Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pageantry Day 3 - The Final Countdown

We've reached the final day of pageantry, and the Hoovers have reached their destination!  Look as Steve Carell and Toni Collette bail out of that van, throwing the sliding door to the ground!  And is that a tiny little Paul Dano in the backseat?

Unfortunately, I've drained all my pop-culture pageant knowledge on the first two.  I really am fresh out of information on fake pageants... So let's turn to the real one.  Tonight the Miss NH program will be crowning its new Miss NH, in a show that revisits the events from the previous nights.  Right away, they'll announce the top twelve (of the total twenty-eight) contestants, who will then present their evening gowns, and from that alone the Top Ten will be selected.  The Top Ten will present their talents and swimsuits, and based on all tonight's events we'll have a Top Five.  And then, finally, from the Top Five, they deliver a ranking that culminates in the announcement of a new Miss NH, who will represent the state in Atlantic City at the Miss America pageant this fall!

And now you know more than you ever imagined you would need to about the Miss America pageant system!  "But Evan," you say, "Reading about it is all well and good, we want to SEE it!"

Readers, you are in luck: New England news source WMUR is livestreaming the event tonight starting at 6:00!  And, as I have for the past two nights, I'll be live-tweeting for your enjoyment.  Though the good natured tweets of the past two nights may turn a little more competitive...

So enjoy if you'd like, but even if you're not watching, send good vibes Sarah's way.  She's in the market for a new hat, and a tiara will do just fine.

"Whatever happens, you tried to do something on your own, which is more than most people ever do. I include myself in that category. You took a big chance, it took guts, and I'm proud of you." - Alan Arkin as Grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pageantry Day 2 - Here Comes Bunny Boo Boo

Night one of pageantry is over, and while two nights still remain, it came with it's own exciting finale (like a season of Lost or something).  At the end of each night, they award trophies to the winners of Best Talent and Best Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit... And I came home with a trophy!  Yes, though my outfit choice was deemed unorthodox by some, I brought home the Best Swimsuit Trophy for the night!  Okay, yes, I was bringing it home for Sarah who won it last night.  Tonight, she'll be competing in talent and on-stage interview, so be sure to send good thoughts her way!

In the meantime, as the Hoovers get further across the banner (what will happen when they reach their destination tomorrow?) we dive further into the web world of pageantry.  Entertainment Weekly put together a list of their top beauty pageant movies, adding eight more to the two we covered yesterday.  I've only ever heard of To Wong Foo... and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but Happy, Texas sounds worth tossing on the Netflix queue.  It's worth noting that the movies are presented in chronological order, though I would argue that results in saving the best for last.  But Little Miss Sunshine came out in 2006.  Where have the big screen queens of the pageant world been since then?

The answer: The screen has shrunk and so have the queens.  TLC's terrifying hit series Toddlers & Tiaras premiered in January 2009 and is now in its fifth season.  While I haven't seen a single episode, the ads have been enough to tell me what it's about (parents play competitive dress-up with real live human children!) and that I never want to watch a full episode.  Curious as I am to find out if six year old Catlyn does indeed grow up to be a "princes in a big castle," I don't have the patience to stick around for the full series to find out.  Then, of course, there's the ubiquitous spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which follows one contestant and her family in the world outside of pageantry.  Again, I'm not watching, but one promo clip of Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson from the original series suggests inspiration from a scene of legendary drunk dancing prowess from a TV show I actually watch.  (Jump to the 55 second mark of the Honey Boo Boo clip to see what I mean.  Seriously. Check it out. It's uncanny.)

More adorable and less terrifying than all of those toddlers and their tiaras, though, comes from my new favorite Twitter account, @MyRabbitGotSwag.  A series of photos of a rabbit with stuff on it, this account picked up 100,000 followers like it was nothing.  Bunny Boo Boo in her (his?) tiara is the most relevant for today's events, but Pocahontas on the lookout is my favorite.

That's all for today!  We'll be back tomorrow with the results of Day 2, a preview of Day 3, and more things that are somehow tangentially related a little bit to pageants.  For now, it's time to start pushing the van again.  (Gotta remember to park that thing on a hill.)

"No one gets left behind! No one gets left behind! Outstanding, soldier, outstanding!" - Steve Carell as Frank in Little Miss Sunshine

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pageantry Day 1 - The Perfect Date

After a day of travel and an afternoon in my favorite neighborhood in America, I'm back and reporting live from New Hampshire.  But the travel's not done.  For the next three days, the Mousseaus will be piling into our bright yellow Volkswagen T2 Microbus and hitting the road each night to support my sister in the (Little) Miss New Hampshire Pageant!  So, as Sarah moves forward in her quest for the crown, Little Miss Sunshine's Hoover family will be moving across the banner.  And the Report will be celebrating some of the fine cultural touchstones that have come to us as a result of the wide world of pageantry.

Little Miss Sunshine is obviously the pinnacle of these products of pageantry, and possibly my favorite movie.  (E.T. and I are still grappling with this recent realization.)  Hilarious and heartwarming, with the cheesiest cover of America the Beautiful, it's certainly the best film to feature Proust scholars, Nietzsche, and ice cream.  And I think it served as one of Sarah's major inspirations as she prepared her talent portion of this year's pageant.  And I can't wait to dance with her! 

If Little Miss Sunshine takes the title, then Miss Congeniality must go to... Miss Congeniality, mostly because of the great Sir Michael Caine.  His Britishness gives him great insight into the crown.  Most of all, though, it's a perfect reminder of this pageant's perfect timing.  There is no better date for a pageant than April 25th, simply because April 25th is the perfect date.  It's not too hot, it's not too cold.  All you need is a light jacket.

Now it's time for me to take off.  Grandpa's in the trunk of our car, I've stopped speaking because of Friedrich Nietzsche, and -- Where's Olive?

Wish us luck!

"A real loser is someone who's so afraid of not winning, they don't even try." - Alan Arkin as Grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reading By Flashlight

Today, according to the Children's Bookstore I walk past on the way to work each day, is World Book Night.  Apparently, the worthy goal of this project is to "spread the love of reading, person to person," accomplished by distribution of World Book Night paperbacks to "light and non-readers."  What an excellent program, and the books they've selected this year are excellent, as well, and a lot of them suit the mission.  The Phantom Tollbooth is a dominant title in the formation of my own love of reading and wordplay (and Michael Chabon's!); Good OmensMe Talk Pretty One Day, and Bossypantsare perfect laugh-fests; and Looking for Alaska and The Lightning Thief are sure to bring teen and pre-teen readers into the literary fold.  The one exception I can see right off on the list: My Antonia could prove a major turn-off... Though that's my high school memory of the book speaking.

Given this booky day, I dug into the dusty link archives to share a literary link to inspire you all to read beyond the Report today.  First up, a beautiful site that archives inscriptions found in found books.  As a huge fan of inscribing books as gifts, I really enjoy this project.  I find sharing a book with someone and inscribing it with specific reason to be such a thoughtful gesture.  Of course, not all the inscriptions here are like this.  Some are notes written by the book's owner as a declaration of optimism or a careful barb in a sibling rivalry.

In light of the mission of World Book Night, I'd like to compile a list of book recommendations to share with the readership, so I'm proposing another interactive project.  Any one who wants to share a ONE SENTENCE recommendation of a book (or two or three...), send them in, and one day next week I'll include them in a Report.  It's as close as we can get to anonymously, digitally inscribing books to each other.  Plus, it's great timing as we begin to move toward Summer Reading season.

I'll kick things off with a book about books: Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind: This suspenseful Spanish novel features a mystery about books and the most frightening villain I've ever read.
Finally, there seems to be some sort of vehicle making its way into the banner.  Looks like the Report is going on a road trip this week.  Stay tuned for more...


“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.” -Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Turning On the Safety

Normally, I have kept it my policy to keep politics out of the Report.  The election custom banner was notably bipartisan, and even that report's content was exclusively pop culture.  However, following the positive response to my recent politically and personally motivated piece on marriage, I feel encouraged by the readership and compelled by recent events to delve into the political once more.  And this time with significantly less satirizing.

Yesterday, in what President Obama called a "a pretty shameful day for Washington," the Senate defeated several measures to expand gun control, including expanded background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines.  The votes came as a discouraging anticlimax to a months long national search for agreement, understanding, compromise, and change following the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  In the moments following the vote my Facebook and Twitter feeds were clogged with expressions of anger, disappointment, and disgust.  This is, perhaps, more a reflection of the circles I choose to float in than of the national landscape, but if that is the case, then I am proud to float in these circles.

For me, what this comes down to is a matter of safety.  Over the past two years, I have come to know safety well, working in an office that works to keep the National Airspace System (NAS) safe.  It is the mantra of our office, the disclaimer at the end of our presentations, the sign-off to our videos: Safety Is What We Do.  How we do it gets complicated, but to sum it up in a sentence: When people want to make a change to the airspace, or when an existing process raises some safety concerns, we look at it to determine what mitigations can be applied to make the process and, in turn, the NAS more safe.  In a way, the gun control debate can be seen through the same lens, that of Safety Risk Management.  An event occurred that revealed gaps in existing safety regulations, and mitigations were proposed to address those gaps and increase safety.  Unfortunately, when it came time to apply those mitigations, the powers that be decided against it.  In doing so they bent to concerns outside the scope of the safety of those who looked to them for protection.

There are two things we consider as "out of scope" when we look at the safety effects of changes.  The first is efficiency.  Of course, we acknowledge that realistically efficiency must be considered within reason.  As one of my coworkers puts it, the NAS was the safest its ever been on September 12, 2001.  Every plane was safe, because every plane was parked.  Trading 100% safety for 0% efficiency is not an option for the flying public, nor is it an option that can reasonably be considered for gun control. 

On the issue of legislation concerning background checks, however, it is unreasonable to choose efficiency over safety.  Carlee Soto, sister of Vicki Soto, a teacher killed in the Newtown shootings, suggested that "It's too much paperwork. It's too time consuming" was an argument against background check legislation.  Consider viewing the time consumed by a background check in comparison to another form of time consumption.  Using U.S. mortality data from the World Health Organization, Periscopic developed a visualization of the years stolen by U.S. gun deaths in 2013.  Already in the beginning of this year alone they estimate 127,912 years have been stolen from the 2,906 Americans killed by guns.  It is only April.  127,912 years in four months.  THAT is time consuming.

The other element out of scope: financial concerns.  Again, these must be considered within reason, but in the aviation world this means that you can't propose that an impossibly expensive system be put in place to address a minor safety concern.  It does not mean that the financial contributions of special interests should take priority over the safety of the American people.  The ~$25 million spent in the last election cycle by the National Rifle Association on contributions, lobbying, and outside spending should not take precedent over safety.  Gabrielle Giffords is right: Putting political fear and cold calculations above the safety of our communities is a shameful act of cowardice, and the American public must respond.

This vote comes in a week already marred by death and tragedy.  The bombing in Boston and the explosion in West, Texas have revealed the fragility of our existence, but also the tenacity of our spirit.  In the social media fallout of the first event, a classic quote from Fred Rogers began to circulate, one which may also be applied to the tragedy in Texas:

"When I was a little boy, and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers. 'You'll always find people helping,' she'd say.  And I've found that that's true. In fact, it's one of the best things about our wonderful world."

So what do we do when the "something bad" happening in the news is an action taken by the people put there to help us?

We find new helpers.  In fact, we have the power to do that.  It's another one of the best things about our wonderful world.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Cadence of a Summer Day

Before we dive into today's topic and you figure out why an April Morning Report has a summer title, I wanted to thank the readership for all the positive feedback on last Thursday's Whole Milk Marriage Report.  This issue brought in record views to the blog and a huge amount of reader feedback and support, which meant a great deal to me.

But now, to this week's business.  Though the title may not have given it away, the custom banner certainly did.  Yesterday, along with being April Fools' Day and the day I finished Infinite Jest (Suck it, Otter 21!) was the opening day of the 2013 MLB season for most teams.  The day was enjoyed by baseball fans across the country, though in some cities more than others, with Boston, DC, and Chicago among the cities briefly enjoying a 1.000 Winning Percentage.

While some readers likely find baseball boring to watch, it is my favorite sport to watch, either at a park or on TV.  Physically going to a game is steeped in Americana and tradition in a way that no other sporting event can boast.  And televised baseball can work to serve almost as a soundtrack to one's day, playing out in the background as life unfolds around it.  Even though the first trip I ever went on as a wee baby was to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I can't speak as eloquently about it as true, long-term, full-time fans of the game could, but I can pull a quote that I think captures something about why I like the game so much: “The fundamental truth: a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day."  That, my favorite sentence from my least favorite book by my favorite author (Michael Chabon'sSummerland), captures it for me.

For other people, though, it's something else.  For photographer Don Hamerman, it's the aesthetics of the ball.  Others may be drawn to the history of the game's famous firsts.  Still others the oddball trivia of old baseball cards.  Some the poetry.  Some the comedy.  Some people even look to the game as religion, telling the story of how "In the big inning God created Heaven on Earth."

So, whether you subscribe to MLBtv to watch along at work, or you haven't seen a game in FOR-EV-ER, baseball is here.  Even those who don't watch can look forward to the summer days it heralds.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Whole Milk Married

For the past two days, much of the American political world's attention was on the U.S. Supreme Court as it heard two high profile cases on the subject of gay marriage.  On Tuesday, the Court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8, while yesterday they heard arguments on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.  But the action was not just in the Court.  Outside the Court, crowds gathered to make their opinions heard, many bearing clever and classic signs in support of gay marriage.  And those who lacked either the geographic proximity or the time to travel down to the Court made their opinions heard online, most notably by turning Facebook into a wall of red equals signs, or variants thereof.


Many words have been exchanged on the subject, in the Court, online, in newspapers, and on television, but the most memorable line of the two days came from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when she said that defending DOMA was essentially saying that there are "two kinds of marriage, there's full marriage and then there's sort of skim milk marriage."  These words will no doubt be among the most memorable of these historic proceedings, and long-time readers know I'm not one to let talk of food and politics pass by without a more thorough analysis.

First, there's Justice Ginsburg's choice of marriage-related beverage.  Why milk?  Champagne is probably the beverage most traditionally associated with marriage, but there's no champagne-lite sort of equivalent.  But what about beer?  Traditional marriage could be the Miller High Life marriage, while in comes the nasty-ass Miller Lite marriage offered to same-sex married couples.  Though maybe Justice Ginsburg was avoiding alcoholic beverages to keep things family friendly.  After all, this is marriage we're talking about, and the support of the stable family was a frequent topic of conversation over the two days.  So why not a soda parallel?  "Marriage" and "Diet Marriage" seems a lot easier to say off the cuff.  And let's be honest, much more of the American public would understand a soda reference than a milk one.  Or is talking about soda a political taboo right now after Bloomberg's failed soda ban.

No, Justice Ginsburg went with milk.  Traditional marriage defenders and fans of Freud rejoice, she picked milk!  Milk, of course!  Milk, as in breast milk, as in mother's milk, as in a mother and a father.  Gotcha, Ginsburg!  You've been tangled up in your own words, because the only milk that matters in marriage is the mother's milk, further support for the argument that children need a mother and a father.  Boom.  Seems you've been breasted, Justice.  But wait!  Could there be an argument for milk that would support gay marriage?  Milk that the gay crowd could get behind, huh?  Oh!  How about Harvey Milk, gay rights activist and the first openly gay man elected to public office in America?  (Also notorious Oreo fan.)  So the word choice doesn't mean subconscious support for one side or another after all.

If you think about it quickly, though, what Justice Ginsburg is proposing doesn't sound that bad.  For straight married couples, Whole Milk Marriage.  Gay couples, you get Skim Milk Marriage.  Sure, it's not as rich and creamy as Whole Milk Marriage, but it's a marriage alternative that won't raise your cholesterol and make you fat.  Sounds good to me!  All the health-conscious homosexuals should be lapping this up, right?  But think on it a little longer.  Cooking up a pop-over?  Hope you've got Whole Milk.  A nice rich cream sauce?  Skim's not gonna cut it.  And in the recipe book I've got for my ice cream maker, guess how many recipes call for skim milk.  Zero.  That's right, a Skim Milk Marriage is a marriage without ice cream, and a marriage without ice cream... Well, that's hardly a marriage at all.  At least, it's certainly not the kind of marriage I want.

And maybe Justice Ginsburg picked her milk metaphor knowing just how well it could be carried across to other types of milk and marriages.  It is a fact universally acknowledged that a tall, cold glass of chocolate milk is delicious.  And if we expand Justice Ginsburg's metaphor, Chocolate Milk Marriages have been a legal right since 1967's Loving v. Virginia.  And civil unions?  Justice Ginsburg would simply point to products like Lactaid and Silk.  Sure, they'll tell you a Milk Substitute Civil Union tastes just like the real deal... But everyone knows that's total bullshit.  There's something about that Whole Milk Marriage, and substitutes just don't cut it.

And speaking of Lactaid, there comes the final parallel of Milk and Marriage.  Plenty of people cut milk and dairy out of their diet entirely, or they seek out Lactaid-like alternatives, because they are lactose intolerant.  They can't drink milk.  Their stomachs turn, they get bloated and upset if they consume even the slightest quantity of milk, skim or whole.  And, let's face it, there are people out there who have the same reaction to gay marriage.  Except, here's where the parallel falls apart.  Because people who are lactose intolerant just cut milk from their own diets.  They don't try to go around stopping everyone else from drinking milk.

Not being able to digest milk, so you stop drinking it yourself?  That's lactose intolerant.  Not being able to digest the idea of gay marriage, so you work to stop gay people from getting married?  That's just intolerant.

So, while I raised my glass of crumb-filled 1% for Oreo's birthday, now I raise my glass of hope-filled whole milk that when the time comes I will be able to get Whole Milked Married.