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Sunday, January 09, 2021

Lately, everyone has been prodding me to catch The King’s Speech.

Don’t see it happening. Despite the actual historical basis, the dramatic chops of the cast, and the critical acclaim, the movie’s premise comes off as a stereotypically hackneyed Hollywood pitch: The story of an inbred blueblood and his courageous battle against… stuttering. All against a background of high-British accents and flowery orchestral music. Pass.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/09/2021 12:12pm
Category: History, Movies
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Sunday, December 19, 2021

The most popular theatrical play that you’ve probably never heard of is “Almost, Maine”. Why is this quirky look at snowbound New England romance the rage of high-school and repertory stages across the land, when it flamed out years ago Off Broadway?

Maybe it was because the play — composed of nine vignettes — offered material that students could break off and perform at drama competitions and that professional actors could present at auditions. Or could the key to success be that the text can be performed by as few as 4 people or as many as 19?

“If you are a professional playwright looking to make it in New York, you write something with the smallest possible cast,” said Doug Rand, chairman of the licensing company Playscripts Inc. “Amateur theater groups want to have as big a cast as possible. New York really hasn’t generated that kind of work in decades. So, when you come across that work, it’s like water in the desert.”

Curious creative economics. Although there must be something to it, as I prefer plays that are as focused and stripped-down as possible, including a tight cast of less than a half-dozen characters. Consequently, I doubt that “Almost” would be to my liking, at least not past the first couple of vignettes.

As for the play’s backdrop, Maine’s national profile probably hasn’t benefited this much since that ship blew up in Havana harbor.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/19/2010 01:49pm
Category: Creative, History, New Yorkin'
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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Obviously not fans of They Might Be Giants or The Four Lads, modern Greek-speakers persist in referring to that city on the Bosphorus as “Constantinople”.

The Greeks are hardly alone in hanging onto a legacy place-name. Socio-political disputes across the globe usually hinge on conflicting geographic designators. Still, it’s a bit jarring to hear a world-class city’s antiquity name dropped into current-day parlance — especially news reports from Greek media. Especially since it’s not likely that Istanbul is ever going to revert to a Hellenic dominion…

For the (lyrical) record, Greeks do recognize the name “New York”. Even though, like Istanbul, it once had another name.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/16/2010 11:32pm
Category: History, Politics, Pop Culture
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Monday, December 13, 2021

If you’re tired of exposing yourself to sun-shiney solar radiation while vacationing on some beach, perhaps you’d prefer the man-made irradiation to be had with an officially-sanctioned tour of Chernobyl:

While the area remains heavily contaminated, a ministry spokeswoman said, tourism routes had been drawn up which would cover the main sights while steering clear of the dangerous spots.

Wandering would not be encouraged, Yulia Yershova said: “There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn’t stray away from the group.”

It is already possible to visit the area with private tour firms, usually operating from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, 60 miles south. The country’s government, however, says these are illegal and tourists’ safety cannot be guaranteed.

If you want a preview of this wasteland excursion, you can always track down a copy of Andrey Tarkovskiy’s 1979 eerie classic Stalker. Not that the Ukrainian Board of Tourism would endorse it, as it’s clearly one of the illegal jaunts through the exclusion zone.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/13/2010 09:33pm
Category: History, Science, Society
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Monday, November 22, 2021

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that Ireland accepted an International Monetary Fund/European Union financial bailout this past weekend.

Not over sovereign-solvency or other macroeconomic implications. Rather, I lamented that the Irish no longer had their own currency, the short-lived punt, still in place. With a money-quote like that, the quips and headlines would have practically written themselves.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/22/2010 09:35pm
Category: Business, History
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Sunday, November 21, 2021

It’s a common enough sighting on the streets of New York: An oversized inflatable gray rat, positioned in front of some business or other that’s not giving its unionized workers a fair shake. Little did I know that this symbol of labor unrest is 20 years old:

The vinyl vermin quietly marked their 20th birthday this year. The folks at Illinois-based Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, creators of the inflatables, made their first rat for a Chicago bricklayers union in 1990.

Business was soon blowing up — the rats became an instant, unlikely symbol of corporate greed and anti-union work sites.

The company — a nonunion shop, by the way — says the majority of its business is done on the East Coast. The rats range in height from a relatively small 6-footer to the super-sized 25-footer. The costs can run upward of $8,000.

I haven’t walked past one of these strike mascots lately, but next time I do, I’ll acknowledge the anniversary by leaving a hunk of birthday cheese (signified by a candle stuck in the middle) at its feet. It’s not as good as not patronizing the offending business, but it’s really more about the symbol of protest, rather than the protest itself.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/21/2010 09:22pm
Category: Business, Creative, History
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Sunday, November 07, 2021

Among the odder remnants of Germany’s Nazi era is the Heidelberg Thingstätte:

The Thingstätte in Heidelberg was started in 1934 and finished the following year. Situated on the Heiligenberg (Holy Mountain), the amphitheater covers 25 meters of sloping land and overlooks the city. The mountain is littered with ancient burial grounds and once hosted a Roman temple at the summit dedicated to the god Mercury.

Designed by the architect H. Alker, who worked for the Reich Labor Service, the Heidelberg Thingstätte features two hexagonal towers constructed to hold flags, lighting, and sound. On the opening day, 20,000 people turned out to hear [Nazi propaganda minister Joseph] Goebbels himself. After the Thingstätte fell out of favor, this site was turned into a public park and remains one to this day.

An outdoor pavilion itself isn’t all that odd. But its inspiration was:

In 1933 the Nazi Propaganda Ministry under Joseph Goebbels began a movement based on the “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) ideology — the so-called “Thing” movement. A Thing was an ancient Nordic/Germanic gathering of the people, in an outdoor setting. The Nazi Thing gatherings were to be held in specially-constructed outdoor amphitheaters, called (in the singular) Thingplatz or Thingstätte. Here, the people would gather for Völkisch meetings and to view theater and propaganda presentations written especially for the Thing style. The Thing sites were to be built as much as possible in a natural setting, incorporating rocks, trees, water bodies, ruins, and hills of some historical or mythical significance.

(Note that the Germanic “thing” still exists: Iceland’s parliament is called the Allthing. Ironically, Scandinavians mostly dismissed Nazi Aryan propaganda.)

Basically, the Nazis sought to supplant Judeo-Christian mores with a pseudo-pagan ideology, presumably more easily subject to state control. These public works were one part of a broader effort that coalesced into the Kirchenkampf, or “struggle against the churches” — a battle for the everyday hearts and minds of Germans. Had World War II not come along, it’s chilling to think of how all this would have culminated; not to diminish the horror of the Holocaust, but it could have become just the tip of an iceberg.

Instead, the Heidelberg monument now serves as an entertainment venue. Secular neutralization, with physical utility trumping ideology.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/07/2021 09:22pm
Category: History, Political
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Tuesday, November 02, 2021

This year marks the 150th anniversary of election of Abraham Lincoln. The subsequent path to Southern secession and war is being chronicled in “Disunion”, a New York Times historical blog:

The story of the Civil War will be told in this series as a weekly roundup and analysis, by Jamie Malanowski, of events making news during the corresponding week 150 years ago. Written as if in real time, this dispatch will, after this week, appear every Monday. Additional essays and observations by other contributors, along with maps, images, diaries and so forth, will be published several times a week.

This is a nice approach in presenting a conflict that’s no longer a central fixture in the national psyche. At least not directly — certainly, the regional and social faultlines are still pretty apparent, even if the linkage to dynamics from a century and a half ago are no longer acknowledged. That’s an unfortunate consequence of the passing of living memory.

The history geek in me digs this. Especially when I come across an article permalink structure from 1860.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/02/2021 09:58pm
Category: Bloggin', Creative, History
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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Earlier this month, a meme flowed through the InterWebz regarding the layout of this calendar month:

October 2010 has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays - something that only occurs every 823 years.

I admit, I came across it on Twitter, and pretty much took it at face value. After all, if five full weekends came along routinely, I’d notice it, right?

I guess I don’t, because it happens all the time. In fact, it follows a 5-6-5-11 yearly pattern, with leap year accounting for the extended gap. But nothing at all to suggest that 823-year action.

So someone, apparently, threw that made-up number into the mix, and it propagated quickly through social media chatter as assumed fact. No one’s come forward to brag about their “gotcha”, as hollow as it is; so the motive probably will remain a mystery.

Regardless, this October did treat us to an “extra” two leisure days. Not that I did anything extra-special with the extra time. So no gain, no loss — and on to November and the close of the year.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/31/2010 03:00pm
Category: History, Social Media Online
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Sunday, October 24, 2021

In the midst of a review of the “Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam” exhibition at the New York Public Library, critic Edward Rothstein drops in this bit of insight:

The Abrahamic religions share other characteristics as well. Each believes that God has made himself known to his prophets through acts of revelation. And such revelations shape groups of believers by being incorporated in canonical written texts: the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Gospels, the Islamic Koran.

Though the exhibition does not point this out, the connection between monotheism and such texts is no accident. Once multiple divinities are discarded, along with their rivalries and conflicting powers, religion is concerned with just two poles: the human and the divine. Religious events take place not on Mount Olympus or in some imagined godly castle, but in the earthly realm. Religious history becomes fully part of human history. And the telling of that history, along with commentary and reinterpretation, becomes an aspect of the religion itself. These faiths are historical faiths.

A simplified, all-encompassing God brings the divine action out of the clouds and down to ground level. The human experience then plays a starring role, instead of the supporting one required of polytheistic tellings.

I think the fundamental origin-of-man tales found in the Prometheus myth and the Garden of Eden are good examples of these contrasting approaches. In the former, the Greek gods drive the story; in the latter, mortal Adam and Eve are the action agents. The initiative shifts from godly intent to human impulse. You could say that it’s the beginning of the concepts of humanism and self-determination.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/24/2010 02:31pm
Category: History, Society
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Saturday, October 23, 2021

step to
It’s been two weeks since New York Rangers rookie center Derek Stepan debuted his NHL career with a hat trick in the Rangers’ season opener at Buffalo.

He’s been light on the goal-scoring since then. Still, potting three goals in your very first National Hockey League game merits something. I figure a nickname is due to the youngster.

The problem is, I can’t think of one. The only thing that comes to mind is a play on the name “Stepan”. And the only thing that comes to mind from that? For me, it’s 20th Century black film star (and divisive racial figure) Stepin Fetchit.

I’m thinking that’s not gonna work. So, the hockey nickname tinkering continues…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 10/23/2010 01:05pm
Category: History, Hockey, Movies
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Sunday, October 17, 2021

It’s mind-boggling to consider that something still referred to as “new media” could host a property that’s a full two decades old. But that’s the case on this day, as The Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, celebrates its 20th birthday:

It was 20 years ago today that I posted a simple software package to the USENET newsgroup rec.arts.movies, which allowed readers of that group to create and search a very basic movie and TV database. This was the 17th October 1990. The database was built from the lists of credits which I and two other readers had begun to publish in the same group. At the time the database only covered actors, actresses, and directors. The World Wide Web was a long way off and anyone wanting to use the database had to install it locally on their computer. IMDb was born though and anyone reading the group on that day could have access to the Internet’s first freely-available movie and TV database.

The transience of online is apparent: Despite archiving efforts, a good deal of what’s created on the Internet is not really intended for posterity. So it’s something of a miracle that IMDb has lasted so long, and with its original core purpose intact, even after the transition from Net to Web, and eventual acquisition by present parent company Amazon.

Personally, I’d say that IMDb was probably one of the first compelling reasons for me to regularly fire up a browser (let’s conveniently ignore the default porn factor, of course :) ). My longstanding love of films found a ready outlet for the volume of trivial information on IMDb, and still does; to this day, it’s one of only a couple of sites that can suck me in for extended periods of time, with one link leading deeper and deeper into others.

Even with my interest in cinema flagging of late, IMDb still manages to draw me in. So I hope it sticks around for another 20 years. Or until the Web runs out of steam. Or until they stop making full-fledged Hollywood productions in favor of YouTube clips. Whichever of those scenarios comes first…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/17/2010 07:53pm
Category: History, Internet, Movies
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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

It’s not every day that your neighborhood cemetery* yields something other than tombstones — in this case, a long-abandoned stash of munitions.

Officers cordoned off Second Street between First and Second Avenues on Monday, and Bomb Squad officers dug up areas near where the explosives were first discovered, but as of Monday evening no other suspicious packages had been found. [NYC Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly said the package contained eight sticks of C-4 [each] weighing about one and a quarter pounds. He said the material was not commonly available.

“It could have been taken from a military installation, perhaps years ago,” he said. “We don’t know how old it is.”

Mr. Kelly said that based on the condition of the bag, the package might have been in the cemetery for several years.

Based on the neighborhood’s rough history, it seems pretty clear where this came from:

The cemetery abuts some brownstones and is about 100 feet from the notorious E 3rd Street clubhouse of the Hell’s Angels motorcyle gang.

According to “Hell’s Angels: Three Can Keep a Secret if Two are Dead” by Yves Lavigne, the biker gang stockpiled C-4 in the 1980s.

Mystery solved, as far as I’m concerned. Some bikers hid their stockpile there ages ago, then either forgot about it or otherwise got separated from it (untimely deaths?), and this undelivered payload sat there, untouched until now. Makes you wonder what else is hidden away in some of the City’s older nooks and crannies.

As for the cemetery itself, what stands out for me it that it never, ever, gets shoveled during winter. Many’s the time I’ve walked down 2nd Street, and had to practically skate down the long expanse of sidewalk along its gates. (The pavement on either side of it are always cleared of ice and snow, so this really stands out — I don’t know how this landmark gets away with it.) I’ve even slipped and taken a tumble on occasion — and I never fall, so that tells you how treacherous this stretch of the LES is. Hopefully, the next time I land on my butt, the impact won’t trigger the explosion of even more yet-to-be-discovered pyrotechnics…

*In fact, there are two neighborhood cemeteries on this same street. And to add to the redundancy, they have almost identical names: New York City Marble Cemetery and New York Marble Cemetery. The bomb-making material was found in the former site.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/12/2021 11:15pm
Category: History, New Yorkin', True Crime
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Thursday, September 16, 2021

french fried
Just how French are the Montreal Canadiens? Not French enough, according to the Parti Quebecois:

Quebec’s official Opposition leader, Pauline Marois, said this week the Habs have become a promotional tool for Canadian federalism.

She said she wished the team had more francophone stars she could cheer for. One of her PQ caucus members went even further: Pierre Curzi said recently the Habs are actively plotting against Quebec separatism — and that the exclusion of French-speaking players was part of that plot.

I guess parliamentary procedure calls for a local National Hockey League roster that’s Gallic at all costs, even if it undercuts a potential Stanley Cup run.

Is there some irony in this denunciation of the modern-day Canadiens, considering the club’s historic role in fostering the province’s independence sentiment? I’m speaking, of course, of the (Rocket) Richard Riot:

The Montreal Forum is evacuated, and violence spills out onto the streets of Montreal. Rioters smash windows, loot stores, and clash with police. The riot of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1955, is seen by many as a seminal moment in the evolution of Quebec’s modern nationalist movement.

So, from galvanizing sociopolitical rallying point to crypto-Anglo sleeper cell, in the space of a half-century? At this rate, the Habs are better off relocating to Kansas City…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 09/16/2010 10:37pm
Category: History, Hockey, Politics
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Monday, September 06, 2021

labor daze
In observance of Labor Day today, I figured I’d take a brief look at a couple of notable developments during this National Hockey League offseason, as they relate to the free-agent market:

- Most immediately, the Ilya Kovalchuk contract controversy, which precipitated the addition of a major amendment in the collective bargaining to address similar long-term pacts in the future:

First: For long-term contracts extending beyond the age of 40, the contract’s average annual value for the years up to and including 40, are calculated by dividing total value in those years by the number of years up to and including 40. Then for the years covering ages 41 and beyond, the cap charge in each year is equal to the value of the contract in that year…

Secondly, for long-term contracts that include years in which the player is 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40; the amount used for purposes of calculating his average annual value is a minimum of $1 million in each of those years (even if his actual compensation is less during those seasons).

Somewhat convoluted, but essentially, the league is aiming to discourage using the downside of a player’s career as “voidable years” in a front-loaded contract. The presumption has been that, after the player has gotten the bulk of his money in the first few years, he’ll be more inclined to retire or consent to a buyout when the latter portion of the deal kicks in. That would work out for the team as well, as it can work with a lower averaged-out cap number during that player’s most productive seasons, and save a little money further down the line (while not worrying about the future accelerated salary cap hit if the contract is eventually terminated). But now, these new age-specific rules prevent too much stretching-out of the total compensation — basically, contract length can’t really be used as a bidding tactic anymore.

So, barring the discovery of a new loophole, this will mean shorter-length contracts in general in the NHL, for the remainder of this CBA. Annual salaries/cap hits may not correspondingly decrease, although with the smaller window of averaged-out seasons in play, teams will have less room to bid against each other for sought-after players.

The advent of these super-sized contracts was an interesting response to the unique constraints imposed by the NHL’s CBA: A hard salary cap combined with guaranteed contracts. Using contract length as an outlet to level out the per-season cap hit has been used in the NFL since the inauguration of true free agency in that league. The key there, though, was that those player contracts are not guaranteed. Football teams have operated freely by luring prized free agents with long-term big-money deals that easily fit under the NFL hard cap, because the long-term impact could be instantly negated by cutting the player after one or two seasons (again, ignoring the acceleration penalties, which are mostly manageable). In turn, football players learned to negotiate massively front-loaded deals, usually with half or more of the total contract value payable upon signing and/or in the first season; the rest of the contract years are presumed to be optional.

That’s just what the NHL’s “voidable years” emulated. Realistically, you know that most players hit their downside by their mid-30s, so extending a contract into those iffy years was a low-risk proposition. It was obviously cap-circumventing too, so it’s not surprising that the league finally eliminated it (or, at least, made it less workable).

- From Kovalchuk’s 15-year deal, we go to the other end of the spectrum: An apparent increased frequency in extremely short-term deals. A rundown of CapGeek’s free-agent tracker reveals a total of 385 players signing one- or two-year contracts for the coming 2010-11 NHL season (as of this writing). With only 420 players having agreed to free-agent or contract-extension deals this offseason, this points to an extremely soft free-agent market.

But why? Granted, in any given year, there are only a handful of major in-demand free agents to be had, and they generally get scooped up early with big paydays. After that, second-tier players take what’s left, competing for a limited number of roster holes.

Still, I can’t remember the last time so many proven NHL players had to settle for so little. The preponderance of one-year contracts, in particular, brings to my mind the grand strategy of Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, at the dawn of Major League Baseball free agency:

Said Finley: “Let Them All Become Free Agents.” What Finley proposed was that after each season every player would become a free agent, free to sign with whatever team wanted his services.

The idea was that, with such a huge pool of talent available each offseason, teams would have far more options, thus driving down the value for each individual player — and this would be the case every year. Certainly, specific needs would lead to some bidding wars: If Team A and Team B really needed a good shortstop, they’d probably target the same couple of players and drive up the signing price. But with no contracts lasting longer than a season, the damage would be short-lived.

In effect, that seems to be what’s being set up for next offseason in the NHL, with most of those players coming loose again (except for a handful that might earn contract extensions). Any time such a large-scale work-status shift materializes in major-pro sports, whispers of collusion surface. They haven’t this time — yet. I’m not sure the owners are conspiring in this case. But it definitely is curious that a flood of the same players will be on the market in 2011, guaranteeing that they won’t be able to command better money/terms than they had last time around.

Overall, it’s been an interesting round of labor pains for the NHL this summer. We’ll see how all this manifests itself when the regular season starts in a month.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/06/2021 11:00pm
Category: Baseball, Football, History, Hockey, SportsBiz
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Saturday, September 04, 2021

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen enough reruns of “M*A*S*H” to have the following impromptu drinking song from the “Alcoholics Unanimous” episode seared onto my brain:

Come on in!
Take off your skin!
And rattle around in your bones!


I was always curious about the origin of this little ditty. It doesn’t seem that unique at first glance, but it’s a catchy little knee-slapping snippet, almost mantra-like.

A little research yielded a surprising background to these lyrics: They’re based on a 1920s dancehall number by Edgar Leslie and Walter Donaldson, that was later re-composed by Tom Waits. The original chorus:

‘Tain’t no sin
To take off your skin
And dance around in your bones

At root, a skeletal refrain. In which case, I’d rather rattle than dance…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 09/04/2021 07:12pm
Category: History, Pop Culture, TV
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Just in time for Halloween costume ideas: Take an extra-long and an extra-short tube sock or balloon, tie them together, place them strategically, and you’ve got Attila the Hung.

It’s taken almost twenty years, but I believe we’ve finally found a mock-pornstar name that beats George Costanza’s “Buck Naked”. And amazingly, it seems like not too many others have ever thought of it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 09/04/2021 01:51pm
Category: Comedy, History, Pop Culture, TV, Wordsmithing
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Saturday, August 28, 2021

devilish by division
I’ve been avoiding making any comment on the whole Ilya Kovalchuk contract controversy, mainly because I’d like to see the situation finally resolved before I weigh in.

The resolution is now is sight, as the New Jersey Devils submitted a reworked, and presumably salary-cap-compliant, deal to the NHL yesterday. Hopefully the league will approve this pact, if for no other reason than the franchise-appropriate way that the numbers average out:

Terms of the potential contract have yet to be released but it is believed to be a 15-year deal worth approximately $100 million, which in an amusing twist would make the cap hit $6.66 million a season.

Apparently, neither the Devils nor Kovalchuk suffer from hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. And this hurts the team’s persistent insistence that its name isn’t inspired by Satan, but rather the legendary Jersey Devil. (Although, if they were truly up on their Christian theology, they’d have gone for a cap hit of $6.16-mil, which would represent the more accurate mark of the Beast.)

This numerological chicanery is nothing new for the Devils, of course. This is the same franchise that used to fudge their arena capacity just to keep the old anti-Rangers “19-40″ chant alive. It’s hockey marketing via calculator…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/28/2010 12:05pm
Category: History, Hockey, SportsBiz
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Monday, August 23, 2021

What is “hogo”, you ask? It’s the historically distinctive devil’s-piss burn once associated with rum. From the September 2010 issue of Esquire (which isn’t online yet, apparently):

Derived from the French phrase for the “high taste” game meats develop when they’re hung up to mature before cooking — and by “mature,” we mean “rot” — hogo used to be a term of art in the rum trade to describe the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off. For 300 years, rum distillers have sought ways first to tame and then to eliminate it: proof distillation (more alcohol equals less hogo), filtering, tweaking the fermentation, long aging in barrels — all very effective, particularly when used in combination. Perhaps too effective.

I’m liking the idea of this raw rum. I bet it would be the perfect ingredient in my much-appreciated Kill Divil cocktail — which, after all, is a Colonial-era drink recipe. I’ll have to track down a vintage-crafted bottle of this hogo-licious firewater, and start mixing.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/23/2010 09:54pm
Category: Food, History, Wordsmithing
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Saturday, August 21, 2021

This is too funny to not share: A modest proposal, which I retweeted, for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing:

yee-heil! RT @typooper: NASCAR should do one really big race every year and call it “The Master Race”. That’d be an excellent image booster.

Hey, white-trash stereotypes aside, the racing circuit is struggling with recession-depleted attendance at most tracks. Might as well appeal to your base

Only kidding, of course. But I hope you appreciate how I used that 140-character space to meld a pun out of the rebel yell and the Nazi “sieg heil” salute.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/21/2010 07:08pm
Category: Comedy, History, Other Sports
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Saturday, August 14, 2021

The redundantly-named California City, California is the biggest city you’ve never heard of — the 34th-largest incorporated municipality in the United States, in fact. The reason you don’t know that it exists is because it doesn’t — at least not in a substantial, finished sense:

In 1958, Nathan Mendelsohn, a Columbia University sociology instructor turned developer, acquired 82,000 acres of desert in eastern Kern County, 100 miles from Los Angeles.

Mendelsohn called his vision California City and, despite the fact it was 10 miles from any highway, he believed it would become the state’s next metropolis. The next San Fernando Valley.

Today a mere 14,000 souls call California City home. Most are clustered at one end of the massive tract. It’s a sleepy outpost with its own school district and public bus service but no hotel or chain grocery. The police chief is also the director of parks and recreation, and the Rite Aid is the busiest place in town.

The rest of Mendelsohn’s eccentric dream unfurls to the east, some 185 square miles of mostly unpaved streets — a ghostly monument to overreach that, from above, looks like a geoglyph left by space aliens. Only Los Angeles and San Diego leave a bigger footprint in the state.

It’s like a stillborn ghost town, without even a gold rush to have once filled its empty grids.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/14/2010 10:12pm
Category: History, Society
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