February 18th, 2009

Milk is liquid secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals.

My Cheerios were soaked in milk this morning.


Utter Crap

February 13th, 2009

A few years ago, the faucet in our kitchen sink gave up the ghost. After faithfully spewing San Jose municipal water since 1969, it could spew no more.

In the usual way of things around our house, the death of a faucet could easily lead to a totally remodeled kitchen thusly:

  1. The faucet is dead, so replace the faucet.
  2. Why put a new faucet in that grotty, chipped, painted nasty sink? Replace the sink as well.
  3. Why put a new sink in that knife-scarred, moisture swollen particle-board-on-groovy-1960s Formica counter top?
  4. Replace the counters.
  5. Why put new counters on those cheap, battered, sloppily painted cabinets? Replace the cabinetry.
  6. Why expend all this work and money to restore such a basically flawed kitchen with less than two feet of usable counter surface, one tiny work light above the sink, and pitifully little storage? Remodel the entire space.

Instead of Kitchen Apocalypse, I decided to search for a middle ground, a place where I can avoid spending too much money and still have a decent faucet in our kitchen until we could work on a permanent solution.

Silly me.

I bought a Bridgewater faucet from Orchard Supply Hardware. It looked like the Delta single-handle faucet I grew up with, except for the pull-out spray nozzle.

I installed it. It looked great.

It broke in less than two weeks. The diverter valve for spray nozzle didn't divert.

I exchanged for a new faucet.

It's been three or four years of annoyance ever since. It restricts the water flow so much that it takes minutes to fill a pot to cook pasta. The base is seriously pitted and corroded. The little hot/cold indicator button on the underside of the handle has worn off. The entire faucet body has broken loose from the sink.

It took a Christmas gift to reveal the final insult.

My parents bought us a water filter that replaces the aerator on your kitchen faucet. It works like a charm. The water tastes great and it doesn't take any counter or fridge space.

Then I noticed water dripping slowly from the faucet whenever I used the filter. I naturally assumed that the filter or the filter seal was faulty. Then I noticed that the faucet neck itself seemed to be weeping.

In less than five years, the faucet has corroded to the point that when water is under the slightest pressure to push it through the filter, it also pushes through lots of little pinholes in the chromed faucet neck.

So our faucet is actually a lacy block of pot metal held together by a skin of chrome.

I wasn't expecting the moon and stars for my $40. I just wanted a faucet that would work for a while instead of melting down like a sugar cube in hot tea.

So if you're a lowlife and you need something shiny that looks like a faucet to replace the meth lab fixture in that rental you're trying to move, buy the cheapest thing you can find.

In the meantime, I'll be on my back, contorted under our sink, swearing a blue streak.

Land of the Long Knives

February 7th, 2009

Last month, a disturbed man went on a stabbing spree with an 8-inch knife in a Belgian daycare center.

He killed two kids and an adult staffer. Only nine out of 21 kids were left uncut.

Sadly, this headline barely rates a second glance these days.

What raised it above the usual nauseating drone of the news was a comment from area bakery owner Bie Hoornaert:

"[It's] something you hear about from America, not here."

I'm still gnawing on this statement, trying to figure out what it means for me.

Obviously, it's a little window on how the world sees America. We're the land of the free, the brave, and of psychotic baby-stabbers.

I think it's also a good example of how humans identify themselves through collective delusion and selective reinforcement.

The delusion is "we are the good people, the really human humans". You see this delusion expressed time and again in the names that groups of people have for themselves that often translate simply as "the people".

The reinforcement of the delusion comes from the natural inclination of people to believe good things about themselves and to weigh personal experience so heavily. For example, "I'm a good person. I may kick the cat every once in a while, but I was tired and he was yowling and he deserved it." and "I know a lot of people. None of them are pedophiles or murderers. All of them are Belgian. Therefore, no Belgians are pedophiles or murderers, which is convenient because I'm Belgian and I like to believe good things about myself."

The media accelerates this reinforcement by focusing on the lurid and gruesome, so that after a couple generations of Rambos and My Lais and Abu Ghraibs and Dahmers and US Marines throwing puppies off cliffs, a baker in Belgium can forget that America doesn't hold a monopoly on atrocity.


December 17th, 2008

I sat in a church for an hour and a half, barely able to breathe, tears filling my eyes.

Twelve voices enveloped me. The perfect sound blasted away any pretense or pose.

My cynicism could not withstand the onslaught. I was left bare.

Their music burnished my soul.

I went to Chanticleer's Christmas concert last Tuesday night at Mission Santa Clara de Asis on the University of Santa Clara campus.

I'd gone a few years ago and, sitting back in the general admission seating, I had heard the most beautiful music.

This year I was determined. I bought second-row tickets months and months in advance.

I recognized only a few pieces in their program. It didn't matter.

Chanticleer's 12 perfectly blended voices stunned and delighted. I've never heard so large a crowd stay so silent. Usually a cell phone brays or a sanitorium refugee hacks and coughs and breaks the spell. The magic went unbroken.

I remember watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" as a kid. The ideas and images filled me with wonder and awe. Chanticleer's music did the same. The universe can be a beautiful and wonderful place.

At the end, we all stood and clapped like mad. Their encore was a favorite of mine.

And then it was done.

Earlier in the evening, I recognized a woman from the gym. She sat in the front row and I rushed forward to introduce her to my family.

My wife tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the singers emerging to meet and greet.

I saw Eric Alatorre walking towards me, he of the outrageously waxed mustache and foundation-quaking bass voice. He's sung with Chanticleer for 18 years, anchoring the group and shaking the walls with his impossibly deep, rich sound. Yes, he is a hero of mine.

I bowed to him, palms up in a Wayne's World "we're not worthy" manner. He chuckled and held out his hand. I took it and gave it a squeeze. All I could say was "Thank you so much."

I am in awe.

California Sucks

December 9th, 2008

I was born in California. My dad was born in California. My dad's folks were born in Washington State and Canada, but I don't hold that against them.

So I feel it's with some authority that I say that California has an image problem. Perception conflicts with reality.

Perception: California frightens and befuddles the rest of the nation with its progressive, Left Coast, San Francisco politics.

Reality: Sure, medical marijuana is legal, but we also just changed our state Constitution to prevent gay folks from getting married. Take a long drive through the Central Valley and try to find something other than country or ranchera music on the airwaves.

Perception: California leads the world in innovation and technology.

Reality: Most of the brain power behind that innovation needs to be imported. California's public school system consistently ranks 46th out of 50, behind such academic powerhouses as Arkansas (43), Wyoming (11), and Minnesota (2). Looking at what friends are paying in rent to live in Cupertino to ensure their kids a good public school education, it might make more sense to move to Wyoming.

Perception: California exults in free and creative expression, raising the eyebrows of all those other staid, nerdy, uptight states. Plus we helped make the entertainment industry what it is today.

Reality: Sure, a lot of southern coastal California might have the weather that allows folks to let it all hang out, but when it comes to state budgets, it's another story. California is dead last in the nation in state-funded arts spending. Would you like a grant to help your groundbreaking French horn quartet? Sorry, we're busy building prisons. As far as entertainment, is anyone actually going to pay money to watch Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? The best thing in the first Underworld flick was Kate Beckinsale's skin-tight-bodysuit-clad ass. The producers couldn't rope Ms. Beckinsale in for a third round. Maybe her ass has a cameo. Still wouldn't be worth my time.

So when you hear a Californian crowing about the Golden State, kindly ask them to pipe down.

Conversely, if you are confronted by a New Yorker droning on about how California sucks, that the best pizza, the best bagels, etc., feel free to beat them with anything heavy and unyielding, just because.