Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
Happy Friday, all, and Happy Summer!!! I am still working through old questions, so I have two this week from Daryl, one of which is about music from the 80’s, and one about Boston history. After that, I tackle a couple more from last month's #MisfitMischief (tonight around 7:30 EDT!) about food (common theme), coping mechanisms and Middle Eastern Fashion…spoiler: Alex hates underwear!
Let’s get to it.
Submitted by: Gringo Suave
What is your favorite Culture Club song?
Daryl, I have some bad news for you, and really for just about everyone who grew up and/or came of age during the British new wave/synth pop invasion of the 1980’s. Culture Club sucks. They sucked at the time, you should have all known it and you should all feel some sense of collective shame now at your oversight.
Here is my biggest question about Culture Club: why do they have a drummer? Seriously, listen to anything they recorded and try to find an actual drum...it is a lot harder than you think. OK, that is an exaggeration, a whole bunch of their songs have actual drums. But an awful lot also rely on drum machines, that toxic ear-cancer that infects so much of the dreadful schlock that cursed popular airwaves between 1981 and 1987.
The answer is that I don’t have a favorite Culture Club song (although my children do own a chameleon, so…) Their music is boring, poorly-produced, thin and not terribly interesting. As much as any other popular band I can think of, they are a case of style over substance, existing mostly because of the temporally outrageous dress and antics of their under-talented lead singer, antics that seem campy and quaint today. It’s like someone took The Cure, removed everything that was good about The Cure, and then replaced Robert Smith’s hair with a really stupid hat.
I guess they are relevant because they are indicative of the times, but do we really need to spend a whole lot of time memorializing the half-decade long clown show that existed after Talking Heads and The Clash but before U2 and Guns N Roses? Culture Club isn’t more historically representative of the times than, say, The Backstreet Boys...and I don’t see Millennials holding on to the ridiculous notion that they are still worth listening to.
N*Sync, on the other hand...
Did you throw a chest of tea overboard into Boston Harbor?
This may also come as a surprise, Daryl, but I am 34 years old, and was therefore not yet born in 1773 when the Boston Tea Party took place. I have, however, been to the museum, where they let your throw fake tea into the harbor, so I guess in that sense I have…
That is, if you are coming to Boston, a surprisingly cool museum. It is over near the Boston Harbor Hotel and the Children’s Museum, and the whole tour takes maybe an hour, but it is really interactive and interesting. It is not worth scheduling a whole day around, but it is definitely a good take-in.
Funniest part of the Tea Party...it is the most important single event in the lead-up to the Revolution, it is widely studied, broadly taught and well-understood by every school child in America. It was a super big deal at the time, and has been ever since...and yet no one thought to write down where it actually happened!
It is broadly believed to have taken place at Griffin’s Wharf, although that fact is somewhat disputed. Which is only somewhat helpful anyway, as Griffin’s Wharf is long gone, torn down and filled in a hundred years ago as part of one of many landfill projects in Boston (fun fact: South Boston, East Boston, Charlestown, Back Back and the South End are all largely landfill. Watch this, it’s fascinating. Another fun fact: I live in a part that is NOT landfill, and there is your one clue to “Where’s Alex?” for the day.)
To make matters even more fun, there doesn’t seem to be a great record of exactly where Griffin’s Wharf was, either, so modern historians are left with “It was probably near the foot of Pearl Street” (currently, a Thai restaurant and hair salon across The Greenway from the Intercontinental Hotel).
So, yes, in a city that celebrate its history and still sports a number of buildings and other structures that have been standing for a couple hundred years, we seem to have lost our most noteworthy place.
Also, the Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t fought on Bunker Hill, but whatevs.
Submitted by: Lady Catherine
Why do people like caramel corn?
Um...how about cuz it's delicious?!?! Have you no respect for State Fairs? Or for Crackerjack, which is so important to baseball that they put it right there in the Baseball Song and baseball is basically The Statue of Liberty’s favorite sport!?!?
In a decade in which Salted Caramel has emerged as a key new flavor featured prominently in cookies, ice cream and various other confections, it seems apropos that we celebrate the salty, caramelly mother of that flavor. High end restaurants now sell salted caramel mousse, or creme brulee for like $18, but boardwalks and county fairs across America still churn out its inspiration by the $3 bucketful.
Since I have already covered some Boston History today, let’s take a detour 1,000 miles west to my other favorite city, The Second City: Chicago, IL.
WAIT...quick trivia!!! What is the windiest major city in North America?
Answer: Boston, MA (I’m setting the definition of “major” as being “bigger than Lubbock, TX or Rochester, MN”.)
Anyway, caramel corn, like a lot of really great things (including Ferris Wheels and Pabst Blue Ribbon!) was invented for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. While most great things in Illinois come from about two miles west of Jackson Park, the World’s Fair is a really remarkable achievement and a testament to the ability of pre-1900 Chicago to build magnificently grand things in almost impossibly short periods of time. In 1850, Chicago had 4,000 residents. 10 years later, it had exploded to 30,000 and by 1890, it had 1.1 million, despite nearly burning to the ground in 1871. The city would triple in size again over the next 40 years. America has seen nothing like that before or since.
In this same spirit, organizers and builders of the fair, led by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmstead, took an empty parcel of lakefront and turned it into a 600 acre metropolis in less than two years, despite an abnormally cold and snowy winter. Like its host, The White City emerged from nothing to become the nation’s focal point in seemingly the blink of an eye. The fair took up residence in the summer of 1893 and entertained nearly 27 million people during its existence (US Population in 1893: probably a shade under 70 million).
On October 9th alone, the fair counted 751,026 admissions, which made it America’s fifth largest city on that day, behind only New York, Chicago, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Even in 2017, that would be America’s 18th largest city - bigger than Detroit, smaller than Charlotte.
Today, the fair is probably most noted for its two most memorable subplots: the assassination of Mayor Carter Henry Harrison and the subsequent discovery of the activities of Henry Webster Mudgett, aka Dr. H. H. Holmes. All of this is pretty well narrated in Devil in The White City, the extraordinary historical work by Erik Larson that is today’s “Alex’s Book Recommendation”. Really, I promise...it’s an incredibly engrossing book about Chicago, the Fair, Holmes and the eventual assassination of Harrison. 11/10, highly recommended.
Submitted by: Mike Out Yonder
How many raisins does it take to make the best oatmeal raisin cookie? Show your work.
Raisins are foul abominations of decrepit fruit made by people whose conscience is as black as a serial killer. I bet H. H. Holmes loved raisins. I’ve been over this like 100 times...there are at least a dozen great things to do with a grape - eat it, put it in a salad, freeze it and use it to chill wine, make jelly, jam, juice, wine...WINE!!! - why on earth would you dry it out until it is a rodent-turd sized piece of sour rubbery horror?!
And if you have already accidentally ruined your grapes by leaving them out in the sun for a week, why on earth would you double down on your mistake by ruining a perfectly good cookie?!?! Frankly, adding oatmeal to a cookie is kinda stupid, but I can live with that if you get the rest of the recipe right (hint...yes chocolate chips, no raisins). But compounding your minor oatmeal mistake with a catastrophic raisin poisoning? You oughta be thrown out of the kitchen for that, and I am not entirely sure that the death penalty should be off the table.
So the best oatmeal raisin cookie has zero raisins, no oatmeal and a whole bunch of chocolate chips. I can’t believe you would even ask me this...maybe you should sit in your corner and think about what you have done.
Submitted by: Hoss Fuentes
The best way of coping in these trying times: 1.) Demon rum 2.) Screaming goat videos 3.) Cheesing
Hmm...I am not really sure what “cheesing” is, so I will Google it. Oh, look, Urban Dictionary has an entry this should help...OH HOLY HELL WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE TO ME YOU DERANGED BASTARD?!?!?
OK, if I am being honest, I was a little disappointed because I actually expected the UD definition of cheesing to be a lot creepier than it was. I mean, part of the reason I do this is so people can ask me totally off-the-wall questions that make me cringe but demand my attention before I gasp in horror. You know, like following @nochiefs on Twitter. And cheesing is a pretty fun one that I am glad you asked about, but I was honestly hoping it would be something really, really off the wall.
I actually can’t even figure out if cheesing is a real thing, or just something that Trey Parker and Matt Stone made up for an episode of South Park. I guess the brilliance of South Park is that it really could go either way...I mean, I don’t think you can get high by sniffing cat urine, but it probably wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that anyone ever got stoned off of (did you know that you can actually shoot cheese? If heroin has lost its effectiveness, an addict can mix it with a warm, soft-fat cheese like brie and shoot it for a much more intense high...it is pretty well covered in most biographies of Keith Richards).
I think that you all know me well enough to know my answer to this...it’s always going to be the demon rum for me. Or, more specifically, the demon vodka, which I don’t really consider a demon at all, but rather an angelic force for good bestowed upon humanity by Bacchus at the benevolent request of Aphrodite in hopes that all humans would be able to see their potential mates as being as beautiful as she was. Also, whoever the god of dancing was probably helped out, too.
But, as long as I have covered Keith Richards and the Demon Life (rum, whatever) let’s all take a minute to appreciate this non-famous Rolling Stones gem which is both a precursor to grunge, and contains the sublime “One day I woke up to find, lying in the bed next to mine, someone that broke me up with the corner of her smile...”
Submitted by: Poochini
Do those Saudi guys wear underwear under those togas?
Well, if it is Prince Fahad Al Saud, I am going to choose to think that he doesn’t, because that guy is pretty hot. I know the King just reshuffled his household and named a new heir, but he should probably go back and make sure that Fahad has an appropriately prominent and hopefully shirtless role.
The answer seems to be that guys wear pretty much what you wear under their Thobe...boxers, a T-shirt and possible shorts or pants. Women seem to vary a little more in what they wear under an Abaya, with the most conservative women wearing another full length dress on the off chance that their Abaya moves a bit in the wind and exposes a seductive ankle or a flirtatious wrist. A more open-minded woman may wear shorts or jeans or something equally comfortable, or maybe just her underwear.
I’m not going anywhere that I have to wear a fucking potato sack by law, so we can rule that out right off the bat, but if I did, I’m not wearing anything under it. As long as I am being oppressed by a backwards culture of knuckle dragging woman-haters, I am at least going to be pretty comfortable while I do it, and that means letting my lady bits get as much air in that blast furnace as possible.
While we are on the subject, underwear is totally overrated. It’s just an extra garment that I have to buy and wash and put away and remember to put on just so I can worry about making sure that it is not leaving annoying visible lines. Outside of its ornamental benefits in situations where the visual effect is a key part of a desired aesthetic;-), it is much more hassle than benefit.
I know there are alleged hygiene benefits, but I am pretty dubious of the validity of that defense. If you really stop and think about it, what benefit exactly is your underwear providing? Is it dramatically more sanitary than the insides of your skirt? I find that hard to believe. I’ll admit that, even though I can rationally tell you it is not needed, I always wear underwear with pants because it seems like I should. But skirts? Meh...I mean, more often than not, yes, but if I don’t have any clean ones, or maybe they are all in the laundry and I don’t feel like walking down the hall to get one…
Also I have a couple of dresses that show every tiny little underwear line. One is a very Asian silk/satin-looking, high-collared, floor-length dress with a very aggressive thigh slit that is an absolute knockout, and I also have a couple of snug jersey dresses that are super comfortable and adorable, but are a nightmare with any underwear at all. None of them are a threat to flash anybody anything that I don’t mean to flash them. So with those, I’m going to skip the underwear and not wear a bra either because wearing any underwear is just going to draw attention to the fact that I am wearing it, and what is the point of having no boobs if you can't eschew those wicked chest harnesses now and again?
So, to wrap up this non-sequitur...Saudi guys are almost certainly wearing underwear. Your wife or girlfriend? Maybe not.
Note from Mo: Last week, after Steve Scalise was shot, Dan and I were discussing whether the Left’s overheated rhetoric is responsible in some measure for the shooting. This is a difficult issue, made more so by the Left’s insistence that the Right is responsible for bad things that happen to Democrats or the Left, like the Oklahoma City bombing and the Giffords shooting. We decided to write this piece on each side of the issue as a way of learning how to think about it. As part of the exercise, we each deliberately took the most extreme position on our side, so these views might not completely align with our real, more nuanced views.
Divisive, hateful rhetoric is a tool used by the Left to maintain the mob they need to win elections. A little hyperbole goes a long way, but eventually, that's not enough. The mob develops a tolerance to exaggeration. So the rhetoric that was once enough just doesn't cut it anymore. It's part of American History, and it's not unique to any ideology.
We are in an age when political alignments are deeply internalized, and for too many, it's become their sole identity. Not only is the world ending, but the weight of it is on your shoulders. In a time of 24 -hour cable news and relentless social media, the absorption rate of propaganda is higher than ever before, and rage is a powerful drug.
There's a reason Republicans are viewed as evil by the cultural left, and it's not because of their agenda, which, by the way, is increasingly left leaning. Much of the disdain for Republicans (and conservatives) is derived from the rhetoric of the cultural left and the media. People of considerable influence in the realms of journalism and celebrity really hate Republicans and conservatives, and they do not hesitate to smear them in any way possible. I know I don't have to explain because you've seen it and experienced it. So now an unhinged leftist lunatic became the fulfillment of leftist propaganda. What does the left do? Well, they can't make up their minds. First, they find a way to blame Republicans and gun laws, and some even slap each other on the back and share jokes. Then there's a call for unity and some photo ops. Then there's talk of toning down political rhetoric, but not that of the Democrats. Republicans are so despised, they have to take at least partial blame when a GOP Congressman gets shot by a leftist. Even the Democrats open to discussing their rhetoric problem can't do it fully. “I tell you what, we’ll split it with you,” they said, and insist Trump has to take some blame for a Bernie bro shooting at Republicans.
The faux unity proved too much for Democrats, who had already started to tiptoe into the “He deserved it” narrative. It's too much to hide their overall glee at a GOP congressman getting shot. They shame the man, his policies, and his voting record, and call him a bigot, a racist, and a homophobe.
And to protect themselves here comes the all too familiar “lone wolf fringe” narrative. Where have I seen this play out before? And what's an assassination attempt without identity politics? Hey, wasn't this guy a devout Bernie Sanders acolyte? Never mind. In fact, it's best if we stop talking about that all together. The real problem is Republicans being “murderers” for continuing the big government healthcare program the liberals started.
Now anyone can step back and not point this out, but it doesn't matter because they are still going to blame you. It seems Republicans are required to be silent on the liberal rhetoric and pretend the left hasn't hammered home the idea that Republicans are the apocalypse, and imagine propaganda calling Republicans “Nazis” isn't affecting public perception. We know it is. We experience it. Suggestions of violence, metaphorical or not, find their way into the psyches of Americans, and after witnessing cities on fire after the election, citizens who vote Republican have to wonder when this spills into their private lives, if it hasn't already. It doesn't absolve the shooter of responsibility, but the cultural drive shouldn't be ignored. We shouldn't be polite about it, and we shouldn't have to qualify it.
Of course rhetoric influences behavior. You’d be a fool not to believe that. We have an entire industry—advertising—dedicated to influencing behavior with words. In fact, I’ll accept, for the sake of argument, that James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Steve Scalise and others, was influenced in some way by heated Left-Wing rhetoric. Still, there are good reasons why we shouldn’t generally blame Left-Wing speakers for Hodgkinson’s act.
With few exceptions, we assign criminal responsibility only to those who act, not to those who speak. This principle is embodied in the First Amendment. No, the First Amendment doesn’t literally apply here because we’re not talking about governmental actions, but the free speech principles animating the First Amendment extend far beyond it.
Free speech, as set forth in the First Amendment, is intended as a bulwark against government tyranny. We must be able to freely criticize the government and our officials without fear of being imprisoned. But free speech is more than that.
The freedom to say what you think is a fundamental human right. It’s a natural extension of the freedom to think, the freedom of mind, which is what defines each of us as an individual. Also, free speech allows the free exchange of ideas and knowledge. It allows people to air ideas, no matter how rancid, and to debate those ideas. It helps to clarify and sharpen thoughts and opinions. It allows for the free flow of information. It leads to the truth, even though it sometimes involves falsehoods.
Conversely, controlling speech is a means of controlling thought. It slows or shuts down the free flow of ideas and information, also making it more difficult to think and form opinions. George Orwell captured the most extreme implications of speech control in 1984: “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Because of the importance of this fundamental freedom, we, with very few exceptions, place the legal responsibility on the listener alone to act responsibly and rationally in response to speech, as we also should outside the courtroom.
First, when we hold speakers responsible for the actions of the listeners, we help make a case for controlling speech. If the listener really injured someone because of what the speaker said, then maybe we should control what comes out of people’s mouths in order to prevent injury. We’ve already seen something like this in the gun control debate. Gun control advocates use practical observations about how much easier it is to kill multiple people with a gun to advocate for restrictions or even banning guns, which in turn undermines a fundamental Constitutional right put in place to protect against tyranny.
Second, where do we draw the line on which rhetoric is responsible and which isn’t? And who draws that line? If you’re pro-life and say abortion is murder, do you think you should be responsible for a man who bombs an abortion clinic? Should you be silenced for speaking plainly? If you fear someone will blame you, will you self-censor? Assigning blame for speech chills speech, in part, because the lines are so hard to draw and are drawn differently depending on the person, including the listener. People become afraid to speak for fear of being held responsible for someone else’s actions. It also creates diversions from the substance of an argument to whether the speech is acceptable. For the past 35-40 years, we on the Right have been fighting against the policing of speech through political correctness for these very reasons.
Third, and relatedly, it simply isn’t fair. Bad people do bad things and are motivated by more than just words that the speaker likely didn’t intend to drive these bad deeds. Do you really believe if you speak out against Radical Islam, you are to blame for the man who drove a van into the Muslims outside the London Mosque this week? You are not, just as the Left, despite some deeply absurd and obnoxious rhetoric, is not responsible for Hodgkinson pulling the trigger at that baseball field.
Finally, assigning responsibility to the speaker diffuses responsibility away from the listener who acted on the speech, and treats him as if he has no mind or agency. It is the same collective-guilt thinking that has been eroding our society for decades. We hold individuals responsible for their own actions and, in doing so, maintain a society mostly made up of responsible individuals. Once the blame is diffused, and individuals are treated as mere products of external influences, the freedom/individual responsibility model of our society is eventually destroyed. Again, the gun control debate is instructive. We on the Right do not blame guns or gun access for what individuals do with those guns. We blame the individual. We shouldn’t blame speech for actions, just as we shouldn’t blame guns for mass shootings. It diffuses individual responsibility, and it provides an excuse to control a vital Constitutional Right.
Simply put, we need to be less sensitive to raucous and even obnoxious and hateful speech, not more. We need to trust the “marketplace of ideas” to sort out the good speech from the bad and treat individuals as responsible agents of their own conduct.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.