Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's VP Choice Adds Viagra Touch to GOP Ticket

The old warrior, Sen. John McCain, has picked a trophy veep to add that Viagra touch to the GOP ticket. Sara Palin, 44, governor of Alaska, is a self-described “hockey mom” with five kids. The youngest is a Down’s Syndrome baby, proving her anti-abortion credentials for the hard line right phalanx which has never warmed to McCain.

Palin is young, pretty, and enthusiastic. The former beauty pageant contestant arguably has even less applicable governing experience than Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. That is not, however, what I want to argue.

The nomination of Palin by no means proves that the 18 million Democratic primary votes for Sen. Hillary Clinton are irreversible cracks in the glass ceiling. The vice president of the U.S. is second banana. A pretty administrative assistant is the longtime perk of powerful men – not a breakthrough.

If any Hillary supporter is tempted to vote for this ticket on the basis of Palin’s gender, I urge that person to read up on the history of feminism and the double whammy of ageism and sexism for older women. Such a vote is not proof of sisterhood; it only proves that this pandering worked.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Party Pooper: Carefully Scripted Democratic Party Convention Is Terrifying

I hate to be a party pooper, but the Democratic Party national convention is terrifying.

Everything is so carefully scripted, every emotion so micromanaged, that I feel I have stepped into a set where 1984 is being filmed. In that book, there are three major regimes. They form coalitions so that two are always at war against the other. Fear appeals keep the populace docile, willing make the age-old bargain with the devil – freedom for security, or the illusion of it.

Every nuance of the convention is leaked to corporate flakkies, euphemistically known as journalists. Tonight, for example, the “vote by acclamation” pronounced by New York State Senator Hillary Clinton, former candidate for the party nod, was known well-advance and hyped by the TV news personalities.

Former president Bill Clinton offered voters the carrot of prosperity. Life was good when he was king, he reminded. Obama’s vice presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, waved the big stick of terrorist threat around for a while. My six years in graduate school studying persuasive strategies persuaded me that it is terrifyingly easy to massage and manipulate the emotions of the mass media audience.

Biden’s large, loving, beaming family was waiting in the wings. He took a cranky toddler grandchild in his arms. The closing credits rolled. The pageantry wound up by 11:57 p.m., in time for commercials and the evening news.

This democracy is brought to you by Microsoft, the auto manufacturers, and the people who sell you poisoned water and food. I’m surprised that the candidates don’t come on stage where sweatshirts plastered with logos, like NASCAR drivers. Maybe that’s next.

The Chair that (almost) Ate Me

It’s a big bruiser, isn’t it? I bought it three years and eight months ago. I have sat in it many hours a day, every day, except when out of town.

Before that, I sat in an even more massive (if that’s possible) leatherette recliner for six months in New Orleans. Little by little, my will to do anything ebbed away.

Or perhaps, my will flowed back as I worked odd jobs on my laptop, web surfed, and frittered away perfectly good time on non-productive tasks. It’s always so hard to figure out what is the start and finish of something?

I’ve yearned for years for an expensive Scandinavian modern recliner with a footstool, instead of a kick-out panel. These are so far beyond my level of frugality, such a chair was aught by an impossible dream.

Now, with craigslist, patience, and a bit of luck, it is possible to find most anything at a steep discount. This sexy northern import became mine about 85% off retail, albeit in (excellent) used condition. I feel as if the whole world has opened up around me and that I am no longer suffocating in tons of upholstered padding.

Still, I’ve a fond spot for that big boy that has been my pal for so long. It’s a shame I do not have a place where I can tuck it away. Perhaps I should get rid of the dining room table. It’s only use is as a place to pile junk. You may have noted, from the background in the photos, I am not exactly Martha Stewart.

But who else gives you headlines like Bearded Lady Shops at Wal-Mart or Attack of the Killer Barbie Dolls?

I doubt that it was ever possible to get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant – long closed now. But the Arlo Guthrie song is still a good tune, part of the musical Hall of Fame of the era. You probably can find the memorabilia, though, on

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quest for Confectionary Relic Is Unrequited

Last weekend, I called two Fort Lauderdale candy stores with unusual confections. I was searching for fairy floss, better known as cotton candy, a sweet memory of everyone’s childhood for the last 100 years.

Today, I tried the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, which may or may not be the biggest flea market in the world. It has been featured on a documentary about great American flea markets on the Travel Channel. One world traveler, a British gal working in the south Florida tabloids, once described it to me as "exotic as any North African souk."

The swap shop has some kiddie rides. It's hard to tell which are in a state of disassembly and which are still in use, until the ride starts, blaring Hispanic music. There used to have an indoor circus, but the aging owner had a family out with them. The Hanneford Family Circus was a unique and irreplaceable feature of this old Florida institution.

I fear the aging buildings will not be around much longer. Like the orange that were once such fun to visit in western Palm Beach country, the swap shop will be replaced by housing developments that are "all made out of tickey-tacky, and they all look the same," to quote Malvina Reynolds' Little Boxes.

One booth at the swap shop had cotton candy in plastic containers. That is so sad. Once, in desperation, I tried this pre-made, preserved stuff. Fairy filament is not meant to be trapped in a bottle. It must melt magically in the mouth.

Apparently, it is possible to make cotton candy at home. This process involves the use of a candy thermometer and enough dexterity to spin the sugar with a cut-off whisk. I tend to glue my fingers together, so that rules out homemade cotton candy making for me.

I've read that green apple cotton candy is served as dessert at the Tatu sushi restaurant in the Seminole Indians' Hard Rock Cafe and Casino south of here -- the one where Anna Nicole Smith died in her hotel room.

That one sentence sums up the jarring contradictions of contemporary culture. Cotton candy is as American as Ipods despite its apparent origin in medieval Italy. Sushi emblemizes ultra-global cuisine imported from that techie empire, Japan. The restaurant name, Tatu, sounds like the name of a comic French film star. Seminole Indians invoke the uniquely U.S. Wild West of days past; Hard Rock Cafes celebrate the semiotics of fleeting celebrity chic, embodied in the cartoon sexuality of poor Anna Nicole.

Green apple cotton candy is just wrong. Maybe I’ll take a ride down there soon and see if I can have some without eating raw fish in eel skin first.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Simple Semi-Automatic Energy Saving Ice Maker Cost One Buck

I hate my refrigerator. It is old. It is noisy. The top shelf is held in place with a spring rod for curtains, because a part is broken. One day I overloaded the shelf, and the Britta Box and big tea pitcher came sliding my way.

The bottom plate also is broken. One side hangs sadly, resting on the floor.

And I don’t have an icemaker.

I’d like a new refrigerator with a freezer on the bottom. Even the smallest model appears too big for my tiny condominium kitchen. They also cost twice as much as a standard model and use more energy.

I also learned that an ice maker uses more energy. For the past three years, I’ve dutifully filled my lone ice cube tray. I slowly fill half-gallon plastic bags and try not to use too much ice in a drink.

Now, stackable ice cube trays have semi-automated the process. A set of three set me back a buck at the Dollar Store.

I don’t like the smaller cubes quite as well as the gigantes formed in my longtime mold. But the four ice trays fill up a half-gallon bag in one freeze. Two days after buying the molds, I have a gallon-and-a-half in the freezer, and I’m only filling the ice trays once a day, instead of three or four times a day.

A freezer full of ice is another energy saving measure. It’s also a great thing during hurricane season. The great blocks of ice in gallon water containers melt very slowly if electricity goes out in a storm. My freezer items will last for at least five days.

I am so pleased with the ease with which I now fill a half-gallon bag with ice. I cannot imagine needing an energy-sucking automatic ice maker now that I have my stackable plastic ice cube trays. Sometimes a dollar goes a long way. It is great fun to solve a problem on the cheap.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Attack of the Killer Barbie Dolls Turns Mass Media Reporting to Mush

I was not terribly surprised yesterday this overwrought headline arrived on my desktop: Killer Storm Faye Barrels Toward Florida.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti reported “numerous deaths,” according to the Agence France-Press report.

That just shows the usual fuzzy thinking about cause-effect relations that characterizes the Ken and Barbie approach to news reporting. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are two of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Whenever it rains hard, people are washed away in mud slides. They live marginal lives in huts cobbled together from corrugated metal, clinging to the least desirable pieces of real estate on mountainsides.

A more accurate headline would read: Homicidally Indifferent Government Causes Yet More Deaths.

Or perhaps: Extreme Poverty Takes More Desperate Lives.

Perfectly groomed Barbie and Ken reporters are not able to think too deeply about social forces. They are able, however, to recognize a really big wind and a lot of rain.

Any sort of weather emergency quickly exhausts their tiny vocabularies. Cause and effect reasoning is largely beyond their mental processes.

The Barbie dolls have killed good reporting as it used to exist when I first started out in journalism, so long ago that I pounded out my copy on ancient, high carriage typewriters -- in triplicate. It's all mush now. Social forces are the same as rain. A tropical depression with high winds and rain is a killer storm. I'm not sure what they'll do with the next hurricane. It will be apocalypse now, I suppose, in their oh-so-limited views of life and the world. Can we please have some grown-up reporters once in a while? Please?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wicked Wit Skewers Fugly Fashion at Snarky Blog

Go Fug Yourself is a snarky blog about celebrity fashion. It is so wrong to enjoy something so mean.

Fug means frightfully ugly, according to the blog's FAQs – but Wikipedia confirms my suspicion the “f” stands for an unsavory four-letter street word. The blog is so well-known and influential that it has its own entry. There’s something for my aspirations – an entry about ordinaryordinary in wiki.

Fug is a "self-inflicted” condition that characterizes “pretty people with money to spare and little sense how to spend it,” the blog explains. One must, of course, possess sufficient celebrity so that paparazzi are standing by to document one’s fashion faux pas.

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan write Go Fug Yourself. I don’t know why I read it. Perhaps because silly togs are a fitting target in our celebrobsessed culture. Withering wit is an art in itself, as proved by Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stone Cold Creamery Disappoints Ice Cream Epicure

I love ice cream. My emphasis is on CREAM. The three perfect food groups are butterfat, chocolate, and sugar. They must, however, be combined in exacting proportions.

I recently read about a small ice cream chain, Stone Cold Creamery, that mixes ice cream concoctions to order. Nuts, marshmallows, candy and cookie pieces, even peanut butter – whatever you order is mixed before your eyes on cold marble to prevent melting. This is the cold stone that gives the chain its name.

With a family with children dithering over choices, I selected a container of Rocky Road that I hoped would not melt too much during the 20-minute drive home. I could hardly wait to taste it.

Like so many ice creams, Cold Stone Creamery product is too sugary and sweet for my taste. I like a butterfat content in the 12-14% range, which is the highest I’ve been able to get it. The chocolate is so dark and fudgy, it obscures all taste of cream – even when I let it melt on my tongue to savor what little cream flavor I can find. Nuts are abundant. My favorite, however, is the marshmallow. Whether it’s a marshmallow ribbon or tiny candies tucked into the ice cream, I love the gooey squishy feel on my palate. Alas, marshmallows are few and far between in Stone Cold Creamery Rocky Road ice cream.

Stone Cold Creamery probably is a hit with kids who get to choose almost endlessly among thes urprising combinations that Stone Cold Creamery makes to order. It’s a clever and unique marketing idea. For my part, I prefer my cream ICED rather than sugared. I will be sticking to Hagan Dazs and Ice Cream Club.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Artful Blogging Magazine Is Eye Candy that Inspires and Deights

Somerset magazines are a guilty pleasure that inspire and delight. My favorite is Doll Art. It portrays what my dentist called “big girl dolls.” She noted that her ability to perform tight work in small places could make this a good hobby for her.

Somerset Studio: The Art of Paper and Mixed Media is a colorful phantasmagoria for a gal who worked in newspaper, loves books and fancy paper stocks. I remember when a trip to Office Depot was like a trip to a toy store. One never knew exactly what color paper stock and textures might be available. I still remember with delight a very pale green linen texture typing paper and envelopes that I purchased in the 1980s. This was before Home Depot became a standardized purchasing monolith with the same product in all stores all the time.

My most recent purchase is Artful Blogging. I am looking forward to exploring the picturesque blogs depicted in its full-color, art-book quality pages. I even have a vague fantasy of publishing my own artful blog with a specific theme.

Somerset publications have been a guilty pleasure but probably also should be an unaffordable one, now that I only have minimal part-time work. Somerset Studio: The Art and Paper and Mixed Media, January 2008, cost $7.99. The price of $14.99 for the August 2008 Artful Blogging puts this publication out of my reach (even though I indulged anyway). Art Doll is holding steady at $9.99 for the upcoming October 2008 issue.

The paper quality, photos, and quality of the reproduction is excellent in all the Somerset publications I’ve seen. In fact, the quality is as deliciously tempting as a perfectly made chocolate ice cream sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top. The page layouts facilitate lingering appreciation for the crafty art depicted: there’s none of the big-little type, tilted layouts, and crazy cuts that characterize the apparent cutting edge in layout and design. If you love visual delights, these magazines are well worth pooling resources with friends to purchase and share.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Racism is Color Blind on CNN's Crossfire

A black commentator tried to convince panelists of the subtle racism in John McCain’s ad that juxtaposes images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears ad with that of Barack Obama at a large rally. The juxtapositions are intended to cast doubt on Obama’s experience to be president. They also create subtle impressions of the classic American fear of black men harming defenseless white women.

Mike Barnicle, filling in for Chris Matthews on Crossfire, and Michele Bernard, expressed shock that the black commentator could say such a thing. “I don’t see it,” one panelist said.

The black commentator was unable to express the notion as accurately as he might have. Nor did he bring up the cognitive tests we now have about people group and assign meaning to images that reveal subtle racism.

The racism in the ad exists at a subliminal level. Like the panelists on Crossfire, people find the idea unbelievable when it is explained as conscious processing. None of us like to admit to these hidden pockets of racism deep within our unconscious. We cannot see it, as the panelist said; it is an unpleasant look at oneself.