In-N-Out v. Burgerville

While I'm on this Southern California kick, let's explore an ongoing debate between Californians and those from the Pacific Northwest, a debate so vitriolic in its rhetoric the whole region stuck in the middle yearns for independence.

What's the better burger joint, Burgerville or In-N-Out? I'll lay out the arguments for each side, and feel free to weigh in with comments.

Both companies take a similarly notable approach to fast food. Both pride themselves on using only local products which are never frozen. Both famously extend their reach only as far as a delivery truck could travel in a day. They do this for maximum freshness.


Borders: Redding, CA; Washington City, UT; Tucson, AZ; National City, CA

Strengths: Wider reach; marketing; simplicity; access to massive Southern California farming operations; employees paid remarkably well ($10/hour starting wage, managers make just under $100k); low prices; fries cut on premises; "secret" menu.

Weaknesses: Very few options; no breakfast menu; American cheese.

Top menu items: Burger, fries, shake.

Other notables: My wife informs me high school students put In-N-Out stickers on their car because of the sexual innuendo. This is nicely juxtaposed to the fact "John 3:16" is printed on all cups.


Borders: Centralia, WA; The Dalles, OR; Albany, OR; Newberg, OR

Strengths: Menu variety; reliance on Willamette Valley products (a valley intended for farming); special sauce.

Weaknesses: No go-to burger; limited geographic reach; most notable menu items are seasonal; high prices.

Top menu items: Walla Walla sweet onion rings; sweet potato fries; chocolate hazelnut and blackberry shakes.

Other notables: Named Best Burger in 2007 by the Food Network; featured on The Splendid Table; named one of the Green 50 by Inc.com for sustainable business practices.


Being as it's the best fast food restaurant in the region that perfected the medium, you'd think In-N-Out would win out. For my money, there are only two items on In-N-Out's menu that are truly great: the deceptively delicious fries and the Animal-style cheeseburger without carmelized onions.

The Ecology of Fear

The earthquake in Southern California two days ago was bewildering, not because it happened, but because residents and media seemed genuinely surprised. "Earthquakes? Here?"

My friend Steve talks a lot about the book, Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis. The book explains, in an arguably leftist voice, how Southern California is portrayed as a idyllic wonderland, but the truth of all Mediterranean climates is of violent nature: hurricane-like rainstorms, earthquakes, mudslides and wildfires plague SoCal repeatedly.

When we were moving to Arizona, we were in Los Angeles for a few days. Swinging through the east edge of the sprawling metropolis, my friend John and I were stuck during an incredible rainstorm, the strongest I'd ever seen, where you couldn't even see the cars parked next to you on the freeway. I've been in monsoons in Southern Arizona where lightning is hitting all around and a wall of water turns dry creek beds to floods, but it wasn't as strong as that storm in L.A. Davis mentions the fondly-named "Pineapple Express" in his first pages.

I was telling my mother-in-law, who lives in Temecula, about the book, and she didn't believe me.

"What about the wildfires last year?" I asked.

"They weren't that bad," she told me.

"Bill (my father-in-law) said he could see the flames from your front yard!"

"Oh, he was exaggerating. No one we knew was affected," she responded. Mindy chimed in.

"My friend Skye and his family had to evacuate their home, Mom."

Of course, Southern California isn't all denial. The fear is played up, as well, and Ecology of Fear explores that aspect.

Take what I say for what it's worth...Oregonians are bred to hate on our massive neighbor to the south, so I'm incapable of seeing Southern California objectively. Plus, for all my disdain for the sprawl that is Los Angeles, I also like visiting. A lot.


Islands in the Stream...

So this past weekend three friends and I played the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. You can watch the video of me hitting the famed island green 17th below, and you can read about our round here.


softball and life

I had a church league softball game tonight. Two, actually. We played a doubleheader against the Mechanic's Grove Believers and Calvary Monument Bible Church*. I pitched both games, and as a result, my shoulder is going to feel like an angry badger tomorrow. Actually, it will feel like a sore shoulder, but it's ok because we won both games: 7-2 and 12-2.

Between games I sat down with Diane for a few minutes. Diane's husband Dale was the manager of CMBC for the past few years, but 3 months ago he went in for throat cancer surgery and there were complications and he didn't make it out of the hospital. Diane is such a sweet woman, and as president of our softball league, I've done what little i can to honor Dale's memory**. Diane said this week has been a tough one because it was their anniversary as well as Dale's birthday. But she said her friends are such a great support, and that they are helping her get through every day. Diane hasn't missed a game since Dale passed away. She said it helps her feel close to him.

During the game, my wife was talking to Barbara, our manager's wife. Barbara had spent the day with one of her good friends, who recently was in a bad cycling accident. She's having trouble remembering everything from where the silverware is to how to vacuum to whether or not she showered this morning. The doctors say it could get better over the next 6-8 months, but no one knows for sure. Barbara felt bad that she was at the game. She felt bad leaving her friend, but she knows her husband is there and there are others to take care of her.

On the ride home I was pretty happy with the two wins we picked up, but more than that, I just felt very grateful for the friends and family I have in my life. The people we have in our life that love us and support us are such a blessing. I know Diane is grateful for them. And I know that Barbara enjoys being there for her friend in her time of need. It's putting the love we have into action, and it's what life is all about.

So I don't know...maybe take some time to thank God for those people in your life who are there for you, and keep on the lookout for people in your life who need your love and support. And don't you dare think you're going to take your softball team up in here and score more than 2 runs off us. It just ain't happening.

*CMBC has no mascot. It's kind of sad. In our league we have the Petra Rockies (clever, huh?), the Worship Center Royals, and the In the Light Ministries Disciples, just to name a few. My team is the Crossway Astros. Just because we wanted to get Astros*** uniforms.

**One of the small things I've done is put up a banner for Dale on our softball website.

***Speaking of those Astros uniforms, that picture up there is me in mine with my son Parker from last summer.

Apparently, it's just Dan and I now.

If you were wondering where all the other Burnside Blog contributors...well, I don't have an answer for you. Bryan Allain was the last to post, and that was twelve days ago.

Come back, guys! Dan's a really nice person once you get to know him!



This week's issue of Burnside, though a few hours late, is now up and humming.

We have important news and a request for your feedback. Please take the time to read our Letter from the Editor and provide your thoughts and feedback. We feel it's time for Burnside to change, and anything you can help us will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again!

My Christian Rock Nightmares

I wouldn't suspect too many readers of this blog are huge Christian rock fans. For some reason, it doesn't seem like that sort of crowd. Sure, it's somewhat cool to like the stuff on the fringes, like Sufjan, the Innocence Mission or even some of the cooler adult alternative type acts like Jars of Clay and Switchfoot, but when it comes to the mainstream stuff filling the racks at the local Christian bookstore, most of us would rather pass, and probably for good reason. Anyone who's been around church folk for any significant amount of time has probably had something recommended to them that was a pale imitation of the secular original. I remember someone telling me that All Star United (the name itself should have tipped me off) sounded a lot like Blur and the britpop acts I loved at the time. So say the least, I didn't give up my copy of What's the Story, Morning Glory? for anything from All Star United's catalog. Lately, partially from self-loathing and somewhat for an upcoming project, I've spent a lot of time listening to the middlest of the middle road of Christian rock music, and to be honest, some of it's better than I would have imagined. Then again, there are acts like Seven Places, an a band with a unique skill in combining the sappiest music and tritest lyrics imaginable. This particular track is from 2003, after which half the band left and joined Kutless, which is a step up, possibly.

[They don't have a video for this particular track, but thankfully, someone on YouTube synched the track up with footage from Disney's Brother Bear. My recent obsession with videos of bears made the experience slightly more tolerable.]

Then, out of nowhere seemingly, there are acts like Future of Forestry, who seem to have made one album that went largely nowhere, lost all their band members and are now starting over from scratch. I'm assuming their lack of success had something to do with the fact that you could actually listen to their album from start to finish, but perhaps I'm being too cynical.

More recently, the Seattle band The Myriad won a big MTV contest, toured the country a dozen times, put out a great record that any fan of alternative rock (especially the sort performed by British people) would likely enjoy, and still haven't made much headway saleswise. Where is the justice, people?

The problem that the Christian music industry faces is that they've managed to drive most "serious" music fans out of their fold by focusing on the common denominator of music that focuses on being easily recognizable as "Christian". The old joke is that Christian labels have a "Jesus per minute" standard, and most of the Christian rock that's played on radio stations follows to that ideal closely, which makes the lyric sheet read like a junior high girl's journal right after she got back from youth camp. Obviously, the mainstream's job can seem (in both the "secular" and "sacred" world) to be to push creativity as far to the edge as possible, making the middle safe for those unwilling or unable to be challenged, but that particular drain on artists wishing to make music that reflects their faith can be a particular challenge, since the mainstream music world seems to have little patience for when the word "Christian" is added to their rock, although that seems to be less the case now than ever. If a good or even great album is released and promoted through largely Christian channels, however, it's less likely to hit the ears of the tastemakers and influencers that drive the general market music machine these days. To make matters worse, the media that covers Christian music seems to regurgitate press releases and do everything possible to please their advertisers and patrons, making their recommendations meaningless and their publications irrelevant, while most secular publications play the Christian market for laughs.

So, what can you do about it? I'm not sure. Even when I do recommend Christian rock discs, it's still going to come with a caveat, generally (ex. "Half of that new Afters disc is really good!"). Do we have a responsibility to support and promote acts fighting the good fight in the Christian marketplace? After all, in the immortal words of Michael W. Smith, aren't we all "looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find [our] place in this world"?


No matter how you art it up, I'm still balding.

We had some friends over last night, and they seemed to enjoy this Face Transformer developed at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Here's me as an El Greco, Modigliani and chimpanzee.

If you know how, feel free to post your favorite images in the comments box. And I'd like to see some of the other editors, as well.


The Dan Gibson Pop Culture Minute (Volume II)

You're probably thinking the same thing my wife said to me this morning: "It's been a week since the last one of those?" It's true, it's Thursday, and since I'm looking for any opportunity to avoid doing homework, it's time for another installment of the Dan Gibson Pop Culture Minute. Like last week, reading this whole thing will probably take quite a bit more than a minute, but I'm really just hoping to parlay my fame here into a syndicated radio segment once society (finally) tires of Perez Hilton, and the title really lends itself to that sort of thing. I find it helps to set my goals impossibly high, then the inevitable disappointment is only mildly crushing.

Hands down the biggest entertainment event this weekend is the annual San Diego Comic-Con, an event that began thirty nine years ago as a sedate gathering for those interested in superheroes and science fiction, but has in recent years become a necessary stop on any vaguely related film's promotional tour. When the most successful films of our era are based on comic books, the market is bound to shift that direction and the sold out Comic Con is perhaps the best evidence of that turn (perhaps best put by this week's Variety headline "H'w'd woos nerd herd at Comic-Con"). Films like the rebooted Star Trek, remakes or re-imaginings of Land of the Lost, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Death Race, and Race to Witch Mountain are obvious highlights, but just like last year's Comic-Con was all about Iron Man, this year it's all about Watchmen.

If you feel a little confused by the end of that trailer, get used to it. Watchmen is probably the pinnacle of the comic book form, but it takes five or six reads of the twelve books (collected together in one graphic novel these days) before the reader has much of an idea of what's going on, and even then the entire thing is up for quite a bit of discussion. Still, the comic books were listed among Time magazine's 2005 list of the best English language books since 1923, and for good reason. Watchmen shows superheroes with deep psychological issues and failures and largely without actual superpowers in an alternate version of the 1980's with America heading towards a nuclear war. A standard chronology or narrative fly out the window from the first few pages, which would seem to be a challenge for any filmmaker, especially for someone like Zach Snyder, whose most prominent credit thus far is the visually stunning, but somewhat overhyped 300. Unless Snyder pulls off a miracle, the comic book fanboys will be readying their torches to storm his home in the Hollywood Hills, so consider picking up the collected Watchmen to join the backlash early on, while it's still cool.

I found myself unexpectedly sad about the end of the Ebert & Roeper era of TV's "At The Movies" this week, as both of the title stars announced they would end their relationship with the program. I've barely caught the show since Ebert fell ill -- Roeper was never a particular favorite, and the show never seems to be on when the cable schedule seems to think it will be -- but when I was a young movie nerd/snob, Robert Ebert and his former partner, the late Gene Siskel, were an entry way into a world where movies mattered and there was a distinct difference between the good movies and the bad. Now, with the endless glut of information available via the internet (I won't even think about seeing a movie without first consulting Rotten Tomatoes, for example), there's an endless stream of opinions available of varying levels of worth, from blogs to the high profile newspaper critics with their printed work available online. Back in 1992, however, I heard about films like Reservoir Dogs and El Mariachi from Siskel and Ebert as they bickered over the relative merits of the week's films. Having experts on television these days seems to be a bit passe, and the direction Disney went with "At The Movies" reflects that state of affairs, with a program rumored to go in a more "Access Hollywood" direction featuring a critic from E! (whose bio mentions the Hollywood hot spots he dj's at on the weekends) and a guy who hosts Turner Classic Movies on occasion. Clearly the credibility that came with Ebert's Pulitzer Prize and Siskel's years of toiling at the Chicago Tribute have little value in our media culture these days, as evidenced by the fact that new host Ben Lyons seems to enjoy proximity to film stars more important than critical integrity. I should probably just be thankful I don't have to worry about missing the show any longer, but I'll still miss the glory days of the nerd and the fat guy arguing with each other.

[caution: these guys use some salty language in these outtakes]

In this week's Jonas Brothers update, the countdown to their new album continues, with a quick break two days ago for the new Miley Cyrus disc, but full Jonas media saturation seems to be approaching quickly, with nearly 2,500 mentions of the band picked up by Google in the last twenty four hours. The band performs on today's Oprah (check local listings) in an apparent doubleheader with an exclusive interview with some midgets. I couldn't exactly follow what was going on, since the television was muted, but somehow, I think the "Bonus Jonas", adorable little Frankie, is involved somehow. The always prestigious Oprah appearance is in addition to the cover of the forthcoming issue of Rolling Stone, hitting stands just in time for the album's release.

It's a bit of a cliche to say that Rolling Stone isn't about rock music, or music in general, anymore, and like the equally threadbare "MTV doesn't show videos" remark, the reason people keep saying it is because it's true. Then again, there have been a number of magazines with extensive music coverage that have gone under in the last few years, so maybe putting the girls from that terrible Hills program on the cover is a savvy move for Rolling Stone. I think it's been established that people are more interested in what's going on with Heidi and Spencer than whether the new Hold Steady disc is any good (it is, but only if you liked them before). Indie rock guys with nasty beards just can't compete with non-stop "baby bump" coverage, after all.

Following that lead, next week look for the latest news on celebrity babies, John Mayer's dating life, and the latest reality show developments, right here on the Dan Gibson Pop Culture Minute.

Which Will It Be?

So, a new Will Ferrell movie comes out at midnight. Here's the trailer:

If you can handle the profanity, I suggest the much-funnier restricted version (NSFW).

Based on the job interview and bunk bed scenes, this looks like a funny movie, and I'm planning on watching.

But I'm leery. There was a time after "Anchorman" when every Will Ferrell movie was greeted with unanimous jubiliation, but then came "Kicking and Screaming", an overrated "Talladega Nights", "Semi-Pro" and the absolutely awful "Blades of Glory", which somehow managed to suck despite featuring a spectacular cast (I'm not including Jon Heder, who isn't bad, just not spectacular).

In "Step Brother"'s defense, the director is Adam McKay, the guy behind "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights". The problem with Ferrell's bad movies, as far as I can tell, has been writing. Filmmakers seem to be working with horrible scripts, then figuring they'll just let Farrell improvise the material. Sometimes it turns out really great because Ferrell is a brilliant comedic actor. But he's not a writer, and his worst films often come off as just a series of amusing skits.

John C. Reilly will be by Farrell's side, and I have mixed feelings there, too. Reilly is also a great comedic actor...he was the bright spot in "Walk Hard", which had its moments. But, as I said before, I thought "Talladega Nights" was overrated. Moving away from the cliched world of red state hickdom should help.

Anyway, are you planning on checking it out? Is Will Ferrell still the best comedic actor out there? How many "Blades of Glorys" would he have to make for you to ignore the guy completely?

(Speaking of comedies, I watched "Hot Rod" last night per Dan Gibson's endorsement. The movie received a dismal 39% from Rotten Tomatoes, and I have no idea why. It was really, really excellent and very, very funny.)


A Depressing Read For Your Monday

Most people aren't big Monday fans, so why not pile on to the misery with a long, depressing (but informative) newspaper article? I generally have little affection for my former employers at Village Voice Media, but occasionally the chain comes up with a great piece, and "What Mainstream Publishers Don't Want You to Know About Door-to-Door Magazine Sales" certainly qualifies, albeit with one of the clunkiest headlines I've seen recently. Here in suburban Arizona, we get these kids at our door all the time, but I'm certainly going to look at them differently next time they stop by.


The "Rare Insight" of Gary Smith

I caught this piece on NPR while driving Mindy to work. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, getting up at 5:30 am on a Saturday, but it was an immensely touching glimpse of what being an honest and true witness of Christ looks like through the eyes of men and women he was called to. I hope you enjoy.


The Dan Gibson Pop Culture Minute

When Jordan asked me if I would be interested in posting to this blog, at first I (obviously) said no. I have a very strict policy about doing any work for free and it turns out Jordan hordes all the riches from the Burnside empire and spends it at the Mac Store. Not that I don't understand or appreciate his kleptocratic reign here, but I thought I could better spend my time stealing his ideas and presenting them as my own over at iTunes. However, after awhile, I reconsidered. Why not use this blog as an opportunity to present a pop culture wrap up from my incredibly jaded point of view? When people aren't paying for a service, their expectations are right at the level that I want them: minimal. So, on Thursdays when I'm not too busy or something particularly interesting comes in the mail, I'll present the Dan Gibson Pop Culture Minute here on the Burnside blog: a somewhat brief guide to all the pop culture news that I've filtered through my brain as the week goes by. Hopefully, you'll get something out of it, and Jordan will continue to let me drink beer from his fridge. Seems like a win/win.

Of course, if you're the sort of person who loves capes, Christian Bale or both, July 18th has been marked on your calendar for sometime. It's the opening weekend for the Dark Knight, the second volume in the third version (that's not confusing at all) of the Batman film saga. While Christopher Nolan (best known previously for not seizing the opportunity to let Robin Williams float on a iceberg hopelessly off to sea during the filming of Insomnia) did an excellent job resetting the film franchise with Batman Begins in 2005, inevitably every single bit of press for the new film will focus on the performance of Heath Ledger, the now deceased above average actor and James Dean of the Myspace generation. David Edelstein, one of America's most reliable critics, didn't seem to enjoy the movie, calling it "jumbled and sadistic", which is not exactly a great tagline for future television ads. It's certainly hard to imagine watching Heath Ledger die on screen (which I'm assuming he does) is really going to make for a delightful time at the movie theater, so possibly it would be best to stick to seeing Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl (which would have been better served with the subtitle Attack of the Hoboes) or Wall-E if you prefer your entertainment, say, entertaining.

Speaking of Wall-E, there are few things I enjoy more than good ol' Christian backlash to popular entertainment, and this week, the hit pieces from the right started flying for the latest film from Pixar. One particularly enjoyable rant from the comments section of Christiananswers.net managed to say the film wasn't "for kids who believe in God" and accused Al Gore of being the director (to Al's credit, he does have an Oscar). Another poster complained that the film portrays "Americans as excessively overweight slobs", although one has to wonder if whoever made that comment has been to the mall recently. There's certainly room to criticize or discuss the messages of Wall-E, or even the state of our country's health and/or enviroment, but to get terribly upset by a remarkably family friendly film in the midst of our "kill 'em all" era of entertainment might be a little misguided. Plus, one of the negative reviews suggested seeing Kung Fu Panda instead, but isn't that film filled with Oriental philosophy? Between that, all the feng shui around and the rapidly expanding Panda Express franchise, maybe that's the threat to our society we should be concerned about.

On a much lighter note, Jordan promised Jonas Brothers news, and I intend to deliver. Those adorable kids are performing on the Pete Wentz hosted FNMTV this Friday (with repeats every two hours or so during the week). The group's new album comes out on August 12th, and considering that the Camp Rock soundtrack features only a few JoBro tracks and has been in the top ten since its release, one has to assume that the band's full length release will storm the charts. For anyone outside their pre-teen target audience, it's hard to figure out what to think about the Jonases. Their music is poppy, but bland, but on the other hand, considering how lousy most music is these days (or patently offensive), maybe the Jonas Brothers are our new Monkees, clean cut guys impersonating actually pop stars with decent songs performed with enthusiasm. They sort of defy you to hate them, in a way. Let the Jonas magic draw you in.

If you insist on listening to music that makes you seem cooler, it's hard to resist the lure of the Fleet Foxes from Seattle.

White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes

If you're hanging out with anyone with a music blog, resist the temptation to name drop the band, as the band's release of an EP earlier this year has allowed music snobs to build up their hipster backlash in advance of the band's full length album release this June. However, there's probably some value left if you actually enjoy music more than the perceived value of your own opinions. The band's label, Sub Pop, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary and the Fleet Foxes are part of Sub Pop's resurgence in the last five years or so with releases from indie acts that have crossover appeal such as the Shins, Iron & Wine and everyone's favorite coffee shop favorite, the Postal Service. Fleet Foxes fit into that sort of mold well, perfectly blending the sound of 70's lite rock radio and our decade's indie rock. Fleet Foxes aren't going to devastate you with their innovation or brilliance, but if you're looking for music that's a little hipper than the adult contemporary tunes of John Mayer with a little more hipster credibility, you'd do well with their new album.

Helpful hint: if you want to outsnob the snobs, drop into conversation somehow that Sub Pop is a "faux indie, since half the label is owned by Warner anyhow". However, if there is an opportunity to use this line, you might want to reconsider where you're choosing to hang out.

As an quick bonus, this weekend also marks the release of the film version of Mamma Mia!, the long awaited convergence of Pierce Bronsnan and the ABBA catalog. Why, oh why did it take until 2008 for that magical pairing to happen? Everyone loves ABBA, and for good reason, but it's easy to overlook Frida's post breakup solo work. Ok, you're not missing too much by sticking to just owning ABBA Gold, but her 1982 track "I Know There's Something Going On", might be one of the only listenable recorded works featuring the input of Phil Collins, who produced the track.

It's no "Dancing Queen", but the song certainly has its early 80's charms.

Next week, more Jonas Brothers news and whatever else I can dig out of the dredges of the pop culture universe.

Savior on Capitol Hill


Presenting the official video for Derek Webb's "Savior on Capitol Hill"


A New Member of the Team

Folks, I'd like to introduce you to a new member of our blogging team.

Dan Gibson is a Phoenician who's been a great friend throughout our transplant, providing moving assistance, fantastic conversation, slabs of babyback ribs and great MarioKart battles. He's an accomplished blogger, a frequent contributor to the popular Idolator music blog. He also works for iTunes, creating those iTunes Essential lists. In particular, Dan created the Portland list on iTunes, which confirmed my long held suspicion it was influenced heavily by Burnside. When I asked him about it, Dan denied stealing from me until I pointed out the similarities.

Anyway, Dan is a great guy and he'll be commenting on various aspects of pop culture. He assured me last night he has a lot to say regarding the Jonas Brothers.

You can read Dan's posts at Idolator here and make Facebook friends with him here. That should keep you busy on this lazy Wednesday.

Welcome to the fold, Dan!


The Problem With Dogs

I'm a big fan of dogs. I grew up with a great golden retriever named Rachel. I have a dog of my own now, and she's awesome, too. Here's a picture of Athena:

Okay, she's not really that small anymore:

And I'm a big fan of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. It's important to be a fan of the Dog Whisperer when you have a pit bull, because responsible ownership is a high priority.

The deal with trusting Cesar Millan's techniques is you can't humanize your dog. Your dog is a dog. Your dog is not a little human trapped in a furry body with bonecrushing jaws. It's an important thing to realize. But there's a downside.

For instance, there's the realization that dogs don't have senses of humor. That's a big downside.

It's not dogs can't be funny. They can do funny things and act in funny ways. Athena used to go on these insane furies where she'd run around the house in a figure eight, leaping over anything and darting around chairs. Around and around. It was pretty funny.

But then I learned that wasn't a way dogs should act. It's them trying to get their energy out because you didn't walk them. Then it's not very funny.

The biggest issue with this lack of comedic sense comes on nights like tonight, when Mindy is working an overnight shift and I just have Athena and the cats to keep me company. On regular nights, if I sing some song and change the lyrics to fit my particular situation (like singing "The Office" theme song and changing all the words to a variation of 'Athena'), at least Mindy will give me a humoring half-smile. But Athena doesn't do anything. She just sits there and looks at me, or maybe brings me a rope to pull on.

If evolution is real, I ask our Intelligent Designer to give dogs the ability to understand human humor. Or at least the ability to laugh.


Joe Cocker, Translated

Wow. And I thought I knew every song from the Lennon and McCartney library.

Do it now! I'm here!

Many years ago, upon discovering it was the first Rated-R movie we'd both seen, my friend John and I made a pact to initiate our future children by watching the movie "Predator". When the kids were old enough, of course. And they'd probably have to be boys.

Well, a recent ultrasound revealed John and his wife Leslie will be having a son. The time, while still some years out, is imminent. Kids today grow up so fast, so maybe we'll have to watch it as soon as he can speak?

I was reminded of this pact today after watching this video on Slate.com exploring the political ramifications that movie had. Two governors and an aspiring Senator have sprouted from Dutch's ragtag band of cynical mercenaries.

Fortunately, the guy who played Mac isn't eyeballing the political realm. That guy sucked. I'd still like to see Carl Weathers make some sort of run for local office. He'd be great at promoting conservation.

"Could 'Predator' be the single most important collection of fictional action heroes in our county's political history?" asks narrator Jim Festante. Yes, it could, but that doesn't undermine its accomplishments as being totally awesome. Here's a brief but accurate rending of the film if you've never seen it, which I assume fits most of our lady readers.

Is that Old Dirty Bastard?

Burnside Endorses: The Big Green Egg

One of our wedding presents, and a very generous one at that, was a Big Green Egg.

Over the last year at the grocery store, I got into the whole foodie thing. Working around great food will do that. I was fortunate enough to work with a guy named Phil. Phil was some sort of barbecue Grand Champion or something or other in the State of Oregon. The point is, he was good at barbecue. He was from North Carolina, too, for all you purists.

The point is, I wanted to start smoking some meats. I even tried smoking a chicken at Don's house on a homemade smoker left behind by the previous tenants. It was basically two terra cotta pots stacked on top of each other with a hot plate plugged in at the bottom. It did not work very well, and my drive to become a BBQ expert was unsated.

Then, after the wedding, I found out someone was getting me a Big Green Egg, and I was overjoyed. Supposedly, they're the best smokers out there, but they also work equally well as a grill (you can stoke it easily to 700 degrees) and you can even use them as ovens. The Eggs are marvels of heat-retention and control.

As the delivery date neared, I got more and more excited. The day it was to arrive, I had a chicken coated in rub, applewood chunks soaking overnight, and a whole bag of lump charcoal ready to go.The Egg, however, was not as ready. I cracked open the box and it was shattered all to hell.

Fast forward three weeks later, a replacement finally arrived. I even went to the shipping center here in Phoenix just to avoid the risk the delivery driver might subject it to.

This is getting long, so I'll just get to the endorsement:

I figured cooking on the Big Green Egg would yield terrific results. I figured I'd gnaw on a savory chicken thigh and experience a marked improvement on my previous attempts to smoke chicken on our gas grill. I figured there would be a noticeable improvement.

It was the best chicken I'd ever had. Period.

Hyperbole? Probably. I have an issue with that. But it was still awesome. The next day, I smoked some ribs and those were amazing, too. The Big Green Egg is awesome, and while no physical object can bring true happiness, you'd have a hard time convincing me after inhaling a tender smoked morsel of babyback meat.

Big Green Eggs are up there in price, but if you have an itch for true barbecue, Phil would suggest a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which are priced around $200.

Just My Luck?

Ever have one of those moments where everything just falls right into place? They seem to happy to me all the time. Sometimes I think it's God doing stuff for me. Other times I think it's just dumb luck. But in each case, I usually try to thank God for what is going on, even if He had nothing to do with it.

A few weeks ago my wife and I flew to Florida for a few days. We got a late start to the airport, and it took me longer to park the car in the economy lot than I had planned. When I finally reconnected with Erica in the terminal, she let me know that 2 US Air employees had just done us a HUGE favor. Erica had been waiting for me so we could check our bags, but the bag check cutoff for our flight was 11:45am. It was 11:44am and I was still on the shuttle. Thankfully, a random US Air employee asked Erica when her flight was leaving, and upon realizing that we were about to miss our bag check, she pretended to be me and checked my bags for me (don't tell Homeland Security). We made our way to our gate and got on our flight with a few minutes to spare.

As we were boarding, we were talking about how amazing it was that this US Air employee had asked Erica about her flight 1 minute before bag check cutoff, and how great it was that she bent the rules a bit to make sure we made it. "Thanks God!", I said out loud so only my wife could hear, truly thankful that we weren't missing the flight.

Only, after I said it I had a flashback to sitting on the couch watching any number of annoying reality TV show contestants give glory to God for things that, at the time, seemed completely trivial. I've seen people thank God for not getting voted out on Survivor, thank God for winning the Power of Veto on Big Brother, and...wait for it...thank God for catching a plane on The Amazing Race.

I had two immediate thoughts:

1. I was probably a bit harsh in my criticizing of the game show contestants for the way they thanked God. Whether or not God had anything to do with their good fortune, in those moments they felt connected to Him and they let Him know they were thankful. I think that's a good thing.

2. I have no idea how much or how little God is involved in my life. That's tough to admit, but honestly, I have no idea. I THINK He is involved a lot, but honestly I don't know. Sure, there are billions of people on earth, and most of them are facing crises more tragic than missing a flight, but I don't buy that "importance" argument when it comes to God choosing which problems to solve. If He truly is God, then their is no pecking order for Him. He could fix them all in one instant if he wanted to, from the world's biggest problems to the world's most trivial.

Most of us thank God for the bigger things in our lives, but what about the seemingly trivial stuff? How much is God responsible for? If you do draw a line, where do you draw it?

Me, I guess I tend to give God credit for most of the good stuff in my life. Whether it's another healthy year for my kids, a meal that we can sit down to eat as a family, or making a flight that we should have missed. I'm not convinced He has anything to do with directing a kind US Air employee our way, but I wouldn't put it past Him either. After all, the Bible says He knows how much hair I have on my head.

It doesn't get much more trivial than that, does it?


Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

Quite a while ago (like, 3 months), an interview ran on Christianity Today regarding a movie based on Blue Like Jazz.

It's a great interview, and it fills readers in on a lot.

I had an opportunity to sit in on some of the writing sessions for the Blue Like Jazz screenplay. Those sessions brought out some of my favorite moments from the last few years, including but not limited to snow-kayaking around West Moreland.

For what it's worth, and from what I know, you should be looking forward to the screen adaptation of Blue Like Jazz.

It's going to be great.

That's all I'll say.


The Power of Love

I was watching the Today Show this morning when I saw these two folks holding these signs. I had to rewind and pause to make sure it said what I thought it said.

Blue Sign: "I Married My Teacher and I'm in NYC to tell the World!" (arrow at the bottom of sign pointing to yellow sign holder with chinese(?) writing inside the arrow.

Yellow Sign: (chinese writing) - NYC - (more chinese writing) - (arrow pointing to blue sign holder that says "I love Him")

Now, I'm assuming that the signs are identical, and the Chinese writing in his sign says "I love her" and the Chinese writing on her sign says "I married My Student and I'm in NYC to tell the world!". If that's true it's very cute.

But I'm not committing to that explanation.

In fact, here's a better guess at what the chinese writing on their signs might say...

Yellow Sign: (chinese writing says: "I have an elderly woman in an aqua sweater tied up in the basement of my SoHo apartment here in NYC. I do not intend to harm her, but it is clear that she is the main obstacle between me and the man that I love. You see, on Tuesday morning my horoscope said "Love at first sight is real, and just might pay you a visit today." I do not usually read the horoscopes, but this newspaper literally blew into my face as a i lay asleep on a park bench in Central Park. No, I don't know how I got there considering I was at a party in the village the night before, but that's beside the point. The point is, I woke up on a park bench next to a man who was everything I've ever dreamed of. The only problem was, he was sucking face with someone who looked like his grandmother. It was very disturbing. But as their lip-lock broke, and I got a good look at his face, I knew that this was the man my horoscope spoke of. It was love at first sight. I had to get rid of Grandma SpitSwap of course, but that was easy. I lured her away with a 40%-off coupon for pantyhose and now she's comfortably cable-tied to my hot water heater. And now with her out of the way I can finally tell this guy how I feel. I've been following him for a few days, but I can't get up the nerve to say it. So I made this sign, and I'm hoping he sees it.") Inside arrow: "I Love Him"

and of course, the guy's sign says:

Blue Sign: "I Married My Teacher and I'm in NYC to tell the World!"

chinese writing inside arrow says: "Please help me! This asian woman has been stalking me since I arrived in the Big Apple on Tuesday, and it's really freaking me out. The funny thing is, about the time she showed up, my wife (who used to be my teacher, incidentally) went missing, and I haven't been able to find her. She is about 5'2" with gray hair, glasses, and a thinning perm. She was last seen wearing a blue cardigan and pale yellow slacks, holding a newspaper and a cane. She's 71 years old, and walks with a slight limp because of a bad hip and terrible bunyons. We met in high school where she was my Trigonometry teacher. I was 17, she was on Medicare. We had to hide our love at first of course...well actually, we still have to hide our love. That's why we got married in Vegas over summer break. And that's why we never let anyone see us together in public. It's a shame we had to keep something so pure and passionate a secret...UNTIL TODAY! That's why I came to NYC, to tell the World that I married my teacher! So there you go world! Me and Mrs. Henderson, I mean, Me and Eileen are in love! Put that in your IV Bag and circulate it! And, if you've seen an elderly, smoking hot woman wandering aimlessly around Mid-town Manhattan, please tell her to come to Rockefeller Center to find me. I miss her...and she needs her Centrum Silvers.)


Time to Get Your Kart On!

I realize the odds aren't good, but if you just so happen to have a Nintendo Wii and also happen to have Mario Kart for your Wii, then I suggest you join Dan Gibson and I for some online racing. It's a serious blast.

If you fit this criteria, post your friend code in the comments. My friend code is 2234-8398-3188.

Also, I will smoke you.

Goodbye, Old Friends

The end of an HBO Original Series is always sad for me. It's why I tend to delay things as much as possible. It's why I didn't pay for HBO for the last season of "The Wire"...I'd rather wait until it's on DVD and breathlessly await the next Netflix arrival.

So far, I've seen the series finales of "The Sopranos" and "Carnivale". With both, I constantly considered how I'd never watch these characters fresh again. The worlds opened up by HBO original programming are so rich and beyond common television, they become complete worlds, worlds you hate to leave forever.

Tonight, I'll watch the final episode of "Deadwood". The show, like "Carnivale", was cut off prematurely, and there have been rumors of a brief miniseries to tie storylines up. Rumors go back and forth, but I'm going to treat this as the last time I'll ever step into the world of 1870's Deadwood, South Dakota.

"Deadwood" isn't my favorite show on HBO, but the writing is framed in glorious prose. One of the best DVD extras I've ever seen was a look at the process behind David Milch's writing during the second season. He's known to spend hours on a single paragraph, shifting the words back and forth repeatedly. One of his co-writers remarked Milch was the only writer he'd ever seen who, with every single edit, made a line of dialogue better. "Deadwood" is probably best known for its ornate tapestries of profanity (the f-word is used 2,980 times, with an average of 1.56 uses every minute). But concerns over language belie the beauty of "Deadwood"'s dialogue, where characters speak a Shakespearean form of Civil War-era letters. It's difficult to imagine another writer who could pull it off.

I'll most miss Al Swearengen, who went from one of television's greatest villains to one of television's best anti-heroes, replaced by George Hearst as an even greater villain. I'll miss Bullock's perfectionism, Merrick's frontier town literacy and Alma's East Coast sensibilities. The only thing I won't miss is Calamity Jane's obnoxious drunkeness. I still don't understand her character's purpose.


Arizona Killed the Radio Star

Thank you for that recovery, Bryan. Artfully done.

Portland is probably considered one of the top five American cities (New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Austin would be the others...sorry, Seattle, but screw you). It's known for an eclectic mix of indie bands, varying in sound from underground hip hop (Lifesavas) to literary folk rock (The Decemberists) to leftist punk (The Thermals), and many more.

I'm not sure if it's recognized as a radio station mecca, but it certainly isn't bad. KNRK, the town's alternative rock station, undertook a massive soul search a few years ago, opening up their playlist and identity to the people of Portland. It's not perfect, but it got a lot better after that. There's a solid adult alternative station at KINK 101.9. Even the pop stations have their high points, like 105.1 The Buzz's employment of the awesome and legendary Daria O'Neill.

Anyway, along with a strong local NPR presence, Portland radio was good enough to keep the iPod at home. There might be points where nothing good was on the main stations, and maybe NPR was doing another fundraising drive, but those times were few and far between.

Not so in Phoenix.

Radio down here is awful. Awful. I find myself just scanning and scanning, and nothing decent ever comes up besides NPR. I know it's good to be informed, but being reminded this bastard exists every morning at 6 am does not help my mood.

Fortunately, NPR isn't all African despots and sleepy liberal analysis. There's always This American Life and Fresh Air. Plus, drives around the city on Saturday have turned me on to a spectacular comedy show, Jonathan Goldstein's Wiretap. If you have an hour, I strongly suggest listening online. It's very, very funny.

I mean, there isn't even an Adult Alternative station here. Wouldn't the Phoenician people benefit from a little Toad the Wet Sprocket and Feist for their drive home?

Provider of Intelligent Discussion

So...after yesterday's post I thought maybe I should even things out a bit...

A few questions for discussion, pick one (or more) and share:

+ Will the individual faiths of John McCain and Barack Obama (as known through their writing and what is reported) influence your vote in November? Do you think it should or shouldn't?

+ Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and if not, how does that affect your view of Jesus?

+ Whom do you believe is primarily responsible for caring for the poor and oppressed: the government, the local church, or the individual?

(see that, I'm so above all that potty talk)


That is one GROSS couple!

Well, this might be my last post here at the Burnside Writers Blog. Not sure if they'll keep me around with all the potty talk I'm about to drop. I know the following post is going to offend some people. I fully realize that. But honestly, I don't care. We all poop, fart, burp, and pee. Why can't we talk about it? I say we can. (at least on the internet where we don't have to look each other in the eyes).

Here's a few questions for you to go thru and score. The "SO" in these questions refer to your Significant Other. I'm curious as to where your relationship falls on the gross scale. If you're a lone ranger, you can play along and score yourself based on your ideal relationship. We'd love to hear where you all draw the line. (Wait, I take that back...I probably shouldn't speak for the other writers on this one). I'd love to see where you all draw the line.

Ready? Me neither...here we go!

+ If you are comfortable walking naked around your SO, +1
+ If you have ever used your SO's toothbrush, or vice versa, +2
+ If you have ever used your SO's toothbrush, or vice versa, WITHOUT thinking "this is gross!", +2
+ If you and your SO encourage loud belching, +2
+ If your SO makes you leave the room to fart, -3
+ If you routinely pass gas around each other, +2
+ If you waft your gas at your SO, or you try to trap them in the cloud, +3
+ If you've ever farted directly on your SO's head while they slept, +5
+ If going #1 in front of your SO is no big deal, +1
+ If going #2 in front of your SO is no big deal, +2
+ If you have ever brushed your teeth in the same bathroom while your SO was going #2, or vice-versa, +4
+ If you have ever not flushed in order to show off your #2 to your SO, +5
+ If the act of peeing in the shower is permitted in your house, +2
+ If the act of peeing in the shower is encouraged in your house, +3
+ If you have ever peed on your SO while they are in the shower, +5
+ If you or your SO have ever peed in the sink, +5
+ If you sharted yourself, would you tell your SO? If yes, +3. If no, -1
+ If you have ever mooned your SO, just for fun +2
+ If you and your SO have ever mooned other people, just for fun +4
+If you are too embarrassed to take this quiz with your SO, -2

Let me know if I missed any good (yet tasteful) questions...and let me know how you scored in the comments.

and Jordan, I apologize in advance for the potty talk.

Journey Through the Tenth Grade (continued from page 15)

“No,” you say. “Let’s just stay here and study, then you can go back with me to my house at 8.”

“Back to your house?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m hosting a Bible study.”

“Oh, ok” she says.


You spend the next hour working algebra problems while Julie Anne sends text messages her friends. Then when the clock strikes eight, you close up the books and the two of you walk back to your house. When you arrive, Jason and thirty of his friends are waiting in the drive way.

“Hello everyone,” you say. They say hello back, and you all go inside. Everyone takes a seat in the living room while you fix juice and cookies in the kitchen. You are about to bring out the refreshments when Jason enters the room.

“What’s up,” you say.

“Not much,” Jason says. “You need a hand with that?”

“No thanks,” you say, and begin to walk towards the living room when Jason stops you.

“Look,” he says. “I know you wanted to host a Bible study here tonight, but I think we should do something else.”

“What is that?” you ask.

“Well,” he begins. “I have recently started worshiping the devil, and I was hoping you would let me talk to everyone about it, instead of studying the Bible. What do you think?

If you decide to let Jason turn your Bible study into a devil worshiping party, turn to page 21. If you decide to rebuke Jason, and show him the error of his ways, turn to page 19.