Friday, January 29, 2010

Democrats Vow to One Day Be A Minor Factor in SC Politics

Jaded South Carolinians have been left even more stunned and amazed than usual today thanks to a bold statement coming from the State Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler.
During Fowler's comments to the press regarding President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech she dropped the following bombshell:
"I want to assure the people of South Carolina that our system, long utterly dominated by the Republicans, will one day soon present them with a series of choices between two candidates. The long awaited resurgence of the Democratic Party is just around the corner."
After her pronouncement Fowler was asked what would be a realistic time table for the Party to reach minimum standards of competitiveness in state politics.
Fowler answered, "We have to be patient and realistic. The Republicans have only been in power here for thirty years or so. The fact is, we have the third highest infant mortality rate, the tenth highest incidence of AIDS/HIV, the tenth highest rate of poverty, and the fifth highest level of unemployment. We have been near the bottom nationally in all these terrible categories and more for a long time, but these are just truths we have to allow the public some time to absorb. I can feel confident in saying that by the year 2040 we will be a minor factor within the context of South Carolina politics."
Recruitment efforts for that year's elections have apparently already begun. "We are looking at a strong class of candidates for 2040," Fowler continued, "Negotiations are ongoing with our top prospect, Richard Nixon's head. We feel the Republicans are going so far to the right even "Tricky Dick" will be considered a Democrat by the time we develop the technology to bring him back to life physically and politically."
Unknown and forgotten by many South Carolinians, the Democratic Party was once a juggernaut, attaining a stranglehold on the political landscape by presenting themselves as the protector of the white man against the fearsome mythical white- woman-molesting negro. During the 1950s the Republicans came to prominence by using an obscure political tactic known as "outniggering" their opponents. Shortly thereafter, the mule symbol of the Democratic Party became besmirched, unable to match their political opponents impressive ability to scapegoat and oppress.
Fowler admits that her Party has made some mistakes in the past, but insists the time for forgiveness has come. "We here in South Carolina believe in the Christian ethos and I think Jesus would want us to forgive one another so that we may have a two-party system."
Karen Floyd, the current chair of the Republican Party when asked to respond to the Democratic Party's comments was befuddled at the query. "Who?" Floyd replied.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Holy Trinity

We here at Thoughts Askew have been sitting back in our Armageddon-ready chairs (manufactured with built-in rapture) watching the world drift through clouds of chaos into the midst of madness here of late. Even I am beginning to think there is more than one of me, which is true if you include myself as well. In fact, me, myself, and I have each picked out an important book you can read tomorrow that will help to clarify our mysterious existence. No philosophy here, just facts from authors who can see through all the bullshit and sniff out reality amidst all the obfuscations.
Myself, forgetting we had talked about this book before, chose "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. He thought it would be a good response to the bad rap poor people and stray animals have been getting these days. Lewis demonstrates, through the story of Michael Oher (pictured with his adopted parents above), an African-American child raised in poverty and later adopted by a white family, that given opportunity and assistance even the poorest among us can be successful. Granted, playing for the Baltimore Ravens isn't as great as being on my Chicago Bears. Check out the link at the beginning of this paragraph for more information on "The Blind Side" as well as a picture of whale vomit being held by an elderly lady.
"The Blind Side" has also been made into a movie. The star is Sandra Bullock. Don't bother seeing it. You have been warned.
Me picked the book "Culture of Fear" by Barry Glassner as his contribution to our trinity. Me believes that even though Glassner's work is slightly outdated, having been written in the late 1990s, seemingly a millennium ago, we can still learn glean invaluable information from within its pages. "Culture of Fear" deals with the manner by which the media, politicians, and various interest groups use scare tactics in order to influence our thinking. Glassner also points out how small issues, like teen violence and teen pregnancy are blown out of all proportion to distract us from the bigger issues such as poverty and the prevalence of guns in our country, among others. Me agrees with the author and feels that as Americans we have a tendency to say,"if only this one thing could be changed everything would be okay." In reality our problems are more complex, but that does not make them unsolvable, we just need to learn to focus on the right things. Read Glassner's book and learn to see through the charades.
I, being a political science major, wanted to use his book to inform everyone of a threat to our country and even the world - our military. Now calm down, I don't mean that your Uncle Bill serving in Afghanistan is a terrible person and a threat to humanity as a whole. Not at all - Bill is just a pawn being used in a terrible game of chess being played by our government's massive military complex.
I learned of our imminent danger thanks to Chalmers Johnson and his work "The Sorrows of Empire." Thanks to Johnson, I discovered that we have 750 military bases around the world (in addition to the many hundred within our borders), many in countries most Americans have never even heard about before. Our government, which has been running massive deficits since 1980 with the exception of a couple of years under Clinton, spends the equivalent of the next forty largest armies on Earth for defense.
Johnson's book takes at look at how all of this money is spent and analyzes why we would need such a massive juggernaut to protect our shores. Without the Soviet Union around (whose effectiveness as a threat after the 1960s Johnson questions as well) there is no one to contest our power. Iran or North Korea are dangerous you might say - and their leaders are a bit kooky, who knows what we might do. Of course when you look at the fact that we have enough nuclear weapons in our stockpile to destroy the planet many times over, you know that any attack on the United States would be suicidal.
I could go on for a long while regarding the content of "Sorrows of Empire", particularly the various companies that have made disgusting profits from our bloated armed forces, but I recommend instead that you pick up the tome and digest the information inside yourself. I felt like the volume was literally burning my hands due to all the incendiary information contained in its pages. Me and myself agree.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Friend of the Blog

For those of you interested in the absurdity of politics, I have started contributing to a site called the Discust. Discust is kind of an Onionesque site dedicated to all things South Carolina. My pieces on Andre Bauer/Pat Robertson and Lindsay Graham below can also be read there. Check out the foolishness here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pat Robertson and Andre Bauer to Represent United States in the Winter Olympics

The United States synchronized insanity spouting team just got a whole lot stronger today, as Pat Robertson and Andre Bauer declared they would be uniting to compete in the upcoming Vancouver games.
Fans around the United States applauded the decision, as the duo is sure to gain a medal for a country that has had little success in many of the cold weather sports, prevalent in the Winter Olympics for whatever reason.
According to Larry Probst, Chairman of the the United States Olympic committee, the two came to mind immediately when synchronized insanity spouting was first announced as a sport.
"Obviously Pat has been on the scene for quite some time and everyone remembers his remarks suggesting we assassinate Hugo Chavez. Oh, and the one about placing a bomb in the Pentagon, I think everyone enjoyed the irony of a clergyman making a statement like that. The judges tend to score extra points for irony," Probst stated.
When asked about Robertson's statements on Haiti, Probst continued,"We are all glad to see Robertson has been keeping his tongue limber and his mind limp. That kind of blazing ignorance is sure to bring us home the gold."
Bauer was a slightly less obvious choice for the Committee. "Most Americans will see Bauer as a newcomer to the event, but South Carolinians know their Lieutenant Governor has been practicing the art of linguistic absurdity for many years now. I am confident the fans will be supportive of our choice when they hear Bauer in action," Probst asserted.
The South Carolina politician, who has been a fool on the state level for many years now, is just making national news for the first time thanks to his comments comparing the poor to stray animals.
Governor Sandford, applauding Bauer and his Olympic ambitions, said "what a strong attack, right out of the gate, I just hope he stays relevant in South Carolina politics long enough to continue to make his mark. Despite his self-serving calls for me to resign, his presence as Lieutenant Governor has certainly kept me in my job, so I owe him all the support I can muster."
The pair has immediately been installed by in Las Vegas as 10 to 1 favorite in the event, which is being introduced into the Winter Games for the first time this year.
Bellagio bookie Joey Bagadonuts doubts there is much hope for any of their competitors to do better than second place. "The statistical improbability of Robertson and Bauer both saying something that makes sense on the same day is astounding. If one fails then the other is sure to carry the day for the American side."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Holy Toledo

I have been asked a few times before and after my time in Madrid about whether I saw any other places while I was in Spain. Trust me, the short period of time (six full days) we were there was not enough to see the whole of the city. I missed seeing Real Madrid's stadium, the Egyptian temple, and about twenty-three museums, which were all closed on the many and varied holidays that occurred during our stay. We also successfully executed a failed visit to El Escorial, a palace of the Spanish monarchy thirty miles north of Madrid that happened to be closed on New Year's Eve, despite no mention of this fact in our guidebooks.
Not all our side trips ended in such disaster. Our trip, through customs, for instance, was an improvement over last year in Dublin. More relevantly, on the fourth day of our stay we hopped on a bus and rode out to Toledo. Unless its namesake in Ohio, this Toledo isn't a barren wasteland of post-manufacturing era America despair.
I will provide a disclaimer vis a vis the American Toledo: I've never been there, but it is in Ohio so I just assume no one in their right mind would want to go there. I would argue that its only fair to poke fun at Ohio as they are probably making fun of us in South Carolina as I speak. If they are not they sure as hell should be.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand, Spanish Toledo. Located, as you may have guessed, only forty-five minutes by bus outside of Madrid, Toledo was once the capital of the country, in fact as recently as the 1500s. Seems like just yesterday. During the Middle Ages Toledo was vitally important in the retention of lost knowledge throughout Christendom. The vast libraries taken back from the Moors during the reconquest of Toledo in the 11th century were translated into Latin and Spanish, thus preserving the Pythagorean theorem amongst other moldy treatises. Without their painstaking labors Shaq would have never been able to spout the immortal words, "My game is like the Pythagorean theorem: there is no solution."
Toledo is one of only a handful of cities to have been declared an UNESCO world heritage site. When you arrive and see the place for the first time, you immediately have to applaud their decision. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the Tagus River, which runs bestride the town, Toledo possesses an ideal geographical location. You don't just get named a world heritage site by looking hot in the swim suit competition, though. Toledo happens to have the goods architecturally and aesthetically, showing off an array of buildings and streets, many dating back to the medieval period.
One of the most famous of these is the Cathedral of Toledo, completed in 1493 after two hundred and fifty plus years of construction. Surely the project did not go over budget. Seriously though, you thought modern contractors dawdled.
When you get inside you can appreciate what took so long. The craftsmanship is unparalleled - every little nook and cranny is a work of art that must have taken an immense amount of time to complete.
No expense was spared. Seemingly every ounce of gold Cortes and Pizarro plundered from the hapless Native Americans was used in the cathedral, most of the precious metal going to make the processional monstrance pictured above. The device, still in use today and needing the services of four poor bastards to carry the thing, is composed of over five hundred different pieces and utilizes 2,000 screws (equal to ten years of Wilt Chamberlain's life).
Another building that dates from the same period is the Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. Construction moved a little more briskly here, with completion taking a mere twenty-seven years. Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs who completed the reconquest of Spain and funded Columbus's excursions to Asia, er America, had the place built to commemorate their victory over the Moors at Toro. The couple originally intended to be buried here but ended up entombed in Granada after no one wanted to drag their rotting corpses the necessary several hundred miles back to Toledo.
A newer structure worth seeing is the Alcazar, a word which means fortress in Arabic. With a dominating view of the Tagus River flowing beneath, the strategic significance of the ground upon which Toledo was built is immediately apparent. The view of the bluffs across from the fortress is stunning and you can ride an elevator to cafe at the top of the building and take a panoramic look at the whole ball of wax. The famous painter El Greco (Greek name George Papadapolis) moved here from his original home in Greece for a quick job, fell in love, and forgot to ever go back to Greece.
One last piece of advice for those planning to tackle the journey to Toledo. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drive there - signs are poor and the very few roads in the old town are one way and more narrow than Glenn Beck's mind. Places for parking your automobile? The locals there laugh at your silly concept.
Instead, break out those tennis shoes and get ready for a stroll. The old city is not that big, but it certainly is confusing. Bringing a compass might be advisable, as navigating through the twisting, turning streets is not much easier, but it is more convenient. Anyone who can walk from the Alcazar to the San Juan monastery without getting lost deserves a merit badge. If not for the helpful intervention of taxis and buses, we would still be trapped amidst the city's maze-like alleyways. Part of me kind of wishes I was, there are certainly much worse places to be, say Ohio for example.

P.S.: for a more fact-driven, rational account of Toledo, check out my brother's story for the Franklin Press here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lindsay Graham Dissapears Into Ideological Black Hole

Note from author: The following is a bit of political satire. The picture, although barely relevant to the story, was just begging to be used. That's Lindsay front and center, of course.

The state of South Carolina was hit by a shocking tragedy Thursday as the second term Senator, Lindsay Graham, disappeared into a gaping hole in the political spectrum.
A variety of scientists have weighed in on possible causes of his demise.
According to political scientist Carrie Jabot, a chasm opened up in between the two extremes of the Republicans and Democrats, leaving no room left to support the continued existence of someone like Graham, who is known to think for himself at least once every couple of months on average.
"No one really wanted him around any more politically, so the two parties just willed him into the ether - call it the power of negative thinking," stated Jabot.
NASA physicist William Olajanicnakpaddywack has asserted that a worm hole was seen in the vicinity of the Republican Party Lexington offices, where Graham was spotted shortly after the county group announced they were censuring the Senator for having the audacity to believe global warming exists.
Olajanicnakpaddywack went on to claim that the combination of the censure and utter Democratic disdain for his paltry efforts to tackle the global warming issue produced the rupture in the space-time continuum that spelled the end of his political career and, of course, his life as well.
Some believe foul play may be involved. Chemistry expert and political rival Tom Ravenel is the prime suspect. He assures us, however, that Graham is not hidden in a pile of his Peruvian marching powder. Asked for further comment, Ravenel just babbled a bunch of nonsense for several hours on end.
The senator is survived by Jeff Smith of Central, South Carolina, who has served as the Senator's gimp for twenty years, as well as their dog Buttons.

Check out this story and more S.C. related hijinks at

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Walk About Town

Location, location, location. Its more than just a three word sentence that repeats itself slightly. When traveling the location of your hotel or flat can make or break the quality of your stay. Even small difficulties such as exploding toilets can be overlooked given the correct circumstances. On my recent vacation in Madrid, Spain my travel agent, who for the purpose of this story we will code name "Mom," was able to score us some digs right in the very center of what is an incredibly walkable city.
In fact, let's go for a stroll about Madrid right now - that way I can introduce those of you who have never visited to the sights and allow those who have seen the aesthetically-pleasing Spanish capital to reminisce a little bit.
Only a couple of blocks from our apartment is our first stop, the Palacio Real, or Royal Palace. The structure was first built for King Phillip II of Spanish Armada fame (a fiasco not listed among the finest moments of a long, largely successful reign), when he decided to move the Spanish capital from Toledo to Madrid, which was only a small military encampment at the time. The current irrelevant Spanish monarchy/ royal welfare recipients still uses the building for ceremonial occasions. Tours of the immense structure are available if you don't mind waiting in line for an interminable period of time. Adjacent to the Palace is an impressive garden, which is open to the public if you get into flowers, shrubbery, and other such nonsense.
Head out onto the Calle Bailien towards the Plaza De Espana where you can either turn choose to turn left and check out the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple donated to Spain and reconstructed piece-by-piece in the center of Madrid. On second thought, screw that, if you wanted to see Egypt you would be climbing the pyramids or gambling at Luxor. Let's turn right instead and see some of the country we came to see.
Walking past the statue of Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, we turn onto the Gran Via.
The "Great Way" is considered the heart of the city, a wide avenue lined with theaters (the street has been called the Spanish Broadway) and shops, where the past meets the present as Victorian and Art Deco architecture shares space with Rolex advertisements. Shopping malls are replacing many of the theaters nowadays as the city is dragged kicking and screaming, for good or for ill, into the realities of the present day.
Passing the Metropolis building, we tumble off the Gran Via and arrive at the Plaza de Cibeles where we are again faced with a directional conundrum. The fountain that dominates the center of the plaza is the gathering point for fans of the great soccer side Real Madrid. They congregate here whenever the team wins another championship. Since they, along with rivals FC Barcelona, are the New York Yankees of Spanish soccer (I hate them already and yet I bought a hat, what a tool I am) titles come with some regularity.
Back to our dilemma. Should we turn left onto the Paseo de Recoletos and visit the monuments to Christopher Columbus at the Plaza de Colon?
We could spend time cursing his famed expeditions, which resulted in the death of millions of Native Americans from violence and diseases previously unknown in their part of the world. I think he gets a bad rap though - Columbus never meant all of that to happen. His intention all along was to rob and murder the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians. The Americas just happened to be a populated speed bump in the explorer's way.
Let's turn right instead and check out the Paseo de Prado. The Prado is home to the Golden Triangle, not to be confused with the East Asian opium producing area of the same name. And no, I 'm not carrying. This particular three-pronged attack features a triumvirate of art museums, led by the most famous, the Prado, which holds works by El Greco, Goya, Bosch, and Velazquez. The Reina-Sofia museum across the street proudly displays Guernica, perhaps Picasso's most famous work. Finally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum is known for being completely unpronounceable.
My favorite museum on the Paseo de Prado, however, is the Museo de Jamon or museum of ham. If I learned anything during my visit, I learned to respect the Spanish ability for turning meaty pig parts into steaming plates of deliciousness. Porcine carcasses dangled from seemingly every corner of the shop. My friend John wondered aloud at the sanitary issues related to this peculiar method of storage. I ignored him and sat back, reveling in my luck at stumbling into this porktastic porn palace. I just wanted to rip one of those ham hocks off the wall and (explicit content deleted by editor).
Moving on, we run into the Atocha train station at the end of the Paseo de Prado. The largest railway terminal in Madrid, Atocha was designed in part by Gustave Eiffel, known for erecting a large hunk of metal in the center of Paris. Take a moment to stroll around the plaza inside the station, admiring the plant life, which rises nearly to the ceiling hundreds of feet above. If you've had enough, just hop walk over to the adjacent metro station and ride back on Madrid's subway - the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable system I have ever used in all my travels.
Those of you who haven't gone home to rest can head across the street and take Calle Alfonso XII (yes they have had twelve kings named Fonzy) to Retiro Park, Madrid's answer to Central Park. The park was probably my favorite spot in all of Madrid, a lovely sprawling collection of ponds, statues, fountains, and gardens. I had heard the term "landscape artistry" many times before, but I never really understood what it meant until I roamed the grounds of Retiro. Even the great Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park and Biltmore Estates among other projects, would have been impressed, particularly with Retiro's centerpiece, the sublime Crystal Palace.
Built for the Phillipines Island Exhibition in 1884 by Ricardo Velazquez Bosco, the palace is an homage to one built in London earlier in the century. I haven't viewed the English version, but I think without question Velazquez outdid those he imitated. Every tree seems to be in just the right spot, everything is arranged so that the light seems to shine at the proper angle, and the waterfall off to the side adds a certain bucolic touch. I'd never experienced such perfection - a master of feng shui would have been gaping in awe. The Palace, and the grounds which surround the building, is as much a work of art as any masterpiece hanging in the Prado.
Knowing that nothing could top Buen Retiro and needing feet transplants all around, we head back to the house to get ready for a night out in Madrid. Madrilenos, as the natives are called, don't get started until late in the evening and party hard until very early in the morning. On New Year's Eve, as we discovered, the party doesn't even begin until after midnight. Plaza del Sol, the Time's Square of Madrid was also located quite close to our apartment and we joined in the festivities there, eating the requisite twelve grapes at each strike of the plaza's clock while we chugged champagne in the streets.
The late night mindset means that restaurants don't even open their doors until 9 p.m. or later. Many people don't go for the traditional dinner out as we know it in the United States, but prefer to go from bar to bar having tapas.
Tapas are usually shared by groups of people and can be composed of almost anything. We had mushrooms, potatoes, croquettes, ham, cheese, chorizo, vegetables, among other things during our trip. Seafood is also very popular, especially the ubiquitous calimari, but Madrid is just too far from the coast for my tastes. I admit to prejudice on this front - as a spoiled former Charlestionian I will only eat seafood if I can see the fishing boats coming into the pier as I dine on crustacean carcasses.
Cava Baja is one of the main tapas districts in Madrid and we frequented the area, which was only a couple of blocks from our flat (did I mention our location kicked ass?). While dining. try some of the Spanish wine, a trusted expert/red-cheeked wino recommended the riojas and temperanillos to me and I was not led astray. There is Spanish beer. Cruzcampo, Mahou, and Estrella are some of the most prevalant. Avoid them and stick to the wine, there is a perfectly good reason why you have never heard of Spanish beer. Leave the hops and the barley where it belongs - in the hands of the Irish. Now leave me alone, this newly minted wine-lover has to stumble back to the flat.
Next Up: A Day Trip to Toledo

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Photo Finish

Spain photos are online. Check them out here or go to

Monday, January 4, 2010

Images of Spain

Here are a few pics from my trip to Madrid and Toledo, Spain. I will be putting the whole set up on my picture page (reminds me of Bill Cosby) soon and the link will be made available on the blog. On top is the Crystal Palace in Buen Retiro Park in Madrid. Second is El Escorial, palace of the Spanish monarchs north of Madrid. The bottom two are from Toledo, a view of the city and one of the Tagus River, which wraps around the town, combining with the hills to make the city quite easy to defend against attackers in the old days.