Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Screw "Best Albums of 2006"; Check Out Katie's Mix Tapes from 1993-1994

While home, my wife Katie stumbled upon a dog-eared sketchbook from her angstiest teenaged years, 1993 and '94.

At the end of the book were scribbled and crossed-out lists of the songs she'd put on various friends' mix tapes. Her method was to meticulously keep track of every song she put on their mix tapes so as not to duplicate the songs on any future tapes.

Reading through the song choices, I realized that my wife was WAY cooler than I was back then. She was 17 years old:

(CLICK for full size)


"MaTT S. 2-26-94"

"NATALIE. 3:34"

"SASKIA. 10-9-93"

"Sean II."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My discovery of a hidden sauna trumps the virgin birth of Jebus.

In the back of a basement in a subdivision outside Detroit, buried under a cobwebbed clutter of old telescope parts, broken outdoor window panes, and dusty wooden bed posts, lay a sauna that hadn't been used for 20 years until I unearthed it yesterday like some suburban archaeologist.

After I'd spent an hour hauling the junk to a far corner of my in-laws' basement and taken a wet rag to 20 year's worth of spider webs and grime, the clean sight of a functioning Finnish sauna was a beacon of shining perfection---surely more encouraging than the north star was to the Three Wise Men two thousand years ago.

And now I'm a sauna lizard, obsessed. Here's my cycle: take a shower; crank up the sauna rocks to 190 degrees fahrenheit; jump in for 30 minutes or until my body can't take the heat; take a freezing cold shower; drink a cold beer and eat a dry sausage; then repeat that process three times.

Finns think of saunas not as a luxury, but as a necessity, and now I see why. The feeling is the best natural high I've had, and even somewhat disorienting (in a good way). I've been coming to my in-laws' house for five years and never knew they had this room designed purely for relaxation. My world is changed.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gypsy Matriarch Came A-knockin'.

As I mentioned before, a family of gypsies moved in a few doors down months ago. Their clan is led by a fortune-telling matriarch who finally visited me today.

My dogs start going nuts but no one was at the door. Confused, I walked to the window, and I saw a portly figure in a long black fur coat standing on the sidewalk leading up to my doorstep. It was the gypsy matriarch, standing there, hauntingly.

I opened the door and she says, "I'm fortune teller. You know?" I'm like, "Uhh ... yes?"

She'd come to my house to ask for three large nails. She specified that they had to be at least four inches long. I told her I had some small ones, and she was oddly pushy and annoyed and kept asking for more after each trip I made back with a handful. It was eerie.

I don't trust that gypsy matriarch because once my wife and I were driving home late at night and there was only one parking spot on the road and SHE WAS STANDING IN IT---just blocking us, saying she was holding it for her husband. We tried to back into her, but she didn't budge. That is seriously against DC parking etiquette, and I could hardly forgive my own sweet mother for such an offense. We ended up moving on becasue my wife was driving, but if I'd been at the wheel, I assure you, there'd have been some gypsy tears on my car that night.

My theory about the nails? Coffins, dudes, COFFINS.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Singles, for when I'm feeling blue.

When I'm feeling like a hungover loser who has no friends or anyone who loves him, witnessing the sea of lonliness a few hundred feet from my apartment makes me remember that my situation is far better than most of my brethren. And I'm not talking about the homeless guys.

As soon as I put two shoes onto my front stoop in Adams Morgan, I'm passed by brisk-walking 20-somethings, trudging to Tryst (coffee shop) in desperate hope of making eye contact and conversation with someone of the opposite sex. Two blocks into my walk, I pass three cafés filled with the unmarried masses clacking away on laptops; most are alone.

I've struggled with guilty feelings regarding my own schadenfreude, but this spectacle sometimes gives me a boost and for the umpteenth time I'm reminded that my love situation is far better than the throngs of people whose primary social motivation is to increase their proximity to the opposite sex. What a stifling way for humans to live!

The media constantly glamorizes the single life and all us married people are supposed to feel like our situation is the unfortunate one---as if we're all unhappy, sexless dullards, on the verge of divorce, longing to be single again. Judging from all the married people I know, that's a load of pure slag.

From my vantage point, the life of a single is filled with a host of endless tedium: dating sites, craigslist postings, tiresome dating blogs, awkward social situations, game-playings and sexual deprivation. And the recent sex survey that found that married couples have more sex than singles is enough to boost my mood until my dick falls off.

I honestly don't mean this as a slight to any of my single friends. Just a lucid observation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By March of 2007, I'll have visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Korea and possibly Vietnam.

Winter kills me. That's why I'm thanking the lord of everything atheistic that I'll be in steamy Asia during most of the worst months that the DC region has to offer.

Not that jet-setting to those countries is easy. My last trip to Thailand was tough; days started at 7AM and ended whenever our Thai associates decided they wanted to stop drinking, well into the early morning hours.

And yes, Myanmar (Burma) is on my list. I am aware that visiting Burma is discouraged by US-based Burmese human rights groups because Burma's ruling junta jailed Aung San Suu Kyi who won a democratic election. But compare Burma to its neighbors. In places like Vietnam, China and Laos, they don't jail people who've won elections. They often straight out kill people who oppose the regime in public. But for some reason, there's not a taboo in western countries on going to those countries.

Wait, did I just make excuses for a dictatorship?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Let us kill the ironic t-shirt trend once and for all.

My friend Greg McKenna created the modern ironic t-shirt trend in the mid-1990s when he attempted to top the Guiness record for most t-shirts worn at once. He crowned his 25-layer thick achievement with an "I'm Having a Maalox Moment" shirt, and history marched forward and then downward over a decade later.

Now, it's come to the point where any d-bag with no sense of history can buy a hammer and sickle t-shirt and call it fashion.

What started with Maalox is now an endorsement of the worst political system in history, totalitarianism.

It's getting tiresome. Enough already.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Letter to a Christian Nation makes me proud to be an atheist.

Sam Harris's book, Letter to a Christian Nation, is a short, well-written primer for the modern atheist, and a must-read for religious moderates, agnostics and people still under the spell of god delusion. After finishing the final page of Harris's book, I turned again to the first page and read the book a second time.

I'll paraphrase some of the author's best points:

- The burden of proof is on the believer in god; it's not up to science (or atheists) to prove that god doesn't exist. For example, if I told you that there's a mile-wide Chinese tea kettle orbiting the earth, you should challenge that claim; a legitimate response wouldn't be to put it back to you to prove the absence of that tea kettle. If I didn't produce some evidence, and kept steadfast to my belief in that kettle because it "gives my life meaning", people would (should) consider me a lunatic. Sames goes with god belief.

- 99% of the species that have ever lived on earth are now extinct. This should have closed the book on god and religion long ago.

- If god created everything, and he created man in his own image, he sure has an odd fondness for insects and viruses. There are more of those than anything else on the planet---at least 10 strains of virus for every species of animal on earth.

- Morality predates religion, not the other way around. The only commandments that have anything to do with morality are about not murdering, stealing or cheating on your spouse---hardly unique ideas when the Bible was written. The rest of the commandments have to do with silly reverent nonsense like not owning religious art (graven images).

- The Bible -- as most religious books -- is a horrible guide for being a good person and is full of obscene violence and contradictions. A lot of the violence is in the Old Testament, but in the New, Jesus says that everything written in the Old should be obeyed.

But don't trust me. Buy the book as a present this season!

(Here are a few videos of Sam Harris on youtube).

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Fair Trade, Organic and Locally Grown Food May Destroy the Planet": The Economist

The Economist has an interesting article this month (subscribers only) about how noble-minded people, wanting to improve the state of the world's environment, may actually be doing the opposite. I don't fully agree with their argument but it is a point of view worth reading:

Organic Farming Will Destroy the Rainforests

"Farming is inherently bad for the environment: since humans took it up around 11,000 years ago, the result has been deforestation on a massive scale. But following the "green revolution" of the 1960s greater use of chemical fertiliser has tripled grain yields with very little increase in the area of land under cultivation. Organic methods, which rely on crop rotation, manure and compost in place of fertiliser, are far less intensive. So producing the world's current agricultural output organically would require several times as much land as is currently cultivated. There wouldn't be much room left for the rainforest."

Overall, Fair Trade Hurts Poor Farmers

"The standard economic argument against Fair Trade goes like this: the low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guaranteed Fair Trade premium -- in effect, a subsidy -- both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-Fair Trade coffee even further, making non-Fair Trade farmers poorer. Fair Trade does not address the basic problem ... which is that too much coffee is being produced in the first place. Instead, it could even encourage more production."

They say Fair Trade is also inefficient at getting money to poor producers: "Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fair Trade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on ... only 10% of the premium paid for Fair Trade coffee in a coffee bar trickles down to the producer. Fair Trade coffee, like the organic produce sold in supermarkets, is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more."

"Buying Locally" Wastes More Energy Than "Buying Globally"

"It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicles miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles."

The problem with their argument is the "either-or" dilemma: in reality, the choice is not organic or conventional, fair trade, or unfair. I'm not necessarily for conventional agriculture over organic, but if safe, natural products can outperform chemical ones, our food will be better and safer and may help the environment in the process. The formula doesn't mean switching farmers to organic all at once -- or ever, for that -- but rather, selling them organic products that outperfom harmful conventional ones. That's the only way this thing is going to work.

Anyway, I won't waste your time with any more of my trite insight. Decide for yourself.

Pictures from Repeal Day

On December 5th, we gathered at DC's oldest bar, Billy Martin's Tavern, to celebrate the anniversary of Prohibition's repeal. I went through the 80 blurry pictures sloppily snapped by no fewer than eight people that evening, and found none worth looking at, but I posted a few anyway to kick of the holiday season.

One day, people will regularly celebrate this holiday thanks in part to the Internet and my drinking blog, DC Drinks.

Toasts abounded ...

Glasses touched ...

The bar's owner told stories of old ...

Yours truly got stanko ...

Jim sat where JBJ and Sam Rayburn hashed out legislation decades ago ...

More toasts were made ...

We reconnected with old friends ...

Lovely new girlfriends showed up ...

Sailors contemplated life ...

And the bill wiped us out ...

Friday, December 08, 2006

I met a man who believes that water has intellectual abilities.

44% of Americans believe that Jesus will certainly (22%) or probably (another 22%) descend from heaven flanked by a blaze of angelic glory before he destroys all of humanity like a mass-murdering superhero, so meeting someone who believes in the mysterious powers of H2O is not too strange, I suppose. The hard part is holding a conversation with such a person.

My experience yesterday at the organic farming trade show at first inspired me to write a Guide to Speaking with Crazy-ass Old Coots, but then decided I'm not qualified to offer that advice because I have no earthly idea how.

The first nutsoid I encountered ranted that it's a moral outrage for the US government to fine people. He'd created a new term for the victims of these crimes -- "muckts" -- and assured me that I was one.

The next fellow was convinced that the US economy will collapse in 2016. I told him to never predict anything, especially the future, but he assured me that the future can be predicted: if he punched me in the nose right then and there, his prediction was that pain would ensue. Touché, Señor Insano, touché.

But the old codger with the withered right arm spouting the benefits of intellectual water took the cake. According to "Dr" David, today's water has lost its "spiraling-induced" energy and "intellectual power" to provide health to plants and animals.

Picture me, nodding and smiling, only the words "hmm" and "interesting" coming from my lips, for a full 20 minutes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Velvet Underground 1966 acetate LP going for over $110,000 and still 4 days left!

Those who could give a quick fuck about the Velvet Underground will quickly move on, but everyone else's eyelids should've been raised by the title of this post.

Still reading? Good.

Some Canadian dude bought a shitty-looking Velvet Underground record back in 2002 for 75 cents at a garage sale. After doing some research, he found out that it was a one-of-a-kind recording done in the VU's studio back in 1966. Four years later, he listed it on ebay and while there's still over four days to go in the auction, it's now worth over $110,000.

Here's the ebay page.

UPDATE: 12/8/06: The bidding has ended with a final sale price of US $155,401.00.

SECOND UPDATE: 12/11/06: The $155,401 bid turned out to be false! (Link)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Since the dawn of humanity, boys have been at war with hornets' nests.

If you're a human male, and you never entertained yourself by destroying a hornets' nest abuzz with angry insects, you are an incomplete person.

Dolichovespula maculata and the young male Homo sapien have not been at peace since the discovery of tools and fire. It's a universal brutal battle that won't cease until the apocalypse, I assure you.

This loathing of active hornets' nests is an instinct that hones important skills for the male child: Bravery - dangerous things are not to be feared; Power - dangerous things are to be fucked up, royally, with reasonable caution, and the pay-off feels great; Innovation - use any means at your immediate disposal (rotten apples, sticks, rocks) as implements of battle; Independence - the opinions of authority are to be received with skepticism and mostly ignored. Vital life skills, each one.

Recently, some friends and I swapped childhood hornets' nest attack stories and I wondered whether most males have similar experiences. Then, this past week when I was visiting my 74-year-old uncle in Texas, we had the exact same story trading session. I'm convinced that this phenomenon has meaningful historical significance.

And it may apply to all insects that nest in trees. I'll never forget the time when my friends and I shoved a lit pack of firecrackers into a massive, eye-level tent caterpillars' nest. We ran back 25 feet and waited---all eyes forward. When the nest blew apart from the explosion, it sprayed green caterpillar guts staight into our childish faces. The experience was a positive one, despite having had to wipe green muck from my eye sockets and hair.

If you're a man, and all of this sounds foreign to you, I suggest you take a stroll through the woods the next chance you get. It's not too late.

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