Hope everyone had a good holiday. Lizzie sure did.
This house around the block from us has become affectionately known as The Crazy Christmas House. They had more than their fair share of lights and lit figurines out last year. This year they added more, and the house next door got the treatment too (I don't know if those people are related, or if they just went "If you can't beat them, join them"). I'm not sure these pictures really do it justice.
I like having a house like this in our neighborhood, but I'm also glad it's not across the street or next door (we only have Fourth of July insanity to deal with there).
Mary and Joseph laid the Baby Jesus down in the manger. A choir of angels sang nearby.
Then Santa Claus rode by on a bike.
More pictures at Snapfish (registration required). What's scary is that this house doesn't even come close to the crazy Christmas houses they have on HGTV specials.
Christmas Eve: roast turkey with porcini mushroom gravy, stuffed with onion and chestnut stuffing; mashed potatoes and rutabagas, broccoli and cauliflower in a mustardy butter, and Pillsbury biscuits from a can. Desserts, provided by guests, were pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cheesecake.
Christmas day: rib roast with peppercorn-garlic butter, which was every bit as good as it sounds (it better have been, because that was one expensive hunk of meat). Served with roasted red onions, rice pilaf, leftover broccoli & cauliflower from yesterday, and leftover carrots from last week. Brown 'n' serve rolls from the grocery store--bread was the only place I really skimped on the home cooking this weekend. About eight hundred cookies for dessert.
Title: Catie 'n' Goo.
They Might Be Giants, “I Never Go To Work”
Doves, “Sky Starts Falling”
Kings of Leon, “The Bucket”
Kings of Leon, “California Waiting”
Iron & Wine and Calexico, “A History of Lovers”
Broken Social Scene, “Handjobs for the Holidays”
Feist, “One Evening”
DJ Reset (N*E*R*D & Jay-Z vs. Beck), “Frontin’ On Debra”
The Outlaws (Alliyah vs. John B), “Try My Secrets”
Kanye West featuring Syleena Johnson, “All Falls Down”
Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc”
Electric Six, “Dance Epidemic”
Scissor Sisters, “Take Your Mama”
The Legends, “Nothing To Be Done”
Stars, “Ageless Beauty”
M83, “Don’t Save Us From the Flames”
Bloc Party, “Pioneers”
Sufjan Stevens, “Casimir Pulaski Day”
On the way to work this morning, I stopped by the mighty Wegmans, planning to grab a cup of coffee and maybe a muffin. And their parking lot was full. FULL! At 9:30 AM! Every last spot taken, and people cruising around looking to park. YE. GODS. I don't need coffee and a muffin that badly. I'll be glad when friggin' Christmas is over. Fortunately I did my Christmas dinner shopping last night; expect an outrageous "What I cooked this weekend" post Monday, possibly with pictures.
Wil Wheaton writes about politically-charged family weirdness on Christmas, and thanks Bill O'Reilly and his ilk for it.
Just up the road, Neddie continues that class warfare by noting a dopey Post trend piece on freakin' huge Christmas trees.
Finally, in the true spirit of the holiday season, enjoy Mistletoe and Meat (thanks Tor).
It's a two-parter today. My gift to you.
Back to the whole wiretaps thing. There's some generous theorizing on the nature of the supposed program, and maybe the technology is such that warrants are appropriate. I'm still not buying it. The administration is now saying "We didn't present this fully to Congress and the FISA court because we knew they'd shoot it down." Then you don't get to do it. You don't get to say "We know better than them, screw checks and balances." Sorry. Still, it's amazing how all this stuff is actually the responsibility of the party not in power. More posty goodness on this topic from Scalzi and the Rude Pundit. Digby is on the same vibe as me regarding previously proud and manly people suddenly becoming wobbly-legged chickens at the threat of terrorism, willing to let BushCo do whatever they please if it means stopping scary terrorists, and always he says it way more eloquently than I ever could.
But of course, I expect very little to actually come of this. Peter Daou maps out the cycle that I've found so frustrating over the last couple years. Things are truly broken in this country.
I always like Salon's "At the Pilot." His discussion of airport security is a winner.
And lastly, teh funny: the Chronic-what?-les of Narnia.
In the wake of the Dover Intelligent Design decision, I was all going to post an over/under on the number of conservative bloggers wailing about activist judges. (We all know what "judicial activism" really means). However, in searching Technorati, pretty much all the hits are lefty bloggers cackling with glee, because the judge who wrote the decision was appointed by W himself.
One of my sources for baseball titles is Allen Hye's The Great God Baseball, a literary criticism work examining religious motifs in baseball fiction (a gift from my mom). After reading a few chapters, I decided I'd get a lot more out of it if I read the books in question before reading their respective examinations by Hye. This led me to The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and now to Nancy Willard's Things Invisible To See.
I have to quibble with Hye's insistence that this is a baseball book. Yes, the finally chapter of the book involves a baseball game, and yes, there are other mentions of baseball throughout. But in my mind, for something to be a "baseball book" the game has to permeate the book and the plot. Here, it does not. This is a book about strained family relationships and the impact of World War II on ordinary Americans' lives. Baseball just happens to be one of several vehicles used to drive the narrative.
The book revolves around Ben, a high school ballplayer on the verge of being drafted, and Clare, a young woman who gets beaned by a ball Ben hits and ends up paralyzed. Clare's disability appears to be all mental, however, and in the process she gains certain other-worldly powers. Ben visits Clare in the hospital, feeling sorry for what happened, and a relationship ensues. Ben's fraternal twin brother Willie is 4-F and doesn't go to war; the brothers' strained hostility toward each other is another major plot point. When Ben is stranded in the south Pacific, he makes a deal with Death: beat me and my boys in a baseball game first. Only then does baseball become a major factor.
This is not to say I regret reading the book; it's an enjoyable read, particularly if you like the "magical realism" style of Kinsella or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One character's dream about her miscarried son is one of the most haunting things I've ever read. But if you want a hardcore baseball work to carry you through the Void that is the off-season, this isn't it.
It was an all-seafood weekend, but unfortunately it didn't meet expectations. Saturday night I seared salmon fillets, and finished them with white wine, tomatoes, and onions. It was very OK, not great. Needed some kind of edge to it.
Sunday I scored a pound of shrimp, and for some reason was possessed to deep-fry them using a tempura-like batter from Real Beer and Good Eats. Served with red beans & rice and mustard greens, a very southern menu. Again, very OK; it only confirmed my belief that deep-frying is best left to professionals, unless you're willing to make a serious commitment (i.e. get a big-ass fryer with good temperature controls, and go through cooking oil like it's water).
Let it also be noted that food fried in tempura-like batter really sucks as lunch the next day.
The story of the moment is the Bush administration's admission that they're secretly monitoring American citizens, without obtaining a warrant. I was surprised to find a partial defense of this by Kunstler, whose blog is always great when you need cheering up.
The part I liked [about Bush's speech] was his willingness to squarely confront the public's childish lack of seriousness. We want to be safe, but we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. We want to feel secure within our borders, but we don't want to go beyond vigilance-lite. This is consistent with our new national religion, which is based on the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing.
And therefore, we should put up with hardball tactics by our government in order to keep us safe. Kunstler of course ties this to his peak oil scenarios of doom (which may or may not be accurate but definitely warrant consideration).
But this all comes back to a fundamental point: Bush and company would have us believe that terrorism, particularly the Islamic fundamentalist variety, is a new variety of threat to our nation, one of such grave importance and new ground rules that we have to be willing to abide by whatever the administration wants. Give us power unchecked, or you'll be blown up by terrorists, that's the bottom line.
I don't agree with this starting point, and thus the whole War on Terror is a joke to me. Not to say that al Qaeda and their ilk aren't to be taken seriously and dealt with harshly where appropriate. But I am not scared of them. I do not see them as a mortal danger to the republic and to our society. If we got through the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, and the Cold War without dismantling the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, a bunch of dudes in caves in Afghanistan surely aren't grounds to throw checks & balances and civil rights out the freakin' window. If you support Bush's position, you're saying that you're scared stiff. (I've posted to this effect before.) UPDATE: Like the loser quoted at the end of this item.
It sounds like the warrants necessary to conduct this surveillance legally weren't that hard to get. So why didn't they get them? Urgency? That's crap. If the NSA or whatever has reason to believe that a particular group is about to commit terrorist acts, they should be going in and making arrests, not installing wiretaps. The least they could have done was apply for warrants after the fact, but they couldn't even be bothered to do that. It's a power grab, pure and simple. Don't go invoking the Chewbacca defense.
When I start agreeing with Bob Barr, formerly the Official Least Favorite Government Personality of the FoolBlog (see August 21), it's a crazy world indeed.
The office holiday potluck is impending. I made these carrots, which look really nice in their picture, but mine were turned a disquieting shade of brown by the balsamic vinegar. I expect to take at least half of them back home.
The death penalty has been a hot topic this week. Count me among those who is generally opposed to the death penalty, but found nothing specific about Tookie that merited a commutation at this time. You can also count me among those who think the Cory Maye case is a far better example of the death penalty gone horribly wrong. To Mr. Maye, it must have seemed like one of those "home invasion" situations the NRA loves so much; wonder why they're not supporting him. And as to whether the police announced themselves first--well, what's the point? The whole objective of breaking down the suspect's door in the middle of the night is to catch them off guard, so I fail to see how shouting "Police!" outside a split-second before the battering ram hits the door objectively requires the likely sleeping suspect to instantly trust and obey the burly men stomping into his house.
If you're in DC, this sounds kind of cool: an MP3-based audio tour of the Mall's monuments.
And finally, link obviously provided by Tor: Woman Allegedly Hires Hit Man for Cheese.
Friends of the National Zoo, shall we say, owed me a favor (sometimes those charitable donations work wonders). So I was able to evade both the online ticketing process and eBay, and got the family in to see the baby panda yesterday.
The Zoo's website disclaims it thoroughly: "We regret we cannot guarantee you will be able to see Mei Xiang and her cub." So I feel fortunate that we got to see him at all. When we arrived, Mama was carrying/dragging the cub back to the little room behind the viewing area, where he apparently went down for a nap. So we only got about three minutes of cub viewing time, but they were three really good minutes. I only squeezed off three pictures with the cub in them, of which the above shot is the best. The group after us probably didn't see the cub at all (you only got 15 minutes in the panda house).
We also watched the adult pandas outside for a bit. With yesterday's snow, the zoo was relatively uncrowded--I suspect the only people there were those with panda tickets in hand, and those are so hard to come by that no one was about to skip out on account of a little snow. This led to an unexpected treat when we stopped by the zoo's farm area on the way back to the car: apparently we were their first visitors all day (around 1 PM), and the keeper offered to have Lizzie help him gather eggs from the chicken house. We were treated to this exchange:
"Go ahead, reach in there and get out an egg, then put it gently into this bucket."
"Uh, OK, how about you get out an egg, then hand it to me."
More pictures here (Snapfish, registration required).
While you're thinking about pandas, review August's summary of Animal Planet's panda special, which shows that Intelligent Design is crap.
Previously and elsewhere we've discussed the proliferation of the all-Christmas music radio format as evidence that the War on Christmas is a bunch of crap. After listening to one of these stations for much of the weekend, I can tell you that whoever programs these stations has no freakin' brain. My proof:
1. "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." Anyone who ever liked this song is dead.
2. "The Chipmunk Christmas Song." Anyone who ever liked this song is either dead, in a nursing home, or in a mental institution.
3. Madonna's version of "Santa Baby." Someone in her entourage should have told her that the Carol Channing/Betty Boop voice is far more annoying than endearing, but nobody's got the sack to tell that woman she's wrong.
4. Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne." This is the clincher. It's not a bad song, but it's a sad song. Not the faux broken heart of "Blue Christmas" or "Christmas Baby Please Come Home," it's a song about how lonely life is and wondering if things might have turned out differently. Not something that comes to mind for celebrating the joy of the holiday season, but because it mentions Christmas Eve, it gets slapped into the rotation.
The final word: Fuck Christmas.
A couple weeks ago, I posted a review of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. I got a comment from part-time blogger/full-time Nats fan Mediocre Fred, and then I e-mailed him for his opinion on the ending. In his reply, he suggested making this a blog-based discussion, and since I'm desperate for content lately, that sounds like a great idea. I'll post my original question below the fold, as it's spoilerriffic, so if you haven't read the book yet, do so, then come back to read and comment. Fred can post his reply at his leisure, and we'll go from there.
So, the ending. By my reading, Gideon is walking home and meets Drifting Away and Onamata in their newly-minted 1978 forms. Drifting Away tells him, in so many words, "Come to the ballfield tonight, and I'll take you back to 1908 and to Sara." Gideon is justifiably pleased by this.
I suppose I shouldn't argue about what's possible in a book that involves time travel and a 2000-inning baseball game. But I don't think Gideon should be able to go back to Sara. She's gone, both because she was hit by a car and because she possessed part of Onamata's fragmented, now reformed soul. Furthermore, Drifting Away lost most of his power when he spared Gideon's life, and I'd think he would lose any mojo he had left when the game ended and he was reunited with Onamata.
I would have been satisfied if Gideon just learned something from Missy and Stan, how to be happy with what you've got. But for whatever reason, Kinsella threw in this little extra-happy ending. And it leaves me scratching my head. I don't think it works. Is it just me?
A couple weeks ago Harris Teeter had those cans of Phillips crab meat on sale for an alarming $5 each. I bought two. Saturday night I made crab cakes (or for the Spongebob-inclined, "Crabby Patties"), and dammit they were good.
On Sunday I broke out The Big Book of Asian Cooking and made loc lac, a Vietnamese dish of beef marinated a concoction that smells exactly like molasses, served with lettuce wrappers and a pungent lime sauce. Yes, that's right, the "lettuce wrap" is not a fabrication of PF Chang's, but actually has some basis in authentic Asian cooking. This was even better than the crab cakes.
As I flipped through "Asian Cuisine," I told Mrs. Fool "I feel an Asian kick coming on." I haven't cooked nearly enough out of this book. It's not a good book for spur-of-the-moment weeknight cooking, as many of the recipes require a trip to the Super H Mart or the Eden. That's not a problem with a little bit of planning, but lately I just haven't had the opportunity.
Some weeks, I have lots to post about and tons of links for Linking Fool Friday. This is not one of those weeks. Go visit any of the fine sites on the blogroll.
I worked downtown yesterday. Around 1 PM, I heard from the opposite cubicle: "It's snowing in Burke. I have to go."
Burke is over 13 miles from DC.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the blizzard of the century, this storm ranked maybe a 2.
Snow hysteria still reigns.
I've been busy as hell this week, and yet I have an enormous link dump for you today. I guess everyone else has had time to write good stuff.
Like me, Max hates it when the Right responds to our arguments by impugning our motives, usually rooting out some deep hatred of our own country that we ourselves were not aware of (and holy crap, I just noticed that Max promoted my comment in this thread to the top of his blog! Hello, world!). Fortunately, Norbiz makes it easy to find out what they're saying about us.
The Rude Pundit on torture. Do you support US troops torturing suspected terrorists to get information? Do you support terrorsts torturing US troops? If you're intellectually consistent, your answers to these questions are the same.
Obnoxious, ID-checking police checkpoints all over the damn place? Now THAT will stop terrorism! Sign me up!
How come we don't hear more about the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act? Too much to be mad about in one day, I suppose, but this is damn important.
Wolcott is a soldier in the War On Christmas. The other side's soldiers apparently haven't noticed the omnipresent 24-hour Christmas music radio stations that have been going since about Halloween; Fred at Slacktivist has a good Christmas music review. But be careful around those deeply passionate pro-Christmas types, because some of them may be willing to let you freeze to death if you don't believe exactly what they believe. Because that's what Jesus would have done.
Speaking of high heating costs, right up the road, Neddie has a fantastic essay on stupid big-ass houses. With pictures even!
And lastly, teh funny, with input from Tor: An important message from the Preznit on global warming. The Family Cthulu. And a web site that upsets the mother of my children every time I bring it up.
I'm gonna try really really hard not to be snarky about other people's religion. I realize these kids think they're actually talking to God and that it will somehow influence world events for the better. But in all seriousness: Couldn't these kids accomplish a lot more good in the world by actually going out and doing something? Join AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, volunteer for your local food bank. When you get right down to it, isn't praying/singing/swaying in a room with a bunch of people who agree with you too easy?
While we're at it, here's another TBogg item about prayer. Good advice.
And another thing: I thought of this Slacktivist post on the difficulty of pastoral visitation, how you can pray your heart out and the cancer patient still dies. What will these kids go through if abortion isn't outlawed during this session? Don't they wonder why God hasn't stopped abortion already? Not like they're the first ones to pray about it.