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The West Cork Murder Case

It has become my summer obsession: The murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in a remote area of West Cork, Ireland, 1996. A French woman, wealthy, attractive, and free-spirited, spending a Christmas holiday alone in her remote Irish cottage turned up dead. No, not dead. Savagely murdered. Bludgeoned with multiple rocks and a cinder block, her nightclothes snagged in brambles, and her body laid open to the sky on the edge of a dirt driving path.

It all happened in an area where murders are incredibly rare, and the rage exacted on her body was so savage that this alone defies explanation. But it gets stranger. It seems that Sophie was fairly reclusive and very few locals knew anything about her. No one knows who might have the motive or opportunity. No one knows what she did with her days, or what her trip was about. No one (save for the murderer) seems to have seen anything pertinent. No physical evidence points to the culprit. Almost nothing about the case makes sense. The whole thing is one of the most curious circumstances I’ve ever researched.

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I Finished My Stardew Valley 1.5 Farm

Back in ye olde days of the most recent Christmas season, I randomly had a calling, as if from some powerful ethereal force, to launch Stardew Valley and start a new farm, finally playing the game through ’til the end. Then praise be to the gods of mistletoe and cookies, I discovered that be sheer chance, I was loading the game mere hours after ConcernedApe announced the release of Stardew Valley 1.5 update. There was a new farm layout, new characters, animals, secrets, puzzles. It was glorious, and my giddy, evil smile glinted in the blinking colorful tree lights.

So it began. My lockdown playthrough of one of Stardew Valley 1.5. Less than three months later, my quest is complete and now I am proud to share with you the fruits of my labor. So much toil, so much starfruit wine, so many crystalariums, and so many neighbors dripping with rabbits’ feet.

Ladies and gentleman, I am proud to introduce you to a farmer name Clyde and her little corner of the world:
(Spoilers Ahead!)

Welcome to Tipsy Chicken Farm

Our hostess is Farmer Clyde, who is surprisingly happily married to Shane. I know, who knew?

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The Lazy Person’s Guide to Early Roman Emperors

Sometimes I cannot explain my fixations with history, nor my devilish need to mock it. I could argue that certain topics, such as Roman Emperors, are discussed with such reverence and so little endeavor at levity, that there is a vacuum of historical entertainment. I am painting these men as mortals, defying the dusty, pretentious misconceptions of their demigod natures. Or I could just confess that my trivia and quizzing skills were a little less than on-point in this arena. (Get it?) And the only way I could bring myself to actually learn about the Emperors was to thoroughly laugh at them. I’ll leave it to you.

“Don’t ‘asp’ me what happened to Cleopatra [snicker, snicker]”

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Strange Things You Never Noticed About Christmas Movies

I wait all year long to watch classic Christmas movies. And I mean classic. None of that bullshit inside Hallmark jargon. Sorry, I was way forcing that quote and I didn’t pull it off very well. I just can’t help myself, I am THAT in love with real classic Christmas movies that teach us morals about love and togetherness and what really matters. Over and over I watch them to feel the spirit of glorious trees with dazzling lights and turkey and puzzles and wine and family and shopping and wrappings. Something funny happens, though, when you’ve watched them over and over and over, year after year for decades. Weird patterns emerge. And you notice things. Little things that a casual viewer would never catch. Have you noticed any of these before?

Christmas Movies Do Not Include Christmas Day

I’ve come to discover that this is mostly due to an American obsession with the lead-up to Christmas. Most of us get so amped up through December, that by the time December 26 rolls around, we’re spent and ready to hibernate for the winter. A lot of European countries, on the other hand, don’t understand this. Yes, there’s a build-up to Christmas, but Eve and Day are merely a kick-off to Twelve Days of Christmas, which include various festivals and traditions.

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the Novel “Rebecca” should never again be adapted into a movie

Sweeping landscapes, luscious costumes, and Armie Hammer’s chiseled jaw were so enchanting in the most recent film adaptation of the novel, Rebecca, that I frothed at the chance to see the plot unfold. The Netflix production value alone promised decadent wickedness and a gorgeously ghoulish tale that could sweep anyone on to the lawns of the seaside manor.

Unfortunately, my visual enthrallment didn’t anticipate the inevitable flaw in scribing such a modern adaptation. The writers fell into the trap of imagining the novel as something other than it was. Rebecca was never a sweeping romance that was twisted by anger and spite and ghosts. Yet, the 2020 adaptation did its best to shape and cram Rebecca’s characters into a mold, pounding and twisting them until they fit into a haunted template that might appeal to test groups. Naturally, the problem is that Daphne Du Maurier’s tale can’t sustain such brutality without losing and utterly transforming itself. Oddly enough, much like the heroine of the tale.
(Spoilers Ahead)

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If You Could Invite People From History to a Dinner Party, Who Would You Choose?

Welcome, friends to a fantastical dinner party of your own making and imagination. Yes, it’s time to play a grand game and intellectual exercise, somewhat akin to the lunchroom game of Stranded On a Deserted Island. However, instead of imagining implements of survival, escape, and spiritual fulfillment, you are being asked to host a grand dinner party with the most intriguing, exciting, or entertaining guests you can cook up. Here is the beautiful scenario: You are to host a dinner party for which you may invite up to FIVE guests–living or dead. Deep in a distant wood is a secluded cabin with comfortable furnishings and a crackling fire that is waiting for your party. The linens and place settings are in place. The food’s piping hot and ready, dessert is chilled, coffee and tea are brewing, and the bar and wine cellars are endlessly stocked. All that’s needed from you is the guest list! Whom shall you invite?

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Percy Shelley and His Insane Love Triangle, Most Scandalous

Percy Shelley. You know him as one of those poetry dudes.

He was a privileged young English poet in the 1810s, who had a progressive, yet romantic voice that attempted to influence religion and politics. But, his very brief life was full of secrets and intrigue that eclipse anything he put down on paper. Percy Shelley was at the heart of one of the most mysterious, scandalous love triangles recorded in history. Many women. Two wives. Pregnancies. Deceit. Money. Extortion. Mysterious Death.

What you are about to read is the account that you won’t find in any classroom textbook. This is the story of Percy Shelley and his insane love triangle, most scandalous.

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LOST: The Island, Smoke Monster, and Everything Else Explained

Most series finales are awful.

Seinfeld was absurd. M*A*S*H was depressing. The Sopranos didn’t have an ending. And [sigh] Game of Thrones didn–GODS, Bran did not have the best story, and that is NOT why you make someone a King, especially because he was the villain the whole time and they’re all going to suffer and die now and it’s the WORST! JUST THE WORST!

I’m okay, really. But we need to address LOST.

Its series finale lives in infamy for its vague conclusion and alleged lack of payoff. But if we’re telling truths, we were given many of the answers and the closure we craved, but the show demanded loyal attentive viewing in order to harvest all of the juicy goodness. Most people couldn’t devote this much time, attention, and brain space to a long-running show that was plagued by regular excruciating hiatuses and writers with short attention spans. As a consequence, many viewers skimmed the seasons, or skipped some altogether. And as the mythology and paradoxes got too cute by half, many threw their arms in the air and decried that none of it made sense. By the finale, the show’s legacy had a thick tarnish over it as a series that was full of crap and never got where it was going. (Kinda like the Oceanic passengers, amiright? Zzzzzing!)

I submit to you that this confusion and tarnish can be cleared away with just a bit of explanation. The show mostly does make sense and, yes, the finale actually does give us the payoff. For the Jack-the-Doubters out there, I’ve decided to don my dot-connector hat and go through the series in proper chronological order. I want to lay it all out so that we can demystify the writing and pick at the show’s carcass for all of the answer morsels we crave. Are you ready to begin this journey?

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American Expats in Ireland: Ways in Which Life is Different

Hello, Americans. If you’re thinking of moving to Ireland, or maybe just visiting for a nice long time, there are some cultural and day-to-day differences that may throw you for a loop. Some of them are obvious–like driving on the left and not pulling a gun on people in traffic. But there are more subtle changes you’ll experience, and it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into before you order a sandwich with extra mustard, drive on bald tires, go hunting for Tylenol, or renew your Amazon subscription.

Irish life is just a bit different. Here’s how:

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Gilmore Girls: 100+ Things That Make No Sense

We all love our Gilmore Girls. Even Rory. A trip to Stars Hollow is magically full of vegetable-shilling troubadours, Bjork snow women, Kirk’s doggy daycare, and Taylor’s sexy beard. There’s nothing like it. But let’s be honest, as enchanting as the show may be, it is completely riddled with problems and things that make no damn sense. Some of them are flubs and bloopers, while many other issues defy the realms of logic, mathematics, and decency.

That Dragonfly magazine article, money issues, the Donna Reed dress, Lane’s father, Jason squatting and pooping in the corner of the Dragonfly’s dining room, and Trix’s disappearing fella. How many have you noticed?

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How to Play Darts (for Beginners)

The ol’ pub game of darts is the sophisticated gentleman’s game of precision and gentility refined over many generations…no, just kidding. It’s just simply the best game you can possibly play over a pint. Or gin. Or rum. Or pretty much anything. It’s fun, global, and it gives you something to do when the booze makes you twitchy.

I love darts.

Or, I think I love darts. I mean, I used to play on a velcro dart board that I was awarded for selling enough salami and chocolates at my third grade school fundraiser. And that was fun. Until the little velcro dots fell off the plastic dabbers, which never really stuck to the board anyway. But I felt cool thinking I was playing something resembling darts.

The real thing has been too intimidating. People who play real darts play it FOR REAL. And they don’t tend to like when amateurs step on their turf. It’s like that guy in the bowling alley in 2010 who screamed in my face and tried to have me forcibly evicted because I was there with my preschooler mid-afternoon and took four photos of her rolling the ball with her teddy bear. I was distracting to his very professional practice game. When he got in my face, I looked him in the eyes and told him to go fuck himself. I swear he really considered hitting me in the face.

That’s the type of shit that has scared me away from learning real darts. My teddy bear, too.

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Stars Hollow Unhinged: The Dark Side of the Gilmore Girls

We all love Gilmore Girls, right? It’s sweet, peppy, and oh so innocent. Remember Rory’s first kiss? Jess knocking down a snowman? Lorelai sewing costumes for the school play? Yes, the WB/CW really had us believing that the streets of Stars Hollow were made of cotton candy and the Gilmore Girls lived in a house of Pop-Tarts and Brillo Pads.   I regret to tell you, it just isn’t so. Once you removed the WB/CW network filter and peel away the peppy “la-la-la-la” music, there is a seedy underbelly to Stars Hollow, particularly at the Gilmore House. It’s so twisted that not even a Rory Curtain could hide it. So come with me as I decipher all of the clues and break down the truth behind the cold, dark Stars Hollow as it really was.

In the Beginning, Lorelai Ran From Hartford

Fans, let us journey back in time to the very beginning. The year was 1985. 17 year-old Lorelai Gilmore took her baby daughter and made a hasty retreat from the safety, shelter, and sustenance of her parents’ house out on to the mean streets of Hartford and beyond.

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Bah, Humbug! Ebenezer Scrooge, American Politics, and the Republican Party

Or “The Political Dichotomy of Ebenezer Scrooge as Depicted by SJW Charles Dickens”

Welcome to the holly jolly time of year when we all smile a little brighter, we all drink a little more eggnog, and we all (oh so briefly) smile at the sight of snowflakes. And while we drape our tinsel and wrap our gifts, most of us will watch some form of the Charles Dickens masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. My personal favorite being the Married With Children television episode entitled “It’s a Bundyful Life” which featured guest-star Sam Kinison as a screaming angel. Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, is also at the top of the list.

What you may not have ever considered is that Dickens offers us a curiously apt allegory for modern American political views. Actually, they were designed quite deliberately as a moral tale for the mid-19th century, when Dickens experienced and witnessed terrible poverty and suffering. It is no secret that he was a social activist who advocated education reform, labor changes, and support for women and children.

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Star Trek: Voyager–Being Katie O’Clare

I have a very special story for you about Star Trek: Voyager and how my life inadvertently imitated a holodeck fantasy. Gather ’round.

The tale of my holodeck-style adventure starts not terribly long ago when I moved my little family to Ireland. One night shortly after our move, my husband and I lay in bed, me dozing off after a long day of unpacking boxes. He, intent on finding a new show to watch on Netflix, was irritatingly scrolling through app menus so that they flickered through the dark room and pierced my closed eyelids. Sighing, I cracked my eyes open just enough to see the screen. One of the title cards flashed past my vision and prompted me to mutter through my own drool, “What is Red doing on Star Trek?”.

Wait, was I half-asleep? “Was that really RED? That was RED! Red from Orange is the New Black! On STAR TREK!” He scrolled back to a cast photo of Star Trek: Voyager. My husband had been keeping a terrible secret from me! Red, the grumpy prison chef has always been my absolute favorite character from Orange, and he never let on that she was a Star Trek Captain?! Startled by my recognition, he confessed to having never connected Kate Mulgrew’s two brilliant roles before–a notion that still horrifies me, and brings great shame upon our family.

Star Trek Voyager cast photo
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Brexit and the Irish Border: Let’s Explain It!

Shout out to my friends and family in America who still think that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are all one country, and part of the UK. America has its own shitshow of problems, so it isn’t surprising that so many Americans have no idea what is going not with Ireland and Brexit. It’s okay. I’ll explain it in terms that can make this accessible to most anyone. Let’s start with the basics:

One Island, Two Countries

Ireland is a single island, but it is comprised of two separate countries: The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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West Wing: The Complete Adventures of Goldfish Gail and Her Fishbowl

Ever wondered about the props in Goldfish Gail’s fishbowl? I have answers.

Fans of The West Wing know a little secret: C.J. Cregg’s pet goldfish, Gail, often has her bowl decorated with props that wink at episode themes. Panda bears, cash, flags, cabbages, flamingos, a love bed, a space shuttle, a telephone, and a fire engine. They are planted just for our delight (and hopefully Gail’s as well). The trick is to try and spot them. And this friends, became my obsession recently.

Below, for the first time, is a complete list of all of Goldfish Gail’s adventures alongside C.J., Danny, and the rest of the West Wing gang. Let’s get swimmin’!

And, hey, if you think you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment. If you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!


Season 1

Gail 1.9

Season 1, Episode 9

  • Prop: Nothing. Welcome, Gail!
  • Gravel: None? Oh, com’on, Danny.
  • Nod to Plot: It’s a new fish! (And Danny loves C.J.)

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 7

Gail the Goldfish, friend and companion to C.J. Cregg and the rest of the gang at The West Wing, is back for an exciting and FINAL seventh season! This is sad and exciting. It’s sexciting. Wait, no. Sorry, Gail. I didn’t mean it like that.

Truly, though, Gail experiences the frost of terrifying allegations against her mama, deep loss, and the anticipation of moving. It’s a traumatic season for her, but she handles it like a champ. Let’s do this one last time! Here are Gail’s appearances in Season 7.

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 6

Gail the Goldfish, friend and companion to C.J. Cregg and the rest of the gang at The West Wing, is back for an exciting sixth season. Gail moves offices, hosts a visitor, gets snubbed for an invitation to an ice cream party, and ponders classic literature. She also explores a little nihilism. That is one deep fish.

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 6.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!


NoGail

Season 6, Episode 1

No Gail. She’s as appalled as we all are about the beginning of season 6. Since it looks like the gang is heading to Camp David, I fear we might be missing Gail for quite some time.

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Playhouse From Hell

Remember when Craig’s List was a legit thing?

There was a time not so long ago in a galaxy not so far away that Craig’s List was a legit and kinda safe place to find bargains in your community. It was, like, 2008. I remember it well. See, I had a toddler back then, so I was broke and jonesing for the hot new toy that every mom had to have or they were bad. BAAAAD. It was the good old days of driving 20 miles to pick up someone’s junk that they valued at just five bucks under retail, but then you half-load the shit in your car and are like “Naw, I have a ten. You want me to take your garbage or no? Sucker!”

Back in 2008 I was scoping out some giant plastic playhouses for my toddling daughter to hide in whenever mommy decided to sit down and eat a whole cake in one sitting like a snake unhinging its jaw. Because it was Craig’s List, most of the playhouse offerings were pretty ridiculous – tables are missing, phone receivers are missing, plastic faucets have been broken off, and water trapped in the walls was growing new cultures of black mold in at least half of the houses I scoped.

But that’s not the worst of it. Oh no. There was one listing that made me wet my pants a little when I read it, and lives in infamy to this day. This was an honest-to-Elvis Craig’s List listing in SE Michigan, word for word:

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How to Complain Like a Pro

As a consumer, student, employee, and citizen, we all get a little screwed sometimes.

An important measure of any institution–be it a business, school, or whatever–is how they try to rectify a mishap or misdeed. In spite of that truism, the cold reality is that your reaction to getting screwed is the critical catalyst that determines how your complaint will be heard and processed. It is up to you.

Complain the wrong way, and you can look like a fool who gets nothing but high blood pressure and a wasted afternoon. I once complained the wrong way (let’s just say my temper got the best of me and I hulked out over a voicemail to a doctor’s office), and got a lovely letter inviting me to never come back to their office ever again. As if I was going to anyway. Shitkickers.

But if you play the complaint game the right way, not only do you stand to receive satisfaction over your complaint, but you can legitimately gauge the integrity of the institution against which you’re railing. Take an ugly situation and turn it into your moment of haughty, glorious victory.

This is a brief masterclass on the art of complaining. Read and follow the instructions below to learn how to badass your way into getting satisfaction from a complaint.

#1. Ask Yourself If You Have a Legitimate, Reasonable Complaint

Before you even turn to the keyboard or phone, you need to slow your roll and examine your situation thoughtfully. Are you actually in the right? Is your gripe reasonable given the circumstances? And is it worth your precious time and energy to get the complaint train chugging down the tracks?

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Chardee MacDennis Rules: A Playable Version of the Game

Brought to you by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia…and Boss Hog.

UPDATE, May, 2020: In honor of the glorious quarantine, I have uploaded new and improved versions of the rules and cards. Enjoy!

If you’re reading this, you probably are familiar with the notorious cure for boredom that was conceived by the assholes from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

That’s right, it’s Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games!

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 5

Gail the Goldfish, friend and companion to C.J. Cregg and the rest of the gang at The West Wing, has a splashy season 5. Gail plays Monopoly (to help Donna, of course), goes overboard for cabbages, and rightfully panics over C.J.’s new fishing hobby. It’s a rough season for the whole gang, since we start with Zoey missing and end with Donna being blowed up. So it’s anything but calm waters for our favorite little goldfish.

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 5.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!


Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 1.59.43 PM.png

Season 5, Episode 1

  • Prop: Maybe…probably…a little elephant figure
  • Gravel: Blue
  • Nod to Plot: GOP President Walken is in charge and Gail might just be showing a nod of respect to the new Commander-in-Chief.
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The Fake Melania Conspiracy Theory

It’s completely bonkers to even entertain the “Fake Melania” theory. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

First Lady Melania Trump has a fondness for large sun spectacles that hide a third of her face. And if I may offer some fashion commentary for which I am entirely ill qualified, she wears them more often than one might find stately in a First Lady. Hiding one’s eyes can be regarded as a sign of something else to hide, not to mention that I find it rude to greet a new person without showing your face. It’s sort of like not removing a hat when you sit down to eat or enter someone’s home.

Decorum aside, there is one more reason the First Lady may want to reconsider her constant bespectacled state: It has fueled a very odd rumor, that a body double has been occasionally been appearing in her place.

Even if it were true, it would hardly be the craziest scandal. Melania was dragged into her role as international hostess with little warning. When she vowed to honor and cherish Donny Blimpo, she could hardly have imagined what awaited her. Her future was supposed to be a life of quiet splendor from atop Manhattan. The responsibility and scrutiny heaped on her has cast a harsh light on her behavior, grammar, fashion choices, Donny Blimpo’s porn star proclivities, and every other crack and crevice in her life.

So not only would I hardly be surprised if she did explore the option of a body double, I wouldn’t blame her. What is all that money good for if you can’t hire a model to slip on your shoes and hold hands with your beef-wreaking marital partner?

That doesn’t mean it’s true, though, no matter what the interwebs say. Let’s explore how the rumors started and what’s really behind those giant dark glasses.

Origins of the Fake Melania Theory: October, 2017

It was autumn, 2017, and the Trumps were heading out on a trip to visit a Secret Service training facility in Maryland. They paused on the White House lawn to address reporters. Melania is dressed in a trench coat and trademark jumbo shades, which is completely evocative of a spy costume. Between that and her body language, which arguably looks bored and uncomfortable, spectators begin to wonder if it is really her.

melania-body-double-trump

Adding massive fuel to the fire: President Trump actually says during that gaggle, “My wife, Melania, who happens to be right here…”. The interwebs collectively point out that this is exactly what Donny would say if she wasn’t right there.

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 4

Gail the Goldfish, friend to C.J. Cregg and the rest of the gang at The West Wing, is in for a bowlful of drama during season 4. Boats, cows, flamingos, and more major closeups than ever before. Her Papa, Danny, is back and he’s bringing all sorts of new stress into C.J.’s life. It’s the beginning of President Bartlet’s second term and things are about to get crazy.

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 4.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!

By the way, if you’re enjoying these posts I’m doing about Gail, a great way to say thanks is to head over to Heifer International and make a donation. Thank you!


Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 9.56.10 AM.png

Season 4, Episode 1

  • Prop: A boat labeled “Washington D.C.” is dominating Gail’s space
  • Gravel: Dark green
  • Nod to Plot: Josh, Toby, and Donna missed the motorcade. So either Gail’s building them a boat to get them home to D.C., or she’s making sure she’s covered for transport in case she’s ever left behind.
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Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon

Some weeks are harder than others.

Tuesday

The weeds are everywhere in the gravel driveway. I’ve jammed my fingers into the pebbled earth to rip their roots, but there are just too damn many. I had to arm myself with a spray bottle of vinegar and lemon juice and spritz them, plant by plant. Hunched over with vinegar misting back on to my clothing from the hilly breezes rushing past, it was a desperate and smelly attempt to avoid the commercial stuff.

That’s when the pigeon landed. He was a majestic, slightly pudgy fellow who had been tap dancing on the roof for some time leading up to my weed expedition. I had heard him from my oversized living room chair where I had been munching tuna salad on crackers. I was afraid it was mice in the attic. Or maybe Benny the Badger came back and somehow got on the roof. Sounds weird, but he’s the one who shut off the water supply to the house. That was a talented badger. It’s a shame his life was cut short attempting to cross a bendy part of the road. Such a waste.

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The Final Word: Bran Stark Has Always Been the True Villain of Game of Thrones

Our watch is ended. The eighth season of Game of Thrones, which at times seemed to have been penned by Benioff & Weiss as a sort of Westerosi Mad Lib, has aired and we now know who wins…the equivalent of the Iron Throne.

Brandon Stark.

Bran the Broken.
Bran the Staring.
Bran the Evil.

I’ve been saying it publicly since January, 2017 (and privately since the autumn before)–Bran is a super villain who was overlooked because he was physically broken. Perhaps it’s because I was raised by a very loud, very tough wheelchair-bound mother that I did not ever underestimate Brandon Stark.

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 3

Gail the Goldfish has already seen a lot during the first two seasons of The West Wing, and season 3 only gets more exciting! Gail gets active in the re-election campaign, launches a protest for women’s rights, meets some diseased livestock, and has a close encounter of the Charlie kind!

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 3.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!


NoGail

Season 3, Episode 01

No Gail. She is still in shock over the tragedy that occurred at the World Trade Center.

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The Meaning of Being Unemployed and Staring at Cow Arses

Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.

Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.

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How to Play Shanghai Rummy

A card game for 3-8 players that is good for a quiet evening at home, or some time ’round the campfire.

Many years ago I went on a camping trip with a friend’s family to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness where you could see the stars at night and smell the fish during the day. I was only thirteen, but even way back in those ancient times, this was a vacation free of television, phones, and air conditioning. During those days when it poured rain, and late at night when the crickets sung to the stars, we had little to do but play card games, and my friend’s family had a clear favorite: Shanghai Rummy. It was competitive and exciting…and it helped pass long blocks of time without counting the cricket chirps.

Decades have passed and that friend and I had a very ugly falling out long ago, but I still remember loving that card game. Much more than I love her. So I pulled out a couple decks of cards not long ago to pass a quiet night, and realized I couldn’t remember a single damn rule. And worst of all, the interweb tubes cannot agree on any part of the rules.

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The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne’s Questionable Tax Advice

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most peculiarly loved films of all-time. Something about a clever man dreaming behind bars speaks to more people than I would’ve ever thought possible. But Rita Hayworth and I have one little question about a pivotal plot point: Was Andy Dufresne’s tax advice to the Captain Hadley bullshit?

Here’s how it goes: It is 1949, and atop a roof at the Shawshank Prison, Captain Hadley loudly groans that he has inherited $35,000 from his brother, but he is livid that the government is going to “take a big wet bite out of [his] ass” in taxes.

Prisoner Andy Dufresne dangerously interjects himself into the conversation insisting that the Warden need not suffer any tax burden at all, suggesting:

“If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time-only gift to your spouse. It’s good up to $60,000…Tax-free. IRS can’t touch one cent.”

But is that true? Or was it at least true in 1949? Or was Andy just bullshitting for some beers and the fun of it. Let’s take a look at the tax law to understand.

One reason this plot line may have crept into the deliciously warped mind of Stephen King (and therefore, that of character Andy Dufresne) is because there was a major reform of the United States Tax Code in 1948, specifically impacting estate and gift taxes–including marital exemptions. But did it provide a tax shelter for Captain Hadley’s inheritance?

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The D&D Alignment Game: Game of Thrones Edition

Okay, RPG fanatics, it’s time to play one of my favorite time-killing games, “The D&D Alignment Game”! Which of your favorite characters falls into which Dungeons & Dragons-prescribed boxes?

I think the most fascinating aspect of categorizing the Game of Thrones characters is how  passionate every character is. It was surprisingly hard to select a “true neutral”, because even characters who should have been completely neutral (read: maesters), weren’t. Pycelle was evil. Luwin was good. Hodor was good. Granted, “true neutral” is supposed to be the rarest of alignments, but I think it speaks to just how electric each character is in a massive cast.

Forgive me in advance for not being able to list more characters. Varys is “neutral good”, as is Daenarys and Jorah Mormont. Hodor is good. Joffrey is mostly “neutral evil” (though at moments, the argument could be made for chaotic evil). Jon Snuhh is “lawful good” just like his foster father. And Bran Stark? The jury may be out for some. But I have made a very strong argument that Brandon Stark is “neutral evil”. Oh yes. So evil.

Game of Thrones D&D Alignment Grid

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A Few Definitions

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The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked (Part 3)

The West Wing ranking continues! We have made it through the good, the bad, and the Ted McGinley in PART I and PART II. There are a few flaws with some of these episodes, but on the whole, they’re classic–warts and all. And by warts, I mean Commander Crap Reese. So put on your oversized Josh jammies, grab some whiskey and Blow Pops, and snuggle up with Marion Coatsworth of Marblehay. It’s time for the best!

Here are the Top 50:

50. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” (season 4, episode 20)

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I love that Toby’s accoutrements for poker include a giant bottle of whiskey and two Blow Pops. With that noted, let’s play some poker! Oh wait, other things keep getting in the way, including a job interview with an actor who just got out of rehab, a telephone farce with a Russian leader, and a shooting in the Briefing Room (!!). The titular evidence and things not seen relate to each of these distractions, including Josh not seeing Joe Quincy’s (yeesh, what a name!) little Republican sticking out, and suppressing any feelings over the shots fired. The spy plane, the egg, Will hitting the fifth row. Get it? Hope? Faith? Skepticism? Fear? This is Sorkin being a little cutesy, and also trying to scare us a bit. See, we all know the season finale is approaching, but know not what shape the menace might take. Last episode we wondered about a plane crash. Now we wonder about another shooting. In the meantime, this fake spider under the sheets doesn’t move us very far but allows us to enjoy our favorite characters for a bit. That ain’t all bad.
Points Lost For: Very special guest star Matthew Perry. Blech. Joe Quincy is written like a pancake.
Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment: Remember back in “20 Hours in LA”, when Donna’s at the fancy-pantsy party and she wants to try and meet Matthew Perry? That makes Joe Quincy’s appearance less believable than his name.

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The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked (Part 2)

The Bartlet fun never stops. We’ve already ranked West Wing episodes #101-155 in PART ONE. Now it’s time to move on from the awful episodes that Curtis had to carry around, to some truly lovely stories, killer lines, and classic moments. Most of these episodes below have some serious flaws, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. Get ready to enjoy Chicken Bob, a goldfish pin,  and Toby singing.

On we march to the top 100:

100. “Han” (season 5, episode 4)

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I have han just watching this episode, even though it’s a sweet little LOST reunion of sorts (or was LOST a “Han” reunion? Time riddle!). Listen, this is an episode where PB and Leo are just wrong and so adrift in an ocean of uncertainty that they missed the obvious inevitability that the North Korean talks would fall apart. They sacrificed the young confused musician, and then PB had the nerve to blame the pianist’s lack of understanding of “freedom”. Really, Jed? Teach him freedom. Ack, the writers have positioned the POTUS as doddering, weak, confused, and myopic. Not cool.

99. “The Lame Duck Congress” (season 2, episode 6)

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Zzzzzz. ZzzzzzZzzz. This is one snoozer episode. I don’t care a fig about the drunken Russian getting to see the President. And Donna is petulant and ridiculous in this episode about repetitive stress injuries. Nothing about this episode is particularly offensive, it’s just boring and overly focused on procedures.

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The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked (Part 1)

Well, damn. If I’m going to go to the trouble of ranking every Gilmore Girls episode, then I’d better get on the ball and fire up…whichever digital service has the licensing for… The West Wing as well! This paragon of American political optimism and snark is simply one of my favorite shows of all-time. But, it might also be the trickiest show to rank. See, I have to balance entertainment with political views. That’s dangerous stuff right there. So dangerous I might need the full box of Franzia and a big block of cheese to get through these tough negotiations. And maybe some pie. Definitely all the doughnuts and bagels in the land.

Let’s start with the worst, or as I call it “the Angela Blake end of the list”. The top 54 will take you through some pretty rough territory–Camp David negotiations, Brian Dennehy, heart attacks, some Harry Potter vomit, and human fruit fly.

From the bottom:

155. “Isaac and Ishmael” (season 3, episode 0)

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Alternate Title: “The 9/11 Episode”
Airing less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, this was never supposed to be an episode. This was thrown together in a matter of about two weeks, from writing to filming to post-production, specially to address the attacks. And it’s awful. Preachy and dark and utterly self-aware. This is an after-school special mixed with a 70s variety show, with a whole lot of racism thrown in. The shockingly prejudiced, rude, and naive teens–who accuse Toby of being a terrorist for wearing a beard, and ask P.B. if he thinks he’s a “man of principle”–are treated to a cast of characters who pop “on stage” one at a time. First Toby drops in! And then it’s C.J. And then a very special appearance by P.B. and the First Lady! The characters are each condescending as shit, using Biblical stories and and patchy WWII analogies to try and explain terrorism in short-prose form. Diarrhea would be more fun than watching this episode. If you ask me to swear on it, this is not West Wing canon. It isn’t even television canon. It does not exist, anymore than does the finger puppet show in which I pretend that Andy accepts Toby’s marriage proposal and loves the house he bought. They eat pie a lot.

154. “Here Today” (season 7, episode 5)

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My Toby. My brilliant and beautiful Toby. What have they DONE TO YOU? Let’s do a quick rundown of this episode: It’s crammed packed with Charles Frost (zzzzzzzzz), Oliver Blabbish questioning (please god nooooooooo!), the President reprimanding and firing Toby (sniffle), and the introduction of fucking Vic the Human Fruit Fly (ewwwww!). I thought Vic was super-duper skeezy and icky when he was banging Miranda on Sex and the City. And now he has impregnated Ellie? Gross! If I’m looking for something to believe in, my only hope is that Josh fired Negative Ned.

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The D&D Alignment Game: Gravity Falls Edition

Okay, RPG fanatics, it’s time to play one of my favorite time-killing games, “The D&D Alignment Game”! Which of your favorite characters falls into which Dungeons & Dragons-prescribed boxes?

If you need a little background, characters in the Dungeons & Dragons worlds are saddled with “alignments”–personality traits and motives that dictate their behavior. But appreciating the nuances of these traits and how each might be personified has led to a lot of nerd sparring. I’m sure that’s how this game started–just apply the cryptic guidelines to pop culture examples and you can help others to understand why they are totally and utterly wrong.

This is the game I play (sort of like the “desert island” game) when I’m stuck in an airport or waiting for my show to finish downloading. Or that time after you’ve ordered your food at the restaurant and you’ve run out of other conversation. What I love best is the number of heated arguments that has launched between me and my husband. I yell at him that he doesn’t understand the definition of “chaotic”, and then he yells that Jaimie Lannister absolutely does not fall in the evil category. Then I stab my fork into a dinner roll, yell something about Cersei’s vagina, and everyone in the restaurant stares. Good times.

Anyway, here is today’s inaugural post for this game. I just had to start with my favorite animated show of all-time, Gravity Falls (sorry, Muppet Babies). Take a look at the chart below to see how some of the characters might fit into the Dungeons & Dragons world (or as Dipper would say, the “Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons” world). What do you think? Do I have it right?

(I’ve even put a handy little glossary at the end if you aren’t sure what these mean.)

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A Few Definitions

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 2

Season 2 marks the first full season of The West Wing during which we have the privilege of watching for Goldfish Gail. C.J. Cregg’s office has never been more exciting, and a lot of scary and surprising things happen to Gail–she is mobbed by turkeys, interrogated by White House lawyers, and has a missile land in her bowl. But still she finds time for love and to make a new elephant friend.

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 2.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!

NoGail

Season 2, Episode 1

No Gail. But she does send her best wishes to President Bartlet and Josh for speedy recoveries.

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The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 1

Friends of Gail, for the most complete compilation Gail’s antics from every single season,
plus reader updates and suggestions, head on over to my  Complete Adventures of Goldfish Gail page

Many fans of The West Wing already know the terrific inside joke and easter egg that frequently popped up in C.J. Cregg’s office: Goldfish Gail had little props stashed inside her goldfish bowl that were typically thematic for the episode. The trick is to try and spot what it is. And this friends, became my obsession recently. Some of them are pretty obvious and easily visible in any given episode. But some of them…are a bit of a guessing game.

Now, for those of you who need a re-introduction to Gail, she is C.J.’s office goldfish who was gifted to her by reporter Danny Concannon when he attempted to woo her through a gift. Josh had cleverly recommended to gain C.J.’s favor through her love of goldfish. Danny sweetly presented the Press Secretary with our finned friend, not realizing that she actually is keen on the cheesy bagged crackers. Such a cute mistake. But Gail would not be denied, and she became an important friend to the show.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!

Gail 1.9

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Political Correctness: Reflections on Being an Asshole

Political correctness and cancel culture are the poison-tipped swords pointed at the armor of the average American asshole, for the asshole is on a great, noble quest, larger than that of humor, cruelty, or domination. Assholes stand behind a great bulwark of free speech in order to assert their basic human rights. And in the name of freedom, they cast their gaze upon the hurt and horrified sword wielders, and dub them “snowflakes”.  These great knights of vulgarity are righteous in their endeavor to preserve traditions and fortify the American spirit against the delicate.

It is a lovely fairytale. We have heard similar tales from local citizens at a nearby bar, from our grandfathers and uncles at holiday dinners, and from asshole celebrities, like Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh. I am therefore a bit sad to present the argument that their tale is mere fantasy invented by assholes, for assholes, to protect them from consequence and remorse.