For Future Reference: Almanacs are Evil

Maybe They Should Watch Out for People With Cameras and Luggage and Fanny Packs, too...

Before I was born, my maternal grandfather was bedridden for some time. He spent the time listening to the radio and doodling in his encyclopedia. He blacked out teeth on famous women and drew horns and glasses on famous men. He filled up blank spaces with notes about the weather ("On January 23, 1961, it was colder in Nashville, Tennessee, than in Anchorage, Alaska!") and drawings of cigarette boxes and chickens.

I particularly like his obsession with WSM (the local radio station) and 1961, both of which are the same upside down!

I used to think that some day, I'd go out to my mother's in New Mexico and bring the encyclopedia home to Maryland. Now, though, I'm worried that if I do and am stopped for speeding, a simple rule violation might not get me a ticket; it might get me a few nights in Guantanamo Bay: transporting Books of Mass Reference across state lines.

I don't watch television news any more, if I can at all help it. Too often, they write their stories to be bait for the silly and scared among us all. With that in mind, perhaps I've bitten on this story.

The FBI has warned police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning...The bureau asked officers to keep an eye out during traffic stops and other investigations for almanacs, especially those with suspicious notes in them.
At first, the librarians carping about the privacy rights of their clients seemed a bit over the top. But if the FBI wants police to be extra careful about people carrying certain types of very common books, then maybe the book lovers are not so crazy.

The article didn't mention whether or not the FBI gave guidance on what might be considered "suspicious notes". It also doesn't say whether the FBI warning includes The Old Farmer's Almanac, which is full of suspicious notes all by itself. If threatening entire regions of the country with disastrous weather isn't suspicious, I don't know what is.

Don't worry; I don't want to use this blog to discuss my political leanings or to comment too closely on world events, but there will be times when I feel like I just can't keep my mouth shut.

Better here than during a traffic stop, eh?

Christmas Link

Can't talk right now, too busy, yadda yadda yadda. To keep you occupied, I suggest reading this. Consider it a gift.

It Walks Like a Duck

And then there was The Sparrow...
Seven passengers climb into a hollowed-out asteroid, fire the attached rockets, and fly off to another star to visit a singing alien race.
But it's not science fiction. Or so the organizers of the book group I just joined wanted to reassure me. Although the story takes place twenty to forty years down the road, and involves aliens and spacecraft, the important thing to remember is that it's not science fiction. As if that would merit a great big scarlet S. And I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Other books and movies that probably aren't science fiction either:
  • Star Wars ... Historical Romance. After all, it starts: "A long time ago..."
  • Stranger in a Strange Land ... Self Help
  • Jurassic Park ... Business Management Guide
  • Ender's Game ... Software Development Manual
  • 1984 ... Journalism (or maybe true crime?)
In a recent lecture, I heard a mystery author (that is, an author of mysteries...I knew who was speaking) say that the word "genre" is never used in a positive way. I suppose with The Sparrow, they were trying to say: No, you don't have to be a pimply teenage boy to understand this book. At any rate, The Sparrow is an exellent description of someone wanting to have faith, finding faith, and then losing it. The book stands alone, but there is a follow-up book that doesn't meet the same standard. Some day, we will realize that genre fiction requires a special kind of skill that mainline fiction does not. There is a particular convention, structure and terminology associated with genre fiction, much like there is for sonnets, for example. When an author can say something interesting and useful inside a pre-defined framework, that's a technical feat that should not be derided as "merely genre fiction". It should be celebrated. How shall I compare thee to an Antarran Solstice day?

Ludwig II, the Swan King of Bavaria

A Little Survey

Which Historical Lunatic are you? It seems I am Ludwig:

You became Crown Prince at the tender age of 3, and soon after stole a purse from a shop on the basis that everything in Bavaria belonged to you. Tragedy struck when your pet tortoise was taken away; relatives thought the six-year-old prince was too attached to it...Once, you were prevented from beheading your younger brother by the timeous arrival of a court official.

Ludwig built the fairy tale castles we all know about, like Neuschwanstein.

I think I'm scaring myself. I'll stop now.

Eat Out Twice, KyetThar PinSane and Rice, It's Very Nice, Burma Shave!

There is actually some good news in the CIA Book of Facts about Myanmar: There was a drought in 2002. This brought opium production down 27%! Other than that, there's little happy to say about the country that used to be Burma.

Did you know that the leader is called "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council"? In fact, this man is head of a junta, but it would be nicer to think of a world that really did have Peace and Development Councils, wouldn't it?

Pretty much the only thing I could think of when I heard "Burma" was "Burma Shave". No, I'm not old enough to have first-hand memories of the signs. In case you haven't heard of them, they were advertising signs along American highways where rhyming slogans were spaced out over four or five signs, with copy like this:

Although insured
Remember, kiddo
They don't pay you
They pay
Your widow
Burma-Shave
Gently amusing, I suppose. Certainly, they're something else to put in the House on the Rock. Sadly, that's about as much about Burma as I ever knew.

Oh, I suppose it's possible I might have associated Burma with Rudyard Kiplingesque stories of English adventurers, but I doubt it would have sprung immediately to mind.

But these days, I have something else I know about Myanmar: I like the food. Yum.

At any rate, I like the food served by the Burmese at two DC-area restaurants. Recently, my wife and I conducted our own small geographical eating contest by wandering down to Falls Church to compare their Burmese restaurant to our Burmese restaurant.

We've been eating at College Park's Mandalay Restaurant & Cafe since it opened. The food is always excellent, even though the portions have been getting smaller and the prices getting larger over the years. It seems to me that (to an American's taste buds) the food of Myanmar reflects its geographic location: squeezed in between India, China, and Thailand, Myanmar puts its region into the food.

For example: Golden Triangles. These have a filling like samosas, but they are encased in egg-roll wrappers in the shape of a folded flag. They're flatter than samosas, but they taste very very good. The menu has curries and noodle dishes, and Mandalay has an excellent appetiser of squash fritters. I think my favorite of Mandalay's dishes is the KyetThar PinSane, a chicken curry with Thai basil. It's spicy and flavorful. My wife likes the cold salads and fish curry, but suggests that the catfish version is a bit dirtier than the salmon version. Although I mourn the loss of their old doughnut shop, the Myint family puts on a good spread that Falls Church's Myanmar was going to have trouble beating.

Myanmar, the restaurant, is humble but honest. It sits in a small strip mall. The rain was coming down pretty hard and traffic along the Beltway was terrible -- but you can hardly blame a restaurant for that can you? We were pretty much the only customers for the hour or so we spent in Myanmar, which is a shame. The food was good and well worth a try if you're in Falls Church, but it doesn't quite catch up to Maryland's Mandalay. The spices are stronger and flavors deeper at Mandalay. Also, Myanmar's chicken seemed cheaper somehow.

Now, neither place has wonderful atmosphere, but Myanmar did come furnished with an old coughing man. Perhaps this detracted from our overall experience, somewhat.

At any rate, the true deciding point came at dessert. The Golden Shweji (described as Cream of Wheat Cake with raisins) is available at both restaurants. Mandalay's wins hands down, even when they run out of white sugar and have to cook with brown. Actually, I take that back. I should say: especially when they make it with brown sugar. Go there now. Go there often. Good luck on getting a table.

Plato's Diner

I know I'm emotional when I'm hungry. I realize that I cannot expect the world to understand my exact needs when the lack of food has made me woozy. But I also believe that I shouldn't be ignored just because I'm not a young woman or a loudly complaining old man. I think that if a place calls itself a diner, then it should be prepared to provide cheap food in a reasonable amount of time.

Or at least take a man's order.

I was two hours late home from work today. Left on my own (my wife was away to celebrate her aunt's birthday (and it is not her job to keep me fed. I'm an adult. I can take care of myself)), I stepped off the Metro and walked up to Plato's Diner. It was a bit crowded (I guess everyone is tired of watching the war on television), but I found a seat at the end of the counter. I read the menu and waited patiently for the waiter to ask for my order.

And I waited...

I really mean it when I said I was patient. I tried to read a bit from a book. I did not want to be the grumpy old yelling man who demands attention. I don't think it's right that people get results from being loud and obnoxious. I could stand a minute or two of waiting.

After 15 minutes, I decided that I'd waited long enough. Maybe if I started to get ready, I could get someone's attention (both the waiter and the hostess stumbled by frequently). No luck. After 20 minutes, I stood up, put my hat and winter coat on, gathered my things and left. Nobody spoke to me. I spoke to no one.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention who did get attention. The two young women at the counter were helped by the waiter at least four times during my stay. The last exchange was:

WAITER: Can I help you?

YOUNG WOMAN: This salad needs something...(shrugs)

WAITER: I could get you some vinegar or some more dressing?

YOUNG WOMAN: I think I'd like some feta cheese

WAITER: No problem. I'll get that right away.

So, I guess I'm left with two choices:

  • I can believe that I was ignored because I was patient, quiet, and unobtrusive, or
  • I can believe that I was ignored because I was an older male.
I don't like either choice, but I can choose not to dine at that particular diner any more.

Oh, did I mention this about the two young women? They made no gestures that I could see. They didn't shout or whistle. They simply sat and chatted.

Ugh. I'm still hungry.