The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum

The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum
Please be advised that for your safety you must exit this blog on foot, calmly and quickly.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?

I know it's been a long time since I've posted, but it's my blog and I will do as I please.  Now silence, you insolent fools!  I'm about to drop some holiday cheer on you.  Read on, dear friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I think it's about time for the NAACP to fold up shop. Their work is done.

I try to avoid political, racial, and religious topics on this site, as well as other "third rails."  This blog is sort of an escape from the pressures of my day to day, and I want to keep things light and airy.  Once every so often, I read something so ponderous that it forces me to break my own rule.  So here goes.

The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP has expressed outrage over a Hallmark greeting card which has been on sale for three years and is intended for graduates.  The card has one of those tiny voice chips in it and features those annoying cartoon rabbits, or whatever those creatures are supposed to be.  The cartoon voices express pride at having graduated and a willingness to take on the universe, including "ominous black holes."

Anyhow, some old fool misheard the card as "black whores."  The NAACP led a pressure campaign and got Hallmark to pull the card from its shelves and destroy the remaining stock.  Some huge drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens have also pulled the card.  The ever rapacious NAACP says that's not enough.  They want an apology from Walmart.  Apology for what?

If I were a Walmart exec, I would give them a counteroffer.  You shut the hell up and it will prevent me from lodging a nuisance criminal complaint and from suing your organization out of existence.  I am a firm believer that we have made great strides in race relations in this country.  But presumably, there is something more important for the NAACP to be doing.  This kind of organized thuggery and race baiting actually HURTS their argument.  It stirs up racial resentment and it makes the NAACP look like a bunch of clowns.  John McWhorter, a brilliant linguist and scholar on race issues, writes that many civil rights organizations now encourage a culture of "victimology."  This is a good case in point for McWhorter's thesis.

Perhaps the Los Angeles NAACP has outlived their usefulness?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The people have spoken

The true genius of the founders was that they established a Democratic Republic.  A system of governance in which when the people speak, the powerful must listen.  Well the people have spoken, my friends.  And I am not talking about the political primaries last night.  Boooooooooorrrrrring!

I am talking about America's new favorite sandwich, the KFC Double Down.  The sandwich was supposed to only be available until this coming Sunday.  But KFC has reported that sales have been so brisk, they will continue to make the sandwich available for as long as it remains profitable.

Those corporate fat cats at KFC thought they could introduce the sweet, sweet Double Down to the American public and then take it away like a thief in the night.  But we told those oligarchs.  When you offer us a sandwich comprised of two slabs of chicken in lieu of bread with bacon strips and cheese and sauce in the middle, you must continue to make it available indefinitely.  We are a proud people, and we deserve no less.

So remember, "Don't Just Feed Your Hunger--Crush It!"  Head in to KFC for a delicious Double Down.  The founders would be proud.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Plum Island Update

Way back in January, I wrote about Plum Island, a mysterious complex off of Long Island, NY where the U.S. government does secretive research on highly contagious animal diseases.  Yesterday, a friend (thanks, Liz!) clued me in to a report on Huffington Post that a local congressman has some serious questions about the proposed sale of the island.  Rep. Tim Bishop has written to the House Homeland Security subcommittee to express his concerns about the sale.  He says that a proposed replacement lab could cost more than $650 million, whereas the sale of the island might yield only $50 million to $80 million.  Anyone in the market for beachfront property?  Guess where they're slated to build the replacement?  Manhattan!  Manhattan, Kansas, that is.  Guess I won't have to break out my gas mask and biohazard suit anytime soon.

Bishop, incidentally, faces a potential challenge from a 30 year old grandson of Richard Nixon who is one of at least six people seeking the Republican nomination to run for the Eastern Long Island seat.

I'd like to note a new addition to my resource list on the right hand side of this site.  I have just linked to The Black Tie Guide.  The is billed as a gentleman's guide to evening dress, and it delivers.  Most importantly, the site provides a simple guide to appropriate formal dress with pictures of dos and don'ts.  I wish this site was required reading for anyone attending a Hollywood premiere, as even the richest and most famous actors tend to look like they're wearing piles of rags on the red carpet.  In addition, the site gives a detailed narrative of the history and evolution of formalwear.  Nerdy, I know, but you might find it interesting anyhow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Who's up for some world music?

In my previous entry, I mentioned the breakup of A-ha.  The music video for their greatest hit, "Take on Me" is iconic.  If I asked you to think of a random 1980s video, chances are that one would pop into your mind.  But most music videos from foreign pop acts don't translate so well here in the U.S.  I'd like to share some of my favorites.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Believe me, the sun always shines on TV

Here's a piece in the NYDrinker which takes me back to my college days.  My friends and I used to spend our leisure time at a watering hole called the Blarney Stone.  Founded by a man named Daniel Flanagan, the Blarney Stone was a chain of dive bars which catered mainly to the lunchtime construction worker crowd.  By some accounts, there were more than 30 Blarneys at one time in New York, plus similarly named imitators that did not want to kick up to Mr. Flanagan.  Based on my knowledge of the four that I have been to, I am sure that each location was more dingy than the last.  Alas, there are now only five Blarney Stone pubs left, including the one from my college days (though that's not entirely true, as even that one closed and reopened around the corner when I was a senior).  The NYDrinker piece documents a daytime pub crawl they went on of the remaining five.  Hat tip and photo credit to NYDrinker.  I will be sure to take a closer look at their site.

In other food news, I just read on the NY Eater blog that T'Poutine has shuttered it's doors.  Poutine is sort of the national food of Canada.  It is essentially french fries smothered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds.  Sort of similar to what those of us who grew up with local diners and luncheonettes would call "Disco fries" or "Elvis fries."  I first heard of T'Poutine because of actor Michael J. Fox.  During his presentation in the closing ceremonies of the Olympics a few months back, Fox mentioned poutine.  It sounded delicious, so I searched for a place which serves it in New York.  T'Poutine did, at least for a nine month period, but is apparently no more.  For what it's worth, the Mrs. and I very much enjoyed our poutine when we made our one visit the weekend following the Olympics.

Here's some news that made me go "Nooooooooooooooooo!"  The 80s Nordic synthpop band A-ha, best known in the states for their infectious 1986 hit "Take on Me."  While that song promised "I'll be gone in a day or two," A-ha was around for about 30 years.  Apparently they were a huge act in other countries, despite only having two U.S. hits.  Sort of like David Hasselhoff.  A-ha's lesser known song to chart in the states was "The Sun Always Shines on TV," which is a favorite of mine, although I have been advised by at least one friend that it is an incredibly effeminate song.  Speaking of effeminate, here's a piece of trivia: I auditioned for high school show choir with "Take on Me."  A-ha, you will be missed.  I have embedded below their biggest hit, as well as Family Guy's take on the same, and the "literal video" version, which is always good for a laugh.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cub Scouts encourage video gaming?

I was a Cub Scout when the original Nintendo Entertainment System was at the height of popularity.  My friend's mom was our Den Mother, and I remember how we used to sneak away during den meetings to consume snack foods and play classic games such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mike Tyson's Punchout.  I have fond memories of my time in Scouts.  I enjoyed many opportunities as a Boy Scout and Cub Scout which I would not have had otherwise as the kid of a single mom--such as camping.  But while my time in Scouting came and went, video gaming is still an active part of my life (much to the dismay of my dear wife, who does not necessarily share my excitement for the latest X-Box releases).

I was surprised, given that we are in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic which is the pet project of the First Lady, that the Cub Scouts have started offering a "Video Gaming" belt loop.  For the uninitiated, belt loops are the Cub Scout equivalent of merit badges.  They are little metal tabs which slide around the military style webbed belt worn by Scouts.  They also make putting the belt on or taking it off near impossible without sending little metal tabs flying all over the place.

This is likely an effort by the Boy Scouts of America to remain relevant in a time when kids are fixated by technology and gadgets.  The requirements for the badge include selecting and purchasing an appropriate video game under the supervision of an adult, and playing a video game with a friend for one hour (though when do kids ever stop playing video games after one hour?).  I fully intend to contact the Boy Scouts and request my retroactive video gaming belt loop based on all the hours I logged playing video games at Den meetings.  I would personally prefer that new merit badges and belt loops be based around concrete real world skills.  But I don't think this necessarily signals the death of physical activity for kids.  Many of the children in my karate dojo spend hours playing video games, but they also do karate, play sports, and participate in other extra curricular activities.  It's all about balance, as my wife likes to remind me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Now My Life Has Changed in Oh-So-Many Ways

As a nod to my occasional "Awful Products as Seen on TV" features, I thought you would enjoy the video which I have embedded below.  It is called "As Seen on TV - A Tribute to Doing it Wrong" and is a montage of the best moments from As Seen on TV commercials.

Saturday Night Live recently ran a pretty funny commercial parody with a similar premise.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hulkamania is gonna run wild on you, brother!

On Wednesday, November 27, 1991, World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as World Wrestling Foundation, or WWF) held it's annual Survivor Series Pay-Per-View event.  The main event was a bout between reigning WWF champion Hulk Hogan and relative newcomer The Undertaker for the World Championship belt.  My nine year old world was about to be shattered.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Moral Vacuum's Adventures in Internet Journalism

It recently came to my attention that there are internet sites that get many more page views than this one.  I was as shocked by this as I am sure you are, dear reader.  (I know there is only one or less of you, which affords me the ability to give you the personal attention you deserve, including directly addressing you.)

In the course of my day job, I regularly work with the editors of a mostly conservative news and opinion site called  They frequently accept submissions on issues outside of politics and hard news.  For example, a recent piece on my favorite TV show, Mad Men.  I thought it would be fun to write and submit a piece on one of my passions, mixed martial arts.

MMA is illegal in New York State despite being legal in the vast majority of other states.  I wrote a piece in which I explained the sport of mixed martial arts to the uninitiated, and laid out the argument as to why it should be made legal.  If you'd like to read it, please do so.  And tell a friend!  Between the two of us who are involved with this blog, I the writer and you my one reader, we must know upwards of ten people.  Anyhow, from what I can tell, my piece did not go over well at all!

The first commenter questioned whether I was employed by any mixed martial arts promotion, or paid to write the piece.  No, although I wish!  UFC President Dana White, if you're reading this, please call me!  A subsequent commenter made the convoluted assertion that the popularity of MMA is evidence that the worker class is growing more discontented and a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is near.  No, I'm pretty sure man has had an apolitical interest in combat sports since the dawn of time.

By about that point, the mixed martial arts superfans started to chime in.  These later rounds of commenters chastised me for propagating what is known to superfans as the "Zuffa Myth."  I am not even going to explain what that is, but the short version is that no one outside of the devout MMA community would give a damn, so I used commonly accepted shorthand in describing the history of MMA.

I attempted in a response to explain to those superfans that my piece was meant for people who might not have heard of MMA, not those who care about minute historical details.  So in summation, my piece was roundly rejected by fellow MMA fans, political radicals, and cynics alike.  Also, my own mom, whose response to the piece was "DUDE!  Why are you riding the UFC's jock?!  Strikeforce is putting on much better matches at much cheaper production costs!12@!11"  Geez, I didn't even know my mom watched MMA!  I sure took a beating in my first attempt at internet opinion journalism, but hope to write other pieces in the future.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Feel Better

This music video from U.K. based electropop band Hot Chip will either make you laugh out loud or give you nightmares.  Or both.  It starts out kind of slow, but at about :52 it gets positively nutty.  Without giving anything away, my favorite parts are the flippant response at 2:00 and the way the guy in the center of the stage knowingly and wisely runs away at 3:13.  Hot Chip's video gives new meaning to the phrase "dance battle."

Here's one for those of you who have been living under a rock.  Does anyone remember Insane Clown Posse, the supposed rap group best know for their serial hatred of Eminem and their moronic group of followers called Juggalos?  Not surprisingly they have been dropped from their label.  Undeterred, they independently released an album the first single of which, "Miracles," tackles the hard questions.

The video for Miracles showcases special effects that look like they were done by a 12 year old.  But as bad as the video is, the lyrics are worse.  The song is meant to explain "that without explanation," but is really a laundry list of things with reasonable explanations that confound the mouth breathers of ICP.  The best example is at 1:50... "F***ing magnets!  How do they work?"  But they earn bonus points for denouncing scientists as liars whose explanations for these miracles would just "leave them pissed." Oh, also, apparently there is "magic everywhere in this bitch."  This video has been all the buzz on the internet for the past week or so, and was even parodied by Saturday Night Live.

Bonus information on Juggalos:  They are considered a gang in several states and have been involved in criminal activity up to and including murder.  There is an annual Gathering of Juggalos (so be sure to avoid Cave-In-Rock, Il from August 6th to 9th of this year).  And they show just how nonconformist they are by joining a subculture of people who dress, act and think alike.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Fordham Flip

Since we're now in the thick of baseball season, I thought it fitting to mention a baseball story that has been getting some national attention, and which concerns my alma mater.  Brian Kownacki,
Fordham's shortstop--apparently channeling Willie Mays Hayes--did a backflip over the catcher to score a run.  The video, embedded below, really must be seen to be believed.  For his efforts, Kownacki has gotten mentions in outlets including and The Bleacher Report, which commented "Fordham baseball isn't a big deal by any stretch of the imagination. Located in the East Bronx, Fordham is a secluded university with sub-par athletic facilities. Its basketball gym is the oldest remaining gym in Division I basketball. Across the street is the baseball field where no more than 100 fans will attend games—usually just parents and bored students."  Harsh, but they have obviously visited Fordham.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A proud moment

I know it's been a long while since I have blogged at ya.  But something has come to my attention that is of such grave importance that I couldn't allow it to go without comment.  What has happened?  Oh, it's really no big deal. American society has just reached the highest peak of awesomeness, that's all.  I am speaking, you might have already guessed, about the Double Down, a new sandwich from the chicken wizards at KFC.

The sandwich is, according to KFC nutrition scientists, "so meaty, there's no room for a bun."  I commend them on their efforts at including a bun.  I can only imagine how they toiled thanklessly in some dark basement laboratory trying to fit a bun around all that meat and cheese.  But in the end, you can't fight the inevitable.  And so, KFC was forced to release the Double Down sans bread.

The sandwich, which was released this past Monday, April 12th, is comprised of two pieces of fried chicken (presumably in lieu of bread), two slices of cheese, the Colonel's sauce, and bacon.  For the health conscious, you can get the chicken bread in both grilled and original recipe versions.

This just makes me want to start chanting U-S-A!  U-S-A!  This sends a message to those who would oppose American, from rogue nations, to international terrorists.  You know what that message is?  "We are a people of great resolve.  We invented the Double Down.  Clearly we have no fear of death.  Do you really want to test us?!"

By the way, this thing is still healthier than many other fast food items, believe it or not.  Now that's American ingenuity.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Awful Products as Seen on TV: Shake Weights

Hello, ladies!  If you're like me, you're looking for a revolutionary way to shape and tone your arms.  Why shouldn't you have strong, sexy, sculpted arms which you're proud to show off?  Well now you can, with Shake Weights.  There's only one problem.  Using the Shake Weights in a public setting might be rather... embarrassing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Kick Ass for the Lord

The 1992 zombie flick Braindead (which is incidentally Peter Jackson's best and most important work and is better known in the U.S. as Dead Alive) featured a Catholic priest who "kicks ass for the Lord."  If you haven't seen the clip, watch it.  You will thank me.

While scouring the news today for work, I came across this ABC News piece about a Kentucky based church called Xtreme Ministries.  The church, which caters largely to people returning from military service, is also a gym.  Congregants train there, participate in mixed martial arts matches on Saturdays and hold church services there on Sundays.

As a fan of MMA, I have long observed a relationship between missionary Christianity and the combat sports community.  Some of the earliest and biggest stars of the sport such as Matt Hughes and Jens "Lil' Evil" Pulver are outspoken Christians.  Fierce competitor Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is a Born Again, and considers himself "God's Street Soldier" as the tattoo on his arm reads.  There is even a clothing line called "Jesus Didn't Tap."  The name means that much as a MMA competitor ideally refuses to "tap out" thereby yielding to his opponent, "Jesus didn't quit after going through unimaginable suffering and pain when he was crucified on the cross."  I'm unsure of the significance of this trend, but it is interesting to say the least.

I previously posted about serial killer Rodney Alcala, an amateur photographer whose work was released by police in hopes of identifying previously unknown victims.  In an update to that story, detectives are currently fielding hundreds of calls according to the L.A. Times.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hatfields and McCoys

The current debate about healthcare reform and the political rancor surrounding the same made me think of this article I recently read on Politics Daily.  The article concerns two brothers who are both political operatives who stand on opposite sides of the aisle.  It hit close to home, as my brother and I both work in the policy realm on opposite sides.  I like to think we comport ourselves better than these two guys.

Check out this great list of 19th century slang from the always enjoyable Art of Manliness blog.  For the unfamiliar, Art of Manliness is dedicated to "reviving the lost art of manliness" and regularly posts pieces of old school wisdom for men.  It meshes nicely with another favorite of mine, The Fedora Lounge.  Due to an error of omission, Art of Manliness is not featured on this blog's resource list.  I will correct that post haste.

In the spirit of classic manliness, I leave you with one of the most important and influential short silent films, "Larry Goes to the Market."  Worthy of your two minutes, I assure you.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Comfort Food

My dear wife is in California visiting family for the next few days.  As such, I am home alone for the first time in a very long time.  I am learning that while cohabitation with a female domesticates a male to a certain degree, it also dulls many of his essential survival skills.

For example, food.  I never learned any cooking skills beyond frying an egg (poorly, I might add) or boiling water.  When I lived on my own, I subsisted mainly on Stouffer's TV dinners.  The turkey one is actually quite good.  The lasagna is not bad, either.  However, I have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle since then.  I have grown soft because I have my lovely wife's cooking to look forward to each night.  I have not had to act as a hunter-gatherer for a long time, and it shows.

When I was a child, two of my favorite foods were tuna fish sandwiches with mayo and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  This still remains the case.  The Barenaked Ladies lyric  "If I had a million dollars, we wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner, but we would, we'd just eat more" resonates deeply for me.  I had a tuna sandwich for lunch today, so I can check that off the list.  I have a feeling that I'll be having a box of Mac N' Cheese in the next few days.

Kraft Mac N' Cheese actually has a somewhat interesting history.  It was introduced in 1937 in the U.S. and Canada.  World War II contributed to the product's popularity as the rationing of meat and dairy created a need for hearty, meatless entrees.

At this point, it's a legacy brand.  I know I am not the only one who feels a nostalgic pang at the sight of "the blue box."  There's just something about a foil packet of nuclear orange colored powder that spells delicious to me.  Over the years, Kraft has marked Mac N' Cheese in many different variations made to appeal to kids (for example, Ninja Turtles, spiral shaped noodles, or pre-mixed cheese sauce in a pouch), but true aficionados such as myself know that these variations suck.  The powdered sauce doesn't stick as well to noodles of shapes other than the traditional elbow.  And the noodles themselves don't take on the right consistency when cooked.  And cheese sauce in a pouch?  That's just gross and it never tastes right.

The good folks at Kraft provide plenty of recipes to fancy up your Mac N' Cheese, but I like it best the old school way.  What does it say about me that one of my favorite foods has an official website hosted by an animated dinosaur, the Cheesasarus Rex?  Hopefully that I have discerning taste.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Billz Classics: The College Years

While in the process of putting together an application, I started to dig through my old college papers.  In the fall of sophomore year, I took a class entitled "America Circa 2000."  From what I recall, the professor led us through an examination of American culture and society at the turn of the 21st century.  Deep within an old hard drive, I found several very short response papers which I wrote for that class.  Unfortunately, the descriptions of the original assignments have been lost to the ages.  So I'm not sure exactly what I was responding to.  What I wrote for the first assignment made me laugh out loud and I thought it suitable for a fresh edition of Billz Classics.  You will find the original one paragraph paper below, followed by my usual commentary.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who's up for some snorkeling?

Since my post last week on former Rep. Eric Massa, it has come to light that his Navy shipmates have some pretty interesting stories.  For one, Massa used to like giving men what he called "Massa Massages."  Also, he is apparently a snorkeling enthusiast.

Last week, I remarked that the events unfolding in the Massa scandal have the comedic pacing of a Saturday Night Live sketch.  The writers at SNL were apparently unable to resist doing a send-up of Massa's escapades, featuring him in both the cold opening and Weekend Update sketches.  My favorite aspect of the cold opening is that before Massa gets in the obligatory "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" viewers are treated to a reenactment of his tickle fight with the congressional staffers he lived with.  The reenactment goes down pretty much exactly as I picture the actual event.  Massa even utters the phrase "Kill the old guy!" which is how he described the giant man pile he threw to celebrate his 50th.

Here's one that's good for a laugh.  The always excellent Neatorama linked to a mock movie trailer by the comedy team BriTaNick.  If this were a real movie, it would be guaranteed to win an Academy Award.  After all, the trailer features the song "The Dragon's Heartbeat" from the "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" soundtrack.  (You'll know it when you hear it.)  The video is a brilliant spoof of Hollywood studio tearjerkers, and I think you'll enjoy it.  See below.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Portraits of a Serial Killer

Rodney Alcala was convicted last month of murdering a child and four women between November 1977 and June 1979.  He is lead suspect in several unsolved murders, and has been linked to dozens of disappearances and deaths.  He also had a knack for photography.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hold the Presses

Work and real life has gotten in the way of my blogging hobby.  But I can only stay away from my dear reader(s?) for so long.  Don't call it a comeback.  Today, I'd like to focus on some news items.  After all, it's important to stay abreast of current events.

Friday, March 5, 2010

For your viewing pleasure

It's been far too long since I've posted, but I'm too lazy today to write something of substance.  When it comes to a lack of substance, nothing beats YouTube clips.  I present for you a small sampling of my favorites.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Something to chew on

In a previous posting, I wrote of my misadventures at the oral surgeon getting my two left wisdom teeth removed.  To say that the extraction did not go well would be a massive understatement.  Today, I had the right side done.  Overall, the process went better this time but it was still no picnic.  When I went for my follow-up consultation after the last extractions, I requested some sedatives this time.  I'm afraid of being put under, but I wouldn't have minded being nicely scrambled.  What follows are actual snippets of conversation I had with the surgeon and his staff.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Some local flavor

I'm very sorry to make you jealous, but tomorrow morning I am going to see the oral surgeon to have my two remaining wisdom teeth taken out.  When I did the left side, I only had local anesthesia.  This time, I have wised up and will be requesting an IV full of Valium and a man sized hit of nitrous.  Hopefully the process will go better this time than the last.

I doubt I will be writing an entry tomorrow, as I will be on the mend.  So tonight I thought it would be fun to write about a few odd things I saw in the neighborhood today.  The first comes courtesy of the restroom at a local cafe.  I was feeling down this morning and needed an affirmation.  A little positive reinforcement.  And that is what I saw this sign...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mysterious Empty Mansions

Here's a cool story I picked up from the MSNBC website.  It is replete with copper magnates, political intrigue, and mysterious empty mansions.  Huguette Clark is the only surviving heir of William A. Clark, who was a United States Senator and the second richest man in America way back in the days of the robber barons.  Huguette is older than God, and has no heirs of her own.  And no one knows where she is.

It is presumed that she is in a nursing facility somewhere, but any inquiries as to her whereabouts are rebuffed by her lawyer.  He refuses to divulge her location even to her surviving relatives.  She dropped out of the society pages in the 1950s, becoming a recluse and leaving behind her a trail of empty mansions.  One of them is in California, and has never been lived in, yet has been maintained by caretakers for decades.  She also had a lavish pad on Fifth Avenue and a Connecticut estate which she reportedly purchased as an escape from the horrors of a coming nuclear war with Russia.  She is attempting to sell most of these properties for tens of millions of dollars, and hasn't lived in them for decades, if at all.  She is about to turn 104 years old, but according to her lawyer has all of her faculties and regularly gives him instructions.  Wherever she is.

The backstory is equally as cool.  Her father, William A. Clark rose up from a modest upbringing in a log cabin to become a the copper king of Montana.  He was one of the true robber barons, and cared for little but his own growing wealth.  He was notorious for dispensing bribes, and bought his way into a United States Senate seat.  He served for one term, though he insisted on being referred to as "Senator Clark" for the rest of his life.  He moved his family to New York, and died at 86 years of age.  He was laid to rest in a cemetery next to Woolworths and Astors.  Definitely worth checking out the full story and cool pictures here.  Be sure to click on the "photo narrative" version at the top of the page to view the slideshow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Awful Products as Seen on TV: Pos-T-Vac

Today's post concerns the sensitive subject of erectile dysfunction, and a most unusual product whose makers claim is the cure for that bedroom predicament.  I expect both of my readers to handle this subject with a level of maturity appropriate to the vein in which this post was written.  Haha, I said "handle" and "vein."  So for those of you who think you can limp through this, on to the meat of the post.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Billz travel dispatch

Having recently returned from a business trip to Washington, D.C. I would like to share some experiences and observations from my travels.  First, I have a new favorite fake word: Manthropomorphism. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday odds and ends (but hold the crust)

As mentioned previously, I spent this past weekend with my lovely Mrs. visiting our nation's snow covered capital.  I am leaving early tomorrow morning for D.C. again, this time for business.  But I didn't want to leave without mentioning a few odds and ends that are on my mind.  Trust me, this is really important stuff.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Everything looks swankier in a brandy snifter

Way back on April 7, 2001, a Saturday Night Live sketch aired featuring guest host Alec Baldwin and longtime cast member Horatio Sanz as two Italian American gentlemen, presumably from either Long or Staten Island, who operate a photography studio called "Lasting Impressions."  Their specialty is adding "elegance" to your favorite photo by digitally placing the image inside of a brandy snifter.

The sketch is hilarious.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a video clip, but you can read the script here.  It doesn't do it justice, but it will give you the idea.  In a case of art imitating life, I found this thread from 2007 on a photography website.  I almost wish that the woman's posting was written tongue-in-cheek, but I don't believe that is the case.  If you have the time, you really must read the whole thing.

To summarize, she is looking for a wedding photographer for her daughter, who just got engaged.  She wants to provide her daughter with "only the best" and has her heart set on a picture of her daughter and son-in-law inside of a brandy snifter (which she refers to as a sniffer).

Many people offer earnest and patient responses, including one photographer who explains that the look, which was achieved through double exposure, was very popular in the 60s and 70s, but most serious wedding photographers consider the technique to be dated and cheesy.  One person even links to the script of the SNL sketch.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the mom of the bride-to-be eventually chimes in to say that she has been fired from the task of selecting the photographer, but she will find someone to create the brandy snifter pics using Photoshop.  Perhaps she can call the guys at Lasting Impressions?

True gluttons for punishment should check out this slideshow from the same photography site.  It's called "wedding fantasy" but I think you'll agree that it's more of a nightmare.  Cheesy double exposure shots were apparently all the rage at one time.  Apparently, there are examples of such shots dating back as far as the Victorian era.  I guess you could charitably argue that the overall effect is classic.  But it makes me appreciate my wedding photographer, Chelsea Nicole's take on classic that much more.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Feature: Awful Products As Seen on TV

I am a longtime fan of the schlocky commercials and lengthier infomercials that marketers use to hawk their dubious products on late night television.  It was well reported last year that producers of infomercials were experiencing a boon due to the recession.  The makers of products such as the Snuggie who otherwise would have been unable to afford prime time advertising found that their ad dollars stretched much further due to the downturn.  Despite the recent and untimely death of pitch man par excellence Billy Mays, the "As Seen on TV" industry seems to be thriving.  Which brings me to a the introduction of a new feature of this blog, Awful Products As Seen on TV.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nuclear Winter

We finally got some of the snow yesterday that has been crippling the Washington, D.C. region.  It wasn't anywhere near the magnitude of D.C.'s "snowpocalypse," as a certain AccuWeather forecaster would gladly attest.  The record setting snowfall in the Capitol region has been so severe in recent days that D.C. area governments ceased snow removal due to "extremely dangerous" conditions.  Guess what my weekend plans are?  The wife and I are taking a long planned trip to D.C. as she has never been there.  Hopefully at least something will be open by Saturday.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Billz Classics: I did it my way.

I return today with another edition of the ever self-indulgent "Billz Classics."  But first, a disturbing news item which was submitted to me by a friend.  It seems that in the Philippines, where karaoke is an unaccountably popular pastime, people are really killing 'em with the Frank Sinatra classic "My Way."  Or to be more accurate, people are being killed for performing the song.  Gives new meaning to a rough crowd.  Damn it, Philippines, did the Chairman of the Board teach you nothing?  The good life, full of fun, seems to be the ideal.  Yes, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel.  It does not, however, give you license to hack someone with a machete because they suck at crooning.  Incidentally, Frank hated "My Way."

Now for the "classic" blog entry, which was written on November 1, 2006 under the title "Whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down..."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gives new meaning to the phrase "throwing a bomb"

In honor of today's Superbowl XLIV, here's a post on a football of a different kind.  The nuclear football is a briefcase that is carried by a military aide who is always in the presence of the President of the United States.  It has the power to unleash a devastating attack the likes of which the world has thankfully never seen.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Food Review: Pepsi Throwback (plus two bonus beverages)

For those who are keeping track, this is my fourth posting about beverages.  I should have called this BevBlog instead of the Moral Vacuum.  Not "Bev" for beverages, but because I hold the deep seated belief that I am an 87 year old woman named Beverly trapped in a man's body due to a failed physics experiment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Billz Classics

A few days ago, I stumbled upon my long neglected MySpace page.  It was a bit of internet archaeology, so to speak.  I read through some of the blog entries I posted to the page.  Since a few of them are good for a laugh, I thought I'd start posting occasional excerpts here with a bit of commentary under the general banner of "Billz Classics."  (Less stuffy than Masterpiece Theatre, but more self important.)

If this new feature is annoying to you, please give me feedback and I will cease and desist.  I value both of my readers very deeply.  Clearly I was even more misanthropic a few years ago than I am now, and my hatred of mass transit ran even deeper.  This first entry was written on Monday, October 30, 2006 under the title "I was waiting for a cross-town train in the London underground when it struck me..."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Lost Roadside

One of my favorite web destinations is Lost America, which showcases the work of photographer Troy Paiva.  Paiva specializes in night photography.  His preferred subject is what he calls "the abandoned west."  Using elaborate lighting and exposure techniques, he takes haunting shots of the abandoned motels, junkyards, brothels, military installations, and houses that dot sleepy desert roads.  I've wasted many hours over the past few years looking at his images.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wait a second, Doctor! What is it you're prescribing me?

What follows are some of the incoherent ramblings and disparate thoughts I had over the day.  I would like to start this post off by leveling the harshest possible criticism towards pharmaceutical maker Eisai Company.  But what wrong have they committed?  Are they exploiting their employees?  Releasing medications to the market without adequate testing?  Using aggressive sales tactics to encourage doctors to over-prescribe their products?  I'm afraid it's far worse than that.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Miller High Life is the new Pabst Blue Ribbon

A friend of mine recently observed that bars in big cities tend to abundantly stock one cheap, yet generally agreeable beer.  He generically calls this beer the "hipster beer," as it's popularity is seemingly fueled by self conscious trendsters who drink it out of some sense of irony or a search for "authenticity."  Usually these beers are old standbys that your grandfather along with generations of blue collar workers enjoyed.

A night at the movies

Last night I had a great time with the guys at Astoria Indies, the "new home of indie film in Queens."  They have recently started screening independent films on Thursday nights at Astoria's Bohemian Hall,  home of the famous "beer garden."  Last night's cinematic masterpiece was The Room, starring, executive produced, written, and directed by the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food Review: MexiPepsi

In a previous posting, I wrote about one of my recent food passions, Mexican Coca Cola.  I share this passion with foodies, who insist that the formula used for Mexican Coke has a "pure" taste as compared to the domestic version.  I'm no food snob, but I know delicious when I come across it.  The secret is High Fructose Corn Syrup (or the lack thereof).  The Mexican bottlers still use real cane sugar.  You know how they say everything comes back to politics?  Well we use High Fructose in our sodas because of policy mandates.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Need to know how to act on a date? Look no further than Coronet Instructional Films

Want to learn the secret to popularity?  At a loss for ideas for your next date?  Does basic hygiene elude your grasp?  Ever wonder why capitalism is superior to other economic systems?  Need info on how to conform to the mind numbing social norms of the middle of the last century?  And most importantly, do you have a stomach strong enough for a huge dose of post-war kitsch?  Then Coronet Instructional Films has something that you've just got to watch.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What is that infernal racket?

Imagine living with a persistent low noise sort of like the idling of a distant diesel engine.  Its source is a mystery, and no one else around you can hear it.  Ear plugs do nothing to diminish it.  It sometimes disrupts your sleep and brings on chronic headaches and nosebleeds.  This is the reality for those who are able to perceive a phenomenon known as "The Hum."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hitler's got 99 problems

I am usually pretty up on the latest internet memes, but somehow I missed out on this hilarious little nugget.  In 2004, a German film was released called Der Untergang.  It dealt with the collapse of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich.  Pretty heavy topic, at least at face value.  In the film, there is a scene in which Hitler is given some bad military news by several of his officers.  Predictably, he is not pleased.

Some fun folks on the internet have re-appropriated the scene by changing the subtitle "translations."  I have watched a few of these and can't stop laughing.  Here is one of my favorites:

Sucks to have your party ruined like that, right?  Of course, Hitler is also up on current events:

There are many more of these posted to YouTube, and some of them are pretty funny.  Hitler weighs in on everything from his craving for Burger King to Ussain Bolt's world record.  It never ceases to amaze me where people can find levity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Anthrax Island Whodunnit?

A tip of the hat goes to Liz for the idea for this posting.  Just off of my native Long Island lies the mysterious Plum Island.  Originally known by Dutch and other European settlers as "Plumb Island," it is the site of a quaint, historic lighthouse on the site of a light originally built at the order of George Washington.  On August 11, 1775, the island became the site of the first amphibious assault by the American military, when 120 hapless revolutionary soldiers were turned away after exchanging a single volley with British regulars.  Does this small island, which would otherwise be a historical footnote, hold some dark secrets?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nothing But the Tooth

Happy MLK Day to those of you who have off or are otherwise observing.  I celebrated the day by having two of my wisdom teeth extracted.  Up until recently, I used to say that they could have my teeth when they killed me.  However, my dentist told me that one of the teeth, which was impacted, was showing signs of decay.  I didn't want to allow a minor problem now to become a major one later on.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. I sailed Away to China...

I had the strangest dream last night.  Actually, it's my second strangest dream.  My strangest dream is one in which I dreamed I had three movies out from a rental place and only time enough to watch two before the place was set to close and I would incur late fees.  I woke up in a slight panic because of this.  But I had no rented movies in reality.  True story.  In this other strange dream, I watched an early to mid 1990s Arnold Schwarzenegger film I am fairly certain does not actually exist.  The setting of the dream was a bedroom I used to live in years ago.  I was going through my TV cart looking at all my old VHS tapes.  And that is when I found it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Are we headed towards a cashless society?

Back in college, I recall an economics professor making an argument in favor of a cashless society.  If all debits and credits were processed electronically, the argument went, there would be zero possibility for tax cheating.  As an added benefit, it would be almost impossible for criminal organizations and terrorists to launder money.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's the year 2010. Where is my rocket car?

What year is it?  For many people, we recently celebrated the auspicious start of the year two-thousand-and-ten.  But for me, this is twenty-ten.  Sounds more futuristic that way.  So, where is my self propelled rocket car, and the other technologies we were promised at the middle of the last century by industrial giants such as General Motors?  Perhaps given the recent financial crisis, it's lucky that there remains a General Motors at all.  Still, it's hard to abandon the romantic notion of a future that remains in the past.  That sentence was trippy, am I right?

Viewers in need of a real trip should take a look at the 1956 musical short "Design for Dreaming," which was brought to us by the good people at General Motors and Frigidaire.  In it, a sleeping woman is escorted by a masked man to an elegant ball (actually the 1956 General Motors Motorama pavilion at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  She also tries her hand at baking a cake in Frigidaire's kitchen of the future.  Like all good corporate sponsored musical short films, the dialogue is entirely sung, rather than spoken.

The same was brilliantly lampooned by the cult television show Mystery Science Theatre: Three Thousand.  You must watch the real one first to get the full benefit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"The Omega Man" and "I am Legend": A comparison

This past weekend, my darling wife felt like watching the 2007 film adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic 1954 sci-fi horror novel, I Am Legend.  Unfortunately, it wasn't available on Netflix's instant streaming service.  Being a bad movie buff, I already had the 1971 version, The Omega Man, in my instant queue.  So we were forced to resort to that version.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Netflix Bandits Foiled by My Questionable Taste

The latest disc from my Netflix queue arrived today.  As you will see from the picture, some enterprising pirate at the post office or elsewhere tore the envelope flap aside to see if my movie was worth plundering.  In this case, my questionable taste was a virtue.  When the would-be thief saw that the envelope contained the 1984 Patrick Swayze vehicle "Red Dawn," he let the disc continue on its way unmolested.  For those of you who are curious, "Red Dawn" is about a team of teenagers who fight off a covert Soviet invasion in a small heartland town.

While Swayze was in plenty of "good" movies that showcased his competence as an actor, he is loved and remembered by people like me for such cinematic gems as "Road House" and "Point Break."  I close with the words of Swayze's character in the latter film, Bodhi: "If you want the ultimate, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It's not tragic to die doing what you love."  You are missed, Patrick.  Though apparently not by Netflix thieves.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Television Review: Apocalypse Man

Have you ever wondered how you would survive in the event of the complete and total breakdown of societal order?  Curious as to where you'd find food, power, and information in the event of an apocalyptic event?  Has the History Channel got a show for you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Food Review: Queso de Freir

Our local supermarket, Key Foods, stocks a full supply of cheeses from a company called Tropical Cheese. They seemingly cater to the Latino market, promising would-be purchasers "authentic Latino flavor." For years now, I have been intrigued by a product called "queso de freir" which literally translates to "cheese for frying" or colloquially, "this is not health food, but damn it's good!" It wasn't until yesterday that I purchased a brick of this mystery cheese.