Sunday, November 28, 2010

Love and Hate

After the Republican sweep of the house in the recent mid-term elections my brother and I got on the phone to commiserate about the state of politics such that candidates no longer stand for anything and votes are decided largely by what people are against. We decided that this is like most things an outgrowth of the frustration at the hard work it takes to love versus the relative ease of hate. This is one of those eternal themes, and as such was a major subject of the Star Wars films.

Remember how easy it was for Luke to be tempted by the Dark Side? Where power was immediate? But the other side of the Force (light, or good, I don't recall if it was definitively named) wasn't so easy to master. It took work and it took dedication, but the implication was that if realized it was a million times more awesome.

The mundane allegory in our society is love and the fact that it takes work and conviction is something a lot of people find frustrating. They want it and they want it now and ultimately being frustrated in this expectation (any by taking the wrong approach) is what I think sends people to rail against everything policy-related except the universal wish list item of not paying more taxes.

I'd also like to point out that I'm not saying this love/hate dichotomy cleaves evenly across political dispositions or party lines. I don't think it does at all. In fact, I'd wager that most of the love is in the middle where most of us live. That why it's so disappointing to hear wholesale rejection of any policy solutions aimed at addressing this group of haters hijacking the dialog.

Thus bummed out, and on Thanksgiving no less after having contributed to the consumption of no fewer than 4 Turkeys, 2 kegs, 4 cases of beer, and 2 cases of wine in the name of love, goddamit, I'll leave you with this: 

There's a maxim from the sport of kayaking called 'point positive.' I learned this on the Payette River in Idaho and its simple advice is to focus on where you'd like to go, rather than where you wouldn't. Otherwise the avoidables tend to behave like black holes and the aspirables tend to become holy grails.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NBA Basketball

Two Mondays ago as I was checking into the Westin hotel in downtown Charlotte, I felt a large shadow dim my light and looked up to see all 7 feet of dubious number two draft pick Darko Milicic looming behind me to ask the front desk for something. Turning around fully, I witnessed most of the Minnesota Timberwolves milling about in casual, pre-athletic dress in the lobby and noted the team's make-up of recent NCAA tournament stars including Micheal Beasley, Corey Brewer and Kevin Love.

I haven't followed the NBA really since high school and the glory days of Michael Jordan, so this roster of the Timberwolves was news to me and kindled my interested as a dedicated fan of the NCAA tournament. I decided to hit up the Charlotte Bobcats game that night to take in my first NBA game in probably 5 years, but it could be 6.

My Charlotte-resident colleagues advised that the Bobcats were courting a relatively poor product despite a spiffy new arena and more side-show pageantry than you could shake a stick at, and that I could probably scalp tickets after tip-off at significant discounts. This was true to the tune of about 80% off the face value.

So we sat down with a couple of beers amid a crowd that could only have been 25-30% full. A couple of things stood out in the experience:

*There's a lot of gimmickry put up to market bad basketball. I remember the Washington Wizards game I went to in 2005 where the world's bendiest boy was brought out at half time and emerged from a small, plexi-glass case, did some contortions and then went back into the case. They also had a small, RC blimp that went around over the crowd dropping free tickets and, I swear to god, the odd $100 bill. At the Bobcats' game it was more of the same, including the beloved hotdog cannon, but the blimp didn't drop a thing and our half-time show was a ridiculous bunch of dancing poodles on loan from the UniverSoul Circus.

*Michael Jordan owns a significant share of the Bobcats (I'm too lazy to look up exactly what it is) and sat with his girlfriend next to the team on the bench. His posture was surly and removed most of the game, true to the form of his reputation as a big asshole, even when the Bobcats were coming back to win late in the 4th quarter.

*The Bobcats play in a really great arena with all the creature comforts and the basketball was actually pretty competitive between two of the NBA's worst teams. Too bad they can't do more to charge up the crowd and fill the seats, but I suspect all the poodles and hotdog cannons in the world won't do it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dunkin' Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites?

When I was twelve my parents' high societal aspirations were realized in the form of a small equity share in a winery, in Idaho. All of this meant that they shelled out some decent amount of cash up front for: a.) the status it lent; b.) annual receipt of some cases of Idaho 'red wine' never to cumulatively exceed (let alone match) the dollar value of the equity share and c.) invitation to the hoity-toity holiday party at the winery. I don't think there was ever a whiff of a profit, though the wine had cool, Western labels and attained some limited popularity vis a vis marketing space in the Orvis Fly Fishing catalog.

Anyway, I had nothing on the calendar that weekend more important than putting on a gay sweater and accompanying the rents to a party I legally couldn't enjoy. There was a lot of pomp being passed around, like pate and fungal cheese from Europe all candle-lit and set to the soothing melodies of a chamber quartet and washed down with chilled Idaho Chardonnay, misting the outside of plastic cups with condensation.

I was bored out of my gourd and shambled around the scene ambivalently as it dawned on me that nobody wanted to talk to a 12 year old. Then I spotted a waiter carrying a plate of what appeared to be tater tots. Like any red-blooded Idahoan, I would never pass up a tot, particularly amongst the exotic culinary surroundings I found myself in at the time. The tot was familiar, comfortable, home.

I turned on the closing speed and snatched two handfuls from the waiter's tray, and popped one in my mouth without thinking first that they were a little larger than your standard tot. Biting in, I experienced the unique dissonance of food texture expectations flipped upside down. Instead of hot, pillowy potato beneath the crispy-fried exterior, there was a flaccidly-resistant, flan-like firmness followed by a briny gush of hot moisture.

Revolted, I choked and gagged up the uneaten half from my mouth into my hand for inspection and found this strange interloper in tot form with shimmery vittles dangling from the wad of gray-matter at the center of the fried batter crust. Years later I would say it looked a lot like the halved-orb in the Dunkin' Donuts signage for their new Sausage Pancake Bites, but with more guts hanging out of it. (Funny that Dunkin's putting this out there to entice people to try these things.)

The waiter, at first taken aback by my eagerness, was now half realizing the pratfall I'd walked into and relished the opportunity to ask if I'd enjoyed the Rocky Mountain Oyster: calf testicle, battered and fried.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Baby in the Corner

Somehow the Halloween candy bucket always ends up looking like this about a week or so into November. How can the makers of Baby Ruth hold their heads up high amongst the other candy products teams at Nestle? This is all the focus group confirmation you need that the Baby Ruth faces a serious preferential challenge.

But I would argue it's one of perception rather than taste.

My theory is that people still think of that floater from Caddy Shack when they're reaching for the candy bowl and it's like, um, let's see Butterfinger or Baby Ruth, no way that shit tastes like shit! I'm going with Butterfinger.

Below the impacted fecal surface, Baby Ruth is peanuts, nougat and caramel, the very same roster of ingredients that Snickers has rode to American candy bar market domination. Curious no?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Voted

No Hanging Chads Permitted in 2010.
Apparently these are important elections in 2010 and in Pennsylvania. Above and beyond the usual, local noise and funk, we had our choice of new Governor replacing Ed Rendell and new Senator replacing the flip-flopped then forfeited seat of Arlen Spector. Rendell out on term limits, the Spector vacancy is sign of changed times.

I had a long chat with my old man last night, who lived through the optimism of the 1950s and came of age in the disillusioning 1960s and has thus seen all kinds of political turmoil. He said he hadn't seen politics as vitriolic as the current Tea Party campaigning by loud, fringe elements of the Republican Party.

The most astonishing thing from his perspective is how the only thing this group of charlatans seems to stand for is opposition to Barack Obama and that this seems like thinly veiled racism. Beyond that, where is the semblance of a plan for making things better? Is there a platform? Any policy?

This kind of campaigning is made to appeal to one selfish sentiment: keeping money in your pocket; and to one end: getting the candidate elected. But the hidden danger is in only knowing what someone is against, you have no understanding of what they are for. Why put that level of dubious intent in Congress?

It's not a popular platform, but we need something to the effect of old British austerity measures to get the country back on track, that is spending less and raising taxes. Ouch. But it's got to hurt if it's going to heal.

The problem is nobody seems ready to take the high road. I'm not seeing a lot of strength in the Democratic corner either. Lots of the moderate Democratic campaigning seems to be about distancing one's self from the dirty-word liberal Obama administration stimulus and healthcare bills, even though the former had to be done and nobody understands yet the provisions or effects of the healthcare legislation. It's too early to put a stamp on these initiatives, but at least they are action. I'd rather err on the side of doing something, than railing against everything.

But it's disappointing all the same that the Democrats have let the Tea Party movement set the terms of the debate. As one sign of how sad this is, consider the story of my sister-in-law, who's living on a conservative island in one of the Main Line's most liberal neighborhoods, Bala Cynwyd.

It's her Constitutional right to display yard signs for the Republican candidates she supports. But this year she's engaged in a saboteur's war with some anonymous liberal in her neighborhood who keeps stealing her Pat Toomey and Tom Corbett signs. Each day she replaces them, and after the 2nd or 3rd theft, added a little direct communication of her own, an additional, hand-made sign baring a threat to donate additional dollars each time a sign is stolen to the Republican cause in the name of the Democratic thief. It's low-blow politics right down to the Grassroots level.

Which still leaves me wondering, if people obviously care so much, why are they so focused on the wrong things? That's not to say that  D or R are the wrong things, because I don't think anyone's getting it right. But rather a plea that we start demanding a higher calling out of our elected officials and supporting those who bring solutions rather than criticism, open-minded cooperation rather than partisan group think.

This will likely be my only political screed of the year, but I hope it makes people think, vote and start paying a little more attention.