Thursday, August 7, 2008

The National Stadium in Beijing - more than meets the eye, I think. Based on this review I'm not so sure.

Architecture reviews should not be allowed on the sports page.

It's taken me three days to decipher the review by Nicolai Ouroussoff of the new National Stadium, affectionately known as "The Bird's Nest", in Beijing. I'm still not sure if "an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination" is anything more than a flowery placeholder, but I'll do my best to break down the extraordinary use of language employed by Mr. Ouroussoff.

Here we go:

Given the astounding expectations piled upon the National Stadium, I’m surprised it hasn’t collapsed under the strain.

It's a structural engineering metaphor! Hooray!

Its elliptical latticework shell, which has earned it the nickname the Bird’s Nest, has an intoxicating beauty that lingers in the imagination. Its allure is only likely to deepen once the enormous crowds disperse and the Olympic Games fade into memory.

Really? He had to go with "intoxicating beauty"? This might be the most gag-inducing 2 word phrase in the English language. And equally stupid. "Don't let me drive home, man, this road is too beautiful." Dumb. You can do better than that, Nicolai.

Herzog and de Meuron (the architects) have carved out psychological space for the individual, and rethought the relationship between the solitary human and the crowd, the everyday and the heroic.

That's a little better. Now I can attack language. What is psychological space? Is it:
  • a. something a stupid person has a lot of
  • b. a bogus selling point for NYC real estate brokers, as in "sure it's a little tight, but there's plenty of psychological space."
  • c. a placeholder phrase for architecture reviewers at a loss for descriptive phrases that actually mean something
Viewed from a distance, the contrast between its bent steel columns and its bulging elliptical form gives the stadium a surreal, moody appearance, as if it were straining to contain the forces that are pushing and pulling it this way and that. Philosophically, it suggests the tensions just beneath the surface of a society in constant turmoil.
...From close up, the tilting beams suggest rather a dark and enchanted forest in a fairy tale.

So if I stand far away, I feel a sense of societal turmoil. But if I get closer, I'm suddenly Little Red Riding Hood?

The crisscrossing columns create a Piranesian world of dark corners and odd leftover spaces
Make up your mind? How can the crisscrossing columns mean all of those things? And what the hell does Piranesian mean?

Piranesian - relating to Italian architect Giovanni Piranesi, whose sketches led to the etchings of Rome and its ruins contributed to the revival of neoclassicism.

Well that clears things up. Especially for most readers of the Sports section. I mean, what sports fan doesn't know the name Giovanni Piranesi? He's like the Tiger Woods of Italian Neoclassicism for goodness sake. Come on.

Clearly, Mr. Ouroussoff is in touch with his audience.

The feverish play of light and shadows is reminiscent of the set for a German Expressionist film.

Oh yeah. I mean, how can you not look at the National Stadium in Beijing and immediately think of Paul Leni's 1923 classic Das Wachsfigurenkabinett or Emil Jannings in his his signature role as the demoted hotel doorman in Der Letzte Mann? The association is obvious to most sports fans. It has to be.

By creating a hierarchy of intimate spaces, Herzog and de Meuron allow for unexpected moments of privacy and solitude.

Well, Mr. Ouroussoff, you've done about everything you can to be as pretentious as possible. All that's missing is the word "zeitgeist".

Herzog and de Meuron’s achievement is undeniable. Rather than offering us a reflection of China’s contemporary zeitgeist, they set out to create a sphere of resistance, and to gently redirect society’s course.

Ah, There you go.

The National Stadium reaffirms architecture’s civilizing role in a nation that, despite its outward confidence, is struggling to forge a new identity out of a maelstrom of inner conflict.

Translation -- it's a pretty cool stadium. Check it out.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay, on Thursday

On Wednesday, the New York Times accidentally printed an old crossword puzzle. On Thursday (today), it printed the new Wednesday puzzle alongside the new Thursday. That's right. One paper, two puzzles. It's a crossword nerd paradise.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I shall live blog my solving of the side-by-side puzzles.

It's a special Thursday edition of Wednesday Wordplay. Stop reading now if you haven't done the puzzles yet and plan to.

Ok. I'm going for pure stream of consciousness here, so bear with me. Or don't, I don't care. Hey, be happy I'm blogging something again the way the summer's been going.

I start with the Wednesday puzzle, which has a pattern of circles throughout that kind of looks like a staircase. I start at 9-across (Frank in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). That's ZAPPA, and then 9 down (Cubic ______) is ZIRCONIA. Both of those words start with Z and end with A. Both words are in circles. I thought 1 across (Coors Product) might be Beer, but it's also circled, so I'll go with ZIMA. Don't hear much about Zima anymore. 4-down (Ingrediente en paella) starts with A, and ends with Z - ARROZ. Gracias, Senora Collella.

Let's try to get all the circles. 23 across (Keebler cracker brand) I'll come back to, but it must end in A. 24 down (Flagstaff's place) is ARIZONA. 39 across (This puzzles theme) crosses Arizona at the Z, and starts with A and ends with Z, so it's "A-TO-Z-TO-A". That works. 39 down (The Rock) ALCATRAZ. Thank you Sean Connery. 68 across (Ball's Comic partner) "arnaz."

70 across (Animated film hit of 1998) ANTZ. Never saw that one.

Off to a good start. Let's get rolling.

A recital player is a SOLOIST. 1 down (Goes this way before going that) is zigs or zags. But it means 17 across (lovers of fine fare)starts with G. I don't know yet.
Rough up - MAUL. NYC Theater area - Bway. What's more - AND. Sammy Davis, Jr's "___ Can" starting with Y, must be YES I.

All the way to 41 across now (One of eight Eng. kings) is EDS. Because Eng. is abbreviated in the clue, the answer is abbreviated too. There were eight Edwards, or Eds here. Let's get the crossers - 31 down (Cubs, but not Bears for short) think Chicago, think baseball vs. football and you get NLERS, short for national leaguers, a crossword puzzle favorite. 32 down (When said 3 times, "et cetera") that's YADDA, as in "yadda yadda yadda." And 33 down (Ol' Blue Eyes classic). MY WAY, but only if 41 across is EDW. One of eight. So it is EDW.

60 down Let's leave IT AT that. 54 down lady of Spain is a DAMA. 49 down Of course, senor! SI SI senor. Boy Spanish class is coming in handy. Begins slowly - EASES IN.

Yes! Lovers of fine fare - GOURMANDS. That will open things up. So that's MIES van der Rohe, a military official is a BRASS HAT, and 6 down (deteriorated) is WENT TO POT. Incidentally, the Keebler cracker is a ZESTA. 44 across (Famous Amos) TORI. She has nothing to do with cookies.

40 down (Getty or Rockefeller) is OIL BARON. Madison Ave trade is ADBIZ. That's the last of the theme clues. Harsh quality - STRIDENCE. Sacramento Arena - ARCO. Secluded area - GLEN. Mother of England's Charles II and James II - Henrietta. English history classes paying off as well.

Back up to the top right corner. This puzzle is harder than I thought it would be at the beginning. 12 across (producers' fears) is pans, so it's producers as in movies and pans as in bad reviews. Apple instant messaging program is ICHAT. River flowing in and out of Lake geneva is the RHONE, Madden and How - INCENSE. Nothing to do with John. 22 down (Three R's org) is NRA. Nothing to do with guns, that's the National Recovery Administration, one of FDR's programs. FDR's successor was Truman, who's last secretary of state (10 Down) was ACHESON.
Still with me? I'm almost done with the first puzzle...1 Down must be zigs, because you zig before you zag and the clue is goes this way before that. So Zigs, I'm going with it. So ITAR Tass news agency, not ATAR. I think that's right. Top is done.

Sci-fi sidekick, maybe - BOT? NYC Country Club? - THE UN. That's cute. "What a kidder!" - OH YOU. Free Pass, of sorts - BYE.

54 across (redlines) is DEMOTES. 9 empty squares to go. Stiller's comedy partner is Anne MEARA. 6 to go. Richard Strauss must have been born in MUNICH because that's what fits. Down to 3. 62 Across (Be _____ and...) 5 letters A_ _ _ R

A Dear! It's done! But wait, flip the page over...and there's a whole other puzzle for me to do...on the Subway home. I'll let you know how it goes.

One more time though - the A to Z to A theme: ZIMARROZESTARIZONADBIZEENAntZ and ARNAZARTACLATOZTOAINOCRIZAPPA (Alcatraz and Zirconia are the backwards ones) .

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Story of the Week - June 30-July 4

A day early, cause of that holiday thing.

A couple of my favorite July 4 facts:
  1. George M. Cohan, the man who wrote the song "Born on the Fourth of July", was born on July 3, 1878.
  2. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political rivals and the country's 2nd and 3rd presidents, both died on the same day - July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
  3. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution declaring "these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States." But it says July 4th on the Declaration, so we go with that.
On to story of the week, which I call:

FARC: Funniest name of an extremist left-wing insurgent terrorist group ever!

FARC , the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is widely recognized as a terrorist cell, or a group of gangster thugs perhaps, have had a stranglehold on the legitimate Colombian government for decades and control most of the region's lucrative and criminal cocaine production. FARC is the reason the U.S. sends billions of dollars in aid to Colombia in the name of drug prevention.

FARC has hundreds of people held hostage deep in the Colombian jungle. And this week, they have 15 fewer, thanks to a stunningly awesome rescue by the Colombian army and US forces there.

Two things strike me about the hostage rescue: 1. the way it happened is a deliciously good story. and 2. the fact that there have been American hostages in Colombia for years, and we hardly ever hear about them.

So first, the rescue. Here's how it happened. Government agents spent months working their way into FARC ranks. They gained the trust of the rebels, got themselves promoted to levels where they could learn the inner workings of the organization, and put themselves in positions of power.

Then the agents proposed a plan to move 15 hostages from three different locations deep in the jungle to one rendezvous point 90 miles away, telling their FARC friends that an international mission was coming to visit the hostages.

More government agents posing as FARC rebels met the 60 or so real FARC rebels and the 15 hostages at the rendezvous point via helicopter. The helicopter crew handcuffed the hostages and took them aboard, along with two of the 60 guards. The helicopter took off. When it was safely off the ground, the government agents knocked out the 2 FARC guards, cuffed them, then uncuffed the hostages and told them they were free.

It was a beautifully simple, perfectly executed bait-and-switch that could be a James Bond plot if it hasn't been already. As a result, FARC was humiliated and significantly weakened by the Colombian Government, which has been battling the terrorist group seemingly forever. Also, 3 of the hostages were American, and had spend nearly 5 years in FARC prison camps.

That's right, five years. I bet you hadn't heard about that.

It's my understanding that during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81, when over 50 Americans were held hostage at the embassy in Tehran, ABC created a nightly news cast devoted to all developments in the effort to bring them home. Today, it's called Nightline.
Every night, Ted Koppel gave Americans a daily reminder that there were Americans in captivity abroad. That crisis lasted 444 days.

These guys in Colombia were there for 5 years! How has there been no outrage? Or at least, some news on the situation, some effort to get them back? It doesn't make sense. And worst of all, there are more of them, still being held deep in the Colombian jungle, by a group of terrorists.

I don't know if we can expect more daring rescues any time soon, but we should be working on it, especially if we're supposed to be fighting a "global war on terror." Not all terrorists speak Arabic. Some of them speak Spanish and grow cocaine.

And have a silly acronym. FARC!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Where Have I Been?

I know, I've been MIA, thanks to the 10 of you that noticed.

I'll make it up to you, with my 10 favorite news stories of the last 2 weeks, in no particular order.

Harmony in Unity
I'm glad Hillary and Barack made nice, but the way they did it makes me want to throw up. And I want to throw up right on the town of Unity, NH. Unity, NH, a town so united, the town's democrats cast exactly the same number of votes for Obama as they did for Clinton. Doesn't sound like unity to me. And to the democrats - stop giving the media the easy way out when it comes to punnery and wordplay. Make 'em work for it.

Gas Prices Hurting Brothels

This is my favorite "gas prices hurting business" story of all time. Brothels in Nevada are experiencing a roughly 25% decline in business because of high gas prices. See, 75% of brothel clients are long-haul truckers who have to spend double what they spent a year ago on gas, leaving less money, presumably, for, um, other things.

But the brothels aren't taking this lying down. One brothel is offering $50 gas cards to clients who spend $300, and $100 cards for those who spend $500.
Another, the Moonlite BunnyRanch (the one made famous by HBO's Cathouse: The Series...don't act like you don't know...) is offering to provide double the services for the first 100 people who spend their economic stimulus checks at the brothel.
The BunnyRanch calls its promotion "Double Your Stimulus."

Man Leaves Jail Naked, Gets Arrested Again
In a related story, well, the headline pretty much covers it. Guy gets let out of jail, doesn't like the clothes he was given. So he takes off said clothes, starts to walk home naked. Witnesses call police, who arrest the man and take him to jail.

Mets win Subway Series
Here's a fun stat - Jose Reyes has scored a run in each of the last 13 Mets wins.
Actual conversation from the 7 train after Sunday's 3-1 Mets victory:
10 year old kid: Yankees Rule! Mets Stink!
Much older passenger: Scoreboard!
10 year old kid: Yankees won two out of three
Much Older passenger: no, they split--
10 Year old kid: --if you don't count the game on Friday, which was really from May.
Other passenger: But the Mets swept at Yankee Stadium
10 Year old kid: yeah they did but Yankees won 2 out of three at Shea.
Other passenger: So the Mets won the Subway series 4 out of 6.
10 year old kid: Yankees Rule! Mets Stink!

Tiger's Big Day
It took 19 extra holes, but Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open. A day later he announced he was having season-ending knee surgery. That means he won the U.S. Open with a broken leg. And that's just crazy.

Employee Who Updated Russert's Wikipedia Page Fired
When Tim Russert died, the first place I saw the news (after hearing rumors fly for about an hour) was Wikipedia. The page simply said "Tim Russert (May 7, 1950 - June 13, 2008) Of course, it was 3:30 on June 13, 2008 when I saw it, and the mainstream news media had yet to break the news. It's possible Russert's family didn't know before that was posted. I thought there had to be a b-movie plot in there somewhere - "a man changes his ways after wikipedia says he's going to die the next day." Turns out - a junior-level employee at a company that provides web services to NBC posted to Wikipedia, thinking the news was already public knowledge. Oops.
I'll take "things that can get you fired very quickly for $200, Alex..."

Hardee Har Har
Two notable passings - one melancholy mash-up headline.
Wilbur Hardee, founder of Hardee's restaurants, died June 20, at the age of 89. Of course, West of the Rockies, he was known as Wilbur Carl's Jr.

Hardee opened his first burger stand in 1960. There are now nearly 2,000 Hardee's restaurants nationwide.

And comedian and wordsmith George Carlin died last week. I saw this particularly negative obituary of him in a Nova Scotia newspaper by Peter Duffy, an article I'm sure Carlin would have had a good chuckle at, and clearly said something like "this guy doesn't get it," and turned his words against him. Here's my favorite paragraph:

He was probably best known for his Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television routine. Two of these words involved bodily functions; two were slang names for parts of the female anatomy; one was an Anglo-Saxon word for the sex act and the remaining two were insults involving derivatives of it.

Let me help you, Mr Duffy:
Two of these words involved bodily functions - shit and piss
two were slang names for parts of the female anatomy - tits and cunt
one was an Anglo-Saxon word for the sex act - fuck
and the remaining two were insults involving derivatives of it - motherfucker, and...well, the 7th word is "cocksucker," which isn't a derivative of "fuck", so he's wrong. Which makes his indignation even funnier.

The right to arm bears?
Makes about as much sense as the Supreme Court decision that will put more handguns on the streets of Washington, D.C. and other crime-ridden areas. The court says individuals have the right to defend themselves with assault rifles and such. I think they're misreading the sentence:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

I'm all in favor of the Constitution, but can't we agree that some of the language is obsolete? BrookLyn GaL and I had a discussion about the 3rd amendment:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

This was drafted because American colonists were forced to house British soldiers during the French and Indian War, and pretty much doesn't apply to today's army at all. It's pretty obsolete, but doesn't really garner much discussion. We decided it can stay in the Constitution, because what if the country went under martial law or something and the army forced you to let a soldier crash on your couch and then required you to feed him/her? That would be terribly inconvenient.

Dog loses $10 Million
a year ago, Leona Helmsley died and left $12 million, the largest portion of her inheritance, to her dog Trouble (instead of to her family or her charitable fund or countless other worthier causes). A judge reduced the amount to $2 million last week, saying that is enough money to fund the highest, most luxurious level of care for 10 years - double the dog's life expectancy. The judge said the other $10 million should go to charity. Trouble currently lives in Florida with the General Manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel. He estimates the annual care costs at $190,000, including his own $60,000 guardian fee and $100,000 for round-the-clock security.

Martha Stewart Visa Denied
Because of her criminal history and subsequent jail time, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart was barred entrance the United Kingdom. The government says they don't want redecorating the Houses of Parliament or recklessly improving the quality of British cuisine.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Story of the Week - June 9-13

Happy Birthday Dad.

Wither Reality?

Maybe, just maybe, the reality TV craze is ending. Or at least receding.

On Monday night, New episodes of reality TV shows got lower ratings than reruns of scripted shows on other networks.

ABC finished 4th among the major networks. A two hour episode of The Bachelorette took in less than 7 million viewers. The Mole followed up with just 4 million.
Meanwhile, reruns of House and Bones on Fox doubled up ABC. So did a rerun of CBS' CSI: Miami. I know it's just one night, so I can't call it a trend. But these numbers are encouraging.

I'm not saying that reality tv is disappearing. Just that it's slowly exiting the network TV stage. In 2000-01, just as the reality craze was taking hold, networks collectively aired 7 reality shows. This included Fox's COPS and America's Most Wanted, arguably two of the original reality tv series, and definitely the most persistent. The list also included the second installment of Survivor which was then making weekly headlines (remember Richard Hatch, the naked guy who won the first one?), and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which isn't a reality show so much as a game show, but Millionaire proved that networks could stop trying to fill each time slot with something different, as it aired the Regis Philbin quizzer 3, sometimes 4 or even 5 days a week.

By 2004-05, the craze was in full swing. Networks offered 31 reality shows that year, from standbys like Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race, to more forgettable programs like My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, Life of Luxury, and Renovate My Family. And of course, COPS and America's Most Wanted. You could say the network tv landscape was oversaturated with cheaply made, poorly planned reality garbage. And you'd be (with a few exceptions) right.

In 2007-08, before the writer's strike, only 17 reality shows hit the networks, and a similar amount is planned for '08-'09. 17 is still a lot, but here's the thing: many are really game shows (Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader, Deal or No Deal, Don't Forget the Lyrics), not reality shows. And even more striking is the fact of the 17 planned for '08-'09, only one (Opportunity Knocks) is new. And that one's borrowed from Britain. And of course 2 of them are COPS and America's Most Wanted.

Sidebar: why are COPS and America's Most Wanted still on, and are they really making new episodes? And is anybody watching? Really?

The bulk of reality TV has been relegated to Cable. Chances are, you have one vice or another (mine is Top Chef) you stalk on Bravo, VH1, MTV, or the Learning Channel (or Discovery, or Food Network, etc.) The genre has been diced up into subgenres like competition and celeb reality and others. And I'm convinced the channel selection would contract significantly if people suddenly stopped watching reality TV altogether.

But network TV is and should be held to a higher standard. Bigger budgets, yes, but also higher quality shows with more of a chance at becoming part of the greater public conversation. The reality shows that have stuck on network tv are the ones that have become fixtures in American pop culture (American Idol, Dancing With the Stars) are just plain better than most other offerings (The Amazing Race, Survivor) or for some reason still pull big ratings (The Bachelor, Extreme Makeover Home Edition). We want quality on network TV, keep the crap on cable (and we want R-rated quality on HBO and Showtime)

Reality raised the bar for Sitcoms and Dramas, and those shows are living up to the challenge with quality offerings. Quality enough that a rerun of a good drama is more popular than a new episode of a piece of crap reality show. Cable knows this. The premiere of the second season of the drama Army Wives just became Lifetime's highest rated show ever. And more and more cable shows are ending up with emmy nominations.

Some say we're living in the golden age of television right now. I have to agree, except I miss The West Wing. Because we have so many choices as consumers, producers can't just throw crap at us all the time. So half the reality junk food has gone away, leaving room for a well-balanced meal on Network TV.

Now if only Fox would cancel COPS.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay - more Scrabulous fun!

One game of Scrabble. 42 words needing to be put to good use. Um, sort of.

A Wavey is a wild North American goose, the only zoic word of the bunch.

Two words start with Q - Quags (short for quagmires - giggity) and Qi. Qi is a vital life force, so it doesn't need a "U". Just like Qatar, a country in the middle east, but you can't use it in Scrabble. Its currency, the Riyal, is good.

If you go see an ex, a former Jo, or an old flame, if you will, don't count on sex. That's wrong, and it could get you into a heap of trouble.

Grandma knits sweaters and says "Pin your jeans when they get too long." Er...what else?

The vet gave the dog a clip, which caused her to wag her tail. Then he retied the bow on her head, and freed her.

Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do...demos an aural exercise.

Too silly? a strange tact? Nah, I rode it this far, I feel haled to finish what I started.

Gob? Es de tab? ah, na...

All done. Woo!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Story of the Week - June 2-6

It's the Stupid Economy, Stupid

Facts: The U.S Economy lost 49,000 jobs in May, and has lost 324,000 year to date.
The Unemployment rate rose from 5.0% in april to 5.5% in May, the biggest monthly increase since 1986.

What Barack Obama wants:
Change that will provide working families with a middle-class tax cut, affordable health care and college, and an energy plan that will create up to five million good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

What John McCain says Barack Obama wants:
The wrong change for our country - an economic agenda based upon the policies of the past that advocate higher taxes, bigger government, government-run health care and greater isolationism.

What John McCain wants:
immediate tax relief (aka tax cuts), enacting a HOME plan to help those facing foreclosure, lowering health care costs, investing in innovation, moving toward energy independence and opening foreign markets to our goods.

What Barack Obama says John McCain wants:
to spend billions of dollars on tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs and continue failed Bush economic policies for another 4 years.

What Hillary Clinton wants: still not entirely sure.

What I want:

I want the "change" wars to stop. Senators, you are overusing the word.

I want to stop hearing about tax cuts until the U.S has paid off its gazillion dollars in debt. Taxes pay for stuff we need. Like roads. And running water. And wars.

I want old Jews to stop thinking Barack Obama is a muslim. He's not. This isn't an issue that's up for debate.

I want all those women who voted for Hillary and shouted "Denver!" at her rally Tuesday to realize that a John McCain presidency means no chance at universal health care.

I want issues like abortion, gay marriage, and whether or not a candidate wears a flag pin to go away.

I want people who can cause the price of oil to rise by $11 a barrel to be a little more careful about what they say:

Israeli's deputy Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, said "an attack on Iran is unavoidable." This spooked the oil market and caused the price to skyrocket.

Hey! Shaul! Shut up. There was no need for you to say that. If Iran develops a viable nuclear weapon, Israel is going to at least try to blow it up (and chances are they'll succeed). Just ask Iraq or Syria what happened to their nuclear programs. And, Mr. Mofaz, if an attack on Iran is unavoidable, then you can't avoid it by talking about it. Keep your mouth shut. Gas is expensive enough.

I want Barack Obama to beat John McCain in November.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Foofaraw - A big fuss over small matters

So things happen. I miss a story of the week. After being late on another. I'm slacking. Let's get you caught up with some foofaraw.

If you could ask an astronaut one question only, what would it be? If you're normal, you'd ask, "how do you go to the bathroom in space?" And thus, there's the number one (or number two) reason we as a nation have paid attention to NASA this year.

But fear not. After two weeks of manual flushing, Discovery arrived with a spare pump and the Russian-made toilet has been restored to full working order.


The guy who invented the Pringles can died last weekend. His family honored his dying wish to have a portion of his cremains placed inside a Pringles can.

I don't have a joke for this.

============================================= is offering a money-back guarantee if you book a summer vacation and it rains for more than half your trip.

Translation: is offering free trips to London, England this summer.


Yves Saint Laurent died yesterday and was also a clue in the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Isn't that weird?


I might be in the middle of the weirdest Scrabulous game ever. Among the words used so far:
aural, quag, riyal, and zoic. More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay - Freedom is Pancakes

George W. Bush gave the commencement address at the U.S Air Force Academy today. He used the word "freedom" a total of twenty times.

I also saw an add for IHOP with the slogan "International House of Freedom"

By this logic, freedom=pancakes.

For good measure, tyranny=waffles.

I've revised and abridged Mr. Bush's remarks for this Wednesday Wordplay. Enjoy.

Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you for the kind introduction. General Moseley, General Regni; Mr. Congressman, thank you. Academy staff and faculty, distinguished guests, and proud family members. I am so pleased to stand before the future leaders of the United States Air Force.

In the 20th century, air power helped make possible pancake's victory in great ideological struggles with fascism and communism. In those struggles, our nation faced evil men with territorial ambitions and totalitarian aims, who murdered the innocent to achieve their political objectives. Through a combination of military strength and national resolve, and faith in the power of pancakes, we defeated these adversaries -- and secured the peace for millions across the world.

And now, in the 21st century, our nation is once again contending with an ideology that seeks to sow anger and hatred and despair -- the ideology of Islamic extremism. In today's struggle, we are once again facing evil men who despise pancakes, and despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule. And once again, our nation is called to defeat these adversaries -- and secure the peace for millions across the world. And once again, our enemies will be no match for the men and women of the United States Air Force.

Today, revolutionary advances in technology are transforming warfare. During Operation Iraqi Pancakes, for example, we employed military capabilities so precise that coalition air crews could take out a tank hiding under a bridge without damaging the bridge. With this military technology, we can now target a regime without targeting an entire nation. We've removed two cruel regimes in weeks instead of years. In Afghanistan, coalition forces and their Afghan allies drove the Taliban from power in less than two months. In Iraq, with the help of the United States Air Force, our troops raced across 350 miles of enemy territory to liberate Baghdad in less than one month -- one of the fastest armored advances in military history.

These facts create both opportunities and challenges. One opportunity is that, if we have to fight our enemies, we can now do so with greater precision and greater humanity. In the age of advanced weapons, we can better strike -- we can better target strikes against regimes and individual terrorists. Sadly, there will be civilian casualties in war. But with these advances, we can work toward this noble goal: defeating the enemies of pancakes while sparing the lives of many more innocent people -- which creates another opportunity, and that is, by making war more precise, we can make war less likely.

And you'll see the impact of these changes in your own Air Force careers. Instead of serving at 10,000 feet, some of you will serve on the ground as battlefield airmen -- deploying behind enemy lines and using laser technology to fix targets for aviators circling above. Instead of sitting in jet fighter cockpits, some of you will sit before computer consoles at bases here in the United States, where you'll guide Predator UAVs half a world away and use them to strike terrorist hideouts. These and other changes will increase your ability to prevail in asymmetric warfare. They will make you more effective in the defense of pancakes.

President George W. Bush shares a phone conversation with a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy Wednesday, May 28, 2008, after commencement ceremonies in Colorado Springs. The President told the class of 2008, "You're the 50th graduating class in the history of the Air Force Academy. Each of you has worked hard to reach this moment. I'll leave this campus today filled with the confidence in the course of our struggle and the fate of our country, because I've got confidence in each of you." White House photo by Eric Draper

In both the 20th century and today, defeating hateful ideologies requires using our national resources to strengthen free institutions in countries that are fighting extremists. We must help these nations govern their territorial -- territory effectively so they can deny safe haven to our common enemies. And in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we removed regimes that threatened our people, we have a special obligation to help these nations build free and just societies that are strong partners in the fight against these extremists and terrorists.

We've assumed this obligation before. After World War II, we helped Germany and Japan build free societies and strong economies. These efforts took time and patience, and as a result, Germany and Japan grew in freedom and prosperity. Germany and Japan, once mortal enemies, are now allies of the United States. And people across the world have reaped the benefits from that alliance. Today, we must do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq. By helping these young democracies grow in pancakes and prosperity, we'll lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

This experience will help shape your careers as officers in the United States Air Force. During your time in uniform, some of you will have to help young democracies build free institutions amid chaos and confusion. You'll have to work with civilians on the battlefield in ways generations never imagined. To support your efforts, to help you make young democracies transition from waffles to pancakes, one thing is for certain: The United States Congress better make sure you have all the resources you need to do your job.

For all the advanced military capabilities at our disposal, the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the power of pancakes. We can see this story in the 20th century. In 1941, when Nazi bombers pounded London and Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the future of pancakes appeared bleak. There were only about a dozen democracies in the world -- it seemed that waffles, not liberty, was on the march. And even after Japan and Germany were defeated in World War II, pancakes' victory was far from clear. In Europe, the advance of Nazi waffles was replaced by the advance of Soviet waffles. In Asia, the world saw the Japanese Empire recede and communism claim most of its former territory -- from China to Korea, to Vietnam.

Many throughout history have underestimated the power of pancakes to overcome waffles and transform whole societies. Yet in the end, despite challenges and setbacks, pancakes ultimately prevail, because the desire for liberty is written by our Creator in every human heart. We see that desire in the citizens of Georgia and Ukraine who stood up for their right to free and fair elections. We see that desire in the people of Lebanon who took to the streets to demand their independence. We see that desire in the Afghans who emerged from the waffles of the Taliban to choose a new president and a new parliament. We see that desire in the jubilant Iraqis who held up ink-stained fingers, and celebrated their pancakes. And in these scenes, we see an unmistakable truth: Whenever men and women are given a real choice, they choose to live in pancakes.

The enemies of pancakes understand this -- and that is why they're fighting desperately to deny this choice to men and women across the Middle East. But we understand some things, too: We understand that pancakes help replace the conditions of hopelessness that extremists exploit to recruit terrorists and suicide bombers. We understand that free societies are peaceful societies, and that people who live in liberty and hope do not turn to ideologies of hatred and fear. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace for the world, the great mission of your generation is to lead the cause of pancakes.

This is the last time I'll address a military Academy commencement as the President. Over the past eight years, from Annapolis to West Point, to New London, to Colorado Springs, I have looked out at the best young men and women our nation has to offer -- and I have stood in awe. And I stand in awe again today. Each of you is a volunteer who stepped forward to accept the burdens of war, knowing all the dangers you would face upon graduation. You willingly risk your lives and futures so that our country can have a future of pancakes and peace. Our enemies say that America is weak and decadent, and does not have the stomach for the long fight.

A nation that produces citizens of virtue and character and courage like you can overcome any challenge and defeat any adversary. So I'll leave this campus today filled with the confidence in the course of our struggle and the fate of our country, because I've got confidence in each of you.

Thank you. May God bless, and congratulations to the Class of 2008.

Ok, also: someone tell me what this is supposed to mean:

And we need to recognize that the only way America can lose the war on terror is if we defeat ourselves.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Story of the Week - May 19-23

And Now an Important Message from American Airlines

Dear Loyal Customer:

Due to the recent astronomical rise in fuel prices, American Airlines has been forced to pass on additional costs to its passengers. We understand this is an inconvenience, but we’d like to make it up to you.

In an effort to keep your business, American has decided to lower the price of all fares to $5*.

However, we are reducing the size of our fleet to one plane per airport. To meet demand, all seats on all flights will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Winners of all spaces will receive a congratulatory letter (please add $5 shipping and handling to the final auction price for your congratulatory letter) and the option to upgrade to a seat with a seatbelt, 2 armrests, dropdown oxygen mask and seat cushion floatation device for $250. (Due to FAA regulations, this optional upgrade is mandatory).

Once your seat is reserved**, we hope your airport experience will be a pleasant one. To speed the process, you may print your boarding pass at home. To do so, go to and click “check in at home.” Have your credit card ready***. You may also check in at the airport using our automated kiosks, a major credit card and your confirmation number. If you do not remember your confirmation number, you may purchase a new one for the convenient low price of $20 (note: you must have a confirmation number in order to check in).

After you have paid for your boarding pass, you can check any bags you may have brought with you (and for that matter, you can check any bags you may not have brought with you!), again for a nominal fee for your convenience. American will now check your bags for the low low price of $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second bag, and $100 for the third bag. If checking more than 3 bags, a routine credit check is required along with a minimum down payment of $2,000 toward the cost of a used MD-80 passenger aircraft****.

For your comfort and convenience, American Airlines has overhauled the TSA Security experience. We’re really excited about our “Personal Choice TSA” program and we think you will be, too. Our security experience is now only $37. If you’d like your full cavity search performed by an attractive member of the opposite sex, please add $50. For children, we suggest you purchase anti-pedophile insurance for $95. It’s a small price to pay for your child’s safety and security.

Once on board the aircraft, we have a number of services available for your comfort and entertainment. First, we invite you to rent space in our overhead compartments to store any bulky carryon luggage you have chosen not to check. Space is available for just $29 per square inch.

The in-flight safety demonstration is as good as any fringe theater performance. Tickets are mandatory and just $17. During flight, complementary beverages are available for $9. Supplementary beverages are also available for $18. If you’d like to use the bathroom, be sure to bring quarters, and a little bit of luck! If you don’t have quarters, they may be purchased on board for $2 each.

We do apologize that due to budget constraints, American no longer offers luxuries such as meals, pillows, blankets, in-cabin lighting, or window shades. However, we at American Airlines are committed to your comfort and safety. If you should need assistance at any point during the flight, please feel free to ask a flight attendant, who will gladly come to your seat, hit you with a hammer, knock you unconscious and steal what’s left of your money. We assure you you’ll wake up refreshed and ready for an adventure, wherever your final destination may be. And we really mean that, because depending on how much fuel our experienced flight crew is given to work with, you may or may not make it to your intended destination.

American Airlines appreciates your business in these difficult times. We hope you’ll take advantage of our industry-low $5 fares the next time your travel plans call for
air travel.*****


American Airlines.

*Does not include federal airline tax ($92), sales tax ($1.22), Federal anti-terrorism surcharge ($100), and NASA airspace intrusion fees ($1,339). North Dakota residents add $5,000 to final cost of flight. $5 fares not valid for flights between any two original colonies.

**All seat reservations subject to change. American Airlines does not officially accept bribes for better seat locations but it does accept unofficial bribes in the form of cash, family heirlooms, child labor and sexual favors.

***Please add $9 per credit card transaction. Cash, personal checks not accepted.

****Bag check not required to purchase retired aircraft. Seriously, wanna buy an old MD-80? Still works, just guzzles gas and we can’t afford that now, can we? C’mon, be a pal, buy an airplane. I’m talking to you, national airline of small African country…

*****This letter is property of AMR Corporation and must be returned within 2 days of receipt at risk of $30,000 fine and up to 90 days incarceration.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay - Haikus

There seems to come a time in the life of every blog when haiku is employed. For the Full Circle, that time is now.

This week's Wednesday Wordplay: definitions in Haiku.

You have skinny toes
and skinny fingers. You are

Remuneration -
Something that pays an equal
Amount for; Fair pay.

Clearness and Lucidity.
Simple enough, right?

--ous. Damn! Too many sylla--
--bles. Damn! Did it a--

(Oh, yeah, by the way
Extemporaneous means

A malingerer
Calls in sick even if he's
perfectly healthy.

Look at all of these
diff'rent elements! A Nice

Hey! Olivier!
Read these haikus to yourself -
No histrionics!

Benedict Arnold
The most famous disloyal,
Perfidious man.

A powerful storm
that sucks things to its middle
is called a maelstrom.

Patronizingly haughty
expressing contempt.

don't know the meaning? Don't be
lazy - look it up!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Story of the Week - May 12-16

A little late this week. Do I lose a letter grade?

Grey's Anatomy Sucks

I got hooked on Grey's Anatomy (and I took the heat from my guy friends for it) back when it was eye and ear candy. It was sexy, it was funny, it was quirky. And now it sucks.

Just when I thought this show couldn't get any worse than it was at the stale, drawn out, and at times frustrating end of the last season, it decides to move the plot with brain tumors. Lots of them.

For the past 4 episodes, someone checks in to Seattle Grace Hospital with an inoperable brain tumor, some odd supposed-to-be-funny-or-teach-you-something mood altering brain damage, and checks out in a body bag. In this week's episode, Meredith thinks the woman's tumor is causing her to invent a boyfriend. The woman wants to wait for the boyfriend to come before she goes under the knife. Meredith insists the boyfriend is imaginary. Woman goes in for surgery. Turns out boyfriend is real, and he shows up just in time to see his girlfriend turned into a vegetable. How uplifting.

And how stupid. Because we all know what's coming. The tumor parade is a set up for Meredith and Derek to get back together for the three millionth time. Probably after they save one of these tumor patients and drink that not-so-subtly-foreshadowed bottle of champagne.

The once fun and scandalous show has become boring, predictable and melodramatic. Consider the synopsis of one of the better episodes from Season 1:

A sexually transmitted disease breaks out and affects several members of the hospital staff. Chief Webber promptly calls a meeting. Meanwhile, the chief reluctantly tells Dr. Derek Shepherd about his own medical concerns. Izzie and Cristina worry about a patient's wife and daughter who can't agree on his care. Burke treats his college buddy Bill, whose medical diagnosis raises some questions regarding his wife's actions. Then just as Meredith and Derek grow more intimate, a surprise is revealed.

Yes! It was the STD hour, in a funny way! And then at the end, the surprise - "you must be the woman who's sleeping with my husband." And we're off and running.

Three years later, nobody's shtupping in the on-call room, Izzie, Meredith, new sexy intern Lexi, etc, all keep their clothes on and the episode ends with Torres and Hahn sharing a kiss in the elevator. A girl on girl kiss that we've been bracing for for a month, and NOT looking forward to.

In conclusion, allow me to bash the show with a series of medical metaphors. Someone call in a code blue and charge the paddles. Grey's is crashing.

Looks like this show could use some experimental brain surgery.

Cause at the moment, it's making me sick.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay - Phrases to be phased out

Today - 3 Phrases that need to disappear.

1. Have a safe day
This phrase is usually used to conclude a train safety announcement encouraging you to watch the gap between the train and the station platform and speak up if you think the guy sitting next to you might have a bomb in his briefcase. Then you're told "have a safe day."

So for the record, if you aren't blown up or crushed between the train and the platform?
Isn't it safe to say that nearly every day is a safe day? And if it's a dangerous day, I probably won't have a chance to have another?

And more importantly, by telling me and my fellow passengers to have a safe day but watch out we may need you to thwart a terror attack, you're sending mixed messages. By thwarting terror I'm probably putting myself in danger, aren't I? Telling us all to have a safe day is pointless, there's nothing I can do about it. Go back to wishing me well. Or just say "thank you for listening to this pointless announcement. New York next."

2. Have a Safe Flight
Stupid. Unless you're a pilot, you have no control over whether the flight is safe or not. If that plane's going down and you're in coach, it doesn't make much difference whether you were told to have a safe flight or not. The flight is no longer safe. "Drive safe", consequently, can stay.

3. What was your name again?
Why would you say this? Only one circumstance where this question is appropriate - if you are addressing someone who's switched genders.
--What was your name again?
--Jonathan. But now it's Jillian.

In all other cases, if someone asks you "what was your name again?", this is the only proper response: "(insert your name). and it still is."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Story of the Week - May 5-9

Hard to Fathom

fathom - v. to penetrate to the truth of; comprehend; understand

A cyclone this week in Burma killed (depending on what source you cite) either 22,000 or 100,000 people, and left behind a nightmare situation for the living.

I heard at least one pundit call the disaster "Myanmar's Katrina." No. Katrina was bad. This is worse.

How much worse? You can't even begin to penetrate the truth of such a disaster.

One Hundred Thousand people dead? Incomprehensible, you can't even begin to put that into perspective. You can't even fathom 22,000.

Response was slow after Hurricane Katrina, but that was nothing compared to this. Our government showed incompetence. The military junta that controls Burma doesn't care at all about its people. That's hard to understand. What's even harder to figure out is why this military junta doesn't want help from the outside world. An outside world that wants to help.

You can't comprehend such indifference, oppression and ignorance. As bad as the Bush administration has been, you can still be assured that what happened in Myanmar can't happen here. Or any thing remotely close to that, for that matter.

In September, I wrote about Myanmar/Burma after monks there staged a protest against the military junta. The protests sparked international outrage and brought the plight of the Burmese people to the forefront of world consciousness. Then the junta squashed the protests and the world (for the most part) went back to forgetting about the Burmese people.

Paying attention wouldn't have stopped the natural disaster. But had the military junta disbanded in September, it's at least plausible to think the aid might be getting through to the people who need it now. Instead, we are seeing the government stop shipments of food, block visas to UN aid workers, and add to the already incomprehensible death toll.

There's not much more to say really. Except that it's hard to fathom.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay

Today on Wednesday Wordplay - people words.

Do you know anyone who is a:

Argus - a watchful guardian
Bruxer - one who habitually grinds his teeth.
Centaur - an expert horse rider
Cruciverbalist - A compiler or solver of crossword puzzles.
Deipnosophist - A person skilled in dinner-table conversation.
Funambulist - a tightrope walker
Gongoozler - an idle spectator
Hidalgo - a member of the lower nobility in Spain
Ideophobic - a person who is afraid of ideas
Josser - one born outside circus life
Killick - a leading seaman in the British Navy.
Lychnobite - One who works at night and sleeps during the day.
Mudlark - someone who scavenges in a river for items of value.
Piker - a cheapskate
Quidnunc - a gossip
Schnook - a moron.
Toxophilite - an expert archer.
Turophile - a lover of cheese.
Ultracrepidarian - Somebody who gives opinions on matters beyond his knowledge.
Velocipedist - a rider of a velocipede, an early type of bicycle

For the record, I am definitely a cruciverbalist, a Josser, have at times been a gongoozler. I am most definitely not a centaur.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Story of the Week - April 28-May 2

Psst! They're pandering to you!


John, Hillary and Barack are running for President. After gas prices hit record highs for 17 straight days in April, John and Hillary both propose a gas tax holiday. For the entire summer, Americans won't have to pay tax on their gas, saving them 18 cents on every gallon of gas they buy. Barack thinks John and Hillary's plans are silly and won't save Americans much money. The Smith family from North Carolina is moving to California this summer. Mr. and Mrs. Smith figure out that if they drive to their new home, they will need to fill their car's 15 gallon tank 8 times. If gas costs an average of $4.00 a gallon normally, how much money will they save this summer if there is a gas tax holiday? Is it a significant amount of money or are John and Hillary pandering to the Smith family to win their votes?

The answer:

If gas costs $4.00 a gallon normally, it will cost the Smiths $60 to fill their tank each time. (4 x 15 = 60)

8 tanks of gas will cost the Smiths $480. (8 x 60 = 480)

With a gas tax holiday, the Smiths will save 18 cents per gallon of gas, so a gallon of gas will cost them an average of $3.82. (4.00-0.18 = 3.82)

If gas costs $3.82 a gallon, it will cost the Smiths $57.30 to fill their tank each time (3.82 x 15 = 57.30)

8 tanks of gas with the gas holiday will cost the Smiths $458.40 (57.30 x 8 = 458.40)

With a gas tax holiday in place this summer, the Smiths will save $21.60 on their trip cross country. (480-458.40 = 21.60)

Though it may supplement the purchase of snacks for the road, this is not a significant amount of money. ($21.60 = 6 lbs of trail mix for the road)

Therefore, John and Hillary are pandering to the Smith family for their votes.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Story of the Week - April 21-25

Difficult to Bear

The teddy bear has seriously harmed our society's perception of actual bears.

This week, in reaction to a particular bear-related story, my coworker said this:

"oh, look how cute! The poor bear is on the loose in Paramus!"

Wrong. Not cute. You know how I know? You don't cancel outdoor activities when there's something cute walking around outside. Nor do you send for police and guns.

Teddy bears are cute. Were a teddy bear on the loose in Paramus, you'd send the kids outside to say hi. Then you'd take the teddy bear with you to the Stateline Diner for pancakes. And he'd sit there being cute and quiet and he wouldn't eat your pancakes.

A real bear? He'd eat your pancakes. And he might even take a bite out of you.

The 345 pound black bear was shot with a tranquilizer dart in a public park. Authorities transferred the bear to a less populated area. Said my coworker, "oh the poor bear."

Wrong. The "poor bear" eluded police for more than 2 hours as he ran past a high school and a busy park where he could have attacked any number of people. Also they didn't kill it. They subdued it and took it to a more bear-friendly place.

Still: "aw, but look at him, he's so cute." It was at this point I reminded my coworker of another bear story from this week:

Grizzly Bear Attacks Trainer

The "loveable" grizzly bear from the Will Ferrell movie, Semipro, bit his trainer in the neck. The trainer died at the scene.

Said my coworker: Look at him, he's so cute.

Said I: I think he officially stopped being cute when he killed the guy.

Coworker: Yeah but he ate, like, his best friend. He bit his trainer in the neck and killed him.

Again, I made the distinction: teddy bears are cute, inanimate, cuddly. Grizzly bears are 7 ft tall, weigh 700 pounds and eat people.

Said Coworker: I feel bad for him, though. I want to pet him.

Ok. Not me. I don't want to pet anything that weighs 700 pounds and can eat me. I also don't feel bad for the bear. Authorities are deciding whether or not he should be euthanized for his actions. Deciding. The bear gets a trial. The trainer is still dead.

Coworker: but he's still cute.

Time for visual aids:


Kills People:

I hope this clears things up. If you need more convincing, go to and watch this week's episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday Waffle Wordplay

Too good to resist (I promise this time I'll maintain one position):

The leftovers of a waffle eaten by Barack Obama was posted on Ebay. That's two amazing waffle-related stories in the same month.

As stated in my "Waffle Kerfuffle" story, the key to a good waffle story is to work in (at least once) the verb form of the word "waffle."

Waffle is the perfect word for a political campaign. In fact, a synonym of waffle was the centerpiece of George W. Bush's reelection (no, not pancake) - "flip flop".

But enough about your shoes. It's Wednesday Waffle Wordplay time. Let's play with our food:

The word Waffle comes from the dutch word "wafel" which means "honeycomb." The verb form comes from the old english onomatopoeia "waff" which meant to yelp or bark, then evolved into "to equivocate" and tacked on the "le" to allow for pun-filled tales of vacillating breakfasters.

some words that can be made with the letters in "waffle": wale, leaf, flea, feal, waff, weal, flew, flaw, alef, lea, law, few, eff, awl, elf, ale.

Words that ryhme with Waffle: falafel (that's about it)

but if you stretch it - then awful. Hence the "awful waffle" a camp favorite immortalized in "Salute Your Shorts," in which a tennis racket is placed on the bare buttocks. Then a comb is scraped over the racket strings, and what you're left with is a series of waffled welts. (luckily I don't know about this from hands on experience)

I suppose "baffle" could rhyme with "waffle" if you had a funny accent.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Story of the Week - April 14-18

Dear Wednesday Wordplay,

um, What?


Yetziat New York

Here's a little something I learned in Hebrew School this week.

I learned a new verb this week, only it turns out, it wasn't new to me at all. In fact, it was one of the fundamental words of the Passover holiday and the Jewish faith.

The verb, in its infinitive form, is l'tziat.

The verb appears repeatedly in the Passover seder, in basically 3 contexts:

  1. hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz. the bringer of bread from the earth.
  2. motzi matzah - the part of the seder when we take out the matzah from under its cover and eat it for the first time.
  3. the theme of the Passover Seder is Yitziat Mitzraim - the going out of Egypt. (as seen in the song "Deyenu" in the line "ilu hotzianu mimitzraim" (for bringing us out of egypt).
My Hebrew teacher offered another context for Yitziat Mitzraim that I decided to share with my handful of loyal blog readers this Passover season (and in light of a story that dominated this week's news)

Here's the portion of the article we read in class that I've translated as best I could:

Passover is an important, meaningful holiday in Judaism. It emphasizes the transformation from a group of people into a nation - from a group of slaves to a free people.

Yitziat Mitzraim is the turning point in the tale of the Jewish people, an event that completely changed our history.

We asked the students of Ulpan Akiva: do they also have their own Yitziat Mitzraim - a meaningful event, after which their lives never seemed the same.

The article chronicled a diverse group of Jews who at one time or another faced a moment of Yitziat Mitzraim. It's an interesting question, one that can enrich and make current the conversation at any seder, as a way of fulfilling the seder's request that each of us think of ourselves as having personally gone out from the land of Egypt.

My story of the week is a mini Yitziat Mitzraim - not a life altering event, but one that illustrates that new verb I learned - L'tziat (to take out, go out. It has a lot of meanings. In one context it means "to spend money" or as I like to think, to bring forth money from one's wallet). I call it Yitziat New York.

This year's seders fall on a Saturday and Sunday. That timing means that few Jewish Young Adults living in New York City have to face a difficult decision - to stay in the city and go to work, or to be home with family on Passover.

Then there's another timing thing - The Catholic Church, in the form of its leader, Pope Benedict XVI, has invaded New York City. With traffic everywhere blocked off and diverted on the streets, extra security in the Subways, and the Mets and Yankees both on the road (not to mention the ascension of thousands of gawking, goyish tourists), it's the perfect weekend for the young Jews of New York to go out from the land of Manhattan, to cross the sea (already conveniently parted by the miracle of modern bridges and tunnels) and enter into the promised land of good family and delicious food.

Minus, of course, the wandering for 40 years in the desert. Because, hey, some of us have to work Monday, and the Holy Father will be gone by then anyway.

For now, it's Passover, time to remember and to celebrate the Original Yitziat Mitzraim.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay feels Neglected

Dear Full Circle,

It's Thursday again, and I know you have an overwhelming stack of words from the Big Word a Day calendar from Avalanche publishing just sitting around not doing anything. So how about some love for your old buddy? It's been weeks, I'm dying here.

I understand, as this blog's deuteragonist, it is your prerogotive to collocate me as you see fit. In deference to that, I have been quiescent, shown equanimity, and demonstrated prodigious forebearance in the face of your resplendent intransigence.

I have tried to maintain rectitude despite the opprobrium, but I cannot continue to stand idly by while you parade a series of unprepossessing, sententious stories of the week onto the blog without so much as a passing glance at your friend, Wednesday Wordplay. I must remonstrate this turpitude.

And so I fastidiously compose this letter, that i may macadamize whatever fiduciary pothole (so to speak) that may have formed in our short yet prosperous time together. I do not wish to obfuscate the terms of our relationship with an angry, juvenescent rant. I only hope to put an end to this aeonian delay, and to restore Wednesday Wordplay to its rightful regularity, for a preponderance of Wednesdays to come.

Yours truly,
Wednesday Wordplay.

deuteragonist - n. the actor taking the part of second importance in a classical greek drama.

collocate - v. to set or arrange in a place or position.

deference - n. submission or courteous yielding to the wishes of another.

quiescent - adj. being quiet, still, or at rest; inactive.

equanimity - n. calmness of temperament.

prodigious - adj. impressively great in size, force or extent.

forbearance - n. tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation; patience.

resplendent - adj. splendid or dazzling in appearance.

intransigent - n. refusing to moderate a position; uncompromising.

rectitude - n. moral integrity; righteousness

opprobrium - n. public or known disgrace or ill fame that ordinarily follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious.

unprepossessing - adj. not overtly impressive; unremarkable; nondescript.

sententious - adj. short and pithy

remonstrate - v. to protest, object

turpitude - n. depravity; baseness. A base act

fastidious - adj. possessing or displaying careful, meticulous attention to detail.

macadamize - v. to cover or pave, as a pathway or roadway, with small broken stone.

fiduciary - adj. involving a confidence or trust

obfuscate - v. to make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand.

juvenescence - n. the state of being youthful or growing young.

aeonian - adj. lasting for an immeasurably long period of time.

preponderance - n. greatness in number, strength, weight, or influence.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Story of the Week - April 7-11

Waffle Kerfuffle

Here's something I learned this week that I never knew before: chicken and waffles is a popular dish. Very popular, in fact. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean, one minute I think, "hm, sounds good," and the next minute I think "no, it's either breakfast, or it's dinner, but you can't mix them." On the other hand I think maybe you can.

Regardless of what I think, this dish previously unbeknownst to me is well beknownst to others and has a rich and diverse history and even mythology behind it. But that's not why it's an essential part of Story of the Week.

The story of the week involves a pair of restaurants that specialize in Chicken and Waffles - Roscoe's House of Chicken n' Waffles in California (actually a chain of restaurants), and Rosscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in Chicago. Roscoe's sued Rosscoe's for trademark infringement, and won. First though, the curious history of Chicken and Waffles.

The curious history of Chicken and Waffles may have begun in the late 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back to America from Paris. Soon after, chicken and waffles started appearing in southern cookbooks.

But some say the waffle iron was brought over earlier by German and Dutch settlers and to attribute its arrival with Thomas Jefferson is silly. The Pennsylvania Dutch to this day put creamed chicken on waffles and possibly a host of other savory ingredients once found their way onto the indented delights. The traditional Chicken and Waffles dish may also have originated in the south as a luxury meal for newly freed African American slaves, who subsisted mostly on table scraps.

Of course, not everyone agrees on that origin. Many historians aren't certain at all and often go back and forth ascribing to different theories. There is little consensus to be found until the 1930s, when Chicken and Waffles went through a renaissance in Harlem, at the famous Wells Supper Club.

Wells was frequented by the likes of Miles Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Frank Sinatra. The restaurant was famous for staying open late. So late, in fact, that in the wee hours its clientele struggled to decide between breakfast and dinner. Wells didn't want to see its clients risk ordering dinner only to regret not ordering breakfast. Instead (perhaps hearkening back to old southern traditions, and perhaps not, then again perhaps...or not) Wells compromised, slapping down some fried chicken on top of a waffle, and the dish was born again.

In the early 1970s, Herb Hudson took the dish west to Los Angeles and opened up Roscoe's House of Chicken n' Waffles, where it has become a fixture in California's obsession with fast food and fast food oddities.

Which brings us to this week's story.

Roscoe's has thrived in California and grown into a popular chain. I guess there are a lot of indecisive people in California. Then again, maybe chicken and waffles is just that good. Then again...

Anyway, all was well with Roscoe's until recently, when owner Herb Hudson learned of Don Johnson's new restaurant in Chicago, IL. The restaurant is similar to one Johnson owned in Harlem in the 1990's and is called Rosscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles.

Herb Hudson took exception to the new restaurant in Chicago and sued Don Johnson for trademark infringement. Don Johnson can't have been surprised by this move. The names of the two eateries are nearly identical. The extra "s" and proper spelling of "and" aren't fooling anyone. Both restaurants also have the same logo - a cartoon chicken standing in front of a waffle (though one could argue that's the only natural choice). There's also an eerily similar menu (but again, when the name of your restaurant is "Chicken and Waffles" you're kind of pigeonholed) and both restaurants offer "sunrise" and "sunset" drinks (ok that's going too far). A lawsuit was inevitable.

On the other hand, maybe Don Johnson could have felt surprised. That's because when Johnson owned Rosscoe's restaurant in New York for 8 years, Hudson knew about it and did nothing. Hudson says he didn't plan to open any restaurant in New York, so he let it go. But he wants to expand to Chicago, soon in fact. He plans to open a Roscoe's in Chicago within a year. So he's no longer indifferent to there being a Rosscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in the windy city.

Another reason Hudson might be suing is the hideous response Rosscoe's in Chicago is getting. Customers have been complaining of poor service and long lines, and naturally compare it to the original, more famous Roscoe's in California. No more though, as Don Johnson has agreed to change the name to "Chicago's House of Chicken and Waffles", change the signage and get a new logo and everything.

Hudson isn't done. His attorney is seeking damages.

Said Don Johnson (seemingly the big, big loser here): "I'm as happy as a chicken eating waffles."

Which brings up the most important question of all: just how happy is a chicken eating waffles? On one hand, he's very happy. Waffles are delicious. But, maybe chickens don't like waffles, in which case they wouldn't be very happy eating them. Well maybe chickens think waffles are ok, but they don't affect their moods. On the other hand, how can you tell whether or not a chicken is happy? Then again...

I was surprised to find that someone getting sued for trademark infringement and about to get taken for a substantial sum of money could be happy at all. Maybe he's also happy to have poor service and bad reviews. Or, maybe a chicken eating waffles isn't very happy after all.

Happy or not, the chicken and waffles battle will continue, one-sided as it appears to be. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan is pleased with the way the case is going so far, and its good to know that all involved understand the most important issue: that "waffle" is both a noun and a verb.

Said the judge at the end of Wednesday's hearing: "I see that both parties understand the issues and facts of life and none of the parties are waffling on the issue."

I couldn't agree more. Well, I could agree more but it doesn't feel necessary. On the other hand, I could disagree. Then again...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Story of the Week - March 31-April 4

I'm back. Thanks for waiting.

Read about my trip and how it's going to turn into an amazing book:

Time for story of the week, back and better than ever. Or maybe just back.

The Nappy Headed Hos: Where are they Now?

Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It also marked the one year anniversary (a coincidence few in the news media picked up on a year ago, strangely enough) of the day Don Imus made his infamous racially charged insensitive comments about the Rutgers Women's Basketball team. So what's happened to all the players from the overblown media circus? Let's take a look:

The Rutgers Women: The Lady Scarlett Knights fell short of duplicating or surpassing their '07 success this season. They were eliminated by Connecticut in the Regional Finals. However, the school remains one of the elite teams in Women's Basketball, and they have developed a staunch rivalry with UConn.

Rutgers coach, Vivien Stringer, used the incident to put her team and herself into the national consciousness. She has written a book out called "Standing Tall" that will no doubt be a best seller because she'll be promoting it on Oprah later this week.

Don Imus: Imus is proof of the axiom "no publicity is bad publicity." After about six months of sitting in the corner with his head down, Imus inked a deal with ABC Radio. Imus returned to the air in December of '07 and ABC got an instant and pronounced boost in its ratings. In February his ratings were more than double what they were at the old show, proving that people who listen to ABC's other personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity had plenty of time left to tune in to another narrow minded old white man and don't give a shit about women's basketball (and they probably agreed with Imus' original description of the Rutgers players). The one key difference between the CBS Radio Imus and the ABC Radio Imus is the addition of 2 black cast members. I guess now any further controversy can be avoided because Imus has black friends and he was just kidding around with them or something.

Governor Jon Corzine: the NJ Governor provided a bizarre twist during Imus week a year ago when he was speeding to Princeton to facilitate a meeting between Imus and the Rutgers women. Corzine wasn't wearing a seat belt when his car crashed and broke seemingly every bone in his body. Corzine recovered, apologized, even taped a morbid public service announcement, and has had a much better 2008, especially when compared to either governor of New York.

MSNBC TV and CBS Radio: The network fills its morning time slot now with "Morning Joe", hosted by former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough, who has about as much charisma as a pair of khaki pants, and brings in about half as many viewers as Imus did. WFAN NY, the Imus flagship, replaced the highly rated morning show with Boomer Esiason and newcomer Craig Carlton, and it has fallen far short (just like most of Boomer's passes! Zing!). Both nets are probably wishing the Imus controversy never happened, or at least, never escalated the way it did.

Al Sharpton: The Reverend was outspoken about getting Imus fired, but, as he so often does, failed to continue the conversation and turn the controversy into a constructive discussion about race in America. Maybe that's one reason he's become an afterthought in the first serious African American campaign for the Presidency.

America: As a nation, we might have been better off if everyone had let the Nappy Headed Ho's thing go the way of Imus' dozens of other offensive over-the-top comments. It didn't bring about any intelligent discussions on race and it made Imus richer. In other words: he got away with it.

And all we as Americans have to show for all that trouble is "Standing Tall: The Vivian Stringer Story."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Follow me around the Midwest - figuratively

I'll be away from The Full Circle for the next 2 weeks, as I am off on a purpose-driven road tour of a substantial portion of the Midwest. The purpose? To go to a variety of sporting events, take lots of pictures, ask lots of questions, then come home and write a book.

In the meantime, you can track my progress, along with my 2 sports-crazed college friends, on our trip blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay

It's time for a veritable truckload of new words before the Full Circle goes on vacation for 2 weeks. Time to dump a bunch of new verbiage on my loyal (and disloyal) readership:

veritable - adj. being truly so called; real or genuine

Saponaceous - adj. having the nature or quality of soap. such as, um, soap. What else is saponaceous other than soap?

Hey, Joey, stop rubbing up against me, whaddya think, I'm saponaceous or something?

That ought to effectively attenuate my readership...

attenuate - v. to make slender, fine or small. to reduce in force, value, amount, or degree; weaken.

Moving on...I wish I could take credit for this, but last week chose a week's worth of 14 letter words, then defined each word in exactly 14 letters:

circumbendibus - n. circumlocution

Brobdingnagian - adj. Of gigantic size.

tinctumutation - n. Change of colour. (in this case, the rule only works if you're British)

tintinnabulate -v. To ring; to tinkle.

acritochromacy -n. Color blindness. (didn't need the Brits this time)

I can't take credit. But I'll do them one better. Or, that is, one less.

13 letter words! defined in 13 letters, let's do it!

indefatigable - adj. cannot be tired
jurisprudence - n. science of laws
prevarication -n. an intended lie
efflorescence - n. a flowery state
deuteragonist - n. second billing

10 letters!

speciesism - n. humans rule!
nidifugous - adj. fly away now
honorarium - n. service fee
bowdlerize - v. to bleep out
alimentary - adj. nourishing

Alimentary, my dear Watson. Simply delicious.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Story of the Week - March 10-14


Florida: We want to have our primary in January.
DNC: No. You can't.
Florida: But we want to.
DNC: Don't.
Florida: We're doing it. We took a vote.
DNC: If you do it, it won't count. And we won't let you come to our party.
Florida: You're bluffing.
DNC: Are we?
Florida: But we really want to have it in January! Nobody will mind, the weather's great here in January.
DNC: Don't do it.
Florida: We're doing it.

Michigan: We want to be HEARD! EARLY!
DNC: You too?
Michigan: yep!
DNC: No. Iowa first, then New Hampshire. You people stay where you are.
Michigan: But we're a swing state and we have a terrible economy, give us some love!
DNC: No dice.
Michigan: But Florida--
DNC: Don't but Florida us, their delegates aren't going to count. And yours won't either.

Michigan: You’re bluffing.

DNC: Sheesh.

Nobody was bluffing, and these states acted retardedly by insisting on earlier primaries. And today they look even retardeder because the Democratic race has gone on for over a month past the original Florida and Michigan dates.

Yes, I know retardedly is not a valid adverb. And that retardeder isn’t a word.

And I know retarded is offensive to some people. It’s just that it’s too good a word to fall into the un-PC category. As Steve Carrell’s character, Michael Scott, says: “You don’t call a retarded person retarded. You call your friends retarded when they act like retards.” Or in this case, you call 2 states retarded when they act like retards.

Ok, back. It’s bad enough that these 2 important states shirked the Democratic National Committee and pig-headedly held meaningless primaries, but now they want a do-over. And in clamoring for the do-over, they once again display their utter retardation.

This is what the president of the Michigan Association of County Clerks has to say:

“It would be a logistical nightmare. First of all, we have the school board elections coming up in May, and then we have to get ready for the local and state elections in August. How are we going to be able to squeeze a presidential primary in the middle of all of that?”

Seriously? This woman is like the registration lady at the beauty pageant at the end of “little Miss Sunshine.” You know, the one who says Olive can’t register because she already turned off the computer? Turn the damn computer back on!

It’s not a logistical nightmare. Pick a day, set up the voting machines the same way you did when you had your stupid fake primaries, invite everyone who’s registered to come vote, and make a choice: Clinton or Obama. Pretend like the first vote never happened, because it shouldn’t have happened. Then, count the votes. Tada!

Because of what’s at stake here, because of the record turnouts of this election, there is no doubt people in these states will want their voices heard and their votes counted. So keep it simple, Florida and Michigan, ok?

Florida: We want a do-over. We want to do it by mail.
DNC: No. Don’t do that.
Florida: Bad idea?
DNC: Do you like being the butt of election jokes?
Florida: We’ve gotten used to it. At least we have sun.
Michigan: Shut up.
DNC: Retards.