Friday Crap Roundup XVII

Wow, there’s not much to go on for today’s FCR. Although most of my week has been monopolized by an eight-year-old, my Facebook feed usually provides more than enough weirdness for me. Not this week. It’s almost as if everyone was as lethargic as my daughter and I were out at Camel’s Back Park this afternoon. Idahoans generally don’t do well in hot, humid conditions.

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This ain’t exactly Cherrapunji, you know.
Image credit: Greg Harness

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Friday Crap Roundup XVI

It’s the last day of the month. Kids all over the country are graduating high school. All the best to everyone. My high school graduation was 22 years ago yesterday.

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Oh my, we wore some strange colors back then.

By the way, my sister (also pictured above) will receive her M.Ed. from Lewis & Clark College this weekend. Much respect there too.

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History Wednesday: A Lesson in Water Safety

I was going to write about Paraguay again, but it occurred to me earlier today I should bring as much geographic balance to History Wednesday as possible. Since I began SB at least one History Wednesday has been set on every continent. Except one, and I have regular visitors from it.

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Well, two if you count penguins, but they don’t have broadband.

So it’s high time to take a look at Australia and an event which has a cautionary tale about water safety. Perfect now that summer is upon us. Or winter, as the case may be. Anyway, the Paraguay story is good, but it can wait.

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Friday Crap Roundup XV

Friday night and I feel like total ass. But hey, I got some much-needed housework done. Now it’s time to enjoy a cold one and write the Friday Crap Roundup.

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No Trotsky Treats today. I’m watching my girlish proletariat figure.

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History Wednesday: The Pussycats of Pelusium

Everybody loves kitty cats, right? Of course we do! Well, if you’re even remotely familiar with ancient history, you know ancient Egypt took it a whole lot further. You see, the cat – being the sacred animal of the goddess Bastet – was held in the highest regard. Killing a cat in ancient Egypt, even accidentally, was a capital crime.

Ironically, this may have been a primary cause of Egypt’s downfall during classical antiquity.

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“Wait, what? Oh, this should be good.”

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Friday Crap Roundup XIV

It’s Friday, and I’m tired of writing about Wyoming. I’d much rather share this giant, larvae-filled ant colony Beachy and I found in Grandpa’s backyard this evening. It was pretty awesome.

The ants were not amused. They’ll be even less amused when Grandpa goes to spray them.

How’s that for an intro to this week’s FCR?

It Shouldn’t be THAT Difficult

My good friend Trevor Dodge, a fellow 2T refugee and an accomplished snarkologist in his own right, came across this little slice of heaven this week.

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At the library, no less.
Image credit: Trevor Dodge

Now while I suppose there’s a market for such privileged information in case of a rapture (or more likely, an eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano), I really don’t see how one could write a whole book about it. After all, if what happened in Europe after the Black Death is any indication, all you’d have to do to prosper is show up.

Oh yeah, you might want to avoid Wyoming too. Just saying ….

Service With a Sneer

I normally don’t pay attention to reality TV, but when someone genuinely makes the likes of Gordon Ramsay look as calm, rational and unbiased as Walter Cronkite, it’s hard to look away.

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“Non-stick. And that’s the way it is.”
Image credit: Blofeld Dr.

Of course, I’m referring to Ramsay’s now-infamous encounter with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Amy’s Baking Company as depicted on his series, Kitchen Nightmares. The utter lack of civility, decorum and common sense demonstrated by these restauranteurs – whom Ramsay declared beyond help – is breathtaking.

While there’s a great deal of speculation regarding Ramsay’s work in reality TV, specifically as to how much of it is actually “real,” that’s beside the point here. Among other things, no one in their right mind opens a sit-down restaurant and refuses to let servers keep their tips.

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I don’t know about Arizona, but in Philadelphia that would get real ugly, real quick.

Sadly, the YouTube clips I watched were taken down. Still, I encourage you to find and watch the full episode rather than just the highlights. Absolutely stunning.

Track of the Week

While martinis can be made with vodka, purists argue this classic cocktail should always be made with gin.

Yes, I’m sure. Even in Wyoming.

That Thermopolis Junket, Part 2

I’m almost never awake at 9 am anymore, especially after a horrendous multi-state drive which took several hours longer than expected. Ah, but this is Wyoming. I’m here to do things and see stuff!

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But not everything though. Drive-through Bud Light? Nah, not my style.

Although the original intent of this journey was to stay in Thermopolis, the lodgings there proved to be just a bit spendy. I stayed in Riverton instead, which is about an hour away. The drive from Riverton to Thermopolis is quite nice. In particular the last part of the drive through the Wind River Canyon. It’s a must for all you armchair geologists out there. And tunnels? Yeah, they have those too.

The first thing I do when I visit a town for the first time is check it out as much as I can. Thermopolis struck me as kind of two towns in one. The “real” Thermopolis, which anyone who grew up in the American West would find very familiar, and the “tourist” Thermopolis. Yeah, the geography and the hot springs were cool, but even on this Saturday morning in early May the swimming areas were jam-packed. Once the summer season hits I imagine it’ll be cattle call time. In short, I was underwhelmed. When it comes to hot springs, for my money Lava Hot Springs out by Pocatello is a better choice.

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“Sulfur? Pfft, seen it.”

Fortunately I didn’t go there to relive my Hydrotube days (even though Thermopolis still totally has one). I went for more Thoreau-esque purposes, to suck the marrow out of life or something. Speaking of marrow, Thermopolis has plenty of bones for public perusal. Where? At the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum, silly!

“Dinosaurs,” I thought to myself. “Of course!”

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“Wyoming is world-famous for dinosaurs!”

OK, I went to the dinosaur museum mainly to take some pictures to send to Beachy. Still, I was quite impressed with the place. They have a triceratops, a T-Rex, a nest of baby dinosaurs and even an aptly-named supersaurus. It was actually worth the $10 admission.

The gift shop? Not so much. Damn. Beachy is lucky I found something for only four bucks.

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Good thing there were baby dinosaurs.

I spent about three and a half hours in Thermopolis, which as it turns out was about as long as I wanted to be there. My curiosity sated, it was time to head back to Riverton to check that town out. Riverton turned out to be a rather surreal experience.

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Thermopolis was just the warmup.

History Wednesday is tomorrow, so, um … continued on Thursday!

History Wednesday: The Instant Presidency

It might not seem like it if one listens to American mainstream culture, but Mexico has come a long way in the last 25 years or so. While the country continues to face some very serious issues, it has also become a fairly stable multiparty democracy. Indeed, in my humble opinion one which has outpaced most of the former Soviet Bloc nations over the same time period.

This is in spite of being the scene of the shortest tenure of any head of state in recorded history. More on that in a moment.

After declaring independence from Spain in 1810, Mexico endured two absolute monarchies (one of which came courtesy of the Hapsburgs), several disastrous wars and enough outright corruption to make Silvio Berlusconi look like a paragon of honesty.

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This guy lost over half of the country yet still managed to become president … 11 TIMES.

By the turn of the 20th Century Mexico was well into a period known as the Porfiriato, an era of repression dominated by the virtual dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz, who had effectively been in power since 1876. Although the Porfiriato represented by far Mexico’s longest period of stability to date, it was anything but democratic.

Finally tired of decades of stagnation, the Mexicans overthrew Diaz in 1911 after a ham-handed attempt to hand the aging strongman yet another re-election “victory.” This event sparked what became known as the Mexican Revolution.

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“Wait, did somebody say, ‘stagnation?'”

Anyway, unfortunately for Mexico Diaz’s overthrow soon degenerated into an all-out civil war with multiple competing factions. This is the era which produced Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who effectively became warlords in the north and south respectively. By the time the dust settled in late 1920 Mexico went through 11 presidents in the space of less than 10 years.

Francisco Madero was the main figure during the early stages of the Mexican Revolution. A liberal reformer strongly influenced by Benito Juarez, Madero became president in late 1911. In the hopes of establishing national unity Madero included pro-Diaz and other conservative figures in his government, who then proceeded to bring reform efforts to a standstill.

In February 1913 forces led by Generals Victoriano Huerta and Felix Diaz (the former president’s nephew) staged a coup d’etat against the Madero government with support from Henry Lane Wilson, the American ambassador. On 19 February Madero was forced to resign and was executed a few days later.

The idea, of course, was to make Huerta the new president. There was just one problem. Huerta wanted everything to be “legal,” but he wasn’t in the presidential line of succession. Well, that’s where our friend Pedro Lascurain comes into the picture.

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“Pedro, we have a little job for you ….”

Under the constitution of the day, as foreign minister Lascurain was fourth in the presidential line of succession. Since Huerta had already forced out the first three – Madero, the vice president and the attorney general – Lascurain was legally entitled to become president, which he did with Huerta’s blessing.

President Lascurain had two items on his agenda: (1) appoint Huerta as interior minister (and therefore next in the line of succession) and, (2) resign. He dutifully accomplished both. Huerta then called a late-night session of the Mexican Congress to validate the move, which they did with Huerta’s soldiers training their guns on them so they didn’t miss the point.

Sources disagree exactly how long Lascurain served as President of the United Mexican States, but it was certainly less than an hour. Perhaps quite wisely, Lascurain left politics immediately afterward.

Huerta then took it upon himself to establish a military dictatorship which made the Diaz regime look like an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Meanwhile in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson – aghast that Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (no relation) took such a leading role in this mess – recalled the rogue diplomat and demanded Huerta schedule elections. The diplomatic situation quickly deteriorated from there, leading directly to the occupation of Veracruz the following year.

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“Yeah. Thanks a lot.”

Although the Huerta regime lasted less than 18 months before it succumbed to rebel forces, the general – often called El Chacal (“The Jackal”) – remains one of the most vilified figures in Mexican history. As for Lascurain, he quietly spent the rest of his life as an attorney and law school director.

History Wednesday: Taxed, Tanked and Ticked Off

It’s May Day. That means this week’s History Wednesday is effectively obligated to focus on the old Soviet Union, which always made May Day a big deal. You know, parades, speeches, public appearances of Politburo members, and plenty of red flags to go around. It was a good old time.

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Wasn’t it, Товарищ Эасто́я?

Ah, but plenty has been written about May Day already. As for Leonid Brezhnev, he’s about as exciting as a bowl of plastic fruit in a windowless, concrete room. That’s not what I’m going for here.

But what about Russians and vodka? Now there’s a target-rich environment. Let’s do it! Right, so here we go:

When Brezhnev died in 1982 the Soviet economy was basically dead in the water, committed to an arms race it increasingly couldn’t afford and a massive bureaucracy run by dour old men. Brezhnev’s successor as Communist Party general secretary (and therefore as the country’s de facto leader), was one of these old, dour men, Yuri Andropov. The highlight of Andropov’s rule was that he disappeared from public view for months until the Soviets announced his death in 1984.

Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was even less interesting than that.

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*insert static-filled elevator music here*

Chernenko kicked the bucket after only 13 months at the helm. He was followed by someone I bet you’ve heard of: Mikhail Gorbachev. Unlike Andropov and Chernenko, Gorbachev was willing to do something about the ever-growing clusterfuck that was the Soviet economy. He did so by attempting to address the shortcomings of his notoriously boozy culture and increase revenue at the same time. To wit, shortly after taking power he raised the price of vodka and other alcoholic drinks.

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“Дерьмо!”
Image credit: ProhibitOnions

Now in statecraft there are several things you simply don’t do. You don’t barf on the Japanese prime minister. You don’t piss off the King of Spain. And you definitely don’t screw with a Russian’s vodka. The policy had a minimal effect on alcoholism statistics and at the same time cost the government billions of rubles in lost revenue.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a rookie mistake on Gorbachev’s part, but he really should have known better. Lenin attempted to ban vodka altogether, but that proved to be a miserable failure. It took Uncle Joe Stalin, a guy not exactly known for his commitment to civil liberties, to reverse this policy. As for Gorbachev, he quietly lightened up on his policy a couple years later.

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“Naturally, we will opt for vodka.”

In the grand scheme of things an abortive effort to regulate alcohol nearly 30 years ago may not seem like much, but it was. It’s been theorized that this policy started a chain reaction of unintended consequences which ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In that context, it’s a big freakin’ deal.

It’s important to remember that toppling communism is not what Gorbachev had in mind. What’s more, despite continued international acclaim Gorbachev remains deeply unpopular in Russia. Despite that, attempts to raise vodka prices continue in Russia today.

If you’re so inclined, have a shot of Stoli this May Day. But keep in mind this silly little drink may very well have changed the world.

Repulsed by Radio

A couple days ago I regaled you with my thoughts on 1980s TV. I suppose it’s only fitting I make a few comments about 1980s pop music as well.

My fascination with music can be traced directly back to 15 July 1984, my 11th birthday. As a gift I received a small “boom box.” This in turn led me to an obsession with the weekly Top 40 show as hosted by Casey Kasem and later Rick Dees. It aired on at 4 pm on Sundays on the local Top 40 FM station, and I often taped the whole frickin’ thing.

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There’s no cheese like the Dees.
Image credit: lax.hyundai

I freely admit I liked a lot of the stuff they played on Top 40 radio back then. Still do. However, as time wore on I increasingly came across songs I didn’t like. That’s to be expected, of course. Even so, there were some tracks I found so loathsome that just a few notes would compel me to turn the radio OFF until the offending audio went away.

The following are some of the worst offenders.

Anything by Prince

At roughly the same time I embraced the Top 40, a Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter named Prince Rogers Nelson released a film called Purple Rain, along with a soundtrack album of the same name. For approximately the next three years, Western civilization wouldn’t shut up about the guy. At certain times Prince seemed to be more overexposed than the King of 80s Cheese himself, Michael Jackson.

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I’d post a YouTube clip, but he’d probably have it taken down before I hit the “Publish” button.
Image credit: Yves Lorson

Why I hated it then: When I was 11 years old there were two things in this world I absolutely despised: Cabbage Patch Kids and Prince. There was no single reason for my loathing of the diminutive Minnesotan, but it probably had to do with his eyeliner, his ruffled shirts, a bouffant which put Kim Jong-il’s to shame, his repeated dissings of Weird Al Yankovic, and the fact he seemed to be everywhere for a very long time. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stand the guy.

One Christmas during this period there was a present for me under the tree which was clearly in a cassette tape box. For several days I feared some well-meaning but profoundly uninformed grownup bought me Purple Rain. As it turns out, it was The Best of Spike Jones. My sense of relief was enormous.

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Possibly the only time in recorded history anyone was so relieved to receive a Spike Jones album.

What I think of it now: My view of Prince has moderated considerably over the years. He’s an undisputed musical genius, and I have to to admit even today “When Doves Cry” is a hell of a dance track. Nevertheless, I still haven’t seen Purple Rain (or any of his other movies, for that matter).

“Always” by Atlantic Starr

If there ever was a song written specifically to be played at wedding receptions, this 1987 track is it. Apologies in advance if this is “your” song.

Perhaps the best-known single by this upstate New York R&B group, “Always” is four solid minutes of the most concentrated shlocky sweet cheese produced to date. Repeated exposure to this track is bound to cause hyperglycemia in just about anyone. Consider yourselves warned.

Atlantic Starr was responsible for many, many awkward high school slow dances.

Why I hated it then: This sort of thing is exactly what a sexually confused 13-year-old boy DOESN’T want to hear, especially in heavy rotation. Sweet YHWH this was a painful experience.

What I think of it now: OK, OK, they were a talented group and it’s crystal clear why newlyweds gravitated to them. Still, if I ever get married again I’d much rather hear Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” at my reception.

“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister

In 1986, someone at the Top 40 station in the 2T must have really, REALLY liked Mr. Mister, as they tortured the whole of south-central Idaho for months with these guys. Overplayed doesn’t begin to cover it.

Remember styling mousse? They do.

Why I hated it then: If it weren’t for the excessive overplay, Mr. Mister would have likely merited little more than a footnote in my memory. But once the damage was done, there was no holding my rage back.

What I think of it now: I still don’t miss it.

“Hippychick” by Soho

If you’ve never heard of this one-hit wonder or their reputed “hit,” you’re forgiven. “Hippychick” was released in 1990, did its requisite tour of the Top 40, and then was quickly forgotten. Or at least I wish it was.

In 1996, some years after I swore off the Top 40 (more on that in a moment), I was a regular listener of an “alternative” radio station out of the Sun Valley area called KSKI. At the time KSKI was an independent, free-wheeling station which wasn’t afraid to play good music, even after an infamous incident involving “special brownies” among the morning drive crew.

Good music, with the glaring exception of “Hippychick.”

Gah!

Why I hated it then: This song is essentially a clumsy sample of Johnny Marr’s iconic guitar riff from “How Soon is Now?” followed by a crappy dance tune. That alone is bad enough. What really set me off is that it was broadcast on KSKI, a station one could reasonably expect to actually play The Smiths. But instead of Morrissey’s plaintive wailing, you were presented with this. Gotcha! I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be KSKI’s idea of a practical joke. If so, I sure as hell didn’t find it funny.

What I think of it now: No wonder why Queen fans hate Vanilla Ice.

“Do the Bartman” by The Simpsons

When The Simpsons premiered in December 1989 it was a big deal. I liked it. Possibly you liked it. In any event, it’s a TV show that’s still in first-run prime time nearly a quarter century later. It’s clearly a groundbreaking series.

Which is why we can almost forgive them for dropping the festering turd known as The Simpsons Sing the Blues on us a year later. “Do the Bartman” was the lead single.

I don’t care if he’s dead. I still want to bitchslap Michael Jackson for writing this.

Why I hated it then: Although by the time “Do the Bartman” came out I had given up on pop music (again, more on that in a moment), my hatred for it was nearly automatic. Unlike Mr. Mister, it didn’t need to be overplayed. Being the most ham-handed attempt to cash in on a fad since the advent of The Archies a generation earlier, there were plenty of other good reasons to despise it.

What I think of it now: Yeah, it still makes me want to go out and break stuff.

“Just a Friend” by Biz Markie

Oh my, this is the granddaddy of them all. Not only did this track elicit an immediate, visceral response, it also triggered a significant watershed moment in my life. For a variety of reasons, including some of the aforementioned songs, by the time the Biz hit the radio in late 1989 I was already quite disgruntled with the whole pop music thing. Then one fine day I was presented with this:

Absolutely stupefying.

Why I hated it then: As I recall my initial reaction was something to the effect of, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!?!?” Don’t get me wrong, I like old-school rap. At this point I was the proud owner of Run-DMC and Public Enemy albums. But this … this made Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” sound like Sgt. Pepper.

It was at that moment I shut off the radio and resolved never to willingly listen to a Top 40 station ever again. Over 20 years later I continue to make good on that promise. Not long after I started discovering the good stuff, including Living Colour, R.E.M., The Police, Jane’s Addiction, The Dead Milkmen, Erasure, the Pixies and – of course – Rush.

What I think of it now: In all seriousness, I think today is the very first time I managed to listen to “Just a Friend” the whole way through. In an odd way, I’m almost thankful to Biz Markie for delivering the coup de grâce to my Top 40 habit.

Damn, I feel dirty now. I think I need to take a shower and listen to Permanent Waves for awhile.