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Archive for October, 2008

…On Eating in Richmond.

Posted by Steve on October 31, 2008

Over the past year, I’ve spent more time in (primarily downtown) Richmond, Virginia, than in any other city besides the one where I live. Considerably more time – actually, starting to approach a month. Yeah. Lots of time in Richmond.

Richmond’s a charming little city, and I wouldn’t mind moving there (though it isn’t my first choice of where to move. That’s moving back to Minneapolis). The Fan is a wonderful neighborhood (or conglomerate of neighborhoods?), with VCU giving it a great college-town aspect, and it’s also old enough that there’s still actual gas-lamp streetlights. I kid you not – I was walking along Meadow between Park and Stewart, and I smelled the gas, then looked closer at the streetlight, and I could see the filaments burning. Very cool. The city’s age also shows in the architecture of such buildings as The Jefferson Hotel, Main Street Station, and the Old City Hall. Downtown Richmond’s pretty hilly, by the way. I think that’s because it’s on the banks of the (surprisingly flood-prone) James River – which gives some very scenic natural areas.

The best thing about all my business travel to Richmond, though, is the plethora of outstanding local restaurants. So… here it is: some places you really, really, should eat while you’re in Richmond (and I’m not including the deli at a Ukrop’s).

Joe’s Inn, on Shields between Grove and Hanover. Without a doubt, my favorite spot for lunch in Richmond. I’ve yet to dislike anything there, but I’m particularly fond of their steak & cheese sub. Why? Simple: they don’t shave steaks, they don’t slice steaks, they don’t even chop steaks. No, they give you chunks of steak on that sandwich. Without a doubt, the steakiest and best steak & cheese sub I’ve ever had. With lettuce, tomato, mayo, and grilled onions. And remember, it’s located mid-block on Shields. I can never, ever, remember that: normally I just head up Strawberry from main to the corner of Strawberry and Grove, then say, “I thought it was here! I know it’s around here somewhere!”.

Bottom’s Up Pizza, at like 17th & Cary, down in Shockoe Bottom. Do not order more than one slice. Trust me on this. I am a glutton. I routinely eat over three pounds in one sitting. I routinely spend $10 at Taco Bell. I think I could take that steak from The Great Outdoors. I am hesitant to order a second slice, and not just because that would put me over my company’s reimbursement limit for lunches. The thick-crust pizzas, which the menu says have sourdough, come with excellent toppings (I’m a fan of a spinach, ricotta, sausage, and onion one called Karen’s Combo) and are simply enormous.

The Robin Inn at the corner of Park and Robinson. Don’t let the unfinished website that looks like ones I made in high school fool you. The place is still in business and likely to remain so, given that it serves pizza and pasta dishes that are of such good quality one first-time diner I brought there said afterwards, “It tasted homemade!”. They also have an amusing quirk: when you order a pasta dish like lasagna, it comes with a side of… spaghetti.

Star-Lite at the corner of Main and Robinson. On the border of Carytown, this place is astounding. I went there as a group of four for dinner, all of us expecting simple bar-fare. Instead, they had an audacious and broad menu: a wide variety, with things you just don’t often see. Each of us was, at a minimum, pleased by what we ordered. I actually loved what I ordered, the Grecian Chicken: breaded chicken breast with tomato, sweet peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese, caramalized onions, and leaf spinach. Excellent, unlike anything I’d before, and the place has a really nice atmosphere, too – a sort of “Betty Paige driving a Harley” vibe that I really enjoyed.

Speaking of Harleys, I was at a biker bar about three weekends ago, where they had The Maine Lobster Game. Over the course of only two or three hours, I saw not none, not one, not two, but three people get themselves a $3 lobster dinner with that (assuming they each only played once – I don’t know if that was the case or not).

I have, to date, been unable to eat at Cajun Bangkok in Carytown, because I’ve always been with people who “get an upset stomach from spicy food” or “don’t like Thai” or “don’t like Cajun” or “am a boring gastronomic trogolodyte”. But I really, really want to. They mix Thai and Cajun! How awesome is that? Ten kinds of awesome, that’s how awesome.

Posted in Places, Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On Halloween.

Posted by Steve on October 31, 2008

Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.

-Tina Fey, via Cady Heron, Mean Girls

As a co-worker put it around Halloween last year, “Every women’s costume for Halloween is ‘take something and make it sexy’.  Even if she were dressing up as a chicken, it’d be ‘I’m a sexy chicken!'”.  Indeed.

Halloween is for women.

Look, I appreciate the female form and its overwhelming beauty, the splendor and majesty that is seen when I gaze upon a woman.  I enjoy seeing women dress “like a total slut”, I enjoy seeing women dressed in a sexy manner, I can admit that.  Well, I enjoy it in the sense that I admire what I see, appreciate the aesthetic pleasure, and wish I had the artistic ability that would justify asking someone to sit as a model for me.  I do not enjoy the feelings of embarrassment, shame, and despair that come with paying attention to a woman’s beauty.  Accordingly, the “dressing up in sexy costumes” aspect of Halloween is a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand, I like looking at it, on the other hand, I hate looking at it.

Of course, I can’t participate in it.  There’s nothing sexy about men, especially not obese balding men.

Ok, well, what about trick-or-treating?

Trick-or-treating, is a custom for children on Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery or sometimes money with the question, “Trick or treat?”

-Wikipedia.

Ah, I see, Halloween is for children!

Ok, so, I’m decades past childhood.  And I have no children of my own.  And though I bought candy with intent to give it to trick-or-treaters, there hasn’t been a single one to come to my door.

So.

Halloween is for women and children.

How am I supposed to enjoy it?

The answer is, of course, by trying to make myself a costume that transforms me into the most gruesome, ghastly, beastly monster possible come Halloween.  Or putting together a haunted house (or at least trying to work for one).  I guess maybe there’s next year.

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…On Another Funny Headline.

Posted by Steve on October 26, 2008

Purple Tomatoes Extended Lives of Cancer-Prone Mice. This has made me laugh. As it turns out, the mice are cancer-prone because they’re lab mice developed to lack some cancer-preventing gene, and the tomatoes are purple because they were genetically engineered with the genes responsible for creating the pigment in blueberries, black raspberries, and various flowers. That pigment being also an antioxidant, the whole point was to up the antioxidant content of tomatoes – hence the health benefit for the cancermice.

All in all, though, the headline, “Purple Tomatoes Extended Lives of Cancer-Prone Mice” just comes across as silly nonsense.

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…On Chinese Democracy and Indian Courts.

Posted by Steve on October 26, 2008

On Wednesday morning, I heard the title track from the new Axl Rose & Studio Band Guns N’ Roses album on Y101 in Richmond, where I was working all week (which is why I didn’t post any. Posting to a personal blog while in company-paid-for housing on a company-paid-for internet connection using a client-owned laptop just doesn’t seem appropriate to me) and will be again all next week. Got to say, it’s what I expected: Rose’s voice, which while at times annoying (Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door would’ve been so much better with damn near any other singer) was distinct, has been destroyed and is mostly gone, and the important parts of Guns N’ Roses aren’t there anymore. Guns N’ Roses was good back then because of Izzy Stradlin and Slash, and that was it. What we have here is a band by that name, but no Slash and no Stradlin. In short, no good.

As to the title, well, I imagine Rose had some sort of irony in mind, given China’s long history (China has the oldest written history of any extant civilization) of being not democratic. I guess it’s as good as any album title – those aren’t really things I care about.

Onwards from China to their neighbor, India, and old news: courts in India allow snake oil as evidence and base convictions on it. The specific snake oil? The claim that an EEG, fMRI, or other brain-imaging technology can be used to determine whether or not a person has memories of committing a crime. Um… no. It can’t. Back when Niels Birbaumer and his research assistants developed a system that allowed paralyzed patients to type with EEG in a lab setting, it took months of training each patient, and then around 80 seconds just to get a single letter. I think that’s a good illustration of how little use EEG’s got for much more precise determinations than, “Yeah, this brain’s been damaged”. Granted, Birbaumer’s team used a different EEG brain wave (which, bear in mind, just means the voltage difference between an electrode on the scalp over the brain and an electrode somewhere like the earlobe or the chin, not a measurement of the activity in any specific set of neurons) than this Indian approach. Good thing (in a way) an American has patented a system based on the same underlying EEG wave – and far better that it’s been been thoroughly debunked (PDF, I recommend you download and then read – always works better for me with PDFs on the internet).

My hope is that this sort of snake oil would be excluded in all U.S. courts under Federal Rule of Evidence #702 (especially subpart 2: the requirement that “the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods”) and its state analogues. That may not be the case, what with “widely accepted” being optional, rather than mandatory, under the Daubert test. Although, as of 1998, at least in civil cases, the rule was pretty much “brain scans are inadmissible except as the answer to the yes no question, ‘Is some unspecified thing wrong with this brain at this time?'”. That’s where it should stay – indefinitely. Because face it, a machine that can actually detect guilt or innocence is every bit as realistic, and likely to happen in the same time frame, as a machine that lets Scotty beam us from place to place.

And, as an aside, it appears the accuracy of DNA profiling, which of course doesn’t use the entirety of a person’s DNA, has possibly been severely overstated.

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…On Music Videos.

Posted by Steve on October 19, 2008

For your entertainment for the week, as I’ll be unable to post anything further until Saturday, true hilarity: 80s music videos, Literally!

a-ha:

Tears for Fears:

Did you know that a-ha are Norwegian? I didn’t either!

Posted in About the Blog, Not Metal, Youtube | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

…On New Urbanism.

Posted by Steve on October 19, 2008

In his alernate history novel 1824, the writer Eric Flint has a character (one Zachary Taylor) musing about the ever loathsome John C. Calhoun. To wit:

It sometimes seemed to Taylor that John C. Calhoun’s madness had no limits. Had the former senator from South Carlina suffered from simple dementia, the dementia itself would have conscribed his sphere of action. But Calhoun’s disease was a mania, more than maniacalism as such.

So – Heaven grant mercy – it possessed theories. Notions. Schemes. Delusions of certainty, and convictions that were unshakable in direct proportion to their lack of bearing on reality.

I absolutely adore that last sentence. It’s a wonderful sentence: charming in its wording, and applicable to so, so many living people.

Like Peter Calthorpe, Andrés Duany, and their disciples in the Congress for the New Urbanism. Any group that calls for the rejection of functional classification is suffering from “delusions of certainty, and convictions that [are] unshakable in direct proportion to their lack of bearing on reality.” Ditto any group that thinks “context sensitive design” means you put road diets everywhere, regardless of what the context actually is. Ditto any group that thinks having streets operate at LOS F is going to improve the pedestrian experience and increase pedestrian activity, as if threading your way between gridlocked cars as you listen to their idling engines and inhale their exhaust is somehow more pleasant than the alternative of flushing them out of the area quickly while waiting an extra twenty seconds for your turn to cross the street.

Theories and notions have no place in the design of the built environment. Dogma has no place in the design of the built environment. Philosophy has no place in the design of the built environment.

In short, architects have no place in the design of the built environment. Especially as regards any more of the built environment than the facade and interior layout of a single building.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

…On Sex Workers.

Posted by Steve on October 16, 2008

I don’t know any sex workers. No dancers, no escorts, no porn stars. None of my friends have ever been paid to sex, to appear naked before an audience, to appear naked on film. Actually, those latter two, I don’t think any of my friends but one or two have done either without remuneration simply out of exhibitionist desire.

But the point is, as far as I’m aware, I don’t know any sex workers. I’m not friends with anyone who’s done sex work of any sort. I don’t have a relationship with any such person.

Which means I can’t talk to them about it. I can’t ask them questions. After all, when you have friends, sometimes you talk about your friends’ jobs. About what they do, and what goes on at work, and how their boss is a jerk or they might get a raise or how the sales people kept putting their sticks in the wrong basket and the printer was down so there was a 30 minute backlog on the tests. Yeah, I don’t know what any of that last bit means either – and I was paraphrasing to boot – but I have a friend who works as a photo lab supervisor, and that’s the sort of thing that happens to her when she’s at work, and it means something to her, so when I talk to her, sometimes she talks about that.

But, like I said, I don’t know anyone who’s involved in sex work, and truth is, I wish I did. Because here’s the thing: I’m naive, and I’m ignorant, and put together that means I’m curious. Sex work, for me, is very exotic. As in, very foreign. As in, so completely outside my realm of experience and the world that I’m familiar with that I can’t begin to imagine it. Not at all.

I know full well some portion of sex work was and remains involuntary, dangerous, violent, involuntary (that bears repeating), and wrong. Child sex tourism is real, my gut is Linda Boreman wasn’t lying, and I don’t think anyone doubts that this sort of organization does a mitzvah for streetwalkers.

On the other hand, Nina Hartley, Annie Sprinkle, and Tila Nguyen serve proof that there are other experiences to be had.

Those, of course, are the experiences and outlook I’m more curious about. Those who have a choice, whose work as dancer or escort or porn star is voluntary, something they enjoy – or at least don’t hate … I know they exist (how numerous, in absolute or percentage terms, I don’t know). I know I’m curious about them.

Like I said, it’s exotic for me – far beyond my experience or ability to imagine. It doesn’t seem real, to strip on a stage or before a camera, to be paid for having sex with someone, whether in private or before an audience or in front of a camera. And so I wonder what it’s like. What it feels like.

See, here’s the thing. Supply and demand, it seems to me, must surely apply to commercialized sex as much as to anything else. In order for a dancer to have an audience, that dancer must be desirable to watch. In order for a star to be cast, that star must likewise be desirable to watch. For a prostitute, they must be desirable to have sex with. This, at least, is what strikes me as obvious.

And that brings us to the crux of my curiosity. See, Johnny Tremain could count on one hand the women I know who don’t regard themselves as being far closer in appearance to Mr. Tremain’s hand than to Alexa Wilding. I empathize with that feeling (wholly inaccurate as it is in their cases) given the combination of gluttony, sloth, and poor hair genetics that have led to me looking as I do. Which is, needless to say, nothing that’s going to get me asked to entertain at any bachelorette parties ever. And so I wonder about those who make their living as objects of desire. Do they feel it? Do they know it, that people gaze upon them with longing? Does it feel good?

Am I right to envy them that?

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…On Going to the Gun Show

Posted by Steve on October 12, 2008

I went, today, for a little while to a gun show. Not with any intent to buy – and as it turns out, I couldn’t have bought one, since I only brought one form of ID and two are required – but more to browse where hopefully there’d be someone more helpful and informative than at the local stores that sell guns. As it turns out, I succeeded in that, and so now I’m saving up for what will likely be a Taurus 1911. So yay, and thanks to the helpful people at D & J Gun Repair.

Of course, what I really wanted was the mortar that somebody was selling. But then, I don’t have $1300 to spend on a 3-inch mortar, and even if I did… what would I do with a 3″ mortar? Get myself in trouble, that’s what. Ditto the swords: while a gun is going to be practical, allowing me to shoot back and people who are going to be shooting at me, I can’t justify the expense of a working sword (as opposed to a for-home-decoration-only sword-shaped thing) and wouldn’t know how to use one properly even if I did get it.

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…On Asinine Election-Related Promotions.

Posted by Steve on October 12, 2008

7-11 is currently running some sort of promotion involving “voting” for President of the United States using coffee cups. My guess is that they have a McCain cup and an Obama cup, and when you get coffee at 7-11, you can show your support for one candidate or the other through your choice of cup. Which, since 7-11 cups are one of the leading types of litter on streets in this state, means I guess that you’ll be able to have your preferred candidate’s name scattered more thoroughly throughout the area? I don’t know.

Then, there’s the even more ridiculous: the Silver Diner chain in the Delmarva states (actually, Marva & Jersey, but close enough) has a “vote-by-menu-choice” promotion going on. That’s right: they have a Barack Obama omelette and a John McCain omelet. Granted, I don’t think that they’re actually saying a preference for a barbecue-themed omelet (and here’s a question: what the hell does Arizona or John McCain have to do with barbecue? Strom Thurmond is barbecue, Jesse Helms is barbecue, Max Cleland is barbecue, even John Edwards is barbecue, but there is no barbecue worthy of the name west of the Appalachians!) versus a Chicago-pizza themed omelet an actually indicator of people’s preferences for, say, Iraq War Policy, and how they’ll actually vote. So I imagine the bit about how they’ll make a “Presidential prediction” based on the sale of these limited-time menu items is tongue-in-cheek for “We might keep the one yall buy and eat more of”. Still, I think it’s a pretty dumb marketing tie-in.

Posted in Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On Chili!

Posted by Steve on October 11, 2008

This week is Fleet Week, and the events included a Chili Cook-off by local units. So, a friend from work and I went down there and sampled a good 20 or so chilis for awhile. We also tried a Bhut Jolokia pepper, courtesy of the local Pepper Lover’s Club. Apparently, this is the world’s hottest pepper. Apparently, it had been boiled for 15 minutes in order to reduce the heat. Apparently, the club members eat slivers about the size of a fingernail clipping – or smaller. Without a doubt, it was a painful burning in my mouth – but it’s a smooth burn, one that comes slowly and gently. The first 15-20 seconds are actually very pleasant. It’s the next 10 or 15 minutes that are… youch. Burning!

Anyway, the chilis… many of them would’ve benefited from the input of the Pepper Lover’s Club (they also had raw Serrano, Red Savina Habanero, “Chocolate Habanero”, and, some tiny little round red one I think the guy called “whee-whee”). The overwhelming favor, for most of them, was that of tomato soup. A few others, had, in the words of my friend Jeff when describing my own chili at a cookoff two years ago, the problem that “all I can taste is meat.” So, yes, a great many annoyingly bland chilis.

That’s not to say they were all bad. Actually, the USS Fort McHenry was represented by a very nicely flavored green chili, and the USS Donald Cook had an excellent three-meat chili (actually, more like a stew than what I typically think of as chili, but it was excellent) that I kept going back for more of. They used ground pork – which amazed me, because I’ve done chili with ground pork before, and that’s where I get the worst cases of “just tastes like greasy meat” – seared chuck steak and everybody’s favorite, BISON!. There was also a chili with gator in it, which was interesting. I can’t remember which unit had made that, I just remember the chili next to them was the one from VFA-81.

Anyway, a chili cook-off, always great fun. And I didn’t stay around until the end (it wasn’t scheduled to end until 5, but when I left at 3:30ish many of the 28-30 chilis there had already run out) so I don’t know who the official winner was/is/will be. I will say this: in my opinion, the USS Donald Cook ( DDG-75) has the best chili in the fleet.

Posted in Food, This Happened Today | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »