Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Week in Food

Great news: Fried food—it's not all bad for you.

Fans of the National Mustard Museum can breathe a sigh of relief.

American Fans of Canadian orange juice (if any exist) are in for a disappointment.

What a waste of good cognac.

What's different about McDonald's in France.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on Patriotic Song

The other night I was rummaging through my shelves looking for an Elgar CD. I couldn't find it, and being in the mood to listen to some Elgar I started searching YouTube for some performances. I found some clips of the last night of the proms from recent years (the proms are a series of summer concerts in London). I had forgotten (if I ever knew) that at a certain point during the performance of Pomp and Circumstance everyone starts singing "Land of Hope and Glory," a British patriotic song whose lyrics were written to the music of P & C. I found myself staring in disbelief as members of the audience started waving Union Jacks and singing "wider still and wider may thy bounds be set/God who made thee mighty make thee mightier yet." It's fifteen years since the handover of Hong Kong, the Scots could well be on the verge of declaring independence, and a London audience is singing a prayer for imperial expansion.Link

I kept thinking, "The Brits really need to update their patriotic songs." I also kept wondering what was up with the people in the audience waving Norwegian flags (29 seconds in). But nationalism is about sentiment not rationality. No one in that audience seriously wants the UK to re-take India. Nevertheless it did make me reflect on the sense of national exceptionalism reflected in the some of the other songs from the proms, such as "Rule Britannia" and "Jerusalem" (the latter a Blake poem inspired by the legend that Jesus visited Britain as a boy).

Of course an American is hardly one to point fingers at the people of another country for any cultural hint they think they're better than everyone else. Hell, in this country nobody hints any such thing: they shout it from the rooftops (or on Fox News). And yet that's strangely absent from most of our patriotic songs. Our national anthem is essentially a prayer for national survival. "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful" are songs that bespeak love of a physical place ("I love thy rocks and rills/Thy woods and templed hills"). If I actually had to choose a new anthem (not that anyone's ever going to ask me) I might opt for "Shenandoah" (O Shenandoah, I long to hear you/Away you rolling river...Away, I'm bound away, 'cross the wide Missouri"). It refers to a specific, albeit prolonged historical event (the settling of the West by Americans of European descent) but it reflects the immigrant's sense of loss, the reality that to go somewhere new, however much promise it holds, you have to give up something. It's not a peculiarly American experience—but it's certainly part of who we are as a nation.

And then of course, there's "This Land Is Your Land."

Doing some cursory research for this blog post I did discover some fascinating gems of American patriotic song. I had never heard "Hail Columbia" before. Composed in 1789, it has a delightfully eighteenth century sound:

But my possible favorite among my discoveries when I googled "American Patriotic Songs" is "Stalin Isn't Stallin'" a song written to drum up solidarity with one of Our Gallant Allies during World War II:

I'm sure the songwriter was blacklisted in the fifties. Songs such as "Stalin," "Hail Columbia" and "Shenandoah" should be better known to us—provided we could think about them in some historical context.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Southern Dispatch, or The Three Stooges

A friend of mine pointed out to me the "upset" language in the Boston Globe's coverage of Gingrich's primary victory in South Carolina. The paper's headline writers described Gingrich as "roaring" to his win and denigrated Mitt Romney as "formerly high-flying."

I honestly don't know why anyone thought Romney had a chance in South Carolina: he's from Massachusetts and he's a Mormon. I would add that he's a terrible campaigner, but that doesn't really make him stand out among his competitors: at the end of last year Gingrich's campaign couldn't even get it together to collect enough signatures in time to get him on the ballot in Virginia, and last spring he didn't seem to realize that the Eastern Mediterranean isn't where you go to campaign for president. He now defends his cruise by saying it was intended to test his staff and show he's a "different kind of candidate." Then there's Rick Santorum, who publicly objected to Dan Savage's creative definition of his last name, thereby causing some of his more ignorant supporters to google it out of curiosity and thereby making it the top hit when anyone googles "Santorum."

But back to Gingrich. Other than Perry, he's the candidate who best appeals to the tribalism of a particular type of Southern white voter: the man or woman who's scared at who much browner America is than it used to be, who feels threatened or alienated by politicians who talk about issues in any manner approaching complexity. Gingrich is one of them. Even his Catholicism can't eclipse his essential Bubbaness. The South Carolina primary: think of it as one of White America's last stands.

Meanwhile, the show continues....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011: The Year in Review

(A little late, I know, but bear with me).

Normally I would have opened 2012 on this blog with a list of all the books I've read, but I'm a little intimidated by some of the other 2011 reading lists out there.

Instead I present you with:

These Are A Few of my Favorite Things (2011 edition):

Favorite novel: Galore by Michael Crummey, a multi-generational novel set in Newfoundland that puts this hitherto little-known Canadian author in a league with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Favorite book of short stories: In This Light: New and Selected Stories by Melanie Rae Thon, a collection of heartbreaking portraits of society's castoffs.

Favorite cookbook: Simply Ming One-Pot Meals page after page of simple and suprising fusion East-West fusion recipes.

Favorite political ad: Herman Cain's He Carried Yellow Flowers (below).

Favorite description of He Carried Yellow Flowers: "Dadaist meta-western."

Favorite parody of a political ad: James Kotecki's parody of Perry's "Strong" ad.

Favorite tributes to Christopher Hitchens:

This one by Christopher Buckely for its infectious warmth.

This one by Katha Pollitt for not being afraid to say the truth about Hitch's personal and intellectual failings.

Favorite political event: my native state voting down a referendum that would have criminalized many forms of birth control.

Favorite stupid thing Republicans did: Arizona Republicans selling their state capitol building for $81 million to help balance the state budget. They are now paying $105 million to get it back. That's some great financial planning there.

Favorite Internet time-waster: reading the pairings of panels from Peanuts cartoons with random tweets. Sadly there will be no more new ones thanks to those humorless dullards who run Charles Schulz's estate.

LinkLinkFavorite silly animal photo:

Favorite iconoclastic take on a children's toy: Barbie re-imagined as a hoarder.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Way We Live Now

Forgive me if this is old news, but I just had to write about this.

One Ronald Ball of Madison County, Wisconsin, claims that in November 2009 he found a dead mouse in a can of Mountain Dew he had just bought. Unfortunately he didn't find the mouse before he took a drink out of the can. He claims he became "violently ill" and started vomiting. Only afterwards did he or a friend empty the can and find the mouse. Ball supposedly wrote a letter of complaint to Mountain Dew (with the mouse enclosed).* He then initiated a lawsuit against Mountain Dew's manufacturer, PepsiCo, for $50,000 in damages.

Mr. Ball has apparently finally had his day in court and here's where it gets interesting: PepsiCo's representatives recently offered the defense that Mr. Ball's account of events is simply impossible. Not because their quality control protocols would have prevented a mouse (dead or otherwise) from making its way into a can of Mountain Dew, but because Mountain Dew is so acidic that within thirty days the mouse would have dissolved into a "jelly-like substance" (the words of Lawrence D. McGill, an expert in veterinary pathology). PepsiCo asserts that at least 74 days elapsed between the can being sealed and Ball opening it.

So think about that, gentle reader: the next time you open a can of soda, you could be getting a protein bonus, a rodent smoothie, if you will.

Aged to perfection.

This isn't actually as horrifying as it sounds: the company is simply arguing that Mountain Dew is an acidic beverage, far less acidic than the fluids in anyone's stomach. Nevertheless, the public assertion by its manufacturer that a drink can dissolve bones and render flesh to jelly will probably make some people shudder with revulsion at the thought of consuming it. And given that PepsiCo already has financial problems, fewer buyers of Mountain Dew is the last thing they need.

I haven't enjoyed a junk food legal battle this much since Proctor & Gamble was reduced to arguing in a British court that Pringles potato chips aren't really food in a slimy try at weaseling out of paying Value Added Tax.

Given that sales of PepsiCo products are declining overall, maybe the company can use the publicity to market Mountain Dew for less conventional uses. Instead of cremation, maybe some people will opt for "jellyfication" of their bodies after death. Or the next time a group in the developing world commits genocide, the perpetrators can order tankers full of Mountain Dew to hide the evidence.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

*Now I'm wondering how you mail a dead mouse.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Week in Food

Roadkill: it's what's for dinner (at least in Illinois).

Songs about food aren't really about food.

That gingerbread clock looks tasty, but I'm afraid it's right only twice a day.

Having addressed all of society's other concerns, the BBC News Servic conducts a groundbreaking investigation on why we eat soup when we're sick.

You think you pay too much when you buy fish? Think again.

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