Saturday, December 31, 2005


Pretty ironic that my personal best year ever - professionally, I think, and definitely in terms of my great family and friends - was possibly the worst year, geo-politically and environmentally, in decades. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, political scandals and a popular press too impotent and insecure to really cover any of them adequately, or at least with some modicum of reflection, restraint and responsibility. Never has it felt so frustrating to watch things fall apart before your eyes yet feel so absolutely powerless to do anything about it. Or so angry that the most powerful people in the world who can change things clearly feel it is not in their best interests to do so.

Has it always been this way? Probably. But usually you find out the world is fallng about retrospectively, when it really is too late to do anything but cut your losses. 2005 was disaster in real time.

365 Days!

It's been a while since I posted, not because there hasn't been anything to post, but because there's been too much going on! So, on this New Year's Eve, which I'm spending untangling yarn and watching "Nip/Tuck" on DVD (the least subtle TV show in the history of the medium), I'll leave any readers with this mind-boggling fact: President Bush, over the course of his tenure, has spent a whopping 365 days at his ranch in Texas. And counting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Life in the Freezer

I love David Attenborough documentaries, not just for his avuncular narration but for the way he casually blindsides you with amazing facts you'd never heard (or didn't remember). For example, did you know 3/4 of the earth's fresh water is frozen in Antarctica? Or that krill is the most populous creature on earth? You learn both of these things in the first ten minutes of "Life in the Freezer," more than you do in the entirety of the pretty but intellectually messy "March of the Penguins."

Bye-Bye ID

A judge just ruled that "intelligent design" can't be taught in a PA classroom. Because, you know ... it's stupid.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tom Chapin: You Know, for Kids!

For anyone out there with kids, or with friends with kids, I can't recommend highly enough the new disc by Tom Chapin, "Some Assembly Required." Baby Z. loves it so far, and the lyrics are clever enough that neither Alma nor myself have gone nuts (yet). It's kinda bluegrass, kinda goofy but mostly really creative, with songs like "Planet Bruno" (a dramatic nod to "Space Oddity") and "Brown Gold," a song about a compost pile). It's silly fun.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bouncing Bear!

I never see anything until way too late, but if you haven't caught this clip of a tranquilized bear bouncing off a trampoline ... enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

By Popular Demand: Tacos

OK, so here's the entire Sin City Breakfast Tacos recipe, with two variations (potato and egg, and egg, pepper, onion and tomato). It's ultimately a pretty easy recipe, though I suspect it gets quicker and easier the more time you make it. But I agree with Rodriguez who claims once you start making it, it'll become a mainstay dish.

Also, keep in mind there's a slight bit of eye-balling here, so let experience be your guide. And as for the eggs, it's the standard eggs/milk scrambled egg combo. Enjoy!

Sin City Breakfast Tacos
Feeds about 4 (or fewer, if you’re really hungry)


2 cups flour
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter (or lard)

Crumble together until coarse (like corn meal)

Add 3/4 cup warm water, mix until sticky, remove sticky clumps, add more water to bowl, repeat until all dough is sticky and combined into a big mound.

Kneed sticky dough in hands or in mixer for 2 minutes, until smooth and elastic
Break dough up into 8-10 golf ball sized balls
Dampen cloth with warm water and let cloth sit on dough for 20 minutes. (This is a good time to prepare and cook the eggs … see below …)

Pre-heat pan medium-high
Flatten dough into discs, roll flat, place on heat, cook 8 seconds then flip, then cook 1-1 1/2 minutes until bubbles form, flip and press edges, move to tortilla warmer.

Potato and egg tacos:

Peel 2 medium potatoes, chop
Fry in corn oil, medium heat, then add salt (kosher salt or sea salt) and pepper. Cook until crisp but tender, then remove, drain and add more salt and pepper to taste. They should taste a bit like French fries.

Butter pan at medium-high, then reduce to medium, add 3 scrambled eggs (with milk), then potatoes. Cook slow (turn off heat before it overcooks).

Tomato, onion, pepper, eggs:

Dice corn tortillas
Dice tomato, onion, jalapeno
Use oil to fry up corn tortillas, remove and drain, add salt and pepper
Drain excess oil from pan and throw in onions, tomatoes and peppers. Cook two minutes. Move to pan, add 3 eggs/milk and corn tortilla chips, cook a couple of minutes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Breakfast Tacos

After watching the “Sin City” special edition, and specifically Robert Rodriguez’s mouthwatering recipe for breakfast tacos, I decided to follow his lead and make them for dinner. And you know what? They were awesome. One was potato, then other tomato, onion and jalapeno. But the secret was the homemade tortillas. I agree with Rodriguez: once you make your own tortillas, you will never get those nasty, rubbery things at the store again. So, to help better the world, here is his family tortilla recipe:


2 cups flour
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter (or lard)

Crumble together until coarse (like corn meal)

Add 3/4 cup warm water, mix until sticky, remove sticky clumps, add more water to bowl, repeat until all dough is sticky and combined into a big mound.

Kneed sticky dough in hands or in mixer for 2 minutes, until smooth and elastic
Break dough up into 8-10 golf ball sized balls
Dampen cloth with warm water and let cloth sit on dough for 20 minutes

Pre-heat pan medium-high
Flatten dough into discs, roll flat, place on heat, cook 8 seconds then flip, then cook 1-1 1/2 minutes until bubbles form, flip and press edges, move to tortilla warmer.

So good!


I had to see "KIng Kong" today. No, I wasn't forced, nor was I particularly compelled to. But I knew I had to see it as close to opening day as possible before the marketing gets even more crass and scenes/ads/tie-ins become inescapable.

The verdict? About as good as it could be, which is not the same thing as great. Really, the 1933 version had it all, and Peter Jackson is very faithful to the original, so all the new one can really offer is better effects. Some are great - Kong, the tri-dino struggle, the spider pit - some aren't (the stampeding dinos). The film should have been shorter, with either a little less emphasis on effects/cityscapes, or with more interaction between Naomi Watts and the ape (she and he are stellar, but anyone who saw her in "Mulholland Drive" or Andy Sirkis as Gollum knew the pair are capable of anything), and probably the latter. As it stands, too much introduced falls by the wayside (what happened to Jamie Bell?). Not surprising, considering the movie is called, after all, "King Kong," and not "Just More Than Minimally Fleshed Out Supporting Characters."

Oh, and Jack Black? About 13% miscast.

But I still love Peter Jackson for turning this thing around so quickly, and approaching the subject matter mostly with good taste, modestly and heart. It never feels like the first installment of a franchise or a mere summer movie, nor does it feel quite as portentous as the "Rings" trilogy.

The "Miami Vice" trailer looked pretty good, but I love Michael Mann. It looks like a continuation of a his late night hi-def obsession begun with "Ali" and continued to good result with "Collateral."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Belly, Teddy, Poop

"Belly," "teddy" and "poop" are the latest additions to Baby Z.'s vocabulary, all verbalized for the first time today. Of course, she may go days or longer before using those words again, but I know they'll be bouncing around her noggin until then. Maybe one day (tomorrow?) I'll post her entire random lexicon.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bloody Knuckles

Forget the snow. Today my knuckles got so dry they cracked and actually bled. I thought slathering them in Vaseline would forstall this bit of nastiness, but I guess now it's a repair mission and not a prevention mission. So if you're wondering why my hands are glistening like I've just been buttering my toast barehanded, blame it on the petroleum jelly.

The coolest thing I've seen lately is the new deluxe edition of Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City." This is the first time, I think, that his technical ingenuity has been matched with material worth his time. Watching the "15 Minute Flik School" - or, for that matter, the special feature that lets you watch the entire film in ten minutes, with no special effects, exclusively in front of extensive green screens - you get a real good idea how massive an accomplishment the film is. It's even revealed that there are entire scenes of the cast interacting, fighting, you name it, where no two actors were in the same room at the same time. Elijah Wood never met Mickey Rourke, but he fought him on screen. Brittany Murphy only worked on the movie for one day, but she's in all three parts. When the principals finally meet in a bar - Rourke, Murphy, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Bruce Wilis - none of them were ever on set together. Fascinating.

Best of all, though, may be Rodriguez's recipe feature for "Sin City Breakfast Tacos," which is not only fun and funny, but looks quite appetizing. In fact, I may try cooking them for the fam this weekend. Rodriguez may in the end be far from my favorite filmmaker, but for his renaissance man career alone he's my hero.

Oh, and the snarkiest DVD special feature I've encountered in a while is on the fourth volume of the ingeniously bizarre "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." Press "play all" and it does just that: plays every single season four episode at once, each given a little square on screen (a la "The Brady Bunch" credits), the sound blurring together into aggressive white noise. It took me a full two minutes to get the joke and figured out they had pulled a fast one on me.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Martha Hearts Nirvana

You can't trust the press, especially the British press, but this is so strange it has to be true. Does this mean Nirvana themed cookware is far behind?

Lady Sov

I saw Lady Sovereign perform a couple of nights ago. Easily one of the most entertaining, gleefully, willfully uneven shows i've ever seen (or written about). Totally punk rock, too. I kept expecting her to throw up on the crowd, whom she was remarkably confrontational with, teasing and mocking one minute, sweet-talking the next. She's only 18 - can she keep it together? Signed by Jay-Z to Def Jam, she's either going to be a big Stateside success, a cult hero to underground hip-hop fans, indie-losers and internet music nerds or (I fear) a 5'1" British white female novelty dragged on stage on some horrible Def Jam package tour or awards show appearance. The girl can sure hold her alcohol, though.

Apparently she's a hit or miss live performer, shutting things down and storming off when things aren't up to her specifications or standards (whatever they may be), but why shouldn't she? When the hype comes to you without you lifting a finger, you don't owe anyone anything. I hope she takes advantage of that freedom, though collaborations with Basement Jaxx and rumored work with Missy Elliott show she's heading in the right, weird direction.

Of course, the same could have been said of M.I.A., who released a great debut disc, sucked live and wouldn't disappoint many if she retired to a life of agit-prop and art-school projects.


Over the past two days I got to speak with both Joss Whedon (creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," plus co-writer of "Toy Story," among many projects) and Judd Apatow (creator of "Undeclared," producer of "Anchorman," "Freaks and Geeks," "The Ben Stiller Show" and more). Whedon talked about keeping his promise to the cast of "Firefly" - namely, employment - by re-casting them in his feature debut "Serenity," a pretty savvy big-screen sequel the the cruely aborted series "Firefly." Apatow talked about his nearly unique skill at humanizing humiliation, allowing his cast to improvise and making "The 40 Year Old Virgin," a teen sex comedy starring grown-ups.

Both writer/directors have had pretty remarkable careers, though Apatow is clearly more of an underdog sort. Whedon, on the other hand, a third-generation TV writer, has had his share of success, but is so adored by his fan base that he's set for life. Let's see what he does with "Wonder Woman," which he's set to write and direct. He said he's barely started the script, which means to me that he's barely started making the script strong. He said he's taken a lot of heart in the success of "Batman Begins," so hopefully he's also taken the best ideas from that re-imagining and jettisoned the dumb stuff.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Apparently, the producers of Live 8 are suing Anna Nicole Smith for being, well, skanky.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Howard Stern

I rarely listened to Howard Stern growing up. Even back then I thought it pretty puerile stuff, though compared to the competition Stern was Bob Edwards. I never found him terribly offensive, however, just tedious, the same thing day-in and day-out, and almost single-handedly responsible for my inability to listen to morning radio.

Still, there was always something human about the guy, whether his insecurities or his apparent off-air honesty. One of the keys to his low-key lifestyle was his odd hours - up early, in bed early - and like any good workaholic, rarely making the rounds at parties. But he also had three daughters with a woman he was married to for 21 years.

Stern and his wife, “60 Minutes” reminded me tonight, divorced back in 2001, and at the time the separation was kept kind of mysterious. Tonight the show introduced his current girlfriend, whom he met five years ago (hmm, do the math). Most disappointing about the pairing is that this new love in his life is, of all things, a model. Of course. How predictable. And how banal.

Why aren’t more of these celebrity dissolutions like Springsteen’s : he married a model, which turned out to be a mistake, then ended up marrying the modest looking Jersey Girl, now the mother of his kids, instead. Usually it’s the other way around, as is apparently the case with Stern and countless other couplings of the rich and famous.

So long, everyday guy image, Howard. Enjoy your model.

My Kind of (China) Town

When I moved to Chicago, one of my first goals was to find a good Chinese restaurant. Maybe not as good as New York, Toronto, San Francisco or even anything in Philly's Chinatown or the local suburban places where I grew up, but something at least good enough. I quickly threw in the towel, however, having counted at least 20 attempts that all ended in failure. At one point I even went through all the reviews I could find and picked what looked like the best bet in the city, for one last try, and it turned out to be a place I'd eaten at years earlier (and which proved disappointing the second time as well). So I gave up. Chicago has great Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese ... but Chinese? I guess not.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover an OK place here in Oak Park, Szechwan Beijing, with pretty good food and a snazzy new flash-adorned website. I've only eaten there once or twice so far, but it was not bad. Friends were talking about the enormous fish there (pets, not food), and it reminded me to keep the place in mind next takeout night. Maybe come Christmas I'll give it another try.


The so-called "unrated edition" is a frequently enlisted marketing tool for the DVD release of either controversial or outright shitty movies. Nowhere, however, do they ever mention that "unrated" simply means the material hasn't been submitted to the ratings board, and that were the additional footage submitted the results could just as easily evince anything from a PG to PG-13 to (typically at most) an R rating, and very, very rarely anything as scandalous as an NC-17.

Yet the touting of the "unrated" edition is rarely as desperate as this "Dukes of Hazzard" packaging. Note the red sticker (click image to enlarge). It should be mentioned, however, that said additional salacious material is limited to a few boobs, bad words and very mild pot humor, and runs less than a minute. It should also be mentioned that that the movie is really, really bad, and not worth watching for those scant extras seconds or otherwise. Stick to something cool this week, like Truffaut's' "Shoot the Piano Player," a much better DVD bet.

Cat Training

Lately - well, the past several months, off and on - Tallulah has been waking me up at 3:30 in the morning. She meows and meows and knocks crap over until I get up from bed, walk downstairs and top off her food. If she does it a second time, usually around 5am, all I have to do is get out of bed and walk her downstairs. That buys me another couple of hours.

Last night was the final straw, though, so I sought out a solution on the internet. Among many answers - plus the in-retrospect obvious observation that in fact I had been reinforcing the cat to wake me up, with the promise of reward, and in fact had been trained myself - came this site, which intriguingly calls for a passive/aggressive response. Every time I see Tallulah napping, I'm supposed to wake *her* up! That way she'll eventually get so tired she'll have to sleep all night. It's now just a 10-14 day process of ignoring her, training her and otherwise torturing her. About five times already today I've found her cuddled up somewhere, then grabbed her and basically dropped her next to the baby for "fun" time. I don't think she minds yet, but dammit, she will soon enough!

Records Playing

I thought, for all five of you reading, to list the records (or CDs, as they're called today) I've been listening to the past week or so. In no particular order:

Randy Newman/Good Old Boys
Randy Newman/Sail Away
Depeche Mode/Playing the Angel
Mojo's The Roots of Hendrix
Pernice Brothers/Discover a Lovelier You
Bettye LaVette/I've Got My Own Hell to Raise
Roxy Music/Stranded
Thelonious Monk/Complete Riverside Recordings (Vol. 1&2)
Phil Manzanera/6pm
Phil Manzanera/50 Minutes Later
John Coltrane/The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (Discs 1&2)
John Coltrane/Heavyweight Champion: Complete Atlantic Recordings (Discs 1, 2 & 3)
Brazil Classics: Beleza Tropical 2
Beleza Tropical
Moondog/The Viking of Sixth Avenue
Jackie Mittoo/Universal Sound
The Only Ones/"Why Don't You Kill Yourself?" - The CBS Recordings
Brasil (Soul Jazz comp)
Grizzly Man soundtrack
Ennio Morricone/Crime and Dissonance
Pet Shop Boys/PopArt
Cocteau Twins/Lullabies to Violaine
Simple Minds/Real to Real

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sgt. Banhart's Lonely Hearts Club Band

With all due respect to my pal Jeff, the cover of Devendra Banhart's "Cripple Crow" is pretty cool.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Newspapers are dead! Long live newspapers!

This piece in the Chicago Tribune argues - correctly- what few have argued but should be argued, namely that newspapers will not and cannot be killed by blogs because most blogs are reacting to what they read in the traditional press. If newspapers died, who would do the reporting? Some slob posting in his underwear, getting PopTart crumbs on his keyboard? Blogs are little more than compendiums of links, collated for tastes and political preferences. Take away newspapers and there won't be much left to link to.

Speaking of which, that link above may or may not still be up by the time you click through to it, and may or may not ask you to register, and may or may not charge you to read it. That, I think, is what's killing newspapers. Everything should be made available, but factor in links to other sites and blogs as a lure to advertisers. Who knows, maybe papers like the Trib are doing that already, but I can't think any pubs run so sloppily by faceless corporate handlers would have the foresight to do something so progressive. Like the record industry, they have to wait until they’re spinning around the toilet bowl before learning to swim.


If that Springsteen honor got shot down, and this gets through, I won't know what to think.

Nuts again

To be honest, I have no idea what's going through her mind here.

No more monkeys

Baby Z., going ape.