Saturday, December 12, 2009

Camera Obscura: Best Food Shows On TV

I've been watching hours and hours of the Food Network, which has to be something only an American would do. We have such abundance and crave more than the old-fashioned 'some-dude-in-an-apron-makes-some-casserole' segments which used to air on local noon news programs. So there are a few shows on the network which both entertain and inform.

Alton Brown gets all into the chemistry and physics and history of food on his show, so watching "Good Eats" from time to time makes me feel like I am being educated more than entertained. It's the network's 3rd highest rated show and it's the only food program other than Julia Child's to receive a Peabody Award. And Good Eats is also marking it's 10th anniversary on the air. Go behind the scenes here. (Bonus: Alton was a music video cameraman in the early days, serving as director of photography on R.E.M.'s video for "The One I Love"!!!!)

"Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" features a squirrely looking guy named Guy. Guy Fieri, in fact, who was a sort of American-Idol-like winner, except the contest he won was the Next Food Network Star show. But what I like best about this show is that it features honest-to-pete local restaurants, usually family-owned and a place locals hold in high regard. Our nation is overgrown with chains of identical restaurants, which I find to be god-awful places to feed. And then there are the food troughs, aka buffet-style places, which make me run away in fear.

Here in Hamblen County, likely the one notable non-chain outfit is "Hillbilly Cabin", which is sort of okay in a way. It has pretty tame fare, though when Harrison Ford comes to town to visit his soon-to-be-in-laws, he always goes there for a meal.

There used to be a lot more individually owned and creative eateries than we have today, and I'd like to see more of them. And too often, Guy's show focuses on some 4 pound stack of goop getting served up and I don't eat 4 pounds of anything much at one time. Okay, maybe I could eat a pound or too of unagi sushi. Or a pizza, I could eat a whole pizza, as long as it is not 4 feet in circumference with 10 pounds of ingredients.

Cooking contest shows are getting common, on several networks, but none of them offer the simple challenge provided by "Chopped". The set-up is very simple and the contestants are either good chefs or they are "chopped" away pretty fast. The set-up: four chefs must make an appetizer featuring a few ingredients which they do not see until the clock starts, and then they have maybe 20 minutes to make and serve the dish - one contestant is then out. Then they go onto an entree section, same deal, making a dish using secret key ingredients, one contestant is dropped and finally a dessert course is required.

A well-stocked pantry is there, sure, but chefs must make use of whatever secret ingredients the show offers -- and these can be some insanely challenging ingredients: one appetizer challenge was to use bittersweet chocolate, mussels and figs; kiwi, wonton wrappers and gummi bears ... you get the idea.

It's sort of like the game I play here at the house - what can I make to eat out of these left-over barbecue beans, a can of condensed milk and some old black olives .... it ain't pretty. But then I am no chef. Here's a sample of the Chopped show:

Another food show I have seen recently is one on the Travel Channel called Man vs Food -- no I am not linking to it 'cause it is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Some dude travels about looking for a restaurant which serves gigantic sized portions of food and dude tries to devour it in record time. Why would someone purposely try and harm themselves with food (and not in a food fight, just through gluttony??) It's weird and unpleasant and kinda sad to watch someone be so debased for a 12 pound double-deep-fried cheeseburger. Would this show even be on anywhere except America?

If you run the phrase "food blogs" through the old Google Machine, you get around 349 million returns. That's more blogs than people in the U.S.

Google says in 2009, the fastest rising search in the food and drink category is for "acai berry". What is Acai Berry?? An Amazonian berry which is food for many in South America and popular in the U.S. because Oprah talked about it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theremin Christmas Music 2009

While it certainly appears too, too easy to find some politico in today's America to ridicule (see previous post) it is absolutely not easy to play Christmas music on a theremin.

And I cannot tell you exactly why I like Christmas music on a theremin. I just do.

Here are two examples, which seem both slightly creepy and utterly sincere all at the same time.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Decade With A Heavy Toll

The names and faces of some folks with astonishing influence which tumble past this Decade In Memoriam piece made me pretty sad.

Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Kurt Vonnegut, Johnny Carson, Cap'n Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, George Harrison, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Barry White, Ray Charles, Marlon Brando, James Brown, Richard Avedon, Bettie Page, Les Paul, Walter Cronkite, Mary Travers, Koko Taylor, Ted Williams, John Hughes, Wernher Von Braun, Andrew Wyeth, John Updike, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Unitas, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Hepburn ......

Thousands at the World Trade Center and beyond on a terrible day ...

Over 1800 from Hurricane Katrina ...

Over 200,000 in a post-Christmas tsunami ...

Thousands killed and wounded in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ...

Plus some of my own friends and family ... hopefully very few of yours.

Mayor Russell Wiseman Is Sorry We Found Out How Idiotic He Is

Arlington, TN Mayor Russell Wiseman issued a non-apology apology for his idiotic and strange comments about President Obama on Monday, comments which nabbed national attention for Wiseman and for the town of Arlington. My original post on Mayor Wiseman's clueless rant is here.

The town, by the way, posted on their web site that Wiseman's views and comments do not reflect those of the town:

The views of Russell Wiseman, Mayor of the Town of Arlington, expressed on his Facebook account do not reflect an official position of the Town of Arlington.

"His comments were not made on a Town computer, or using Town computer services. The Town recognizes Barack Obama as the President of the United States, and in accordance with the Constitution, recognizes both the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. We welcome all law abiding people to our town.

"We do not discriminate and we provide essential services to all Town of Arlington people without regard to their religion, race, color, age, gender, sex or national origin."

As for Wiseman's apology ... he says he only meant for his friends to hear his angry, hateful views about President Obama and is sorry that the rest of us found out. He says he was just joking, and his real friends understand the humor he used is not angry or hateful. He goes on to say he is the victim here, and that he is not going to talk any more about what he said.

His lame attempt at self-defense is identical to the argument put forth by Republican legislative staffer Sherri Goforth, who emailed some racist crap about President Obama this summer - that is, she was sorry the wrong people saw her email, it was only meant for friends. Friends who share Goforth and Wiseman's Fear of a non-white President.

Don't bother sending out emails to Wiseman - his mind is closed up tight. Below is Wiseman's non-apology:

"Regarding all of the reports about my recent Facebook remarks, I want to take this opportunity to say how much I regret that I offended anyone with my poor attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor amongst friends. While my comments were certainly blown way out of proportion, I do recognize that I allowed things to go too far."

As you might have guessed, I don’t really care for President Obama or his policies. That being said, I understand how my comments might have been interpreted by people who don’t know me and who have no reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. When defenders of President Obama started chiming in on the Facebook comment thread, I’m afraid I let my frustrations and my sarcastic and joking nature get the best of me, and so I egged and goaded them on within the confines of what I considered at the time to be a semi-private conversation among friends.

I trust that we have probably all experienced things getting out of hand from time to time, and I do regret it. I also take some measure of comfort in knowing that the people who know me best, and who know my background, my work in the community, and my heart — they understand that I am a progressive and tolerant person who believes wholeheartedly in the rights and equality of all people. I think my record and the way I live my life certainly reflects those views, and I hate that I may have caused anyone to question my commitment to it. I also regret any embarrassment that might have been unfairly visited on my friends, my family, my church, and the citizens and officials of the Town of Arlington.

One troubling and eye-opening aspect of this whole episode has been the literally hundreds and hundreds of fanatics who have directed some of the most vile and profane comments towards me and my family that I’ve ever heard, including making physical threats and even posting my home phone number and address online for the benefit of the fringe element.

In the interest of moving forward, I will not be giving interviews or fielding questions because I have no interest in taking any step that might perpetuate this whole episode or inadvertently be interpreted as an attempt to dignify my unfortunate comments. I have learned a valuable lesson, and I look forward to moving on and focusing on the business of the Town of Arlington in a manner befitting the good citizens I represent.”

Monday, December 07, 2009

Comcast Mergeapocalypse Now

Alarms and worries are rising over the proposed takeover of NBC Universal by cable giant Comcast, a deal which Comcast promises will be pro-consumer and which most industry insiders view as the beginning of a "mergeapocalypse".

From the Consumerist:

Blocked content, rising rates, forced bundling, and more. Despite claims from NBC and Comcast that this merger would be "pro consumer," the end result will be more restrictions on what content consumers can access and how they can view it. And it will inevitably be more expensive. Consumer and media rights groups are urging the FCC and/or Department of Justice to either block the merger outright or impose very strict conditions to prevent the problems listed above. To read more about the proposed rules, visit FreePress's release on the merger."

From Daily Finance:

If the proposed $30 billion deal between General Electric (GE) and Comcast (CMCSA) for NBC Universal is approved, Comcast would lead the market with control of access to 25% of U.S. households. Moreover, Comcast-NBC would own prized content, including The Tonight Show, The Biggest Loser and Bravo's Real Housewives series, according to The Washington Post.

In all, Comcast-NBC would control 20% of Americans' television viewing hours -- which might give it the market power to charge higher prices to competing networks seeking its content -- particularly online -- and to consumers."

No matter the promises, that's a massive amount of media control of everything from production to distribution which seems to run contrary to most anti-trust laws of the past. There is a vast chasm between the pace of the internet/media growth and our current laws and few in Washington seem to even see it.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

GOP: No Lie Is Too Big To Fail

"The combined crazy quotient was enough to nearly cause a rift in the space-time continuum."

It's easy to dip into a set of projected statistics in Washington DC and emerge with some kind of shocking OMG!! slab of information, coat it with tongues of lies and sell it as fact to some in America. Congressional members like Michelle Bachmann takes her lies to Pat Robertson and the 700 Club, while John Boehner repeats it. Their plan: repeat lies over and over until a section of people believe it to be true.

FOX News Channel ("we lie, you decide to like it") picks another liar to boost their oft-stated plan to insure failure at every level of government. No lie is too big to fail, they wail on a 24-7 time frame.

Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino played her usual role on Fox News yesterday, trashing economic recovery efforts. Most of her comments were easy to dismiss, but a couple of remarks stood out.

She noted, for example, that White House officials "try to claim that the stimulus bill worked and I just look at all the polling data and no one believes it." In other words, it doesn't matter what's true -- it matters whether people can be misled into believing things that aren't true. (That is, of course, why Fox News exists.)"

Tennessee's two senators, Alexander and Corker, meanwhile decide that finding a catch-phrase to spread like manure over the health reform bill debate, is a WIN!

As noted above, what is real matters much less than what is believed. Stoking fires of paranoid fear is job number one for the GOP.

For Alexander, Corker, Bachmann, Boehner, Robertson, Beck, Limbaugh and others leading the GOP the ends justify the means. They're playing a losing game and have decided that cheating to score a point or two is honorable.

Republican Orin Hatch took to the Senate floor to whine that if only the GOP could control the House, the Senate and the office of President, then by God, they could fix everything. Oh Senator - you did control all branches for many years and that led to 99% of the problems Americans face today. Lying about it might soothe some, but it's still a lie and a huge one.

"I dream some day of having the Republicans have 60 votes. I’ll tell you one thing, I think we would finally have the total responsibility to get this country under control and I believe we would. But we never come close to that. There are essentially no checks and balances found in Washington today just an arrogance of power with one party ramming through unpopular and devastating proposals on after the other."

Oh really??? The truth?? It's right in front of you Senator:

Republicans controlled for years — but their agenda of tax cuts for the super rich did little to “get this country under control,” so to speak. Throughout the Bush administration, “the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked.”

Republicans ignored the health care crisis. Throughout the years of Republican dominance, the rate of uninsurance grew and employer-sponsored insurance continued to erode. “When Clinton left office, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 38.4 million. By the time Bush left office that number had grown to just over 46.3 million, an increase of nearly 8 million or 20.6 per cent.” Between 2001 and 2005 — when Republicans had majorities in both chambers of Congress — the number of uninsured employees grew by 3.4 million and employer-sponsored health insurance premiums grew by no less than nine percent each year, while wages only grew between 2.2% and 4.0% each year. (In fact, the share of Americans who received health insurance through their employer declined every year of his presidency.)