Wine From Outer Space

Wine From Outer Space is intoxicating, unearthly and surprising. It's also where I write about whatever I choose, and that's nice.

05 May 2010

Let's all observe this package of gross pet snacks

Frankly I won't settle for any of the other convenience brands. When it comes to pork skin products for my pet--tragically, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig--only Canyon Creek Ranch brand will do.

Admittedly the photo could be better, but the cowboy on the package, accompanied by possibly an Akita (or a spirit guide helping the cowboy find his soul mate), is ready for rustlin'. He appears to have his lasso in the ready position as he closes in on...what? A vast herd of hogs? Wild Javelina? The consumer?

There appears to be a searchlight or a lighthouse to the right side of the package. Is the creek of Canyon Creek Ranch so vast and broad as to maintain shipping lanes? The label tells you it's better than Bacon. I disagree. I tossed four Porky Knots into a skillet to serve with eggs, but the Knots were very hard and did not even taste better than flannel. The silver lining here though is that these Knots were made in the USA.

For a properly objective analysis, we must ask ourselves the same question we ask when confronted by any other object, situation or concept: are the Masons involved? It appears that they very well may be--notice the pyramidial shape of the Pork Knot on the label, wtih colored rays of light emanating from behind it. One is reminded of the All-seeing Eye on the back of the dollar. And that's Masonic, somehow.

You can rest assured that these Pork Knots were inspected, and held to the rigorous battery of quality control procedures created for pork skin products. The design of the Knot, however, is reminicent of a caltrop, and the middle Masonic pyramid part looks like it would go right through the roof of your mouth (or your pig's) upon biting into its deliciousness.

At least it's a giant pound; not some skin-flint, normal pound.

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16 September 2009

Use Your Illusion

As the Republicans continue to re-shape theirs into the Party of Hyperbole, former President Carter noted yesterday that opposition to President Obama, in his opinion, is based in racism. Carter believes he identifies this to be "the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country."

The White House is not going along with Carter's take on the current political climate, but recent events--sparked by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson's "you lie" outburst during the President's address to the House and Senate--suggest the level of hostility among at least some of those opposed to the President's plans (including everything from the stimulus package and the auto and banking industry bailouts, to his television address to American schoolchildren) is grounded not in practical or even moral reactions to policy proposals, but in fear and ignorance.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele called on Obama to denounce President Carters comments, saying that "President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn't about race. It is about policy." Except in some widely reported cases, it is not about policy, but instead fantasies of where that policy (which has yet to be determined) will take us: socialism, communism, marxism, fascism. It is about death panels and birth certificates, and, as some signs at the 9/12 march on DC revealed, racism was indeed a part of people's opposition to Obama's administration.

Or take the sign of an African witch doctor, onto which was pasted Obama's face, with the word "Obamacare," complete with a Soviet hammer and sickle. At least this sign uses a multicultural approach to creating new racially generated denouncements.

Syndicated arch-conservative bellwether Cal Tomkins writes in the 9/16 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune "As the president's approval ratings fall and rise and fall again, some of his supporters in journalism and politics are returning to days of old when the label 'racist' could end any discussion and force the accused either into stunned silence, or groveling repentance. I suspect the tactic won't work this time because Obama supporters will have difficulty explaining how a mostly white country could elect a black man president last November and 10 months later become a racist majority."

Except that Carter is not charging the white voting majority that elected Obama as being racist--Carter refers to "the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country."

The argument has already shifted from "is there a race-based element to those opposing Obama?" to "Are those racists--among those opposed to Obama--a majority or a minority?"

A story in the news, not related to the health-care debate or any other Obama policy push, is perhaps poignant in this most recent question of racism and politics: according to CNN, the FBI is "investigating as a possible hate crime an incident in which a [black] woman was beaten to the ground in front of her [7 year-old] child at the entrance to a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Morrow, Georgia, south of Atlanta."

The attacker, Troy Dale West, a white man, is currently out on bond. The report continues, "Police say Hill stated that 'West punched her in the left cheek, forehead, kicked her body in several places, and punched her head in many areas several times.'"

If Michael Steele and other conservative leaders and pundits truly believe there is nothing to Carter's charge of a racist element in those opposing the Presiden't policies, then conservative leaders and pundits would do well to stop passively accepting and using that racist attitude to feed the contempt and disregard for this administration's programs among their adherents.

Steele said "This isn't about race. It is about policy." If that's the case, then fewer signs with monkeys, lions, watermelons, buckets of fried chicken or African priests should appear at these rallies, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

24 July 2009

I Was Born Son of Byford, Brother of Al . . .

Harry Shearer postulates in an article on the Huffington Post that the reason for the so-called Birthers' outrage with regard to president Obama's--well--existence, has to do with legitimacy. They simply don't believe that he was truly born a natural US citizen (or at least that is the excuse they use to mask whatever true reason they may have).

An interesting take, but I don't really agree. It seems to me that it's less about legitimacy (thought the birth certificate angle is, for the freaks, an aspect of legitimacy) and more about painting him as an outsider. At its core, these people seem to be most affected by Obama's "otherness". How many times have I seen wingnuts in threads referring to Obama as the Kenyan, Dear Leader, or Chairman Maobama? He is (part) black, he has a strange name, his father is from Africa, and his policies are all about SOCIALISM--in other words, un-American. This is basically red-baiting with racism thrown in.

During the campaign, he wasn't just "soft on terrorism" but a "terrorist" himself, especially when Palin would whip up the crowds of chromosome-challenged individuals in attendance. McCain created a monster, both in Palin and in this movement which they started to paint Obama as some foreign radical. When that crazy baglady got up and said she was frightened of Obama because "he's an Arab", McCain FINALLY tried to douse that fire, but too late. They fanned the flames of many kooks out there, afraid of outsiders and invaders, of "liberal media" and ho-mo-sexuals, commies and a-rabs and moozlims.

When the gun bill was being voted on earlier this week--which would allow persons to carry a concealed weapon across state lines, just so long as you had a license in your home state--I figured this was just the fuel these isolated, paranoid, hate-filled and fearful weirdos would need to generate a real security problem for Obama. Luckily it was defeated, but only by a hair's breadth.

I saw a bunch of posted comments, with regard to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Obama's comment that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly", saying things like "oh, well now I suppose Obama will just take over all the police precincts, too." The head of the Cambridge police union was going on and on about how Obama will "regret" his words. Ostensibly, he means Obama will regret those words in a political sense, but this union leader know exactly what he was saying, and to whom he was saying such a reckless thing. I don't recall a time when average Joe Blow citizens were so vocal and hostile against a president, and that includes GW Bush. On the positive side, however, no one has yet thrown a shoe at Obama.

And, as to be expected, people like Rush Limbaugh are just pouring gasoline all over this, saying that "last week it was Obama and Sotomayor against a white fireman. This week it's Obama against a white cop." Yes, it's all part of his plan to divest the white emergency workers of their power...ugh. There are loons out there who are shoveling it up, and they are legion.

16 June 2009

Internet Revolution

Watching the events in Iran play out over the days following the election has been exciting to say the least. This may sound monstrous in light of at least seven known deaths and many more injuries, as supporters of Mir Hossein Moussavi take to the streets in protest of the "re-election" of president Ahmadinejad.

While major media outlets have reporters in Tehran and throughout Iran to cover the story, the star reporter so far has been the heretofore maligned, a messaging and social networking site and technology that, up until this point, has been more or less a "distraction of the moment," a kind of electronic water cooler around which friends or complete strangers can discuss thoughts on anything. A sampling of the most popular twitter users, based on followers (from, suggests the main purpose of twitter is to stay in close contact with celebrities:

1. ashton kutcher (aplusk)
2. Ellen DeGeneres (TheEllenShow)
3. Britney Spears (britneyspears)
4. CNN Breaking News (cnnbrk)
5. Oprah Winfrey (oprah)
6. Twitter (twitter)
7. Barack Obama (BarackObama)
8. John Mayer (johncmayer)
9. Ryan Seacrest (RyanSeacrest)

It bears mentioning that twitterholic defends its accuracy in statistical analysis and media tracking as follows: "WE"R IN UR TWTTR PAGES, READN UR STATZ."

Twitter, like most sites, must undergo routine maintenance outages. Twitter's importance in both keeping Moussavi's supporters connected with one another and informed as to what is currently taking place in Tehran, as well as broadcasting on-the-ground reports from Iranian citizens to others outside that nation, cannot be understated. It has so quickly become such a valued tool in the days following the election there that the US State Department requested that Twitter delay its scheduled maintenance, which would normally occur during peak hours in Iran, so as to allow the demonstrators there the ability to continue to communicate with one another and to parties outside of Iran. Twitter, happily, complied with the request.

Today, Iranian officials continued to cut off electronic avenues of communication, including the slowing of internet speeds and cutting off access to certain sites. Helpfully, people have been posting "how to" guides for Iranians to circumvent the sort of security protocols that are being implemented.

Even, a file sharing site which exists to make available pirated copies of just about any software, music CD or DVD available, changed its home page to express solidarity with Moussavi's supporters in Iran (temproarily renamed "The Persian Bay" and colored pro-Moussavi green), including a separate page of forums and information to help keep information flowing out of Iran.

We may be witnessing the best use yet of Internet technology: recent internet phenomena that come to mind include online Viagra, tiresome memes, YouTube crowd pleasers, Nigerian bank scams, and the next doomsday worm, trojan or virus. This sort of activity, however, is undertaken by many people spread around the world to serve what is perceived to be a common good: that the members of a society are governed in a manner of their own choosing.

10 May 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

The scary dreams I have are usually not "traditionally" scary--that is, monsters rarely if ever make an appearance, and great calamities are few and far between. I suppose my most typical nightmare is of the classic “unprepared for university exams" variety.

I will dream I have just realized--on the day of the final exam--that I signed up for a foreign language course and have somehow forgotten all about it until that point. I never attended class, completed an assignment or opened--much less bought--the class text.

Early in the history of this recurring dream, the type of class varied. Over time, my brain eventually settled upon a foreign language, as this would present absolutely no room for bluffing. With a social science or some other liberal arts pursuit, constructing a rambling essay sprinkled with bullshit that ultimately evades the point of the question could likely be achieved with little to no studying and meet with some measure of success. This is, frankly, what liberal arts are all about.

Last night, though, I dreamed of the zombie apocalypse. Throngs of undead converged upon some large farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and although I was with a group of people (all of whom but a few were actual, real-life friends), there were far too many doors and windows to construct suitable defenses before the zombie horde was upon us.

Several doors and windows were without locks, and required us to move around many large and heavy pieces of furniture to block these entrances. Most of the doors that did have locks were of the hook-and-eye screw type that would prove terribly ineffective against the hundreds of shambling ghouls due to arrive.

The saving grace about this whole affair is that we were armed. We all had guns, and in some cases a few of us had several firearms. I was equipped with a .22 automatic rifle and, for some reason, a .50 Desert Eagle pistol. Overkill for a zombie I know, and certainly not worth the typical Freudian dream analyses.

As seems de rigueur with such impending doom scenarios, whether in dreams or movies, we lacked all the necessary components to make a proper go of things: we had a sizable group of people in a relatively secure and defensible position and we were armed. Now we just had to collect all of the ammunition, which had somehow been lost.

Clearly, all of these elements in the dream speak to a fear of a general lack of preparedness. The theme is even more obvious in my recurring college exam crash-and-burn. Unlike the failed exam dream, though, we overcame our zombie aggressors and won the day. We happened upon a wheelbarrow full of antique scimitars, just the sort of thing you'd expect to find in the basement of a farmhouse.

It seems my brain--even, if not especially, in sleep--has been so influenced by Hollywood plot schemes and story arcs that it will take away the obvious advantages (guns, but no ammo) to overcome the immediate situation in order to build tension and suspense. But I knew, even at that moment in my dream, that it must be this way: no zombie movie exists in which the human survivors eradicate the menace at long range, without even one flapping zombie arm breaking through a window, without one reanimated corpse drunkenly navigating itself around the living room couch.

The swords (a full wheelbarrow's worth!) afforded our group a path to victory, albeit an up-close and personal one. It is never the case that zombies are dispatched from afar. Their slow and menacing grappling and groping--their vile ichors--must be endured, toe-to-toe, if the heroes are to win.

Even as a child I never found the thought of zombies to be frightening. The terrors of my youth consisted of the wolf man, Jaws, and the Incredible Hulk. Later, thanks to the movie Poltergeist, clowns joined that list. But reflecting on it now, the zombie apocalypse is scary for two reasons.

First, and most clearly, it is unnatural. Life is life and death is death, there is no in-between or back-and-forth. There may have been just such a transient nature at one time, and we turned the subject of that story into a deity. We only need one, so any that follow in that tradition are hateful abominations that must be faced with guns, fire and swords.

Second, there is no seeming purpose to their attack. What do they want? Most zombie movies have imposed zombie dietary requirements as the motivating factor in their newly returned ability to stumble about and groan. Zombies must eat living human flesh. They must eat brains, and why not? The audience wouldn't be placed in the proper mindset If hundreds of moldering wretches rose from their graves to consume hot dogs, or book travel aboard Carnival Cruise Lines. The audience would laugh. Brain eating, however, is serious business.

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is a classic film because, in the minds of some critics, the zombie apocalypse is (depending upon the critic) really a metaphor for racism, Viet Nam, or the Cold War. At the time of its release, other critics decried its extreme gore (shot in black and white, the "blood" was in fact chocolate syrup, and the "flesh" upon which the zombies feasted was ham).

Nowadays, this sort of thing could be considered children's programming.

30 April 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

Survival in the modern age has become a perilous and exhausting affair. We escaped nuclear apocalypse at the hands of the dastardly Soviets (depicted in The Day After). We avoided invasion at the hands of the dastardly Soviets, and the devious Cubans (depicted in Red Dawn).

A supercomputer did not turn our own nukes against us (WarGames), our palnetary orbit did not collide with a comet or asteroid (Deep Impact, Armageddon), and so far, the seas have not drowned us like so many finely attired rats (The Day After Tomorrow).

There is another doomsday scenario, however, whose Hollywood foretelling has not yet met with a confident trouncing: The Andromeda Strain. 28 Days Later. Outbreak.

H1N1, the virus formerly known as Swine Flu, is this year's bugbear deluxe. Admittedly, the economy has held that position since September 2008. But we live in an era of change, and so nearly five months into 2009, here we are, looking to stock up on face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, with whom we have become so accustomed to tramping around jungles and along dusty alleys of war zones, is now confined inside a studio, soberly discussing basic sanitary habits with representatives of the NIH and CDC. Now, we know, this is serious. "Don't use your hand to cover your mouth when you cough--cough into the crook of your elbow." I hoped to live to at least see 40.

President Obama took time out of his recent press conference to review a few grade-school aspects of proper hygeine (in case you missed Anderson Cooper): wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough (though he didn't specify the precise method), stay home if you're sick.

Vice president Biden destroyed the already fragile economy and sent hapless citizens leaping out of windows and diving in front of subways when he gravely warned the American populace that he would not willingly go into any confined area. Planes and, yes, even Joe's beloved trains, were now off-limits while the SuperBug of the millenium had its way with these defenseless, soft organisms--otherwise known as human life.

We are a resilient people, and we have accomplished much. We obtained our hard-won freedom from the British (thank you France). We reconstructed the fractured and blood-soaked pieces of a shattered union after the Civil War. We got around to letting black people vote, and eventually let them marry non-black people. We survived as a nation without sit-coms for probably 100 years or more.

There is hope. Previous global deaths have been averted, and it's possible, just possible, we may yet carry on as a species. The threat of a collapsed civilization grown too dependent upon computers wsa overturned on January 1, 2000 (and again on January 1, 2001, depending on how you interpreted the calendrics). Nature turned against its rightful master--man--with an alarming rise in KILLER BEE attacks, but we persevered, and now the cowardly bees are loathe to show their ridiculous little faces (/flex). Geopolitical instability still exists, but the lurking shadows of terrorists around every corner and under every bed have diminished over time. H5N1, the avian flu to end all flus from a few years ago, passed without eradicating half the planet's population. So far. . .

Ours is a culture that seems to require a certain amount of fear and terror, both imposed upon us and imposed outward on citizens of other nations. Fear is tied deeply to our national character. It started with fear of bears, Indians and witches. Haha, we were so primitive and naieve then. Our fear curve surpassed those passe elements, and moved on to encompass Soviets, communists, bees, germs, computers and space debris.

What's next is anybody's guess, but for every fear, terror and bump in the proverbial night, there will be a host of quick-fix consumer products to provide us with relief and embolden our nerve. Guns are still probably the most popular, and a well-stocked pantry of batteries, canned food and bottled water is nothing to sneeze at (into the crook of your arm, of course).

We are strong. Our mettle is true and our spines are hardy. And there are 1,330 shopping days left until December 21, 2012.

14 April 2009

Hog Heaven

I've neglected posting for far too long, so to make up for it, I give you....HOT DOGS!!

Hot dogs, without argument, are an ubiquitous American food. I always assumed the hot dog was a descendent of the Wiener Schnitzel, but a quick wiki search revealed that the Wiener Schniztel is not a sausage but rather a thin, crumb-coated veal cutlet that is fried. Here's to wiki-learning!

From whence, then, does the hot dog derive? Wiki reveals that the Wienerwurst or Vienna sausage, of Vienna, was born in the 15th century, and "given to the people on the event of imperial coronations, starting with the coronation of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor as King".

However, as is often the the case in claims to fame, Wiki reports that "the hot dog has also been attributed to Johann Georg Lahner, a 18th/19th century butcher from the Bavarian city of Coburg who is said to have invented the 'dachshund' or 'little-dog' sausage and brought it from Frankfurt to Vienna."

Sold at baseball games and from carts on the streets of cities, hot dogs constitute a major cornerstone in American fare. As a kid I would eat them naked--that is, without a bun--and slathered in mustard and ketchup.

Hot dog purists will argue that ketcup (or catsup) is anatema to the hot dog; mustard (yellow mustard only, please) is the only acceptable accompaniment. Chicago holds quite a few food traditions as part of its diverse heritage, and the hot dog is no exception. Superdawg on Milwaukee is an iconic bit of Chicago--and American--history.

Established in 1948, Superdawg has been cranking out traditional Chicago dogs for over 50 years: hot dog, mustard, onions, hyper-green relish, pickled tomato, pickle, sport peppers and celery salt, all on a poppy seed bun. That's the Chicago way, and obviously the "mustard only" purists are mortified when they see a salad bar atop their beloved dog.

Beyond mustard, the only topping I usually seek out is sauerkraut, and finding the right kind of kraut can be a culinary odyssey in itself. First of all, the "major" canned/jarred brands such as Hunt's or Libby's simply won't do. They are not nearly pungent enough. I remember using Frank's brand with some success, and now Gundelsheim is my kraut of choice. And it must be plain kraut; Bavarian style, which is peppered with caraway seeds, is simply unacceptable.

Hideous aberrations exist in the hot dog world, which is not surprising given that most of us don't think too deeply about just how a hot dog is made, with good reason. Nevertheless, Frank-n-stuff hot dogs were a favored treat of mine when I was around 10 or so years old. The central core of the hot dog was hollowed out and replaced with "chili" or "cheese".

Spaghetti-Os with franks was a somewhat puzzling addition to the Chef Boyardee line...Spaghetti-Os with meatballs at least tried to sell the illusion of spaghetti and meatballs. Who eats spaghetti with cut up hot dogs? Maybe they were trying to "ineternationalize" the hum-drum meal of beans and weiners, but in the end the Spaghetti-Os with Franks was simply disgusting (and given that we're talking about Spaghetti-Os, that's saying something).

My college fraternity had their own kitchen and meal plan, and one of the regular freezer items was something called a Bagel Wurst. This was some sort of smoked hot dog or sausage, infused with "cheese," and then cocooned inside a soft and seemingly rye-like dough...presumably this was the "bagel" portion of the sobriquet. I usually ate it hung over, and in silence, serving a Sunday penance drenched in mustard.

Nothing, however, compares to the wonderment of a grilled hot dog. I could eat these plain, with no topping, on the bun. And I could eat ten of them. Preparation is probably the most important part of what makes or breaks a hot dog. "Lips and assholes" is how a friend of mine referred to hot dogs, rightly noting that the dog's constituent materials were really not choice cuts.

Symmetry is also important--I can't eat a hot dog whose ends overlap the bun, it's probably Freudian and I simply can't. Appearance goes a long way as well. Frankfurters tend to be "tied off" at the ends, what one friend calls "balloon knots." This makes the prospect of eating it impossible. Hot dogs must have innies, not outies.

Perhaps nothing has made the hot dog as famous as the hot dog eating contests on Coney Island, sponsored by Nathan's Famous. Held every July 4, this tradition is approaching its centennial. A more American contest--one of unrepentant (indeed, celebratory) gluttony--I cannot conceive. Somehow, America's fattest champions of competetive eating are not lately up to the challenge, however.

Normal-proportioned Japanese citizens have been taking the top prize in recent years, their lack of chins and jowls marking a somewhat puzzling and incongruous can they out-eat the morbidly fat Americans? They can see their feet and walk without panting!

Summer approaches, and so too the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest. Perhaps out there is a true American hero, a real red-blooded son or daughter of liberty, who is up to the challenge and is brave enough to claim the hot dog eating honor for 2009. Pick up some clothes with elastic waistbands, and get training. FOR FREEDOM!!