Friday, March 26, 2010

Regime Change

I've decided today to remove myself from the lofty confines of the Fortress of Solitude and go out to enjoy the day. The change of surroundings fascilitates a change of perceptions and stimulates the thought processes. Also, the peacocks roaming the Fortress' halls were driving me crazy. In my last post, I posited regime change for Iran, so I figured I'd explain my reasoning in this post.

First, this post in no way draws on any past experience I may or may not have had. It does not depend on any secure or classified documents, to which I have no access. I am merely an interested civilian with a penchant for military matters and a healthy imagination (also, I'm big on conspiracies). So if anyone should pass this document along to certain government organizations that shall remain nameless, I have plausible deniability on my side. (And if not, then look for reports of my demise by some innocuous means. I can't tell you the number of people made to "disappear" through seemingly stupid accidents; like I'd ever try to toast bread and take a bath at the same time. As if!)

Now that we've gotten the boilerplate out of the way, we can move on to the regime change. That this is the best option of Iran is clear. See, Iran is lead by fundamentalist mullahs who believe they're following the word of God. They believe that the time of the Hidden Imam (a sort of messianic figure) is approaching, and they can hasten this along by oh, say, incinerating Israel. Imagine, if you will, an America led by Fundamentalist Christians who believed they could force Christ to appear by shooting puppies in the head. That's the kind of people we're dealing with. Which is to say, when politics is married to religion, your options are sort of limited, and the leadership becomes less rational.

Now I don't know that all the mullahs in Iran believe their messianic "vision", but it is certainly a means for them to control the populace and justify their policies. As in "Allah told me to shoot you peaceful demonstrators in the head" and "I'm taking over this industry and all its profits in the name of Islam (and not for myself)". It's not like anyone can argue against you, and declaring your opponents as heretics pretty much ends all debate. So even if Iran's ruling body could be reasoned with, they've painted themselves in a corner with the religion. You can't call for the destruction of America in the name of God, then turn around and say "oops, my bad" after you've cut a deal with them. What I'm saying is, even if Iran's leadership isn't composed entirely of dead-enders, their rhetoric kind of paints them into that corner.

So negotiations are really not possible. I haven't even begun to consider the Iranian Republican Guard, or their elite Quds forces. Increasingly, the Republican Guard has gained not only political influence, but also economic might, as generals take over key positions in both arenas. So not only are we dealing with a theocracy, we're increasingly dealing with a military theocracy. Imagine the Knights Templar killing the Pope and taking over Rome, all in the name of God. Now give them The Bomb. So I think we can agree that the only "negotiations" we can have with Iran is through the barrel of a gun. Because these people are completely unspooled when it comes to religion (even if they don't quite believe everything they say).

Militarily speaking, taking out the numerous nuclear sites sprinkled around Iran would be difficult. And by "difficult" I mean "practically impossible." In addition to blowing up Natanz, you'd have to take out the SAM sites around Natanz, and the airfields from which pesky Iranian jets would take off in a counter-attack. Now multiply this by the number of actual nuclear sites we know about (five, so far? or is it six?). Tactically, you would have to take out all these sites simultaneously, so one could not warn the others; and you couldn't attack the airfields or SAM sites first, because that would tip your hand on the nuclear site attacks. (And you certainly can't attack them after the nuclear sites, since you're trying to limit the amount of casualties the Iranians inflict on the attacking planes). The kind of firepower required would make "shock and awe" (from Gulf War II, remember?) look like a fireworks display in your uncle Ken's backyard.

Next, even if we could take out every surface-to-air threat and the nuclear sites, the mullahs would simply unleash the truely insane killers in Hezbollah and Hamas. And not just on Israel. We'd have backpack bombs in every Starbucks in America, potentially. The Iranians have been reading from Von Clauswitz, The Scorched Earth edition.

But there is one way to eliminate the threat of a nuclear Iran. Regime change. Cut off the head of the snake. Get rid of the lunatic bozos who are directing the construction of the nuclear missile program.

There are quite a few things in our favor with this plan:

1) We just happen to have an army in Iraq, and one in Afganistan. Both are scheduled to leave soon. We could just have them leave their respective theaters of war. Through Iran. A two-front war sucks. Ask Hitler.

2) There appears to be a native opposition movement in Iran. Stealing the last presidential election has galvanized more Western-oriented elements in the country, particularly among the urbanized middle-class. I say "appears" because the leadership of this movement, the guy who had the election stolen from him, is really just a less-radical member of the Khomenist government. That's like saying Sean Hannity is less a rabid conservative than Rush Limbaugh, so I'm not sure rallying support to this guy is a good idea. But there is a thirst for change among Iran's population, and we could exploit that.

3) The Arab world has no love for the Persians. We can exploit the Sunni-Shia religious rift as well as the Arab-Persian political rift. Saudi Arabia does not want to see a resurgent Persian Empire dominating the region with nuclear warheads. The Saudis will keep the other Arab governments quiet (if not the Arab street).

How do we do this? Affect regime change? You send in a combined force of special ops guys and CIA guys. Tell them to roam around the country, being their own, charming selves. This is called "prepping the battlefield." The special ops guys are there to sow confusion and create rifts inside the country. Demonstrate that the government doesn't quite have the control it should. It's amazing what happens when you sabotage a few electrical power generating sites, and blow up a few bridges. Bonus points if they manage to tie up the Republican Guards in and around their barracks. There's a lot of land in which to hide in Iran, and those frequency-hopping burst transmitters are a bitch to find; which is to say, a light, lethal force could operate for awhile inside Iran with little outside support (or could simply hop over the border into Iraq). The CIA guys are there to spread around America's good will in the form of cash; we did this in Afganistan -- guys hopping out of airplanes with $24 million in cash in anodized briefcases to buy off the right people. They can also link up with the Iranian protest movement, and provide information and advice.

Once the Khomenists start with the infighting and hurling of accusations, once they start to lose control over the population (and perhaps a part of the military), we roll in with tanks. Or, just sit back and do nothing, while the locals tear the government apart on their own (which might be the easier option).

Not, of course, that any of this will happen. But it's certainly the better option.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Iran and Funny?

It's Wednesday here in NYC, and the weather has gone from unseasonably warm to seasonably cool. This is a typical weather pattern for the North Atlantic states, where we have to worry about snow up until Easter. Meanwhile, I'd like to thank the South for the warm weather pattern we enjoyed last week (and also for biscuits and gravy, which is nummie-good). Also, whenever I have to write "wednesday" I have to pronounce the "d" to remind myself it's there, so I try not to write that word very often. Because I feel stupid.

Now one of the things we try to do here at the Fortress of Solitude is educate. I believe it's important to teach, to leave something behind for future generations, to better my fellow human beings. And to mock. I don't know what Superman does in his Fortress of Solitude (I imagine it has something to do with making sculptures out of Wonderbread), but here in my Fortress I like to mock. It makes me feel better about myself. I'd briefly considered teaching you about the personalities unique to New York City, but then my friend Patrick Goodman challenged me to make the current situation in Iran funny. And I don't back down from a challenge.

For those of you not in the know, Iran has been pursuing the atomic bomb for years now. They say that they want to enrich uranium for their domestic energy consumption, but Russia -- the fine, upstanding citizens of the world who have been building a nuclear power plant for them -- hasn't given them the formula needed to make fuel for the reactor. So this is like saying they're making the formula for New Coke before Coca-cola has finished building the bottling plant, and telling them they no longer make New Coke.

Their president, Mahmud Ahmedinejad (motto: stealing elections since 2009), likes to come out and threaten Israel with annihilation every once in awhile, presumably with his non-existent, domestic fuel uranium that doesn't actually exist. Really. And, for a non-military, non-weapon program, the Iranians have gone to great lengths to hide it. They've spread their nuclear sites all around the country, placed them in the middle of population centers, and buried them far underground. Completely normal. Nothing to see here.

It's the multiple sites buried underground that is the most interesting, to me. See, in order to take out this completely peaceful, non-military program that will wipe Israel off the map, you would have to hit all the locations simultaneously and you'd have to do it with bunker busting bombs. So we here at the Fortress have been following the news pretty closely, because, believe it or not, the government tells you exactly, precisely what it has in mind. If you piece the stories together in the correct order.

That's why we have analysts at the CIA pouring over newspaper stories and listening to foreign broadcasts. Amazing what you can learn from an innocuous story about grain production in the Ukraine and reports of troop movements in Beloruss. Oh, and don't forget the electronic intercepts through the NSA; those often confirm suspicions. If you ever actually listen to them. Now I've lost my security clearance, but I think I can do this pretty well without those. Three things interest me:

1) Israel has been conducting massive air attack training missions over the Mediterranean Sea. These include bombers, the attendant air support (the planes protecting the bombers), and air refuelling tankers. That's a lot of airplanes in the sky at any one time. They practice attack runs on Cypress. Now, the only people who care about Cypress are the Greeks and Turks; I don't think Israel is planning to invade Cypress any time soon. It only makes sense once you realize that the distance between Cypress and Israel is exactly, precisely the same as the distance between Israel and Iran.

2) Last year, Bibi Netanyahu and President Obama had a meeting where they both declared Iran's obtaining The Bomb to be unacceptable. Obama said it had to be resolved by the end of last summmer; Bibi said it was more like the start of the autumn. I'm not sure what the difference is between the two, but I think it was a case of them saying the same thing different ways. Granted, nothing happened by the end of last summer and the beginning of last autumn. I'm not sure why. But there seemed to be an agreement in principle of a date certain to do "something."

3) We have recently prepositioned 379 bunker busting bombs on the island of Diego Garcia, which is perfect for, say, supplying someone in the Persian Gulf region. Now I'm not sure why the number is 379; why not make it an even 380? Did they need that last bomb someplace else? Anyway, you need bunker busters because they're designed to tunnel underground before they go boom, and the Iranians have buried most of the important nuclear sites underground. You don't need these babies to hunt Osama, so it seems our friend in the Pentagon are setting us up for a showdown with Iran.

Not that I think we have the cojones to do it. If the Israelis do it, they'd have to inform us first. Because they'd have to fly over Iraq, and we get testy when 75 airplanes fly over our heads without a warning. We may be supplying them with the bombs, too. So we don't get plausible deniability here. I just can't see President Obama signing off on this one. But if we did, I'd think we'd have to go for regime change as part of the mix.

Next time, I'll discuss just what "regime change" entails. For more shits and giggles. In the meantime, we here at the Fortress are planning to buy oil futures so we can hit it big on the commodities market. Never let it be said I don't take advantage of an opportunity.

There, was that funny enough, Patrick?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Me and David Byrne

Today finds your humble narrator at his usual haunt when he needs some time away from the Fortress of Solitude, and the care and feeding of his elaborate menagerie of hissing cockaroaches, halucinagenic toads, and peacocks. Which is to say, I'm swilling beer from a size 9 Manolo Blahnik at my favorite Russian chick cafe. Where else can you get internets, beer, and hot Russian chicks in any one place? Except Heaven.

Since I've subconsciously decided to take you down memory lane, let's all get in the Way-back Machine and go all the way back to 1988. I realize that for some of my loyal readers, this is around the time they were born. Which not only depresses me, forcing me to order another beer, but also means I may have a lot of splaining to do.

It was August of 1988, and I'd recently returned from a semester abroad in China. While there are at least two good stories out of that trip (and several amusing anecdotes), this is not one of them. I had been back for about a week, and I was spending the Pergatory between end-of-one-semester and beginning-of-the-next in New York City, hanging out with my dad. Dad was great, and the subject of quite a few interesting stories on his own. This is not one of them.

I was hanging out with dad at one of his stores in the Bronx. Dad used to sell new and used furniture to people on Welfare, which is why his store was in the Bronx. It was a cash-only business, though he did take lay-away. It was lucrative, and would remain so until the advent of Ikea, which catered to the same crowd. Who knew poor people wanted so much crappy furniture with names like Snott and Blikendorf? Before you judge, dad also owned a few antique stores, but rich people don't buy in volume. The important fact of the story was that I was on Grand Concourse in the 180s, which means I may have well been in Beirut. Remember that.

So the phone rings, and it's my step-mother Elaine. Elaine is awesome. The first time I saw her, my dad took us to dinner so I could meet his new girlfriend (which is kind of sweet, considering how many times I'd taken girls home to meet him). He asked me about an exam I'd quite frankly bombed on, and I tap danced furiously about it. "Who do you think you're kidding?" Elaine asked. "Do you think you're fooling us? You fucked up. Just be a man and admit it." I was instantly in love with Elaine. So Elaine wanted to talk to me, which was unusual.

"Ross," she asked, "do you know a singah named David Byrne?" (I'm going to try to appoximate Elaine's thick New York accent).

Why yes, I do, Elaine. Why do you ask?

"I'm at the office," says she. Elaine was a CPA, and worked for Chris Callas, a famous fashion photographer. She did his books, and actually had power of attorney to draw money from his private account to pay his personal bills. So she was in his offices a lot. "And this nice Jewish boy keeps coming in and showing me pictures of monkeys. He wants to know what I think of them."

That's very nice, Elaine, albeit strange. Why are you telling me this.

"Well, this man says he's a singah, and the monkeys are for the cover of his new album. He says his name is David Byrne. Have you ever heard of David Byrne?"

Yes, yes I had. Lead singer for the Talking Heads. Burning Down the House. Psychokiller. Stop Making Sense. Yes, it's a famous band.

"Oh, well, he just came in my office and asked me to join them for lunch. I told him about you, and he said I could bring you along. Would you like to have lunch with David Byrne?"

I admit, my brain locked up. I couldn't process what I'd just heard. But I recovered. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! YES! I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE LUNCH WITH DAVID BYRNE!

"We're leaving in 15 minutes."

Dad, can we get from here (Grand Concourse in the 180s, in the Bronx. Like I said, may as well be Beirut), to midtown Manhattan in the next 15 minutes? Dad just looked at me, rolled his eyes, closed them, and shook his head. Dad always rolled his eyes to make his point. It was his way of saying "I'm serious." I was doomed.

No Elaine, I can't make it. Thanks.

I was so bummed for the rest of the day. I tried to pick a fight with a gang of Puerto Ricans just on general principle; when they asked me "yo man, what's your problem?" I told them the story, and they understood. They bought me a beer. One of them gave me a hug. At least, I consoled myself, I could ask Elaine about lunch with David Byrne when I got home. Maybe hear an interesting story (David Byrne likes escarole! He's allergic to shellfish!). Maybe get a contact high.

I burst through the door that night, tackled Elaine, and asked her how lunch went. "Oh, I didn't go. I had too much to do, so I had a salad at my desk."

Gee, Elaine, why not punch me in the balls, too? I briefly considered killing her. It was a momentary thing. But it passed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today is a truly beautiful day in the Empire State (question: which is the Rebel Alliance state? Sorry, bad Star Wars joke.). Anyway, it's warm and sunny enough for me to let the peacocks loose in garden for the first time since September. It's a commonly known fact that it's actually the male of the species that has the beautiful plumage. Less well known is that peacock is a heck of an eat, especially when roasted, and the skin is crackling good....

It's also the time of year when the women of NYC start walking around in considerably less than the eight layers they wear in the winter, which means tight tank tops (I know, aliteration), short skirts, and even shorter shorts. So I'm sitting high atop the Fortress, enjoying the caw of the peacocks, with combination high-powered binoculars and digital camera. The box it came in said it was perfect for birdwatching. Do you think the manufacturer believed that line of bullshit when they designed the box? I suppose it's better than "perfect for sexual predators." I love the future.

But that's not what I'm going to write about today. No, today I'm going to regale you with a tale of my youth.

It was sometime in the summer of 1992 (or was it '93?). My ex-wife (who I normally refer to as The Harpy, but that upsets some people) was a member of a the Tai Yim Hung Fot Kung Fu School. We were invited to a barbeque in honor of the Seven Stars Mantis Kung Fu School, who were in town for a tournament. It was held in a student's backyard, and there was volleyball, and hamburgers. By virtue of the fact that I speak fluent Mandarin Chinese, the Harpy and I were seated at the table of honor.

Now it's at this point that, given my extravagant claims of fortresses, peacocks and Madagascar hissing cockaroaches, that you'd think the whole Mandarin thing is also some kind of joke. It's true. I speak French and Chinese, which would have made me perfect for a career in Vietnam circa 1956. But alas.

Seated at the table of honor, which was really a picnic table, and thus not really "honorable", was the grandmaster of the Seven Stars Mantis school. This guy was about a thousand years old, pruned, bald, and had two teeth in his head. He hadn't shaved that day. He had kind eyes. He also didn't speak a word of English, which is why I was there, because Master Tai Yim's English was spotty, too; I was to translate for the assembled.

We're talking and laughing, and Master Two Teeth says something I don't understand. Chinese actually has a specialized language for almost every profession, so if you want to be a doctor in China, you learn "doctor Chinese", and if you're a lawyer, you learn "lawyer" Chinese. I'd neglected my "kung fu" Chinese in favor of all the cuss words, and I asked Master Two Teeth to repeat. He did. Still no help. We stared at each other in that way that says "I have no idea what to do now," then he said something I understood all too well. I stared at him blankly.

"He wants you to punch him," one of his helpful students said. Yes, I'd gotten that. I understood the words coming out of Master Two Teeth's mouth. I just didn't understand their meaning. See, Master Two Teeth was reputed to have beaten up seven of his students in a demonstration, defeating them all without landing a single blow. It's the kind of thing you call "bullshit" on, but I'd talked with one of the aforementioned ass-whupped students, and I believed him. I was sitting with Pai Mei, despite the kind eyes and the smile. No way was I going to punch this guy.

But I was assured that I wasn't really to punch the old man, I was merely to throw a punch in his general direction. After a few minutes of assurances, I agreed. I aimed my blow two inches from his solar plexus. It was a near perfect punch -- knuckle strike, arm torqued at the right time, a good snap. If I'd aimed two inches behind the target, it would have hurt.

Old Master Two Teeth grabbed my arm at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, then grabbed my head at the temples. This took about half a second. At each pressure point, my arm went numb. Lost the hand, then the forearm, the the whole arm. Again, in the blink of an eye. Now he had me by the head, and proceeded to toss me around the backyard. He laughed the whole time. The Ex loved it. Then he let me go, and as I tried to rub life back into my arm he said "Eagle. claw. kung. fu."

Oh. Eagle claw kung fu. Got it.

Then we sat down and enjoyed over-cooked hamburgers.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dog Thoughts

Today, we're going to comemmorate a Very Important Milestone in my life. We're going to celebrate an event of stupendous importance, akin to my losing my virginity. In short, we're going to celebrate that I now have eight followers on this site. As Patton said upon breaking through Nazi lines and relieving the 101st Airborne at Bastone, "woo hoo!" There's eight of you out there who apparently like my skewed view of the world, which means your lives are emptier and less meaningful than mine. And I live in a basement. So we're going to celebrate by discussing a subject near and dear to my heart. Dogs.

I'm sitting here quaffing Mountain Dew Code Red from my favorite crystal goblet, and peering out my window, and I see dogs. Now New Yorkers love their dogs. It seems as though everyone has one (except me, since they tend to conflict with my pet Iguana, Izzy). I don't understand why the dog is so popular in a city where the average apartment size would be too small for Kate Moss to wear on the fashion runways of Paris, but they are. It would seem to me that cats would make more sense, but cats are evil so I understand.

I've had several dogs in my life, and they've been better friends than most of my friends. There's nothing like coming home and having a large furry thing wagging its tail at you. I've been married, come home bellowing "Hi honey, I'm home!" only to be told to take out the trash. See, dogs don't do that. They're genuinely happy to see you. And not because you're going to feed them (which is really all a cat wants from you). A dog is sincerely happy to have you back from wherever it was you were.

See, dogs have a pack mentality. They're only really happy -- psychically speaking -- in a group. They take comfort in being a part of the pack. They feel safer. And, for better or worse, they consider you a member of their pack. When you come home from work, you're dog is saying "whew!" and then saying "let's play fetch!"

There is no artifice in a dog. A dog won't pretend to like you because he wants you to take him to Pastis for dinner. He won't insist on you buying him a Fendi bag before you play tug of war with an old sock. You pretty much know where you stand with a dog. Because they generally think in single words. "Food, food, food, food," "walk, walk, walk, walk," and "sock, sock, sock, sock" are pretty much all that's going on in your dog's head.

I knew a dog that would get so happy, he would wag his tail so hard that he broke it. Imagine that. He didn't wag it into something. He would just wag it hard enough to break it. He'd wag his tail bloody. That's happiness. Imagine if, when your aunt Eunice came over, you got so happy you got a nosebleed. There's a purity to a dog's emotions, and that purity is embodied in a wet nose and slobbery pink tongue.

Which is why I get so angry about New York dogs. Not because they're trapped in tiny apartments, but because of what their owners do to them. There are two phenomena I'm thinking about: The Purse Dog and the Dressed Dog.

The Purse Dog is directly attributable to Paris Hilton. I hope she burns in Hell, not for her sex tape (which wasn't really that hot) or her inane TV show, but for Tinkerbell. Dogs shouldn't be treated as fashion accessories and they shouldn't be carried about in handbags. That dog in the purse is really in a tiny, fake Louis Vuitton prison. And he wants out. To run along the street, gleefully sniffing fire hydrants and competitively peeing (which, by the way, should be an Olympic event. Competitive peeing.).

What really triggered today's article is the Dressed Dog. It's raining outside right now, and I've seen dozens of dogs pass by wearing little coats. First, the dog doesn't want to be out in the rain any more then their humans do. Every dog I've ever had, upon discovering it was raining outside, either thought "I'll hold it" and gone back inside, or did his business as fast as he could. So making your dog walk 12 blocks just because you think he needs the exercise is mean. I just saw one dog stop for shelter at a phone booth, and refused to leave; his human was straining on the leash to get him to walk, but Fido was perfectly happy to stay where he was all night long. Because he was done with what he was supposed to do and wanted to go home for a Beggin' Strip.

Second, I get that the little doggie coat is supposed to keep the dog dry, because no one likes the smell of wet dog. But what about the non-raining times? I've seen dogs with little sweaters and little snow parkas and even little hats. They don't need that. They have fur. That's why God gave them fur -- to keep them warm. People just like to dress up Fifi and Fido, as though they were children.

I think that if the first wolf realized the ultimate consequences of domestication for his descendants, he would have ripped out Zog the Caveman's throat and been done with it. But I'm glad he didn't. Because I like big, slobbery face licking. From a dog, anyway.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A-salt with a Deadly Weapon

Today, I'm sitting here at my favorite cafe in Grammercy, which is favorite solely because it provides non-Starbucks coffee and free wireless. It's also apparently staffed solely by Russian girls, which helps break up the day because I have a horrible time getting Russian girls to go back to the Fortress with me. There's usually a lot of kicking and screaming, which brings the police, who you'd think would have better things to do than harass a young man with a burlap sack over his shoulder. But I digress. I'm here because the Fortress needs fumigation for deer ticks, which tells me I need to stop hanging out at redneck bars....

As I sip my double-mocha skinny cappucino and peruse the newspaper, I see on page 3 of the NY Post that a NY politician is doing precisely what he was elected by his concerned consitituents to do, by taking up the important business of the community. No, he's not trying to lower taxes or stimulate jobs in his district. He's trying to ban salt.

Yesterday, in my human breast milk rant, I mentioned that NY pols spend an inordinate amount of time concocting laws to protect us from ridiculous things, because we're all mouth-breathing pinheads who can't take care of ourselves. We call this the nanny state, and NY politicians take this to its logical, and absurd, conclusion. This is an example of what I was talking about....

Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, apparently with nothing better to do with his time, has introduced legislation to ban the use of salt in any form in preparing food in every restaurant in the state. While Ortiz insists there isn't a fine structure in place in the bill, NY politicians never miss an opportunity to sock it to what they see as a cash cow -- the small businessman. There are rumors of fines of up to $1000 in the works.

I'm so glad Assemblyman Ortiz wants to save me from the dangers of salt. It can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. It can make my skin look all puffy. And it has the danger of making my food both tasty AND delicious. It's a wonder that the human race has survived all these millennia without this life-saving legislation. Oh, the inhumanity of all those deaths caused by salt which could have been avoided if only the government had stepped in. Why didn't the Roman Senate take up this cause? Where were the Athenians when we needed them? Oh, Winston Churchill, why did you not fight the evils of sodium with the same verve as you did the Nazis?!

Dear Assemblyman Ortiz, thank you for spending valuable legislative time and money on this matter of vital importance, rather than, say, getting the potholes fixed in my neighborhood. There's one leading up to the Fortress that's big enough to swallow Russel Crowe's ego. I'm certain that, when the time comes for re-election, the voters will forget the crushing tax burden and lack of jobs, and vote you another term for your valiant efforts to eliminate a seasoning that's been around longer than pepper.

Oh, and lest you think this is just an anomaly, both the mayor and governor want to impose a 1 cent tax on sugary drinks. All in the name of saving children from obesity. It has nothing to do with plugging the $9 billion hole in the state budget...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Breast Milk Cheese

We've had three consecutive days of relatively nice weather here in NYC, and I've thrown open the windows of the Fortress of Solitude to let in a little fresh air. Because the Fortress has started to smell like an old sock passed through the digestive tract of an elephant, I've decided to take my coffee and scones on the verandah and read the newspapers. I see that, according to the NY Post, the most important, pressing news of the day is cheese made from breast milk. Who knew?

It seems there is a chef here in Manhattan who decided to make cheese out of his wife's breast milk. Now I'm certain he's not the first chef to look at the miracle of his newborn child nursing at the breast of his wife and think "let's make cheese." But I'm also certain these other chef's had the good sense to keep the information to themselves. But not the chef at Klee Brasserie. Oh no. He had to blog about it.

This, in turn, lead to gastronomes across the city to show up at Klee Brasserie and ask for a taste. According to the vice president of Murray's Cheese (a hoity-toity cheese shop here (and I rarely miss a chance to write "hoity-toity")), the breast milk cheese is "slippery, slightly crunchy and tastes like pickles." Now, dear readers, allow me to assure you that I could have lived the entirety of my life without having known this information.

We also learn in the article that according to the New York Department of Health, there is nothing in the health code expressly forbidding the sale and consumption of breast milk cheese. I would think someone had better get on that. You'd think that in the most over-regulated city in America, someone somewhere would have already put this one on the books. And because New York pols just love to write regulations, I'm sure by the end of the week some councilman will hold a press conference announcing the express banning of the menace of breast milk cheese. The mayor will dutifully sign said regulation. And health inspectors will fan out across the city, checking for human breast milk cheese in the refrigerators of the city's restaurants. And not a moment too soon, because now that the cat is out of the bag, soon everyone will be offering breast milk cheese. You'll be able to get a ham and human breast milk cheese sandwich at the corner bodega. It'll be a cavalcade of human breast milk offerings. Because that's just how New York City rolls.

What I find most disturbing about this story is that it's on the front page of the freaking NY Post. We're fighting two wars. The Iraqis are facing bombs as they go to vote in a pivotal election. Millions of Americans are out of work during what we've come to call the Great Recession; meanwhile, our politicians try to give us "hope and change" instead of giving us job stimulus. We've got serious problems. But the Post chooses to inform us of the dangers of human breast milk cheese. I'm certain that while Rome was falling, the NY Post was reporting about score-fixing at the gladiator bouts.

I've eaten dog. I've eaten snake. I've eaten shaved, pickled pig's ear. Because I lived in a China for a time, this was actually all in a single meal. China's national motto seems to be: if it's disgusting, we'll eat it. And right now, the entire nation of China, upon hearing about human breast milk cheese, is saying "ew!" So, just in case you were wondering, allow me to say that human breast milk cheese is disgusting, and I'd wished Chef Angerer had kept his curiousity to himself.

Now if you don't mind, it's time for me to do my Kegel exercises and water my pet iguana. And then have some tasty, tasty human breast milk cheese.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Unemployment Office

Those of you who have been following me (and I know who you are, because my Bothan spies are quite good), know that I've been unemployed since the first of February. I've been working pretty much continually since 1984, which the Social Security Office has been kind enough to remind me, and I've never been on unemployment before. Usually, I've never been without a job for more than a few days, which should tell you something about this recession. Only once have I had an extended unemployment experience, and that was the time between Wizards of the Coast eliminating my division and being hired by Decipher; at that time, I lived off of savings.

To say that I have an aversion to public assistance or government involvement in my life is like saying Darth Vader is evil, or Smurfs are annoying. So when I received a letter from the labor department of New York saying I had to show up to the unemployment office for processing I was not amused. See, up to this point, dealing with the unemployment office has been a breeze. You can apply for your benefits on-line. You can claim your benefits and check your records on-line, too. In short, you never have to deal with a government bureaucrat. Until you get the letter.

I suppose the governnment wants to make sure you're not scamming them in some way. If you want to take their money, they want you to jump through a few hoops. For example, they may send you a questionnaire, which if you fail to return results in the loss of your benefits. Imagine that; you don't fill out a survey, you get no money. What if it got lost in the mail? What if you have one of those psychotic mailmen who like to stash mail in their attic, and you never got the survey? What if your roommate decided to use your mail as a coaster and never gave it to you? Anyway, reporting to the unemployment office to sign up for their employment services is one of those things you have to do, or else lose your benefits.

Since I didn't want to become homeless over this (you have no idea the overhead on the Fortress of Solitude), I reported at 9am, as ordered, to the New York State Department of Labor. Now, if you know me, you know that for me getting up at 7am is like trying to get a toddler to sit still on a road trip, which is to say it's pretty damn near impossible. I don't go to sleep until 4am. So I trudged down to the office on about three hours sleep.

I always imagined the unemployment office to be a soul crushing experience. Sort of the best (or worst) of the DMV and the post office all rolled into one, along with the stench of desperation from cramming all those unemployed people into one room. I imagined those horrible institutional taupe walls, perhaps festooned with helpful government awareness posters. Long, snaking lines leading up to two bored government service types, who keep shouting out "can I help the next person?", and chattering to each other about what they did for the weekend. I envisioned a lot of stamping of papers and moving to the next line....

It wasn't like that at all. First, you have to go through a TSA-style security check, mostly because I imagine they get a lot of wackos with a grudge coming through there. You know; some guy just lost his benefits and he blames the government, so he stops on down with a Glock and a thousand rounds of ammo.... I'm sure the danger exists, so I didn't mind removing my belt and having my bag searched. I'm just glad they didn't want to do a full body cavity search (because I'm very particular about who searches my body cavities).

When I got to the office, it was really quite nice. It was still the institutional taupe walls (don't they know there are other colors out there? Blue? A nice green?). Thankfully there were no informational posters on the wall. And the people were quite nice. The guy who started my processing was cracking jokes at the office's expense all the time. The security guard was making everyone laugh. I guess everyone understood that we were all depressed and desperate and needed a bit of cheering up. And the processing was quite fast and efficient.

They took my papers and asked me to sit at one of those school desks we had in high school. I waited and read a book. My name was called. I followed Lev the Caseworker to his desk. Oddly, there were no personal effects of any kind on anyone's desk. Anywhere. I must have passed 20 desks, and none of them had anything personal on them; I thought maybe everyone had been fired (which would have been pretty ironic), except Lev the Caseworker didn't have anything on his desk either, and he was clearly employed by the unemployment office.

Lev the Caseworker told me my options pretty quickly. Too bad he had a thick Russian accent and I had to make him repeat himself. Over there was the job placement center, where I could use the internet and fax machines. He would put my resume on-line for employers to find. And he gave me a giant list of job websites broken down by industry. Basically useless, actually. I'd expected some kind of placement officer who would make phone calls on my behalf; send me out on interviews; recommend options. Hell, temp agencies do more.

Most telling, however, was what Lev the Caseworker told me on my way out. I said "I hear there are some 20 people on the rolls for every job you have in your database." He said that it had actually gone up since the beginning of the year. "A lot of newly unemployed lately?" I asked. "You have no idea," said Lev, "there is no recovery out there."

Read that last sentence again. This is a guy on the front lines of unemployment. And he says things are actually getting worse, not better. So for all that hoo-ha about a recovery and a dip in unemployment statistics, things aren't getting better on the jobless front. Lev the Caseworker says so. So I shook his hand and thanked him for his time, and promised to email him my resume. He told me he didn't think I'd be unemployed for long, which I think neither of us believed, but it was nice of him to say. And I left.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bringing the Mock

Here I sit, this sunny Monday afternoon, high atop the tallest spire of my Fortress of Solitude, quaffing Sunny Delight from a diamond-studded chalice and contemplating. What I am contemplating, I cannot say, for there is nothing really worthy of my mock in the news today. So I suppose I am contemplating the lack of things to contemplate. And nibbling Andy Capp Hot Fries.

I suppose I could jump into the fracas that is the Great Health Care Debate of 2010, but this seems to me to be like kicking my Guatamalan houseboy after he's fallen down a flight of steps. That is to say, all too easy, and a bit of overkill. I don't quite understand the suicidal impulse in the Democratic Party these days; I could see their hamfisted ramming of health care through Congress when they had their ubermajority. But that doesn't exist anymore. Why not do what I do when pesky Jehovah's Witnesses stop by my Fortress's door, drop it down an oubliette and forget it ever existed?

I see by the atomic clock on the wall that it is time for Jay Leno to resume his duties as host of the Tonight Show. Since, like a case of Thai crotch rot, he never really left, I'm not sure what the big deal is. Leno hasn't been funny since he stabbed Letterman in the back and took over the show in the first place. Imagine you've got a delicious bowl of Vietnamese pho, all hot, noodley goodness with some shrimp balls and spices derived from Strontium-90, and suddenly it transmogrifies into a bowl of wheatina. That's what Leno's done to himself in the name of the almighty buck. He's turned himself into pablum. Also, I've always been a fan of the New York City late night hosts. They somehow seem sharper.

On a personal note, I'm not sure how Snooki Polizzi could be considered hot, muchless some kind of celebrity. For those of you not in the know she's on the MTV show Jersey Shore. (Have they forgotten that the "m" in their name stands for "music" and not "moronic entertainment"?) I'm not sure how anyone could not be aware of this, since this woman and her TV show are as ubiquitous as the aforementioned Thai crotch rot. That is to say, all over the place and you wish it would just go away. Let's put it this way: I haven't watched TV since 2002, when I shot my set during a Hee Haw marathon, and even I'm aware of her. She's in today's NY Post (I receive all major newspapers here at the Fortress), and he looks like a troll doll whose hair has fallen flat. I swear she looks like she was raised in a high gravity environment, a bit too short and squat for her own good. And I understand, again from the Post, that she's a no-class, talentless moron. They didn't it put it in so many words, but I'm adept at reading through the lines. How else to parse that this woman's claim to fame is getting punched out by a drunk school teacher from Queens?

That's all I have time for today, as my "contemplation and personal reflection" hour are almost up. Now it is time for me to trim the azaleas and feed my collection of Madagascar hissing cockaroaches. Til next time, gentle readers. All six of you.