Notes from the Fringes of the Circus

Yes, the Circus came to town this week, and when I say "Circus," of course I mean "the Democratic National Convention," and when I compare the two, I do so as a proud registered Democrat and fervent supporter of the next President of the United States, Barack Obama. The oft-quoted words of Will Rogers ring as true today as ever: "I do not belong to any organized political party. I am a Democrat."

I was excited when Denver was named the host city for the 2008 DNC, thinking I might volunteer. Then I learned that the campus where I get edumacated was going to be closed down for the week of the convention. "Security reasons" are the stated cause of the closure, and it's no doubt true, as the campus is right next door to the Pepsi Center...but it also allowed the campus to make a few extra bucks by selling parking to conventioneers. Anyway, the convergence of the convention and a week free of other obligations meant that I could volunteer for sure.

For the past three days, I've been working as what they amusingly call a "Caucus Runner" at the Colorado Convention Center. It's amusing because a Caucus Runner does not run in the sense of administrating or organizing, nor in the sense of running to and fro or running errands. My job has basically been to stand there, be present in case something happens that swarms of police don't handle immediately, and to look handsome and dead sexy in my DNCC VOLUNTEER t-shirt. Standing quietly and looking good while doing it are things I've always been good at, so I suppose I'm rather well-suited to the job.

For those not in the know about just how a political convention works - which, I assume, is most of you - the big action happens, of course, at the primary site, the local sports arena (and in this year's case, for one night, the local football stadium). That's the Pepsi Center, affectionately referred to by sports columnists in the Post and the Rocky as "The Can," but mostly referred to by locals as the Pepsi Center. That's where the bigwigs make the speeches and the delegates wave signs and the TV talking heads muse about what it all means.

But during the day, leading up to all this, there's lots of smaller events going on. In the past, I'm told, this has always taken place at the area hotels, but due to the size of the event, this is happening at the Colorado Convention Center. The convention offices are all there, along with office space for interested parties like the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and all the other usual suspects. And there's the caucuses. This is basically where a bunch of people gather, make lots of speeches about how awesome the Democrats are, how awesome Barack is, and in some cases how awesome Hillary is. There's lots of applauding and back-patting and talk about how important it is to get out the vote and such.
So on Monday, I performed my important duties in the Black Caucus. Howard Dean, who is about as white as anyone can be, made some opening remarks. Wellington Webb, the former Mayor of Denver, who is definitely not white, made further opening remarks. Both were briefly interrupted by protesters, both of whom jumped up to scream about how Obama's pro-choice stance was, in fact, support of "black genocide." The police were on both of them like white on rice inside ten seconds. Webb quipped, "See, that just shows you how much things have changed. Now, when we get together for a meeting, the police are on our side." It was really moving to watch this group of people, to whom Obama's candidacy is probably most meaningful, gather and make a show of their support. Great stuff.

Monday Celebrity Sighting: Tom Brokaw, not covering the convention, just signing books, looking relaxed and as tan as George Hamilton.

Better still was my post on Tuesday, in the Women's Caucus. I'd guess it was about 1,500 people there, more than a few wearing Hillary buttons and t-shirts and such. Donna Brazile made a great speech, as did Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards and current president of Planned Parenthood. She had my favorite line of the day: "Women voting for John McCain is like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders."

After that, I was assigned to watching a door, making sure that people went out the exit door instead of the entrance door. Not exciting, and kind of frustrating when people - usually the people with the most different kinds of credentials on their lanyards - completely ignored me and did whatever the hell they felt like, 'cuz they were important and busy or something, I guess.

Tuesday Celebrity Sighting: Rosario Dawson, who briefly addressed the Women's Caucus in support of her organization, Vota Latina, which works to register latina women to vote. Ten times hotter in real life. Also, Eva Longoria, who was there with Rosario, and Fran Drescher.

Today, I was assigned to the Asian American & Pacific Islander Caucus. Not as large or quite as interesting as the others, but still pretty cool. Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's sister, spoke briefly about Obama's Hawai'ian background and sympathy with Asian/Pacific Islander causes and concerns. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke as well, and was pretty darn good.

Wednesday Celebrity Sighting: Kelly Hu - Lady Deathstrike from X2 - made a brief appearance at the caucus. Like Rosario Dawson, absolutely smokin' hot.

And of wouldn't be the Circus without the sideshow. Here's a bit of the scene outside the convention center:

Doesn't [Candidate] Care How He's Hurting Working Families?

In between the segments of the talking heads babbling about Michael Phelps and the lingering shots of Shawn Johnson grinning perkily and waving, you get the campaign commercials. And what is practically every campaign commercial about this year? Gas prices. Usually, it's the Republicans - smelling a wedge issue to get their base, Stupid People, into the voting booths with their usual aplomb - saying something along the lines of, "[Democratic Candidate] just doesn't care if gas prices go up to five or even six dollars a gallon - he even voted against new laws that would allow for [name of absurd and idiotic oil exploration plan that won't, in reality, lower gas prices a plugged nickel]. Doesn't [Democratic Candidate] even realize how much he's hurting working families?"

This has, somehow, unbelievably, become the number one issue in the 2008 campaign. Gas prices. American voters care more about paying less to fill their SUVs than they do about ending the war in Iraq, improving the health care system, creating real and reliable sources of renewable energy, improving public education, or anything else. The price of gasoline is more important than all of these.

This is mind-boggling, and simply proves to me that the American public is every bit as stupid as I've always suspected.

Look, y'all, John McCain can bleat "Drill here, drill now!" as much as he likes. The fact is the experts, people who actually understand the economic realities of the situation - and yes, Stupid People, like it or not, there is still such a thing as expert opinion in the world - say that drilling offshore or drilling in ANWR or drilling on top of Mount Goddamn Rushmore won't have any meaningful impact on the price at the pump. That's just the way it is.*

But let's imagine that John McCain bleats his way to the White House on the back of "Drill here, drill now!" and he gets his way and we drill here and drill now. And let's say that somehow, a miracle happens, and through some sort of magic, there's ten times as much oil as even the most optimistic predictions say. The oil flows, the price at the pump comes down, and we're all paying $1.50 a gallon again.

That's great, right?

Sure...for as long as the oil lasts.

The plain and simple fact of the matter is that there is a finite supply of petroleum in the world, and they're not making it anymore. Demand is increasing while supply dwindles. That is a fact, and it is indisputable.

So does it not make sense - given that it is inevitable that we will run out of petroleum (and therefore gasoline, Stupid People, which is made from petroleum) - that we should be thinking more about finding better ways of powering our modern industrial society, and thinking about ways we can use less gasoline than we do now, than to wring our hands and accuse the other candidate of not caring about how high gas prices are affecting working families?

Nope, nope, nope, of course not. Not when you've got a wedge issue and a huge bloc of Incredibly Stupid Voters who think that the gubmint is even capable of lowering the price of gasoline.

* - I should mention, in fairness, that certain Democrats' "plan" of releasing a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is equally boneheaded and pointless, as it will have roughly the same effect - i.e., nil - on gas prices.

Food Meme!

I like food, and I like easy blog posts, so here's a bit from the food blog Very Good Taste.

The rules are pretty standard:
A. List of 100 items
B. Bold items you've eaten
C. Cross out items you'd never consider eating

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros - I make a rather good version of huevos at home. Come visit, I'll cook them for you.
4. Steak tartare - I like rare beef, but raw is a bit much, thanks.
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding - I would try it, though I doubt I'd wolf it down.
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari - C'mon, who hasn't eaten calamari?
12. Pho - Denver has a pretty large Vietnamese immigrant population, and several very good pho places.
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans - Another favorite and a personal specialty, either New Orleans-style red beans or Caribbean-style black beans.
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - I like spicy, but that's just crazy.
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava - One of Mle's very favorite desserts, and therefore one of mine.
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - Well, I didn't eat the cigar, I used it in the recommended manner.
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - I'm assuming this means that college-party staple, Jell-O shooters
39. Gumbo - Yet another personal specialty, as Leah and Simon may recall.
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects - Skewered and deep fried at a night market in Beijing. Beetles are sour, Grasshoppers taste a little like chicken.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin - I don't think I've ever had sea urchin, but I've had sea urchin roe. Does this count?
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips - I've had them, and learned that there's just no reason to eat fake chocolate.
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe - Um, I've had absinthe. Is that the same thing?
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Me and every Marvel and DC superhero in the 1970s.
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse - Not unless I were starving to death.
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam - Dirty little secret: I actually like Spam.
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake - Rattlesnake, to be precise.

The Science of Magic

Great stuff from the New York Times about what magic - both stage and close-up - can teach scientists about cognition and perception. Check it out.

Diarrhea of the Mouth

My Dad always used to say about the Monday Night Football broadcast team - whether it was Howard Cosell and Don Meredith or Frank Gifford and the always-inane Dan Fouts - that they had diarrhea of the mouth.

I think NBC has discovered the all-time greatest, most chronic cases and put them together in a booth in Beijing. Of course, they did this in Sydney and Athens, too. I'm talking about the Olympic Gymnastics commentators, Al Trautwig, Tim Dagget and Elfi Schlegel ("Elfi?" Seriously?). This may be the worst team assembled to cover any sport in the history of televised sports.

Dagget and Schlegel are the analysts, both former gymnasts. Where they consistently and utterly fail as broadcasters is that it doesn't seem to occur to them that 95% of the population of the United States actually watches and cares about gymnastics only once every four years at best. They never offer any real insight, or really explain what's going on. I'd like to know what I'm supposed to be looking for as I watch the routines. The only real idea I have about whether a given gymnast has done well or not is the always-crucial sticking of the landing. All we ever get from Dagget and Elfi is, "Now here comes a big move...oh! Incredible!" or "Now, that was a mistake, and that's going to cost him!" Unless the mistake is completely obvious to the untrained observer, there's no way to know what the mistake was. Dagget and Elfi know, and the judges know, and the gymnasts know...but us laymen out here in TV land, we have no clue. All we know is that whatever happened, according to Dagget and Elfi, it was a mistake, and it's going to cost him. Great. Rather than educating or explaining, they assume that we're on the same level of knowledge as them. When I watch football, I don't need the commentators to explain what "holding" is or what makes an illegal forward pass or why the team is celebrating because they just carried the ball into the end zone. But I've spent four months of every year since I was 10 watching football. I've probably seen hundreds of football games in my life. I spend two weeks every four years being moderately interested in gymnastics, and having someone explain the rules to me at those times would be nice.

Of course, Dagget and Elfi are Al Goddamn Michaels compared to Big Al Trautwig. The guy just can't stand more than a nanosecond of silence. Anytime Dagget and Elfi aren't saying, "Oh, that was amazing! You can see why he's considered one of the greats!", Trautwig is just babbling, filling the silences without any consideration of the meaning or intelligence of his comments. No filter between brain and mouth. Just babbling. Not really commenting on anything, not making any real conversation with anyone, not saying anything meaningful, just filling the silence. Babbling.

Last night, as the final Chinese gymnast was dismounting the high bar and the celebration of China's gold medal was beginning, Trautwig burst out with, "There's a new China Syndrome and it's China Gold!" Uh...wait, what? Al, what in the name of JESUS H. TAPDANCING CHRIST does that even mean? Were you just trying desperately to come up with a familiar phrase with the word "China" in it? And you came up with "China Syndrome?" An American phrase referring to a severe meltdown at a nuclear power plant? "There's a new China Syndrome and it's China Gold!" You couldn't just say, "The crowd is going crazy as the Chinese team celebrates their gold medal triumph"? Not the most exciting turn of phrase, to be sure, but it has the virtues of making sense and actually meaning something, so it would be a start.

I know that ever since 1980, Olympic broadcasters have been trying to come up with something as memorable and iconic as Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" But Al, "There's a new China Syndrome and it's China Gold!" ain't it.


Who here saw the Men's 4x100 Freestyle Relay last night? Show of hands.

Watching the swimmin' last night, I have to admit, I was getting pretty sick of Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines ("Rowdy?" Seriously?) babbling on and on about Michael Phelps when he wasn't even in the pool. They were babbling about him during women's races where there wasn't even an American in the pool, much less the subject of their adulation.

I understand that they want to promote him, that he's one of the big stars of the '08 Games, and I understand that he's got the potential to do something pretty amazing and historic. But you know, all those other swimmers worked their asses off, too, and hearing the commentators discuss the action actually occurring in the pool might be nice, y'know?

Despite that, I would love to see Phelps succeed in his quest. He seems in his interviews like a pretty nice, humble guy. A lot of people equate "competitive" with arrogant these days - but they're not the same thing. Yeah, Phelps has a competitive streak a mile wide. But he's never said anything to indicate that he thinks he deserves to win, or that a failure to win would be some sort of cosmic injustice. And to watch someone that good in his prime doing his thing...well, it's pretty awesome.

And goddamn but that was an exciting race. Maybe the most exciting single bit of Olympics I've ever seen (given that I wasn't even 3 years old for the Miracle on Ice in 1980). And best of all, it was broadcast (nearly) live, so I hadn't had the results spoiled by other news sources when I watched it.

I know that the thing to say is that you're not much of a partisan when it comes to the Olympics, that it's great to see so many great athletes from all nations doing well, that you don't really care about the Medal Count and all that...but I call bullshit. I want to see the USA win. And it's even better on those rare occasions when we're actually underdogs.

Two MinutesThirty Seconds Hate

John McCain's campaign ads have been pretty dumb right from the start. I was kind of dumbfounded by his recent ad that began with '60s-era stock footage, rambling about the Summer of Love and then reminding us that John McCain was a POW in Vietnam, reassuring us that McCain wasn't one of those dirty hippies (which creates the rather odd implication that McCain is accusing Obama, who turned 8 in 1969, of being a dirty hippie). I was further appalled by his next ad, which pretty much directly accused Barack Obama of being personally responsible for rising gas prices and touting Bush's McCain's sole - and utterly fucking useless, by the way - "solution" to the energy crisis, more drilling.

But the McCain campaign has really gone completely around the bend this time, from "ordinary (if slightly off-kilter) political mudslinging" to "total batshit insanity." Have you seen this thing? I can't find an embeddable version of the ad all by itself anywhere - you can go see it at McCain's website, here: DUMBEST POLITICAL AD IN HISTORY (Fair Warning: Viewing this ad is almost guaranteed to make you throw up in your mouth a little).

You've probably seen it, though - or at least heard about it. In it, the McCain campaign manages to keep a straight face and earnestly compare Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Just when I thought McCain couldn't create a stupider ad, couldn't do anything to make their man more unappealing to me...they go and do this. Nice work, McCain Crew. You've officially created the DUMBEST POLITICAL AD IN HISTORY. Watching this for the first time, you think it must be an unauthorized ad from some lunatic-fringe 527 group. Surely the fine political minds at the McCain campaign couldn't actually create THE DUMBEST POLITICAL AD IN HISTORY themselves, right? But then, at the end, the obligatory, "I'm John McCain, and I approved this message."

Is the McCain campaign even interested in having any voter under the age of 90 vote for their man? Does their entire campaign really amount to "Those damn kids today!"? Well, honestly, I kind of hope so. But...really, John? "Don't vote for Obama because he's popular, just like those tramps what with the drinking and the sex and the walking around in public without any drawers on! And get the hell off my lawn!"

Possible upcoming McCain ads:

"Barack Obama isn't even bothered by those damn kids today who wear their pants all sagged around their knees!"

"Barack Obama wants to let kids climb your fence and trample your garden to get their damn ball back, even though this is the fifth or sixth time it's come over your fence, what's the matter with them, anyway?"

"Barack Obama doesn't support legislation to prohibit anyone but sailors, motorcycle gangs and others of low moral fiber from getting tattoos!"

"Barack Obama doesn't even remember back when you could go to the movies for a nickel, and that included popcorn and a Coke!"

"Barack Obama listens to that rap stuff, it's not even really music, what happened to real music, anyway?"

"Barack Obama wants to let the damn kids today play video games on a perfectly beautiful afternoon instead of going out and getting some fresh air and sunshine!"

And maybe it's just me - honestly, I hope it's just me, because I'd like to think that even the Republican party has risen above this twenty years later - but it seems to me that the McCain ads are pulling a Willie Horton, darkening the images of Obama they're using to make him look "blacker."

I mean, it's not like I was ever going to vote for McCain. But the more ads he puts out, the more I go from indifference to dislike to actively despising him.

A Marvelous Weekend, Indexed

Is it a rip-off of Harper's Index, or a rip-off of the now-ubiquitous Harper's Index rip-off blog post? Only your hairdresser knows for sure.


Minutes it Took to Eat an Entire Spicy Tuna Roll and Drink 1.5 Liters of Water After Getting off My Flight on Wednesday Night: >5

Bachelor/ette Parties Attended: 2 (1 each for myself and my better half)

Hours Spent Driving Round-trip to and from Milpitas to See a Movie I've Already Seen: 2.33

Approximate Awesomeness Quotient of The Dark Knight, Even The Second Time Around: 1,000,000,000

Approximate Level of Gladness on My Part That the Bachelorette Party Involved a Screening of Mamma Mia!, Thus Freeing Me From Ever, Ever Having to See It: 1,000,000,000

Tickets Won at Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster's After the Movie: 82

Number of Items That Can Be Purchased for 82 or Fewer Tickets at the Dave & Buster's Redemption Center: 0

Rehearsal Dinners Made/Hosted: 1

Hours Spent on Friday Prepping for Rehearsal Dinner: 6

Hours of Prep Time Devoted to Travel: 1.5

Of Travel Time, Approximate Ratio of Time Required to Get From Cousin's Place in the Outer Richmond to the Bay Bridge as compared to Time Required to Get From Bay Bridge to CostCo: 3:1*

Number of Distinct Dishes Prepared for Rehearsal Dinner: 6 (plus a potato salad from another contributor)

Guests Fed at Rehearsal Dinner: 26

Servings Left Over at Conclusion of Rehearsal Dinner, Taken Back as Promised to A Girl and a Boy, Whose Kitchen We Used for Prep Work: 2

Size of Serving I Was Able to Acquire by Scraping Dregs of Giant Bowl of Guacamole, Since I Was Last in Buffet Line: 1 Tsp.

Weddings Attended: 1

Approximate Percentage of Guests at Wedding That Danced, In Spite of Repeated Exhoratations: 15

Percentage of Guests Who Took Godzilla vs. Sumo Wrestler Photos at Wedding for Inclusion in Guestbook: 90

Percentage of Pages Used by Guests In Hand-made Guestbook Over Which Maker Toiled For Quite Some Time to Make it Large Enough for Everyone to Have Their Own Page: 25

Number of Times a Slightly Inebriated Mle Gave Me Directions as We Drove Back to Leah and Simon's House After The Wedding: 7

Number of Times This Was Followed by Me Saying, "I know.": 7

Number of Large Round Table Pizzas Personally Consumed by Myself at the After Party: .75

Approximate Air Temperature At the Time When Leah Could Not Believe I Was Getting in the Swimming Pool Because it Was "So Cold": 70° F

Approximate Air Temperature At the Time When Leah and Mle Both Became Concerned for My Health and Sanity When I Got Out of the Pool Because it Was "So Cold": 67° F

Number of Great Times Had by Guests at Various Wedding-Related Events: At least 2, probably more, though I can't speak for anyone but myself and Mle.

* Seriously, I'm sure there was a quicker and smarter way to get to the Bridge from where we spent the night, but my San Francisco geography is largely limited to well-known landmarks and a few major streets, and thus far too much time was spent driving through The City.