Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

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Seriously — Mayochup?

Heinz is encouraging Americans to vote on a question that could affect the tabletops of restaurants throughout the land.

The question is:  do Americans want Heinz to release a new condiment called “Mayochup” — a combination of Heinz Ketchup and Heinz Real Mayonnaise.  If 500,000 people vote yes, Heinz will roll out the new product and send it to stores.

mayochup-1Set aside the sad fact that some Americans have actually taken time from their days to cast their vote on what is clearly a marketing campaign ploy.  In modern, bot-ridden America, you could get 500,000 votes for just about anything.  Come hell or high water, Heinz obviously is going to bring their new condiment to market.

Set aside, too, the fact that the name “mayochup” sounds like some mythical creature that parents use to frighten their misbehaving children in southern Mexico, or the noise made by a barfing cow.  It is a truly awful name for a product.  Just having something called “Mayochup” on a table where food is being consumed is troubling.

And, finally, set aside the fact that “Mayochup” is made with mayonnaise, which is a disgusting, greasy, ugly substance that should never have been invented by the French back in the 1700s in the first place.

No, the worst thing about “Mayochup” is that it shows just how lazy Americans have become.  If some poor, benighted souls like the combination of ketchup and mayonnaise — which really says something disturbing about them, doesn’t it? — they can squirt some ketchup from the ketchup bottle, add some mayonnaise from the mayo jar, mix it up themselves, and go to town.  What’s next for Heinz?  An equally poorly named product called “Ketchtard”?

The Great Grilled Cheese Debate

Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the glories of the grilled cheese sandwich and to reflect anew on the delectable nature of melty, gooey, crunchy goodness.

wide_51094On such a day, you’d expect red-blooded Americans to engage in a vigorous debate on the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich — and, especially, what kind of cheese makes the best GCS.  The so-called experts will discuss at length the respective merits of different, high-end options like aged cheddar, fontina, gruyere, Monterey Jack, raclette, and havarti, but they also pooh-pooh the traditional choice that many of us grew up with — namely, American cheese.  One grilled cheese chef, who probably spoke with a grimace on her face, dismissed American cheese thusly:  “It’s not really cheese to me, it’s some kind of weird plastic-y substance that should be banned from the face of the earth.”

Well . . . lah de freakin’ dah!  I’m guessing that same expert would sneeringly dismiss the use of Wonder bread, too.

I beg to differ.  I love different cheeses, and I think those high-falutin’ grilled cheese sandwiches you can get at restaurants are just fine, but when I think of a truly succulent grilled cheese sandwich, I think of them the way Mom used to make them — with Kraft American cheese (or maybe Velveeta), on Wonder bread, with a little butter smeared on the outside, then grilled so there was a crunchy, buttery outer shell for the melty cheese inside.  And, of course, the resulting masterpiece of the culinary arts had to be sliced diagonally and served with Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk, so you could dip the edges of the sandwich into the soup and gobble the result up in perfect combination.

I’ll take Mom’s grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup over the fou fou offerings of the so-called “experts” any day of the week.  When National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day rolls around, that’s the one I’ll savor.

Swedish Death Cleaning

Many of us have closets that are full to bursting.  They’re so tightly wedged that you get serious anaerobic exercise shoving heavy rows of clothing to one side or the other, desperately trying to clear a space to hang something, because you know if you don’t clear that space and try to wrestle free a hanger, it’s likely to come springing out of the crush and inflict bodily injury.

If this sounds like your closet, it may be time for a Swedish Death Cleaning.

That’s the grim name for the latest personal decluttering trend that’s sweeping Scandinavia.  The underlying, admittedly morbid “death” concept comes in because the goal is to try to make sure that your estate is as easy for your survivors to administer as possible.  Why make them tackle that jam-packed closet when you could just do it yourself now, and save them the trouble later?

Some of the tips involved in Swedish Death Cleaning seem pretty sound to me.  The author suggests starting by discarding or giving away bulkier items, like coats, to immediately clear space, giving you the feeling that you are already making progress and incentivizing you to continue.  Other tips are to adopt a “uniform” — i.e., accept and embrace what you typically wear, rather holding on to things that you might someday wear for a once-in-a-blue-moon event — donate the impulse purchases that you don’t wear anymore, rather than keeping them because throwing them out makes you feel guilty that you made a dumb decision in the first place, and get rid of things that have no “worth” for you.

It’s all good advice, but the trick is always with the execution.  What to do, for example, with those jeans I wore when I was 25 pounds lighter and hope, someday, to comfortably wear again?

And when you’re done with your closets, it’s time to give the Death Clean treatment to those drawers that are so full that you have to depress the clothes with your hand to push the drawers closed.

The Oldest (And Lamest) Joke

When did you first hear the “why did the chicken cross the road” joke?  (And, when you first heard it, did you scratch your head in bewilderment about why the joke was supposedly funny?)

diginomicaThe jest about the wandering but evidently purposeful chicken is generally considered to be one of the oldest continuously circulating jokes in the modern world.  It actually has its own Wikipedia page, which traces the history of the joke back to an 1847 reference in a New York magazine called Knickerbocker.  In that pre-Civil War publication, the joke is presented as a “conundrum” or “quip and quillet” — a kind of riddle that the writer clearly thought was a real groaner.  The arc of the joke can then be traced through the ensuing decades, where it added bells and whistles and additional information all designed to cause the listener to think that the answer is something other than the traditional one.

But while the joke books of the late 19th century present the chicken and road joke as one of many overripe chestnuts you might hear from that joke-spouting uncle who thought he was a real card, you can see that many of the other common jokes that were in circulation in those days have long since been buried.  You don’t hear many “parson” jokes these days, or jokes about chickens generally, for that matter.  And yet — the awful chicken and road joke endures, like the B.O. that couldn’t be eliminated from the car in that Seinfeld episode.  Why?

The Wikipedia page describes the joke as “an example of anti-humor, in that the curious setup of the joke leads the listener to expect a traditional punchline, but they are instead given a simple statement of fact.”  That clinical description doesn’t really fully capture the point of the joke, though.  Unlike most purported jokes, which hope to provoke a laugh from the listener, the chicken joke is obviously designed to allow the joke-teller to laugh at the listener’s expense while the listener feels like a perplexed idiot.  I’m pretty sure that happened the first time I heard it, and it has left me wary about jokes ever since.  It was a valuable lesson, I suppose, but it’s just too bad that I had to hear the chicken and road joke to learn it.

Threading A Needle

Is anything more frustrating and time-consuming than trying to thread a needle?  You squint, and try and miss, and feel like a clumsy idiot because your fine motor skills just aren’t capable of doing such detail work without enduring dozens of failures before you achieve success.  It’s such a pain in the ass that people use the phrase “trying to thread the needle” to convey something that is especially challenging and difficult.

But what if there is a better way to thread a needle — like the simple method shown in this Chinese language YouTube video?  We’ve been let in on an ancient Chinese secret!  This is the kind of thing that just might make me do more sewing!

Wrath Of The Weather Gods

We put out our patio furniture cushions and umbrella in hopes that it would encourage the temperamental weather gods to finally send us some true, warm, spring-like weather, so we can actually enjoy the patio again after months of wintry inactivity.

Instead, the weather gods wrathfully decided to punish our hopeful gesture. Last night we got a snow storm, and right now it’s 28 degrees out.

One of these days we’ll learn not to mess with the weather gods.