November 2nd, 2005


Homemade Bullshit

In the most recent Olive Garden advertisements the restaurant chain hawks what it calls homemade soups. Clearly they want to reference imagery of Italian grandmothers in their kitchens, cooking up a cherished family recipe just for you. Personally I see a slightly darker vision, with the grandmother in her kitchen simmering four pots at once while a rather large goon in an Olive Garden shirt stands over her glowering, his hands clenched tightly in fists. "Just what do you think you're doing with that cilantro? The recipe calls for 2 cups, you can't eyeball that. Do you know what's going to happen if the guy at table 12 gets his soup with the wrong amount of cilantro? Nothing good, I can assure you. Don't fuck with us Sophia, remember what happened to Mrs. Rigotti. This is the Olive Garden, not some bush league Tuscan eatery. We demand perfection every time."

Of course there are no grandmothers making these soups, they are made in professional kitchens by professional cooks, off of a recipe designed at corporate headquarters and thoroughly tested to make sure they appeal to the lowest common denominator of diners (That'd be rpeate for those keeping score at home.) People don't go to the Olive Garden for homemade food, if they wanted that they'd stay at home. The question is what homemade, the buzzword, is a stand in for, and the answer is a little bit complicated.

Americans dine out more frequently than any other people in the history of the world. We like professionally prepared food and many of us don't know how to cook. On the other hand the archetype of the American family is of one that dines at home in a neat little nuclear unit, consuming food that Mom whipped up with a little elbow grease and a whole lot of love. Nowadays mom's working too hard to have hours to spend cooking, and there'd be nobody there to eat it anyway since dad lives in Lake Tahoe with his new girlfriend, Kathy's anorexic like 80% of the women on television, and Michael thinks meatloaf tastes like dog shit and isn't afraid to say it. So they go out to eat, or order in, and they get fat (except for Kathy) and get used to eating food that tastes virtually the same every time they eat it and develop all sorts of other unhealthy behaviors. On the other hand there's still that dream out there of the home cooked meal and the happy family and the rest of a mythical past that was never nearly as good as people pretend it was. (50's fantasies never really reference the African American maid who was forced to clean houses because economic opportunities for her were somewhere between diddly and squat, nor the fact that if dad got drunk at bowling and beat the crap out of mom the police would stay out of what was termed a "Family affair.")

So Olive Garden tries to ease guilty consciences by offering "Homemade Soups." See, it's just like eating at home, only you're not at home you're at a chain restaurant, and the waitress hates you because you're probably lousy tippers, and the portions are likely too big. This is the path America seems to be taking, life's experiences being watered down to marketing phrases. Images of the overrated past trotted out and paraded in front of us as small lies for us to consume at a reasonable mark-up.

Homemade has other connotations too, of course. It's a little upscale, not because home cooking is something the rich traditionally do but because having someone else cook for you in their home implies economic power over them, and there's the whole bed and breakfast scene where little old ladies really do slave over a hot stove serving family recipes and nostalgia to slightly balding gay men and heterosexual couples who read Town & Country. It personalizes an interaction that's frighteningly impersonal. Food used to be one of the most intimate aspects of life, with families eating together and friendships forged over the "breaking of bread" (Serrated knives being for pussies). Now what you eat is decided by some pudgy white guy in corporate who has a report telling him that orange glazes move 3% more product than white wine sauces, and that having 11 entrees gives people a sufficient feeling of choice without overwhelming them. It's big business, huge business, and like all big business it comes down to numbers. What you think of as a nice plate of Spaghetti is actually a $3.07 profit margin, give or take based on local overhead and the price of tomatoes this week. Your waiter sees you as 15% of what you order, 20% if she flashes some tit, and your stomach sees it as 1200 calories from carbohydrates. Numbers.

Calling something homemade is a way of whitewashing what the American eating experience has become. A numbers game. An economic activity not much different from filling up the gas tank or buying new ink for your printer. Corporations desperately want us to forget that they are, in fact, profit motivated corporations. While the commodification of the dining experience may not be a bad thing, the fact that we're so desperate to cover it up certainly says something. People still want to believe that back there in the kitchen grandma Cecilia is cooking their soup with thoughts of how much she loves them running through her head. She's not. Your cook's name is Paco. He makes $11.94 an hour, and he doesn't give a fuck whether you like the damn soup or not, just that you don't send it back.

Ludicrous logic and the lovers thereof

There's been a lot of talk recently about how silly it is to find someone guilty of obstruction of justice when the thing they are accused of covering up does not itself result in an indictment. This is a ridiculous assertion. Does nobody think, even for a moment, that the reason that the original charge didn't stick is that justice was, well, obstructed? To argue that you shouldn't charge someone for a coverup if that coverup is successful is the height of absurdity. It does nothing other than provide motivation for people to lie and hide the truth. The law is not a game that you should be able to win at by properly circumventing questioning. When people lie, shred documents, and hide evidence it's very hard to prove a crime took place. When you catch someone in the act of obstructing justice, most of the time it's a smoke=fire situation.

Some will bring up the cases where no crime was committed but there are other reasons to hide the truth from a prosecutor. The most famous example is probably Bill Clinton, who clearly did not commit a crime with regards to Monica Lewinsky, but lied about his involvement with her to avoid scandal (worked out great, didn't it?) Many, including myself, believe that the prosecutor asked questions designed to embarrass Mr. Clinton rather than get at any true criminal activity. In this sort of situation, then, is it acceptable to lie? Obviously not. If claiming prosecutorial bias were an adequate excuse for giving false information then everyone would make said claim (and many do.) You can't trust them when they say they did nothing illegal because if they had they would have covered it up. If you can't get someone for their crimes then it makes perfect sense to nail them for the cover up. That's WHY you can't get them for the crimes. The two things are not unconnected.

Did Scooter Libby commit a crime? I don't know. Did anyone else in the White House? I don't know. Do I trust them when they say they haven't? No. Is it possible that Plame's name was revealed by someone who didn't know she was undercover? Yes. Was it still an incredibly sleazy thing to do? Undoubtably.

Should someone go to jail for these actions? That will probably come out during the trial. Should Scooter Libby do time if it's found he obstructed justice?

Why the hell not?
  • Current Mood
    annoyed annoyed

The Emergency dumbcast system

The Emergency Broadcast system is officially useless. All it ever does is get tested. It exists merely to make sure that every few weeks you'll miss critical dialogue in the episode of Joey that you're watching. Dialogue whose absence will make the show seem like an unfunny mess of unwatchable crap.

I remember being in New York during 9/11. I had my TV on. Everyone had their TV on. We were also checking the internet obsessively, hoping for any shred of information about what was going on. Should we leave? Were there more attacks on the way? How far was the toxic cloud going to travel? None of this information was available, but more importantly absolutely no information was available on the Emergency Broadcast system. If "Holy Shit someone just blew up the World Trade Center" isn't an emergency then what exactly qualifies? Hurricane Katrina? New Orleans residents knew it was coming days before it arrived. What was the emergency broadcast system going to do? Say "Hey guys, there's like a hurricane going on. If you're still in New Orleans and can see this sucks to be you. You could go to the feces strewn foodless Superdome if you want. More fun than a Saints game."

In this day of 25 hour news and centralized cable networks that can break into any program with news if necessary the Emergency Broadcast System is a dinosaur that has long outlived its usefulness. If you need information about where to go or what to do in an emergency there are about a billion better sources of information, and any emergency that you don't already know about probably has no easy answers. Other than "PANIC!!!" there's not much TV can tell you to do if the Martians invade or William Hung gets another record deal.

Every time they break into Joey to test this outdated piece of crap a little bit of America dies. It's time to retire the system completely. If necessary they can flash a stripe of color across the screen to let us know the threat and level. Red for fire, Blue for Flood, Turquoise for Gay Pride Parade. Whatever.
  • Current Music
    Cutting Crew - (I Just) Died in Your Arms

Treading the long and lonely line

Restarting with the treadmill is always the same for me. It's exciting to get back on. It's pleasurable to work out. My mood improves. My mind gets sharper. I get tired and need a nap. The thing breaks down. I get depressed. I hate myself and the world that's conspiring to keep me from losing weight. I hate the company and capitalism in general. I get distracted by a shiny object. Ooo shiny.

Right now we're at the "Nap" portion of the program. I've been working out, it's been really good and has helped pull me out of an unhealthy spiral. I like the weary feeling in my legs and the nice little endorphin rush. On the other hand due to past experiences I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, so in a way it feels more like a temporary fix than a long term change in behavior and that's not a good thing. Faith is something that's always in short supply for me.

Still it's an upswing for now, and that's good. It's been a rough couple weeks since getting dumped and dealing with the disastrous job interview and a world where tainted lasagna could strike at any time. Terrorists, hurricanes, avian flues, sure, but nobody expects to be taken out by bad ricotta cheese.

I'm alone and that's okay.
  • Current Music
    The Doors - Riders On The Storm