Night on the town! Gnat was at her Nana’s for Saturday evening, so we indulged in a rare movie-and-a-dinner. Movie review:

You know you’ve suspended disbelief when you see a gigantic sailing ship in the harbor, and your first thought is what a magnificent vessel, not that’s some quality CGI. It took me about five minutes to decide that “Pirates of the Caribbean” was going to be halfway decent, and from then on it just clicked and clicked and clicked. Johnny Depp lifts the entire picture up two or three notches - his performance is so oddly anachronistic and parodistic that he ought to sink the entire thing; it’s almost a two-hour campy wink, but for some reason his performance grounds the movie and gives it a heart. I found the whole thing charming and somewhat endearing. And yes, the pirates say Arrrrrr! Eventually.

Two other things: no wire-fu. When people have fights, they do not walk up walls or leap in the air and do a somersault; they stand there and hack at each other with pointed sticks, the way God and Douglas Fairbanks wanted them to do. Two: at the end of the movie I was thinking how solid everything had looked - the cities, the buildings, the ships. They looked made, not coded. How refreshing not to have a summer action movie that depends on CGI!

Then I remembered: skeleton pirate army. Better yet: skeleton pirate army walking underwater. Skeleton pirate army turning into flesh and back to skeletons as the moonlight fell on their bodies. The computer work here is so good you truly don’t stop to think “man, that’s some quality CGI.” You’re just thinking: whoa, skeleton pirate army.

Afterwards we went to eat at a little Indian restaurant in the distant burbs. The only thing in the parking lot was a dumpster - not a good sign. Asbestos! Help yourself! The restaurant had closed, so we went next door to Chevy’s Fresh Mex. Never been to a Chevy’s, but I’ve passed the one downtown every week for half a decade, always thinking mmmm, that sounds good.

Worst meal in human history. The salsa, for starters, is not vibrant red like chain-restaurant salsa should be. It’s brownish-green. That would be fine if there was some tomatillo base, but it just tasted like peppered cilantro with some pepper and cilantro-pepper. Why is the color so odd? I asked the waitress. “We roast the vegetables,” she said promptly, which suggests they get this question 37 times per shift. As well as they should. I don’t care what your chain’s angle on a cuisine might be, and I don’t care if this stuff is about as Mexican as sugared lefse, chain salsa must be red. Take that away from us and we don’t know what the hell’s going on here. What next? Tortilla chips in the shape of a rhomboid instead of a triangle? There are RULES, people! RULES!

The menu was the usual assortment of soft, salted foodstuffs garnished with shredded lettuce and meekly spiced rice. (Or dead mealworms. When they’re not moving it’s really hard to tell the difference.) You usually go with the fajitas, because anything else you can make at home, and because they arrive with such drama. They spit and sizzle. Don’t touch the plate! It will kill you! Don’t even LOOK at the plate! When it showed up, I was stunned; I have never been served a meal so . . . wide. The fajitas were atop a pedestal . flanked by adjunct topping staging areas. The fajitas were doughty, thick, and small. The steak strips each contained a ribbon of gristle that required each one be removed from one’s oral cavity and discreetly placed in a napkin halfway through the mastication process. The chicken, oddly enough, did not taste like chicken.

I kindly complained, and they took it off the bill. Why not? The NINE DOLLAR MARGARITA more than made up for the rent.

The drink cost more than the movie. I find that fascinating. One product is a gigantic enterprise that employed hundreds of people of every possible human craft - carpenters, lawyers, cooks, actors, costumers, programmers, accountants, doctors. It cost five dollars and fifty cents to consume, and the consumption took two hours. The drink consisted of a few jiggers of cheap hooch mixed in a bowl with some artificially flavored fluid; it was made in less than a minute by one person
and served by one other, and both made minimum wage. It cost nine dollars. Plus tax.

Home to the Gnatless house, which felt empty and vacant. But at least we could speak at the top of our voices. In fact that’s all we’ve done so far tonight.




Now, some thoughts on an op-ed piece in Sunday’s Strib. I think I’m being quite moderate here, but the definition of that term changes every day. Judge for yourself. Or hop off to merrier sites; see you tomorrow.

Still here? Let’s begin with two unrelated points.

1. The state of Minnesota has entered the dark ages. The sun itself barely shines, and when it does, it illuminates the gray skin of the shuffling masses, wandering about in despair. Oh, once this was Camelot; once this was a place where good, decent people lived good and decent lives. Every year everyone would drive to the State Capitol, and we’d have ourselves a good ol’fashioned Donatin’ Day. “What do you need, Bob?” we’d shout to our representatives (if his name was Bob, of course.) “Name the sum! Just name it!” And we’d all give them whatever they wanted and drive home, content in the fact that we’d done our part, and this special land of ours, this one-of-a-kind civilization, would prosper and endure.

Then some SOB went and said it. Up and went and said the thing that has poisoned our state ever since:

“What do you need it for, Bob?” he said. As if that ever mattered! But ever since he put those words in our mind, folks ‘round these parts have been positively obsessed with what Bob needs the money for, often times going so far as to argue with Bob when he comes up with an answer.

Now a miserly spirit holds us in his tight and leathery grip. The schools have closed; we gassed all the mentally ill a few weeks ago. The menfolk have taken up dueling to settle the smallest slights to their honor, and the only industry that’s hiring is the big mill on the river that converts orphans and stray pets into a thick, nutritious paste. The old good Minnesota is dead. Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to Hell.

Or so some local ruminators seem to think, anyway.

2. Anyone who writes opinion pieces should consider whether their piece contains a YWP, or “Yeah, Whatever” Point. The YWP is the moment where half your audience automatically stops reading because they know exactly where this is going, and they’ve been there a thousand times before. Sometimes the YWP is triggered by a phrase, but it’s usually a statement of fact that betrays a certain breathless hysteria in the author. In most cases the YWP is triggered by the assertion that we have gone far beyond the standard push-me-pull-you of politics, and have entered a dangerous age in which all we hold dear shall be snatched from our hands, torn to pieces and washed away in a torrent of tears. Sometimes it's the UN and the Contrail pilots who are responsible. Sometimes it's the undead Halliburton Zombie Army. Either side is perfectly capable of generating a YWP, and on any given day either side usually does.

Why do I bring this up? No reason.

Oh, look, Syl Jones is back in the Strib editorial section! I had no idea he was gone until he returned. Headline: "Why celebrate liberty in noise and bluster?” Subhead: “Many seem to need reenactment of violence that led to freedom.”

Yes, it's not a Fourth around Jasperwood unless we bayonet a Redcoat. I read on, eager to learn. He begins with a brief recollection of his recent 4th in Florida. It seems there were fireworks.
“Independence day has always been a noisy holiday celebrating the dizzying rabble of a populist uprising,” he writes in his inimitable style. (I thought we celebrated the uprising itself, not the “dizzying rabble” who rose up, but that’s just me. At least Mr. Jones calls it a “populist” uprising, although I’m confident it will be a selfish act of aristocratic slave-owners next year, if that suits his purposes.) “Fair enough. But this year, the explosions seemed a little too forced and laced with an undercurrent of sadness.”

This is why I am not a writer of Mr. Jones’ reputation: I would never have thought that a celebratory aerial burst could have sadness, let alone be laced with a subcurrent of downheartedness. But why this sadness? It seems there was an explosion of a truck carrying fireworks a few miles away, two days ago. And it seems that Mr. Jones himself subsequently observed people setting off fireworks in their yards without maintaining a proper distance.
“ . . . (P)erhaps I’d stumbled upon a group of aliens - certainly not human beings with fragile hands and delicate eyes that could easily be ripped apart.”

You know those aliens: iron hands, steel eyeballs. And you ask yourself: where are we going with this? Forge on:

“I might have been tempted to write it off as one of those Florida aberrations, like gators sunning themselves along Interstate Hwy 4.”

I think that would be an aberration if it happened in Maine, or Oregon, but it doesn’t exactly sound like an Florida aberration. It sounds like a Florida peculiarity, or an oddity common to Florida . . . and don't other people in other states light off fireworks unaware that they are human, not tin-skinned aliens? Sorry. I'm reading too much into this. I'm just desperate to know where this is going.

“But then I returned to Minnesota and remembered that thanks to Jesse (The Gift That Keeps On Giving) Ventura, the sale and purchase of fireworks is now ubiquitous in Minnesota.”

In case you’re curious, we may now possess sparklers, fountains, tiny smoke-pots and ladyfingers. No rockets, no Black Cats. Just sparklers, fountains, tiny smoke-pots and ladyfingers. Available for sale. And for purchase!

“On top of that, two creepy stories about deaths on the 4th - one involving the distraught mother who threw her kids into the Mississippi River, drowning one of them, and the other concerning a boat rage incidence on Lake Minnetonka that left one man dead amid inebriated revelers - made me realize that Minnesota is now officially no different from any other state.”

Ayup. We used to be special. We used to be different. No mom here ever suffered postpartum depression. No one ever killed another man in a drunken fight. Never. Did - not - happen. But some sort of psychic pollution has set in, and the same dark corrupting force that compelled us to permit the sale - and purchase! - of cones that spew colored sparks for 22 seconds has also manifested itself in maternal insanity and homicidal fury. Festival! Festival! Babies and boats in the river, friend! Festival!

“In the past year, our legislative leaders have managed to turn back time by passing new laws that extend the drinking hours . . .”

Bars can now stay open until 2. Before they closed at one. This is called “turning back time.” It eliminates a competitive disadvantage the city had for the convention trade, and it probably means that the bars will not release a sodden wad of drinkers all at once, but space out the release over the course of an hour. As an old barhand, I’ll tell you that we regularly set the clocks ahead, and last call was usually 12:30 AM. On a Saturday night. So now it’s 1:30 AM. And thus is the state plunged back in time, closer to the grim pioneer days when they had no clocks, and had to rely entirely on sundials for figuring out when the bars should close. And it would be dark! Do you want to revisit that age of despair and confusion, friend? Do you?

“. . . raise the speed limit. . . .”

The legislature introduced legislation to raise the speed limit on two-lane rural highways to 65 MPH. Currently the limit is 55 MPH. Most people drive 60 +. The biggest threat you face on these roads is getting behind someone who doggedly observes the 55 MPH limit - passing on a two-laner is pucker time for everyone.

Again, let’s sum up: you don’t have to end your evening at 12:30 AM, and you can drive 65 where you once drove . . . 62. Turning back time.

“ . . . and ease access to both handguns and fireworks to virtually any adult.”

That’s how bad it’s gotten. Not just easy access to handguns, but those amusing cardboard chickens that spit colored balls of flame out the back when you light the fuse. Let it be noted that today, virtually any adult can drive across a bridge to Wisconsin and buy enough fireworks to make Chinese New Year sound like a fat ant jumping up and down on bubble-wrap.

“At the same time, education, health care and social services are being sacrificed on the altar of the almighty budget.”

Yes, the budget is being sacrificed on the altar of the budget. Some details:

The per-pupil spending in 2002 was $4,601. The 2003 budget spends, per pupil: $4, 601.

No change. This isn’t to say programs haven’t been trimmed; some have. Inflation will cut in here and there. Some educators might not get raises this year. Welcome to the World, subset “Real.” This is a tough patch, but education is not being “sacrificed.” If education was being sacrificed, there would be no money for ECFE.

Let me tell you about ECFE, or Early Childhood Family Education. Or something like that. Great program. I took Gnat there all last school year - two hours of directed play for her; I spent an hour in a group with other parents, discussing Issues. A wonderful educator ran the groups; she had plenty of helpful handouts. It cost ten dollars per session if you made a good wage, and it cost something like three bucks a week if you didn’t. Everyone in our class paid ten bucks. The program will continue next year. If there was truly a starvation of the very heart of the Minneapolis educational system, our local node of ECFE would have been cut, because they would have run the numbers and realized there was no point in subsidizing these yuppies.

Health care? I went to the Minnesota Public Radio site, and found this graf:

A portion of the health and human services bill passed by the Legislature changes the way the state provides grants to Minnesota counties. Instead of providing grants to counties for specific services, county officials will receive larger block grants. Supporters of the new provision say counties will be able to prioritize spending based on their unique needs. But several special interest groups say counties may deliver money to services that have the most political clout instead of services that need the help the most.

The non-biased, utterly neutral MPR headline:

Mental health care for children could suffer under Pawlenty plan

Again: why should I take these hysterics seriously? A discussion about funding and priorities is crucial, but how can we have it when every single new idea is presented as dagger stabbing in neck of the citizenry? What will these people say should the crunch truly strike, and we cannot subsidize middle-class day care any more?

That's right. We subsidize middle-class day care. The state of Minnesota will spend 7.4 billion on health and human services in the next two years. Some of this pays for day-care for working families. The new budget raised the eligibility standards: People who make more than fifty grand no longer qualify. If you make 50 G, you're in. Got that? Fifty grand. I’m alllll in favor of helping out poor families who hit a bad patch and need assistance to watch the kids while the parents work. Show me the pot; I’ll chip in. But don’t tell me reducing eligibility for subsidized day-care to people who pull in $50,000 per year is going to ruin the quality of life in Minnesota, or turn us into some Hobbsean nightmare with packs of feral children roaming the garbage dumps.

But back to Syl. Where is he going with this piece?

“Where had I seen a similar kind of insanity, I wondered? The answer came quickly - in Florida and in Texas, two states led by the Bush brothers, who are currently setting the pace for much of the destructive change afoot in the nation and in the world.”

Ah. Right. Minnesota has legal fountain-type fireworks, increased rural speed limits, an extra hour to linger over wine at supper, and half the blame rests with Jeb.

Yeah, whatever.


Notes: at upload time I couldn't find this piece online. I'm sure it's at www.startribune.com. Registration required. Go on, do it. I asked the web gnomes; no one will send you email for herbal viagra. I don't like it, but I registered too. If you're amuserd by the Minnesota is now Hell! meme, a few bloggers from the Northern Alliance are usually on the lookout for conspicuous examples - they're the righty blogs from Mitch Berg and Fraters Libertas. Those inclined to think, now and again, that I am full o' krep when it comes to these things will profit from a visit to the Strib's blog, 2 cents, which links to many sites, including lefty places with divergent opinions. Compare & contrast! Rinse; repeat. See you tomorrow. Oh - 5:20 CST, Hugh Hewitt's show. I'll give him my recipe for yellowcake.

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