Feb 26

Coming Attractions

Ha ha! I got tickets to that Rush show I wrote about yesterday. Looks like they’re decent seats, and for less than I thought they’d be. Good thing too. This puppy is going to sell out quick.

Neil_Peart_performing_at_the_Air_Canada_Centre_on_October_16,_2012

Ah, what I wouldn’t give to spend an afternoon with Neil. You know, without it being all weird and crap.
Image credit: Clalansingh

I told my daughter about scoring the tickets. She said in her best deadpan voice, “Of course you did.” Yeah, not it’s like Disneyland or anything (at least not for her). I think she’ll go if for no other reason than to see her baby cousins in Portland. I think this will be her first real rock concert. The Lifehouse show she went to with her mother when she was an infant doesn’t count.

Not long after I bought the Rush tickets I found out Primus is coming here in May to play a show in Garden City of all places. Damn. When it rains, it pours.

ABBA_-_TopPop_1974_1

They have an ABBA tribute band booked there too. I think I’ll skip that one.

As for the immediate future, my daughter will be coming up here this weekend, saving me a drive to the 2T for a change. One of her favorite places to go to here is the Idaho Aquarium. I haven’t told her about the owners’ alleged illegal purchase of some of the animals. Being a pretty hardcore animal lover, more so than most other kids, she’s not going to be happy about that. I see a trip to Pojo’s in my near future.

Chuckepizza

Which still beats the hell out of Chuck E. Cheese’s.

CRACKED.com update: Now that I’m feeling better, yesterday I managed to churn out another pitch. It got moved to the second round in less than an hour. Not too shabby. A couple of my other pitches might be salvageable. I’ve been combing through an old copy of The Book of Lists for inspiration.

Yes, The Book of Lists is one of my favorite books from childhood. That should surprise exactly no one.

Feb 22

Friday Crap Roundup II

This week’s FCR was written with a slight headache, a sore shoulder and a spotty memory. I feel a bit better than yesterday though. Thanks for caring.

Seconding That

I caused quite a kerfuffle on my Facebook page when I re-posted this Someecards.com meme:

gunecard

Note to Sarah Palin: a bell, not a gun.

Needless to say, given that I live in Idaho and all, this brought the NRA lobby out of the woodwork. I think a few clarifications are in order. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this space, I don’t support banning THINGS. Things include guns. If you want to build a collection of whatever to obsessive and sociopathic heights, go for it.

dollcollection

Pictured: obsessive, sociopathic and perfectly legal.
Image credit: PINKÉ

However, I also think health is more important than having a gun. It’s basic psychology. Recall your studies of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in high school. You did study that, right? It’s pretty simple, really. Health is at the base of the pyramid as a physiological need, while gun ownership is further up. At best, it’s a safety need. Therefore, health is a more fundamental need than gun ownership. Call me crazy, but I think government policy should reflect that.

As fate would have it this conversation took place mere hours before my accident, so for me it hit home literally. The ER bill is going to suck ….

Damn Cats Update

Much to my surprise my previous post about the adventures of Djoser and Sneferu, such as they are, is one of the more popular on Superfluous Bloviations. Only my missives on being fat and adopted have more hits. Since I’m still fat and adopted, here’s a bit on the cats.

EXIF_JPEG_T422

Caught them hitting the ‘nip again.

Sneferu’s fascination with standing water in general, and dropping foreign objects in said standing water in particular, keeps growing. I woke up a few days ago to two $5 bills in the water dish. Most recently I found a piece of a plastic bag in there. Give it a few hours and there will be something else.

Djoser has been a crushing bore lately. The older of the two, it’s as if he’s settling down and becoming an upstanding member of society. Well, as cats go. He’s not waking me up every couple hours like Sneferu is, and he’s not nearly as claw-happy as he used to be. This could very well be due to the recently-installed ceiling fan. He’s constantly entranced.

In any event I’m hoping Sneferu, who’s about six months old now, follows suit one of these days.

So, uh, that’s what’s up with them. Hope you enjoyed it. Maybe next time I’ll borrow a chihuahua from someone for a better story.

Jim Risch: Conservative and Irrelevant

Well hell, I could have told you that. The real tragedy is we’ll probably re-elect this goofball next year.

450px-Jim_Risch_official_portrait

Sorry about that.

Track of the Week

Dedicated to myself:

RIP MCA

Feb 20

History Wednesday: Bokassa’s Royal Mess

Today’s journey takes us to the 1970s. It was a magical time of polyester, cocaine, four-on-the-floor beats and, um, Ted Nugent. Like many eras, its downfall was marked by a riot in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

800px-LeisureSuitConvention4

Not pictured: taste and decorum.
Image credit: Daniel Hartwig

But powder blue leisure suits weren’t the decade’s only atrocity. Located in (oddly enough) central Africa, the Central African Republic became independent from France in 1960. Since then its history has been pretty much FUBAR, even by African standards. On New Year’s Eve 1965, a military coup d’etat led by Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa overthrew the original government. Bokassa then proceeded to go through the normal post-coup routines: suspend the constitution, dissolve the legislature, promise elections at some undetermined point in the future, enact a “Mitch Miller only” policy on government radio, blah, blah, blah. He also criminalized unemployment for people between 18 and 55 and banned tom-tom playing except on nights and weekends, apparently because excessive percussion creates unrest.

Mitch_Miller_Sing_Along

Miller’s alleged involvement remains controversial.

But Bokassa was just getting warmed up. In March 1972 he declared himself president for life. By 1975 former colonial power France had become Bokassa’s main supporter, a foreign policy decision they would come to bitterly regret. French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing infamously referred to Bokassa as a “friend and family member.” During this period Bokassa was also openly chummy with hall of fame nutty dictator Muammar Gaddafi, even going so far as to rename himself “Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa” and convert to Islam to impress his Libyan buddy. Bokassa’s Islamic conversion lasted only a couple months though, as he converted back to Catholicism when it became apparent Gaddafi wasn’t going to help bankroll his country and – more importantly – his bling.

Of course, this was all par for the course in 1970s Africa. Bokassa needed a new angle. So in December 1976 he took his despotism to the next level. Apparently dissatisfied with a candy-ass title like “president for life,” Bokassa declared the CAR a monarchy with himself as emperor. Inspired by Napoleon, in December 1977 Bokassa had himself crowned sovereign of the renamed Central African Empire in a garish ceremony which cost the country more than its entire annual budget, with much of the tab picked up by Bokassa’s BFFs in Paris. Leaders from all over the globe were invited to the coronation. A grand total of zero attended.

Bokassa_tr

Not pictured: taste and decorum.

Now considered utterly batshit insane by pretty much the rest of the world, perhaps even more so than the fabulously daffy dictator Idi Amin in nearby Uganda, Emperor Bokassa became steadily more unpredictable. Rumors of cannibalism were rampant. Bokassa had long been suspected to personally participate in the beatings and torture of political prisoners and others, but his alleged personal participation in fatally beating elementary school students protesting against paying for government school uniforms (conveniently manufactured by a company owned by one of his wives) was the final straw. In September 1979 French special forces invaded the country’s main airport in the capital city of Bangui and quickly overthrew the erstwhile emperor while he was visiting Gaddafi in Libya. Central Africans celebrated with a good, old-fashioned statue toppling.

That’s right, things got so bad that the FRENCH took it upon themselves to get rid of the guy.

FFLegion.JPEG

But in fairness the French can be pretty badass when it suits them.

Several years later, because he had served in the French Army for over 20 years prior to joining the CAR Army, Bokassa was granted asylum and allowed to settle in the Paris suburbs, much to the embarrassment of the French government. Bokassa’s close relationship with Giscard d’Estaing became a campaign issue during the 1981 French presidential election, contributing to Giscard d’Estaing’s loss to Francois Mitterrand.

mitterand

“If Mobutu calls, I’m DEFINITELY not here.”

Bokassa returned to the CAR in 1986 and was immediately arrested. Found guilty of most of the charges against him, he was sentenced to death. However, several commutations allowed him to be released after only five years in prison. While he lost his power, his crazy never went away. Towards the end of his life Bokassa claimed to have secret meetings with Pope John Paul II and declared himself the 13th Apostle.

So what does the Central African Republic think of Bokassa now? While many remember him as a crazed dictator, incredibly in December 2010 CAR President Francois Bozize rehabilitated the former emperor, posthumously overturning all of his convictions. Calling Bokassa “a son of the nation recognized by all as a great builder,” Bozize then presented Bokassa’s widow Catherine with a medal. Indeed, given that the CAR has been in almost constant turmoil since Bokassa was deposed, perhaps some really do remember the “good old days” of the empire.

Feb 13

History Wednesday: The Sad, Pathetic Tale of Qin Er Shi

As a native Idahoan, I take exception to the implication that the only culture around here is in the yogurt section at Albertson’s. In recognition of that, on Wednesdays Superfluous Bloviations takes a look at people in history way dumber than you.

Today’s journey takes us to ancient China, which made the Great Leap Forward look like Burning Man. Qin Shi Huang, the legendary First Emperor, is not only a truly badass figure in Chinese history, but in ancient history in general. Not only did he unify the country for the first time, he also built the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and a still-unexcavated tomb which if ever opened will probably make Tutankhamun’s burial site look a like a rundown swap meet. Sure, he was unspeakably cruel and killed hundreds of thousands of his own people in the process, but Qin Shi Huang was a guy who knew how to get shit done. By 211 BCE he was the unquestioned master of a unified Chinese state of 20 million people.

Qinshihuang

He also invented cross-country skiing.

When he wasn’t busy beating the ever-loving crap out of ungrateful nobility, Qin Shi Huang obsessively pursued the secret of eternal life. As a result he avoided things associated with death, such as writing a will. On a trip to the eastern reaches of his empire in search of the magic elixir of life Qin Shi Huang suddenly died, reputedly due to ingesting mercury pills intended to make him immortal (go figure). Chancellor Li Si, chief eunuch Zhao Gao and the emperor’s younger son, Huhai, carted the decaying and possibly bio-hazardous corpse home to Xianyang while pretending Qin Shi Huang was still alive. Along the way they concocted a plan to take over the empire.

bernies

Like this, but for two months and involving carts of rotting fish to mask the smell.

Back in Xianyang Fusu, the emperor’s oldest son, was the acknowledged heir apparent. However, the trio would most likely lose their influence, if not more, under his leadership. Their brilliant caper? They forged a letter purportedly from the deceased Qin Shi Huang declaring Huhai heir to the throne and ordering Fusu and and his favorite general to commit suicide. Fusu saw right through this lame plot and had the conspirators killed.

Ha, ha. No. The plan totally worked and Fusu obligingly offed himself. With Fusu out of the way Li and Zhao were able to put the ridiculously pliant Huhai on the throne. What followed were probably the most slapdick three years in the entire five-millennia history of China. Huhai ruled under the name Qin Er Shi, or “Second Emperor,” but it should have been something more like “Fredo of Qin” as the inept new emperor immediately proceeded to drive the family business into the ground.

How much of a screw-up was Qin Er Shi? Well, over 20 centuries later his name is still referenced in a Cantonese expression for an incompetent, spoiled child raised by wealthy parents. Ouch.

qinershi

Trust me, you DON’T want this tattoo.

Zhao Gao convinced Qin Er Shi, who was barely out of his teens, that as the “Son of Heaven” he must never speak or show his face in public, which in turn helped to give the eunuch exclusive access to the emperor. Zhao’s influence over the emperor was so strong that Qin Er Shi was effectively a figurehead. In other words, a man with no balls had the emperor by the balls.

Meanwhile through Zhao Gao, Qin Er Shi proceeded to levy trumped up bullshit charges on various out of favor nobles and high-ranking military officials and then put them to death, pretty much for the sheer hell of it. This included three of the emperor’s surviving brothers, who committed suicide rather than face the indignity of certain execution.

Needless to say, with a useful idiot at the helm of a shadowy, brutal regime which only recently subjugated its neighbors, before long the Qin state was engulfed in numerous rebellions. Qin Er Shi, having the leadership skills of a squashed slug, chose to avoid the matter as much as possible. Messengers who brought bad news were immediately put to death. My research suggests 3rd Century BCE messengers were not in favor of being hacked to pieces, so they quickly learned to provide the emperor with good news regardless of whether it was true or not. This gave Qin Er Shi an extremely false sense of security.

custer

Although in his defense, it’s happened to others.

In 208 BCE, Li Si went to the emperor to ask that funds being used to build a palace be diverted to the military since they were fighting, um, you know, wars and stuff. Perhaps realizing a bit too late that installing a homicidal castrato as the power behind the throne wasn’t a terribly smart idea, Li was rewarded with a rather gruesome execution, ironically via a technique he himself pioneered.

Despite this, Qin Er Shi still had an enormous army left over from the First Emperor’s days of glorious conquest. At first it was able to keep the rebels at bay. Finally in 207 BCE, in a stunning victory at Julu in present-day Hebei Province, an army from the rebel state of Chu no larger than 60,000 defeated a Qin army of 200,000. The Qin general, who still had substantial reserves, fell back and requested supplies and reinforcements from the emperor. Zhao Gao then proceeded to tell Qin Er Shi the general, having the temerity to lose a battle, was obviously disloyal. The emperor denied the general’s request. Soon after, the remaining 200,000 Qin troops were surrounded by rebel forces and forced to surrender. The rebels then proceeded to bury all of them alive lest they become a pain in the ass later.

Realizing his father’s once-massive military had been killed dead and that Zhao Gao had been feeding him a load of crap since day one, Qin Er Shi tried to eliminate the conniving eunuch. But true to form Qin Er Shi managed to screw this up too. Instead of being brought to ancient Chinese justice, Zhao and his minions actually forced the emperor to commit suicide.

Soon after Qin Er Shi’s demise, Fusu’s son Ziying seized the throne and finally managed to liquidate the dickish Zhao Gao. But it was too little, too late. The Qin Dynasty, the first unified Chinese state in history, fell after only 15 years of existence. It was succeeded by the much more intelligent Han Dynasty after four more years of civil war.

Feb 11

80s Commercials Worth Remembering (Maybe)

While researching pitches for Cracked articles I occasionally come across items I want to write about but which don’t lend themselves to Cracked’s desired format. That’s what today’s entry is about. It’s a theme I’ll undoubtedly follow in posts to come. Lucky you.

Today we’re going to take a look at two 80s ads which have perplexed me for almost a quarter century. Yes, yes, I’m showing my age. Nevertheless, the absurdity is timeless.

B-Boy Fails at Math

Like many of you, I remember MTV in the 80s back when they actually played music videos. But it wasn’t a more genteel age with urbane VJs spending their days playing Sonic Youth, New Order and the Pixies. Then, like now, it was mostly crap. Seriously, one could only take so much Mr. Mister and The Dream Academy before the clock tower scenario started sounding like a good idea.

So circa 1985, while jonesing for all-too infrequent episodes of Al TV, I and my like-minded comrades were bombarded with something called breakdancing. You may know it as B-boying, but breakdancing was how it was marketed to an eagerly consumptive mid-80s public. Now while my stiff, Caucasian ass had no interest in participating in any sort of electric boogaloo, I couldn’t help but notice the trend.

One particularly notable pitch came courtesy of a certain Alfonso Ribeiro, who at that time was just barely in his teens. I’ve never been much of a sitcom aficionado, so until just a couple days ago I was unaware Ribeiro was later a regular on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I just remember him from this spot, hawking a breakdancing instruction book, some posters, a piece of cardboard and some proto-Kidz Bop albums, on vinyl no less.

Vinyl was an important commodity in primitive societies.

Apart from the obvious lack of a web site, the ad’s most memorable moment comes at the very end:

Alfonso: … all for under 20 bucks!
VO: Alfonso’s right! Only $19.99!
12-year-old me: WTF?

alfonsofail

Pictured: Cognitive dissonance

It was this sort of thing which prevented me from placing tiny classified ads later.

Buy Batteries! Oy!

Before they bored America with two decades of a pink drumming bunny, the Energizer battery folks – then part of Ralston Purina of all companies – thought it would be a good idea to let a recently-retired Australian rules football player market their stuff. This was the result:

This was years before the energy drink craze, mind you.

This ad campaign starred Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a guy noted for being a bit off in the already-insane Australian Football League. Energizer was apparently looking to cash in on a fad for things Australian in America. Indeed INXS and Midnight Oil were at the peak of their commercial popularity in the U.S. at the time, as was Paul Hogan and his alter ego, Mick “Crocodile” Dundee. Jacko, coming off a minor hit record in Australia, was their man.

In addition to providing some of the most obnoxious ads of this geologic eon, if you were around at the time you know Jacko burned himself into our collective consciousness whether we wanted it or not. I clearly remember Jacko posters offered as booby prizes by carnies at the Twin Falls County Fair. Being around 14 or so my friends and I were much more interested in other kinds of boobies. Hairspray, mousse and fear created a lot of collateral damage in those days.

In any event, I thought with a minor rewrite this would have made a truly epic condom ad. I still do.