I tried making the spiced wine I wrote about a few days ago, and the results were… well, it wasn’t bad, but the process was a little more hectic than I thought it would be. And it wasn’t the recipe. It was the unwanted extra. Check it out, and don’t forget to keep sharing those links!
Sort of. Check out the first test-run for the upcoming vlog and stay tuned after my ramblings to witness the terror that made me film about 30 minutes worth of footage just to make this short little video.
You will never find a more wretched hived of scum and villainy... If you believe the show.
October 14, 2011
I watched Bordertown: Laredo last night. It was the premier and they showed two back-to-back episodes. I was curious to see how this show would portray the city I live in, and was a little scared because Laredo is the influence for Via Rosa, the semi-fictional setting of Charcoal Streets. I know I don’t exactly paint a rosy picture in my stories, but I made it a fictional city with elements from various cities for a reason.
Now, I realize it’s only the first two episodes, but I have a few complaints about what I’m seeing. And yes, I know the Laredo Narcotics Team is a local organization of law enforcement essentially fighting a NATIONAL cartel organization in Mexico. Their job is difficult and they put themselves in very real danger just by appearing in this show…
But this isn’t about whether or not drugs should be legal, the ethics of the war on drugs, or anything like that. I need to talk to the producers of this show. Aside from the fact that the cops don’t even wear gloves during part of the evidence collection process, the fact that everyone of them is in terrible shape for the kind of physical activity they engage in, or that one of them seemed to have pink handcuffs for no apparent reason, there are a few things that just bothered the hell out of me last night.
Nothing screams “Hispanic” and “edge of nowhere” like using fake film scratch in your opening text superimposed with images of the downtown. Seriously, though, the images used in the title sequence were all seemingly taken within three blocks of the river. Yes, we have a massive Mexican population and a lot of sections in town have signs in Spanish. Yes, a lot of buildings downtown are in a state of disrepair.
But if you travel not three blocks further inland, you find I-35, McDonald’s, and this little view.
Worse, the music sounds more Spanish than actually Mexican, which isn’t unexpected since we were under Spanish rule at one point, but if they were trying to go with a Wild West theme, they failed. It sounds more flamenco than anything else.
Oh, and to whoever actually took the time to edit in images of the Beer Run stores, shame on you. Nothing says “class” like drive-through liquor stores with exploited female workers.
We Took a Wrong Turn at North America
This is really a jab at the editor. In one scene, the police are following a car. Anyone who lives here can recognize the intersection as McPherson and Saunders. The cops then chase the guy and say they are passing a church. A shot of the San Augustin Cathedral is shown. Then the cops reach the guy’s house somewhere in what looks like Zapata Highway or somewhere else in the deep southeastern part of the city based on the landscape.
These three locations are nowhere close to each other. The church is more than two miles away to the west, then to get to Zapata Highway, it’s another seven miles in the opposite direction.
Granted, the Cathedral looks nice, a lot nicer than other churches, but would it have killed the editor to use the REAL church they passed? Instead, we get a set of detours that amounts to something out The Family Circus.
All of these gripes are about the way the show was put together. However, when you actually sit down and watch the show, there are more than a few problems with the way the city and its residents are portrayed.
And before I get to that, let it be known I have no shortage of complaints about this town. We are undereducated and have networks of ties that make any legitimate business difficult. Like one friend in DC once told me, “Dealing with Laredo is like dealing with the mob 20 years ago.”
In just the first two episodes, we’ve had the cops bust several storehouses filled with thousands of pounds of drugs. It’s an impressive set of hauls, sure, but the show hasn’t shown much past a mile or so from the border, and if you think the drug trafficking is confined the “Mexican” or “poor” parts of the city, you are sadly mistaken. I know going to suburbia and busting some high schoolers isn’t glamorous, but the drug trade is EVERYWHERE in town. And it’s not that hard to find someone to sell you drugs.
If you want to find a drug dealer, talk to three people. Those three people will, in short time, name someone who buys or sells or uses. Then follow it to the source. It’s easier to find a drug dealer in Laredo than it is to find a Starbucks in any major American city.
This show is going to be hell for this town. I don’t like it here that much, but I’d prefer if they at least got their portrayals right.
To clean out all this dumb, let’s get a Spanish lesson from Dora. Can you say, “Sniper, no sniping?”
I was going to put together Divine by Zero for today, but let me tell you a little story.
My sister has been out of town for a week, and Mary and I have been left alone with her faithful pup, Lucky. Lucky is a very sweet dog once she gets to know you and realizes you aren’t a threat. She’s all of 18 inches tall but has a powerful set of lungs. I love this dog. I really do…
And I wish she’d let me sleep!
This will be the third day I get less than three hours of sleep a night because Lucky barks, whines, and cries because she misses my sister. She gets on the bed, wanders between Mary and I, and generally keeps us up. I get it. Lucky’s young. She’s very attached and protective of my sister.
But I have class to teach! I need sleep! I can’t teach with one blood-shot eye!
So, while I’ll finally get some shut-eye tonight, I can’t even gather the energy to put together a picture for this post. In place of satire and righteous anger, please enjoy autotunning… for science!
Toby wandered through the kitchen one more time. He’d looked through the pantry and cupboards twice, but he had to hope he might have missed something. He tried reaching the higher cabinets, but he could barely get his legs to stretch far enough or find anything to climb. The lizard he found and ate in the morning would have to do.
No one played with him and no one called his name. He still remembered his name, alien as it was. Toby tried chasing birds, but they flew too high. A few of his friends were trapped in their homes. He saw them die days ago when the food was gone. Toby had made it by catching the odd animal and going in and out of the house through a broken window.
But he could feel himself weakening. There was some water in the pond outside, but there was almost nothing to eat. On the tenth day, he saw a new master.
Wallace kept his hands on a long staff made from a fallen branch. His tattered clothes still smelled like sot after more than a week, and the few protein bars he found on the dead traveler some days ago wouldn’t feed him for too much longer.
In the distance, he heard a dog cry. It was a pathetic, weak cry. Tiny claws clicked on broken concrete. Wallace took his revolver and aimed in the general direction of the dog. He could barely see, and the dog wouldn’t know what a gun was, he thought, but it was the only defense he had. When the dog finally stopped, it was close enough for Wallace to make out.
It was a pathetic little thing, no more than fifteen pounds tops, and it whimpered when it was close enough.
Toby smelled the new master. It was thin and moved like it was hurt. It spoke, but Toby only understood a few sounds.
“Hello there,” Wallace said. “You’re a cute little guy, aren’t you? Looks like it’s me and you, buddy. What’s your name?”
The dog barked.
“I see. I’ll figure out what to call you. Where’s home, buddy?”
The dog barked once and started to run in one direction, then stopped to make sure the Wallace was following. Wallace kept his revolver close. He hadn’t seen anyone else in days, but he wasn’t about to trust a dog. That would be crazy.
“So,” he said, “looks like we’re the only ones left. Not a bad situation, you and me. You get us some food, I’ll cook it. Hell, I’ll play with you and take care of you if you take care of me, buddy. That sounds good. Buddy. I think I’ll call you ‘Buddy.’”
Toby hadn’t wagged his tail like that in days. The new master kept talking and saying things, but Toby didn’t understand most of the words. He understood things like ‘play’ and ‘good.’ After so many days, it would be fun to play with someone. The new master smelled good.
He smelled like treats.
“Yup. I was in the city when the first ones dropped. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone since then. I think we’ll be fine. After all, not that you understand me, but if we don’t find food soon, you’re going to be supper.”
Toby couldn’t wait. The new master smelled really good. He couldn’t wait to play, then lick him. New Master really did smell like treats. Toby was hungry.
Yeah. See, time’s going to get really tight in the next few weeks, and I have to be a lot more conscious of the time I have to write. I’m going to start teaching a middle school writing course over the next few weeks, so there goes a lot of my time. Combined with moving and a lot of other things, and I get maybe an hour a day to do these posts, so these Divine by Zero articles will be the place to go for the weird and the things I just don’t have the time to write about in the regular articles.
Let’s get started with today’s batch.
What would happen if the Beatles got signed today? The results are… terrifying.
And yes, I know that was a meme within a meme about memes. Let’s pay homage to the original guy, shall we?
If you watch science fiction or horror in any way shape or form, you’ve probably seen Brian Thompson. You may not know his name, but you’ve seen him. He’s one of those guys you just know from his voice, and aside from starring in a lot of cheesy movies (Mortal Kombat sequel, anyone?) he has a lot more going for him. Check out the last paragraph in this bio.
If anybody out there reads Japanese, could they please tell me the context of this nifty little English phrase in this book? I have a feeling that knowing the answer may be worse than not knowing, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
On the other hand, Pat Robertson was not amused. he goes on an warn us about raping angels and that no civilization that has accepted homosexuality has survived. Well, NO civilization has survived intact.
And finally, this is for the gaming geeks out there. I always had a problem with the whole concept of “the chainmail bikini,” not only because it objectified women and made it hard to invite girls to games, but because in a world of dragons and magic, I actually found THAT to be the least believable thing in the world. That being said, how would you average adventuring female react to actually having to wear this? And who thought it would be a good idea?
But yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, Mary’s last day of class, and I felt like cooking something.
I was going to make fish, but I figured I could make some pico de gallo, salchicha, and… I was stuck for a while. What dish could really capture Mexican pride and simulataniously satisfy a 12-hour work day full of class, work, and research papers?
When he cooked, the man COOKED. Years ago, he gave me the recipe for his carne asada, Mexican grilled meat, and I’ve tried to make it for a long time with little success in replicating his unique flavor. I mean, the meat was good, but it wasn’t the same. It was like a photocopy of a photocopy. It just didn’t feel right.
I think I got it.
When my grandparents cook, there is never such a thing as a recipe. They go more by instinct than anything else. They know the specific parts of the dish much like I would know the overall themes and ideas for a story or poem, but I could never really teach someone one perfect way of getting those ideas down on paper. In the same way, they don’t really measure their ingredients, but instead put them in as needed. It’s taken me years to get this close to the actual recipe. I have it written down, but it’s like trying to learn another language by reading it.
Any self-respecting Mexican knows how to cook. My uncle could make chimichurri from scratch or whip up a caldo de rez to make you forgo vegetables for a month. My grandmother makes delicious dishes with everything from bell peppers to chicken. She’s like Midas with food.
While he was alive, I tried to replicate my grandfather’s recipe. Now, with him gone and only my memories and a piece of paper to guide me, I’ll keep trying to reach that pinnacle of flavor he created so many times for us on special occasions. It’s like kendo training… I’ll just keep going for the rest of my life, getting ever closer to that elusive perfection.
And I’m okay with that.
Years ago, I wrote a poem for my grandfather and his skills. I figured it was appropriate today. Scroll afterwards for the links, and I hope none of you did anything regrettable on Cinco de Mayo.
Dried leaves and sticks,
Crushed color and aroma
From plants I could never pronounce.
Papi kept them in plastic bags and jars,
Autumn in a pantry, an old hechicero’s2 alchemy.
He summoned a nation with each dish:
August heat, like the Tamaulipan desert,
Unyielding, like El Grito de Dolores3,
Or cool and green, like a Cuernavacan4 spring,
Subtle as a pretty morena’s5 wink.
One bite and you thought you’d die
From the cinnamon burn in your blood
And la lengua cortada6 would make you mute.
A bowl of pozole7 was a hundred miles of fields
And boiled muscles under the Aztec sun.
The heat in our tingling veins sang
A slow mariachi ballad,
The living history of our family,
And the old hechicero sat and listened,
While fragrant Mexican autumn filled the room.
1“Ahl-kee-MIS-tah”: Spanish for “alchemist”
2“Eh-CHi-SE-roh”: a sorcerer
3Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest in Mexico, gave what is known as “The Yell of Dolores.” On the morning of September 16, 1810, he rang the church bells and called on the people of Mexico to rise up against the Spanish, calling out “Mexicans, long live Mexico! Long Live the Virgin [Mary] of Guadalupe! Long Live Fernando VII! Death to the evil government!”
4The city of Cuernavaca is known as “The City of Eternal Spring” for its mild weather and seasonal rainfalls.
5Morena(o) is a term for someone who is darker skinned, and most likely has native Mexican blood in their heritage.
6“LEN-gwa cohr-TA-da” literately means “cut tongue.” It is an expression used to symbolize the feeling of very spicy meals on the tongue. Even people accustomed to spicy dishes reach their limit when they proclaim they have a “cut tongue.”
7“Po-SOH-leh” is a traditional Mexican dish, similar to a stew, made with cacahuacintle corn, pork, and guajillo peppers. It is often topped with radishes, lettuce, onion, lemon juice, dried oregano, and powdered chili. It has a very strong aroma and taste.
Just TRY to find anyone willing to stand in front of twenty or thirty children and speak for 8 hours a day.
March 23, 2011
Teachers have been getting a bad rap for years. I’ve already outlined how educators don’t get the kind of pay people think they do, but there’s another reason it’s easy to blame teachers for failing education and make them scapegoats for everything from union trouble to state budgets.
We’ve set up a system where teachers are unfairly judged and given expectations no person could possibly match.
If police were held to the standards of teachers, we would fire them after five years if their respective districts didn’t lower crime. Fresh out of the academy, these police would be required to make sure crime dropped by significant levels. Their tools to make sure communities don’t eat each other?
Drills. They would teach people what to do in an emergency, so, when the time comes, they know a few options that are limited to standard responses. Police would not really patrol or investigate. They would go around and make sure everyone knew the drills and, if anyone didn’t, that citizen would be arrested for endangering the community.
Police would host seminars and workshops to make sure everyone knows the proper responses to fire, shootings, and car accidents and that’s it. People would complain that there are many more emergencies than these and a set of general, adaptive skills would be more beneficial than just practicing the equivalent of stage directions, but the police would have none of that.
Teachers have to teach students in order to pass mandated testing. The mandated curriculum leaves little for actual critical thinking skills, questions, or improvisation. This is what people mean when they say “teaching to the test.”
How long did you remember the information in a test after you took it?
If doctors were held to the standards of teachers, every doctor would be mandated to treat twenty to forty patients a day. Doctors would have one year to make sure each patient met certain guidelines: cholesterol, body fat, and blood pressure. These doctors would have to make sure their patients all had the appropriate levels of these three things, and we would declare said patients healthy at the end of that year.
But, the doctors would cry out, these are not proper indicators of health! There are so many other variables that must be taken into consideration-
And they would be hushed because, say the hospital administrators, after that year, that patient is no longer your responsibility. These are the standards we’ll use, and you will stick to them.
The doctors would cry out that the patients have red meat, smoke, drink, and don’t exercise and only really work at health and act healthy during check-ups. And the hospital administrators would get after the doctors for the health habits of patients at home.
Teachers can teach as much as they want, give homework and encouragement, but students are ultimately responsible for studying and preparing themselves. It’s a two-way street. Teachers “give bad grades” like doctors give “negative prognoses.”
If the military were held to the same standard as teachers, they would be given a very specific timetable for all major operations. Wars would last no more than a few months and, at the end of that time, whether done or not, the military would pull out of a foreign country. All goals would have to be achieved, and if the military failed, they would be reprimanded and defunded until they got it right or were all fired and replaced with fresh new recruits.
And, in order to balance the budget, soldiers would have to buy their own ammunition. Sailors would need to purchase their own life jackets. Marines would need to buy scopes for their own sniper rifles.
Teachers face penalties if they don’t live up to expectations, but the penalties schools receive for unsatisfactory testing end up crippling the school and make it harder to teach as classes swell and funding disappears. Many educators have to buy their own supplies, out of pocket, to have a proper class.
Am I saying teachers are not to blame for any of the educational problems in this country? Of course not. Teachers have to live up to their end of the bargain. But as we cut benefits, pay, time, and force teachers to become little more than machines to spit out test answers for students in a curriculum that bears no relation to real life, we have to ask ourselves…
If we think of teachers as nothing but babysitters, why do we heap all these duties and responsibilities on them? And if they’re not teachers, but mentors and guides, why do we make it so hard for them to do their job?