Saturday, April 25, 2009

Get Out and See the Weird

Latest newspaper column:

Let's step away from things political for a moment and celebrate the fact that, as comedian Nipsey Russell famously (if ungrammatically ) said, "Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, gone is the winter when it snew and friz!"

Now that the weather's not so beastly, people are thinking vacation. Okay, I'll admit I've been thinking of vacation since the day after the last one ended, but that's just me. So it's time once again for our annual feature on America's most offbeat, off-the-wall, and occasionally off-their-rocker-vacation spots.

We begin with a couple of destinations suggested by my legion of fans. After last year's column, loyal reader Celine pointed me to the Iowa town of Riverside, which claims to be the "future birthplace" of Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek. As all good Trekkies know, the brawling, love-the-green-alien-women-and-leave-'em commander of the Starship Enterprise mentioned on a couple of occasions that he was from Iowa, but never specified which town. The town of Riverside contacted series creator Gene Roddenberry and said, in effect "hey, why not us?" Roddenberry agreed. So Riverside holds a birthday party for the Captain every March 22d, which is coincidentally the birthday of William Shatner, the Canadian actor whose overblown, scenery-chewing acting style launched not only his career, but a thousand parodies. You've missed Kirk's birthday, of course, but there's always Trekfest June 26 and 27th, featuring supporting players Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and George Takei (Sulu).

Another pair of TV-themed attractions comes to us courtesy of reader Stephen Blackmoore. There are actually two theme parks in these United States devoted to the memory of The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera's paean to the joys of domestic life in prehistoric times. The one in Custer, South Dakota appears to be thriving. And why not? It has everything: replicas of Fred and Wilma's house, the Bronto Burger Drive-in (where presumably an order of ribs is not actually huge enough to capsize your car when placed in a tray on the window), and Mt. Rockmore, "a mini Mt. Rushmore with the heads of Fred, Barney, Dino, and Mr. Granitebilt, who founded Bedrock." The place looks like it's doing quite well. This may be due to the recent resurgence of creationists who think The Flinstones was a documentary.

Unfortunately, Stephen reports, the other Flintstones park, located in Arizona, isn't doing as well: "The buildings are run down. The insides are covered in a fine layer of desert dust. It's as if there had been a massive Bedrock evacuation from some horrific disaster. Flintstones meets The Andromeda Strain." Sad, really.

Regular readers of this feature know about my fondness for everyday objects blown up to absurd proportions. Right down the road in the furniture Meccas of North Carolina's Triad region are some real doozies. Take, for example the 85-foot-tall chest of drawers that graces High Point's Furnitureland South . Or the smaller (but free-standing) 38 footer that once served as the area's Bureau of Information (Bureau. Get it?) The smaller chest of drawers also features a pair of socks dangling out of one drawer, to memorialize the area's textile industry, or what's left of it. Or maybe what they're trying to insinuate is High Pointers are slobs. I'm not saying I think they are, mind you, but those dangling socks, as they say, "raise questions."

One sad note: it appears that New Jersey's famous kitsch emporium Fountains of Wayne is no more. The Garden State's monument to questionable taste, which was featured in episodes of the TV drama The Sopranos and whose name lives on as the name of one of my favorite power-pop bands, auctioned off its last cement fountains, concrete angels, and dioramas of poker playing dolls this past week. No more shall New Jerseyites and visitors alike thrill to the store's quirky Christmas displays, which featured a tropical Santa (with mermaids and sharks), a Harley riding Santa, and Santa battling a giant snake in the Amazon.

The moral to this story is: things change. Get out there and see the weird before it's too late.

Friday, April 24, 2009

So, How's That Comeback Going?

November 2006: Democrat Kristen Gillibrand is elected to a U.S. House seat in New York's 20th Ditrict, which had been a solidly Republican stronghold since the 1970's.

January 2009: Gillibrand is appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. This results in a special election to fill the seat in NY-20. The contest is between NY Assemblyman and Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and a relatively unknown Democrat, venture capitalist Scott Murphy. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele describes the contest to take back the seat and restore Republican dominance in NY-20 as a "battle royale." House Majority Leader John Boehner says “This election ... is a giant opportunity for us to let America know that America is on our side.” reports that "Eighty-two Republican House members wrote checks for Tedisco, leading a NRCC spokesman to brag, “This is not only an indication of Jim Tedisco’s strength as a candidate, it’s proof that members are invested in our overall plans to fight back to the majority.”

February 17th, 2009: The RNC spends $80,000 on a new television spot supporting Tedisco.

March 2, 2009: Tedisco runs negative ads that paint Murphy as "the poster boy for everything that's wrong with Wall Street."

March 17, 2009: RNC sends more cash to NY-20. After weeks of refusing to say whether or not he would support the Obama stimulus package, Tedisco comes out against it.

March 27th, 2009: pollsters announce that Tedisco has managed to turn a 12 point lead into a 4 point deficit in a matter of four weeks, even though Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 70,000 registered voters in the district. The poll also notes that Tedisco's campaign was considered "more negative" by a 44-25 percent margin.

April 14, 2009: a close election results in a number of legal challenges, including Tedisco's campaign challenging the legality of Gillibrand's ballot.

April 24: Republican candidate Jim Tedisco concedes the race.

Again, The "The RNC spent $280,000 compared to $10,000 from the Democratic National Committee, and the NRCC invested $871,681 to the DCCC’s $591,591. Outside forces favoring Tedisco dumped $2.06 million into the race, compared to just $1.23 million from pro-Murphy groups. And Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, among others, lent their fundraising heft to their party’s candidate."


Bets on how long Mr. Steele will remain Chairman? Bets on how many Republicans will insist that what went wrong is that they weren't conservative enough, weren't negative enough, and didn't spend enough money on attack ads?

It's not working, geniuses. Try something else.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guess They Don't Care Much About the Teleprompter. Or the Handshake. Or the Pizza. Or....

The people who have been openly rooting for President Obama to fail must be gnashing their teeth over the latest AP Poll, which has similar findings to the Gallup poll we talked about earlier this week:
WASHINGTON (April 23) - For the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future.

Intensely worried about their personal finances and medical expenses, Americans nonetheless appear realistic about the time Obama might need to turn things around, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows most Americans consider their new president to be a strong, ethical and empathetic leader who is working to change Washington.

It's not all beer and skittles, though:

Other AP-GfK findings could signal trouble for Obama as he approaches his 100th day in office, April 29:
-While there is evidence that people feel more optimistic about the economy, 65 percent said it's difficult for them and their families to get ahead. More than one-third know of a family member who recently lost a job.
-More than 90 percent of Americans consider the economy an important issue, the highest ever in AP polling.
-Nearly 80 percent believe that the rising federal debt will hurt future generations, and Obama is getting mixed reviews at best for his handling of the issue.

And yet, the percentage of Americans saying the country is headed in the right direction rose to 48 percent, up from 40 percent in February. Forty-four percent say the nation is on the wrong track.
Not since January 2004, shortly after the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, has an AP survey found more "right direction" than "wrong direction" respondents.

So, wingnuts, I guess those teabags on the hats are really winning people to the cause.

But please, do go on making yourselves irrelevant.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life Is Not Like the Movies....

From AOL News:

A New York woman has filed a lawsuit against a wedding guest who allegedly announced during the ceremony she had been having an affair with the groom, the New York Post reports.

Sandrina and Harold Purdum, both 31, wed last September in South Ozone Park, a neighborhood in Queens. In a civil suit filed in Queens Supreme Court, Sandrina Purdum claims that guest Jennifer Angevine -- who was Harold's boss at the time -- ruined her special day with an outburst in which she allegedly tossed a drink on another guest and poked the bride in the chest while making the stunning claim.

"Me and Harry were good together. You had to ruin everything by marrying him. You f- - -ed everything up," Sandrina Purdum quotes Angevine, also 31, as saying in the suit. Harold Purdum, who denies having an affair with Angevine, quit his job following the wedding and has not found employment since, the paper reported.

Funny, this sort of thing always works out so well in romantic comedies.

Tales of AIC

AIC stands for "Ass in Chair," as in "get your ass in the chair and write." It's the numero uno piece of advice for aspiring writers. It means put AIC when you don't feel like it, when you're just not inspired, when you've had a hard day at work, when there's a really good rerun of "The Office" on, or whatever.

Thus, a new category of posts which I'm calling "Tales of AIC." These are stories of writers who've put up with serious obstacles to their writing, obstacles that are a lot more than "just not feeling inspired," then put AIC and did it anyway. Since I confess I have not always followed this advice, these stories are as much for my own inspiration and edification as for yours.

Our first tale of AIC comes from SF writer Michael Z. Williamson, via John Scalzi's excellent blog Whatever . Williamson talks about the writing of his book CONTACT WITH CHAOS:
As to writing it…I had some personal issues at home, including a pending deployment .... then I deployed, (ever tried writing a novel at the end of 12-15 hour shifts 6 days a week in a war zone, with one day off to do laundry, clean gear…oh, and respond to the occasional disaster that knocks base power down and requires all engineer personnel to report in? With a roommate with very annoying habits in a tiny room in what’s effectively a doublewide trailer with 30 NCOs in it, in 126 degree heat, with sandstorms, and very intermittent internet connections due to sandstorms, and very limited wireless because of the risk of interfering with air ops? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical), then I came back, and then I had, and still have, service connected illness…but at the time, all I knew was that I was waking up gasping, hacking up my lungs until I choked, then kicking into an asthmatic reaction, then clogging up, then crashing asleep for two hours, then repeating.

I don’t recommend this as either a motivation to write, a good way to write, nor even as a character building exercise.

Still, somehow I got it written, and while it’s not the best I’ve done, I think I pulled the big idea off well enough.
Well, I know I'll think twice before complaining about being too tired to write again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Inhaling Your Drinks, Redux

BLDGBLOG: Atmospheric Intoxication
A former boutique storefront in London has become the temporary home for a pop-up bar with a twist: 2 Ganton Street is currently the U.K.'s "first walk in cocktail." Created by Bompas & Parr (known for their earlier experiments with glow-in-the-dark jello and scratch & sniff cinema), the "Alcoholic Architecture" bar features giant limes, over-sized straws, and most importantly, a gin-and-tonic mist.

Lucky ticket-holders (the event has now sold out) are equipped with plastic jumpsuits and encouraged to "breathe responsibly" before stepping into an alcoholic fog for up to 40 minutes – long enough to inhale "a fairly strong drink," according to Wired UK.

Is there a Bacardi Room, by any chance?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Good News: Americans A Bit More Optimistic

American Optimism Makes a Comeback

By David Paul Kuhn

Americans' attitude about the nation's future has steadily recovered in recent weeks. Happy days are not yet here again. But from the course of the country to the economy, polls show the public's mood is decidedly better now than at any point in the past year.

The public's satisfaction with the direction of the country is the highest it has been since April 2007, according to Gallup tracking. Only 26 percent of Americans say they are satisfied today. But a mere 15 percent expressed satisfaction in mid-February. A third of Americans now believe the economy is improving, twice the portion who were optimistic in mid-January.

Americans now seem to believe that the worst is behind them. A slim majority of Americans, 52 percent, agreed that the U.S. economy has stabilized. Last month hardly more than a third said the same. Pessimism has also dwindled. Today, only 36 percent of the public believe the worst is yet to come. Last month, 57 percent said the same, according to Ipsos/McClatchy polls.

A CBS News/New York Times poll reported last week that only 39 percent of Americans "feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction." While still low, that's the highest "right direction" result since February 2005. Rasmussen polling records a similar trend, finding that more Americans believe that the nation is heading in the right direction than any time since 2004. Consumer confidence has also reached its highest point in the past year, according to Gallup.

More at the link, of course, but the gist of it is that while we have a ways to go, American confidence is definitely trending upwards. Which also means that the constant right-wing message "Socialist Marxist Fascist Terrorist Teleprompter Pizza Handshake Bow Bow Teabag Teabag Teabag ObamaFail ObamaFail ObamaFail" isn't getting a lot of traction outside of the so-called liberal media.

Sorry, Mandy, Pamela, Little Joey, and the rest of you wingnuts. The old tricks of whipping up fear and outrage over trivia just don't seem to be working anymore.

I know you wanted Obama to fail, so the fact that Americans are more confident now after one quarter of an Obama Presidency probably makes you just sick with rage. So sorry. But, then again, sick with rage seems to be your default condition anyway, so no great loss.

This Is Why the Wingnuts Continue to Fail

Nixon Shaking Hands with Mao=Diplomacy

Reagan shaking hands with Gorbachev=Statesmanship

Bush shaking hands with Putin=International Relations


For God's sake you people, GROW UP. It's a HANDSHAKE.

Once again, focusing on trivia rather than substance and trying to convince the American people that a simple gesture of civility will lead to the Downfall of America....

and THAT is why you fail.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Column Is About You

It seems that self-proclaimed "radio talk show host" Pamela Furr felt that she was one of the targets of a recent column about what it takes to become a right wing pundit. She posted on her blog:

I've got much to say since I've been on hiatus, but this is a very interesting "column" from a local attorney here in Moore County, NC.

Those that know me realize that I had to respond. After all, this is what I do as a right winged, wingnut! LOL Here is my letter to the editor for the Pilot Newspaper in Southern Pines, NC.

Dear Editors:

My name is Pamela Furr and I guess I am one of those "right wing" radio talk show hosts that Mr. Rhodes fulminated about in his highly entertaining column last Sunday. OK, let's face it -- the column was wrongheaded and full of hyperbole. Call me a nut, though (and Mr. Rhodes already has, I guess, by inference) - but a full life and a profession spent interviewing politicians (yes, including Mr. Obama) have caused me to consider extreme wrongheadedness to be highly entertaining!

Imagine my surprise and delight while visiting my parents on Easter Sunday as I opened up my hometown paper to stumble upon some of the vilest tripe masked as satire I have read in quite some time (I have to think that somewhere in Dublin, seismologists are scratching their heads over the rhythmic spinning underneath Jonathon Swift's grave). Normally one does not encounter such vitriolic wit outside of rest stop bathroom walls. Bravo, Mr. Rhodes!!! Bravo!

I am not interested in matching Mr. Rhodes' feeble attempt at satire by going point-by-point (though this might be an excellent exercise for a conservative Poli Sci class, if such a body existed), but one thing especially tickled my funny bone:

Mr. Rhodes -- None of us "right wing nuts" has EVER said Obama was a bad speaker. That is, not as long as the teleprompter doesn't go on strike. I mean, have you ever heard such a chorus of uh's, um's and ah's in your life as when that screen goes blank?

Ronald Reagan could talk all day about substantive things without a cathode ray tube anywhere nearby. So could Bill Clinton. Well, Clinton could talk all day - how substantive his talks were, varied from day to day (or… cigar to cigar?).

And neither of these men had to fill time with a Special Olympics joke [to digress a bit - a SPECIAL OLYMICS JOKE???? Imagine a Republican making such a joke - he would have to commit honorable hari kari before the press let go of THAT story].


Pamela Furr, right winged wingnut talk show host

This raises a number of questions, most notably "who the hell is Pamela Furr?" Fortunately, the Google is our friend, and it tells us that Ms. Furr was recently canned from her job at Hunstville Alabama's WVNN, so her claim to be a right wing radio talk show host is dubious at best. I suspect that her "visit to her hometown" is more akin to moving into her parents' basement. (A suspicion which she has since confirmed in her comments, BTW)

We don't really know why Ms. Furr lost her job. We don't know if it was for making racist or anti-catholic comments on the air, as she seems fond of doing on her blog. Since spelling isn't really crucial on the radio, it's probably not for her inability to spell simple things like "Olympics" or my name. I thought for a moment it might be for her utter failure at fact-checking, since another quick Google reveals that St. Ronnie did indeed use a teleprompter. Often. But then I thought, "no that can't be it, because since when do right wingers give a damn about fact-checking?"

So it remains a mystery. We here at Fresh Hell wish Ms. Furr good fortune in her future job searches. We would also seek to reassure her that no, the column was not directed at her, because until she decided to poke her head up and yap, I had no earthly idea who she was.

But thank you so much for proving the point of the column, which was that the right wing is totally obsessed with meaningless trivia like teleprompters. This is most likely because they have no ideas, no coherent plan, no solutions of their own, and as we've repeatedly seen, no principles other than IOKIYAR!

A Tale of Two Scandals That Weren't

Latest Newspaper Column:
One of my favorite quotes from President Barack Obama came during a recent press conference. When a reporter asked why he'd taken three days to respond to the AIG bonus scandal, Obama answered: "I like to know what I'm talking about before speaking."

A couple of recent Internet-driven scandals demonstrate that both sides of the political aisle would do well to heed those words.

The first story: While campaigning in St. Louis last year, then-Sen. Obama had lunch at a pizza place called Pi, like the Greek letter. He immediately declared that it was the best pizza he'd ever eaten. So when restaurant owner Chris Sommers came to D.C., the White House asked if he'd come by and make pizza for 140 or so White House staffers, as well as the president and his family. Sommers, probably realizing that a small business doesn't get a chance for that kind of publicity every day, said yes.

Enter right-wing bloggers, for whom no matter is too small to trigger a teeth-gnashing frenzy of rage and hatred. The popular Republican blog Ace of Spades started the conniption when a contributor identified only as "Jack M." began by calling the president a name that I cannot repeat in this newspaper, then went on to rail: "Hey, you guys know what says you are really sincere about this whole Global Warming thing? Jetting a dude across the country to make you a freaking pie."

He went on to say a few more nasty things about extravagance in troubled economic times, and generally painted Obama's pizza party as the worst case of imperial excess since Marie Antoinette. Pretty soon, Pizzagate, as it was inevitably dubbed, was the outrage du jour all over right-wing Web sites.

Only problem is, "Jack M." managed to get pretty much everything wrong about the story, other than the part about Obama liking pizza. Political reporter Tommy Christopher did something radical: He picked up the phone and did some fact-checking.

His findings: Obama didn't "jet anybody in"; Sommers flew coach on a commercial airliner, and he was already coming to D.C. on other business, so his ticket was paid for by the restaurant, not the taxpayers.

The pizzas were paid for by Obama himself. Therefore no increase in carbon emissions, since that plane was coming to DC anyway. The pizzas weren't on the taxpayer's dime, unless you consider Obama's presidential salary the taxpayer's dime, in which case we can expect another complete wingnut meltdown the next time the man buys toothpaste.

Then, over Easter, my fellow liberals proved that they're not immune to shooting first and asking questions later.

It started when customers of the online book retailer noticed that books by gay and lesbian writers or with gay or lesbian themes were disappearing from the sales rankings on the company's Web site. This is a big deal, since the rankings also determine whether or not your books turn up when someone searches on the site.

A few people e-mailed Amazon and got back a reply from customer service that the books had been removed for "adult" (as in X-rated) content. Problem was, the books delisted weren't necessarily any kind of erotica; one of them was Nathaniel Franks' "Unfriendly Fire," a nonfiction book about gays in the military.

Indignation spread like wildfire, aided in large part by the online messaging service Twitter, where angry messages flew fast and furious. Many of the messages accused Amazon of some secret anti-gay agenda; some could be summarized, as writer John Scalzi put it, by "FOAMY FOAMY FAIL FAIL BOYCOTT GAAAH!"

When higher-level Amazon executives returned from their Easter break, they quickly put out a press release: Yes, they were trying to keep actual "adult" products from turning up in searches. (You'd be amazed by what you can buy on Amazon. Really.) But putting gay- and lesbian-themed books in that category was, in their words, "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error."

Gradually, the formerly delisted books started showing back up.

Of course, there are always going to be people who'll continue to believe the worst. A significant number are still saying they don't buy the "cataloging error" explanation from Amazon, and I predict that years from now we'll still be hearing from people still fuming that "Obama used taxpayer money to fly a guy in to make him a pizza."

The great thing about the Internet is that it has sped up access to information. Unfortunately, misinformation spreads just as quickly. Maybe waiting three days to learn what you're talking about would be a good rule for all of us to follow, at least from time to time.