Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cooking with Gas

Hello. Yeah, it's been a while. Not much, how about you?

You've probably noticed I haven't been posting much lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that in these socially and politically polarized times, it's easy to go into "if I ruled the world" overload; while such posts make for great venting they don't always make for inspiring reading. Over time the subjects of the posts become scattered in so many directions that the journal as a whole loses its focus. That's bad for the writer, and for the reader as well. (Ok, and there's also the problem of Sarah Palin remarks becoming so easy to make there's little challenge there anymore.)

In order to stay focused and energized, I'm stepping back from Better Left Unsaid and taking a new (and, I think, exciting) challenge into the blogosphere: "Kissing the Cook" is a new journal about shared adventures in cooking and food for regular people. (I'll keep Unsaid in existence, in case it seems appropriate at some point to post something there.)

http://kissthecook-ben.blogspot.com/

Visit! Comment! Subscribe! It's very much my hope for Kissing the Cook to be an interactive two-way forum. You gotta eat, after all.

I really hope I get to see you there!

And thanks.

Ben

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Modest Needs

It was either by accident or divine intervention that we came upon the fairly small but exquisitely beautiful Brewster Park while on vacation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Like any middle-aged, city-based technocrat, I was overwhelmed at the beauty and peace that this new thing...what was it called again? Nature? Yes, that was it...could provide. Like an arctic explorer who knows no one will believe he saw the Abominable Snowman without solid proof (or like the ape in "2001" who had to show the other apes the monolith, take your pick), I videoed the scene to bring home to the other middle-aged, city-based technocrats.

When you mix that, a long-time love for Emily Dickinson's poetry and overall personal oddness, and a propensity for completely abusing Windows Movie Maker, the result is the following video. (It's only about two minutes, so check it out during the next commercial break.)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Don't Mean to Sound Like I'm Preaching...

By now you would think that I'd know how a Jewish guy ends up preaching Sunday sermons at a Presbyterian church, but I don't. The original idea, years ago, was that I'd do some brief bible-based children's messages every so often. It didn't take long at all for that to morph into longer "family sermons" aimed at everyone. (They're more like extended Sunday School lessons than sermons, but sermons is easier to pronounce.)

The most recent of these I've gotten to do was delivered this past Sunday, Father's Day. On the video linked below, note please the following:

1. A rudimentary kind of sub-titling has been added; it's a beautiful old church, and its classic reverberation is great for organs, choirs, and Enya, but not so much for the spoken word. Besides, I think it gives the video kind of an art-house European movie feel, don't you?

2. I know I need to get better at standing still. This is due in part to the adrenaline rush of public speaking, and in part to a deep-seated fear that this is finally the day I no longer get away with preaching. (Besides, it makes me a harder target to hit.)

3. Ok, I have a Jersey accent. You got a problem wit dat, or what?

Now cue the organ music...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqOIBnYFN6A

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Give and Take


"Life is a tightrope, and at the other end is your coffin."
(Morticia Addams to son Puggsley in The Addams Family Musical)

Having had a Facebook page for quite some time now and using it for, well, nothing, I recently decided to step up the activity level and reach out to friends old and new. Heaven only knows what drives someone to make a decision like that - maybe it was seeing how Facebook got Betty White onto Saturday Night Live - but I did. For the past couple of weeks I've been actively making pithy comments on friends' "Status Updates" (which were called random thoughts before computers were invented). I also sought out some old friends.

One of the friends I sought out is a woman I haven't had contact with in 25 years. She responded to my "message" with a "friend request." (It's a Facebook thing.) It gave me a great feeling to reconnect with Maureen. I have a theory that every 16 year old boy meets a certain girl of about the same age and it gets him considering, for the first time, the possibility that baseball might be the second best thing ever invented. For me, this was Maureen. Let me emphasize that, despite my best puppy-dog efforts, nothing of a romantic nature ever came of this first crush (well, second, if you count Miss Wilson, my kindergarten teacher, and third if you count Annette Funicello in reruns). Even at 15 she was too smart for that. We did, happy to say, become friends and stayed in contact for a number of years before life does that thing where it sends people off to different destinies. Today the crush is long gone, and my respect for who Maureen is and what she has done with her life remains great. I am looking forward to getting to know her again. My first post to her "wall" (another Facebook thing) was a note welcoming her to Facebook, and providing a friendly warning not to get involved with Farmville, an abyss to which many go and from which few return.

At about the same time I reached out to another old friend, this one from my days on Prodigy in the early-to-mid 90's. (For younger readers, think of Prodigy as the internet version of 8-track tapes.) It had been about 15 years since I'd had contact with Anne. A paralegal and freelance writer, she was wickedly funny and totally delightful. Her life was not smooth but she never failed to impress with the upbeat energy and humorous, indomitable spirit with which she handled it all. As with Maureen, time and distance never kept Anne from remaining one of my favorite people. To this day, her picture - smiling with her eyes as much as with her mouth, and flanked by her two adorable then-toddler daughters - hangs on the wall in my home office. Over the years, I sometimes found myself wondering how she is. And so, armed with the Internet, I was now able to set out to find her Facebook page or e-mail address.

What I found was her obituary.

It was from about a year ago, and was accompanied by another, more recent picture at age 42. Her smile was still as room-illuminating as it was in the picture she'd sent me all those years ago. I read some blog entries she'd written in the months before her death. She'd fallen on seriously hard times of several types. I don't know the cause of her death, and there's a good chance I never will, but the lack of any reference to an illness even as recently as her last post a month before she died got me thinking. So I read more. Several months before, at a time when her own house was being foreclosed on, she'd written a blog post about a study she'd seen linking a rise in foreclosure rates to a rise in suicide rates. And I read comments posted to her blog after she died by people she was close to: one writer said he wished he'd listened more to what she had been trying to tell him; another expressed regret at not being there more for her; a third wishing Anne's soul the peace it never found on earth. There's no escaping the thought that these are not things people would typically say when someone's death was accidental or natural.

It's human nature - at least I think it is - to start thinking that had I only reached out a month before her death instead of a year afterward, I might have been able to say something, do something, suggest something, that would have made a difference for Anne and prevented this from happening. It's an ego-driven, fantasy-based notion that's complete nonsense, of course, something that is probably true of most things that can be ascribed purely to human nature. But I find I think it anyway.

And so, in a single, mighty cosmic sweep, one valued soul is returned to my life and another is taken from it forever. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and as soon as the irony stops shouting, maybe I'll figure out what it is.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oh, So That's What That Part Does...

I learned a lot of really interesting things this weekend. On Saturday morning I took a seafood cooking class and learned out how to fillet a fish. That night I went to see "The Addams Family" on Broadway and watched the great Nathan Lane (a Jersey City guy, by the way) demonstrate how a comedic master's timing and patience-in-delivery turn a humorous line into a long, loud, sustained laugh. And on Sunday, as I was leaving my boys' college after dropping them off, I learned that when the engine belt in a car breaks, a succession of failures starts, each of which has its own graphically descriptive warning light on the dashboard. (This happened, by the way, in the same area and almost a year to the day from the last car-tow adventure. [http://ben-better-left-unsaid.blogspot.com/2009/05/best-laid-plans.html].)

In case you're wondering, here's what happens when the belt breaks:

  • First, the power steering goes out. When this happens, the car does not simply revert to the old fashioned manual steering. It goes to what might be called, gorilla-on-steroids steering.
  • Fortunately, I didn't have too long to worry about the first thing, because the second thing that happens is that the warning light for the battery-recharging system comes on. Pulling over and flipping frantically through the owner's manual, I found where it said whatever you do, don't turn the car off, because you may not be able to start it up again.
  • Next, having made the decision not to turn the car off, I looked at the dashboard and found the engine overheat light had now come on. Flipping frantically through the owner's manual, I found where it said whatever you do, turn the car off. I don't know much about that battery-charging stuff, but even I know engine overheating is not a positive development. In the ignition on-or-off contest, fear of engine exploding beats fear-of-charging-battery every time. Besides, had I kept the car running, who knows how many more warning lights would have lit?
Packing my wife, my mother and my sister into a cab for the ride up the turnpike to home - we'd all gone down to visit my sons at college and have dinner for Mother's Day - I rode back with the tow truck driver, grateful that both my wife and I have cel phones to keep control of the somewhat complicated logistics of the situation. Or I was grateful, until I reached into my pocket and found I'd forgotten to give my wife's cel back to her. Fortunately, my sister has a cel phone also. Unfortunately (not to mention inexplicably), she keeps it turned off. Along the way, their cab driver made polite conversation: the weather, songs on the radio, how he gave up driving for a while because of his fear of driving near trucks, etc. (As told to me by my wife, so help me I'm not making that up.)

The car is still at the mechanic's as I write this. It should be done soon. ("Soon" here being a euphemism for "was supposed to be done over two hours ago.) It's about seven years old. My hope has always been to have a car that lasts ten years. I haven't made it yet (my first two cars lasted eight and seven years, respectively) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed this one will work out. It's not that I like driving old cars. It's that I like not making car payments.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From a Grateful Part-Time New Yorker

I thought this pretty much stands up on its own, with no further comment from me...



REMARKS BY POLICE COMMISSIONER RAYMOND W. KELLY

TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010




NEW YORK CAN BREATHE A LITTLE EASIER TODAY.

THAT’S DUE IN LARGE MEASURE TO THE INVESTIGATIVE MUSCLE AND ALACRITY OF NYPD DETECTIVES AND FBI AGENTS, NOT TO MENTION THE EAGLE-EYED CUSTOMS PERSONNEL ON DUTY LAST NIGHT AT JFK.

I ALSO WANT TO COMMEND UNITED STATES ATTORNEY PREET BHARARA AND HIS ABLE ASSISTANTS, THEY WORKED CLOSELY WITH THE NYPD, NOT ONLY IN THIS CASE, BUT IN PROSECUTING MANY OTHERS TO MAKE CERTAIN THAT CRIMINALS IN THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK FACE JUSTICE.

THE PATHFINDER IN TIMES SQUARE HAD A LICENSE PLATE BELONGING TO ANOTHER CAR. THE DASHBOARD VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER HAD BEEN REMOVED.

THE BIG BREAK IN THIS CASE CAME WHEN A DETECTIVE CLIMBED UNDERNEATH THE PATHFINDER AND LIFTED THE VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER FROM THE BOTTOM OF ITS ENGINE BLOCK.

THAT LED TO THE REGISTERED OWNER OF THE VEHICLE, AND SOON THEREAFTER TO THE SUSPECT WHO PURCHASED THE VEHICLE AND WHO DROVE IT BOMB-LADEN INTO THE HEART OF TIMES SQUARE.

IT WAS DEJA VU.

AFTER THE FIRST ATTACK ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, A DETECTIVE LIFTED THE VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER OFF THE ENGINE BLOCK OF THE RYDER TRUCK THAT EXPLODED THERE.

THAT LED TO THE ARREST OF THE BOMBERS WHEN THEY TRIED TO GET THEIR DEPOSIT BACK FROM THE TRUCK RENTAL AGENT.

WE COULDN’T HAVE GOTTEN TO THE PATHFINDER’S ENGINE BLOCK IN THE FIRST PLACE, HOWEVER, WERE IT NOT FOR THE HEROIC ACTIONS OF THE NYPD’S BOMB SQUAD.

THE BOMB SQUAD SUITED UP IN HOT WEATHER IN OPPRESSIVE PROTECTIVE GEAR AND WORKED PAINSTAKINGLY FROM 7:00 P.M. ON SATURDAY TO THREE THE FOLLOWING MORNING TO DISMANTLE ALL OF THE DANGEROUS PARTS OF THE CAR BOMB:

THE TIMERS, THE WIRES, THE M-88s, THE PROPANE TANKS, THE GASOLINE CONTAINERS AND THE GUN LOCKER FILLED WITH FERTILIZER.

THE WHOLE LETHAL ASSEMBLY TURNED THE PATHFINDER INTO ONE BIG HURT LOCKER.

ONLY AFTER ALL THE BOMB PARTS WERE RENDERED SAFE AND REMOVED FROM THE VEHICLE, COULD IT BE TOWED TO OUR FORENSIC GARAGE FOR AN EXHAUSTIVE EXAMINATION THAT INCLUDED THE ENGINE BLOCK.

BY MY CALCULATION, 53 HOURS AND 17 MINS ELAPSED FROM THE TIME FAISAL SHAHZAD CROSSED BROADWAY IN HIS PATHFINDER TO THE TIME HE WAS APPREHENDED AT KENNEDY AIRPORT.

JACK BAUER MAY HAVE CAUGHT HIM IN “24.” BUT IN THE REAL WORLD, 53’s NOT BAD.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO PLAYED A PART IN BRINGING THIS SUSPECT TO JUSTICE IN RECORD TIME.

TRUE, WE CAN ALL BREATHE A LITTLE EASIER. BUT WE HAVE TO STAY VIGILANT, NONETHELESS. THAT’S BECAUSE IN THE EYES OF TERRORISTS, NEW YORK IS AMERICA, AND THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO KILL US.



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Get Ready to Rumble, Comrade


In today's post we examine the upcoming Senatorial race

in Connecticut where Linda McMahon, who is the wife of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, is seeking the Republican nomination to replace retiring Democrat Chris Dodd. In keeping with our policy of sparing no effort or expense to give our readers the best information possible, we've arranged for a computer-generated artist's conception of a typical day in Congress if McMahon, seen in the photo on the right in a policy conference with famed intellectual "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, is elected.

video

Ok, so it's not really Congress. Dammit. It is, as you no doubt know by now, the Ukrainian parliament's idea of debate, in which the "filibuster" is replaced by the "head-buster". (Most people have probably watched this already, or at least heard about it, but since it's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time, I thought it was worth another mention.) Kind of makes the American Congress (which, for overseas readers, is divided into two houses, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal), seem like high tea. As evidenced by the video, it didn't take long for debate and compromise to devolve into eggs and smoke bombs. (Accounts vary as to whether the projectile-debating included tomatoes, but you get the idea.) You could ask why the members of Parliament had eggs and smoke bombs with them in the first place, but then you'd miss the real fun that came after. It was a riot. Literally.

The news media, as usual, have presented all of this out of context. The real story is that Ukrainian officials, upon separating from the former Soviet Union, sought to model their new government after our American democracy, and so decided to watch C-Span. Cable stations being different in the Ukraine than in the U.S., they ended up watching the MSG network instead and saw Rangers hockey fans up in the blue seats just after beer sales were cut off. Not knowing very much English, the Ukrainians never reali zed the mistake, and an unfortunate misunderstanding - not to mention several viral videos - were the result. Can't we all just get along?

Semi-Related Item: Speaking of People in Mysterious Faraway Places Behaving Badly...

This week, the government of the sovereign nation of Ari
zona (which shares a somewhat porous border with Mexico) passed a law that, in effect, allows Arizona police to ask anyone they think could possibly be an illegal immigrant for proof of citizenship and, if they can't produce it on the spot, take them into custody. While that does sound a bit like some World War II B-movie where a jack-booted brownshirt demands to see "your papers!", I don't think civil libertarians here need to be too concerned. Arizona law enforcement has stated very clearly that they will not use the new law as an opportunity to profile Hispanics. You believe them, don't you? The law is no doubt intended to have them stopping people with blond hair and blue eyes, in an effort to prosecute illegal Swedes who are flooding the market with bootleg Abba cd's. (I can hear the drums, Fernando...)