Building FrankenSaturn

July 29, 2010

By Karen

My 10-year-old silver Saturn is aging gracefully, but the driver-side visor made itself an embarrassment by dry-rotting. It’s just cardboard covered with cloth, but I knew the Saturn dealer or a body shop would want a small fortune to replace it.

Then I read about a nearby salvage yard and got an idea. When I enlisted my father as my screwdriver man, he peed on my parade on our way to the yard, asking if I’d settle for a vinyl visor in a different color.

I knew what he was already thinking: Grab the first visor and run. “No, I’m not building FrankenSaturn,” I said. “Saturns exactly like mine are on the road everywhere.”

“Well, if they’re still on the road, you can’t have their visors.”


But this yard was organized. Their database gave us the exact row and position of 3 likely candidates but, boy, was I unprepared for what I saw.

When we stepped out into the yard in the blazing sun, it sprawled before us like that epic scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett picks her way through the wounded soldiers to fetch the doctor to deliver Melanie’s baby — but instead of soldiers, we saw wrecked vehicles. The only thing missing was the tattered Confederate flag.

All were stripped of tires (to prevent escape?) and sitting on rims, in various stages of disembowelment. You could tell which ones had been in horrific accidents. Their crushed roofs, shattered windshields, and crumpled bodies had probably made the news before being towed here. Airbags hung limp from many a steering wheel. I didn’t see any blood, but it wouldn’t have surprised me. It was a ghost hunter’s paradise, and you couldn’t get me there at night on a bet.

We took a good visor from a derelict maroon Saturn with a gray interior for $5. It fits perfectly in my car. I just hope its previous owner never stops by to check on it.

BP’s Tony Hayward: Still Clueless

July 28, 2010

By Yul

Here we go again. Justice, corporate-style… Company going down the tubes with a self-inflicted disaster, and the executive on whose watch it happened traipses off with millions.

Tony Hayward talked a good game when he became BP’s CEO in 2007. He vowed to “focus like a laser” on safety, of all things.

We all know how that worked out. Eleven oil rig workers and untold wildlife are dead or dying slowly and horribly, thousands of people have lost their livelihoods, and the gooey Gulf of Mexico may never fully recover. Not to mention the collateral damage of fouled beaches ruining vacations for families from all over the country and starving the economies that depend on tourism.

Right after the disaster, Hayward seemed to make matters worse every time he opened his mouth — and spent $1 million on PR, starring in that smarmy TV commercial. At first, he didn’t seem to fully comprehend the scope of his company’s destruction (with help from Halliburton and Transocean). Then before Congress, he revealed himself to be a typically clueless suit who was totally out of the loop and perfectly fine with it.

Rightfully, BP recalled Hayward to England, where he promptly jumped aboard his yacht to sail where the water isn’t slimy.

Hayward needed to go as CEO, but they’re shuffling him off to the board of TNK-BP, Russia’s 3rd largest oil company. Hayward will be paid $1.6 million on the barrel instead of working out his employment deal’s one-year notice, and he’ll be eligible for a $17 million pension and stock options that could be worth millions more if BP ever recovers.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Gulf disaster, BP lost $17.2 billion in the second quarter.

Apparently, BP learned nothing from the fury over Wall Street rewarding executives who run their firms into ditches. While people in the Gulf fight with BP to get their claims paid, Hayward is being rewarded with a cushy new job and enough money so he can walk away from it if he doesn’t like Russia and never work another day in his life.

So much for accountability. And the ultimate outrage is that Hayward still believes he’s the hapless fall guy.

Back to India

July 26, 2010

By Karen

In tonight’s new episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain visits Kerala, India. I’ve seen it. (Thanks, Brandon at Room 214!), It’s all about the food, and I must confess to feeling déjà vu at watching Tony dabble in mounds of mush. In this clip, he’s served fish head curry:

Producer Chris Collins blogged about how the trip didn’t go off as he expected. Tony blogged about it poignantly back in May while he was there.

Last week’s episode in Liberia, on the other hand, is destined to be a classic. Bourdain spent a few days off-camera, deathly ill from the food. I hate to say it, but suffering seems to inspire him to great things. He did the country a great service by raising awareness of its dire straits and how the people seem willing and eager to work hard and prosper — if only they could get some aid. A fraction of what we throw down that rat hole called Afghanistan could do wonders in Liberia.

Tony did a 6-minute phone interview with Mara Davis on 92.9 Atlanta, where he’ll be appearing on November 20. Davis fell back on the old “worst food you’ve ever eaten” question, but Tony reveals he’s a fan of journalist Christiane Amanpour.

It was another slow week for Bourdain news, although Medium Raw remains on bestseller lists, so I’m going to do a brief segue to Padma Lakshmi.

I recently saw her on Melting Pot on the Cooking Channel (8 a.m., EST). I think it’s 2001 vintage recycling from a Food Network show called Padma’s Passport.

Anyway, the episode featured Padma in a white lace dress and no apron, gingerly concocting Indian dishes from her childhood. She had me holding my breath, waiting for her to slice off a finger, get splashed with hot grease, or let the top fly off the blender.

All I can say about Padma’s cooking technique is that if she and Sandra Lee were ever in a cook-off, Lee would stick a fork in Padma and declare her “done.”

Chase Sapphire Infiltrates “Mad Men”

July 25, 2010

By Karen

Season 4 of AMC’s great series, Mad Men, begins tonight, but I just found out Chase Sapphire is going to be all over it.

Forcing Anthony Bourdain and fellow Travel Channel travelers to whip out Sapphire cards on their shows just whetted Chase’s appetite for even bolder intrusions into intelligent TV.

Now they’re determined to make Don Draper their shill, and they don’t even care that Mad Men is set 45 years before the Sapphire card ever existed.

CNN Money reports

Chase Sapphire has worked with AMC and Mad Men‘s creative team to create a multi-level brand campaign featuring mentions during episodes, vignettes during the show, online media, and events. Chase is sponsoring this year’s ‘New York’s Gone MAD’ screening in Times Square, where Sapphire cardholders will see the show in a special premiere event. The bank will also host a finale cocktail party.

‘Madvertising’ cards will talk about the Chase brand and its history as a segue into commercial breaks, which will include more traditional Chase Sapphire ads. Chase told Fortune that Mad Men‘s fan base matches ideally with the affluent customers it is trying to attract to their new luxury card.

So Chase has now tainted my two favorite shows, and I wouldn’t classify myself as an “affluent customer.” Outside New York City, I think Chase may be getting delusional dope on the demographic their lousy ads are reaching.

Every time I see that smug bitch who squandered her Sapphire points on a  dress, I want to slap her, not have the same credit card in my wallet.

Tip: The Chase ads vanish with Verizon’s On Demand, and both No Res and Mad Men are available there. If you don’t have a DVR, you can cut the crap to a minimum if you can stand to wait a day or so to tune in.

Black Cats Must Stick Together

July 23, 2010

By Yul

I was surprised when President Obama was so quick to join in and brand Georgia USDA employee (and black cat) Shirley Sherrod a racist and let her be forced into resigning, thanks to white conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart publishing on an out-of-context clip from a speech Serrod delivered in March to the NAACP.

Breitbart is upset that the NAACP thinks Tea Partiers are a bunch of racists. His brilliant way of refuting that assertion was to deliberately distort a black woman’s words and try to destroy her lifelong career of helping people in need.

Nothing hateful or racist about that.

Since the truth came out that Sherrod’s speech was really about seeing the light, Breitbart has been saying he’s not after her, but the NAACP. He keeps insisting the audience approved when Sherrod said felt biased against a white farmer 24 years ago. This was before she worked for the USDA.

Slate has dissected the whole incident beautifully, so there’s no need to repeat it all here.

As it turned out, despite her misgivings, Sherrod did help the farmer keep his land by hooking him up with a white attorney. So what’s Brietbart’s point? The attorney should have been black?

Sherrod and the farmer even became friends and he says he’s grateful to her and thinks she should keep her job.

So now Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Obama himself have personally apologized to Sherrod, and they’ve created an even better job specifically for her in the Dept. of Agriculture.

Sherrod is saying she needs to think about it, but I’m thinking she’ll take it.

On Fox News, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter said Breitbart was deliberately “set up” when someone sent him only that clip of Sherrod’s speech, conveniently omitting that Breitbart took it and ran with it with malicious intent without seeing the rest of the speech.

Once again, the Tea Party comes off looking like a rabble of “angry white people.” Instead of destroying Shirley Sherrod’s career, they’ve handed her a promotion on a silver platter.

It makes this black cat feel good.

Does Ground Zero Need a Mosque?

July 22, 2010

By Adele

I’ll probably never agree with Sarah Palin ever again, but since she has stuck her nose into the controversy over the proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, so will I. But I have different reasons for thinking it’s a bad idea — and a way to make it right.

Palin, never one to miss an opportunity to sow divisiveness and offer no solutions, recently tweeted New Yorkers to “refudiate” the mosque.

I don’t buy the blather about this mosque “strengthening ties,” either. It smells more like a nose-thumbing, “We’ve got the cash and we’ll build a mosque wherever we damn well please,” attitude.

But I’d think the same if it were a cathedral. And I have to ask…

WHEN are humans going to give up this team sport called “Religion?” It makes you start wars and kill each other every day. It’s your excuse to claim superiority to others who are NO DIFFERENT from you.

Animals have never needed religion. Do you see cats and dogs trying to wipe each other out because we don’t think or look exactly the same? It’s just not done in the animal world. The very notion is absurd.

People, you need to take this page from our playbook.

If the Muslims were building a generic-looking place where anybody could go for food, shelter, exercise, entertainment, fellowship, counseling, help of any kind, nobody would be upset.

That’s what people should do with EVERY church, synagogue, and mosque in the world. Turn them into simple havens of help and healing without the praying, sermonizing, and politics.

The faithful could still go these places. But instead of wasting time worshipping an entity who may not even exist, or listening to some windbag tell them how to live, let them be useful and work around the place. They can still tithe, but their money would go toward providing community services to benefit EVERYONE, not furthering their religious agenda.

The only way to achieve lasting worldwide peace is to abolish all religions. Separation of church and state would become irrelevant.

The solution is so simple, you’d think some human would propose it. But I’m not holding my breath it will ever be Palin.

One Reason for Bourdain to Lose the Spikes

July 19, 2010

By Karen

This week No Reservations visits Liberia, where Anthony Bourdain became deathly ill from a plethora of palm-based products, but either I’ve been stricken from the mailing list or Brandon at Room 214 dropped the ball, so I have no scoop except the trailer.

While I was poking around, I found the upcoming No Reservations in Kerala in southern India, where Tony traveled after Liberia. The episode features numerous scenes of Tony eating assorted piles of mush with his fingers, but I’m sure they were all delicious.

I also watched a special episode called “Where it All Began” that features 44-year-old Tony in 2000, working at Les Halles in his early Kitchen Confidential days. I found out he’s a speedy two-fingered typist, but I’ll let the rest of the content surprise you. I think you’re really gonna like it.

Mrs. Bourdain tweeted recently that Tony was off to Madrid for No Res, and I think he hit town just as Spain won the World Cup.

Bourdain has mentioned Iran as a possible destination, but if he ever books it, he might want to revisit the crewcut. Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has banned decadent Western male hairstyles, including mullets, ponytails, and excessively-gelled spikes.

Tony blogged a touching tribute to the recently deceased Harvey Pekar, the man behind the American Splendor comic books who played a prominent role in the Cleveland episode of No Reservations, which Tony says is his all-time favorite.

Denver Westworld graciously accepted Bourdain’s on-air apology for past slights and approved of his treatment of their cuisine in last week’s “Heartland” episode.

But The Daily Page in Madison, WI, wasn’t thrilled with the coverage their neck of the woods got, to put it mildly.

Overall, it was a slow Bourdain week, although entries to the Medium Raw essay contest continue to pour in, standing at 918 the last time I looked. Which raises the question, what else could there possibly be left to say about cooking well?

Medium Raw remains at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Took the E-Book Reader Plunge

July 15, 2010

By Karen

After writing a magazine article about e-book readers last year, I decided they weren’t ripe yet. But last weekend I was in Barnes & Noble checking out The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, even though I had no right; there isn’t an inch of bookshelf left in the house. It retails for $35, so I thought, “If I buy the e-book cheap, I could put the difference toward an e-book reader.”

So I forked over $149 for a Nook Wi-Fi (without 3G) and another $40 for a case.

Do I sound crazy yet?

“But a Nook?” you ask. “Why not Amazon Kindle?”

Two reasons: 1) Amazon’s trying to corner the market by publishing its e-books in a proprietary format and doesn’t accept EPUB format, which I believe will become the universal standard, and 2) Amazon tried to strong-arm publishers into price caps on e-books, which screws writers earning royalties.

My love affair with the Nook has yet to blossom. It has a touchscreen keyboard that appears when you need to type searches or other text. I have slim fingers, but it took me 45 minutes to type 2 passwords to register the Nook with and to connect it to my home Wi-Fi network.

The Nook was lucky it didn’t end up in a million pieces after severe impact with the wall.

Dracula, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice came with it as free downloads. Dandy.

The B&N sales clerk told me  about half of B&N’s million+ e-ooks are public domain and free. None of the classics I wanted were less than 99 cents.

So there’s Project Gutenberg, where I downloaded 9 classics in EPUB format for free, no strings attached.

You can transfer books to the Nook via USB. B&N punishes your rogue e-books by segregating them in “My Documents” instead of adding them to “My B&N Library.”


The reading screen isn’t as bright as I expected. Virtually all e-book readers use E Ink® technology, which is supposed to be great, even in full sunlight. I feel like I need full sunlight to get anything close to the contrast of ink on paper.

And the battery, whose charge I was told would last 10 days, is down 82% on day 5 without even reading the first book. Maybe that’s because they didn’t tell me to disable Wi-Fi while it “sleeps.” B&N says there’s no need to shut Nook down completely. I now realize that’s because it takes forever to boot up.

And that Maugham book? B&N sells the eBook for $26 (it’s $19.25 at Amazon). Some day I may get over this, but for that kind of cash, I want a real book on my bookshelf, even if I have to cram it in.

There’s more, but I won’t bore you with details unless you ask.

At this point, I wish I’d left well enough alone. But knowing what I know now, in that moment of temporary insanity, would I still have bought a Nook over a Kindle?


Kate Gosselin: A “Good Catch?”

July 14, 2010

By Adele

Fancy Feast dribbled out my nose when I read this PopEater article about Kate Gosselin, the Pennsylvania breeder who refuses to shut up and go away, even though her only talent is showing the world what an empty-headed narcissist she is.

At least her equally untalented ex-husband Jon seems to have had the good grace to return to obscurity.

Now that Kate’s a single mom with 8 kids, PopEater reported that she thinks she’s hotter than ever and ready for a new romance. Since the pickings are zero at home and she has no girlfriends to hang out with (no surprise there), she apparently flirts with anything she sees in pants, which happens to be reporters.

What does Kate have to offer a man besides 8 extra mouths to feed? She’s controlling, argumentative, self-absorbed, and has two left feet.

Oh, but she’s blonde has a little money. Guys will put up with a lot for that.

Relentlessly exploiting her kids has been so lucrative, Kate can now afford to have someone else raise them while she explores new ways to cash in.

Why did TLC inflict this stupid publicity whore on us? She’s like those unreal “Housewives” Bravo keeps finding to relentlessly shank each other. Likewise, Kate’s only talent is being a total bitch. There’s something wrong when people can’t get enough of that.

We need to stop feeding Kate attention so she can go home and wake up every day with the little mob she spawned. There’s no justice when a woman brings that many children into the world and then ducks out on raising them.

Despite her repeated insistence during Dancing with the Stars that she always puts her kids first, Kate’s absentee parenting (and now, trolling for guys) makes that other octomom, Nadya Suleman, look like Mother of the Year.

Bourdain Gets Emmy Nomination – Finally

July 12, 2010

By Karen

In an off-week for personal appearances and book signings, Anthony Bourdain relaxes by picking up an Emmy nomination and giving away $10,000.

Tony’s writing on No Reservations: Prague earned him a personal Emmy nomination, and he’s not up against Ted Koppel this time. The only other nominee I think may give him trouble is The Buddha on PBS because, well — he’s a deity. The rest sound beatable: America: The Story of Us (History Channel), Challenges of Life (Discovery), and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (PBS).

Good luck, Tony!

The Travel Channel’s owner, Scripps, issued a tweet congratulating “Andrew Bourdain” on his nomination. Food Network Humor theorized that Scripps mixed up Tony with Andrew Zimmern and showed what the result would look like.

Speaking of competition, there’s a rolling boil in the Medium Raw essays. Several Cats Working readers have entries, although not yours truly. The original prize was publication in the MR paperback edition — until Eater complained that Tony is exploiting writers without compensation and Gawker joined in.

Bourdain swiftly informed Eater that he is personally adding $10K to the pot and wants Eater’s editor to present it to the winner. Tony confirms this in his own blog post.

I vaguely remember Bourdain once saying either he’s never written anything he didn’t get paid for, or he doesn’t write unless it pays. I think it was the first one. Anyway, if somebody’s writing publishable work, it’s only fair to pay them something for it, although I doubt Bourdain himself has ever gotten $20 a word.

Denver Westword weighed in on the controversy and called Tony a “book pimp.”

But that was nothing compared SF Gate restaurant consultant Clark Wolf, who recently wrote, “I’ve had it with Tony Bourdain…. Frankly, I consider him the Rush Limbaugh of food. He makes cash spewing vitriol and lunacy designed to appeal to the struggling classes — workers and diners alike — he actually exploits.” Commenters on that post mostly defended Bourdain.

On July 6, Tony took on 4 interrogators at MSNBC’s Morning Joe and shot down the female host’s insistence that famous chefs should promote healthy eating.

This week, No Reservations visits America’s “Heartland,” and we see Tony eat in Michigan, Ohio (with his buddy Ruhlman), Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in scenes filmed between his personal appearances. Brandon at Room 214 again provided a link to the whole episode. Food looks good. Unknown chefs are as dedicated as anyone, and Tony realizes that even people in the ‘burbs and rural communities occasionally pass up McDonald’s to eat unusual dishes prepared well.

Bourdain also just blogged about how he’s coping with aging — and how Sylvester Stallone’s inability to cope has turned him into Mr. Potato Head.

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