Easter Yeggs

It’s Easter-the official start of Spring, with warmer weather (and allergies). Easter brings with it the yearly traditions of a rabbit trying to deliver eggs:

And of course, the rabbit’s counterpart:

Ultimately, though, Easter is about…zombies?

At any rate, happy Easter!


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In Praise Of…Spam?

Spam, that pre-processed meat that was born during World War Two, is getting some new love:

When most people think about Spam, the phrase “gourmet cooking” doesn’t come to mind. The processed pork-meat product looks about as unappetizing as the phrase “commodity meat” sounds, and as Marination’s Kamala Saxton told Esquire, “it doesn’t check any of the boxes of ethically sourced, local, healthy, or organic.” In other words, Spam would seem a really bad fit for modern foodie culture.

Or is it? Chefs across the country are reintroducing Spam to American palettes, often in recipes that call for pork. Saxton’s food truck, for example, makes Spam sliders that won over customers because “the combination of the saltiness of the Spam on a Hawaiian sweet roll with the combination of our slaw” was too good to resist.

At Dale Talde’s Brooklyn restaurant, he serves a version of shrimp and grits made with smoked Spam as a tribute to his mother’s Filipino-American cooking. Spam is even Top Chef-approved, as recent champion Brooke Williamson serves Spam musubi at her L.A. eatery, Da Kikokiko.

So what is Spam?

Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item.[3]Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham”, “spare meat”, or “shoulders of pork and ham”.[7] Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for “Specially Processed American Meat” or “Specially Processed Army Meat”.[8]

The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”,[1] and “Special Army Meat”. Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.[9]

During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.[10]

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. British prime minister during the 1980s Margaret Thatcher later referred to it as a “wartime delicacy”.[11][12] In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union.[13] Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army”.[14] Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate Spam.[15]

Spam was one of the first foods made popular by the war:

Canned ham was a reasonably successful Hormel product, but Jay Hormel wanted to get some use out of an underutilized cut of meat — pork shoulders. At first, Spam was made entirely of shoulder meat. Hormel introduced the ham/shoulder blend later. Actor Kenneth Daigneau coined the Spam name in a naming contest at a New Year’s Eve party [source: Wyman]. Hormel claims that the word is a blend of the words “spiced ham,” though Spam lovers and haters have suggested many other meanings and acronyms over the decades. On May 11, 1937, Spam was officially born when Hormel registered a trademark for the name.

By prominently featuring the brand name on the packaging and spending lavishly on advertising, Hormel succeeded in making Spam a household product in the United States. However, it was World War II that cemented Spam’s reputation in its home country and introduced the product to consumers around the world. Before the United States entered the war, Spam and other foods were shipped to Allied countries as part of the lend-lease program. When U.S. soldiers went to Europe and the Pacific, they carried Spam in their K-rations [source: Wyman]. Or did they?

Most of the Spam eaten by soldiers was actually government meat that was canned by Hormel and other companies that were under contract to the military. Only a few soldiers received genuine Spam [source: Wyman]. Nevertheless, to the soldiers it was Spam that they came to know and hate. They felt like they had Spam for every meal and ran out of ways to prepare it. The universal dislike — they wrote songs about how much they hated the stuff — probably had less to do with the actual taste of Spam than with how often they were forced to eat it.

Regardless of their opinion on Spam during the war, soldiers who returned to the United States when the war was over brought a taste for Spam with them. With the aid of an advertising blitz, Spam sales increased after the war [source: Wyman].

Of course, Spam has been maligned since then:

Internet geeks didn’t help its reputation:

Apparently, the first people to make the connection between repetitive SPAM and repetitive email were enormous geeks, by which we mean to say they were players in “multi-user dungeons,” or very early predecessors of games like World of Warcraft. Brad Templeton, who has done meticulous research on the topic, writes: “The term spamming got used to apply to a few different behaviors. One was to flood the computer with too much data to crash it. Another was to “˜spam the database’ by having a program create a huge number of objects, rather then creating them by hand. And the term was sometimes used to mean simply flooding a chat session with a bunch of text inserted by a program (commonly called a “˜bot’ today) or just by inserting a file instead of your own real time typing output. When the ability to input a whole file to the chat system was implemented, people would annoy others by dumping the words to the Monty Python SPAM Song. Another report describes indirectly a person simply typing “˜spam, spam…’ in a Multi User Domain with a keyboard macro until being thrown off around 1985.”

But now, perhaps, it’s time to give the little canned meat that could some props. So dig in!

Some vintage Spam recipes.

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Old Rock Gods

First, a look at what might have been for Curt Cobain:

“He might have gone more experimental. One of the things that was most gratifying for him was his recording with William Burroughs,” the legendary beat poet whom Cobain accompanied on guitar as he recited “The ‘Priest’ They Called Him.”

Some of Cobain’s early recordings, made on cassette as he grew up in the lumber town of Aberdeen, Washington, were released in 2015 to accompany “Montage of Heck,” a documentary that had the cooperation of the rocker’s widow Courtney Love.

Cuesta said it was possible to imagine a 50-year-old Cobain with a diverse solo discography that, much like Neil Young’s, goes in both electric and acoustic directions.

It may be fun to speculate, and we can imagine what so many others might have been like had they survived:

John Lennon-He was on the verge of a successful comeback with the release of Double Fantasy in 1980; one of the songs written for the album, “Nobody Told Me,” was released posthumously in 1984. It’s not hard to see Lennon rediscovering his activism in the Eighties with Live Aid and other charities, and then going into retirement with Yoko.

Jim Morrison-Morrison might have had trouble fitting in with the Seventies, and continued to focus on mysticism and poetry. He could have eventually tried a solo career, working with other names such as David Bowie.

Janis Joplin-She might have gone back to her blues and country roots, becoming openly gay in the late 1970s.

Jimi Hendrix-He was taking his music in a more jazz-rock fusion style and might have continued that way.

And finally:

The King-Elvis Presley-Much has already been written about what might have happened had Elvis lived; at the time of his death he was a middle-aged, out of weight, reclusive icon who seemed to have lost touch with a world that had passed him by. He could have gone to Betty Ford, perhaps gone back into gospel music, and remained a beloved figure to his fans and a national entertainer.

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Cool Things: 1992

So Wayne’s World celebrates its 25th anniversary this year:

The movie, adapted from the Saturday Night Live sketches with Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers), the enthusiastic host of a public access cable show from his parents’ couch, and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), his socially inept and genius sidekick, went on to surpass $100 million at the box office and develop a cult following.

To celebrate the anniversary, more than 400 theaters are showing the movie Tuesday and Wednesday (tickets: WaynesWorld25.com). The screenings include an introduction by Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers, a new interview with Myers and Carvey, and a taped fan Q&A featuring director Penelope Spheeris and other actors from the movie.

Now that’s out of the way, here are some other cool things you may remember from that year:

Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall

Many credit this appearance with helping him to win the election that year. The man knew how to play his sax:

Universal Soldier

One of the underrated sci fi action flicks that came out in the early 90’s:

Ross Perot

He was a fast talker who might have relied too much on pie charts, but he made the race entertaining:

Dan Quayle versus Murphy Brown

The biggest political battle of the year might not have been between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, but between his Vice President and a fictional TV character, who handled him as only she could:


Billy Ray Cyrus, “My Achy Breaky Heart”

It might have been goofy, and it wasn’t even actually country when you came right down to it, but it did give Fox Mulder something to dance to:

And, finally:

Those Sega commercials. Sega!

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Looking Back In Bewilderment: Animal-O-Nauts

They were there before us-the bold pioneers of the space age, the first animals in orbit. France had one of its own:

Of course the most well known ones were sent up by the US and Russia. First, Russia’s Laika:

Laika was found as a stray wandering the streets of Moscow. Soviet scientists chose to use Moscow strays since they assumed that such animals had already learned to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger.[3] This specimen was an eleven-pound[7] mongrel female, approximately three years old. Another account reported that she weighed about 6 kg (13 lb). Soviet personnel gave her several names and nicknames, among them Kudryavka (Russian for Little Curly), Zhuchka (Little Bug), and Limonchik (Little Lemon). Laika, the Russian name for several breeds of dogs similar to the husky, was the name popularized around the world. The American press dubbed her Muttnik (mutt + suffix -nik) as a pun on Sputnik,[8] or referred to her as Curly.[9] Her true pedigree is unknown, although it is generally accepted that she was part husky or other Nordic breed, and possibly part terrier.[3] NASA refers to Laika as a “part-Samoyed terrier.”[10] A Russian magazine described her temperament as phlegmatic, saying that she did not quarrel with other dogs.[7] Vladimir Yazdovsky, who led the program of test dogs used on rockets, in a later publication wrote that “Laika was quiet and charming”.[11]

The Soviet Union and United States had previously sent animals only on sub-orbital flights.[12] Three dogs were trained for the Sputnik 2 flight: Albina, Mushka, and Laika.[13] Soviet space-life scientists Vladimir Yazdovsky and Oleg Gazenko trained the dogs.[14]

To adapt the dogs to the confines of the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2, they were kept in progressively smaller cages for periods of up to 20 days. The extensive close confinement caused them to stop urinating or defecating, made them restless, and caused their general condition to deteriorate. Laxatives did not improve their condition, and the researchers found that only long periods of training proved effective. The dogs were placed in centrifuges that simulated the acceleration of a rocket launch and were placed in machines that simulated the noises of the spacecraft. This caused their pulses to double and their blood pressure to increase by 30–65 torr. The dogs were trained to eat a special high-nutrition gel that would be their food in space.[6]

Before the launch, one of the scientists took Laika home to play with his children. In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote, “Laika was quiet and charming…I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”[15]

Of course, the US had its own ape-o-nauts:

On 13 December 1958, a Jupiter IRBM, AM-13, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a United States Navy-trained South American squirrel monkey named Gordo on board. The nose cone recovery parachute failed to operate and Gordo was lost. Telemetry data sent back during the flight showed that the monkey survived the 10G of launch, 8 minutes of weightlessness and 40G of reentry at 10,000 miles per hour. The nose cone sank 1,302 nautical miles (2,411 km) downrange from Cape Canaveral and was not recovered.

Monkeys Able and Baker became the first monkeys to survive spaceflight after their 1959 flight. On 28 May 1959, aboard Jupiter IRBM AM-18, were a 7-pound (3.18 kg) American-born rhesus monkey, Able, from Independence, Kansas, and an 11-ounce (310 g) squirrel monkey from Peru, Baker. The monkeys rode in the nose cone of the missile to an altitude of 360 miles (579 km) and a distance of 1,700 miles (2,735 km) down the Atlantic Missile Range from Cape Canaveral, Florida. They withstood forces 38 times the normal pull of gravity and were weightless for about 9 minutes. A top speed of 10,000 mph (16,000 km/h) was reached during their 16-minute flight. The monkeys survived the flight in good condition. Able died four days after the flight from a reaction to anesthesia, while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode. Baker was the center of media attention for the next several months as she was watched closely for any ill-effects from her space flight. She was even mated in an attempt to test her reproductive system.[7] Baker lived until 29 November 1984, at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The idea of animals in space became part of popular culture:

Thus it is that man and animal have explored space together.

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Of Miniature Golf And Other Middle Class Pursuits

A brief history of the middle class man’s game:

The oldest mini golf course in existence can actually be found in Scotland: The Ladies’ Putting Club of St. Andrews was formed in 1867 as a members-only green for women golfers. Of course, the club was a result of the conventions of the day that decreed it improper for a lady to “take the club back past their shoulder.” There may not have been any windmills or loop-the-loop obstacles on this course, but the green was and remains one of the most prestigious miniature courses around.


All of the early miniature golf courses fell under a few broad categories, including the “pitch and putt,” the “regulation par-3,” and the “executive.” All of them used a short driver along with a putter, and kept the same design of the larger courses: sand traps, hills, ponds, and trees. In 1916, James Barber designed a miniature golf course in North Carolina called “Thistle Dhu.” The course was compact and featured a classical design, with fountains, gardens, and geometrically-designed walkway patterns. In 1926, a few innovative designers created miniature golf courses on the roof of a New York City skyscraper, and other buildings followed suit ““ around 150 rooftop courses were in existence by the end of the decade in New York City alone.

Of course, the impulse for middle-class athletics has its own origins:

In the late nineteenth century a new middle class emerged that had more leisure time and more disposable income than common people had ever enjoyed before in America. They were the employees and managers of corporations, who, because they were working for someone else, kept strict hours, had a dependable source of income, and had less personal interest in their work than was common in small business, where the owner had direct contact with his workers. Eager to spend their newfound time and money outside the workplace, the middle class turned to sports, either as spectators or participants. Those not interested in athletic competition found other forms of recreation and leisure-time activities. Prior to the Gilded Age (the name given to this era by novelist Mark Twain) organized leisure was a luxury enjoyed by the upper classes, who had idle hours to spend in sports and recreation. Now, however, the elite had to compete with commoners on the playing field and for a seat in the audience. Blue-collar workers and unskilled laborers still lacked the resources to engage in the same sports and recreational pursuits of the middle class. They found their own fun in ways often considered uncouth by people conscious of their social status. Barroom games and saloon-sponsored teams were popular in lower-class neighborhoods.

Being middle class has long had its advantages. You might be boring, but at least you had the chance to become one of the bourgeois:

Rather than resist the up and coming noveau riche, the old aristocracy rather embraced the development, and cashed in on opportunity wherever they could. One writer says that the old money crowd met the new money people “coming up the staircase.” Quite often, European aristocratic families married sons or daughters off to the American sons and daughters of wealthy industrialists, the marriage presumably increasing the social status of one and the innate wealth of the other. Aristocratic families themselves began engaging in business and mining on their estates rather than relying on rents for income. An example is Otto Von Bismarck of Germany, who made a fortune by distilling brandy on his family estates.

Below the upper level were the truly “middle” classes. One might describe them as “middle middle,” comprised of moderately successful industrialists and merchants as well as physicians and attorneys. They lived comfortably, but lacked the immense wealth of the upper crust. Among this group were specialized professions such as engineers, architects, chemists, accountants, and surveyors who developed into full-fledged professional status. A second type of profession developed comprising those who managed large public or private institutions. This included government officials and business managers who had specialized knowledge and earned a comfortable income from the practice of their profession.

In the 20th Century, particularly in the years after World War Two, this led to the rise of the suburbs, those ultimate symbols of middle-class living:

After World War II with the sudden increase of men coming home after the war started a serious housing shortage. The GI bill of 1944 provided money to educate and build houses for the returning soldiers. A man named William Levitt bought thousands of acres of land outside of cities like New York and Philadelphia Levitt then proceeded to plan out the construction of towns full of prefabricated houses.

One of the first Levittown communities was started in Hempstead Town, Long Island, New York, and was developed between 1946 and 1951 by the firm of Levitt and Sons, Inc. It was an early example of a completely preplanned and mass-produced housing complex. Containing thousands of low-cost homes with accompanying shopping centers, playgrounds, swimming pools, community halls, and schools, its name became a national symbol for suburbia during the post-World War II building boom.

The middle class became something to rebel against in the Sixties, although many of those rebelling ultimately rejoined it. Today, the middle class can be defined by its tastes and attitudes as much as its income levels, but it is still uniquely American. We are the suburbs.

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Going To The Mountain

What is it about mountains that inspire us?

Mountains can impress us in different ways. They can define borders, be seen as obstacles, move us to overcome. The mountain-that ancient symbol of strength, of what separates us from our goals, can also inspire us with grandeur and dreams. For what is a mountain, but the Earth’s growing pains?
Mountains have inspired travelers, artists, musicians, and those who actually live (or lived) on them. A man’s home may be his castle, but a mountain can be his fortress.
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