Archive for November, 2009

Let Us Pray

The plethora of fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s typify the recent change in eating habits. That they are antiseptic, depersonalized, a gastronomic atrocity, as critics have complained, is basically true.

Some critics have declared that the fast-food restaurants have caused changes in eating habits, but it seems more likely that they simply reflect the fundamental changes that have taken place in society as a whole. Traditional social rituals have declined, and the new rituals that are replacing them—rituals based on automobiles, television, technology, and efficiency—cut across previous religious affiliations, ethnic loyalties, and class allegiances.

A meal at McDonald’s can be looked upon as having some of the character of a social or religious ritual. Rituals occur in designated places, marked by distinctive emblems such as the cross above a church, and at prescribed times, such as the sabbath. For a patron of McDonald’s, the eating rituals occur under the Sign of the Double Golden Arch and at the prescribed times of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ritual is also characterized by words and actions that have been prescribed by people other than the current performers of the ritual and that have been codified in some revered text, such as the Pledge of Allegiance or the Bible. The employees of McDonald’s who take the orders and deliver the burgers, fries, and shakes display a behavioral uniformity that is prescribed by the originators of McDonald’s and codified in the 360 pages of its standardized Operations Manual. Those responsible for carrying out the ritual have been trained at the McDonald’s analogue of a seminary, known as Hamburger University, in Elk Grove, Illinois.

Ritual is also repetitive and stereotyped, of a limited range, adhering to a largely invariable sequence. Day after day, year after year, burgers are sold at McDonald’s with virtually the same catechism of requests and replies: “I’ll have a Big Mac.” “Will there be any fries with that?” “Thank you, have a nice day.” The transactions at McDonald’s express values esteemed by the modern North American society: technological efficiency, cleanliness, service, and egalitarianism. At a McDonald’s, people find exactly what they have come to expect. They know the liturgy, and what pecuniary dues they will have to pay; they have found the comfort, the security, and the reassurance there will be no surprises that are among the benefits of any ritual.

—Peter Farb, Consuming Passions


The Truth Is Out There

Scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) revealed Monday that they are in contact with extraterrestrial beings.

The Slavic doubledomes are said to be scrutinizing pictograms that arrived in the form of crop circles; there, they say, lie the answers to some 30 questions earlier posed to the aliens by BAS researchers.

“They are currently all around us, and are watching us all the time,” Deputy Director of the Space Research Institute Lachezar Filipov said. “They are not hostile towards us; rather they want to help us, but we have not grown enough in order to establish direct contact with them. They are ready to help us but we don’t know what to request from them in case of contact.”

Filipov said that humans will never be able to communicate with these creatures via radio waves; instead, they may be reached only by the power of thought. He predicted that humans and aliens will be chatting away telepathically within ten to fifteen years.

The aliens are meanwhile deeply cranky about “people’s amoral behaviour” in the abuse of nature, Filipov said.


And This Little Piggy . . . .

Firefighters dispatched to a farm in southern Australia on a report of a possible natural-gas leak instead encountered a mammoth sow in the midst of a flatulence frolic.

“She got very excited when two trucks and 15 firies turned up and she squealed and farted and squealed and farted,” said fire chief Peter Harkins.

“I haven’t heard too many pigs fart but I would describe it as very full-on.”

Fifteen firefighters and two trucks responding to a suspected gas leak on a small farm at 10:30 on a Tuesday night may seem a tad excessive . . . except when one considers that Australia does have a tendency to periodically burst into flames and then burn for weeks and weeks. Chief Harkins in fact credited the farm family for contacting authorities: “It’s all bottled gas up here and a leaking cylinder could pose a major fire risk.”


“When we got there, as we drove up the driveway, there was this huge sow, about a [265-pound] sow, and it was very obvious where the gas was coming from,” said [] Harkins.

Harkins said the day had been wet, warm, and slightly humid.

“Smells are always exacerbated in those conditions. We got to the property and we could smell a very strong odour in the vicinity.

“It didn’t take us too long to work it out because we could both smell and hear her.”

The pig is apparently a family pet, friendly and docile. But, as the Herald Sun suggested, the animal may require a change in diet. As Harkins told a Melbourne radio station:

“I don’t know what they were feeding this thing but we certainly heard it.”

Harkins said the owner of the flatulent pig had apologised for calling 15 firefighters to his farm at Axedale, near Bendigo.

“He was a little bit embarrassed to say the least. It took us a little while to compose ourselves, to speak to him,” Harkins said of Tuesday’s incident.

The animal’s humans, protective of their pig, have sent the sow into seclusion, and refused photographers permission to snap shots of their porker. The pigs pictured on this page, then, are only possible suspects.

The River

How many trips in the world does one really want to make again? For me, not many. But I would go back to the Nile over and over, as if in mysterious return homeward, or in quest for some ancestral memory that has been only partially and tantalizingly revealed to me—as at that interval when one passes from sleep to waking. On the last evening aboard the Abu Simbel there comes to me a moment when I know the reason why I shall always want to come back to this river. Moored to the riverbank at the edge of a small village, the boat is peaceful, all energies unwound; at dusk, alone, I go up on deck and feel in my bones the chill of the coming night. In the village I see a nondescript street, children, a camel, a minaret. Far back on the river two feluccas rest as if foundered immovably upon a sandbar; the light around them is pearl-gray, aqueous, and they seem to hover so delicately on the river that it is as if they were suspended in some nearly incorporeal substance, like gauze or mist. With their furled sails, they are utterly motionless; they are like the boats on an antique china plate of my childhood. As the light fades from the sky and the stars appear, the village is silhouetted against the faintest pink of the setting sun. I am aware of only two sounds: the clinking of a bell, perhaps on some cow or donkey, and now the voice of a muezzin from the minaret, intoning the Koran’s summons in dark and monotonous gutturals. It is then, in a quick flood of recognition, that I feel certain that I have been here before, in some other century. But as the sensation disappears, almost as swiftly as it comes, I ponder whether this instant of deja vu means anything at all; after all, I am a skeptic about mystical experiences. Nonetheless, the feeling persists, I cannot quite shake it off—nor do I want to. And so I remain there in the dusk, listening to the soft muttering of the muezzin and gazing at the distance feluccas miraculously afloat in the air. And then I wonder how many others—hypnotized like me by this river and the burden of its history, and by the drama of the death along its shores and waters, and eternal rebirth in all—might have known the same epiphany.

—William Styron, “Down The Nile”


Giving Thanks

Darth Dribbles

Darth Cheney, edging ever closer to Becoming One with the birthers, the deathers, the teabaggers, and all the other far-fringers currently eating away at the corpse of the Republican Party, has decreed that President Barack Obama “doesn’t fully understand or have the same perception of the US role in the world that most Americans have.”

Obama’s a dim-bulb stumblebum traitorous Muslim Kneegrow, that what you’re sayin’, Darth?

Darth next darkly intimated that another nefarious Kneegrow, Attorney General Eric Holder, is some sort of febrile Manchurian prosecutor hell-bent on dragging terrorists up to New York so they can there propagate Evil.

“I can’t for the life of me figure out what Holder’s intent here is in having Khalid Sheikh Mohammad tried in civilian court other than to have some kind of show trial. They’ll simply use it as a platform to argue their case—it’ll be a place for them to stand up and spread the terrible ideology that they adhere to.”

Darth, who was okay with his hireling George II smooching Saudi princes, and prancing about with them hand in hand, also fulminated that Obama’s respectful bow last week to the Emperor of Japan was “fundamentally harmful” to the United States.

Dang, Darth! Sounds like mebbe you think somethin’ pretty darn drastic oughtta be done to that Kneegrow!

Darth’s bilge was spilled Monday morning on something called the Scott Hennen Show. Hennen is the smooth-talking smoothbrain assigned by the rightwing noise machine to organ-grind lies out the radio in the Fargo, North Dakota region. As evidenced in the photo to the right, Hennen is a hunter, so it is possible that at some point Darth may be compelled to shoot him in the face.


Peasant Palate: I Will Make You Gumbo

We’re a family who for 40 years flowed back together for Thanksgiving, there in a little house on the coast of California. But people, they do get old, and so the woman who rented the place to us all those years, for a modest, reasonable fee, was recently forced to pass the property on to her children, who, it develops, are Robbers. They want rent achievable only by folks who serve on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs. So this year this family will stay scattered.

A few years ago I developed a serious gumbo jones, and one year took my spike to the coast for Thanksgiving. There I succeeded in hooking all the junior members of the family. Since this year I will be unable to stand and deliver, I’m posting here the recipe, so all the scattered family can brew the drug in their own homes.

My recipe is a variation on that of the folks in the photo above, Maudice and Bill Gentry, presently of Oakland, California, formerly of Texas and New Orleans. Gumbo, associated most with New Orleans, is a West African, Afro-Caribbean dish, with French and Choctaw Indian accents. Some folks think gumbo must contain okra, but in this they are Wrong. You can put okra in it, but it’s no more necessary than is owl or monkey, which some folks also like to see floating in their gumbo.


When I Worked

November 2009
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