The FuturamaIn honor of the pending release of the first of four new feature-length Futurama DVDs, Wired magazine has an extensive feature about the past and, erm, future of the show. But it also has a feature on the original “Futurama” of the 1939 World’s Fair.

I’ve read a bit about the 1939 World’s Fair, about the eager anticipation of emerging from the Great Depression into a brighter and better “World of Tomorrow” (circa 1960), laughably naive from today’s perspective. But until now I’d never actually seen the film of the Futurama exhibit, with its swelling, dramatic score and overwrought narration. In some ways it felt like I was back in high school, watching the long-outdated science films our district had elected not to replace, devoting the precious funds instead (and to little avail) to our perpetually mediocre sports teams. But my response was deeper, and more disturbed.

It’s true that in many ways they got things right, though it may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: the “world of tomorrow” is dominated by controlled-access superhighways teeming with (free-flowing) traffic. It’s easy now to forget that back then, freeways didn’t exist. The idea that they would relieve congestion is laughable (or lamentable) however, especially considering that they also envisioned a megalopolis where residential, commercial, and industrial districts (I feel like I’m playing SimCity) are separated, for “greater efficiency and convenience.” (Ha! Good one, GM!) The current trend of revitalization (and gentrification) of depressed and/or abandoned inner-city industrial areas as mixed-use residential/commercial developments (such as the “North Loop” neighborhood of lofts and coffee houses comprised of converted warehouses and new-construction-designed-to-look-like-old-converted-warehouses here in Minneapolis) would suggest we’ve learned the error of that particular vision. And yet, the ominous portent of elimination of “undesirable slum areas” in the relentless march forward remains. (Just ask the former residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects… wherever they’ve been dispersed to today. It’s not that slums — and the side effects of concentrated marginalization of the economic and/or ethnic “Other” — are a good thing, it’s just that you can’t simply displace all of those people and expect their problems to magically vanish.)

On a lighter note, the enthusiastic prediction of a floating dirigible hangar in the city’s river brings some comic relief to an otherwise suffocating, earnest yet ultimately soulless and hollow, view of a future of “penetrating new horizons in the spirit of individual enterprise in the great American way.” For some, anyway. Women and slum dwellers need not apply. Freudians welcome.

Fair and balanced, my ass!

Yes, my ass is fair and balanced. At least as fair and balanced as Fox News. I opened up Google News today to check the goings-on, as I usually do at lunchtime, and discovered a section at the top of the page regarding this week’s “likely” announcement of Al Gore as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As usual, Google picked up headlines from a variety of sources.

CNN offers us Gore to learn whether he’ll win Nobel Peace Prize.

CBS News offers the somewhat more leading (and perhaps slightly biased in its own right — er, left) Could Nobel Prize Spur Gore To Run In ’08?

And, good ol’ (boy) Fox News gives us a commentary from some guy named Greg Gutfeld (great name, BTW) with the interesting headline Does Al Gore Deserve to Win the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, does he? Let’s see what Mr. Gutfeld has to say on the matter:

Al Gore is a heavy favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday. The reason: His relentless nagging about the environment — as well as his awesome backrubs, which he performs shirtless.

Um, yeah. That’s great. And it just gets more ridiculous and offensive from there. But the bottom line for me with such flippant global warming denial is this: why are you fighting so hard to deny that this is happening? What’s in it for you? Even if the situation is not as bad as the more alarmist end of the spectrum paints it to be, there are still plenty of reasons why pollution is bad for the environment, and bad for us. This utter disregard for the planet we live on and its sustainability for future generations is abhorrent. Not to mention the fact that we’re going to run out of petroleum in this century anyway, so there’s more than one reason to move beyond our reliance on fossil fuels.

So is this stupidity the extent of Fox’s coverage of the story? I checked their home page to find out. Turns out this commentary didn’t bubble up to the surface (yet somehow it attracted the attention of Google’s news aggregating algorithm… and yes, Al Gore did invent the “Al Gore Rhythm” [sorry, I couldn’t resist]), but the following items did:

I’ll leave it to you to pursue the matter further. I’m already feeling dirty. It’ll be interesting to see how my search engine placement is affected by so many links to Fox News, though.

Are you a liberal and you didn’t know it?

I found this report on America’s “Progressive Majority” interesting. I’ve long held a sneaking suspicion that Americans aren’t as conservative as they think they are (or as the media tells them they are), but it’s nice to see some data reinforcing that point.

Some of the sections are a little fuzzier than others, and I noticed a few of the graphs were designed somewhat misleadingly, but the overall message is on. Americans lean to the left, even if they think otherwise. The final section is especially useful in this regard. It discusses the flaws in commonly cited polls that ask respondents to self-identify. The problem is, most people just aren’t that ideological, and they’re not really sure what “conservative” or “liberal” even means. But when you have Fox News talking heads barking at you 24/7 that liberals are Satan incarnate, it’s hard to have a (pardon me, I can’t help it) fair and balanced view of the issue. As the report states:

(A)t a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can’t name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable guage of their actual beliefs on issues.

In 1967, Hadley Cantril and Lloyd Free famously observed that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.” They didn’t like the idea of government, but they liked what government does and can do.

This last portion really resonated with me: I have an online acquaintance who’s a proud member of the Libertarian Party, and who rails whenever possible against the evils of big government. Yet, he was the same person who, when his family hit a rough patch and needed some financial support, became frustrated with the limited availability of public assistance and healthcare.

Which all leads me back to a potent quote from an unlikely source: I’m sure Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave that I should be using her words in my argument. Unfortunately I think she failed to follow this maxim herself at a fundamental level, but it still bears repeating:

Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

Stick on a Stick

I recently attended the Minnesota State Fair. Thrice in a fortnight, no less! OK, it was actually thrice in a week, and the fair only lasts for 12 days anyway, but if you’re going to use a word like “thrice,” it feels necessary to complement it with another like “fortnight.”

There are many (potentially) appealing things about the fair: the midway rides, the sheep barn, machinery hill, the swarming throngs, the concert performances by musicians whose popularity peaked during the Carter administration. But I think the defining element of the fair, the thing that makes the fair The Fair, is the astonishingly vast array of foodstuffs available in a singular form: impaled on a stick, doused in corn batter, and deep fried.

Yes, you can get just about anything on a stick. Corn dogs — a.k.a. pronto pups, although apparently there is a distinction (which I happen to know, genius that I am, but I’ll leave it to you to research that matter on your own) — started it all, innocently enough. And in retrospect, the corn dog seems an almost obvious invention. At least, that is, when compared to the things you can find on a stick these days.

Along the road leading to machinery hill, just across from the obnoxiously expensive Rainbow Play Systems (although I suppose if you’re buying a large prefab structure for your kids to play on in the back yard, you want to know from the price tag that it’s well-constructed), you’ll find a little place called “J.D.’s Eating Establishment,” which proudly announces the availability of “Definitely nothin’ on a stick!” But J.D.’s is decisively in the minority.

Last year I was simultaneously impressed and frightened by the sight of a “Spaghetti and Meatballs Dinner on a Stick.” This year, it was a Swedish booth (although I think “Swedish-American” is more accurate, as this is a purely Scandisotan [a word, incidentally and double-parenthetically, that Google confirms I did not coin] concoction) selling “Hotdish [sic… it is one word, you know] on a Stick.” I was tempted to try it, but as with most items whose names end in “…on a stick,” it was dipped in corn batter and, from the outside, indistinguishable from the sickeningly large corn dog I had just consumed.

Getting in on the “on a stick” gag, we have Tim Pawlenty’s Governor on a Stick, which is a hand fan emblazoned with a photo of the governor. Seems a bit self-defeating, however, given the conceptual similarity of “Governor on a Stick” to “Governor’s Head on a Pike.” (Hey, I’m just sayin’….)

Of course, the granddaddy of them all, the item that put the Minnesota State Fair on the map for those seeking instant coronary distress, is the “Deep Fried Candy Bar.” Apparently the concept was invented in Scotland, and I seem to recall seeing it on an episode of A Cook’s Tour on Food Network; it was the same episode where Tony Bourdain boldly ventured into the world of haggis… and made it seem almost palatable.

But there’s one thing that was always missing from the Scottish delight (the deep fried candy bar, that is… although I’m sure haggis could find a comfortable home at a grease-drenched food booth at the Minnesota State Fair): the stick.

Never fear, though. Where Scotland fails, Minnesota succeeds. (Don’t quote me on that. When World War III starts, I want Sean Connery and Groundskeeper Willie on my side.)

I saw the deep fried candy bars being made at the fair. I saw someone eating one. I even walked through the dense cloud of grease vapor hanging in the air surrounding the booth. But nothing… nothing could make me try one. Even if it is the highest-calorie food item at the entire fair. Which it is, although I think that’s relative. Maybe as an individual item it’s the most calories, but I think the available (to use that word in the car commercial sense) 64-ounce buckets of either french fries or Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, if consumed by one person, must contain more.

All of this stuff-on-a-stick gave me an idea though. It seems you really could sell just about anything as a food item at the Minnesota State Fair as long as it’s on a stick, dipped in batter, and deep fried. My wife and I joked about a “Stick on a Stick” concept. But understanding the true nature of fair food as only a native of this great state can, I think one slight modification may be necessary. And with that, I present to you the final concept for the ultimate fair food item. I encourage any would-be entrepreneurs to take this idea and run with it; just give me a little recognition when you make your first million (which, apparently, is not unheard of for a successful food booth in the 12 days of the fair):

Stick of Butter on a Stick.

Mmmmmmm… stick.