Saturday, November 12, 2011

On God and Politics Redux

Hello, folks. It's been some time since I last posted, but I assure you it is with good reason. I'm currently participating in National Novel Writing Month and have been devoting all writing time to that project. I thought I'd take a second and voice another concern about some of the people making a push for the presidency in next year's election.

A while ago, I posted about Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann stating she was prompted to run for office by God. Yes, the God. Now we can add Herman Cain into the mix of nutjobs who claim the same. I won't rehash the same argument I presented in the previous post because there's really not anything else to be said on the matter except this: beware the folks who claim God spoke to them, especially if said folks are making a run for the sun at the most powerful position in the world. I mean, talk about self-importance. Talk about lack of accountability. Talk about psychosis.

Talk about terrifying.

This is the 21st century. Are we still happily and blindly playing these games? Do people actually believe these candidates had the God whispering His blessing into their ears? If so, I should be a millionaire from all the bridges I can sell. Any candidate who makes this claim automatically and irrevocably loses my vote--and the vote of any rational thinker--forever.

That's it. End of mini-rant. Leave feedback as you like and I'll see you at the end of November.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Hello, folks!  You all know what day it is...Thirsty Thursday!  And since I know everyone is as thirsty as I am, I'll dive right into today's selection.  I figure since fall is finally here, I'll go with the obvious choice and review one of the many Octoberfest beers available all season long.  This one comes from the vats of Samuel Adams, an American brewery based in Boston, Massachusetts.

This particular brew is lovingly crafted, per it's website, from "five roasts of malt to create a delicious harmony of sweet flavors including caramel and toffee."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  The first sip of this concoction sends a delightful medley of flavors splashing across the palate.  Ah, but I get ahead of myself.  The aroma reveals the malt blend, predominantly caramel, and reminiscent of other, headier spices.  The head quickly subsides and leaves little lacing on the glass. 

The taste of this Octoberfest is bready and strong, though not overwhelming, and slightly bitter, slightly creamy.  The one complaint I have is the aftertaste this beer leaves, a bit sour and somehow metallic (in contrast to the initial drinkability).  This is a completely accessible autumn beverage for novices (like me) and seasoned beer drinkers alike.  As an aside, I can't think of a better beer to sip while watching Major League Baseball playoffs: October-perfect. 

Overall Grade: B+


Style: Märzen
Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%
International Bitterness Units: 15

Color: Deep Red Amber

Glass Used: Pint
Food Pairings: Kielbasa Burro Verde/Chimichangas from Taxco (this pairing was BRILLIANT, with the spices of the food working to complement and enhance the spices of the beer)
Cellaring Notes: Enjoyed 69 Days Before Best By Date
Reading Material: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Game Day

Hello, folks!  I don't know what it is about fall Sundays that gets me in a competitive mood (my guess is watching football may be a major contributing factor), but today is all about Game Day.  I love games.  I mean, who doesn't?  It's fun to sit down and match skills (or luck) with your friends and family.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood include playing board games with the folks and my kid brother. 

But are board games still relevent in the 21st century?  With everything digitized, pixelated, and virtual, how many people still take the time to set up a board with tokens, cards, and dice?  Me, for one.

Today, I want to run down a list of board games that I love to play and bring with them an overpowering sense of sweet nostalgia.  Incidentally, these games should always be played in as vintage a condition as possible to enhance said sweet nostalgia.  Here goes:

5. The Ungame (Talicor).  This isn't actually a game at all, in the traditional sense of the word.  Just look at the title.  Rather, it's a non-competitive way of bringing family and friends closer by fostering "listening skills as well as self-expression" (per the included directions).  As each player progresses through the game, they get to visit such sites as Fearful Forest, Worry Wharf, and Impatient Island, which prompt the questions each player is to answer.  I always thought of The Ungame as the ultimate game for sore losers.  Fun!

4. Clue (Parker Brothers).  Who among us hasn't studied his or her opponent across a Clue board, wondering just how much information the opponent knows about which of six suspects murdered poor Mr. Boddy in Tudor Mansion?  Was it Professor Plum in the Study with a Wrench?  Or perhaps Miss Scarlet used a Revolver in the Conservatory?  In any case, Clue gives each player the opportunity to play sleuth.  Few finer moments exist at a gaming table than making a correct accusation based upon the power of deduction. 

3. Scrabble (Hasbro). The ultimate word game.  Use letter tiles with various point values on a 15x15 grid.  Use all seven tiles at once to grab an extra 50 points.  I can attribute learning at least half my vocabulary by poring over a Scrabble board. 

2. Monopoly (Parker Brothers).  By definition, the dominance of a market by a single entity.  Not legal in the United States, but on a Monopoly board it is not only legal but a requirement of winning.  By rolling dice, move one of the classic game tokens around the board and buy up various properties in order to bankrupt your opponents.  What better game to play to prepare for the new impending recession

1. Stratego (Milton Bradley).  This game does for strategy what Scrabble does for words.  It teaches you.  Two opposing armies, one blue and one red, must move across a battlefield to capture the other's flag.  Be careful, though.  Spies and bombs lurk in unexpected places.  One wrong move and you could get knifed or blown to ribbons.  What's not to love? 

So, tell me -- are board games even worth the while anymore?  Has the world grown too fast-paced with FPS's and RPG's?  What are your favorite games, board or otherwise?  Let me know!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Good evening, folks!  You know what day it is, right?  That thirstiest of weekdays, Thirsty Thursday!

On-tap today (or in the bottle, actually) is Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss.  True, this selection is perhaps more befitting of summer than the newly-come autumn, but I'm maybe not quite ready to let go of those humid nights in mid-July when crickets compete with the crack of ball bats for the dominate evening sound.  In any case, I'm slipping in one final taste of summer before fully embracing fall.

What to say about Berry Weiss?  I've always enjoyed Leinie's beer, from the Original to its line of seasonal brews.  Berry Weiss falls in that special niche of fruit beer.  It's aroma is instantly recognizable as a pungent blend of berries.  The taste is full-on berry.  All berries, all the time.  It's not over-sweet, but it comes close.  In short, it's good for one or two bottles but I wouldn't sit down with a six-pack.  If a quick lick of summer on a cool autumn night is your cup o' brew, then I recommend Leinie's Berry Weiss.  If you're a beer purist, steer clear.  This is more of a soda-pop sipper; the last bastion of summer.


Style: Fruit beer
Alcohol by Volume: 4.8%
International Bitterness Units: 13.5
Calories: 207
Carb. Grams: 28.0
Fat Grams: 0.0
Malts: Pale and Wheat
Hops: Cluster
Serving temperature: 45°
Color: Orange/Pink

Glass Used: Pint
Food Pairings: Chicken Cordon Bleu
Cellaring Notes: Enjoyed 82 Days Before Best By Date
Reading Material: Chicago Tribune Sports (specifically about the departure of White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen following a disappointing season, which prompted two more bottles of Leinie's.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Good evening, folks, and welcome to another edition of Thirsty Thursday, named for the ever-popular pre-weekend day enjoyed by beerophiles everywhere.  Tonight, I decided on a quick review of an old favorite: Blue Moon Beer.  This particular brew is technically called Blue Moon Belgian White, though the name comes off a bit deceitful since the beverage itself bears a cloudy deep citrus color and tastes of oranges and lemon rind.  In fact, a Blue Moon isn't a Blue Moon unless garnished with an orange slice.  I like to let the orange steep a couple minutes in the beer; doing so, I've found, brings out the natural fruitiness of the drink.  The beauty of Blue Moon is that it can be enjoyed easily with or without a meal; I prefer mine while watching ESPN or browsing the 'Net on my laptop.  The aftertaste is practically nil.

Blue Moon is available in bottles, kegs, and now cans and comes in several varieties including the aforementioned Belgian White, Spring Blonde Wheat Ale, Summer Honey Wheat, Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and Winter Abbey Ale.  No season is left unturned, and I look forward to sampling each in the appropriate timeframe. 

StatisticsStyle: Belgian White (witbier)
Alcohol by Volume: 5.4%
Potent Ingredients: Malted barley, white wheat, oats, orange peel, coriander
Color: Orange-amber

Glass Used: Pint
Food Pairings: Shelled Peanuts
Reading Material: Yahoo News

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Comics: The Funny Papers

Hello, folks! Last week in Cold Brood, I covered the five least funny comic strips still in syndication. My beef with these is that they simply are not funny. To recap, the offending titles included Broom-Hilda, Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, and the abysmal Fred Basset.

Now, allow me to share my top 5 countdown of the absolute most hilarious strips to ever grace the funny pages. Without further ado:

5. Garfield (by Jim Davis). Ok, so the fat cat who made his debut in 1978 isn't as funny as he once was. But I cut my teeth on Garfield from the time I was old enough to read and, darn it, the early stuff was funny. About the time creator Jim Davis quit writing and illustrating the strip and hired a team to tackle it, the lasagna-loving, mischief-making, dog-despising feline started down the slippery slope to meh-dom.

4. The Lockhorns (by Bill Hoest). The ever-feuding man and wife who first bickered back in 1968 somehow manage to stay fresh week after week in the Sunday funnies. Maybe it's because we all know someone like them, an aging couple who trade deadpan potshots with one another. Why do they stick together if their marriage is so miserable? Well, it's more fun than if they were divorced and trading alimony checks or death threats.

3. Non Sequitur (by Wiley Miller). This laugh riot started in 1992 as a single-frame cartoon before evolving into political satire and finally, in its current stage, a more traditional multi-panel strip centering on the Pyle family from Watchacallit, Maine. 

2. The Far Side (by Gary Larson). This uproarious funfest ran from January 1, 1980 through January 1, 1995. Not before and not since has a single panel brought about such hilarity (in this blogger's humble opinion). Larson is a master of understatement, which composes the core of The Far Side's humor. 

1. Calvin and Hobbes (by Bill Watterson). The ultimate comic strip about a hyper-active and hyper-imaginative boy and his stuffed tiger who periodically comes to life (or does he?) is the stuff of genius. It ran between November 1985 and concluded beautifully on December 31, 1985. Watterson somehow managed to tackle issues such as education, environmentalism, bullying, and family ties by infusing it with sharp wit and biting satire. Never once during my in-depth reading of C&H did I ever shake my head and sigh. Always hilarious, often poignant, sometimes thought-provoking, what made this cartoon even better was Watterson's unflinching integrity in refusing to license his characters: no stuffed animals, no Saturday morning cartoons, no bumper stickers. Just pure art. And pure fun. 

So what do you think? Am I on target? Any fans of the funny papers care to add their own favorites? Can't wait to hear from you on this. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Hello, folks! Yes, yes, yes it is that wonderful prelude to the weekend again: Thirsty Thursday!  Tonight we depart from the local microbrew scene for the northern climes of Minneapolis, Minnesota, from whence this week's featured brew comes: Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider!  And with the coming change from summer to fall, what better time to break out the cider?


Style: Hard Apple Cider
Alcohol by Volume: 5%
Calories: 170
Naturally Fermented: Yes

Glass Used: Pint
Food Pairings: Turkey and Swiss on Italian bread with lettuce, mayo, and applewood smoked bacon with tomato bisque soup
Cellaring Notes: Enjoyed 89 days before Best By date
Reading Material: George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones

The thing I like about reviewing a hard cider is there's no discussing hops or color or aroma.  You know what you're going to get from the jump.  Apples.  Crushed in a press and fermented into alcohol.  I knew going in that Crispin was going to have tough competition.  See, I don't always drink hard cider but when I do, I prefer Woodchuck Hard Cider.  Woodchuck's had my loyalty for years.  You know something?  It still does.  While Crispin offered a light, refreshing, season-appropriate appley tang, it just didn't have the same full flavor that belongs to its superior counterpart.  Nonetheless, it poured nicely over ice, possessed a crisp bite, and served to acceptably cleanse the palate.  I wouldn't sit down and drink a six-pack of it, but it was a pleasant complement to a meal.

Grade: B

For more information, visit

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wordy Wednesday: 5 Favorite Words

Writing a story, article, or blog is similar to building a house (or a skyscraper if your work happens to be a Melvillean novel). Words are the bricks writers use to build. As English is the language with easily the most words (with German as a distant second), writers have many bricks to chose from when building. 

I suspect I am not alone when it comes to favoring certain words, or that those words happen to change on a fairly regular basis. I mean, really, there are just so many of them...choosing your top 5 would be like trying to choose your top 5 songs: impossible. 

Today I'd like to share my current crop of faves, as follows:

5. Circumlocution. An ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech, such as "a wheeled motorized vehicle with four doors used as a mode of transportation" for "sedan." 

4. Tincture. Can be either a verb or a noun. As a noun, it is a medicinal solution usually steeped in alcohol (yum!).  As a verb, it can mean "to tinge."

3. Affinity. A natural attraction, liking, or feeling of kinship

2. Bauble. A showy, usually cheap, ornament or trinket

1. Milquetoast. One who is mild, meek, or timid

So there you have it, folks. Five pretty awesome words, if I do say so myself. Check with me again in a couple of weeks and this list will have changed completely. But for today, these are the winners by a proboscis. Tell me, what are words you find luscious?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Comics: The (Un)Funny Papers

Each day when I sit down to breakfast, I read my Chicago Tribune in the same order: Sports, News, Comics. (That probably speaks volumes about my priorities, but that's neither here nor there.) The point is, after reading the bevy of invariably depressing articles about Chicago sports and the even more depressing news stories of the day, I want something to cheer me up. I rely on the daily comics to do that. 

Only they don't.  In fact, many of them only serve to further depress. Most of them are simply...awful. Is it too much to ask for my funny papers to be funny?

What follows are five comic strips that are vastly out of touch with their readers and should be concluded as swiftly as possible. After you review, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

1. Broom-Hilda. This one is so bad that the Chicago Tribune has had it going head-to-head with several other strips to see if it can be discontinued by readers' votes. Please. Get rid of it.

2. Blondie.  This strip was created by Chic Young in 1930. How is it still fresh? Answer: it isn't.

3. Hagar the Horrible.  A fat, mead-guzzling Viking and his quirky family and friends must have been a hard-sell when it first ran in 1973. Today it would be impossible. 

4. Beetle Bailey.  This is a strip about a shiftless army private who shirks his duty and gets beat to shredded wheat by his drill sergeant. For all the years I've regularly read the funny papers, since roughly 1985, I've never once laughed at Beetle Bailey, which has been running consistently since 1950. Literally. Never. Laughed. 

5. Fred Basset. For as many times as I've never laughed at Beetle Bailey, I've never even cracked a smile for this stinker of a strip about a hound's musings. Except perhaps out of embarrassment to its creator, Alex Graham (may he rest in peace). I defy you to find a Fred Basset strip that can make me a liar.

Next Sunday, I'll offer up my picks of five absolutely timeless strips that have made me laugh aloud virtually every reading. What do you think? Am I wrong about my choices of unfunny comics? Let me know.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Hello, folks!  It's that wonderful day of the week again, Thirsty Thursday!  Last week, I launched my first beer review with Chicago's Goose Island India Pale Ale.  I decided I like the local microbrew scene enough to stick with it this week, but this time it's even closer to home.  This week's selection is Two Brothers Domaine DuPage. 


Style: French Style Country Ale
Alcohol by Volume: 5.9%
International Bitterness Units: 24
Color: Deep Amber

Glass Used: Pint
Food Pairings: Chicken Kiev
Cellaring Notes: Enjoyed 67 Days Before Best By Date
Reading Material: Chicago Tribune Sports

Let me preface this review by saying that this little number was part of a microbrew variety pack given as a gift a few weeks back.  I love when this happens.  Not just with beer, but with anything: hidden gems in a pile of coal.  I once gleefully discovered a signed edition of Farenheit 451 in a bag of books I bought for $2 at the second-hand shop. 

And Two Brothers' Domaine DuPage is a gem.  The fact this beer is brewed in Warrenville, IL, just up I-88 from my homestead, is an added source of awesomeness.  When poured, the color is auburn without the barest hint of cloudiness.  Little head, white in color.  Caramel undertones to roasted malt aroma is a scrumptious prelude to the main event, which is slightly bready but reminiscent also of dried fruit.  Slightly bitter without being acidic, this brew paired wonderfully with the spice of the Kiev, replicating nearly perfectly the color of the buttery interior of the entree.  As its website correctly boasts, this beer is a premier palate cleanser: I immediately wanted another before dessert. 

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas, Hold 'Em

They say everything's bigger in Texas.  Ten gallon hats, steers, land mass.  That goes for games, too.  Texas Hold 'Em is the biggest card game the world has ever known.  Entire fortunes are won and lost in a single hand.  Everywhere you look – Bicycle Poker kits on special, gaming chips cheap, World Series of Poker DVDs for sale.  Instructional manuals.  Heads-up matches at the local VFW.  All my friends, playing Texas Hold 'Em.  All of them jumping on the bandwagon of a fad game. 
            I don't play it.  Texas can keep its silly odds and call-or-raise betting. 
            Let me explain my family.  They're card players.  I avoided this allure, watching them wind their way through circuits of games.  In the 80s it was Hearts.  The 90s belonged to Spades.  Currently the game of choice is Euchre.  But these are so much more than games.  These are languages. 
            You see, no one much speaks to each other in my family unless it's over green felt.  Then you can't shut them up.  They become multilingual.  And if you don't pick up what's dealt you, you might as well not speak at all. 
            Thus far, my family has avoided the Hold 'Em frenzy with the exception of one cousin who is a gambler by nature and thus doomed to a permanent card-table slouch before age forty.  I'm still into Spades.  I may be behind in familial gaming, but I'm catching up.  For, over the years, I've learned the only way to be fully accepted is to snap up the cards.  Cards are the unifying factor.  And, indicative of our era, quality time comes at a price.  Nickel a point for Hearts, dollar per set in Euchre.  If you renege?  Twenty bucks per infraction.  Might as well open a vein.    
            I decided enough was enough.  I wanted in.  No more holidays spent in mute solitude like the balked teenager forced again to sit at the kid's table.  I made up my mind and learned the languages of my family. 

            This task was done by purchasing a comprehensive game for my home computer and studying until every nuance of every game had been absorbed.  I sat until my stats were cranked and I could tell what my computer partner would play before it did.  I played until my eyes felt like prunes and my back ached with preliminary shootings of card-table slouch.  It was time to test my newly-acquired strategies on human players.  The computer, I discovered, did not speak during the games and so learning a language through it was like learning Kung-fu from a book: worthless. 
            On Father's Day, I sauntered up and announced I would be sitting at Euchre today.  I made a passing comment that just because I was the new guy, I should be given no special treatment.  My team lost, but the margin was slight enough for my father to raise his eyebrows.  In the end, I was sheared of only five bucks (which my father offered to cover and which I declined). 
            I practiced.  Held home games.  Insisted on Euchre when my friends pined for Hold 'Em.  By Labor Day, I walked into my father's lair with a high head and square shoulders and walked out with twenty bucks.  I'd learned my family's languages, then mastered them – even though, throughout that final fateful match, when it came down to game point and my Jack trumped his Ace, my father never spoke a word.  It was the biggest game of my life and, perhaps, his. 
            So all I have left to say is Texas, please hold 'em.  No more games.  The size of your contests has nothing to do with me.  Through a simple sport of numbers and symbols, of faces and aces, I learned to speak my family's languages and I've no desire to go further.  Being multilingual is hard work.  The ability to not only speak but to be heard at the family table is an undertaking and an honor.  The holidays are approaching, you see, and I've much to say this time around. 

© 2006 Aaron Gudmunson

Monday, September 5, 2011

Smells Like Team Spirit

Happy Labor Day, folks!  Well, it's that time of year again.  Opening week of NFL football.  My favorite time of year.  Well, one of them anyway.  And part of what makes it so great, aside from watching your team (hopefully) march down the field and into the end zone, is watching the fans.  But not just the fans.  The super-fans.  The men, women, and children who make every Sunday during the season into Halloween.  Check out a few super-fans flaunting their fashions and team spirit, then feel free to vote on your favorite in the comments section. 

New England Patriots' Flag Face w/matching Santa Hat

Atlanta Falcons' Bird Lady

 San Francisco 49ers' Banjoman

 Seattle Seahawks' Green Elvis and Sourpuss

 Minnesota Vikings' Kissy Viking

Oakland Raiders' Creepy One-eyed Skeleton 

 Cincinnati Bengals' Tiger Boy 


 Chicago Bears' Grizzly Guy

 New Orleans Saints' St. Maul

Enjoy your holiday, everyone, and get ready for some football!  Break out the face paint and let's see your spirit, fans

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I'll admit it.  I'm a cheeseburger addict.  That's a step up from connoisseur.  Or a step down, depending on your perspective.  In any case, I love cheeseburgers.  This guy's got nothing on me.  If I could only pick one food to have for the rest of my life?  Yep, cheeseburgers.  Steaming, juicy, tender burgers piled with trimmings.  Man, my mouth is watering already. 

I'm going to give you a run-down of my favorite burgers and then I'm going to ask about yours.  I need new blood (okay, that analogy is a little disgusting in this context).  But you catch my drift.  If the Ultimate Cheeseburger is out there and I'm missing out, I want -- no, need -- to know about it.  And consume it.

Disclaimer: I'm a simple creature with simple tastes.  "True" connoisseurs will try to convince you the best burgers are made with "gourmet" ingredients, like this and this.  No.  In the Burger Realm, simplicity rules. 

With that in mind, here we go:  

5. Portillo's Bacon Burger. 1/3 pound with mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle and ketchup. And bacon. Lots of bacon. Char-broiled to perfection.

4. McDonalds Angus DeLuxe.  This selection may surprise or even anger fellow burger addicts, but I'm sticking to it just as it sticks beautifully to my ribs.  This bad boy is 100% Angus beef (the champagne of hamburger meat), topped with cheese, onions, mayo, mustard, crisp lettuce, tomato slice, and crinkle-cut pickles.  Add to it the special spices seared into the beef, and it tastes like music in my mouth.

 3. Culver's ButterBurger. Fresh, never frozen, Midwest-raised beef, seared on a grill to specification. Topped with real American cheese made in Wisconsin and served on a lightly buttered, toasted bun.  Most burger lovers will tell you the bun is as important as the beef, and in this case it makes the sandwich.  Sheer delight.

2. Fuddrucker's Build Your Own Burger.  Am I dead?  Is this heaven?  There's a place where you can build your own burger?  Genius.  The beef is juicy, the buns baked fresh daily, and the toppings...oh, the glorious toppings!  They have everything from cilantro to salsa, cucumbers to catsup.  Fuddrucker's is Burger Bethlehem.  I like mine with Swiss and Cheddar.

1. Gangster Burger, Gangsters Bar, Hazel Green, WI.  This was a surprise discovery during a weekend excursion a few years back.  And, really, what better place to find the best cheeseburger in the world than Dairyland?  This goodfella boasts 3/4 burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, and American & Swiss cheeses.  But the kicker here is the tangy Gangster sauce.  I don't know what's in it and I don't want to know...but it is exquisite.  I'm not going to post a picture of it; I'm keeping this one to myself.  But if you find yourself in that little pocket of the world with a rumbling stomach, do yourself a service and try one.  Wash it down with a ice cold domestic draft and you've reached Americana Nirvana. 

So there you have it.  Now what about you?  Tell me what I'm missing, please.  Please!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thirsty Thursday!

Welcome, folks, to Cold Brood's Thirsty Thursday!  On tap today: beer.  Yes, the carbonated beverage made of hops, barley, and water.  One of the oldest known beverages, beer has thousands of variations and derivations.  It has embedded itself in the global consciousness (and unconsciousness, depending on how much you drink).  It's here to stay.  

In honor of football season (of which beer is a mainstay), this space will be dedicated to reviewing a new beer each week.  Today, I want to spotlight a few I've tried before launching the review post next Thursday.  I will also be taking suggestions as to what to sample.

Now I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer...well, just about anything.  I'm not picky.  Sometimes I'm in the mood for a dark stout like Guinness.  Per its website, this Irish concoction may appear black but is actually a very dark shade of ruby.  It sports a sharp, robust tang and is available in several varieties including Bitter, Extra Smooth, and Extra Stout.  Some studies argue Guinness may be beneficial to the heart due to "antioxidant compounds" that slow cholesterol deposits on the artery walls.[1]  What's not to love?  I'm sold. 

If a dark stout is too harsh for your palate, consider a Black and Tan.  This is a blend of a stout and a pale ale and serves to take some of the tang out of the dark beer while presenting a completely separate flavor.  Two beers in one glass?  Awesome.  Beware, though.  There is a very specific way to pour such a mixture, which involves a spoon, to ensure the beverages properly separate.  Seldom do I attempt such an operation; I leave that to the professionals.  Remember though: pale on bottom, stout on top.  Enjoy.

Sticking with imports, I also favor beers from south of the border.  Dos Equis takes top prize here, and not just because this guy drinks it.  Corona with a wedge of lime is a close second.  Jamaica's Red Stripe's soft taste makes it easily drinkable.  And I would be remiss not to mention the only domestically produced beer in my birth country of Belize: Beliken

Then there are the endless number of specialty beers provided by micro-breweries.  Where to begin?  Samuel Adams offers several seasonal and specialty beverages alongside its traditional Boston Lager.  The company even designed its own glass that is said to optimize the drinking of their product. 

Chicago's own Goose Island offers over twenty varieties of beer ranging from Oatmeal stout to Demolition, its Belgian strong ale.  On the occasions I indulge in such a luxury, I select GI's 312 Urban Wheat Ale from a tall glass with fish and a salad.  For you teetotalers, Goose Island also bottles an excellent (if pricey) soda pop line

Usually, though, I settle for a simple domestic Pilsner from the likes of Miller Brewing Company or Anheuser-Busch.  People are often viciously loyal to their brand, so it is with caution I will say my basement bar has been stocked most recently with Busch Light.  Cheap and with fewer calories than its peers, I find a decent balance here.  Is it zen?  No.  But it does the trick.   

So what's your favorite beer?  Let me know!

Whatever your beverage, let's raise a glass tonight.  Cheers, folks.  Let Thirsty Thursday commence!

[1] Guinness could really be good for you (BBC News). 13 November 2003.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

15 Best Opening Lines In Books

Being a voracious writer makes me a voracious reader by default.  Reading and writing go hand in hand; to be an effective writer, one must read.  A lot. 

I have compiled a list of the top 15 lines from scores of books I've devoured in my brief time on the planet.  Each of these awakens something in me and, I imagine, any true lover of books.  In no particular order:

1. Call me Ishmael. - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

2. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure. - Albert Camus, The Stranger

3. The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed. - Stephen King, The Gunslinger

4. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. - Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

5. 124 was spiteful. - Toni Morrison, Beloved

6. It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

7. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984

8. All children, except one, grow up. - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

9. A screaming comes across the sky. - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

10. All this happened, more or less. - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

11. Through the fence, between curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

12. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. - Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca

13. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. - Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

14. In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

15. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

Honorable mentions:

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black. - Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Did I forget some?  Got your own?  Disagree?  Let me know.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Anyone who's ever shared more than casual conversation with me has at one time or another been subjected to my worldview and specifically the place of human beings within it.  This will undoubtedly make its way into this blog with greater frequency in the coming weeks, but suffice to say, folks, it ain't good.  The issue that holds pole position is our ever-expanding population.  Believe me, allowed to run unchecked, we are facing a major implosion within the next century.  This planet simply doesn't contain the resources required to support this many people. 

Okay, I'm stopping myself before this becomes a rant.  What I want to do today is look at one by-product of a human population running amok.  Ready?

Everyone is becoming anonymous to everyone else.  If you don't believe me, check out the percentage of people who've commented as ANONYMOUS on these blogs thus far. 

It used to be you could walk down the street of your town and be greeted by pretty much everyone.  Now, people go out of their way to avoid you.  To each other, we're just so much walking meat.  There are just too many of us now.  We're everywhere.  We have finally achieved what so many writers of science fiction have predicted: we are all just cogs in the Great Machine, cold, impersonal, efficient.

Or, heck, maybe it's just me.  Maybe I'm just being melodramatic, cynical, nihilistic, or all of the above.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: Name Your Favorite Vampire Story

Good evening, folks!  Yes, it's that beautiful day of the week devoted to all manner of beverage.  Precious, thirst-quenching, life-giving fluids.  Today I'd like to focus on the most nefarious of drinkers, the ever-popular vampire. 

The original supersucker has a long and storied history.  Tales of vampires have manifested in one form or another for centuries in nearly every culture.  And while they vary greatly in form, from mindless fiends to sophisticated socialites, they all share one thing in common: a lust for blood.  In their newest and arguably most popular incarnation, vamps have even become teenage hearthrobs.  More on that later.

So what's the big deal about these reprehensible creatures?  What's the allure?  I mean, aren't they just walking parasites? 

It would be easy to say that Dracula is the best vampire story ever told, and it was certainly a starting point for me.  One of the first books I can remember reading was a watered-down children's edition of the Bram Stoker's masterpiece.  A villain who drank the blood of the innocent and turned them into mindless minions?  How oogie!  I was hooked.  (Though, really, what editor thought it would be acceptable to release a version of one of the scariest books of all time for six-year-olds?)

A vampire story that pre-dates the old Count, though, is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's terrifying and provocative CamillaOne of the first works of horror to explore homosexuality, this was a major inspiration for Bram Stoker's work.  Hammer Films even adapted it into the chilling 1970 film The Vampire Lovers.

But my all-time favorite vampire story has to be Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.  None of the film adaptations quite capture the horror of the book, which surprises me considering the cinematic prose Matheson employs.  The uglies here have fallen to disease, which makes them crave blood and fear light.  Yet they remain intelligent creatures who gather outside the house of plague survivor Robert Neville in coordinated attempts to coax him out. 

The genre received a transfusion when Anne Rice published the Vampire Chronicles, which at 12 volumes and counting has, in this writer's humble opinion, far outstayed its welcome.  The series would have worked better as a trilogy or, at best, a pentalogy with the conclusion of Memnoch the Devil.  But, like Rice's immortal characters, the series just goes on.  And on.  And on.  Living forever is just...well, boring. 

Lastly, I would be remiss to mention Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, which just plain sucks.  Forget the pun; I'm not wasting one on these books.  Aside from limp prose, tin-ear dialogue, and cardboard characters, the effect sunlight has on the vampires is that they...sparkle?  And the author doesn't even have the courtesy to go into the biology behind this choice.  

But none of the aforementioned beefs are my biggest one with Ms. Meyer's work.  That falls to the central romance.  We have a) a naive 16-year-old girl and b) a vampire who looks like a GQ cover model but has the life experience of a Centenarian.  The word "pedophile" comes to mind.  If I ever catch my daughter with someone over a century her senior, there's going to be hell to pay.  What could they possibly have in common?  Oogie indeed.  Figuring how this series became a global phenomenon is above my pay grade.

Also, and this is the last space I'll waste discussing it, the woman hasn't even read Dracula!  There are several books that an author must read to effectively be able to write in the horror genre; Drac is one of them.  Call it research or paying your dues.  Either way, it must be done. 

There are still many avenues one may travel in this very tired genre.  I still love a good vampire story, on the rare occasions I can find something original.  Take, for example, Lorna D. Keach's "Slut Dracula" -- fun, fresh, flat-out hilarious.  Check it out if you can spare a minute or two of your life.  If not, I understand.  After all, you're merely mortal.

So tell me: who -- or what -- is your favorite bloodsucker?  I thirst to know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On God and Politics (and Professional Sports)

Michele Bachmann.  Ever hear of her?  If not, you will.  She is running for president of the United States of America in 2012.  That's fine; she meets the qualifications.  Running for the nation's highest office is a decision not to be made lightly, of course. 

Except Ms. Bachmann didn't make that decision.  God did.  According to her, God wants her to run

Pardon me, but that's [expletive] scary. 

What Ms. Bachmann (and anyone else who's ever done something because an invisible exterior force advised them to) essentially did in making that statement was remove any sense of accountability on her part.  Sink or swim, it's not her fault.  It was God's. 

If she somehow first wins the Republican primary and then, through America's likely misplaced resentment of President Obama, manages to gain the White House, we are in for dark times.  Why, you ask? 

Someone who lays personal accountability on a sacrificial altar can do whatever he -- or she -- chooses.  Here are a few statements someone in Ms. Bachmann's mindset could conceivably utter upon being handed the keys to the Oval Office:

1) Those pesky Ruskies keep slandering us; let's invade!  Oh, and why not toss a few ICBMs at North Korea for their Godless insolence on the way. 

2) Rights for homosexual Americans?  Ha!  All you have to do is pray the gay away

3) Drill, baby, drill!  God told me that off-shore drilling is the way to go and damn all the critters we might kill along the way. 

4) The economy is still shaky.  If it recovers, it's because God has taken pity on America and set us again on the path of glory.  If it crumbles, it's to show us the error of our ways. 

5) The long-term unemployed?  If God wants them to eat, He'll send them food.  If He wants them to drink, He'll send rain.  If He wants them to work, He'll send jobs. 

These are just a few of the thousands of issues Ms. Bachmann could potentially use to alleviate her presidential responsibility.  The words "God wanted me to" could be her ultimate legacy.  Is this the kind of person we want leading our country -- someone who could move to append or repeal legislature based on whimsy? 

It is also completely unreasonable, in any profession, to suggest God has taken a special hankering to you.  Pro sports, for example.  How many times do you see baseball players cross themselves before stepping up to home plate?  Most likely they are asking the powers that be to not let them get hit anyplace too painful by a 92-mph fastball, but I suspect more than one slip in this little addendum: "Bases loaded, God.  If you could pluck this one out of the park, I'll be your BFF."

And then, as happens all too often, the player who has just demonstrated fealty to his higher power gets hit.  Or strikes out.  Maybe he didn't pray hard enough? 

My favorite athlete who believes God is his number one fan is former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who thanked his lord and savior first after winning Super Bowl XXXIV.  God is a Rams fan?  No no no, that can't possibly be true.  Because the next year, God apparently switched His allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens.  He had forsaken Kurt.  Or He is just a fairweather fan. 

Either way, there is little logic behind assuming God upholds little ol' you above any other.  What appears as humility is actually hubris of the highest degree; therein lies the deception.  When people happily relinquish control of their lives to an invisible puppetmaster, that's when I stop listening. 

Like I said, that's [expletive] scary.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Adventures of Weird Beard the Pirate

Facial hair.  For centuries, men have been growing, cultivating, sculpting and styling their beards, mustaches and sideburns.  Am I the only one who finds this strange?  Not that I haven't been guilty of it myself; I rather enjoy sporting a mountain-man-esque growth on my face during the colder months.  (I can't attest to it making an iota of difference; my face still feels frozen when braving the sub-zero winds of mid-January in the north country.) 

But why do we do it?  Is it a preening tactic to draw a mate?  Is it a self-image thing?  Is it a subconscious attempt to inspire beard-envy in those incapable of growing one?

The argument can be made, I suppose, that both men and women (and children, at the behest of their parents) also style hair for perhaps similar purposes.  Whatever 'do we choose, we like the way it looks.   It makes us feel better about ourselves (exception: the mullet, which only serves to make other feel better about themselves). 

The way I see it, there are countless ways to fashion facial hair.  Allow me to highlight a few:

1) The Full Beard.  This one's easy.  Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.  Usually reserved for the homeless, the I-don't-give-a-damns, and professional athletes.  Unruly.

2) The Half Beard.  Full Beard, lopped midway up.  Less wild than its big brother.

3) The Groomed Beard.  Perhaps the most popular sub-heading in the Beard category, this one is trimmed frequently, often professionally.  It is tame.  It is sometimes dyed to eliminate gray.  It exudes sophistication, confidence, experience. 

4) The Full Goatee.  Popularized in the mid-90s by young professionals hoping to give their fresh-from-the-dormitory baby face a less youthful glow in order to nail job interviews, this one is still in full swing today.  Look for it in college sports arenas, board rooms, and your local tavern.

5) The Half Goatee.  There are several sub-headings in this category.  Two of the trendier are The Splitter and The Chinny-chin-chin.  Each can work to the benefit (or detriment) of the wearer.

6) The Handlebar.  The high-maintenance mustache!  From Wild West icons like Wyatt Earp to pre-World War I leaders like Archduke Franz Ferdinand, this conversation piece usually required the use of Mustache Wax to achieve maximum curvature.  The Handlebar enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s, most likely due to Oakland A's relief pitcher Rollie Fingers.  With its archaic look and styling time, The Handlebar always seemed like more trouble than it's worth.

7)  The Fu Manchu.  Named for Sax Rohmer's criminal mastermind, this style of facial hair has been embedded in the global consciousness since the early 20th century.  Nearly 100 years have passed since Dr. Fu Manchu first strutted onto the page wearing his infamous whippy whiskers and never has it been more popular.  (Note: I have never actually seen anyone except the good doctor able to pull this look off).

8) The Porn 'Stache.  We all know what this looks like.  Don't deny it.  Who among us hasn't found themselves completely transfixed by the giant woolly worm pasted to the philtrum?  This style emerged in the 1970s via adult movie star John Holmes, was perpetuated to great success by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.,  and evolved into a popular choice for donut-chomping cops across America.

9) The WTF?!?  This is an all-encompassing category for truly odd facial hair.  These styles go beyond all sense of good taste and exist solely to draw the eye in sheer bewilderment.  Check one out here.  And here.  And, yes, even here

So why do we do it?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Men the world over have made their mark with their whiskers and one thing is for sure: facial fashions are here to stay. 

Now I want to know what you think of facial hair.  Guys, do you shape your whiskers?  Scrape them away?  Let them grow like weeds in an untended garden patch?  Ladies, do you like a fistful of facial hair on your fellow, a five o'clock shadow, or do you like a clean-shaven man?  What are your favorite facial fashions that I didn't cover here?  Let me know! 

Until then, Happy 'Staching!  Jolly Weird-bearding!  Merry Fu-Manchuing!

Note: I was invited recently to an event called Mustache Fest that takes place in Chicago and is now in its fifth year.  Per its Facebook page, how it works is simple: "You grow a stache, or obtain a fake, and come ready to celebrate the object that turned Tom Selleck into Magnum P.I.; the growth that made Mike Ditka Da' Coach; and the fur that took Geraldo Rivera into Al Capone's vault."  On top of that, you get to hear some great local live music.  What's not to love?  Count me in!  I guess I better start working on the 'stache.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Happy Friday, folks.  I just read a great piece by Elizabeth Bluemle over at PW and it served to reignite my frustration with the way people of the modern age abuse language.  There's just no respect for it anymore.  Is it laziness?  Stupidity?  Apathy?  Sorry, none of those are acceptable excuses. 

Today's blog will be a column I wrote for The Observatory that was never published.  The editor never explained why, just asked me to submit an alternate piece before deadline.  My guess is it was a touch too abrasive to be read by the good citizens of my county.  Maybe the editor thought it struck a little too close to home.  In any case, here it is now - a year later, but no less relevant.  Or fraught with frustration.

You've heard people say, "This country is going to hell in a hand basket!"  Of course you have.  And they're right.  But don't blame our fall on Obamacare or illegal immigration or soaring oil prices.  Blame it on widespread apathy toward humanity's greatest invention. 
            What is this invention, you ask?  The written word, of course.  The very foundation of civilization.   
            Imagine a world without writing, where complex instructions and documentation could only be transmitted orally.  Where would we be?  My guess is not far beyond the Stone Age, tapping out arrowheads with chunks of quartz and years from grasping the fundamentals of agriculture.  In other words, not at all civilized (which is not to suggest being uncivilized is worse, but that is an argument for another day). 
            I'm merely noting that since we are indeed civilized, we should grant total respect to the textual medium that helped us get where we are.   
            In America's earliest days, before spelling had been standardized, people paid little mind to how they wrote words (those who were literate, at any rate).  "Spelling" or "speling" would have been equally acceptable.  Fortunately, we pulled ourselves together and homogenized our language into something coherent, concise and decipherable.  And thanks to Merriam-Webster, we have concrete knowledge of how words are supposed to appear. 
            Today, though?  Today, spelling seems to be the last thing people can be bothered with.  Scanning my friends' Facebook updates, I see "to," "too" and "two" used interchangeably.  "Your" and "you're?"  Don't get me started.  "Breath" and "breathe" -- one is a noun and the other a verb.  How did these simple differentiations slip out of common knowledge?  Maybe I just need smarter friends. 
            Am I being too hard on folks?  Let me put it this way.  If you want to use our language, shouldn't you want to use it correctly?  It's the same reason I use a calculator when figuring sums; I want to do it right.  Writing is something most of us do daily, whether emailing the boss, making out bills, or a writing a letter to the editor.  Shouldn't we want flawless spelling, no matter the task?
            And believe me -- I'm not tooting my own horn.  There are loads of words that give me trouble.  But if I'm unsure, I look it up.  It only takes a few seconds and makes all the difference. 
            Ah, here it comes: the Spell Check Argument.  Word processing programs have completely superseded the typewriter, including the ability to scan documents for spelling errors.  Unfortunately, Spell Check works like a fishing net with a hole in the webbing: it will catch most of what you want it to, but a few whoppers are still going to slip through. 
            A professor once told me (after discovering a spelling error on a paper that both Spell Check and laborious proofreading failed to catch), "Mr. Gudmunson, if you can't spell correctly, you shouldn't be writing at all."  At first I was indignant, but after some consideration I concurred.  I don't worry about messing up advanced algorithms because I don't do advanced algorithms.  But I do write every day and thus feel it is my duty to ensure I write, well, right. 
            Another professor told me, "Learn to write effectively and you can have anything you want in life."  That starts with proper spelling.  And while I can't say I have everything I want, I can say I'm on my way.