NPF: GRAND TOUR

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 29th, 2015 by Ed

A quick programming note.

For the next month I'm going to be living out of a rental car on a long road trip across the country hopefully ending as near to the Arctic Ocean as someone who doesn't work in the oil industry can get. Technically I guess it will end when I return to Central Illinois, but for the moment let's pretend that I will be eaten by a bear, shanghaied by pirates, or crushed by a falling piece of Skylab since all of those will most likely seem more appealing once I reach my destination.

I'm violating the internet rule against announcing vacations (and thereby alerting ne'er-do-wells to the dates on which your home will be unoccupied) because I have secured a house-sitter. Besides, there is little worth stealing in the soon to be foreclosed home I rent and the modal burglar in this city lacks internet access.

Though I stand firmly against the proliferation of overwhelmingly redundant social media sites, to supply family and friends with Visual Evidence of Experiences I have created an Instagram account. You may follow it if you want to see pictures of Nature and most likely the Sounds of Real America.


Instagram

As I will be sleeping outdoors and doing a vast quantity of driving, it is likely that my internet access and time for writing will be reduced over the next few weeks. That is just a guess; honestly I have no idea how frequently I will be able to or will want to write something here. Logistically it is more difficult to post On the Road, but I also happen to do some of my best thinking during 12-hour drives. So ideally the posting will continue at close to the current pace.

I have conflicting feelings about this. Obviously I'm looking forward to doing it but I have a tremendous amount of pressure on me at the moment to churn out more publications, so it is really hard for me to 1) not work, and 2) not think about work when not working. Ultimately I decided that staying here would reduce my productivity and negate the benefits of spending more time in the office; in the next month I'm hopeful that if the amount of time I spend glued to the screen is reduced, the quality of it will rise.

In any case, I'll update my progress as I go. I don't have a schedule or agenda except in the loosest sense, but hopefully a grand time will be had by all and I will be allowed into Canada without incident.

NPF: A NOVEL EXPERIENCE

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 15th, 2015 by Ed

I stewed over how best to share this with you and ultimately decided to keep it simple. To give you a window into my life and where I live, the restaurant critic of the Peoria Journal-Star recently did a review of the Cracker Barrel. You know. Cracker Barrel. The chain restaurant of which there are about a thousand located on highways throughout the country. Lacking the energy to give this a proper treatment, I've reproduced it in full with some of my personal favorite parts highlighted.

MORTON — It’s possible that you don’t think about visiting Cracker Barrel unless you’re traveling somewhere. After all, the Lebanon, Tenn.-based chain has carved out a niche for itself by providing the imagery of the old country store along the highway much like Stuckey’s did decades before.

Before you get to your table at the Cracker Barrel, you have to walk the gauntlet through the bric a brac, old rocking chairs, racks of greeting cards and gift items.

The atmosphere at Cracker Barrel is sort of like eating at an antique mall. All kinds of things are on the walls: snow shoes, old lamps, coffee signs and an old clock or two.

At the table, I found that the word, “country,” pops up a lot on the extensive menu provided — as in country sandwich, country salad, country fried breakfast and so on.

Also noticed that you can get a bowl of pinto beans ($4.89) or turnip greens ($4.99) to accompany your meal. Now that’s a country touch you don’t find everywhere.

Like many places, there’s a choice of light dishes provided, complete with calorie counts. That’s how I know that country green beans are only 60 calories while a baked sweet potato is 190 calories.

We were there for lunch on a Friday so after screening the daily specials, I came up with the Friday Fish Fry ($9.99). My dining companion opted for breakfast (served all day at Cracker Barrel): Momma’s Pancake Breakfast ($8.59).

The fish was four pieces of crispy fried cod (you have a choice of cod or catfish) served with steak fries and creamy cole slaw plus a Cracker Barrel corn muffin. A little extra tartar sauce made the meal first-rate.

A word here about the service: exceptional. My server was attentive, helpful and obliging in every way. It goes with the atmosphere, I suppose, but you start feeling like you’re in that old country restaurant despite the proximity of the interstate outside.

My guest ordered blueberry pancakes with two fried eggs. The report was that there were a lot of blueberries and the cakes were fluffy. The eggs were a little peppery but she said she liked them that way.

As for beverages, I went with a Coke ($2.19) while my dining partner had coffee ($2.19). Refills were readily provided for both.

The Barrel also offers a number of weekday lunch specials for $5.99 with comfort food options such as baked chicken, chicken pot pie and meatloaf.
When it’s time to pay, you line up in the general store part of the operation where you find yourself tempted by giant gummy snakes and pecan logs.

I was able to resist, however, and headed outside past an array of rocking chairs lined up on the restaurant’s front porch. It must be the country influence of the Barrel but, next time, I plan to sit for a spell.

Kill me.

NPF: UNIFORM APPLICATION

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 8th, 2015 by Ed

Those of us who are a bit older may recall that Sean Penn used to be married to Madonna. It ended sometime after Penn tied her to a chair – for nine hours – and beat her beyond recognition with, among other things, a baseball bat. It was so brutal that even in the days before the internet allowed everyone to see the gruesome pictures and even though Penn was a bonafide Hollywood megastar, the police and district attorney charged him with a felony. Even if you're the excuse-making type for domestic violence, that can't be waved away with something like "Things got heated and he slapped her and he's very sorry." Tying someone up and beating them with a baseball bat is, in a word, fucked up.

Now. How many times have you heard someone refuse to see a movie because Penn was in it? Did anyone give you grief when you rented Mystic River or Dead Man Walking? Do you feel guilty when you watch Spicoli's scenes for the thousandth time? Do people post all over Facebook imploring you not to see whatever movie or cable series he's in these days? Perhaps you experience that, but I certainly do not.

I was reminded dozens of times, however, as a boxing fan that I was the scum of the Earth if I watched wife-beater Floyd Mayweather fight homophobe Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night (I didn't). I decided against it because I realized it was bound to be boring (It was). But I am forever baffled by why people are so insistent that people are not allowed to watch sporting events, or are bad people for doing so, if any of the people involved are Bad People. They demonstrably are Bad People in the case of this boxing match, but that is beside the point that we are bizarrely selective about when their Badness matters.

Like Queens of the Stone Age? Nick Oliviera beat his girlfriend and held her hostage with a rifle while he stood off the police for several hours. Chuck Berry was arrested in 1990 for secretly filming women in public bathrooms. Kiefer Sutherland has five DUIs. John Wayne was a horrible racist, as is Eric Clapton. Jon Voight is a right-wing teabagging lunatic who makes Pacquiao look like Bernie Sanders. Jimmy Page kidnapped a 14 year old girl he was fucking and held her virtual hostage for years. Woody Allen…where to start.

And those are the ones we know about. How many more of our favorite artists and athletes and performers are guilty of horrible, horrible things? Probably quite a few. Certainly not all, but with all that money and power and cocaine I'd have to imagine that a higher than average number have dark secrets. So I'm at a loss to explain why people were supposed to skip Floyd Mayweather's fight when I would be willing to bet any sum that no one in the history of the world has skipped Coachella or demanded that the radio be turned off on account of the equally brutal crimes of a QOTSA member.

It's hard to construct an argument that it's a bad thing to draw attention to the fact that Floyd Mayweather is a terrible human being; when Mike Tyson is like "That dude is fucked up," you know the dude in question is indeed flawed. I can't rationalize the discrepancy in the treatment of athletes and other celebrities on that account, though. Is it because they're big and (often) dark and scary? Is it because their misdeeds get more media attention? Or is it just a double standard that has no logic behind it?

My attitude is that we have no idea what kind of awful people our favorite actors, musicians, athletes, authors, etc. are when we give them our money and our attention, but if you have decided that the ones whose evil deeds are public knowledge should be boycotted you had better prepare yourself to boycott an awful lot of stuff.

NPF: FANTASTIC VOYAGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 1st, 2015 by Ed

So this is what I'm doing to some poor rental car in June. Suggestions and dire warnings welcome.

Capture

NPF: I'VE HEARD BETTER IDEAS

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 23rd, 2015 by Ed

The Cold War inspired a brand of apocalyptic thinking that one just doesn't find anymore. Sure, terrorism has caused more than a few people and societies to lose their minds with fear, but you lose some of the legit crazy when you remove strategic contingency planning from the battlefield and traditional State vs. State conflicts. I mean, it's not like the Pentagon is dreaming up scenarios for what we will do if we have to abandon the United States after it is taken over by ISIS.

We wouldn't do something, for example, like plan to salt the Earth with radioactivity while retreating from the onrushing Soviet armored columns.

In the 1950s the U.S. and its NATO allies (which at that time essentially meant Britain, and they were still having a rough go of things post-War) were planning for World War III under the assumption of absolute Warsaw Pact numerical superiority. They had more men, more guns, and more tanks than the Free World could ever hope to muster. This explains why Western planning so readily embraced nuclear weapons; it was assumed that it would be the only option left when faced with being overrun by the Red Hordes.

There are holes in all of this logic in hindsight, of course. It was what they believed at the time, though, based either on the information available or their ideological motivation.

The Brits, still preoccupied with rebuilding their nation and not interested in raising enough ground forces to keep Ivan from charging into West Germany, came up with a particularly efficient way of contributing to the defense of the Western World. Project Blue Peacock (also known variously as Blue Bunny, which is now a lethal ice cream, and Brown Bunny, in which we can watch Vincent Gallo get a beej) was a plan to bury nuclear mines throughout Germany so that upon retreat we could wait until the Soviets occupied the area and then give them a big, one million degree surprise. It's not the worst plan anyone ever devised, if it is a bit nihilistic even by Cold War standards. Here's where it went from sublime to ridiculous.

Burying what at the time was a relatively rudimentary device meant that the electronic and mechanical parts would get unacceptably cold and most likely fail to work when the crucial moment arrived. Some visionary in the Pentagon or Ministry of Defense came up with the bizarre if somewhat unorthodox solution of putting a couple of chickens in the bomb housing. A small amount of feed and water would keep the chickens alive for the 8-10 days for which the detonation timer would be set. Their body heat, although not great, would be sufficient to keep the electrical parts up to temperature. When the moment of truth arrived, these Service Chickens would then be the first victims (by microseconds) of the explosion.

In the pantheon of harebrained Cold War schemes, it's actually not the worst idea. Ridiculous, sure. Unorthodox, obviously. But it probably would have worked. It sounds positively dull when you compare it to things like Project Acoustic Kitty.

NPF: TORA! TORA! RAY?

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 2nd, 2015 by Ed

When remembering and retelling the story of World War II and the destruction of Pearl Harbor, Americans tend to forget that Hawaii wasn't even a state at the time. It was, to paraphrase a great account of the attack, essentially a colonial pineapple plantation / naval base. The weather was probably as much of a draw as it is today, but in 1941 Hawaii must have felt considerably more…backwater-ish. Located in the literal middle of nowhere before the days of rapid, safe, affordable air travel, when the natural splendor and nice weather wore off the American transplants in Hawaii must have found themselves with little entertainment beyond what they created.

A mainland American lawyer named Ray Buduick filled his spare time by restoring and flying a private plane – the flimsy, open, Red Baron type that was still popular at the time. One Sunday morning near Christmas in 1941, Ray and his teenage son took off a little after 7 AM to kill some time with an aimless flight around Oahu with the airspace all to himself. I can see the appeal of that, certainly. After straying farther out over the Pacific he was surprised to see in the great distance what appeared to be other airplanes. A lot of them. He was curious and flew toward them until it was unmistakable that not only were they airplanes but hundreds of them. No sooner had he and his son realized this that they heard strange sounds like something was whipping past their tiny plane at high speed. That mystery solved itself in short order when several bullets struck their right wing.

Turned out that random lawyer Ray Buduick and his teenage son Martin had, quite without meaning to, entered the United States into World War II.

They had stumbled upon a gaggle of Japanese fighters loitering over the ocean as they waited for the larger, slower bombers in the attack squadron to catch up. As they turned toward Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, Buduick took a perpendicular route away from the attacking planes and hoped that none of the Japanese would bother to break away and follow him. Then, with the attack in progress, they circled back and somehow landed their damaged POS safely.

It might not be technically correct to say that Ray Buduick started the Pacific War, but since I assume that any heirs who could sue me for libel have passed on or do not read things called Gin & Tacos let's be real clear: Ray Buduick totally started the war. Alright, perhaps it is more fair to say that while he may not have started it in the geopolitical sense, he was the first American to come under attack from Imperial Japan, all because he decided to take up flying rather than, say, woodworking. It wouldn't have been exciting but at least he wouldn't have been shot at by Japanese fighter planes for building a credenza in his garage.

NPF: OH. OK.

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 27th, 2015 by Ed

It's not hard to think of a list of historical events that would be interesting to see if we could time travel. I suppose most of us would gravitate toward a relatively short and predictable list of events we would choose to see. My first choice would be a dark horse, though. I'd go to Plymouth Colony in 1621 to see the looks on the faces of the colonists as they encountered a Native American who spoke at them in flawless English.

First they're walking through the woods talking about Olde Tyme things when someone says, I don't know, maybe "Hark! The Red Man approacheth!" Then they did that thing that English speaking white people still do today – assuming that the lack of a mutually intelligible language can be overcome with volume. "GREETINGS, NOBLE SAVAGE! ME, JOHN. WE BRING GIFT, TRADE FOR FOOD." And the Indian fellows look at each other, then one turns and says "We have some corn, John, but why are you yelling?"

Since the English had the damndest time trying to pronounce the local Indian words, the young man's name, Tisquantum, became "Squanto." Close enough I guess. I mean, the guy saved your lives. Don't bother to learn his name or anything. His life story is so ridiculous that if they made a movie about it, nobody would believe it is true.

In 1605, a little remembered explorer named George Weymouth, who was exploring the New England coastline for potential locations for a future colony, picked up Squanto and some other local Indians. Sources disagree on whether they were taken as slaves or enticed with money. Either way, they returned to England and Squanto, a teenager at the time, learned English to serve as an interpreter. After almost a decade in England he joined the voyage of John Smith to Plymouth as a hired hand. He returned to his homeland in 1614…and then was kidnapped immediately by one of Smith's men, taken to Spain, and sold into slavery (for certain this time). Spanish friars rescued the enslaved Native Americans (on the condition that they convert to Catholicism, of course) and Squanto eventually persuaded them to let him return to London. He did in 1617 and worked for two years as a shipbuilder and interpreter, returning to North America with John Smith in 1620.

He promptly made his way back to Plymouth, finding almost his entire tribe dead from European diseases.

Offering to help the struggling English colonists, Squanto visited a neighboring tribe as an emissary. As he attempted to negotiate on the behalf of Plymouth, the tribe took him hostage and threatened to kill him. The armed raid led by a small group of colonists to rescue him may have been the first formal conflict of arms between white Europeans and Native Americans in New England. In any case he was freed and rejoined the colony, only to die of a fever shortly after in 1622. While his birth date is obviously not known, it is speculated that he was around 30.

I find it unacceptable that for all the nonsense we teach kids about American history, we omit the parts that are actually interesting.

NPF: SPRING BREAAAAAK! *EXPOSES BREASTS*

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 20th, 2015 by Ed

This week has been spring break at my university. I'm on record being stridently anti-spring break; when the students return they are already Done with the semester and mentally on Summer Vacation. This is especially true of upperclassmen. And I understand completely. You're let out of school for 10 days, you're nearly graduated, and you're now expected to come back for, what, six more weeks and focus on reading textbook chapters and studying for finals? It would be reasonable to be more preoccupied with, you know, finding a job or preparing for the terrifying world beyond formal education or just plain old being burned out on college coursework. It has always made more sense to me to skip spring break and simply end the semester a week sooner. For students who lack the means to jet off to Cancun there's nothing to do in the middle of March anyway.

That said, I don't control the schedule so I try to make the most of the break. Namely, I try to get some actual work done for the first time this semester. Something about my current situation isn't, uh, conducive to me being very productive. So on a lark I went on airbnb, searched randomly for anything not in a city and within 250-300 miles of my house, and rented a stranger's house in the middle of nowhere for seven days. My theory was that with absolutely nothing to do for entertainment and no one I know or work with providing distractions (welcome or otherwise) I would be able to work uninterrupted for an extended stretch.

You guys, I'm not kidding: I have never gotten so much done in one week in my life. Not even close. Even when I was working on my dissertation and pulling 18 hour days I didn't accomplish this much. This may be the best idea I've ever had, or simply the first good one. It's hard to tell.

There's no reason in theory that I couldn't have simply done this at home. Or in my office. The disconnects between theory and reality are numerous though. I do have some friends, and the temptation to socialize is there. My office is a depressing windowless closet on the most depressing college campus you've ever seen. My house bears some resemblance to a set from "The Wire" and looks out upon a junkyard and a bunch of abandoned buildings. And while the distractions would be pretty minimal over break, it's really amazing (having reflected on it over the past few days) how little research and writing I get done when I'm "at work." It's just impossible to work without interruption. There's always something to grade, another class to prepare for, an exam to write, some meeting to attend, an inbox full of student emails, or someone coming into my office to interrupt. Now, I get that students are the reason I'm employed and I don't think I shouldn't have to have them roaming in and out of my office if they so choose. The fact of the matter is, however, that it makes it hard to get other things done.

But it pales in comparison to the single biggest time suck, the one thing that guarantees that no work gets done At Work: I think on the average day I lose about half of the time I could potentially be getting something done in conversations with co-workers. Again, it's not that I don't like them or don't want to talk to them. It's just another reality of the workplace that runs counter to productivity. Academic writing and research aren't something you can do five minutes at a time. It's not like stuffing envelopes (although it is approximately as exciting). It requires long, uninterrupted periods of immersion and mania. And that isn't available at home or at the office, period.

Perhaps I will start doing this more often, because for the first time in forever I feel good about the amount I got done this week. The panic that comes from feeling like I need to get more things done has subsided. Don't worry, it'll come flooding back next week. But if you need a house-sitter, let me know.

NPF: DO YOU GET TIRED SOMETIMES?

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 13th, 2015 by Ed

I don't watch a ton of TV and the majority of what I do watch consists of live sporting events. I do, however, have my DVR set for the Velocity Network series "Wheeler Dealers." The hosts have a reasonable amount of personality and good taste in finding older, more obscure vehicles to buy and work with (the apple green Lamborghini Urraco and Syrena, aka the "Polish Mini," are my favorite episodes) And what the hell, I like cars. It's much more entertaining than, say, watching a racist British asshole run half-million dollar cars around a track.

One side effect (foreshadowing!) of this viewing habit is exposure to commercials aimed at the target audience of Old White Guys with Some Money. In particular, in the past year there has been a tremendous marketing effort made by the pharmaceutical industry on behalf of something called "Low T." Watch an auto-related show on any network and you'll probably see four of these commercials in the average hour.

Low T (for Testosterone) has a list of symptoms that eerily mimic 1) aging and 2) being sedentary while doing it. Do you have less energy than you used to? Do you have less endurance for physical activity? Do you sometimes feel irritable or cranky? Has your muscle mass declined? Is your libido waning? And of course, there's the $64,000 question to which all advertising aimed at men over 40 can be reduced: Does your wang not work sometimes?

Looking at that list of symptoms you might be thinking they sound an awful lot like the symptoms of no longer being a teenager, of – gasp – aging. But you would be wrong, according to countless major pharmaceutical manufacturers. You have a medical condition in need of treatment! True, the human body naturally reduces its production of testosterone starting around age 30, but…if you ask your doctor to pump you full of it you'll feel young again! The downside is that you're substantially more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. You know, it's almost as if your body isn't supposed to be surging with teenage fratboy levels of sex hormones when your body is a half century old. Almost.

We're all accustomed to the phenomenon of the advertising-driven New Medical Condition rollout, and as always I'm sure actual hormone deficiency is a real medical problem for some people. As we have seen before with things like ADHD and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the effort here is not to fabricate a medical condition but to convince everyone on Earth that they have it. Check out the absolutely hilarious industry website IsItLowT.com to find out whether you have Low T (spoiler: you do) or should ask your doctor about it (spoiler: you should).

It's almost enough to make you wonder why almost every industrialized country on the planet except the United States has banned direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Heck, it's almost as if they want you to think you have something that only their drugs can fix.

NPF: HORN OF PLENTY, SPRING 2015 EDITION

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 6th, 2015 by Ed

It must be at least eight months since the last time I've done Link Salad, which I generally consider to be a dereliction of blogging duties. Nonetheless, I have a critical mass of things that can't fill an entire post on their own. Since it's Friday and nobody wants to work anyway, I am honored to try to alleviate some portion of your boredom.

1. The Guardian has a video and story about people who have volunteered in earnest for a one way suicide mission to Mars. I'm sure some of the thousands of volunteers would qualify as Nuts by the vulgar definition and others are merely attracted to the idea of a spectacular, documented suicide. At least some of them, however, appear to be eccentric but generally Regular People who are willing to make a sacrifice for Science (and an inimitable experience). Maybe it says a lot about how dull most of our lives are here on Terra Firma that so many people would leap at the chance to die on Mars.

2. I was obsessed with Richard Scarry books as a child, so there were many levels on which I could enjoy this Tom the Dancing Bug comic of the author's "Busy Town" in the 21st Century.

3. I love a good photo series and I love some old Eastern Bloc cultural relics, so imagine my delight when I learned that a photographer named David Hylynski is publishing a series of 800 35mm photos he took wandering the streets of Warsaw, Moscow, and other cities in the dying days of the USSR. He made a particular effort to photograph shop windows; it's weird how much we as Americans conceptualize other societies by their habits as consumers. Behind the Curtain, though, they lacked the brand names we prefer to use as stand-ins for an actual understanding of other cultures.

4. For those of you who like aviation as much as I do, you may be interested to hear that Elvis's private jets are being auctioned as part of a makeover of Graceland. His plane "Lisa Marie" is the last remaining airworthy Convair 880 in existence. The airliner was a staggering commercial failure – only 65 were sold and Convair lost an unfathomable $175 million on the project – but it is an elegant design, emblematic of the first generation of passenger jets. While "Lisa Marie" will no doubt end up on display and not in the sky, kudos to the King and Graceland for preserving the aircraft.