Pizza

We had delivery pizza for dinnera new nights ago.  Unfortunately, they screwed up the order.  Instead of Italian sausage and onion, which is my pizza of choice, they delivered a pizza with sausage and banana peppers.  What a choke!  Is there any lamer pizza topping than banana peppers?  Even when you peel them off, they leave a kind of flourescent residue and a lingering aftertaste.

I don’t mind pepperoni pizza or even plain cheese pizza, but I think some of the new pizza contrivances are just messing with a timeless classic.  Dessert pizza?  Please!  Pizza with no sauce, or no cheese?  Heresy!  Pizza with mozzarella cheese injected into every open space in the crust?  A sacrilegious desecration of the crust, which as any pizza lover knows is one of the most important parts of the pizza!  Breakfast pizza?  Who needs it!  Any college student will tell you that one of the best breakfasts you can have is cold sausage pizza with a glass of cold milk.

For my money, the best sausage and onion pizza is Columbus is made by Tommy’s Pizza on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington.  I understand that others hold out for Rotolo’s Pizza in Grandview, or Rubino’s in Bexley, but I relish Tommy’s combination of thin, crispy crust, sharply seasoned, almost crunchy Italian sausage, and excellent sauce and cheese, all served piping hot.  We live on the other side of town so I don’t get over to Tommy’s as often as I would like, but when I do it never disappoints.

Lines Of Communication And The Sam Adams Summit

UJ says I always criticize our President — which I don’t believe is true — but in any case let me say something positive about his decision to sit down with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley in an effort to put the Cambridge incident behind him.  I don’t think that President Obama should have gotten involved  in what is really a local matter in the first place, but clearly he had reached the point where he felt he needed to put this behind him and do something that looked like it brought closure.  Having made that decision, the most effective mechanism was to sit down with the two parties face to face.  The fact that President Obama did so over a glass of beer is not going to hurt his standing with middle America, either. 

I firmly believe that some forms of communication are more likely to lead to compromise and resolution than others.  In my experience, a face to face talk is best because people typically tend to temper their language in direct communications.  When you are sitting across the table from someone, observing their facial reaction to your words, you will choose your words more carefully.  You will recognize the person across the table is a human being with feelings, and most people don’t like to unnecessarily hurt other people’s feelings.  So, instead of saying that the person across the table acted like a stupid jerk, you might say that their conduct was regrettable and led to misunderstanding.  The element of disapproval is still there, but the tone is not so harsh — and in communications tone is important. 

Face-to-face communications are at one pole of the spectrum of communication.  A telephone conversation is next best, because you can hear how your comments are being received and react accordingly.  At the other end of the spectrum is e-mail, where it is too easy to type an incredibly strongly worded statement in the heat of the moment and hit send, only to regret having done so almost instantaneously.  People often will write something that they would never say to another person face to face.  (This is why everyone should take a deep breath and pause for a sip of coffee before hitting the send button on their next angry e-mail.)  It was a good move for President to set up the Sam Adams Summit rather than trying to resolve this particular incident by an e-mail exchange.

The Step-Down Phenomenon: The Ohio State Fair

The 156th Ohio State Fair began this week.  As with every Ohio State Fair, this year’s edition features entertainment acts, performances by children’s choirs and bands, a butter sculpture, and tasty but horribly unhealthy foods, like elephant ears and the enticingly named “fried dough.”  This year’s hot new food option apparently is deep-fried buckeyes — that is, deep-fried balls of peanut butter and chocolate fudge molded to look like a buckeye — which sell for 5 for $4. 

2008 butter sculpture of Ohios presidents

2008 butter sculpture of Ohio's presidents

Interestingly, this year the Ohio State Fair is specifically being marketed  to appeal to people in the grip of the step-down phenomenon — in this case, people who can’t afford to travel long distances or take expensive vacations.  Instead, those people take “staycations,” where they spend a day at some location within a reasonable driving distance.  The Fair’s advertising is emphasizing the Fair’s value, the availability of coupons for Fair events and goodies, and other special deals.  Fair organizers are hoping for record turnouts, if the weather cooperates. 

I hope the weather is good and this year’s Fair sets attendance records.  I like the entire Ohio State Fair experience — getting there early and touring the livestock barns to see the kids and families taking care of the animals they have raised and entered for judging, walking through the open-air flea market and new product pavilions, having lunch at one of the good, home-cooked food restaurants staffed by members of churches, and strolling along a hot and dusty midway with rides designed to cause people to lose the fried sauerkraut they just gobbled down.   Through all of these activities, the Ohio State Fair is a great place for people watching — which is just another part of the good value people might be seeking in these recessionary times.

A Big Hole In the Sky

A photo of the atmospheric scar left by the apparent comet hit on Jupiter

A photo of the atmospheric "scar" left by the apparent comet hit on Jupiter

Last week NASA reported on an apparent large comet strike on Jupiter that left a visible “mark” on that gas giant’s upper atmosphere.  The object punched through Jupiter’s sky near its south pole, and the notable change in Jupiter’s appearance was first spotted by an amateur astronomer in Australia.

I mention this because I think the photo above is cool and because the white mark left by the object is the size of Earth!  That’s right — the hole in the atmosphere made as the object burned through is the size of our entire planet.  That fact just reaffirms the awesome size of Jupiter, which according to NASA statistics is 1,316 times the volume of Earth.  (Remember the science class where the teacher explained that if Jupiter was the size of a basketball, the earth would be the size of a marble, or something similarly tiny?)  And, get this:  Jupiter has 62 officially recognized moons.  It has so many moons that they haven’t yet come up with mythological names for all of them, and as of moon number 50 they have been given uninspiring names like “S 2003 J2.”

The number of moons just reaffirms why we should all be glad that Jupiter is out there.  Jupiter’s mass and size is such that it acts as kind of cosmic Dirt Devil, sucking up many of the bits of cosmic debris roaming our little corner of the galaxy and keeping them from reaching the inner parts of the solar system and menacing our fair planet.  Jupiter, thanks for taking one for the team!

The Step-Down Phenomenon: Dining Out

A few weekends ago we went out to dinner with friends on both Friday night and Saturday night. Friday we went to a relatively new restaurant in the Arena District and had an exceptionally good meal. Saturday we went to a restaurant at a busy corner in the Short North and had a pretty good meal. At both locations, we noticed how empty the restaurants were. Indeed, on Friday night there were perhaps four other tables filled at a fine restaurant with well-prepared and interesting food, skilled wait staff, and very pleasant surroundings. The turnout was so low that I gave our waitress an extra-large tip to compensate for the fact that she had only two tables to handle during the entire evening. (I would mention the name of the restaurant, which Kish and I would gladly frequent again, but I don’t want to embarrass it.)

There is no doubt that the recession has affected the restaurant business. Overall, the number of restaurants in America has declined, and the drop in business has hit “fine-dining” establishments particularly hard.  In the meantime, restaurants like McDonald’s are doing just fine.  People still want to eat out.  When they go to a McDonald’s, they may not get the highest quality food, but they get out of the house, have a filling meal, and don’t have to worry about doing the dishes when they are done.

This is an instance where the step-down phenomenon has pernicious effects.  McDonald’s , with its overly salty food and bastardized versions of food classics like lattes, will always be with us.  A high-quality restaurant, on the other hand, is to be treasured and savored, and there is no doubt that more of those fine dining establishments will fail before the recession loosens its strangling grip on the nation’s economy.  No business can survive for long serving only four or five tables on a Friday night.

Dixie Electric Company

When disco was king during the mid-’70s, discos sprouted in shopping centers across America like mushrooms after a long rain. During that era, the Columbus disco of choice was called Dixie Electric Company and was located in the Great Western Shopping Center, far out West Broad Street. Behind its unassuming storefront facade it had everything you wanted in a disco — a checkered, light-up-from-underneath dance floor, a disco ball, strobe lights, a smoke machine and siren, and a DJ who could sense the best times to move between fast songs and slow songs and the songs that were best suited to make the transition and could hit the strobe light and disco ball at the crucial moment in Fire by the Ohio Players.

My high school friend JD and I used to go to Dixie Electric Company occasionally, just to see if we could screw up our courage and successfully ask girls to dance. The women seemed to show up in dense, impenetrable packs and sit at the tables nearest the dance floor, while the guys would hang out in the dim periphery or near the bar. If you summoned the gumption to ask a girl to dance, you had to make a long walk to the bright area near the dance floor, and if the woman turned you down after sizing up your hair, clothes, general appearance, and likely dancing abilities it was a very public humiliation. Much better to go up with your friend after spotting a female twosome who seemed like good candidates and ask them to dance at the same time, so if you both got turned down you could share a self-deprecating laugh as you slinked back to your table in the cavernous depths of the club!

I have to confess that I liked a lot of the “disco music” that they played at the Dixie Electric Company, even though I didn’t own very impressive “disco outfits” or know any dance steps beyond the beginner-level “Bus Stop.” Still, I thought dancing was a lot of fun if you weren’t horribly self-conscious about it. JD and I had some good times at the Dixie Electric Company, and in recognition of that fact I have called the “disco” playlist on my Ipod “Dixie Electric Company.” The first 20 songs are as follows:

Get Down Tonight — K.C. & The Sunshine Band
Stayin’ Alive — Bee Gees
Funkytown — Lipps Inc.
Lowdown — Boz Scaggs
Got To Give It Up, Part 1 — Marvin Gaye
I Will Survive — Gloria Gaynor
Play That Funky Music — Wild Cherry
Fire — Ohio Players
Neutron Dance — The Pointer Sisters
Turn The Beat Around — Vicki Sue Robinson
Love Hangover — Diana Ross
That’s The Way (I Like It) — K.C. & The Sunshine Band
Jive Talkin’ — Bee Gees
Boogie Nights — Heatwave
Jungle Boogie — Kool & The Gang
Disco Inferno — The Trammps
(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again — L.T.D.
Dazz — Brick
Fly Robin Fly — Silver Convention
Car Wash — Rose Royce

Weighty Taxes And Personal Freedoms

This is a predictable (and predicted) development:  people are now advocating levying hefty taxes on foods and drinks that contribute to obesity in order to help pay for health care.   The underlying concept is that obesity has contributed mightily to increasing health care costs, so behavior that contributes to obesity should be discouraged.  Taxes on cigarettes — which are now being viewed as a principal reason for the decline in cigarette smoking — are cited as a model to follow.  Experts on taxes and behavioral modification argue that, to be effective, the taxes should amount to at least one-tenth to one-third of the item’s total cost.

I’m skeptical of taxes as a tool for behavioral modification because of their inefficiency, but I think the notion of “weight taxes” is pernicious for another reason.  Any time the government gets to decide what kind of otherwise innocent conduct should be discouraged, we have given up significant freedoms.  I enjoy a Butterfinger Blizzard now and then during the summer months.  Why should I pay additional amounts in taxes simply because some bureaucrat has decided that ice cream is a significant contributor to obesity?  If statistics show that joggers are more prone to sudden heart attacks, should athletic shoes be taxed?  If mountain climbers are more likely to be caught in an avalanche, precipitating massive manhunts and search efforts, should mountain climbing be massively taxed to discourage such potentially costly behavior?

Let’s not kid ourselves — if the health Nazis ran the world, we would all be eating raw vegetables and participating in mandatory walking clubs and “wellness” counseling sessions.  Do we really want Big Brother to decide what we should and shouldn’t eat and drink, how we should spend our leisure time, and generally how we should live our lives?  I think a world without bacon double cheeseburgers and Frosted Flakes would be pretty dull, and I’m willing to put up with a bit of obesity to avoid that grim scenario.