Monday, July 21, 2008

What's Hiding In The Attic

While sorting through my belongings in preparation for my November move, I sometimes run across an oddity or two that has me thinking, “When did I get this, and more importantly, why?” That got me to thinking even more, (a dangerous activity in its own right), about some items I could have fun with if I encountered them, and even more so if they actually existed. Think of the possibilities if buried in your life's treasures was s box full of baseball size canisters labeled “Small Scalable Thermonuclear Device (SSTD).”The only settings would be the size of the explosion, from say a minuscule .001 kilotons, (useful for serious gutter cleaning), to a more respectable 1 kiloton, (effective for clearing out late staying guests at a large and unruly party). Of course the other setting would be a timer allowing you to be safely out of the way so you can enjoy the aftereffects from a safe distance.

Personally, I can think of many uses for such a device. For a start, though I am a lifelong Cal football fan, I would still refrain from tossing one into the huddles of the opposing team since I do believe in fair play and sportsmanship. However, halftime shows at Cal by either the University of Southern California or worse, Stanford, marching bands would be short lived, and would bring thunderous applause from almost everyone else at the stadium. As an aside, I remember talking to a USC fan once who confessed their own band drives their fans crazy by playing the same song every fifteen seconds during a game. Stanford's band meanwhile has the distinction of not only being a total embarrassment to what even the most diehard Cal fan will admit is an outstanding academic institution, but they bear the stigma of being what must be the only college band to have once been banned from their own stadium.

Another use, instant large scale barbecue. Why fiddle and fuss with a grill when you can pile all the food in a barbecue pit, toss in an SSTD, (don't forget the proper settings or your neighbors won't be amused, though if you hate your neighbors just pass it off as a little oopsie), and in a flash, literally, everything is cooked to perfection. Just be careful if the source of your steaks is still on the hoof and the rancher who owns them employs sharpshooters beyond the range of your SSTD.

You can also use them for instant respect. Say you find yourself in a rough looking bar. On your left a tough looking character pulls out a knife. On your right an even meaner looking dude is polishing a .357 Magnum. Casually take out an SSTD and set it in front of you. You'll never have to pay for a drink again.

The uses go on and on. Removing tree stumps. Removing whole trees. Removing whole trees and tree sitters, (what a wonderful thought for the ones still infest Berkeley). Digging out the hole for a swimming pool. Better yet, digging out the hole for an oil well considering current prices. Playing fetch with a neighbor’s nervous, yapping, peanut sized dog. Applying a permanent solution to your computer after the over seas call center gave you bad advice, (sending one to the overseas call center might have some nasty political ramifications however).

Oh the possibilities.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Enlightenment Through Dim Sum

One thing I will genuinely miss about San Francisco is Chinatown. Every sense of the human body is constantly stimulated by even a casual stroll through it. I have a passion for Chinese art, and after a bit of poking past the rather tacky touristy offerings, have found shops selling genuine supplies as well as excellent art works. The food shops are something else, offering fruits, vegetables and meat, fish and poultry that are amazing in their variety, even if I don’t have a clue as to what most of them are.

For eating establishments the area can’t be beat. My favorite is a Dim Sum place called the Hang Ah. A friend and I discovered it, tucked down an alley, back when we were in high school. He lives out of state now but still visits at least once a year. So when he does, he head to San Francisco on a gastronomic pilgrimage.

Dim Sum consists of many small dishes of pork, vegetables, egg rolls, and my favorite, Pork Bows which is a soft bread stuffed with sweet and sour pork. Washing it all down is an unlimited amount of jasmine tea brewed with loose tealeaves. The place itself has a plain brick exterior, while the inside has a linoleum covered floor, plastic chairs, and Formica tables that look like they came out of the 1950’s. Considering when you walk in you are greeted by a glass case with an ancient newspaper article and folders about the 1959 Miss Chinatown contest and it’s almost eerie in its old fashioned atmosphere.

You almost expect these shadowy figures lurking in the back tables, casting wary eyes on potential murder suspects, smugglers, and other nefarious characters. Like the waiter who always had a pair of chopsticks in his shirt pocket with notches in them. Were they some type of secret code? Or were they reminders of his victims, those who dared to cross him, or worse, stiff him on his tip.

But none of this has any effect on the food, which is best described as delectable and delightful. There’s no pressure to eat fast, instead the atmosphere is designed for leisurely dining. A few years back my friend and I went afterwards to the Asian Art Museum. There was a display of porcelain Happy Buddha’s. We decided they had reached the rapturous state of enlightenment, inner peace, and complete happiness from having eaten at Hang Ah.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Time for a rant...

The best way to spot a hypocrite, one who should have a t-shirt emblazoned with the word and town criers leading the way when they go down the street calling, “Make way for the hypocrite,” is for that person to give themselves a label. Certain labels are ways that the weak minded make themselves feel important, since that’s the only way they can identify with anyone or anything else. A true rational person takes an idea, analyses it without prejudice or preconceived conclusions, and is prepared to alter his or her opinions based on facts, not hype.

Perhaps the most misused label is “environmentalist.” At one time it meant a true lover of nature who was interested in preservation not just for the sake of it, but also because of the ecological value of an area. This person realized clean water and air, safe disposal of toxic wastes, efficient use of energy, and reasonable recycling were not only good for ones health but also made economic sense. A healthy population is of course going to be more economically viable than an unhealthy one, and for businesses efficiency in manufacturing reduces costs and increases profits. Less land and resources are needed, which allows more preservation of open space, parks, and wilderness areas that are vital for healthy ecosystems. As for alternative energy sources, these create more business opportunities while reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil.

The true environmentalist will practice his or her beliefs by their lifestyle. This doesn’t mean living in caves, (or trees if in Berkeley), bathing only once a week if that, and subsisting on tree bark and dirt. This person will tell others about efficient recycling and energy use, healthy eating, and the need for ecological balance. But this is done without preaching or taking on a “holier than thou” attitude. Instead they teach by quiet example.

My high school biology teacher, Ken Teberg, was a perfect example. He taught his class how to incorporate sound environmental principles into their every day lives. We came to appreciate and understand nature, while at the same time not looking at life’s conveniences such as cars and electronics as evils. Balance was and is the key.

Unfortunately, environmentalist has more recently come to signify zealots who cannot be reasoned with. They are determined to undermine society and enforce their own radical agenda of no development, no growth, and forcing governments and businesses into unnecessary spending and regulations that result in little gain. And their reason? In part they are some of the most ignorant people I know. But for many, it is a shrewd way to stroke their egos and make money. They see the attention they get through fear mongering of an unsuspecting public. And while some piously claim to be following an ascetic lifestyle, many others rake in the money that duped individuals and groups who should know better, donate.

An acquaintance in my office loves trumpeting she’s an environmentalist. But here are some facts. She is into solar power. Ok, no problem with that though it’s still very expensive and impractical on a large scale. At the same time she goes ballistic at even the mention of an oil company and heaven forbid you even say the word nuclear in her presence. Yet that didn’t stop her from driving a gas guzzling SUV for many years. Fact two, she wants to conserve water. California is currently experiencing a significant water shortage, and granted rainfall has been below average the last couple of years. However, the same environmentalists such as this acquaintance were frothing at the mouth in anger at even the suggestion of the state building more reservoirs to hold sufficient water to compensate for these situations.

She also proudly claims she only showers once a week. The held noses of anyone around her are proof of that. But at the same time she has an uncovered swimming pool that annually loses thousands of gallons in evaporation.

Fact three, in winter she refuses to turn on the heat in her house, and instead uses an indoor fireplace when it gets cold. This is an old fashion brick fireplace that is not only extremely inefficient at heating, but is a major contributor to indoor and outdoor particulate matter pollution. This is a major health hazard. Anyone experiencing the ongoing effects of the fires raging throughout central and northern California knows what I mean. It’s the exact same effect.

But disagree with her and you are greeted with hateful looks and an attitude you are the devil incarnate. Needless to say I’ll be very happy to leave her behind, and then forget she ever existed, when I’m gone from California.