Saturday, August 26, 2006

...Can I Get That Anal Swab in Mint Scent?

My wife and I have been planning a trip to Europe for quite some time now. We bought the tickets, decided to go to London and Rome, got hotel rooms, and so forth. Everything was going great and we were ready to go, and then the day before we left the British foiled another airline bombing plot. Wonderful! Now we can't take liquids on, and if the British didn't do something before we traveled to Rome, then we'd not have any carryons or any clothing. We ran into a host of problems along the way, from changing liquids rules (i.e. Benadryl is fine in SLC, but not in ATL) to the hidden no-chap-stick-corrolary that is active in the following areas: Britain and Italy. I think that between everybody in my travel party, we threw out enough chap stick to build a cabin out of.
On the travel end, we actually ended up in quite the good situation. Due to my status with Delta, we flew over on a jet that was sold as "all coach", but we got seats that were bigger than usual - 40 inches of seat pitch instead of the usual 31. We also got our own TVs to watch so we didn't have to sit through Robin Williams' latest crapfest, RV. The Ryanair flight we had from Stansted was interesting - it made Southwest look sane. The lines at the counter were an hour long, they were handwriting boarding passes (apparently the computer revolution hasn't reached European low cost carriers yet), and the baggage Nazi made sure that your luggage didn't weigh too much. We got to Rome, but instead of going to their big international airport (Fiumicino), we were at a small one on the other side of town (Ciampino). Here's a free piece of advice for any would-be terrorists who want to fly into Italy. Fly into Ciampino after 10 pm. In addition to waiting forever for your baggage, there weren't any customs agents. You could just walk into Italy with nary a question asked. They were actually stricter about getting back into the airport than leaving it.
Flying out, we went through Fiumicino, and what an experience that was. We found some Kinder Buenos at a store in the main terminal, then took a shuttle out to our gate. My wife wanted some more, so I thought it would be a simple matter to go back and get some. That wasn't the case. Apparently the Italians don't trust those who have already been screened and passed through metal detectors to have actually been screened and passed through metal detectors. I went from the gate back to the main terminal and had to go back through a metal detector. Mind you, it deposited me right back where I had been 20 minutes ago. It didn't drop me on the curb or out by the gates or anything. It was right back in the terminal. While I was in line, an Italian guy made a huge fuss about someone butting in line, which in the end didn't do anything other than slow the line down. He ended up being further back because he got out of line to go talk to the following people: the people who cut in line, the guy manning the security checkpoint, the airport police, the actual police. Seriously, doesn't this guy know when to give up? He should, he was Italian, and as every Italian knows, there's no such thing as an Italian queue.
(Sidenote: I was in "line" at the Borghese Gallery in Rome and this British guy with a French girlfriend got all hot under the collar because I sidled up beside him when a hole opened. When I say line, most people think of something organized like at Disneyland. This was more along the lines of this, and I kid you not. In the end, he didn't get tickets and I did. Here's the approximate conversation (keep in mind that I had picked up all the British talking things at this point):
Him: Excuse me, I was in queue ahead of you.
Me: I don't see a queue here.
Him: Well, it's an Italian queue.
Me: Like I said, there's no queue here.
Him: An Italian queue is where there is no queue until the person in front of you complains about it, and then you get behind them.
Me: You're full of crap.)
Anyway, I ended up back at my gate after an hour detour back to the terminal. When I arrived, I had some delightful news: I was getting an elusive Op-Up. This is the upgrade that the travel gods bestow on you for no reason at all. Instead of traveling in coach, I was able to get everyone upgraded to Business Elite. That's a nearly fully reclining seat, 5 course meal, 5 feet of leg room, and more. Oh, how sweet it was. It beat the pants of Korean's Business Class and it beat out Northwest/KLM's World Business Class as well. In the end it was as good as it could have been, what with the crackdown on my water bottles.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

There's No Crying in Baseball

Even though it happened a while back, this seemed to hit the national spotlight just before I left on vacation. In a Little League in Utah, the coach (of a team fittingly named the Yankees) pitched around the best hitter on the Red Sox to get to their worst hitter in order to win the championship. Everybody's pontificating about how it was so wrong for the coach to do that. Never mind that in actual baseball, it's done all the time. These are children - they have no business being exposed to things like competition.
Bull. Unless you're in the Special Olympics, every sport has winners and losers. It's the way things are. Is it the way things should be? That's not a question I have an answer for, but I know that on an everyday basis children are exposed to this in every sport they play. You may get a medal for showing up for soccer, but at the end of the day it is a competition. You do have winners and losers. You even have winners and losers in videogames. If you die, you lose and the computer's artificial intelligence wins. Of course, for those who don't want their children to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, they can give their child a set of rubber balls and let them kick them around the yard by themselves. Then they won't have their spirits broken. Of course, they won't have any friends either, but that's beside the point. After all, friends often break into groups of winners and losers. The winners leave the losers out, and that happens to kids constantly throughout their school years. That's just the way life is. However, on the bright side, it's not as though someone is a perpetual loser. Things have a way of evening out, just ask Jerry Seinfeld.
The bottom line is that what the Yankees coach did was right. His team was in a position to win and advance to the Little League World Series (not the title game, mind you, but the playoffs that lead there). If he didn't do everything he could to help them win, he not only shouldn't be their coach, but he wouldn't have a competitive bone in his body. Pitching around the superstar was the right play, and you can argue all you want about how you shouldn't pick on the cancer survivor, but what if he was just an ordinary kid who wasn't that good at baseball? Would that make a difference? He wanted to play to be normal, and by whiffing him instead of pitching to the beefcake, they showed that they considered him normal.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Review: Angels and Demons

Author: Dan Brown
592 pp

This is the second time I've read Angels and Demons, and it's as quick a read as ever. There's nothing quite like a Dan Brown novel to pass the time. They're a lot of fun and they're tough to put down. In general, it's got a great plot. The 24esque countdown, the twists, the turns, and the rapid-fire dialogue combine to make one of the most enjoyable books out there. I know there are a lot of people who think that Dan Brown is a literary Twinkie, and those people would be right. Nevertheless, who doesn't enjoy eating a tasty Twinkie every now and again? Okay, Twinkie might not be the best example of something that is empty calories and yet strangely enjoyable. Perhaps Sour Patch Watermelons are a better example. The Twinkie Experiments turned me off of Twinkies a long time ago. Anyway, it's a rollicking good ride, however there are a few plot twists that seemed a little out of place, most notably those that lead to the climax at the end of the book. I didn't agree with it at all. Brown had set everything up so that it was going along logically, taking the reader down a surprising, but still well choreographed path. Then, he suddenly tosses in a twist that didn't ever really end up flying. The rest of the book was still enjoyable, but it just didn't end with the same power and sense of cohesion that it could have if it weren't for that final twist. It's tough to discuss without giving it away, so I'll end here, but even with that caveat, if you haven't read Angels and Demons, give it a chance. You'll be glad you did (especially before the movie comes out here in a couple of years).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

North Korea's Impotent Taepodong

Note: Yeah, it took me this long to finally finish it!
While I missed the actual launching of the missile (I was watching World Cup soccer instead), North Korea launched a series of Taepodong-2 missiles earlier this week. While it seems rather frightening (the Taepodong-2 is a missile that could theoretically hit Anchorage, Alaska) that the North Koreans have nukes and ICBMs, it's not quite as bad as it seems. The main reason for that is because the missiles didn't even fly far enough for our ABM systems to have a test-toast. Instead, they malfunctioned and blew up 40 or so seconds into flight - think back to your younger years, when the Challenger blew up over Florida. That was around 2 minutes into flight. For a missile of this size, it's the equivalent of trying to dunk a ball, but only getting 6 inches off the ground. Oh, and the diminuitive size of Kim Jong Il means that North Korea would be getting 6 inches off the ground as Earl Boykins. It's a failure, and a big one. Of course, they'll be back, but for now it's not such a bad deal. We're up to our ears in other, more pressing issues, and if Pyongyang can just sit tight until we've dealt with Hezbollah, Iran, and all those other madmen, then it would really help us out of a jam.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Springtime for Castro

Farewell Fidel, hello Dolly! Most everyone should know by now that communist leader Fidel Castro has handed the communist reigns of Cuba to his younger brother Raul.
This news most likely does not signal the end of Cuba as we know it. The change in leadership might just be temporary, depending on Fidel's health. The majority of observers, while optimistic, believe that communist status quo will continue, as will America's trade embargo. Now you know all that, but what you may not know is that Raul is more queer than a 3 peso coin.

In the book The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol, author and former political insider Servando Gonzalez speaks openly about Raul's secret penchant for a quality "cigar".

Similar to the Nazi party of yore Fidel's communist regime as managed to oppose homosexuality yet stock it's highest echelons with gay men. Although Fidel denies the allegations that he persecutes homosexuals, all credible intelligence suggests otherwise. It is widely believed that he locked up many homosexuals in concentration camps, giving a whole new meaning to the term "gay bar".
I personally am not sure if Raul Castro really is gay or not, he does have a wife and 3 daughters. In all fairness Cuba has been basically stuck in 1950, perhaps they apply the word gay in all its former antique glory. I think regardless of hard evidence I will choose to believe it, mostly for purpose of humor. I can now only imagine Fidel's long winded speeches soon to be delivered by Raul with a Latin lisp, backed by Cedric and Bob.

As we welcome in the new reign of Raul we must bid so long to Fidel. We'll miss your bushy beard of defiance, your commitment to communism, and your ubiquitous cigar.

Diet Coke + Mentos = Deliciousness

I've been busy at work, leading to a bit of a blacation (blogging vacation), but here's a little something that you may have already seen. Apparently chemical reactions between soda and The Freshmaker are a new scientific discovery, now these tricks are everywhere. This is one of the best though. Take a look at their version of the Bellagio fountains.