Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Tango Tea Party" at Novo

Sunday night, March 15th, after the EGG party at nearby resto Le Cap, Joey and I headed across the square to dine at our new favorite place, Café Novo, when we encountered a clueless young American looking for a supposedly nearby youth hostel. We studied his map but couldn't really figure out where the place was. But, coming to the rescue, I boldly pointed in one direction and ordered: "Go down there!"

Off he went, waving to a gaggle of young ladies, huddled in a doorway and heavily laden with backpacks. And Joey and I came in to Novo, where we were warmly greeted by the waiter, Gabriel.

As Joey and I dug into our dinners, the front door was flung open, and the girls and their backpacks stormed in, looking confused ... but hungry. So, we invited them to join us at our table. Apparently, their travelling companion, PJ Roukis, was lost somewhere, and they were tired of waiting for him. They stashed his bags in the doorway across the square and decided to hook up with us.

Eventually, PJ was found and joined our group.

He was a young man with "attitude," but I soon talked him into calming down and trying the exotic-looking beverage one of the girls was enjoying. I told him it was "Tango Tea" and deadly potent. Nervous, skeptical ... but very macho ... he decided to accept my challenge and try the drink. Gingerly he lifted the little glass to his lips, and we all started pounding the table, shouting "Drink, drink, drink!" and "Down the hatch!". He gave a timid look and then downed the drink ... which, of course, was just plain old tea. As we laughed at his gullibility, he glowered at us. By this time, the kitchen was closed, and poor PJ had to settle for one of the fantastic desserts that Gabriel brought out on a plate. We all scarfed them down and agreed that it had been a fine evening.
The next morning, the visitors were heading back to the U.S.: PJ back to his native New York; the girls (Brittany Henry, Sara Stirton, Marian Michalson, and Allison Accarie) to South Dakota, where they're students at South Dakota State. When I heard they were travelling on dreaded USAirways, I gave them a special, deep-felt "good luck" wish, which they agreed they needed, having come over on the Atlantic's worst carrier. (A few days later, they sent me pix of the "meal" they were served onboard; I can be forgiven for thinking at first that I was looking at the result of some terrible lab experiment rather than a ... er ... "sandwich.")

Saturday, March 7, 2009

From NPR's "Car Talk": Here's A Good One

Better Identification of Stupid People

Here's a good one!

Stupid people should have to wear signs that just say "I'm Stupid." That way you wouldn't rely on them, would you? You wouldn't ask them anything. It would be like, "Excuse me... oops, never mind. I didn't see your sign."

It's like before my wife and I moved from Texas to California. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My friend comes over and says, "Hey, you moving?" "Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here's your sign."

A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy of mine. We pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ol' stringer of bass and this idiot on the dock says, "Hey, y'all catch all them fish?" "Nope. Talked 'em into giving up. Here's your sign."

I was watching one of those animal shows on the Discovery Channel.
There was a guy inventing a shark bite suit. And there's only one way to test it. "Alright, Jimmy, you got that shark suit on, it looks good. . . they want you to jump into this pool of sharks, and you tell us if it hurts when they bite you." "Well, alright, but hold my sign. I don't wanna lose it."

Last time I had a flat tire, I pulled into one of those side-of- the-road gas stations. The attendant walks out, looks at my truck, looks at me and I swear he said, "Tire go flat?" I couldn't resist. I said, "Nope, I was driving around and those other three just swelled right up on me. Here's your sign."

We were trying to sell our car about a year ago. A guy came over to the house and drove the car around for about 45 minutes. We get back to the house; he gets out of the car, reaches down and grabs the exhaust pipe, then says, "Wow, that's hot!" See, if he'd been wearing his sign, I could have stopped him.

By stand-up comedian Bill Engval
Sent in to "Car Talk" by Eric Shafer

My Birthday Trip to Amsterdam

Tom and I went to Amsterdam to celebrate my birthday (3 March). Unfortunately for Tom, we had to take an early morning train. He was not pleased. So, to assuage the pain, I gave him my iPod ... so he could listen to my radio comedy pieces. He laughed a lot, so I guess he liked them.

Our first stop was the Van Gogh Museum.There we were lucky enough to get tickets to the special show, "Van Gogh and the Colours of Night." We both enjoyed the collection very much.

Of course, after a certain point, Tom had to have a smoke break.
One of our favorite paintings was "The Starry Night."

Tom bought a poster for his mother ... his only purchase in the Gift Shop, despite all the temptations available.

Off we went to find some food! We were starving after all that art!

We found a very nice Italian resto and enjoyed risotto (not exactly Dutch, of course ... but filling).

The waiter took our picture ... and then gave us directions to a nearby "coffeeshop."

We made our way through the colorful streets ... and eventually found our destination. After a that, we zipped to the station and jumped on the train back home.

A Desecration of the English Language: "Quantitative Easing"

Every day I hear the English language slaughtered, usually by non-Anglophones, so I thought I'd become pretty immune. But recently, from the U.S. and U.K., came an expression that really makes my skin crawl: "quantitative easing." It's used to describe what the American and British central banks are doing to try to cope with the current financial crisis. Simply put, it just means printing money.

So, why not just say that, instead of making up this ridiculous expression that basically means nothing. Because, as anyone who took Economics 101 knows, when a central bank just prints money, it's a sign of desperation ... and a prelude to runaway inflation down the road. So, better to use a euphemism, with the assumption that we, the people, are so ignorant we won't understand what's really going on. But, guess what? Many of us do understand what's going on ... and resent, not just the watering down of our currencies, but the absolute desecration of the English language.

Shame on you pseudo-educated public officials and your contempt for the people who pay your salaries!
At the risk of ruining your day for sure, here is a description of "quantitative easing" from The Times of London:

Quantitative easing is a posh way of describing the practice of pumping money into the economy to encourage banks to lend.

The hope is that if governments print money, and inject it into the economy, people and companies will be more likely to spend. If they are more likely to spend, there is a greater chance that the economy will spring into life.

Take a bar-room illustration: the bloke at the bar with a fistful of dollars is more likely to splash out on a round than the man who is down to his last nickels and dimes. Even if the cash is borrowed, it is hoped that greater quantities of cash will breed greater generosity.

How does quantitative easing happen? A central Bank - such as the Bank of England or the US Federal Reserve - buys its own government-issued bonds, such as gilts, or bonds issued by companies or other assets.

As with any purchase, the central bank gives money to the sellers, many of which will be commercial banks. Commercial banks, with their accounts electronically credited by central banks, will then (hopefully) have the confidence to increase lending to customers as well as each other.

The term “printing money” is often bandied around in relation to quantitative easing. The practice of quantitative easing can be broken down into seven stages:

1) The Bank creates new money electronically in its accounts.
2) The Bank buys bonds (companies’ IOUs) and gilts (Government IOUs) from commercial banks.
3) The value of the bonds and gilts bought is now credited to banks that sold them.
4) The commercial banks can make new loans against the increased funding.
5) Extra lending boosts cash and credit flowing in the economy.
6) Extra demand for bonds and gilts from the Bank drives down interest rates for business and consumer borrowers.
7) Flows of extra and cheaper money stimulate growth

Government, or its agents in central banks, can also replace poor-quality money in the economy with good money. Old IOUs issued by companies that may welsh on promises to pay up are replaced with IOUs underwritten by the full force of the state, and its ability to raise tax revenues. This is also like printing money because the old IOUs become useless as a means of exchange.

Replacement, in other words, is akin to creating new money. And by boosting confidence some forms of money (that is, corporate IOUs and the like), it is hoped that confidence across the economy will rise.

While it may be a necessary emergency measure, the danger is that is quantitative easing leads to runaway inflation. And runaway inflation reduces wealth alarmingly.

A New Boutique in the Sablons: Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is a new Arts & Crafts gallery in the trendy Sablons area of Brussels.

My good friend Ludmilla Kapitanova is one of the two partners.

Featuring jewelry, delicate fabrics, and artifacts from all over the world, Wabi-sabi offers one-of-a-kind pieces like this spirit house from Thailand.

Wabi-sabi is open Thursdays through Sundays from 14:00 to 18:00 ... or by reservation. New products arrive every week, so be sure to stop by regularly.