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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Topic: Oddities

Condiments Go to WAR!

This story first hit the wires early in the month and The World's Laziest Journalist has been urging me to mention it. So here it is.

Of course it comes from AFP - l'Agence France-Presse.

What else would you expect?

Republicans dip freedom fries in "W Ketchup", not Heinz
Friday, July 9, 2004 11:54 EDST

The big deal?
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - Americans allergic to the subtle Democratic flavor of Heinz ketchup can now plunge their "freedom fries" into a 100-percent guaranteed, patriotic alternative: "W Ketchup."

"You don't support Democrats. Why should your ketchup?" says the W Ketchup Internet site, which promises a totally US-made condiment, right down to the bottle.

Heinz ketchup is an institution on American dining tables.

But the taste has soured a little for Republicans because Heinz empire heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry is married to John Kerry, the Democrat hoping to unseat George W. Bush -- also known simply as "W" -- on November 2.

W Ketchup insists its initial stands for Washington, as in first president George Washington, whose face adorns its bottle beneath the Stars and Stripes.

The newcomer makes no attempt to hide its leanings, even sporting a poetic homage to Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who died June 5 at 93, on its Internet site.

"G5s (Gulfstream jets) or GIs? A Tough Choice," W. Ketchup tells prospective customers.

"Choose Heinz and you're supporting Teresa and her husband's Gulfstream Jet, and liberal causes such as Kerry for President," it warns.

... Heinz has 57 varieties, but also 57 foreign factories, it claims. "W Ketchup comes in one flavor: American."
Yeah, yeah.

So who are these people and how's it going?
"We are simply a group of friends who came up with the idea at a barbecue in upstate New York a few months ago. We are all investors," said W Ketchup chief operating officer Susie Oliver.

Thousands of bottles had been sold in the three and a half weeks of business, she said. Orders are taken in batches of four bottles for 12 dollars plus shipping.

Testimonials on the company's Internet site are glowing for the Republican-style ketchup.

"Thank you for giving us a delicious American alternative to the standard Heinz Ketchup. Henry Heinz may have been a great American, but I have absolutely no interest in supporting The Kerry's anti-American causes," wrote "S.S" of Akron, Ohio.
Bully for Akron.

Of course Heinz (the company) says it is non-partisan, stressing that all the Heinz family trusts together hold less than four percent of the stock. And neither Teresa Heinz, nor her husband, have any role in management, it stresses.

This is not an important story, but why not? It did hit Keith Obermann's MSNBC "Countdown" show a week or so ago, in his "Oddball" section. It's been out there. Why pick it up? There may be good reason it's being ignored.

It's just silly. CNN maybe has done covered it, but I'm not sure.

Of course it has been reported as a sidebar in many larger items about Teresa's fortune. This friends-of-the-GOP idea was to boycott Heinz, her late husband's company, but then the conservatives found out almost all of the Heinz political contributions actually go to the GOP. Always have. Oops. It seems it is true Teresa doesn't run Heinz at all - she just owns most of it. So the angry conservatives have dropped that boycott idea.

Of course I could work probably work this all into something longer about the Irishman, Boycott, and how he got his name used so widely, and Heinz - a Pittsburgh company - my hometown. And I was in one of their commercials back in 1964 (Ketchum, McLeod and Grove was the ad agency as I recall). A meditation on Pittsburgh, on Heinz, on Pittsburgh's favorite sons - Gene Kelly, Andy Warhol, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Mancini (from Aliquippa actually, five miles down river). And Perry Como (actually Canonsburg, ten miles south). And Gertrude Stein, born in Allegheny General Hospital, just as I was. We'll see. It all needs to percolate a bit.

No. Who cares?

AFP points out that this ketchup war is only the latest political skirmish to be fought on "the battlegound of American menus." Freedom fries. Yep.

AFP also reminds us that Star Spangled Ice Cream was launched last year as "a conservative alternative" to the Ben and Gerry's, from the lefties Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Dennis Kucinich fans, up there in Vermont. Star Spangled Ice Cream offers "I Hate The French VANILLA (Real American Vanilla, NOT French Vanilla)" and "Nutty Environmentalist (Rich Buttery Ice Cream with Roasted Pecans)."

Geez. Get a life.

Is this all for real? Here is the accompanying AFP wire photo...


Footnote -

If you go to the website of the folks who distribute W Ketchup you see this story actually was everywhere. From their press page some of the highlights -

See -
CNBC's Bullseye
Dylan Ratigan interviews Susie Oliver
Video (2.3 MB, WMV format)
July 14, 2004

AP Video
'W Ketchup' Offers Alternative for Republicans
Video available at Yahoo News
July 13, 2004

Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume
"Conservatives who prefer Freedom Fries to French Fries ... now have a new choice at the dinner table."
View screenshots
July 9, 2004

ABC's Good Morning America
In an on-air taste test between W Ketchup and Heinz, W Ketchup was judged as tasting "more conservative, with a sweeter, more compassionate taste."
July 7, 2004

CNN's American Morning
"Some GOP supporters ... have created an alternative to Heinz ketchup."
June 22, 2004

Radio interview with Southern California's KWAVE 107.9
MP3 format (2.7 MB)
June 21, 2004

Sify News (India)
Americans dip freedom fries in 'W Ketchup'
July 15, 2004

Le Figaro
D?mocrate ou r?publican? A chacun son ketchup

by V?ziane de Vezins
Front Page, July 12, 2004

Kuwait Times
"Americans allergic to the subtle Democratic flavour of Heinz ketchup can now plunge their `freedom fries' into a 100per cent guaranteed, patriotic alternative."
Front Page, July 11, 2004

BBC News
Republicans launch 'W ketchup'
by Oliver Conway
July 10, 2004

ARD Tagesschau (Germany)
Republikanisch korrekte Tomatensauce
July 10, 2004

Sunday Times, South Africa
Ketchup politics amuses the US
by Claire Gallen
July 9, 2004

IBL News (Madrid)
'W Ketchup' para los rep?blicanos, Heinz para los dem?cratas
July 9, 2004 (Switzerland)
Ketchup f?r die Republikaner im US-Wahlkampf
July 9, 2004

SBS World News (Australia)
US Ketchup Delivers Message in a Bottle
July 7, 2004

Le Monde
Un ketchup sauce r?publicaine

July 4, 2004
... and this is followed by ten or twenty US sources for the story, including the Los Angeles Times on July 4th, which I missed. That was a Sunday - production day for Just Above Sunset - so I was too busy to read the actual newspaper that day. I just skimmed it, then Harriet-the-Cat slept on the various sections. She has the proper attitude toward the press.

Footnote Two:

Other French Media

In an email on many topics Ric Erickson in Paris did add this...
Well, let's go back to the Heinz Ketchup story then. It got thirty seconds of France-2 TV-news prime time. (Didn't I write this already?) France-2's Joe in America said the 'W' brand wasn't a big hit with the expat French living between your shores. Or did he say conservatives didn't like it because it doesn't taste like Coke 'Classic?'

Sommat like that.
Yeah, well...

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 July 2004 16:16 PDT home

Topic: Oddities

The winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are announced...
The results are in from San Jose State University, out here in San Jose, California.

The results of what? The 2004 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, of course.

The San Jose State University Department of English explains here -
An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel "Paul Clifford" (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."
Happens every year.

The grand prize winner this year is a local - Dave Zobel of Manhattan Beach (the first place I live when I moved to California back in 1981 - and fine place it is). Zobel is a forty-two-year-old software developer and former National Spelling Bee contestant - and now the uncontested winner of the 2004 edition of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

He channels Martha Stewart -
She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.
Yes, thoroughly disgusting.

The site above lists lots of the entries - like this from Pamela Patchet Hamilton of Beaconsfield, Quebec. Yes, the runner-up was Canadian.
The notion that they would no longer be a couple dashed Helen's hopes and scrambled her thoughts not unlike the time her sleeve caught the edge of the open egg carton and the contents hit the floor like fragile things hitting cold tiles, more pitiable because they were the expensive organic brown eggs from free-range chickens, and one of them clearly had double yolks entwined in one sac just the way Helen and Richard used to be.
Also disgusting, non?

You could got to the site and check out the Grand Panjandrum's Special Award, won by another Californian, Jeanne Villa -
She sipped her latte gracefully, unaware of the milk foam droplets building on her mustache, which was not the peachy-fine baby fuzz that Nordic girls might have, but a really dense, dark, hirsute lip-lining row of fur common to southern Mediterranean ladies nearing menopause, and winked at the obviously charmed Spaniard at the next table.
Check, please!

The winner of the Adventure Category was Siew-Fong Yiap of Kowloon, Hong Kong and it is odd. There is, of course, a Children's Literature category. And there are the three winners of the category where you actually have to do variations on the "Dark and Stormy" night theme.

1.) "It was a stark and dormy night--the kind of Friday night in the dorm...."

2.) "It was a dark and stormy night--actually not all that dark, but more dusky or maybe cloudy, and to say "stormy" may be overstating things a bit, although the sidewalks were still wettish and smelled of ozone, and, truth be told, characterizing the time as night is a stretch as it was more in the late, late afternoon because I think Oprah was still on. ..."

3.) "It was another dork and Stormy Knight--after snapping the last of his palm dampened dollar bills into the frazzled elastic of her G string...."

You get the idea.

The Detective entries are just as strange, Fantasy Fiction entries confusing, and there are items for Historical Fiction, Fiction for the Erudite and for Purple Prose -
The terrible news had whisked around the becolumned courthouse like a malevolent, stinking zephyr straight from the sewage works, and on the gum-besmirched footpath, the hunch of lawyers cackled and cawed like a group of very large, gowned, wigged, briefcase-clutching crows, or perhaps ravens since they are of course the larger bird and some of these lawyers were fairly sizeable.
That from Georgia Gowing of Largs Bay, South Australia - who doesn't seem to much like lawyers.

The winner for bad writing in the Romance genre was David K. Lynch Topanga, California -
Looking up from his plate of escargots, Sean gazed across the table at Sharon and sadly realized that her bubbly personality now reminded him of the bubbles you get when you put salt on a slug and it squirms around and foams all over the place, and her moist lips were also like the slime on a slug but before you salted it, though after all these years Sharon still smelled better than slugs, but that could have been the garlic butter on her escargots.
One thinks of Paris.

There was also a Science Fiction category and one for "Vile Puns" of course, and for Westerns. And there were the Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions - "The day dawned much like any other day, except that the date was different." (from Geoff Blackwell of Bundaberg, Queensland in Australia.)

Of those, my favorite is from Marx Prewett of Dallas -
Sheila walked into the room, flaunting the kind of body that made grown men wish they were teenagers, made teenagers wish they were grown men, made toddlers wish they were preteens, made preteens wish they were young adults, and made everyone wish editors swung blue pencils the same way she swung her hips as she crossed the threshold of both the room and bad taste, her breasts swaying like dual house-trailers on a windy overpass.

The Los Angeles Times covered the event printing a short AP item Tuesday - Martha Stewart Is a Good Thing for Bad Writing Prize - without much detail.

This AP item does point out that the winner, this Dave Zobel of Manhattan Beach, is the author of "Dave Zobel's Bent Book of Boatspeak: How to Sound Like a Sailor and Know Just Enough to Be Dangerous" and is working on a book about children's soccer and obsessive parents.
"I never won and wasn't expecting to this year, but to be honest I'm a little jealous of people who won dishonorable mentions because that title would look better on the resume," he said.

"If I could be assured that my boss weren't reading this, I would dump my day job in a heartbeat to write humor full time."
But he does systems work - a software engineer - so he'll be laid off pretty soon anyway. Then he can write all the humor he wants.

He can write for Just Above Sunset - but for the glory, as we have no budget at all to actually pay our writers.

As for this San Jose State University contest - well, you all have a bit less than a year to work on your entries for the 2005 competition.

Posted by Alan at 16:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Breaking News - More fun and games from Paris!

This just in from Ric Erickson, our correspondent in Paris -


Paris - Tuesday, 20. July 2004 - A pair of hooded bandits entered the Aviation Club de Paris on the Champs-Elys?es this morning, waved some big guns around in a business-like fashion, and walked out with about 80,000 euros in cash.

On the avenue, they appeared to have misplaced the ignition key for their getaway motorcycle, so they used their initiative and hopped aboard a handy delivery truck and made good their escape.

They could have picked a better time to raid the Aviation Club. This gaming club, founded in 1925, was hosting the World Poker Tour and the finale of the Grand Prix de Paris was to have been today. In theory, there were only six players at the tables, taking part in the final hands. Other sources indicate that the day's play doesn't begin before mid-afternoon.

The high-stakes World Poker Tour attracted 205 of the world's top players to Paris late last week. The winner was expected to pick up a pot of 679,000 euros and a seat at the 'grande finale' table with a pot of $25,000.

About half the players were believed to be Americans, and included names such as Gus Hansen, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu and David Benyamine, and included local personalities such as Patrick Bruel.

The well-known singer-actor was interviewed on TV-news over the weekend, shortly after being eliminated from the tournament, which he had won in the past. He was, like all good poker players, philosophical.

The story was a leading flash item on Radio France-Info this morning, and has been repeated in the afternoon by Radio FIP. Because of the world-status of the Champs-Elys?es, robberies on it are usually given wide coverage. They often happen in daylight and seem at times as if they were inspired by film scripts. The Aviation Club is located right across the avenue from the film hangout, Fouquet's, at the corner of the avenues George V and the Champs-Elys?es.


Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis on top of the story...


And we have an update -

Received Wednesday, 21 July 2004 12:00:00 GMT
PARIS, July 21 (AFP) - British poker ace Surinder Sunar won the Grand Prix de Paris poker tournament, the French stop on the World Poker Tour that was marred by a daring armed heist, the organization said Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sunar took home 679,000 euros (835,000 dollars) for his win at the event late Tuesday, which cost competitors 10,000 euros just for a seat at the table.

Players at the chic Aviation Club de France on the Champs-Elysees got a shock early Tuesday when two armed men wearing ski masks forced them to lie on the ground as they made off with 76,000 euros.

No one was injured in the incident.

... Last month, movie star and avid gambler Ben Affleck earned a seat at the World Poker Tour Championship next April in Las Vegas when he won the California State Poker Championships at the Commerce Casino near Los Angeles.
Your intrepid editor once had lunch at the Commerce Casino near Los Angeles. My friend Joy insisted we meet there as it was near her workplace (she's HR Director for a large chemical company, and with her law degree and daily work in the ethics of business, I do wonder why she chose that place). It is an awful place - mediocre food and too much noise, but, then again, really great air-conditioning. The movie star and avid gambler Ben Affleck was nowhere to be seen that day.

... and a stock photo from somewhere or other.

Posted by Alan at 10:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 July 2004 10:54 PDT home

Topic: Photos

This is a test posting to adjust the calendar function...

I suppose one could dive in from up here on the third floor next door, but it wouldn't be prudent. On the other hand, it is just after nine in the morning and ninety already....

Posted by Alan at 08:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 July 2004 09:42 PDT home

Monday, 19 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Not quite so... but close enough for government work...

You might have missed this over the weekend...

PM admits graves claim 'untrue'
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor, The Observer (UK), Sunday July 18, 2004

The facts -
Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves.

In that publication -- Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves produced by USAID, the US government aid distribution agency, Blair is quoted from 20 November last year: 'We've already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.'

On 14 December Blair repeated the claim in a statement issued by Downing Street in response to the arrest of Saddam Hussein and posted on the Labour party website that: 'The remains of 400,000 human beings [have] already [been] found in mass graves.'

Not to repeat myself but I does seem the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies - not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter. Of course since then we've said the original reason - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country - wasn't the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda - Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don't support that either. We'll that wasn't the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don't seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don't want this kind of liberation? Well, that wasn't the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets - and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region. Well, that doesn't seem to be working out as planned - we're selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won't tell them why they are in prison because we don't have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we're bullies and fools? Doesn't matter. That wasn't the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably.

And now this. We were kind of exaggerating. We do that.

As someone else said, Stalin probably killed more people than this on any given Thursday in 1931, and if you amortize the executions Bush signed off on in his few years as the governor of Texas, versus the five thousand executions Saddam pulled off in twenty-five years, well, I wonder who's ahead? Some wise-ass is probably doing the math right now.

I guess we may need a new reason why we did this war. Number six, if you're keeping count.

We went to war in Iraq to prevent the legalization of gay marriages in Haiti? We went to war in Iraq to stop family planning clinics from offering abortion advice in China? Whatever.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly says this:
I suppose the politically correct stance is that murder is murder, and quibbling over numbers doesn't change the fact that Saddam was a monster. Which is true enough.

But the fact is that, yes, it does matter, in at least two ways. First, it matters because part of the humanitarian case against Saddam was that he was not merely a garden-variety nasty dictator, he was arguably the #1 nastiest dictator on the planet. If he wasn't, it does weaken the emotional case for intervention, just as very high numbers strengthen the case for intervention in the proto-genocide currently taking place in Darfur.

Second, and perhaps more important, is the question of whether Tony Blair (and apparently the U.S. government as well) flatly lied about this. This was not a case of intelligence estimates, after all, it was a categorical statement that 400,000 bodies had actually been found by actual troops digging up actual graves.

... this wouldn't matter if it were the only exaggeration surrounding the war. But it's not. There was no WMD, no collaboration with al-Qaeda, no 45-minute missiles, no mobile bioweapons labs, no regional military threat, and now it turns out that even the humanitarian case wasn't as clear cut as they suggested.

Is there anything left that these guys told the truth about?
Well, they didn't lie when tell told us they didn't do nuance.

Yes, we've been jerked around again.

And half the country it seems doesn't much like that. You get a sense more and more folks are starting to run out of patience.

And the other half of the country loves each new revelation - sly George pulled another one and outfoxed the peace and love fools one more time. Ha, ha. In your face, sissy liberals!

This cuts both ways. The response on the right has generally been - so what? We did what we did, and it was good, so what's the problem? Get over it.

The response on the left?

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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