Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vesuvius and the Super Boys

In recent weeks, my son, Tornado Boy, and I have been making "play dates" with one of his school friends, Spiderman, Spiderman's little brother, Batman, and their mom. We've had great fun at various parks around town, so last Saturday, we decided to go to The San Diego Museum of Natural History together to see the exhibition A Day in Pompeii.

Spiderman and Batman's mom is an artist whose work, I believe, is often inspired by photographs of her family, so she always brings a camera to our play dates. This was fortunate for me, because I forgot to bring my camera. We weren't allowed to take photos in the exhibition, but while we waited our turn to go in, we were treated to a history of first century (Common Era) Roman soldiers (centuria) by the reenactment group Legio IX Hispana. About eight people in full ancient centurion armor and weaponry, all handcrafted by the reenactors from traditional materials and methods, transfixed the super boys immediately. The super boys cautiously approached a pair of centurions holding large wooden shields, along with iron swords and javelins. The centurions described their armor and weapons, and then kindly posed for a few photos with the boys, playfully brandishing their weapons. Batman asked, "Are you going to kill us?" and one of the soldiers responded, "Only if you touch the artwork!"

The exhibition itself was both fascinating and poignant. There were several marble sculptures, which I particularly like because of the way sculptors make such hard material look like flowing robes and soft skin. It was interesting to find out how wealthy the rich in Pompeii were. The homes would have been luxurious and richly decorated, with lush, intricate gardens and beautiful artwork. Of course this was supported by servants and slaves who had very little and were often treated poorly. The volcano didn't discriminate, however.

I found a couple of things particularly interesting.

The citizens of Pompeii, a small city by current standards, worshipped a variety of gods and belonged to many sects and cults. It seems as though the various beliefs existed side-by-side, with no significant conflict resulting. I need to do further research to find out why this might have been, or whether it is even true, but with different factions of the same religion fighting viciously just within my own country, I am curious about how it might be possible for people of diverse beliefs to "just get along."

And then, during a video presentation, we were told that the launderers of Pompeii placed jugs around the city to collect the urine of any townspeople who felt the urge, and then they used the urine as an early type of bleach to brighten fabrics. "Ewww," I said, showing off my scholarly intellectualism.

I think the moms maintained a higher level of interest than the super boys did, but several aspects of the exhibition definitely had an impact on the super boys. Of course, the casts of the bodies of people and animals trapped by the lava and ash intrigued and moved us all. I think the boys absorbed enough information to have a rough understanding of what happened and to start to think about the similarities and differences between our lives and those of ancient cultures.

In the end, though, they mostly wanted to go to the park. So we did, and we played until the super boys had to rush off to save the day.

On John McCain and Jon Stewart

I wrote the following piece for my ill-conceived web site in 2006. I still see people are sometimes surprised to find out John McCain is not such a moderate, so I thought I'd repost this here, as it still seems sort of relevant.

On April 3, 2006, the glorious Jon Stewart conducted a short interview with John McCain on "The Daily Show," during which he chided Senator McCain for his decision to deliver a speech at Jerry Falwell's tax shelter of intolerance, Liberty University. The interview generated two responses of note: Senator McCain has been lambasted by liberals for evidently losing his mind and supporting uber-conservative Jerry Falwell, and Jon Stewart has been lauded by liberals for finally relentlessly hitting a conservative guest with tough questions. I'd like to address each of those points.

John McCain has been a right-winger the entire time.
During the 2000 and, especially, the 2004 election years, John McCain seemed almost moderate-- compared to George W. Bush, Karl Rove, et al. That's an important distinction. Let us not forget a number of political observers have advanced the theory that Richard Nixon was reasonable, compared to the current administration.

In 2000, John McCain had a 67% approval rating from the John Birch Society, and a 91% approval rating from the Christian Coalition. By 2004, he had a 90% rating from the John Birch Society (Project Vote Smart). These organizations don't give approval like that to moderates.

What we saw in 2004 was Republican Party infighting. And liberals were so desperate to see a chink in the conservative wall, some quickly embraced John McCain, going so far as to suggest the Democratic party court him as a potential presidential candidate. I think the idea was lobbed half-jokingly, but I believe it was a case of kidding on the square.

So now people worry Senator McCain has suddenly gone bananas in endorsing at least one of the more powerful dark forces within his party. I believe it's just the opposite. He's behaving like a man who wants to be President of the United States of America and knows there's only one party whose support can make that achievement remotely possible.

How many times does Jon Stewart have to say "fake news show" before you believe him?
I think it must have started when a flurry of media reviews suggested some great percentage of young adults learned of current issues and events primarily through "The Daily Show." For the last year or so, I've read numerous complaints that Jon Stewart doesn't dog his guests with hardball interview questions. He's criticized for being a soft -- what? -- journalist? I wonder if that isn't because he's actually a comedian. Doing a comedy show. On the Comedy Channel. With comedy.

Granted, he's often able to sting a guest with a pointed observation or express complete disagreement with his guest, but nine times out of ten, it's funny when he does it.

It was the same with John McCain on April 3. McCain had some idea of what he was about to get, and he seemed to come into the interview prepared to be ribbed. He mostly responded with humor, and Stewart was able to push for answers in a way that maintained the comedy, while (maybe) getting a couple of flustered responses from Senator McCain.

I happen to think the significance of what has been seen as McCain's major slip is overrated. Frankly, I think he was joking around.

I have a few more posts I want to work on this week, but I will try to update this piece with links to my sources in the next few days.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I don't typically just link to someone else's more brilliant blog, but this resonated with me:


Sing it, sister.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Breaking News: Kittens Still Cute

Especially when sleeping, as the potential for serious injury is so much lower.

By the way, certain poodles are also easy on the eyes:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Will Nobody Think of the Pancakes!?

As my legion of faithful readers knows, I am very concerned about what America is doing to poor, innocent pancakes.

Until recently, it had not occurred to me that the largest threat in the Pancake Axis of Evil would be The International House of Pancakes (a.k.a iHOP, as if we wouldn't see through their disguise.) My naivete was due, in part, to the fact that I don't ever eat there. Why would I go to a crowded, plastic-coated, weirdly-shaped place with embarrassing dish names when I can get my pancake needs satisfied here? Or here? Or, dare I say it, at home?

It sort of surprised me a couple of weeks ago when my son woke up on a Saturday and informed us that we would be going to iHOP for breakfast. I didn't even know it was on his radar, since we never go there. My mom and dad thought it would be harmless enough -- perhaps even a nice change from the usual, high-quality restaurants we frequent, so we got ourselves in the car and drove to the nearest fake Swiss chateau, or whatever it's supposed to look like.

Inside, I got my first inkling of the horror that was to come. First of all, at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, there was no wait. Every other breakfast place in San Diego always has a line out the door at that time on a weekend.

When I got into the tiny lobby, my son pointed to a poster bearing images of characters from Horton Hears a Who around this startling item:

"Oh my God, what is that?" I exclaimed. "It's what I want for breakfast," my son explained.

Indeed, iHOP has invented Who-cakes in a cross-marketing campaign for the recent movie version of Horton Hears a Who. What they are is a stack of about six pancakes covered in not-found-in-nature pink and blue sauce with candy sprinkled all over and a lollipop stuck in the center. For children. For breakfast.

Now, I'm not super vigilant about my son's diet. I try to make sure he has a fairly good balance of veggies and pasta and proteins and such, but I let him have cookies and candy, and I indulge him with milkshakes and pie for dessert, probably more often than I should. But this particular monstrosity really tested my limits. In the end, I let him order the Who-cakes.

My son ate approximately one bite of one of the less-sauce-covered cakes, and declared himself finished and asked for some of my veggie omelet. I asked how he liked the Who-cakes, and he declared them "kinda maybe yucky." Unfortunately, so was the omelet, though it wasn't as much of an assault on the eyes.

So, sense prevails, even in six-year-olds. They may be taken in by advertising, but they will figure it out when something is just not good.

Finally, in another terrible strike against pancakes, our waiter revealed that the iHOP does not stock real maple syrup. What the hell?

Green, Green Orzo Salad

Last night, I made an orzo salad with a lot of green ingredients. It tasted like spring.

1/2 pound orzo, cooked al dente, dressed with a bit of olive oil, and cooled
1 cup frozen peas prepared according to package directions and cooled
1/4 cup garlic-infused olive oil
zest and juice from 1 medium lemon
2 T mint, chopped
2 T chives, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz crumbled light feta cheese

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, mint, chives, and salt and pepper. Add orzo and peas and toss to coat with dressing. Fold in crumbled feta.

This tastes even better the next day.