Dewey – Truman Redux

Though the first presidential debate between McCain and Obama is still a few hours away, the Washington Post reports that as of this morning the McCain campaign was already declaring victory via this ad which appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s website(screenshot):

While I may frequently disagree with his politics, I have always regarded John McCain as an honorable man. As the McCain campaign has reminded us incessantly over the past year, John McCain refused an early release from the Hanoi Hilton, unwilling to leave his fellow POWs behind. You’ve no doubt also been assured that McCain is a man who will challenge his own party when partisan politics do not mesh with his sense of moral obligation to his constituency. These points have been hammered into our collective consciousness as exemplars of McCain’s fine public service record, and, especially, his honor.

This is part of the reason that McCain’s campaign has left such a sour taste in my mouth. In reversing or dramatically redefining his own, long-held positions on key issues such as abortion and the environment, and in his selection of a laughably underqualified Vice Presidential Nominee, McCain has called his honor into question. Perhaps, I’ve tried to tell myself, this is simply the high cost of running for President in a two-party system. But as the McCain camp pulls more ridiculous stunts (“suspending” his campaign and running this ad are prime examples), his image veers further from “maverick reformer” and more toward GOP lapdog. Where’s the honor in that?

This, while by no means comprehensive, is a listing of some of the best burgers in LA, as well as a few spots with big local reputations that are ultimately underwhelming. Commonalities abound (including a special predilection for secret sauce — usually a minor variation on Thousand Island), but most of the joints have their own special flair and everyone has a personal favorite. In no particular order:

In N’ Out — This is obvious but bears mentioning for several reasons.

Fries, cooked to order: Utterly essential. Being able to ask for fries well-done eliminates any anxiety associated with fast food ordering. Well done fries are an essential component of Animal Style Fries. Covered with 2 slices of cheese, grilled onions, and special sauce, these are the Bounty of late night foodstuff, a quicker-picker-upper that absorbs excess alcohol and tacks on crucial hours of drinking to any bender. Well-done fries ensure fully melted cheese and prevent sogginess.

Cost: A full meal at In N’ Out will run you less than a value meal at most major national chains, and the quality is incomparable. For the price, this is probably the best burger around.

Cult of Personality: Why extol the virtues of this burger when former Heisman winner Troy Smith can do it for me. “For the folks back in Ohio, they need to understand first and foremost, it is a fresh burger,” Smith said. “The lettuce and tomatoes are extremely fresh. And they toast the buns. That’s huge. That’s key. They use a special kind of sauce, too. The sandwich is incredible after a long night.”

The fact that these comments were made in the lead-up to the 2007 BCS Championship Game — in which his OSU team got crushed 41-14 by Florida — suggests Troy’s focus was misplaced. Still, priorities are priorities, and I bet a few Double-Doubles helped to ease the pain.

The only downside here is the wait. Any time, day or night, expect a line.

Pie N’ Burger — This Pasadena establishment feels like a relic from a bygone era. From the wood-paneled walls to the antique cash register to the surly, white-haired waitresses whose dispositions betray the discontent of serving burgers every day since junior year of high-school, everything about this place says “classic.” The service is so poor — and the prices so outrageous — that it’s almost a shame the burgers are so good.

But they are good … really fucking good. The griddle, which looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in at least a few decades, seasons the 1/4 lb. patties perfectly, and the just-charred exterior gives way to tender, luscious beef. The grilled buns are smeared with PN’B’s special recipe Thousand Island and topped with cheese, hand-leafed lettuce, and thick sliced dills. The whole sandwich is wrapped in paper and delivered to your table — 45 minutes after you ordered.

It’s the definition of simple elegance. The crisp lettuce and pickles add just the right crunch to the sandwich, and the flavors intermingle without threatening to overwhelm each other. The burger is almost delicious enough to make the wait seem worthwhile, at least until the check comes. A burger and fries, with a drink and a slice of any of the immaculate pies will set you back $20.

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All Bark …

The attack dog has been loosed.  Anyone befuddled by John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate got a crystal clear view of his motivations last night.  Among the many questions swirling around the “VPILF” on both sides of the aisle, were doubts about her ability to speak effectively in front of the massive RNC crowd.  Despite a rough start, she quickly settled into her comfort zone and dispelled such concerns with her commanding presence and winning smile.  Sadly, that same winning smile belied the overarching tone of her speech — sarcastic, vitriolic, and outright mean.

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Among my fellow viewers, the presenters at last night’s Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget elicited reactions ranging from “Who the fuck are you?” (Jim Norton) to “I’m impressed you’re still alive, but why are you here?!?” (Cloris Leachman), which, I suppose, is not terribly surprising for a comedian whose career peaked close to 15 years ago.  Within the cavalcade of has-beens who lined up rip Saget to pieces, John Stamos did his best to set the high-water mark with a gutsy on-stage makeout session with Leachman and vets Gilbert Gottfried and Geoff Ross chipped in with strong bits. The real star, though, was Norm MacDonald.

Largely invisible since the cancellation of his sitcom and the massive box office failure of his movie Dirty Work (directed, incidentally, by Saget), Norm was on the recieving end of some vicious jokes about his career and his supposed gambling problems.  Gottfried’s assertion that Saget was “a necrophiliac [because] he fucked Norm MacDonald in his career,” was a particular highlight.  But on a night when most of the roasters relied on stale jokes about Saget raping the Olsen Twins and the Johns (Stamos and Lovitz) being gay, Norm stepped to the mic and did something truly courageous: he bombed. 

Like a much funnier Neil Hamburger, Norm’s set relied on wooden delivery and terrible punch lines to generate laughs.  During his first few jokes, the audience sat in stunned near-silence, unable or unwilling to laugh as MacDonald floundered on the stage.  But as the sharp contrast between Norm’s self-consciously awful zings and the biting, vulgar wit that preceded them became apparent, everyone let their guard down.  In short order Norm’s utter lack of humility garnered the biggest laughs of the night, and it worked because he didn’t care whether people laughed with him or at him — he just cared that they laughed. 

Do yourself a favor and watch the full video of his performance.  (If you have problems with the sound, clips can be found @ comedycentral.com)

China just can’t seem to keep their story straight.

First He’s 14, as reported by China’s official English-language paper on May 23rd.

Then He’s 16, proud holder of a passport with a 1992 birthday.

Now He’s 13, at least according to a report published last November by China’s government sponsored news agency.

Regardless of age, one thing’s for sure: He’s a lady.  And maybe, just maybe, the source of more confusion than any person on the planet at the moment.

Since well before the Chinese women took home the overall Gold on Monday night, competitor He Kexing has been at the center of a raging controversy over the ages of China’s delegates.  According to reports, online documents which reported He’s age to be 13 as of last year disappeared just in time for China to submit a passport listing her birthday as January 1, 1992.  Now, one such document has surfaced, a listing of gifted young Chinese athletes published at the end of last year by the government.

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On Tuesday news broke that condom purveyor Lifestyles had offered global tweeny-bopper sensation Miley Cyrus a $1 million dollar contract to endorse their product.  Nevermind that Cyrus has pledged a vow of abstinence until marriage, that the target demographic for her marketing behemoth alter-ego Hannah Montana is the 6-14 range, and that Cyrus herself is only 15!  And they say that the age of innocence is dead.

I recognize as much as anyone the need to ensure that teens understand the dangers of unprotected sex, but this latest play borders on the absurd.  It’s one thing to have “the talk” with your child as they enter adolescence and prepare to start dating; it’s another thing entirely to have to explain to a 9 year-old what Hannah means when she sings her latest bubblegum hit about “shielding your rocket.”

Thankfully, Cyrus and her handlers had the good sense to turn the offer down.  Judging by the Vanity Fair debacle and the risque pictures that keep finding their way to the internet it’s the only good sense exhibited by anyone in the Cyrus camp recently.  Still, though the wholesome image Cyrus trades on is cast into sharper relief by the media frenzy surrounding her behavior, it’s nice to see a recognition that some things are more important than money . . . even if the decision is motivated more by the desire to protect a flagging reputation than to protect America’s youth.

Good Knight

Thank goodness for Joel Schumacher.  If 1997’s Batman and Robin had never been unleashed upon the world and summarily eviscerated by every critic this side of Gotham, someone else might have taken over the reigns of the ham-fisted series that Burton begat and continued churning out similar tripe for years to come.  Instead, Schumacher’s putrid mess of a film left audiences running for the exits and paved the way for director Chris Nolan’s 2005 series reboot, Batman Begins

At the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I’ll come clean: I was a huge fan of Batman Begins.  The film was a bit heavy on exposition and light on action, but it was an intelligent and complex take which gave Batman and Bruce Wayne some much deserved depth.  Eschewing comic-book convention and the camp leanings that have long characterized the franchise, Nolan’s interpretation re-invented the Batman mythos while maintaining proper reverence for the source material.  Consequently there’s no movie I’ve looked forward to more over the past year than his follow-up, The Dark Knight

As a group of us walked out of the Citywalk IMAX at 1:30 on Tuesday morning, every ounce of enthusiasm and energy drained by the two hour wait for seats and the 152-minute rush of sheer adrenaline that followed, a friend remarked in atypically stoic fashion that she was “satisfied” with the movie.  Satisfied?  The Dark Knight has so galvanized critical and public consensus that, with $158 million in box office, it boasts the biggest opening weekend ever and is currently the #1 rated movie of all time according to IMDB.com (take that, Godfather!).  Satisfied!?!  Surely, I thought, she could be more effusive with her praise.  But the more I considered it, given the hype surrounding the film and our impossibly high expectations going in, I realized that I too was “satisfied” and I believe that satisfaction speaks volumes.  Nolan takes The Dark Knight further than its predecessor in almost every respect, ratcheting up the action and emotional ante to epic proportions while still delivering the intellectually rewarding experience that has characterized his work to date.  The Dark Knight is not without its flaws (chiefly it’s a bit overlong), but it is a very good film, and as a comic book movie it’s transcendent entertainment.

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