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Archive for February 2008

Let me say at the outset that I knew next to nothing about NASCAR prior to reading this book. I’ve never watched a race on TV for more than a few minutes; I’ve never attended a race in person. With that said, I couldn’t stop reading One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation (Liz Clarke, Villard Books). It’s a terrific read and a great American story that reads like a novel, as all the best nonfiction should.

Author Liz Clarke has covered NASCAR for many years for newspapers such as the Charlotte Observer, USA Today, and, currently, the Washington Post. She knows her subject - really, really well. And she can turn a phrase so that within a few pages you’re completely sucked in and fascinated by people you never even heard of yesterday.

The story of NASCAR is the American dream come to life. As Clarke writes, ‘from stock-car racing’s beginning, there was something illicit about it - like early rock `n’ roll - that suggested a certain depravity . . . it was a sport at the fringe of the rules.’ From the sport’s beginning with dirt tracks in the deep south where souped up cars raced far away from the prying eyes of local law enforcement and drivers tinkered on their own sedans to compete, to the latter days of multi-million dollar speedways and primetime racing on television, to the sea change as the NASCAR’s original sponsor, cigarette maker RJ Reynolds, steps aside to make way for more family-friendly advertising and an even wider audience on the world stage.

You can see how quickly this all took place from a look at the list of all-time NASCAR champions and their winnings in the back of the book - Red Byron in 1949 pocketed $5800; Jimmie Johnson in 2007 took home over $15 million.

The drama - the pathos - all here. And the cast of characters are sharply drawn, from Dale Earnhardt, the Intimidator (who, ‘with every lap,’ writes Clarke, `evened the score for the guy who was invisible to society…who cleans the gutters, jackhammers the pavement, and services the air conditioner without ever making eye contact’) - to multi-millionaire Junior Johnson, who in his mid-70’s still cooks his own breakfast every weekday morning - to the visionary and imposing Big Bill France (whose family actually owns NASCAR, lock, stock-car and barrel) - to Tim Flock (who ran 9 NASCAR races in the early 50’s accompanied by a rhesus monkey who waved to fans from the car’s window outfitted in a racing uniform and helmet) - to Richard Petty (The King) who learned how to sign autographs without using his wrist so his arm wouldn’t tire out as much) - to Jeff Gordon (’the first NASCAR driver to look like a dream date’) - to a host of Miss Winston’s cozying up to the champions for a kiss and product placement in Victory Lane - and many, many more.

The moments when Clarke relates her own experiences covering this circus cavalcade make the read even more interesting. `My first mistake was wearing a dress,’ she says of the first time she enters the NASCAR garage as a young reporter in Charlotte, North Carolina, knowing nearly nothing about stock-car racing. Riding shotgun with a racecar driver at nearly top speed to see exactly what it was like to perform this sport she wrote about as an observer. Clarke in a remote Italian village covering the 2006 Winter Olympics, making a bet with a colleague that she’d be able to find a place to watch the Daytona 500 live on TV - and winning. Her agonizing moments in the press box between the time of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash to the official announcement of his death - a moment that changed the sport irrevocably, forever.

Clarke writes, ‘NASCAR was unlike other sports in so many obvious ways…but it differed in other respects, too. It wasn’t a sport to the drivers and mechanics who worked so hard. It was an all-consuming calling, with the joy and sorrow of life itself.’ And that’s what makes this well-written book so appealing. Because it’s about people who are living life hard and taking it to the limit. And, due to the nature of the sport, death is always as close as the next turn of the wheel, which makes life stand out in vibrant relief.

you’re really looking desperate here, attacking Mr. Obama for being - horrors - a great speechifyer. please, this kind of thing doesn’t become you. can we keep it about the issues and not sniping about your opponent? all you seem to be doing anymore is frantically grasping at straws. yes, you lived in the White House awhile back and you participated in national politics. but there have been many many presidents who did not have this advantage prior to their new jobs, and some of ‘em did just fine.

i’m no idiot y’all, but i really don’t think it’s necessary to make the audience work this hard. i knew almost nothing about this film’s plot before i saw it and it took me a good 40 minutes to get a handle on what was happening. yes it was worth the terrific final scene with Clooney and Swinton - but this is no ‘memento’ where you work like crazy throughout the film to keep things straight and then want to see it again once you know the ending. i’m just sayin.’

all hail MSNBC for the cojones to have Keith Olbermann on their channel. you don’t see news delivered like this nohow or nowhere else. he’s alive, he’s passionate, if it smells he wrinkles his nose, he’s not your freeze-dried blow-dried anchorman by a long chalk. when you see a broadcast like this you know democracy ain’t dead no matter how hard the dark forces try to keep it down.

. . . A free press is . . . one of the foundations of a democratic society, and as Walter Lippmann, the 20th-century American columnist, wrote, “A free press is not a privilege, but an organic necessity in a great society.”
- from “Rights of the People: Individual Freedom and the Bill of Rights,” website of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs

according to today’s Wall St. Journal we’re about to be inundated with candy that is spiked with caffeine and/or vitamins. the plan is to take back some of the market share now enjoyed by ‘energy drinks.’ ….oh lord…! like things aren’t unhealthy enough out there in the marketplace.

according to this article, Snickers Charged was introduced last month: a Snickers Bar with as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, B vitamins, and amino acids. there are more: Extreme Sports Beans (with caffeine and electrolytes), Jolt Mints and Jolt Gum, Crackheads, and Buzz Bites.

Quoth the WSJ: “Fears of obesity and diabetes also are cutting into consumption.”

Feb 13

tim & jon

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well this was mighty fine, two of my favorite guys together at last, with jon stewart revealing that he is a closet project runway fanatic (oui!! mais oui!! moi aussi!). tim gunn as usual is awesome. especially when he discloses that he frequently does not agree with the P.R. judges’ rulings.

in the OH-NOW-COME-ON!!! department:

Shop pulls “Lolita” bed for young girls
Fri Feb 1, 2008 2:01pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - A chain of retail stores in Britain has withdrawn the sale of beds named Lolita and designed for six-year-old girls after furious parents pointed out that the name was synonymous with sexually active pre-teens.

Woolworths said staff who administer the web site selling the beds were not aware of the connection.

In “Lolita,” a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the narrator becomes sexually involved with his 12-year-old stepdaughter — but Woolworths staff had not heard of the classic novel or two subsequent films based on it.

Hence they saw nothing wrong with advertising the Lolita Midsleeper Combi, a whitewashed wooden bed with pull-out desk and cupboard intended for girls aged about six until a concerned mother raised the alarm on a parenting website.

“What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either,” a spokesman told British newspapers.

“We had to look it up on (online encyclopedia) Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now.”

Woolworths said the product had now been dropped.

“Now this has been brought to our attention, the product has been removed from sale with immediate effect,” the chain said.

“We will be talking to the supplier with regard to how the branding came about.”

Lolita Midsleeper Combi

lolita bed

Lolita poster

Feb 03

SUPER TUESDAY

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“….in the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”
- Barack Obama, Iowa 1/3/08

Feb 03

guns

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how many mall or school shootings is it going to take before people realize that our current system empowers criminals who have the means to attack innocent people?