Monday, April 30, 2007

Food for Thought

Restaurant diner: I was wondering how you prepare your chickens.
Waitress: Oh, it's nothing too special, sir. We just tell them straight out that they're going to die. ~  Author Unknown (mercifully)

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is one of my favorite columnists. She had a tough act to follow in our local paper, because she was chosen to replace Lewis Grizzard's column after he passed on to join his dog Catfish. She's a nice Southern lady, who is something of a political liberal, which makes her a bit of an unusual Southern lady. She doesn't get political very often, though. Most of the time she deals with the idiosyncrasies of the world around her, mixed with some nostalgia.

The other day, I thought she had lost her mind.

Her column opens, "I always wanted to try my hand at being a waitress. When I was young, it looked like a pretty good job. Romantic even."

I thought to myself, "Rheta, my dear, you cannot possibly imagine how wrong you are."

Ms. Johnson goes on to describe how she finally got her wish by getting to be a waitress at a charity fundraiser. Any illusions she had about the "romance" of waiting tables was quickly dispatched. To wit:
First of all, people ask for things you don't have...If you run out of lemon, they want lemon. If the coffee pot is low, they want coffee. If you manage to balance a dessert tray with 15 tempting choices, they choose something not on the tray...

If you've ever seen the 'I Love Lucy' episode when Lucy and Ethel got jobs at the candy factory, you seen me in action as a waitress.
I understand, Rheta, I truly understand.

I've never been a waitress myself (or a waiter or server or any other term associated with that form of self-abuse), but I was a busboy, and both my parents were in the restaurant business for around twenty years each. In fact, people used to ask my father if I was going to go into the business someday. He would smile proudly and say, "If he does, I'll break both his arms."

This extreme measure proved to be totally unnecessary. After around five years of working part time in the kitchen and in the dining rooms, I had no desire to continue down that path. Heck, to this day, I still don't enjoy eating in restaurants, if it comes down to that.

The agony of the waitress/waiter/server is just the tip of the iceberg in the restaurant business. This is not to say that all is misery in the food biz. My mother used to talk about the fun times she had running her diner. There was that June 17 in 1968 and a day in November, 1979.

Well, maybe it's not that bad, but, lord, it isn't good.

I admire people who are able to run restaurants while keeping their sanity and solvency. It's difficult to maintain either in the food business. It's hectic, back-breaking, and frustrating. Today's successful restaurant is tomorrow's successful restaurant; unfortunately, tomorrow's restaurant took over the space vacated when today's restaurant folded.

There are people who are successful in the business. My mother's diner was still going strong 20 years after she bought it from the nice little old ladies who weren't making a dime on it. My father, who wasn't going to risk his own money in this business (beyond Mom's place) managed restaurants for a variety of companies, some of which are probably still around.

It's just that people have this crazy idea that running a restaurant is easy. They also think that cooking for friends and family translates easily to cooking dozens of different dishes simultaneously for (hopefully) hordes of customers, planning menus for the coming week or so, buying ingredients daily, managing and paying employees, while somehow making a profit.

Hopefully, Ms. Johnson will have learned from her experience that the food business is not all beer and skittles (which sounds pretty awful, now that I think of it) and not attempt to make an ever greater mistake by trying her hand as --gasp-- a cook.

She seems like a smart lady; I don't think anyone will need to threaten to break any extremities.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Calling for Good Conduct

Blogging turns you into a carnivore. ~ Dave Weinberger

Tim O'Reilly is a well-known and respected publisher of some of the best technically oriented computer books available. Jimmy Wales is the well-known and and considerably less respected creator of Wikipedia. This odd couple has come together to suggest that a Code of Conduct for bloggers is required. Predictably, the blogging community (whatever that means) is up in arms at the prospect of maintaining civility in the blogosphere.

The proposed CoC includes such ideals as:
  • Banning anonymous comments (sure, a posting from "kewldude" identifies the poster immediately;
  • Ignoring trolls (like that's ever worked);
  • Displaying (if you can believe this) a logo in the form of a sheriff's badge with the words "civility enforced" emblazoned on it;
  • Alternatively displaying (and this is as silly as the badge) a logo in the form of an exploding stick of dynamite with the words "anything goes";
  • Warning readers that the blogger is not responsible for the potential tripe posted by commenters (as though the stick of dynamite wasn't bad enough).
Gentlemen, I predict that even if this bit of hubris was adopted, it would be every bit as effective as the Code of the National Association of Broadcasters was in keeping gratuitous sex and excessive violence off our television screen. About the only thing the NAB Code ever managed to make stick is the prohibition against showing people drinking alcoholic beverages in commercials.

This attempt at corralling the wild-and-woolly universe of the blog was evidently inspired by the threats posted on the blog of Kathy Sierra. Now, I certainly don't condone such anti-social behavior, but, regrettably, celebrity has always brought out this sort of nut. Any entertainer of note has received such letters, and some have had the misfortune to actually be stalked by such kooks. But, anyone who wants to send a threat will do so. If they can't post it on the blog, they'll send it directly via e-mail or even use -- hard as this may be to imagine -- a letter.

If one sets aside the threat factor, the concept of being abusive, surly, profane, and generally rude on the Internet is as old as the 'Net itself. When the Usenet ruled the ether, except for the few moderated groups, flame wars, trolls, and general abuse ruled the day. If you wanted instant ridicule, all you have to have was an AOL e-mail address and a post on a techie group.

However, I don't want to be entirely disparaging of a man of Tim O'Reilly's stature (Jimmy Wales I'll disparage all day). Therefore, I wish to make public the Gog's Blog Rules of Conduct (patent pending).
  1. It's my blog, and I'll be as dumb as I want to be as long as I can use big words while doing it. I may actually know what some of them mean.
  2. Posters to the blog, should there ever be any, must avoid bad language, especially clever anatomically impossible acts that I don't understand.
  3. Posters must not levy threats of violence, because, frankly, I don't deal well with stress, and I'm not famous enough to rate any special protection from the authorities.
  4. Everything in this blog is my opinion. Sorry about that.
  5. There's no conscious plagiarism going in this blog, but I must warn readers that I have been known to channel Ernest Hemingway -- on his bad days.
  6. This blog may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the Commissioner. Price does not include tax, title or dealer prep. Your mileage may vary. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Some settling may occur in shipment. Portions of the preceding were prerecorded.
  7. Readers coming to this blog in search of enlightenment, entertainment, or brilliant prose are going to be sorely disappointed.

For those who are really gluttons for punishment, here are some earlier commentaries about blogging:

Much Ado About Blogs
Blog Furor
The Blogs Are Gonna Getcha
To Blog or Not to Blog: Much Ado About Not Much
Checking Out the Daughter's Blog

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stupidity Abounds - Updated

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe. ~ Albert Einstein

[April 14 Update: I hate it when someone says it better than I do. Jason Whitlock's column puts the whole thing into its proper perspective.]

Sometimes people are so stupid ...


Thanks, Ed.

Don Imus is stupid.

He can apologize and talk about how he's doing comedy, but he wasn't funny when he was in Cleveland, Ohio 30 years ago, and he isn't funny now. How he can claim calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed ho's" was supposed to be comical is beyond me. Is he trying to be "cool"? Doesn't he know that "ho" means "whore"? Is he THAT stupid?

Al Sharpton is stupid.

It must be hell to fall out of the limelight. Inviting Imus onto his own show is nothing more than hyping both of them. The saddest part is that, thanks to his playing up of idiot Imus' remark, he just keeps magnifying the pain of the Rutgers women.

Paul Finebaum is stupid.

Paul Finebaum is host of what is supposedly a sports talk show on a sports talk radio station in Birmingham. He evidently has devoted most, if not all, of the last two days beating this subject to death. I've only heard about three minutes, but his introductory comments to an interview took the cake. He was interviewing a woman who edits a magazine of some sort and, in raising the racist issue, implied that all Southerners, particularly those in Birmingham are mostly racists and bigots.

Mr. Finebaum, for your information, Mr. Imus was tossing off his comments in New Yawk City, not Slapout, Alabama. It probably has escaped your notice, but Bull Connor is gone, and Birmingham has had black mayors for over 20 years. Not all Southerners are racists, just as not all Northerners are impolite SOB's (although the SOB to polite ratio is probably worse than the Southern racist to non-racist ratio).

The woman he was interviewing was stupid.

She called herself "a woman of color." When did that come back into fashion? What's the matter, lady, not proud of your African or Hispanic heritage? "People of color" always reminds me of a Bloom County strip where Steve Dallas' mother comments on a cute little "colored girl." Steve (whose brain had been zworfed by aliens at the time) is aghast. She reminds him of the "National Associated for the Advancement of Colored People" and says, "I don't think Negroes mind at all." Steve finally tells here that this is 1988 (that's 20 years ago, madam), and the correct term is "People of color." "People of color," she repeats, then says, "Colored people."

Reuters is stupid.

As if Imus' statement wasn't bad enough, Reuters felt the need to explain it, since it was "so racist it has mostly fallen out of modern American usage." Lawsey.

Black comics are stupid.

Some time ago, I heard Martin Lawrence doing an intro for the "Kings of Comedy." It was a disgustingly racist opening monologue. I never heard anyone get upset about it. It seems to be okay for the black comedians to use racist epithets and to spew out vulgarities about women. Oh, Bill Cosby has gotten upset about it, but all that's done is get black people mad at him.

Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor did a sketch in 1975 on the first season of Saturday Night Live that probably wouldn't air today. It's one of the funniest comedy sketches I've ever seen, as well as one of the most insightful. Chase is a personnel interviewer, and Pryor is an applicant for a job, Mr. Wilson. They do a word association test. The entire transcript (and it's not very long) is here. It's the climax of the bit that I always remember.

The word association starts innocently enough, but Chase starts using racist terms for blacks, to which Pryor replies with racist terms for whites. It builds to this:

Chase: (getting aggressive) Jungle bunny!
Pryor: (getting angry) Honky!
Chase: Spade!
Pryor: Honky Honky!
Chase: Nigger!
Pryor: Dead Honky!
Chase: Okay, Mr. Wilson, I think you're qualified for this job. How about a starting salary of $5,000? [Remember, this is 1975]
Pryor: Your momma!
Chase: Uh, $7,500?
Pryor: Your grandmomma!
Chase: $15,000, Mr. Wilson. You'll be the highest paid janitor in America. Just, don't, don't hurt me, please.
Pryor: (cordially) Okay.

Now, that's funny.