Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On This Day In 1983...

Six robbers broke into the Brink's-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport, looking to steal some cash. These robbers were, apparently, quite a well-organized and ruthless lot; they posed as security guards to get into the warehouse and, once in, doused one of the legitimate guards in gasoline and threatened to set him on fire if he didn't give them the combination to the vault. The vault turned out not to be stuffed with cash as they had expected, but with gold ingots, so they had to settle for making off with 6,800 of these instead--about £26 million worth of gold in 1983 currency.

(My mathematically minded husband points out* that, assuming no non-gold stolen goods like gems or cash are included in the £26 million figure and assuming he got the historical exchange rates right, that's enough gold to fill approximately 40.29 1-gallon milk jugs, and each of those jugs would weigh about 140 pounds. That's a lot of heavy gold to haul out to your getaway car. I hope for their sake that they brought a dolly or a wagon or something.)

Unfortunately for the robbers, they were just a little too well-organized for their own good. The police couldn't help but notice that they had seemed to possess inside knowledge of the warehouse's security procedures, and they started questioning Anthony Black, a guard who worked at the warehouse. This led to the arrest and conviction of two of the robbers--one of whom was Black's brother-in-law.

The stolen gold was never fully recovered. Kenneth Noye was caught fencing some of it in 1985 and eleven complete bars were found in his house (he'd attempted to launder the rest of it by melting it and mixing it with copper coins) and police in Austria confiscated ten bars from some suspects they had arrested at a hotel in Vienna--but the bars turned out to be counterfeits made of gold-coated tungsten, which the arrested suspects (who had nothing to do with the original robbery) planned to sell as genuine artifacts from the Heathrow robbery.

By the way, if you're thinking, "Wow, this is such a dramatic story, I wonder why no one's made it into a movie yet?" right about now, you should know that someone totally has. It was made for TV and only has a 6.5 out of 10 rating on IMDb, but it has Sean Bean in it. And if all robbers looked like Sean Bean, I would keep my front door unlocked and covered in signs that read "FREE DIAMONDS!"

*If you'd like to check his math, here are the resources he used:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Video Monday: Stand Tall

In 1981, a band called Killer Dwarfs* formed in Ontario, Canada.

I note, with mild disappointment, that they are not actually dwarfs (either of the battle-axe-wielding DnD variety or the real-world little person variety). Nor do they appear particularly homicidal.

They do, however, know how to put together a delightful music video.

Now, sit back and relax as these fine gentlemen take you through the steps to surviving should you find yourself trapped in a feel-good 80's comedy about lovable underdogs bringing down an evil faceless corporation.

First off, you'll find yourself wronged in a big, humiliating way by your powerful enemy (in this case, Monster Records. You know they're evil because of the toothy monster mouth coming out of their decadent golden record logo. The 80's loved themselves some heavy-handed symbolism.)

For our heroes, this wrong takes the form of them being thrown out of the building following (I assume) their attempt to get a recording contract. And I do mean that literally; the poor guys end up in a crumpled heap on the sidewalk. The 80's also loved them some seriously hardcore bullies.

Once you've been wronged, you might strike a defiant pose and inform your tormentor, non-verbally if necessary, that you'll get back at them if it's the last thing you do. It'll do absolutely nothing to improve your predicament, of course, but it'll make you feel a bit better. Plus it's emotionally satisfying for your audience.

Then, having been pushed around and beaten down to the point where you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore, the only thing to do is settle down and exact the only revenge you can in a wacky 80's underdog comedy: beat the bullies at their own game!

At this point, you may be wondering how Our Heroes are supposed to demonstrate an example of this step to us. After all, recording studios are expensive, and it's not like they can just go to their guitarist's mom's house and make a record, right?

Ah, but you forget that the 80's were also the age of MacGyver. It's amazing that any record company managed to turn a profit at all, considering that all struggling rock bands had to do to record an album was rig up an improvised home studio consisting of a single tape recorder and a small microphone mounted on a rocking horse's head.

(Recording studios need soundproofing, you say? Oh, don't be silly. I'm sure they stuffed the walls with nice noise-absorbing Styrofoam peanuts before they started.)

And don't think that the fact that the recording on the tape has to then be put on an actual physical record is any barrier, because with a little teamwork and a few Goldbergian contraptions, these talented fellows can manufacture their own records too. They even melt their own vinyl on the stove** and transport it via pneumatic tube.

Album cover design? No problem! What they came up with is a little crude, but...

...they just pop the whole thing in the microwave and...

Wait, what?


Uh...hey guys? Can I borrow your microwave next time I have a manuscript to finish? Nuking a stack of paper on the "magic" setting for two minutes just seems so much easier and cheaper than hiring an editor, a proofreader, a formatter, and a cover artist.

Actually, by the end of the video, I'm kind of questioning who the underdog is. The band has magic technology that lets them create professional-grade records from random junk lying around their apartment (I guess they were only trying to get signed to a record company to save themselves some work) and fans are rushing stores to buy their album while the record company ends up crumbling and defaced by Killer Dwarfs-related graffiti. That's the one big pitfall of the whole underdog narrative; once your underdogs stop being underdogs, they might take the place of the bullies they defeated if you aren't careful.

Then again, the record company did commit the unforgivable crime of spelling music with a Z. So I really can't feel particularly bad that they were defeated by some MacGyver tech and an upbeat 80's montage.

*Also spelled KiLLeR DWaRfS, apparently. Sigh. At least they keep the letters in the right order.

**Apropos of nothing, I found myself kind of curious about whether this was actually possible. According to my research, vinyl has a low enough melting point that you can apparently make a crafty set of decorative bowls from unwanted old records in an oven heated to 200 degrees, so I suppose it could be. I doubt the process actually produces cool dry ice smoke as a side effect, though.

By the way, if you'd like to know how vinyl records are made without the use of enchanted microwaves in real life, here's a video.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On This Day In 1980...

A Calvin Klein ad featuring a teenage Brooke Shields and a racy double entendre got banned from the air for being too risque.

So...yeah. It's basically a joke about going commando. Honestly, though, that position she's in disturbs me more than the naughty underwear-related one-liner. That looks really, really uncomfortable. It looks even more uncomfortable when you realize that she's just sort of...sitting there and holding that pose. Like a creepy doll. I look at it and can't help but think of that artist who got random women to imitate weird, unnatural fashion model poses in real life and secretly filmed the reactions of people passing by.

I like this other 1980s Calvin Klein ad featuring Brooke Shields better. Some of those weird poses are still there, but at least she gets to move around and give a smart-person speech. Also, I'm a sucker for a good pun. (Kinda wish she'd kept the glasses on, though.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cooking With Lady Evil: Apple-Peach Pie With Bourbon And Crumb Topping

Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks.

That calls for a good pie recipe.

Pie can be a deceptively complex thing to make, so I'm gonna break this process up into steps to make it easier to follow.

Optional Beginning Step: Go to the local U-Pick orchard and pick yourself a ginormous pile of apples. These are Gala, but Mackintosh or Granny Smith would be good too.   

Step 1: Make the crust.

(Note: I've always found regular pie dough to be kind of boring, and I'm terrible at making it anyway. So I prefer to make a shortbread-based pie crust instead. I found the recipe in this book, which I highly recommend. The buttermilk pecan pie that the shortbread crust comes with is pretty awesome too.)

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Place butter, flour, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Mix together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until it resembles coarse meal.

Add the egg yolk and the vanilla, and mix on low speed until well-blended.

Sprinkle in the water and use your hands to shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic, FLATTEN IT (this step is more important than you'd think) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Step 2: Make the filling while you wait for the dough to chill.

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large fresh peaches
3-6 fresh Gala apples (My apples were small. You'd probably only need 3 big store-bought apples.)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon bourbon

Core and skin apples and cut them into eighths. Pit, skin and slice peaches into eighths. In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour and cinnamon. Pour in peaches, apples and bourbon; toss to coat thoroughly.

Step 3: Make the crumb topping.

1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix sugar and flour in a medium bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Step 4: Put everything together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (Note: My brand-new oven preheats practically in the blink of an eye. If your oven is older and slower, you may want to start preheating it sooner.)

Retrieve the crust dough from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and turn out onto a floured surface for rolling. By the way, remember how I put the FLATTEN IT instruction in all-caps back in step 1, and you probably thought I was being a drama queen? This dough is hella dense. I didn't bother to flatten it the last time I made it--I guess I thought I could save some plastic wrap or something--and I almost gave myself a hernia rolling it out. I seriously had to lean my whole weight on the rolling pin.


Roll out the shortbread dough to approximately 1/4 inch thick and place it into a greased 9-inch pie pan to form a crust. Reserve any extra dough for decorative elements.

Pour the apple and peach mixture into the prepared pie dish and sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the top. If you have leftover dough, use it to create a decorative border around the rim of the pie plate. Cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil so they won't burn.

Bake for 45-60 minutes with a foil-covered cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drippings. When the filling has grown bubbly and the crust is golden brown, the pie is done. Cool on a wire rack, and happily devour.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Woo-hoo! I Got A Book Signing!

Know what's not fun?

The flu.

That, as you may have guessed, is the reason I haven't been doing much blogging lately. This is the first time since Friday afternoon when I've felt remotely awake enough to type a sentence that wasn't a nonsensical keyboard smash.

Know what is fun, though?

Book signings!

Specifically, my book signing at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan!

Here are some promotional materials:

(If you're wondering about the comic strip on the left-hand poster, you can view it here.)

I spent most of Friday morning hanging those posters up around town in Ann Arbor:

...and then I went home and collapsed into bed. I promoted my book signing so hard, I was struck down with flu.

Anyway, I'll be in the Crazy Wisdom community room from 6 PM to 8:30 PM on November 20. I'll have copies of the book for sale, I'll still sign your copy if you've already got one, and if you just want to drop in and talk or ask questions, that's fine too. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

As President, I Will Fight To End Boring Political Campaigns

You know, now that I'm on the topic of inappropriate songs for political campaigns...

I went ahead and put together a list of songs that will never, ever be chosen for any campaign because they're glaringly inappropriate...but would make for a much more entertaining and/or honest campaign if they were.

1. "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth.

Most politicians are sons of bitches, so it wouldn't be lying.

2. "Mean Man" by W.A.S.P.

Sorry, but no politician is awesome enough to be represented by this song. Also, I'm told that it's a huge faux pas to use the word "motherfucker" to refer to your opponent on the election trail, no matter how much he deserves it.

2. "Get in the Ring" by Guns n Roses.

Those stupid rules against hurling invective at your opponent again. Even though, you know, once you strip away the weird, stiff, hyper-formal politeness and get to the barely concealed hostility below the surface, most modern political debates do indeed boil down to "I don't like you, I just hate you, I'm gonna kick your ass."

4. "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Motley Crue.

I'm a big advocate of transparency in government, and that includes political candidates telling us what they plan to get in trouble for once they're in office (we find some types of scandal more entertaining than others, you know!). Here's the perfect song for a guy who plans to get caught spending taxpayer money on his affair with a 19-year-old stripper.

5. "Everybody Must Get Stoned" by Bob Dylan.

Of course, some powerful men prefer getting caught doing hard drugs.

6. "Have A Drink On Me" by AC/DC.

Or public drunkenness. 

7.  "Fistful of Diamonds" by W.A.S.P.

Or just plain old-fashioned embezzlement. 

And finally...

8. "Computer God" by Black Sabbath.

Because we all know it's the NSA that's really in charge of everything.

Seriously, though, go vote today.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Music Video Monday Election Day Special: Born In The USA

So you know how politicians running for office sometimes choose official campaign songs?

Quick! You're running for president in 1984 and you need a popular song to serve as your campaign song--what do you choose?

Hmm. Not a bad choice, at first glance. It's upbeat, the chorus repeatedly makes it clear that the guy in the song was, in fact, born in the USA, and there's even a big American flag waving all up in our faces at the beginning of the video. Plus, how could you go wrong with Bruce Springsteen?


That's how.

This song does not mean what a lot of people, in 1984 when it was released, seemed to think it meant. One of those people, unfortunately, was Ronald Reagan, who thought that the song about an isolated, PTSD-ridden, possibly homeless Vietnam war veteran who was used and discarded by his government and scorned by his fellow Americans made an excellent sound bite for his upbeat, optimistic presidential campaign. So much so, in fact, that he used it as a talking point even after Springsteen had politely turned down an offer to endorse his campaign.

I guess if you seem kindly and grandfatherly enough, there's a certain amount of blatantly disrespecting other people's wishes you can get away with.

But it's unfair of me to put the blame for this squarely on Reagan, since the idea to use this song--and Springsteen's name in general--seems not to have originally been his idea. It was conservative columnist George Will who originally put forth the idea that Springsteen might be a good candidate for endorsing the Reagan campaign, based mainly on the fact that "flags get waved at his concerts," he "sings songs about hard times" without seeming to complain about them, and there was "not a smidgen of androgyny" to be found about him.

Evidently George Will does not appreciate our newfangled hair metal. He also cordially invites us to get off his lawn.

Oh, and he also admitted to not knowing--or really seeming to care--what Bruce Springsteen's personal politics were. He strikes me as one of those people who listens to music without actually hearing it--or only hearing what he wants to hear. He picked up the words "Born in the USA" and the rest of the song became irrelevant to him.

Someone should have told him that it was secretly about Satanism. Then he might have bothered to look up the lyrics before handing it to President Reagan and saying, "I bet this'll help get you re-elected. It's about patriotism and stuff."

Remember to vote tomorrow!