna, and thus we had to stiff the natives, no scraps for the birds. Might have been their only chance to eat a cow...
Day Seven: Cambria, California
12 Oct 2007
Today we had a fairly constant rain coming in from the sea, so we didn't do an awful lot...parked the car at the beach and sat, read books, and ate a picnic lunch while listening to the surf, mostly. Still, the ocean was beautiful, even with the rather constant rain. Gulls and egrets were quite common, and interesting to watch. We cut our time at the beach short when a couple vans full of hippies and Grenchies (we weren't sure if they were Greek or French, thus Grenchies) decided to boisterously congregate in the long term around the hood of our car. Kind of like the seagulls, you have to beat them back with a stick, but they keep coming back. Back, Grenchies, back!!!
We decided not to tour Hearst Castle tonight, but we did stop in at a small restaurant, the Wild Ginger Cafe in Cambria. We hadn't tried it before, and they had great "Pan-Asian" (mostly Southeast Asian) food, Not cheap, but recommendable.
Not a particularly witty or interesting entry, but there you have it!
Day Eight: Cambria, California
13 Oct 2007
Likewise today was a rather eventless day, but the weather was nicer. Again we had lunch at the beach, and the local wildlife were rather amusing. The signs say "DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE" but from the behavior of the aforementioned it seems apparent that this is a rule taken about as seriously as California's traffic laws. The squirrels, crows, blackbirds, and gulls all lined up to compete for attention. Lazy vermin, not willing to work for their food! What do they think this is, California?
Finished my latest Wodehouse book, "Thank You, Jeeves". A thoroughly enjoyable read. I'm also about halfway through "The Washing of the Spears", on the Zulu nation, and it's getting to the point where Lord Chelmsford is about to step in a gigantic Cape Buffalo pie, in a location known as Isandlhwana. Bad news for the 24th Foot!
Great dinner tonight at the Brambles Dinner House, dolmathes and rack of lamb with ouzo and retsina. I decided to give their Greek food a shot, as you can see. Not bad, not bad.
One thing I was thinking about. In Missouri we have a curious habit of naming towns after foreign locations, but then mispronouncing the name. Thus we have Versailles as Ver-sails' instead of Ver-sye', Nevada as Ne-vay'-da instead of Ne-va'-da, and New Madrid as Maa'-drid instead of Mah-dreed'. The question is, do we do this out of ignorance, or on purpose to piss off the French, Spanish, and whatever dusty reptiles are unlucky enough to live in the Nevada wastelands?
Speaking of, we'll be on our way through Nevada tomorrow, into Utah. Goodbye California, its been quite fun. Hopefully they won't catch us at the border smuggling out melons and raspberries.
Day Nine: Springdale, Utah
14 Oct 2007
Today was a long bit of driving, around there's not much to comment on. First point of business, if you're driving through Las Vegas northbound on the I-15, rethink your schedule, as in the Virgin River Gorge area you will be sitting for an hour or so, as it was in our case, in the NW corner of Arizona.
Other than that, not much, but we're here in Zion National Park, which is quite an impressive area, geologically speaking.
This vacation has also let us get caught up with the "cabled tele-vision" we've been hearing so much about these days...seems you can switch to all these different channels an antenna can't pick up! So we watched "Fat Pets Night" on the Animal Planet channel, which was enormously entertaining and reminded us of our gatito gordito. And then, picture my surprise when not only did the Fry/Laurie version of Jeeves and Wooster come on on the local PBS station, but it was the "Chuffy" episode, which compresses and approximates the story in the aforementioned "Thank You, Jeeves" book. Nice show to fall asleep to.
Day Ten: Springdale, Utah
15 Oct 2007
Today we hiked quite a bit, visiting the Emerald Pools in Zion. Made it all the way to the Upper Pools, which was a stout walk, but with all the old folk doing it we couldn't wimp out. Well worth the extra night, very beautiful country here.
Euros were thick here. Germans, possible Frenchies, and some brand of Slavic folk (possibly Russian, or Balkan area). I'm surprised they know of this place! I'm happy though, let them breathe the free air for a short while before returning to their socialist nation-states.
We had some kind of Thainese food tonight (Orange Chicken from a Thai restaurant) on our hotel room balcony, while watching the neighbor's alpaca trot around in his fluffy chubbiness, stuffing his face with grass and begging food off of passing tourists. There is also a pen of deer, elk, and ducks. Utah is like the petting zoo capital of the world. Either that or they like Peking Duck and Venison Pie rather a lot! As well as llama cheese.
On tomorrow to pass through Utah and Colorado.
Day Eleven: Stratton, Colorado
16 Oct 2007
Utah was surprisingly beautiful. We got off at a freakish 6AM in the morning and got into the hotel around 7:30PM. The hotel left a bit to be desired...the bed making me feel a bit like a hot dog on the grill...waking up every hour or so to rotate a quarter turn so I was equally browned..err..sored...on each side.
Again, Utah is an enormously beautiful. Even in places that are not state parks, or national parks, the scenery is amazing.
Western Colorado, west of the Rockies, is also very beautiful, as I-70 snakes alongside the Colorado River. Very pretty, but not quite as awe inspiring as Utah. The Rockies themselves were impressive, but the annoying urban Colorado drivers moving in on Denver annoyed me too much to enjoy the scenery. And Eastern Colorado ought to be annexed by Kansas. It looks like Kansas, it smells like Kansas...it is Kansas.
Tomorrow is the last day of our trek. Up early in the morning and we streak across the length of Kansas at 70 mph. It'll be nice to be back in Missouri!
03 October 2007
Liberal and Conservative Secession Movements Meeting Together
This is an interesting article, and it plainly exemplifies the virtues of federalism. It is somewhat sad that the US government has drifted so far away beyond the 10th Amendment. The Constitution was set up in such a fashion that these movements should not be necessary. When the federal government limits itself and allows the states to decide more things for themselves, more people will be happy with the laws of their region, because different regions have different cultural values, in general. Let Massachusetts introduce Pointed Stick Control laws and legalize gay-triple-underage-interspecies marriages for all I care. If that is what the people want, more power to them. Likewise, let Alabama allow its citizens to own 105mm howitzers on their front lawns if the people choose to allow this.
But anyway, if our federal government hadn't decided to dump a gallon of Wite-Out on the 10th Amendment of the Constitution over the past century or two, we wouldn't be having these problems now, because Vermont could be a socialist hippie paradise and Tennessee a low-regulation individual liberty sort of establishment, and everyone's happy...those that aren't can move to another state. Certainly beats "American Civil War II" where BOTH Dixie and the Yankees secede.
[mercifully puts this somewhat uninspired topic to rest]
Well, we're about off on a trip through a number of free states to one of those aforementioned socialist hippie paradises...we are driving to CA on Saturday. So no blogging for a week or two. Not that I have been...
In-N-Out, I am coming.
21 September 2007
The Shrine of the Mall Ninja
And for a slightly easier-to-chew version, that still is painfully funny (though not as classic as the above thread by Gecko45, grandfather of all mall ninjas, for whom the term was coined):
Return of the Iron Fist of the Mall Ninja
I freely admit that these are chock full of jargon and have a narrow appeal to their humour, but they are just so bleeding magnificent I had to post them.
20 September 2007
Hillary Calls Cheney "Darth Vader"
Hillary exercised immense skill in narrowly avoiding Godwin's Law by masking a Hitlerian comparison in Star Wars language. Deftly played, Senator! Now as for why I found this so delightful, allow me to bore you with some background. On a forum which I frequent I managed to win a caption contest for a photo of the esteemed Senator and her current opponent in the primary. Here it is:
OBAMA: What is thy bidding, my master?
CLINTON: Send the fleet to the far side of Endor. There it will stay until called for.
OBAMA: What of the reports of the Rebel fleet massing near Sullust?
CLINTON: It is of no concern. Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us! Your work here is finished, my friend. Go out to the command ship and await my orders.
OBAMA: Yes, my Master.
It STILL amuses me. Apparently Darth Chenu, Sith-Lord and Vice-Emporer, amuses Mrs. Clinton too. I feel validated!
15 September 2007
Clint, after finally sitting down and seeing the Hallowed Triumvirate of the Wopsterns (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), is admittedly the consummate bad___. And to all who I've just offended by inventing the term "wopstern", I'll just say that I googled the word "wopstern" just now and received no hits, so I feel rather proud of my inventive conjunction of an ethnic slur and movie category. But anyway, Clint is the man. I felt the need to go out and get a poncho, but I have thus far resisted. It certainly made a nice cover garment for CCW.
But anyway, on to his original counterpart, Toshiro Mifune:
Toshiro Mifune, star of practically every Akira Kurosawa film, or at least very many of them, is the lead in both Yojimbo and Sanjuro and does an exceptionally good job portraying the original "Man With No Name". I give him special credit for the fact that my introduction to him was as the interminably annoying young Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai. I honestly could not have pictured him as a collected, potent, and wise samurai after that performance, but Yojimbo quickly changed that preconception.
Anyway, if Clint fought Toshiro, I'd still have my money on Clint. We know that Toshiro beats the pistol-wielding Unosuke in Yojimbo, but bear in mind that Unosuke with a pistol is the equivalent of me with a paintbrush...Clint's character is a regular Leonardo. Once again, the technical superiority of the West wins out.
But that said, the points for style and originality go to Kurosawa's films and Mifune's character. You can't help liking both, though. I now find the need to put both Kurosawa's and Leone's "No Name" films on my short list to acquire.
Random Reference Time!
As I believe I mentioned earlier, saw Mr. Bean's Holiday and rather liked it! This following scene was particularly good (the latter opera-based portion of the clip). I thought it was worth passing on. Something about Rowan Atkinson's acting makes me think he could bring someone to tears from the opera stage if only he didn't look like, well, him, and if only he could sing like that. Very, very funny. To me at least, but I'm one to see humour in bally everything.
13 September 2007
11 September 2007
There's something very comforting in P.G. Wodehouse's writing. I was sitting outside last night while some beef ribs cooked over smoking embers of mesquite and apple wood, and to pass the time I picked out "Life with Jeeves" and started reading a chapter at random. While the plots are well devised, the real appeal of these books is in the style and language. Perhaps it was the respite of cool (almost cold) weather, but sitting outside (in the occasional spot of drizzling rain) reading that book was surprisingly relaxing and palliative after a day of mass hysteria at work.
I've been bitten by the 10mm bug. There are a number of loads that exceed 700, even 750 foot pounds in muzzle energy. Compared to, say, a .380ACP, which will be closer to 200 ft/lbs. .40S&W and .45ACP are more around the 400 range. The 10mm even beats out the .357 Magnum in most loads in muzzle energy. Somewhat dwarfs my previous favourite "performance caliber" .357SIG, which attempted to duplicate the muzzle energy of a .357 Mag but always fell a little short. The Tanfoglio Witness line of pistols, developed from the classic CZ-75, includes a stunning little compact steel 10mm, that has my name on it. It will no doubt be recoil-icious...750 ft/lbs one way is going to equal a decent amount of force in the opposite direction (into my hand). Still, I'm young, and you can always buy 10mm loaded to lighter pressures, similar to the .40S&W, derisively known as the .40 Short and Weak. As a little background info to those of you that are not gun geeks, the .40 Smith and Wesson is basically a shortened 10mm cartridge that was designed as a compromise because 10mm Auto was considered too powerful in recoil for FBI agents to handle...probably making allowances for smaller framed and female agents. Thus .40S&W took off (and is now one of the world's major handgun calibers) and 10mm Auto is a historical cartridge that is rare but retains a small but rabidly loyal enthusiast fanbase.
28 August 2007
With that transient flash of spell-binding brilliance behind us in the annals of blog history, we'll move on. Saw "Mr. Bean's Holiday" last weekend with my wife and parents. I liked it a lot more than I thought I might. We watched via Netflix the 1997 "Bean" movie with expectations of utter crap (compared to the original BBC shows), and it didn't really disappoint those expectations...it was moderately enjoyable, but overall a great disservice to how funny Bean actually is, with its limp attempts at an American-style plot and dialogue. Funny moments shone through occasionally, but byly and largely those were only momentary lapses of a raging crapstorm. That said, the new one is much better. The title alone suggests as much, using "Holiday" instead of "Vacation", thus not becoming a craven, pathetic attempt to translate it into a Rob Schneider style American comedy. LET BEAN BE BRITISH!
Willem Dafoe was great. One of my favourite actors, actually, ever since he shot up the vast majority of Columbia in "Clear and Present Danger" with Harrison Ford. He played an archetypal ego-obsessed art film director at the Cannes film festival. On the whole, it is a movie I would actually buy, and watch again. I'm glad Atkinson got it right this time! Maybe that's why he did this one, so he wouldn't be 0 for 1 in the movie department.
On to other movies (pretty varied blog post today, isn't it?)...I watched a pair of great movies last week, Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. The latter is one of the classic Eastwood "spaghetti westerns", and it derives almost completely from the original Japanese samurai film Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa. I actually enjoyed Yojimbo a bit more. A very dark film, not quite as good-and-evil as Seven Samurai, but more comic. Basically a lone ronin (masterless samurai) walks into a corrupt town full of evil men with two feuding factions, and he ends up seeing the two warring houses destroyed by pitting them against each other. The Clint Eastwood one is, well, a classic, and the first in the "Man with No Name" trilogy that ends with the better-known "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".
And Pastor Sam was good enough to pass on this interesting article, with which I generally agree:
It is a very interesting look at how the writing of Christian songs has changed in the past century or so. Ironically after reading this article yesterday afternoon, I hopped into the car to go to band practice, and I decided to give 88.5 the benefit of the doubt. The song on there was "Miracle of the Moment" by Steven Chapman (no, you are not special; no, you don't people to type your middle name). Here's the first verse or so:
It's time for letting goAfter reading through the lyrics I did manage to find an obscure reference to "the One", although of course it is hard to hear the capitalization of "One" when it is being sung, don't you know. Here's another great little nugget:
All of our "if onlies"
Cause we don't have a time machine
And even if we did
Would we really want to use it
Would we really want to go change everything
Cause we are who and where and what we are for now
And this is the only moment we can do anything about
So breathe it in and breathe it out
And listen to your heartbeat
There's a wonder in the here and now
It's right there in front of you
And I don't want you to miss the miracle of the moment
And if it brings you tears
Then taste them as they fall
Let them soften your heart
And if it brings you laughter
Then throw your head back
And let it go
Let it go, yeah
You gotta let it go
And listen to your heartbeat
I used to get mildly sick to my stomach when I worked a job where they had country music on all the time, just because the treacle-sweet sentiment crammed into some of those songs is just a bit off-putting occasionally. But geez, just using the above random song as a reference, Christian music has it beat, bad. It's like crossing Dr. Phil with New Age Christianity with Up With People.
It is too easy to mock this stuff. Steve Chapman talking about sodding time machines! "Would we really want to use it?" Yes, Steve, I want to use it! I want to go back in time and kick the first recording engineer that thought pop songs should have those cheesy repeating backing vocals, square in the...
Tonight I'm going to be grilling cajun-style pork sausages over apple wood. Woohoo! I've got my Zatarain's cajun mustard at the ready! I also have to find a good recipe to do some roasted potatoes with a spicy cajun kick.
21 August 2007
Despite that sounding vaguely like either an acronymous insult or a 1970's disco/funk outfit (Funkity Parliament Unicycle), I refer instead to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, which my wife and I started (along with others at Midtown) on Sunday. As Debra alludes to on her new blog, we are mourning the loss of the Sunday afternoon nap, but the Ramsey video was actually quite funny and entertaining. My boredom threshold is higher than others (I read books on 19th century colonialism for crying out loud), and while I think the video was done in a style to make it palatable to the Easily Bored, I found it rollicking good entertainment, for a financial education video, at least.
Now from the senseless, wanton slaughter of migrating chichimurra penguins we turn to my usual blog cop-out; instead of exploring deep thoughts, portentous observations, and meaningful concepts on spiritual, philosophical, logical, or even political topics, I delve into the happy and meaningless realm of my hobbies.
First off, I should have linked this earlier, but check out Bram Wijnands, one of the highlights of our local KC jazz scene (not that I know anything of said scene):
His audio section has some great downloadable tracks, check out "Darn That Dream", "Black Orpheus", and well, pretty much all of them:
From jazz gurus we turn to the shooting sports. Debra and I trotted down to Morgan County this weekend, visiting her parents. Of course, there were two suitcases: one of clothes and other travel necessities, and one packed to the brim with ammunition. I didn't quite achieve my goal of emptying that suitcase to lighten the load for the return journey, but I did manage to release enough carbon dioxide via the combustion of Cordite and other smokeless powders to make Al Gore shed a single, solitary tear like the Crying Indian of those commercials from the 1970s. Ah, what fun. Highlights:
- The Saiga 12 is, as already known, a very, very fun gun to shoot. Very painful afterward, especially when using no method of recoil reduction and shooting 10 round magazines of magnum slugs and buckshot in rapid fire. It certainly moves a lot of lead down range in an awful hurry, but it brings to mind (or rather, to shoulder) Newton's Third Law (equal and opposite reaction).
- The Bersa Thunder 380 remains one of the best compromises in small handguns, with minimal recoil, easy trigger action, and overall fun-to-shoot-ness. Accurate, reliable, and just a good buy, if one can accept the slightly underpowered round it is chambered for.
- The Kel-Tec P3-AT is sort of the opposite...rather like touching off rounds in your hand, it is tricky to control but much more easy to control with repeated practice. It isn't a range gun by any stretch, but its small form factor is impressive. Less than 10oz loaded, and extremely thin and small.
- The Kel-Tec PF-9 had some strange malfunctions on its first range outing since returning from factory repair, but they were worn through as I put somewhere around 150 rounds through it; just some teething to get done, and its pretty smooth now.
- My Enfield did not in fact blow my face off, and did not even rupture a case, so I'm fairly confident it is officially safe to shoot. I didn't have the right range to sight it in properly though, so I'll do that some other time at Lake City.
- My 1967 Smith and Wesson Model 12 got a celebratory 40th birthday shoot, even if only 24 rounds or so. I added an aluminum T-grip grip extension from Tyler Manufacturing to it this time, and it really helped with the grip ergonomics, and made the trigger vastly more controllable. I'd highly recommend that to anyone shooting a stock K-frame that dislikes the grip feel. As expected, it ate every single 158gr semi-wadcutter without a hiccup. That's the nice thing about wheel guns...
- I also plinked around with my father-in-law's Ruger Single Six, and shot some .22 Short out of it. Didn't even need hearing protection shooting those things, they were practically caps, and probably were moving at BB gun velocities.
And for those still wondering:
Do Battleships Move Sideways When They Fire?
10 August 2007
Seven Samurai was indeed as good as I anticipated. Not a movie for the impatient or easily bored, but highly entertaining to the patient and interested sorts, of which for the moment I was. Kyuzu was of course the admirable warrior, the ultimate expression of self-denial, self-control, and martial skill, and I found myself a little embarrassed as the young Katsushiro dives down at his feet in pathetic, dog-like worship...I thought the Kyuzu guy was pretty admirable, too! Anyway, an excellent movie. I was a little disinclined to like it at first, because it is one of those movies that borders on an "art film". Whenever you hear movies referenced by their director's name, be wary of that. Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai", etc. When people reference a director like he is an artist and the film is his artwork (Michaelangelo's David, for example) you run the high risk of subjecting yourself to poncey, heart-stoppingly dull art films. But this movie is not rife with "art" for art's sake, it is a good movie, and whatever artistic beauty or virtue it may possess were not a result of it being designed as an "art film".
Not all art movies suck, of course, but I've seen enough that do to adopt a "caveat emptor" attitude towards movies openly broadcast as principally "art" and secondarily entertainment. This movie on the other hand is highly entertaining, and has none of the pretense of a self-aware art film...you know, those films that seem to exult and rejoice in how artsy and inaccessible they are...damn the viewers, full abstraction ahead!
Still, best war movie of all time belongs to Zulu, 1964.
More mesquite experimentation in progress...so far, steaks, burgers, and jerked pork have all benefited from pure wood grilling. The jerked pork, well, I'm getting a little bored of it, and I may try a good BBQ sauce on it next time, or perhaps the salt/pepper/red pepper dry rub I've been using lately. Hot dogs tonight! All this on a $20 grill! Muahahahahaha!
08 August 2007
So last night a couple 1/2lb K.C. strips met their demise on my grill. Not an entirely uncommon occurrence, but last night things were a bit more unique.
Charcoal? What charcoal? Not even all-natural lump charcoal or "charwood". No, I grilled over hefty chunks of mesquite. The smoke was awesome, let me tell you. The steak didn't magically become otherwordly in comparison (charcoal grills a mighty fine steak) but it was very good. And the fire, well, it just smelled right. I like a mildly charred steak so the high heat and flame from the mesquite worked well, and it could be regulated by closing the lid...which had the side benefit of producing a thick, aromatic smoke, much thicker than the smoke provided by my previous method (soaked mesquite chips on charcoal).
Yes, it was hot enough to boil a monkey's bum last night, and I'm sure it will be tonight, but I've got 1lb of 100% Angus ground sirloin begging to be transformed into that most classic of American dishes (ironically named for the principle port city in Germany) and no amount of heat will stop me.
On a side note, I can hardly make a review or recommendation yet, but I'm halfway through watching Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai" and it is quite an enjoyable movie. Even though I have heard Kurosawa described as one of the most Western of Japanese directors, I find it interesting that this was a Japanese film written for Japanese audiences, at a time when world cultures were more distinct and unique than they are in the modern age of communication. So it feels a bit more authentic than a modern samurai movie might feel; the perspective is authentically Japanese and not an Americanized version. Very interesting, and well-accompanied by a glass of nigori, though you may feel a bit like a bastard with such indulgence as you watch peasants weep over the loss of a small quantity of life-giving rice.
The rest of the review will follow when I finish the movie! It is a long one, that is for sure.
06 August 2007
I. All guns are always loaded.
While this is a bit of an exaggerated rule, in that it is not always literally correct, the attitude and principle are essential. Firearms accidents are all too often connected with a naïve neglect of this rule. The famous and tragic last words: "it's not loaded". It is best to assume at any given point that a gun is loaded, and this informs later rules involving gun handling. Especially with autoloaders (semi-automatics) it is very simple for a beginner to neglect this rule. For example, if a beginner has a semi-automatic pistol, he or she can remove the loaded magazine, and it is common to then assume the pistol is unloaded. It is essential to rack the slide or bolt (preferably multiple times, with visual and tactile confirmation) to ensure there is no round in the chamber, ready to fire. So this is one of the big rules, no matter what sort of gun it is: treat all guns as if they were loaded. Resist the temptation to assume a gun has been made safe; unless you can clearly determine it at the moment, and you understand the gun enough to properly make it safe and fully unload it, assume the gun is loaded and ready to fire, and this will help keep you and those that are around you safe.
II. Do not allow your muzzle to cover anything you do not wish to destroy.
"Muzzle Control" is essential. On a range, keep the barrels pointed down range. No one likes having a gun pointed at them, and if you have a gun pointed at someone and they register displeasure, DO NOT respond with the typical "but it's not loaded" line. We don't care. No one cares that you have assumed the gun not to be loaded. We assume it is loaded (see the First Commandment) and we do not like seeing the business end of your firearm. Whether in a gun shop, or a range, keep that gun pointed in a safe direction and do not point it at people, accidentally or otherwise. Don't take a casual attitude towards muzzle control, or you will end up at best pissing off more safety-conscious shooters, and at worst accidentally discharging your gun, possibly killing someone.
III. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
When you handle, draw, or aim a gun, the proper place for your trigger finger is NOT in the trigger guard resting on the trigger. The proper place for your finger is straight, alongside the edge of the frame, above the trigger guard. I made this mistake regularly when I first started and luckily I didn't have any negligent discharges as a lesson. Keep your trigger finger out of the trigger guard until you have your firearm trained on the target and you are ready to fire. The two times when this is the biggest problem is when handling guns in a store or elsewhere, and when drawing or reholstering a pistol. In the first situation, the gun store attendant and other customers do not at all feel at ease when you're swinging a handgun around with your finger on the trigger. If you need to feel the trigger pull, first ask permission of the owner as many people (myself included) would not want someone to be dry-firing without the use of a snap-cap. Then clear the gun and check, doublecheck, and triplecheck the gun to make sure it is unloaded, and dry fire the gun in a relatively safe direction. Don't do this if you don't really know what you are doing, because if you don't understand the design of a gun you might not clear it correctly and you really are going to prefer a click over a bang in that situation when the hammer falls. And if you try to holster or draw a pistol with your finger in the trigger guard, you may end up shooting yourself in the leg. Particularly on reholstering; I've read about a number of instances where that has happened to cops and other relatively experienced shooters, so be careful!
IV. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Modern pistol and rifle cartridges are very, very powerful. You would be surprised at how many walls a pistol rounds can knife through, and still have enough velocity to severely injure or kill someone. Drywall will not stop anything larger than BBs or birdshot (if that!). Even a solid core door would be hardpressed to stop any of the major centerfire handgun and rifle cartridges. Therefore, you need to know what is beyond any target you fire upon, because you cannot assume a bullet will stop until it hits a reinforced brick wall or an earth berm. And of course, you need to be entirely certain of your target. There was a tragic case in Oregon recently where a young teen was shot by his brother when they were out target shooting, and the older brother shot at what he thought was an inanimate object, and turned out to be his brother. I know the EMT that had the unfortunate duty to respond to this accident onsite. While the tragically preventable nature of this goes without saying, it is worth mentioning to drive home the importance of this fourth rule.
So there you have it. I know I've probably mentioned the Big Four before on here but for those out there that may ever purchase or handle a firearm, it's good to remember these...assume its loaded, keep it pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, and be sure of your target.
That said, I can't speak highly enough of the shooting sports as recreational fun. Once safety rules are trained and ingrained, it is a lot less stressful than maybe I have given the impression of. A Ruger 10/22 makes a great plinker rifle with low recoil, minimal noise, and cheap cost of ammo...an easy recommendation for someone interested in a good target gun.
29 July 2007
26 July 2007
Ron Paul's political positions are largely in line with his stance as a libertarian. He claims to be a Constitutionalist and a non-interventionist. He is an advocate of free trade, fewer taxes, smaller government, and strong national sovereignty.
Paul supports reduced government spending and reduced taxes. As congressman, he has never voted to raise taxes or to approve an unbalanced budget and has also called for the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the federal income tax. Paul has been named "The Taxpayer's Best Friend" by the National Taxpayers Union every year he has been in Congress.
Paul also supports the U.S. converting to a free market health care system and increasing competition and thus opposes centralized universal health care. Paul is pro-life, yet most recently got a 65% pro-choice score from NARAL. Paul opposes "federal efforts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between one man and one woman" and has stated that he "would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act" if he had been in Congress at the time." In addition, Paul has asserted that he does not think there should be any federal control over education and education should be handled at a local and state level. Paul opposes illegal immigration, voted "yes" on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Paul supports a non-interventionist foreign policy and opposes foreign aid. He is the only 2008 Republican presidential candidate to have voted against the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. Paul voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force which resulted in the War in Afghanistan in 2001, but suggested alternatives including giving the president authority to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.
I probably differ with him on foreign policy in some aspects, but I like his principled adherence to unpopular views. Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War and Ron Paul did not. How crazy is that?
Also, has anyone else noticed the bountiful presence of Ron Paul yard signs? It's only because it takes an angry libertarian nutjob to be riled up enough a year and a half before an election to put out a yard sign.
Last point on Ron Paul: I may be the only one that thinks this, but there is a somewhat porn-star like ring to the name. It may be "Ron", which makes me think of "Ron Burgundy", and it might be the first name for a last name. But definitely not as bookish or twerpy as "Newt". Newt used to be my front-runner but his personal history makes me trust him very, very little.
I watched "V for Vendetta" last night, motivated by its inclusion of the comic genius Stephen Fry, who managed not to ratchet up the gayness to Pride Parade level, thankfully. It was an OK movie, but a predictable "comic book" movie. The same cheesy action, dialogue, and stilted acting we expect from comic book movies. And it was quite silly with its over-reaching attempts to repaint "1984" in the context of the Patriot Act, basically manifesting itself as a typical leftist fantasy dreamworld. It had some interesting observations (don't quite remember them, tellingly) but all in all its parables would only have any meaning to those that already were predisposed to their message. So people who believe that Bill Kristol is coming in jackboots tomorrow to kick down the doors of loving, sweet, innocent gay people to cart them off to government camps to be terminated will find this movie to be a moving piece full of truth and wisdom, whereas to me, it's a fantasy designed to cater to activists with overactive imaginations. The final fight scene with the knives...pure dreamworld stuff. The idea that someone would absorb somewhere probably around 50+ full-powered pistol rounds in the torso, no matter with what sort of vest, and still be able to move at all (or even survive) is kind of laughable, and as the case showed the suspect was not stopped by shots to center mass, all trained policemen would know to retrain their aim on the head. The "Mozambique Drill" it is called, and it is commonly practiced: two to COM (center of mass) and one to the head. I know, I know, it's a comic book, and comic book heroes cannot be killed by bullets, they always fight in slow motion, and they die slowly in the arms of the heroine. Sorry, I shouldn't be so nitpicky.
Lastly, I was listening to some music this morning and I remembered the profound influence on me of the track "N.S.U." on the album "Live Cream". Not a great song persay, but as a bassist I remember the moment, listening to the track, that I kind of realized what it was about. Jack Bruce is awesome, and I had forgotten how awesome.