Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smart Choices - Neither Smart nor Much of a Choice

It was a short-lived attempt at offering some kind of "one-stop" shopping - an easily-identifiable logo to be slapped upon grocery items, meant to reassure the harried consumer that the carefully packaged food within was not only safe but good for the body and soul, a healthy choice amidst so much trans-fats and artificial preservatives. Called "Smart Choices" and featuring the trendy color green, the logo sought to cut through the dizzying array of unregulated front-of-package nutrition signs that can make working the aisles of the local supermarket as wearying a task as braving the red tape of the DMV. How many variations on the words / phrases "smart," "sensible," and "healthy" could there be, after all? With such confusion relegated to the past, shoppers need only keep one eye open for the friendly green check mark and the "Smart Choices" brand to help decide between calorie-loaded processed food and the good stuff that makes one healthy, wealthy and wise.

Except, something went wrong along the way. For if the program was meant to direct people towards healthy food items (either healthy or, and this is parsing things a bit, the ambiguous "healthful" designation), wary consumers and nutrition groups quickly realized that the "Smart Choices" label was being randomly slapped onto any old box or container of artificial sludge and sugar-steepened rot that fills up most aisles in any respectable grocery store. Outrage and ridicule spread across the Internet as bloggers and advocacy groups reported on some of the inanities sporting the healthy green label - Froot Loops, Coco Crispies, boxes of Cracker Jack, Fudgsicles and jars of Hellman's Mayonaise and Peter Pan Peanut Butter. Of course, one need merely scan these and other "healthy" items to note that there was nothing random at all in the designation - all represent food items designed, packaged and distributed by the giants of the corporate food industry, such as ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft, PepsiCo and Tyson. Furthermore, a little investigating reveals that the "Smart Choices" sticker is not simply awarded to those food items which are positioned at the top of the dietary chain. Rather, as the folks at Sincerely Sustainable point out, "the main prerequisite for inclusion into the program is $100,000 per year paid by the companies who produce the foods seeking inclusion". Hence the presence of such nutrient-rich and life-sustaining food items as Froot Loops and mayonnaise.

When pressed on such matters, Tufts researcher and Smart Choices board member Ellen T. Kennedy noted that sugar cereals such as Froot Loops and Coco Crispies were given the Smart Choices nod because they were better choices than donuts. On this matter, Ms. Kennedy may very well be correct. As a matter of fact, aside from spoonfuls of lard stuffed with egg yolks and deep fried, I can't think of many food items that would not be considered better for one than donuts. As the chatter concerning inappropriate food concoctions suddenly deemed healthful rose to a fever pitch, the chagrined FDA stepped in, firing off a mildly accusatory letter to the program, and it was shortly thereafter that Smart Choices made the announcement that they were voluntarily suspending the program (or "postponing active operations," as no doubt their legal representation suggested). The boxes of Froot Loops festooned with green check marks would remain on the shelves, but no further releases would be forthcoming. The FDA is said to have begun some sort of investigation into how products consisting of over 50% sugar ever achieved the green stamp of approval.

This entire debacle should not come as a surprise if one is aware of the almost complete dominance of ConAgra, Kraft, Tyson and others in the global food industry. Many of these companies long ago ceased selling food and began pushing the mantra of processed goods. Truth be known, these businesses have little to no interest in steering American diets away from preservatives, sugars, and artificial ingredients, because these unhealthy and unnatural elements are their very life blood. The author Michael Pollan has pointed out that large agribusinesses shield themselves from accusations of contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic by appearing to support healthy eating and dietary changes. These corporations don't recommend what nearly any dietitian or nutritionist knows, however, which is that diets rich in plants and low in meats, oils and additives are best. Instead, Pollan argues, agribusinesses throw vocal support behind trendy diets and fads that focus upon one or two specific "macronutrients". One can rattle off such high-profile Oprah-approved dietary movements, from low-carb and low-fat to gluten-free and Master Cleanse detox diets. What all these diets have in common is the disturbing notion that the key to healthy eating is to identify one specific bad dietary agent and remove it from one's diet. Of course, nothing in any of these fads and trends need keep any practitioner from continuing to purchase the processed products that glut both our nation's supermarket aisles and our waistlines. Any true movement towards healthy eating would necessarily involve completely shutting out the entire output of such agribusiness organizations as ConAgra and Kraft.

I went about compiling some of my favorite examples of the Bizarro World Smart Choices selections. Aside from the aforementioned sugar cereals, I came across such staples of naturally balanced diets as Kraft's Strawberry Bagel-Fuls, Ritz Bits Peanut Butter Chocolatey Blast Crackers, Fruit Roll-Ups Crazy Pix, Chocolate Teddy Grahams and "Healthy Choice" Beef Tips and Portobello TV Dinners. While many commentators have chosen to focus on the often outrageous amounts of sugar present in such supposedly healthy choices, I've been more closely examining the total ingredients present in some of the designated foods, specifically those aimed at children. While the notion of something like Froot Loops being healthy in any way, shape or form is transparently ludicrous, the branding of children-marketed TV Dinners as "Smart Choices" is even more insidious.

I followed the appropriate links to the nutritional and ingredient information on several products deemed "Smart Choices," and before growing mildly nauseous while attempting to navigate the garishly-colored and cartoon-character infested world of products like "Cowboy KC's Ham and Cheese Ropers," I was continually astonished at both what passed for healthy eating and what passed for food full stop. The Kid Cuisine "Twist and Twirl Spag and Meatballs" TV dinner, aside from committing a crime against humanity by using the word "spag" for "spaghetti," contains 430 calories per serving, including 120 from fat, 15% of one's daily saturated fat, 10% cholesterol and almost 30% of one's daily sodium. But I was more impressed with the complete list of ingredients -
INGREDIENTS:SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS AND SAUCE: SPAGHETTI (DURUM SEMOLINA ENRICHED WITH [NIACIN, FERROUS SULFATE {IRON}, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID], EGG WHITES), WATER, COOKED MEATBALLS, CARAMEL COLOR ADDED: BEEF, WATER, ISOLATED SOY PROTEIN, RICOTTA CHEESE (WHEY, PASTEURIZED WHOLE MILK, SALT, VINEGAR), ROMANO CHEESE (PASTEURIZED COW'S MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), DRIED EGG WHITE, SALT, SPICES, GARLIC POWDER, PARSLEY, FLAVORINGS, CARAMEL COLOR, BROWN SUGAR, WHEAT FLOUR. TOMATO PASTE, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING: BEEF FLAVOR (CONTAINS BEEF EXTRACT, YEAST EXTRACT, SALT, MALTODEXTRIN, FLAVOR, LACTIC ACID, CITRIC ACID), SOYBEAN OIL, SEASONING (SUGAR, SALT, DEHYDRATED ONION AND GARLIC, LOCUST BEAN GUM, SPICES, DISODIUM INOSINATE AND DISODIUM GUANYLATE, AND NATURAL FLAVOR), ROMANO CHEESE MADE FROM COW'S MILK (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES). CORN WITH WATER, SUGAR. BROWNIE: SUGAR, ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (CONTAINS NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID, ASCORBIC ACID (A DOUGH CONDITIONER), CANOLA OIL, WATER, EGGS, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, COCOA POWDER PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: DEHYDRATED APPLE, PEAR, AND PLUM, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS. PARMESAN CHEESE PACKET: PASTEURIZED MILK, SALT, CHEESE CULTURE, ENZYMES, CELLULOSE POWDER (PREVENTS CAKING), SORBIC ACID (PRESERVATIVE).
I then checked out the ingredients for another Kid Cuisine offering, this one the "Magical Cheese Stuffed Crust Cheese Pizza," also designated a "Smart Choice" option -
INGREDIENTS:STUFFED CRUST CHEESE PIZZA: CRUST (FLOUR BLEND [ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR {BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID}, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SOY FLOUR], WATER, DEXTROSE, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOYBEAN OIL, BAKING POWDER [SODIUM BICARBONATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM SULFATE, CORN STARCH, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, CALCIUM SULFATE], SALT, YEAST [YEAST, STARCH, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, CITRIC ACID], DOUGH CONDITIONER [WHEAT FLOUR, SALT, SOY OIL, L-CYSTEINE, ASCORBIC ACID, ENZYMES], ASCORBIC ACID TAB [ASCORBIC ACID AND OTHER EXCIPIENTS]), RESTRICTED MELT MOZZARELLA CHEESE (PART-SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE [PASTEURIZED MILK, SALT, ENZYMES], MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, METHYLCELLULOSE), FAT REDUCED MOZZARELLA CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK CHEESE [PASTEURIZED MILK, CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, SMOKE FLAVORING]), MOZZARELLA CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), SAUCE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE, PIZZA SAUCE SEASONING [SALT, SUGAR, ONION POWDER, SPICES, XANTHAN AND GUAR GUM, GARLIC POWDER, POTASSIUM SORBATE, CITRIC ACID, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: TRICALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SOYBEAN OIL {ADDED AS PROCESSING AIDS}], MODIFIED FOOD STARCH), RELEASING AGENT (WATER, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, POLYSORBATE 60, SOY LECITHIN, ACETIC ACID, CITRIC ACID, POTASSIUM SORBATE, PROPYL GALLATE, SODIUM BENZOATE, POLYDIMETHYLSILOXANE), CELLULOSE, SOYBEAN OIL. CORN WITH WATER, SUGAR. VANILLA PUDDING: WATER, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SOYBEAN OIL, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, DRIED SWEET CREAM (SWEET CREAM, NONFAT MILK, SODIUM CASEINATE), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, ACETIC ACID ESTERS OF MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES WITH MALTODEXTRIN, CREAMY VANILLA FLAVOR (WATER, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, ALCOHOL, NATURAL FLAVORS, CARAMEL COLOR), SALT, XANTHAN GUM, SOY LECITHIN (NONFAT MILK, SOY LECITHIN, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL), ANNATTO COLOR (REFINED SOYBEAN OIL, ANNATTO EXTRACT, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES). SPRINKLE PACKET: DEXTROSE, SUGAR, RICE FLOUR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, COCOA (COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), MALTODEXTRIN, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COTTONSEED, SOYBEAN), CORN STARCH, FD&C RED #40, FD&C YELLOW #6, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, FD&C BLUE #1, SOYA LECITHIN, CONFECTIONER'S GLAZE, SUCRALOSE, FD&C BLUE #2 LAKE, GUM TRAGACANTH, FD&C YELLOW #5, GUM ARABIC.

Fun, isn't it? But my favorite example of what the processed food corporations have wrought upon the American table came from the staggering list of ingredients included inside the single-serving Lunchables Chicken Dunks box :
Ingredients: WATER: NATURAL SPRING WATER. BREADED WHITE CHICKEN STRIPS (CHICKEN STRIPS: WHITE CHICKEN, WATER, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, POTASSIUM LACTATE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, DEXTROSE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, CARRAGEENAN, SODIUM DIACETATE, LEMON JUICE SOLIDS, FLAVOR. BATTER; WATER, BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, DEXTROSE, SPICES, GARLIC POWDER, EXTRACTIVES OF PAPRIKA, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, CARAMEL COLOR. BREADING: WHEAT FLOUR, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, EGG WHITES, WHEAT GLUTEN, DEXTROSE, SPICES, WHEY [FROM MILK], SALT, PAPRIKA, ONION POWDER, NATURAL FLAVOR. SEASONING: ENRICHED BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR [BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID], EGG WHITES, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, GARLIC POWDER, ONION POWDER, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, SPICES, NATURAL FLAVOR, BROWNED IN PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL). BARBECUE SAUCE: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WATER, TOMATO PASTE, DISTILLED VINEGAR, WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE [DISTILLED VINEGAR, MOLASSES, CORN SYRUP, WATER, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, GARLIC POWDER, SUGAR, SPICES, TAMARIND, NATURAL FLAVOR, SULFITING AGENT], MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, MUSTARD FLOUR, SOYBEAN OIL, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVOR, XANTHAN GUM, CARAMEL COLOR, SODIUM BENZOATE [PRESERVATIVE], GARLIC POWDER, SUGAR, SPICES, DRIED SOY SAUCE [FERMENTED WHEAT AND SOYBEANS, SALT, MALTODEXTRIN, CARAMEL COLOR], PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COTTONSEED AND SOYBEAN), TAMARIND, NATURAL FLAVOR. CHEDDAR BAKED SNACK CRACKERS: ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SOYBEAN OIL, CHEDDAR CHEESE (MADE FROM CULTURED MILK, SALT, AND ENZYMES), PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA, YEAST), MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (FLAVOR ENHANCER), ANNATTO EXTRACT (VEGETABLE COLOR), PAPRIKA, SODIUM CASEINATE, LACTIC AND ACETIC ACIDS, SPICES, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR. ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED FRUIT ROLL: SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, WHEAT FLOUR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, CITRIC ACID, MALIC ACID, SODIUM CITRATE, CELLULOSE GUM, GLYCERINE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, ARTIFICIAL COLOR (RED 40). TROPICAL PUNCH ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR SOFT DRINK: SUGAR, FRUCTOSE, CITRIC ACID (PROVIDES TARTNESS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN E ACETATE CALCIUM PHOSPHATE (PREVENTS CAKING), ACESULFAME POTASSIUM AND SUCRALOSE (SWEETENERS), ARTIFICIAL COLOR, RED 40, BLUE 1, BHA (PRESERVES FRESHNESS).Size: 6 OZ

Now, I would argue that this is not food. This is a chemistry experiment or a soil sample taken from a decades-old landfill. What is outrageous about a list of dozens upon dozens of ingredients assembled inside a single serving of processed food is not that it has been dubbed a "Smart Choice," but that it exists at all.
After despairing at the realities of such revolting information, it was time to make a smart choice of our own. As a tiny act of protest, Jane and I set about creating a meal from scratch that would incorporate only a handful of ingredients, as basic as possible, organic and local, and richly flavored. A photo for homemade Sardinian pasta in my Culinaria Italy cookbook caught our eyes - only durum wheat semolina, salt and a pinch of saffron required.


We've never before tried to make our own pasta from scratch, and with a little elbow work from Jane, our kitchen was soon filled with long strips of moist pasta dough.


These were then broken off into smaller shell shapes.....

...then pressed flat, and rolled over the prongs of an ordinary kitchen fork to produce the distinctive malloreddus pasta grooves.


After drying and hardening, we boiled them in water just as you would any store-bought pasta. At Jane's urging, we spurned the jar of Ragu pasta sauce in the pantry and set about creating our own from scratch. With olive oil, garlic, onions, plenty of ripe organic tomatoes, white wine, and minced anchovy, it only took twenty minutes to concoct a rich, thick gravy on the stove top. We tossed the two together and sprinkled feta over the top....


...and sat down to an amazingly flavorful meal that was even tastier than the bottle of malbec we popped open.

It's too bad that our meal could never be awarded the much-coveted "Smart Choices" label. I'm afraid we could only incorporate about a dozen ingredients into our creation, rather than the industry-preferred seventy-five. I couldn't find a way to attach a cartoon character or a catchy jingle to the side of the bowl we served it in. And I completely failed to include such essential ingredients as high fructose corn syrup or red dye-40. So, we were unable to meet any of the requirements for healthy eating as according to the world of agribusiness. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure our pasta with tomato sauce was better for us than a donut. So perhaps it was a smart choice after all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Favorites from the Beleaguered Wikipedia Help Desk

Andrew Sullivan has a popular feature on his daily blog called "Mental Health Break," in which he briefly sets aside the politics and merely offers links to interesting, amusing or odd videos and webpages that offer a much-needed departure from the events of a chaotic and up-to-the-minute world. I'm a firm believer in mental health breaks. And so, seeing how I've spent the entire weekend at the computer attempting to put together some kind of Google Documents presentation on how best to create a Proposed Collection Development Map (don't ask --please, please don't ask), my mind has drifted over to that more pleasant realm occupied not by budget subcommittees or collection maps. I'm thinking of my fond memories of the poor folks over at the Wikipedia Help Desk.

The Wikipedia Help Desk is a resource offered through Wikipedia volunteers and members to help clear up confusions and questions about using and troubleshooting the online encyclopedia. In fact, the Wikipedia Help Desk clearly states this on the appropriate website. Yet because it exists in that virtual world of on-line networking, the help center has noticeably fewer boundaries that, in the real world, help keep, say, somebody looking to hawk their demo tape from wandering into the local dog catcher's office. I'm known to be amused by poor grammar, blatant displays of ignorance and chronic confusion, but I daresay I've never quite come across as much chronic confusion as I have in the halls of the Wikipedia Help Desk. And because they are dedicated to forging as open an exchange of information as possible, the good folks at Wikipedia have saved these questions and answers - every last one of them - for your viewing pleasure.

Last year or maybe even earlier, I set about scrolling through these sessions every now and then and saving favorites to a growing file on my computer. Some were odd, some were hilarious, some were kind of depressing. Much of it was simply homework. The responses ranged from almost painfully polite to wonderfully dismissive. I thought I'd cut and paste some of my favorites for the curious, the bored, and those in need of a mental health break.

Keep in mind that every single one of these questions was sent to a help desk clearly designed to aid those in need of technical assistance while navigating the site. All grammar and spelling has been left untouched.

.........................................................................................................................................................................

I put money aside in Flex spending health account, will I lose that money if I am terminated
I have no idea. Ask the people who sold you the Flex spending health account. This page is for help using Wikipedia only. I suggest you talk to your company's human resources department, they will most likely be able to explain everything about the account.


Hello. I'm Argentine, my little daughter was raped by a sick-man. If I'm creating his article. Is it necesary the neutrality? Thanks everyone.
All articles are required to conform to the Neutral point of view policy. You also will have a conflict of interest, and the subject may not pass the notability guidelines for people, so I would not suggest creating the article.

im looking for a woman
Greetings (hello)
i would like to know more about find a friend who took money from me please. my name is (-) - im from (-). her name is (-). i would like to meet her in person or come to a point for asking for my money back please. my email address is (-). she walked away with $3000.00 (us) on me back in October /2007. she told me she was a nurse
thank u -
more can be learned from my website: (-) = i look forward to hearing from u or call (-) and i think i am 12 - 13 hrs behind u. thank u again
This is the place for asking questions about using Wikipedia -- not really an appropriate place for questions of this sort. By the way, posting as much personal information as you just have on a public forum is a really, really bad idea, so I have removed it all.

Does someone know 'Why have some post communist states been more successful than others?" thx a lot
Hi. This help desk is for answering qustions about using Wikipedia. Knowledge questions get asked at the references desk. However, this question looks to me like it may be your homework assignment. You can certainly look at our articles to help you find an answer by reading yourself (see, for example, our article Eastern Bloc) and we can help explain things if you have a specific question, but we will not do a person's homework for him or her.

Mars dark Chocolate Bars
I have coupons for .50 cents off of your new 4 pack bars. I cannot find them NOWHERE. Where can I find them soon my coupon will be no good good till Dec31 07

Something tells me you're in the wrong place. This is Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia: more specifically, this is the help desk, a place for asking questions about the aforementioned encyclopedia. How one could confuse an encyclopedia with a store cashier is beyond me.

I'm writing a paper and I was wondering a couple of things: why do Jewish people rip their clothes when someone dies? and does any one know the name of the song that the artist Sting sings about in the song, Dancing for the dead? Any one have any ideas?
You may be better off asking at the Reference desk (probably the Humanities and Entertainment desks, respectively) where general knowledge questions are answered. This page is for help using Wikipedia. However, the article Bereavement in Judaism may have some of the information you require.

hello for plane air asia what is the weigt of baggage ? and for more 15 kg by baggage for price for 1 kilo one more please? email thierry.capizzi@club-internet.fr
I really don't think that Wikipedia is the place to figure out the weight of baggage. Try the website of the airplace service.

i was just wondering when you were going to be coming back to the virginia beach area? my fiance really likes your shows and he missed your last one. if it will be a while for virginia beach , were will your next shows be? my name is amanda.
Ok this is Random. should it be deleted?


I'm traveling to San Perdo Sula on Dec. 18th and will be traveling via bus to Managua and Granada. I'm interested in a map that shows the towns/cities in Honduras and Nicaragua. I like to sports fish and would like to learn about sport fishing. I'm also interested is retiring in Nicaragua - I like to be around the water close to fishing opportunities. My girl friend is from San Perdo Sula and her daughter lives in Granda and is getting married on January 5th. How do I find a map and any info on sport fishing and where I should look for property and retirement would be appreciated.
Unfortunately, Wikipedia isn't really a travel guide, so we don't have maps of the kind you're looking for.

Now a days in disposal of solid wastes we use four of five boxes for sorting various type of the wates. What are these colours and what are there use, I mean how these different colour boxes are used?
Questions like yours are better directed at the reference desk.

Moral Philosophies in Business Ethics
If you want any sort of a meaningful response, you're better off writing a full sentence.

Please,Please,Please I'm tryin to find out a reference tupac made in a few songs and one particlular interview with Shock G where he brought up a CAPITAL F for fairly, touching subject to him, & probably whoever friggin watched it.... bout 1 of his fallen comrades going by the name of (which is where the question lies) Kato??? K-Dogg??? K-Dough(sound it out) Please let me know.... Adouring fan No.1
This help desk is only for questions about using Wikipedia.

A thought came yesterday to my mind. Is there any element in the universe or in the world which has no mass, but has resistense? And I would like to find out if it is really exist. The thought came during my travelling. I had heavy suitcase, and dreamed about a suitcase without any mass, but that could contain my clothes which I need during a trip. Who will be able to answer this question? May be one day sientists will discover this element? Who knows.
This help desk is only for questions about using Wikipedia.

brain teazer! what is 4 L on C?
I have no idea - brain teasers are not my strong point!

how do u spell sertain
certain.

unseen cost of illegal immigration i wish to submit a letter…….Recently I have received numerous phone calls regarding the purchasing of local papers. I do not beleive them to be informative when forming an opinion on illegal immigration. To many of us this is the biggest issue facing America today, yet you fail to put fourth any information regarding the cost to communities locally or nationally. How much effect does this have on property taxes in lower income neighborhoods were the illegals reside? How does this effect the wages of local population or the cost to rent an apartment? What effect does this have on the black community who they are in direct competition with. The American labor force feels the impact caused by cheap illegal workers. We only wish to create a balance and control this run away train. Send the trouble makers home, no guest worker program. So no I do not want your papers. Thank you Mike rogers
I'm sorry but this page is for help using the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. It has nothing to do with your local newspapers or the phone calls you have been receiving.

I am done. Sombody please help me with a hard days night!
Please say what you mean.

I would like to know if Bob Newhart is still alive and how to send an e-mail to him. I heard he had died, so I wouldn't write then.
Rev. Melvin W. Lindberg
I can't help you with sending an email to him, and this page is for asking questions about using Wikipedia. By the way, for your own protection, please don't post your email to any public and highly visible pages such as this. Cheers.

for jose reyes page it says "is an All-Star Major League poopball worst" shortstop for the New York Mets." Please change.
I did, but Thank you for your suggestion. When you feel an article needs improvement, please feel free to make those changes.

i have lings of eletricity moving on my body! i need help this is not a joke or a crazy person please please help me i have to much eletricty or something in my body my body lets things in to my body such as fuzz hair dirt wood any thing iim around it does it when my body gets hot my body releases thing the stuff it pulls in also things fall off me which appear to be invisible lines when it hits it leaves a black mark moving water mess with me i can put my palms or bottom of my feet toward cold water when my back begins to hurt or my chest gets heavy there are white chalk looking things that get every where when i run the dish washer or vacuum these things bother me teribily and agervate this condition if this line dosent leave a black mark it will usually get back on me or will go into the freezer and leave ink like smears which can and do get back on me if it goes to the freeser it leaves stuff which looks likelittle pices of dirt or little strigs that look like dust i am will to let you work on me or what ever it takes to resolve this problem!!
While I'm not completely able to understand your question, it appears to be of a medical nature. Wikipedia is not a place to come to for medical advice, I would suggest that you see your family physician.

can I believe what i read? Can I?
We make no assertion that what you see is correct, however we do require that controversial and most other information be backed up with references for you to double-check.

why dosn't it work when i put what do mmice eat?
I do not know what you are asking, but this is for questions about using Wikipedia.

CURIOUS!!! CAN YOU EXPLAIN TOO ME HOW WIKIPEDIA WORKS? HOW DOES IS WORK??
You could start by reading the Wikipedia article. If you need more info, please ask a more specific question.

ford contour it started smoking a lot and it shuts off
This is an encyclopedia help desk not a garage. I'm no mechanic, but I'd advise against driving any car which appears to be on fire.

hi i need to know about structure the ring opening persulfate can u help me
This page is only for asking questions about how to use Wikipedia.

If you alter a piece about a subject you know a good deal about and what you added disappears within a day, what has happened to what you have added?
Your edits were reverting as being vandalism. Saying things like "Talcott Parsons is a knob" is not appreciated here.

I need a letter stating that the 288 freeway was closed on October 13, 2007 around 10 pm because I was late and need an excused letter to justify me being late that day.
Tracy Taylor
You haven't even stated in what country the subject freeway is located so it is not possible to help you with details of this. Please note for future reference that this page is for asking questions about using Wikipedia.

is argentina the mystery country for history
Your question appears to be a homework question. We apologize if this is a misevaluation, but it is our policy here to not do people's homework for them. If there's any other way we can help, feel free to let us know. Thanks!

P&H alpha crane
mobile miner tunnel boring

Do you have a question?

We live in Penticton, B.C., Canada and this summer we were buying boxes of popsicles that you froze and then ate. In the box were three flavors orange, lime and cream soda.
We are not kids, but adults and loved these popsicles. We are snowbirds and came to Yuma, Arizona, but before leaving home we went to our local Walmart to stock up to bring what we thought would be about 3 or 4 boxes with us, BUT they did not have any and told us they were just a summer item and kind of a loss leader. We were certainly disappointed.
Anyway we have been looking at the Walmart's in Yuma, Arizona and they do not have any of these popsicles either.
Unfortunately we do not have the box, but know that it had Crush on the outside.
The big question?? Where can we get these wonderful popsicles in Arizona or even in California?
We were be very happy if you could contact us.
Richard and Dorothy Calkins
The help desk is here to answer questions on using Wikipedia. Sorry, but I don't think I can help with finding popsicles.

scince
whodoes this professionhelp
If you have a specific question about science, try the Science reference desk. This page is for questions about using Wikipedia only.

Dear Sir, My friend and i are planning a visit to America for two weeks, now i am disabled through a brain heamorage in 1979 which left me with no feeling down my right side, i can walk do my own cooking etc etc we intend to hire a large van sleeper to go around as far as we can as the country is far to big to visit a lot in two weeks, can you tell me the best route to take once we have landed, we are not interested in Las Vegas and we need the best routes to visit the US with the limited time limit we have, all help will be greatly appreciated, I realy wasnt to meet the American indians
Many Thanks
David Parker
If Las Vegas is not an option, you could try the Mohegan Sun. There you can meet some of "the" Native Americans and lose a lot of money in two weeks.

if a man wants to win a women over what does he need to do
This is not the place for personal life.

I must aquire your services. How may I help you?
Could you please clarify?

Who is this boy?
I need to know who this boy is.
The Help Desk is for questions about editing Wikipedia, not for identification of random photos that you upload.
So much for your help desk, not very helpful indeed. Sod ya then!
In accordance with Wikipedia's policy of protecting living people, I have deleted this photograph of an underage person you uploaded but don't know the identity of and which you now, here, have displayed on a public forum for identification for unknown purposes.
Yeh whatever fuck off.

julia robert
i woul like to know about her sedme more about her one email

Then I suggest you search for the article.

Do you know any one the can do the work of a sorceresses if so contact me please. Lester Thabodiaux (if that's how to spell it)
Uhh, maybe Into The Fray can help.

war? why are showing something about how poeple died from a mistake about to much fuil will guss what I bet right now some man is fight for every one's right to be free and, your talking about that men that just died becouse of to much fuil.Will men die for our fredom. How would you Like it if you would have died for our fredom and now body carse becouse, men died from to much fuil.
This is a page for questions about how to use Wikipedia, not a soapbox.

This is NOT a wierdo speaking. I am serious. I would like to know where I can find out information regarding WHY Homosexual, mainly men-gay men, (I am a 40 yr. old Nurse-Woman) seem to speak like they do. I am interested in finding out WHY most gay men SOUND the same and act in a feminine manner? I am curious, that's all. I am not a wierdo nor do I have any intentions other than finding out WHY? Thank you.
This page is for help with using Wikipedia.

What is Jimbo Wales e-mail? I want to send him hate mail and sign him up for newsletters.
At least he was upfront about it.

indian constitution is not fair!
need for debate!
I don't think Wikipedia is the place for Indian contsitutional debate.

dear sir
we are girls those have balance disorder how could we contact to sand you more about our teragedy case
We cannot help. Wikipedia does not provide medical advice. Apologies.

I have a HOT Band that I have played music with for 10 years. How do I get into one of your festivals???????? The Jake Mackey Band!
This is a forum for questions about how to use Wikipedia.

I won't want to drink my own urine,instead I drink my wife's, is the therapy effect same?
Best of luck.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Good Meal is Hard to Find

With Jane feeling a bit under the weather and taking a much-needed day off to recuperate and laze about the house, and with a new library job set to begin next week, it seemed as good a time as any to hit the road for a quick day trip through the scraggly parts of the gigantic back yard we San Diegans are blessed with. 94 East peels off the 5 just past the center of downtown, and after a few congested areas clogged with suburbanites and their SUVs exiting the freeways, the route turns delightfully rural. Winding through increasingly rugged and mountainous territory, Route 94 takes the curious traveler through blink-and-miss-it townships and unincorporated areas like Dulzura, Engineer Springs, Barrett Junction, Potrero, Manzanita, Boulevard, and Jacumba. Many of these towns are little more than a feed station and a few homes. Some of them hug the Mexican border so closely that border agents outnumber residents. By the time the route took me through the Campo Indian Reservation, across the Tecate Divide, and up the foothills of the In-Ko-Pah Mountains, I felt worlds away from the urban development of the San Diego County coast. In the thin, cool morning air at 4,000 feet, the landscape dotted with ranches, horse trailers or nothing at all aside from boulders and live oak groves, one remembers that at one time, Southern California was as much a part of the Old West as Wyoming or Northern Nevada.

My destination wasn't any particular place at all, just a desire to explore the back roads. But I did have one specific point in mind, and that was a bite to eat in the vast Imperial Valley. A Google search the night before had turned up some rave reviews for a tiny Mexican food joint stuck improbably among the bisecting agricultural roads that dot the canal-and-field landscape of the El Centro / Calexico region. I plunged from the mountains into the expanding Valley, passing first through the 90-degrees-in-October Yuha Desert, within sight of Mexican mountains just over the border....



....and continuing along lonely Route 98, a little-used roadway that bypasses the busier Highway 8 just to the north.

A few miles outside the town of El Centro, the Yuha Desert abruptly ends and the air becomes noticeably (and unnaturally) humid, thanks to the astonishing number of freshwater canals bringing needed moisture to help sustain one of the largest agricultural regions in the country. A few wrong turns, a couple bumps across dusty dirt roads, and I found myself along tiny Wahl Road, literally in the middle of nowhere. Clustered underneath the welcoming shade of a large grove of trees lay my destination - a tiny yellow sign for Camacho's Place....


...although the sign greeting visitors coming the opposite direction was a bit more auspicious (and probably a bit more traveled).



Being a firm believer in the fact that the most authentic food hails from the most humble of locations, I was delighted by the tumbledown structure, the overgrown palms, the dirt parking lot, the sun-blasted 7-Up sign, and the handmade sign promising menudo daily.




Even better, the inside of Camacho's Place was an odd combination of dining area and general store, with random paperbacks for sale at the front counter, a rack of clothing, steer horns over the kitchen doorway, and walls decorated solely with newspaper clippings concerning local high school athletes.

I wish I could tell you that this charming little oasis proceeded to offer up the greatest Mexican food I've ever tasted, a meal to rival the oyster taco extravaganza we enjoyed in La Paz this past winter, but that would simply not be the truth. The food was decent Cal-Mex fare, with little in the way of variety meats tacos (head, tongue, eyeball, you know - the good stuff), but plenty of Americanized deep-fried choices like chimichangas and "super tacos," some mild guacamole, and nothing in the way of horchata, tamarindo or jamaica for beverages (my can of coke was fine, but how much better would a glass bottle of real-sugar Mexican coca cola gone down?). No big complaints. But no revelations.
However - and I want you to pay attention to this - the chips and salsa were fantastic. This may not sound like a big deal, but those of us who frequent Mexican joints have learned that properly prepared tortilla chips and freshly made (and wickedly fiery) salsa can make the entire meal. These chips were still warm, nicely crisped, properly salted, and had just a hint of grease. The salsa was red, full of seeds, cool to the touch, and possessed a slowly-gaining burn. I'm salivating now just thinking of it.
I can't recommend making the entire journey to the outskirts of El Centro just to sample this salsa and chips offering. One of the frustrating aspects of living in Southern California is how difficult it can be to actually sample authentic Mexican food uncorrupted with Texan / Arizonan / Californian co-optation. But I treasure stumbling across hidden places like Camacho's Place, where the decor is last week's newspaper and the food comes wheeled out on a tray. It wasn't the best taco I've ever had, and maybe I should have sampled the menudo. But anybody who can make great salsa is a great cook in my estimation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I Love the Library of America


Me, I'm an original vintage type of guy. I like stumbling across old books complete with original (if torn) dust covers, enjoy flipping through rows of LPs with fabulously dated album art, prefer my music delivered in album format rather than greatest hits collections. But I also have a fatal weakness for special editions, re-releases, touched-up masterpieces, rebound volumes. Package something in an attractive felt cover or roughly-recycled wood pulp, and I'm more likely to give it a second glance than if it were merely offered in mass-market paperback format (for many dollars less, it must be said). I enjoy seeing works put into historical context, fall hard for copious notes, delight in the hemming and hawing over translations, thrill to secondary works, the whole nine yards.

Having said all this, it might be surprising how much I admire - nay, adore - the project undertaken by the Library of America to select specific authors and works of American origin for publication and (here's the real kicker) eternal "in print" status. Perhaps you've seen these simple yet attractive volumes in better bookstores or on the shelves of university libraries (where they are often sadly stripped of their equally simple yet attractive black dust covers). This independent nonprofit, founded almost thirty years ago with National Endowment for the Humanities funds, is a self-conscious offshoot of the famed French series, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, a 1930s era project designed to make French classics available in pocket format. There have been "portable" versions of American authors and literary movements in the past, but none were exactly pocketsized, unless one favored large, heavy raincoats, while the selection process and editing often seemed a bit arbitrary. Critic Edmund Wilson helped create the idea of an American version of La Pléiade, and, since 1982, the series has released new volumes every year. I feel that the past ten years has seen the project moving beyond mere collections of writings and has entered the realm of creating new canons, of re-contextualizing works, and of highlighting forgotten or overlooked authors. And they've accomplished this with grace and charm, without a whiff of political correctness or the identity politics guff that has transformed so much of contemporary literary studies into a kind of armchair flagellant society.

The reason I might not be suspected of being such a fan of the Library of America is that they bring neither the thrill of original-dust-cover archaeology or the rush of newly-discovered-and-contextualized editorializing. Novels are collected in groups of three or four and clumped together in one large 1,000+ page volume, short stories are collected into single offerings, poems grouped between one binding. Notes are nearly nonexistent - no long introductions by literary fans or esteemed biographers, few footnotes, only a time chart or two at the end of each volume offering sparse biographical detail. What these volumes offer up is nothing more nor less than the entirety of a given author's output. And they do this is pleasingly small volumes that often run to 1,200 pages yet are surprisingly light, can indeed fit into one's jacket pocket or be easily carried beneath the crook of one's arm, boast excellent binding, and are printed on some of the wispiest yet most delightful acid-free paper around. True bibliophiles may find themselves caressing the covers and flipping the sheets back and forth in sheer delight.

And this is saying nothing of the actual printed words included inside these volumes, which, taken as a whole, constitute one of the most impressive collections of national literature undertaken in any form. Early volumes concentrated on presidential writings, the complete works of Mark Twain, Henry James, Nathanial Hawthorne, and poetry compilations. Yet among such welcome if unsurprising choices were wonderful left-field ideas such as anthologies of American sermons, collections of wartime journalism (the two-volume Vietnam War series made my top ten of last years reading experiences, and is a priceless investment) and a mammoth two-book release of the entire seven volumes of nineteenth century historian Francis Parkman's France and England in North America. The 3,120 pages of this collection help keep my bookshelf sagging properly, and while I can't promise I'll ever get around to reading every word inside, the history buff in me knows that someday I'll find the time to immerse myself in the wondrous details.

In recent years. the Library of America has kept admirably aware of the times and has released more and more volumes from more recent and even contemporary authors. They have made brave arguments of inclusion for many gifted writers previously deemed unworthy of the mantle of national literature, releasing the works of John James Audubon and crime writer Dashiell Hammit alongside masters like Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton. With the unveiling of Philip Roth's collected early novels, they began honoring the work of a handful of living writers (even more importantly, of working living writers), a practice which has continued with the recent release of the first volume in a planned series of John Ashbery's collected poems. I recently picked up this volume (it still smells new), and by placing between a single binding the entirety of Ashbery's work between 1956 and 1987, the Library offers the hope that mere mortals such as myself will have a one-stop source to explore the depths of America's greatest living (and, at times, most confusing and experimental) poet.

New releases continue to astound. Last year saw the introduction of the great A. J. Liebling into the collection, first with a grouping of his World War II writings, and later a broader look at his journalism, including "The Sweet Science" - a truly welcome high-profile release which will hopefully introduce this amazing writer to many more readers. I've been losing myself in the collected stories of John Cheever since the volume was released early last spring, and while I'm not sure I'll pick up the companion volume of his collected novels (I've heard his writing skills were most clearly demonstrated in the short story format), I'm quite abashed that it took me so long to recognize his genius.

Slowly and subtly, I suspect that the Library of America, now totalling nearly 200 volumes, is rewriting the history and scope of our national literature in a much surer and informed manner than the hapless inclusionists over at Norton Anthologies. I look forward to being surprised and pleased at their choice of releases in the years to come, as they begin to mine the rich depths of 1950s-1970s American literature. I have a few dream choices and suggestions, as befits my book-nerd background - all selections that would in some way expand our conception of what it means to be an American and offer richer portraits of our cultural literary heritage.

- a multi-volume set of the complete writings of Pauline Kael, to augment the now out of print For Keeps collection and her individual volumes of criticism

- volumes devoted to the complete writings of the recently departed journalist and master writer George Plimpton, especially a collection of his peerless sports writing

- the nature writings of Rick Bass, still easily available but in puny (and overpriced) softcover editions

- a collection devoted to the "California writings" of Joan Didion, which would automatically become the greatest literary compilation of the state in existence

-the complete plays of Wallace Shawn, unfairly overlooked due to his secondary career as a character actor

- collected criticism and writings of Robert Christgau (the eternal nerd in me sees an entire volume of the complete and individual Consumer Guides, beginning in 1969 at the then-radical Village Voice)

These are my demands. I respect the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the good folks at the Library of America enough to suspect that at least one of these is already in the planning stages. I can only wish them Godspeed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Falcon With Clipped Wings

My wife has been convincing me for several different yet related reasons to start showing my face at a public space known as The Gym. I have recently acquiesced to these requests, also for several different yet related reasons. I'm taking advantage of the nearby Navy workout facilities, tucked among the gorgeous seaside cliffs of Point Loma (seriously, we must have one of the prettiest drives on earth to and from a gym), not so much for any pectoral gains or increase in benching abilities, although I'm sure that would be quite nice and my wife would voice her approval. No, the main reason I'm willing to sweat off the calories during 40-minute activity sessions is in the hopes that I'll be better able to turn around and replace those sweated-off calories with additional, tasty calories. I hold firm against the epithet "foodie" - a truly repulsive term, in all honesty - but I will answer promptly to the title Food Lover. And once one approaches their mid-30s, any love affair with food that is not exclusively of the tofu-and-lentils variety may need to be balanced with extra-curricular activities. Shocking news, I know.

But if my waistline and calf muscles are thanking me for this recent attention, my brain and soul are beginning to beg for mercy. Because what seems to go hand-in-hand with gym memberships these days is an agreement to strap one's self in front of communal plasma screens beaming forth the inanities of hyperventilating newscasters spinning endless cycles of fluff and sleaze, 24-hour upon 24-hour. This being a Navy facility, there is a high quotient of televisions showcasing FOX News programs, which I find especially smug and painful, but, honestly, I'm beginning to not be able to tell the difference between Murdoch's empire and the likes of CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, HN. Not to be all prejudiced or anything, but after a while, all bottle-blond anchorladies begin to look the same to me.

Of course, my revulsion when it comes to cable news is compounded by the fact that for the last 10 months or so, we've purposefully gone without any kind of television reception, cable or otherwise. We have a television, all right, but it exists exclusively to play dvds and blu-rays. These days, the only time I come into contact with the graceless, lurching beast that is network television or the cable empires are in hotel rooms, airports, sports bars (I don't go to many of those, granted, but it happens from time to time), other people's homes and, unfortunately, the gym. I can tell you that being away from the likes of Nancy Grace and Anderson Cooper for extended periods of time does not make it any easier to witness them in action. In fact, I find myself standing slack-jawed in amazement at what leaks out of the TV screens, while most everyone else around me seems to be doing an admirable job of barely noticing the on-air action.

It must have been the five-person round table discussion on a lady arrested for cutting in line at a Missouri Wal-Mart that set me off, or maybe it was just the fact that the network kept flashing the same two available photos of the arrested female over and over again, one of which was an undated self-portrait taken from a camera phone. The need to cover local events of little consequence to the nation as a whole - the fact that cable news makes national what once rarely strayed outside the impacted community or even family - has done a great deal to unite Americans in trivial matters that rate high on the plucked-heartstrings or sensationalism meter (missing toddlers, kicked dogs, bar fights, imploding breast implants) while keeping matters of greater national urgency swept under the table or summarized in the most vapid of terms. During a week in which the future of the Afghanistan campaign may be decided, the DowJones reached 10,000 points while unemployment refused to budge an inch, the deficit rose to a record $1.42 trillion, Bank of America posted a third-quarter loss, militant attacks in the Pakistani region of Peshawar continued, and Hamid Kharzai suggested the possibility of a runoff vote, a five-person round table discussing a Wal-Mart arrest in front of a national audience was too much to stomach. I said as much to my wife over dinner that night, comfortable and smug in the cocoon against the madding crowd I'd managed to construct via the simple cancellation of a cable plan.

But pride cometh before the fall, and all that. Because the very next day, while returning from a trip to the tailor, I was stopped by a kind yet addled neighbor who felt the need to tell me I'd better turn on the television, because there was a kid from Colorado trapped in a balloon, and he was at 7,000 feet and heading south and maybe they'd have to send helicopters. I didn't linger too long on this conversation, and changed the subject when I saw him shake his head in bewilderment when I mentioned we didn't get any TV channels (one of the things about not having TV, of course, is the need to constantly mention the fact that you don't have any TV, a trait I'm doing my best to temper). But my interest was piqued, so, new-media guy that I am, I scrolled over to my favorite online news sources and, sure enough, there was a weather balloon that pretty much resembled a silver UFO twisting and turning over the plains of eastern Colorado, with somebody named Falcon Heene reportedly inside it. Helpful links to live cable coverage allowed me to watch, with millions of others, the rather horrifying sight of a runaway contraption carrying a no-doubt-terrified six year old boy inside. I thought to myself how I would most likely have died of fright long before the two-hour mark, wondered at what the parents had been thinking, and hoped for a safe landing, against all odds. In short, I had been sucked into an "as-it-happens" drama by a leading cable purveyor. The story had it all - the possibility of peril, drama in the sky, a chance to cast judgment on shoddy parenting, even a quintessentially ludicrous 21st century child's name.

Of course, when the balloon landed safely in a plowed farmer's field only to yield no passengers, suspicions and hackles were raised. When reports surfaced that the family had earlier appeared on two episodes of the loathsome reality program Wife Swap, tongues were clucked. When the boy magically appeared from a box stored inside the family garage under the glare of media lights, brows became raised further. And when Wolf Blitzer managed to nudge out of the mouths of babes what many of us had been thinking all along (talk about riveting television - the father's agonizingly long pauses and horrible attempts at acting are as cringe-worthy as anything on The Office), and the dreaded words "we did it for the show" were uttered on live television, it was time to step back and wonder what somebody like Tristan Tzara or Allan Kaprow might have made of a stunt that basically consisted of large chunks of the American population watching an empty balloon float across the heartland. I've heard media pundits refer to this as a "Punk'd" moment, but the collision between reality and "reality TV" and the interplay between competing narratives and audience manipulation elevates it far beyond the frathouse humor of Ashton Kutcher. This was genius, of a sort.

So, once again, I tried to make my peace with mainstream 21st century American media entertainment. In good faith, I joined forces with millions of my fellow Americans to watch an unfolding narrative that offered thrills, chills and wonders. If I spent any time near a watercooler, no doubt it would have been something to jaw about. But in the end, I allowed myself to be sucked into the morass of non-stop coverage and faulty fact-checking, of sensationalism and overreaction, of the need to fill airtime with chatter and blather. It was a moment that lampooned both the nature of contemporary media and society's willingness to play predetermined roles as passive spectators. As a friend of mine commented as the pieces began to fall into place, "Dear Jon Stewart. You're welcome. Love, Falcon Heene".

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Food, Art and Drinks : A Taste of North Park, October 3rd, 2009

Gentrification can both destroy and create neighborhoods. Jane and I moved to San Diego too late to witness North Park before affordable rent and an exploding arts scene helped transform it from a rough working-class section of town to a younger artsy space filled with boutiques and trendy restaurants. Only this transformation actually succeeded in bringing solid art and food to the area and helped benefit the city itself - the art galleries were working spaces for true exploration, and the restaurants offered unique and thoughtful, even innovative, approaches to food. It's an area we're thinking more and more seriously about moving into, in order to finish up our stay in San Diego, but we're a little behind the forward momentum of real estate trends - prices for homes may be much more affordable here than in other neighborhoods, but they're not bargains by any stretch of the imagination.

This weekend saw the hosting of Taste of North Park, a four-hour dash throughout the entire neighborhood where, for the price of a $30 ticket, one could sample the tastes, beverages and/or sights of 52 different businesses, restaurants, clubs and galleries. Easily reached by foot, and defiantly contemptuous of chain stores, it was an opportunity to try some new places, revisit others, and generally stuff oneself with tiny morsels. my theory was that if we spent less than two minutes at each site, we could hit all 52 stations between 1 and 5 PM. Needless to say, I was being cheeky. We hit 22 sites, including a fair share of the restaurants. I think our stomachs shut down somewhere around site number 16 or so.

As befits the arts-centric nature of the neighborhood, nearly every restaurant and bar features fine examples of local art on the walls, nearly all of it for sale and constantly rotating. I found this to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of the event - the ability to check out trends and local artists as we stopped into numerous dining establishments. The above photo was taken at the Sea Rocket Bistro, our first stop, and somewhere I've long wanted to check out. Specializing in local and sustainable seafood, with an ever-changing menu and a strong selection of craft beer and wine, we were both delighted by the warm oyster samples, swimming in just the right amount of melted butter.
Some establishments moved their tasting areas into the street. Ranchos Mexican Food even set up an entire band to serenade passers-by while the brave ducked into the massive line waiting for an extremely generous helping of vegetarian-friendly ranch style cooking. Down the street, the folks at Zensei Sushi were rapidly going through tasty rolls and wasabi-spiked dipping sauce.


When the proprietor of the nearby Cardamom Bakery (the chive and cheddar scones were expertly flaky and soft) saw me maneuvering for a photo of their hand-painted sign, she encouraged me to go around the alley and snap a shot of the large mural, which she claimed was "even better". She was right.


Taverns, bars and clubs also joined in for Taste of North Park. The Bluefoot Bar and Lounge offered a choice of house-prepared drinks. Our sophomore days in college long behind us, we passed on the Kamikaze Shots and sampled some flavored vodka.


Mosaic Wine Bar was a classy joint with expert interior design and winding corridors, with benches and booths designed, it seemed, in the interest of maximum necking potential. The small slices of pear-and-Gorgonzola pizza offered up were delightful, although the 2$ extra-charge glasses of mediocre red wine were neither worth the cash nor the effort.




A perfect helping of creamy mac-and-cheese and a nice splash of Belgian suds helped make our stop at Toronado a memorable one. A favorite watering hole of mine since they opened last year, Toronado seems to have greatly expanded their menu since I'd last visited, while continuing to amaze with their adventurous, diverse and wonderful draft list. I've never even started to explore their labyrinth of bottled beer...someday.


More excellent local and draft beer choices could be found across the street at Ritual Tavern, although the main offering for Taste of North Park was a small bowl of their locally famous Shepherd's Pie, in either the lamb or the vegan variety.


The walls shone with art at even the smallest establishments, such as the below example, found at Junz Teriyaki & BBQ, at which I drowned my rice and noodle salad with far too much of the wonderful Thai Sriracha "cock sauce".


Helping to soothe the fire from the Sriracha were the cooling mango -flavored frozen yogurt dishes from Yog-Art. Alas, the dozens of freshly-diced toppings on display were not part of the $30 entrance fee, and so we left our icy desserts un-topped.




After a solid month and a half of above average temperatures, we were relieved that Saturday was a remarkably cool day, with plenty of sunshine but cool breezes that reminded us that fall was finally arriving to the southland.



One of the more pleasant interior spaces we encountered came in the rather cavernous spaces of U-31 Bar and Lounge. I imagine it fills up come the twilight hours, but I enjoyed the open spaces, the echoing sounds of the Mac-enabled DJ onstage, the plentiful displays of local art (including a two-part octopus project that Jane fell hard for) and an attractive wall of liquor. I hear rumors of surly doormen from online reviewers, but it might be worth a return visit.





Neither of us had ever visited Splash Wine Lounge before, but we had heard of the concept, in which a pre-paid plastic card allows the visitor to sample the available wines through a self-serve format using, I guess, hydraulics. It might be a gimmick, and I imagine the place fills up uncomfortably on weekends, but it wasn't hard to envision having a good time at the place.



I'm not sure I'll be going back anytime soon to our last food-and-beverage stop anytime soon, but Bar Pink was, at the very least, an excellent way to wrap things up. Although the drinks
existed in that realm known as "sickly sweet," I enjoyed the intense darkness inside, which helped to banish all that California sunshine in the name of glowing elephants and sparkling dance balls.



Our very last stop, as the clocks struck five, was the charming Pigment gallery, a place after my own heart due to its prominently carrying an oversized coffeebook volume on folk environmental art (a volume I purchased after visiting the exhibit itself at the Kohler Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a few Christmases ago). We ended up making a few purchases here, including an evocative print by artist Amy Paul of a ghostly airplane making a steep ascent over a recognizably San Diego street scene - an image that immediately conjured up the reality of our time living under the flight plan in Ocean Beach.
In hindsight, 22 out of 52 wasn't embarrassing at all.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mr. President Goes to Copenhagen


As a proud yet removed Midwesterner, I suppose I should be feeling a bit sluggish, depressed and confused today, after the great city of Chicago was denied its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. Actually, the Midwesterner bit shouldn't really even play that large of a role - as a red-blooded American, this latest maneuver by foreign interlopers to dash the mighty eagle against the rocky shores of international gymnastic sets should be lighting a fire in my belly and have me reaching for a glass of the strong stuff to better steel my nerves.
Actually, I find myself teetering dangerously close to all-out traitorous behavior, because the only thing I'm feeling in the aftermath of the Chicago Smackdown is a mixture of amusement and Schadenfreude. Nothing against the good boosters of Chicago, many of whom I'm sure did truly wish for the games to be plopped down against the gently lapping shores of Lake Michigan. But the pomp, circumstance, glitz, glamor and entitlement utilized during this Olympic bid has done little to suggest that Americans have any idea of how to capture or receive something without throwing wads of cash and flashy overpaid celebrities at it.


Perhaps Oprah Winfrey is truly a city booster of the old school - an individual who loves where they live and wants everybody else to love it, too. But I suspect there was also a generous helping of the narcissism and self-absorption at play that has led Ms. Winfrey to decorate every single issue of her magazine with an image of herself. Ms. Winfrey has gone some way to suggest that she is Chicago and Chicago is she, and perhaps by forcing herself into the limelight for this bid, she suspected she might be able to control international bodies of athletics in the same manner she's controlled the American best seller lists in years past. Maybe she should have considered awarding every member of the IOC a new car?



Maybe Oprah has the free time for this sort of venture, but I'm rather certain our current president does not. I suspect that part of his disastrous decision to insert himself into the IOC vote was also tied up in complicated notions of hometown pride, or possibly even the thought that asserting American hegemony in the realm of weightlifting and high diving was about as bipartisan of a gesture as he would be capable of pulling off. I'm less concerned about the taxpayer money spent on this ill-fated mission - although I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty about that from the shrill likes of Glenn Beck and the blathering maw of Rush Limbaugh in weeks to come - then I am deeply suspicious of using presidential power and prestige to argue in favor of a location for an international sporting event. This wasn't a quick infomercial appearance, or a plug during a press conference. This was a gloves-off diplomatic endeavor, undertaken on "company time". And because it failed, it means that a tiny bit of presidential prestige disappeared.
Because I dislike Oprah and admire the president, my sense of smugness at Chicago's failure must have something to do with forces beyond mere personality. Perhaps it's tied up with my own boredom with American dominance and a sense that it truly is time to begin focusing on other things. Maybe it's just that I'll always enjoy the sight of dejected jocks. But in all honesty, my response is largely a result of a long-simmering antagonism for the games themselves.

It's no secret that hosting cities lose out badly in the long run. While the games certainly bring in massive quantities of cash, they require equally large amounts of cash to win bids, get started, conduct and dismantle. They often leave crumbling and underutilized infrastructure for decades to come (I still recall walking over to the wasteland that was the Olympic Ring in Barcelona several years after the '92 games - and Barcelona is considered one of the true success stories of hosting cities). They require enormous amounts of security and traffic control. They largely make life miserable for the city inhabitants. And much of the promised cash finds itself funnelled into politicians' pockets, mired in corruption and greed. While Mayor Daley loudly trumpeted promised sums of $22 billion in profits, others were less optimistic, to say the least - the highest reputable amount given, by an independent consulting firm, was just over $4 billion. And despite promises to Chicagoans that the city and its taxpayers would not be held responsible for any excess costs, he actually signed a contract last summer agreeing to the exact opposite.
Well, I certainly hope the rest of the country can keep themselves cheered up enough to tune in to the Rio games in seven years and manage to work up suitable enthusiasm for games and sporting activities that they don't understand or normally follow. Because that's really what my loathing of the Olympic Games and the advertising juggernaut that follows in its wake every four years is all about - a loathing of the soft nationalism that plays out in millions of homes every time the red white and blue take on a foreign group of athletes in a sport that receives little to no school district funding and that hardly anybody understands the rules of. Not owning a working television anymore, the dangers of my suddenly being overcome with shamelessly melodramatic music and grizzled voice overs detailing personal struggles and family support has been tempered. For every genuinely moving or at least interesting personal saga, the little Olympic TV vignettes offer up a solid dozen slices of pure cheesecake, and while I can't remember the exact details, the nadir in recent years must have been the earnest young athlete who spoke at length of the travails of his wife's father's brother's loss of sight in one eye. My loathing of the games reached a mature point in the heady days of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a nightmare of advertising and gaudy bad taste so over the top (with Coca-Cola taking advantage of its Atlanta-based headquarters to make Coke the exclusive drink in Olympic venues) that it makes the entire economic philosophy of capitalism look as bad as Michael Moore claims it is. The twin symbols of the Atlanta games were the disastrously-designed likes of the official mascot, "Izzy" -


- and the incident of domestic terrorism that was the Centennial Park bombing. Between Izzy and Eric Rudolph, the '96 games presented a face of America to the world that one could hardly be proud of. It was little surprise when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch merely announced "most exceptional" at Game's end rather than the traditional "best games ever" (a practice he returned to for the 2000 Sydney Games).

But if the weepy interludes and the nonsense in Atlanta codified my feelings, it's only fair to note that my animosity towards the Olympics actually began far earlier, during a 1980s match-up between the United States hockey team and our Russian counterparts. This was not the fabled "Miracle on Ice" of the 1980 Lake Placid Games - forgive me if I'm too lazy to do any detective work and track down the exact details. What remains fresh in my memory was the sense that this game mattered. Ours was a home devoted to football, and Sundays were spent at the altar of the Green Bay Packers. In those pre-Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren days - hell, pre-Majkowski days, just to show you I'm for real - being a Packers fan meant you celebrated ties and losses that weren't complete blowouts. My parents tuned into local college basketball games form time to time, and I think my father followed Brewers scores, but football was the real deal. I don't recall ever watching a single second of an ice hockey game. Nobody could name any players, nobody really understood the rules. Hockey was a non-entity in our household.
Except for Olympic match ups between Yanks and Russkies, at which point my father would become the most enthusiastic and die-hard hockey fan between St. Louis and Winnipeg. I can vividly picture him perched - literally perched - on the edge of our couch at several points of the game. He followed the puck like a cat follows a laser point on a blank wall. After a contentious foul against the beloved Yanks, my father fumed and spouted, and at one point, following a rough collision between players, jumped to his feet and pointed a quivering finger at the screen, yelling, at the top of his lungs in a mortally wounded tone, "Tripping!!!"
This is all quite amusing now, and almost charming. But I recall at the time thinking it was a most odd display. Why would anybody care so much about something simply because one team kind of sort of came from the same general land mass area that we came from? It was one of those precocious child moments that used to pop up in those dreadful "Family Circus" cartoons, but it's a moment of precocity that I've held on to. Call me silly or call me traitorous, but I really do not understand the concept of rooting on an entire country as one's personal "team". A school team, yeah, I can get behind that - you know the quarterback, the assistant coach lives a few streets over, ok. College teams, same thing - local blood, local pride. I can even kind of understand the intense loyalties ascribed to NFL or NBA teams, although even here I think we're beginning to stretch the realms of credulity when it comes to any sort of local connection. But I'm with Chuck Klosterman (bet you thought you'd never read those words, huh?) when it comes to the Olympics - seriously? You mean I need to feign interest in shot-putting simply because the guy competing in the stadium and I both stood on American soil when we signed our passports?

So, I'm sorry, Chicago - I think you're prime time material. But I suspect you're better off without the Olympics coming to town. And as for Oprah and our president - well, one of the reasons I know I'm a good American is that I enjoy watching the little guy beat the big guy. It just so happens that this time, we weren't the little guy. And we haven't been for quite some time.