Friday, July 31, 2009

North Korean Fast Food Restaurant

It was inevitable. We just saw the first North Korean beer ad on TV. Now, we have the first fast food restaurant. It's just a matter of time before we have the North Korean premier of The Biggest Loser.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Are They Drinking at the Obama Beer Summit?

Obama (Bud Light): Obama can't be elitist so all microbrews and foreign beers are out. I assume he's health conscious so he wants something that's less filling and tastes great. Except Bud Light does not taste great.

Professor Gates (Red Stripe): I kinda understand why he chose a Jamaican beer. But ultimately, Red Stripe is owned by some faceless British conglomerate. Plus, it tastes like piss. How about a domestic beer from a minority-owned/operated microbrewery instead?

Sgt. Crowley (Blue Moon): Although I've never tried this pseudo-microbrew owned by Coors, I've heard good things about it. In this three-way beer competition, I declare Sgt. Crowley the winner.

Although unintentional, what are the chances that Gates and Crowley picked beers with colors in their names?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kingfish Bar Oakland Re-Opening

I must admit that I spent many evenings in the 1990s at the Fish. I was such a fan, I even had a Kingfish t-shirt. I played my first game of shuffleboard here and had some memorable nights with great friends. It was run-down and in a terrible, out of the way location. But it had charm, history, and cheap beers.

Frankly, it had been so long since I'd stepped foot in there, I didn't realize that it was closed. But thankfully, it is re-opening on Saturday. It seems this real estate implosion has a silver lining after all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jabba the Hutt's Sail Barge And Moffett Field Hangar Connection?

George Lucas denied the connection between those big white cranes at the Port of Oakland and the AT-AT walkers. He also denied that the San Pablo/MacArthur trench exit inspired the surface of the Death Star.

But what about Hangar One at Moffett Field and Jabba the Hutt's sail barge?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wheeler Dealers: Porsche 928

Fellow car nut,

Do not click below if you want any semblance of life. This show is highly addictive and very time consuming. You have been warned.

I'm leafing through the September 2009 issue of Automobile and it has a buying guide for Porsche 928s. I've always coveted one of these, but an acquaintance just bought one in fairly good condition and the cost of repairs is about to surpass the purchase price.

Wheeler Dealers is a British show. Over two 30 minute episodes, the host buys a used classic in mediocre condition and has his friend Edd fix it up for resale. The episode below is for a chocolate brown 928. This show is light years ahead of the crap we have in America.

Don't say you haven't been warned. Your addiction starts here.

Other episdoes include Lancia Delta Integrale, Merc 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth, Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce, BMW 635CSi, Lotus Esprit, Citroen DS, Bentley Mulsanne, and Audi Ur Quattro.

BMW E24 Cabriolet and E28 Touring Wagons

In the go-go 80s of Gordon Gecko, coachbuilders customized your BMW anyway you wished. P. Oldenhof, a Dutch company, created this E24 6-series cabriolet and E28 5-series touring wagon.

But it seems like Schulz Tuning in West Germany was der konig of converting E28 sedans into wagons. The rear ends are flawless and quite beautiful.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Pick-Me-Up for Hungary GP F1 Fans

The mood has been somber since Felipe Massa's crash. We all hope he has a speedy and complete recovery. He's probably going to be out for the rest of the season. So who is going to replace him at Ferrari? Is it going to be test driver Marc Gene, who is rumored to be in talks with Campos GP? Or will it be Luca Badoer, record holder for driving the most number of races (48) without scoring a single point? Maybe it will be Michael Schumacher.

Well, Hungaroring fans, to cheer you up, check out this car cleaner commercial from the Communist days of Hungary. I can't believe that the censors allowed the pitchman to covet such an ostentatious Mercedes W123. The end of the ad is sure to bring a smile.

Alfa Romeo 1900M Matta: Coolest Tour de France Support Vehicle Ever

As this year's Tour de France wraps up, I can't help but notice the support cars. I found this Alfa Romeo Jeep from the 1952 Tour. More details about the Matta here, including one modified with an Alfa Montreal engine.

Red Rotel Tour Buses

WTF? I'm driving along in Walnut Creek and see a big red bus behind me. The back half of the roof is a few feet higher than the front half. It looks European but I can't identify the brand. And the paint is kinda faded. Is this a vintage Ferrari Renntransporter, making an early run to Monterey?

I want a better look. I slow down on the freeway to allow it to pass, pissing off the driver behind me. The behemoth passes by. The driver has five bags of crisps wedged next to his window. Three of them are opened and half-eaten. There are retirees sitting in the front of the bus in the passenger compartment. But the back half is a three-level sleeper! I pull behind it. It's got a new German EU plate and an old yellow Alaska plate.

It is a Rotel Tour ("rolling hotel") bus. Apparently, it's a German outfit that takes intrepid travelers all over the world in eccentric comfort.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ballot Stuffing Election Fraud In Kyrgyzstan

Wow, I've heard of it, but have never seen it. Until now.

Everything Back to Normal In Xinjiang

The Chinese government is doing all it can to win the public relations battle. It launched the website True Xinjiang, which tells the world that Hans and Uyghurs love each other like brothers, Rebiya Kadeer is a stooge of the CIA, and businesses are once again open in Urumqi. Case in point, the KFC in Urumqi's international bazaar has finally reopened after the riot. Hurray!

I recommend spending a few minutes on the site. Staff writers on The Onion could not make it more ridiculous.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BBC's Meet the Stans Documentary: Tajikistan

In this episode, we see a drug bust, a former warlord with a new white Daimler Super 8, a Mr. Bean impersonator, and Tajik soldiers playing volleyball!

Part 1:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

BBC's Meet the Stans Documentary: Uzbekistan

In 2003, BBC aired a series of travel documentaries starring Simon Reeve. He visited all of the Central Asian -stans, save Turkmenistan. In the Uzbekistan episode, we see a pop star, the secret police, and the tomb of Tamerlane. Plus, companion Shahida Tulyaganova is a real hoot, an Uzbek version of Anthony Bourdain's Russian sidekick Zamir.

Part 1:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Domino Effect: Central Asia Version

Instability in Afghanistan begets instability in Tajikistan begets instability in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Follow Kyrgyzstan Election On Twitter

The Kyrgyz election is tomorrow (today). The NYT just did a piece about how we don't want to piss off the current president because we need Manas to stay open to supply our boys and girls in neighboring Afghanistan.

If you want to follow the action on the ground, click here.

China-Uyghur Conflict Spills Into Oz

An Australian named Jeff Daniels made a documentary called The 10 Conditions of Love. It is about exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer. The film is going to be shown at the Melbourne film festival in August and Kadeer will be there at the screening.

China, obviously, is not happy. It first demanded that the film not be screened. When organizers rejected the "request", the Chinese government pressured its own filmmakers to withdraw their films from the Melbourne film festival. It's all nicely summed up here.

I don't know if China realizes that its bullying is actually helping the Uyghur cause. No doubt the Chinese government will bus in Chinese immigrants from all over Australia to the film festival, hand them red Chinese flags, and make them "protest" against that splitist (my favorite word of the month) Kadeer.

CNN Australia coverage

The 10 Conditions of Love trailer

Ken Block Top Gear James May Subaru WRX Air Field

Monday, July 20, 2009

Best Citroen Advert Ever

My favorite clip is of Pope Paul VI (?) in the Citroen SM Presidentielle. I think it beats the Ferrari Mondial Popemobile. The 3/4 ass shot of the C6 ain't bad either.

Kaada's No You Don't (2002) Starring Citroen SM

The music, like the car, is weird.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Curry Sardines

Whoever is marketing sardines is doing a great job. This morning, there was a piece on NPR about them. And this article in the Post might as well be a brochure put out by the American Sardine Council. But the sardine's health and environmental benefits cannot be denied.

The narrator sounds like George Takei

Visiting (And Ranking) All Eight Casper's Hot Dogs Locations

As I get ready to write this, I come across an article called Foie Gras Palates, Hot Dog Pocketbooks, which talks about food writers and bloggers obsessively writing about donuts, burgers, and hot dogs during tough economic times. Well, that's exactly what I aim to do here.

First, I want to mention that Casper's is celebrating its 75th birthday by selling their basic Casper Dog for 75 cents all day on Tuesday, July 28th, at all eight of their locations.

Now, down to business. After getting the okay from my crack medical team, I decided to eat at all eight locations in a single day. But alas, I'm not 20 any more and I don't have the metabolism of a hummingbird. This is going to take much, much longer than I had originally anticipated. Below are my thoughts on four of the restaurants. I rank them at the end. Come back later when I review the other four and rank them all.

Walnut Creek Caspers Hot Dogs, 1280 Newell Hill Place
The Walnut Creek Caspers is situated in a strip mall kitty corner from Whole Foods. Though the building is newish, the management tried (forced) to make the dining area look old school, with mixed results. There's a retired couple eating and an old man enters just before me. They must be Rossmoor residents. I wonder if they are just hankerin' for a hot dog or if they are here because of the lousy economy.

Only one employee worked there. She was the cook and the cashier. She wasn't friendly and she wasn't surly. Let's say she was apathetic. I got the chili dog ($3.49). I eat it with a spork and knife. The chili was wet and bland. I always fancied myself a fan of chili dogs, but I don't think I've ever had a good one. The highlight was the steamed bun-- it was sweet, spongy, but firm.

Pleasant Hill Caspers Hot Dogs, 6 Vivian Drive

Ah, much better. As I pull up, I see that this location is much older and more traditional than the Walnut Creek one. This is the home of Dolores Larkin, the Hot Dog Lady, who has been serving dogs since 1955.

Inside, it is much more crowded and the staff is friendlier. I got a regular Casper Dog with ketchup ($2.69). I let the cook put on the ketchup and she put too much on. I spend much of my mealtime wiping excess ketchup off of my dog.

As I walk back to my car, I feel gross. And I've only had two hot dogs. How do Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi do it?

Richmond Caspers Hot Dogs, 2530 MacDonald Avenue
I've lived in some sketchy neighborhoods, so I can say with authority that the Richmond Caspers is in a so-so neighborhood. The clientele is definitely Hillary-Clinton-hard-working-blue-collar.

I'm growing tired of hot dogs so I order a chicken dog ($2.89). It's supposedly 80% chicken and 20% turkey. What can I say, I'm a health freak. I don't know what toppings to choose so I ask the cook to put on what she likes on hers-- mustard tomato, and onion.

I take a bite. The chicken dog definitely does not taste like a regular hot dog. It's a good combination with the toppings. But then, the aftertaste of the chicken dog hits me. It's gamey, almost funky. Oh dear.

Albany Caspers Hot Dogs, 545 San Pablo Avenue

Architecturally speaking, this is the most interesting so far. It reminds me of 1970s apartment buildings, and for some reason, Sea Ranch along the Sonoma-Mendocino coast. The place was packed with customers.

As I wait in line, I realize that this place has virtually zero overhead. There is no kitchen. It's just a steamer for the buns and dogs (a steel contraption divided into three compartments suspended over a three-burner gas stove), a crock pot for the chili, and a large fridge. The lack of frying means there's no greasy feel or smell when you walk in.

I order a hot link ($3.09). Is it better than Top Dog's? No. The dog itself is spicy hot and tasty, but the fundamental problem is that it's steamed and not grilled. Same goes for the steamed buns. It's just not quite right, although the Casper's hot link may be my favorite Casper's dog.

I think when it comes down to food preferences-- steamed versus grilled dogs, thin verus thick pizza crust-- it's all about what you grew up eating.

Oakland Caspers Hot Dogs, 5440 Telegraph Avenue

This is the most familiar Caspers location for me. It always bums me out when I go inside. It might be because there is no counter right next to the serving/prep area. It might be the echo-y, cavernous interior. It might be the poor lighting.

I order a beef tamale ($3.19). It is steamed in a plastic casing and looks like the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. I ask for cheese and tamale sauce on top. It is not authentic. There is no corn husk. The masa tastes overprocessed. I think I even chewed on a piece of tendon in the beef filling. But you know what? It's delicious. I think this is my favorite item at the hot dog joint.

Dublin Caspers Hot Dogs, 6998 Village Parkway
The service here is extremely friendly and the employees seem really happy. I order a Polish dog ($3.19) without any drinks and the lady there insists that I have a cup of water with my meal. It is much better than the bland, regular Casper dog and not as spicy as the almost too overpowering hot link. This is the best dog at Caspers.

Hayward Caspers Hot Dogs, 951 C Street

Architecturally, this is the most interesting. This is the local hangout and everyone knows each other here. It is also the only place where you can ignore the signs on the counter that say "NO COUNTER SERVICE". I get the chili cheese dog ($4.19). As I eat it with a spork and knife, I feel like I'm performing surgery. I am getting full.

Hayward Caspers Hot Dogs, 21670 Foothill Blvd.
Ah, my last Caspers. I thought I'd go out with a bang with a double dog ($4.19), which is just that-- two dogs in one bun. But I feel so bloated that I go the other extreme and just get a Caspers Jr. dog ($1.99). It might be an optical illusion, but it looks like a regular Casper dog, but with a smaller bun.

Caspers Hot Dogs Rankings
1. Dublin
2. Hayward (C Street)
3. Albany
4. Richmond
5. Pleasant Hill
6. Hayward (Foothill Blvd.)
7. Oakland
8. Walnut Creek

Miscellaneous factoid: All of the employees you see are union members. They get medical, pension, the works. I think that's awesome. I don't think I know of any other fast food place like it.

Wild Russia On Animal Planet Premieres Thursday

Attention Russophiles, Animal Planet will show a six-part series called "Wild Russia" this week. It will cover Kamchatka, Ussuriland, Caucasus, Siberia, the Arctic, and Urals.

Jon Gosselin's BMW M3 (E46)

Eureka, I've found it. For about a month now, there have been rumors that Jon Gosselin traded his white Nismo for a black BMW.

Here is the video of his ride (go to 2:12). Judging by the rims, it looks like a 2005 or 2006 BMW M3 with the Competition Package. In light of his recent poor judgment in everything from dating partner to wardrobe, trading in the Nissan for the BMW was actually a relatively good move. First, the BMW has rear seats. It has a usable trunk. And finally, he bought it used and a 2006 can be had for less than $40,000, so it's not like he's totally blowing his (his kids') money.

Update 1: Here is Jon's Porsche SUV.

Update 2: Here is Jon's Mercedes SUV.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

California And Nevada Car Museums

I just went to the California Automobile Museum (formerly the Towe Auto Museum) in Sacramento. The most interesting cars there include a Bricklin, an Avanti that set records in Bonneville, and a green Countach with gold phone dial rims. This is how it stacks up with the other major car collections in the area.

5. Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles. This may be the most popular museum, but I have to say it is my least favorite and the least memorable. Why? Because it is soulless.

4. California Automobile Museum, Sacramento. It's got a decent collection of American cars and a few foreign ones. The cars are on display in a dim, poorly ventilated, dilapidated warehouse. The signs describing the cars look like they were printed off of your old Okidata dot matrix printer. So why is it still better than the Petersen? Because it feels like it was put together by a bunch of guys who are passionate about cars.

2 (tie). National Automobile Museum, Reno. The Harrah Collection is diverse and interesting. My favorite is the Jerrari, an old Jeep Wagoneer with a Ferrari engine.

2 (tie). The Auto Collections at The Imperial Palace, Las Vegas. The collection is impressive-- almost half a dozen Ford RS200s, a Jaguar XJ220, even a street version of the Lancia Delta Integrale. It's got something for everyone and the inventory is huge. The only problem-- the displays are outdated and look cheap and haphazard. It really takes away from the experience.

1. Blackhawk Museum, Danville. This is the best car museum on the West Coast. On just two floors, the curator has assembled an extraordinary collection of automobiles, from a wooden Hispano-Suiza to a 16 cylinder Cadillac to a Hongqi limousine from Red China. The cars are displayed like jewelry at a high end store. The museum is world-class. It is exquisite.

Infiniti's First Convertible, the M30

When you want to be entertained on the net, you read blogs. When you want hard facts on the net, you go to a legitimate news site like Or do you? Today's Top Down section has a piece on Infiniti's convertible, the 2010 G37.

So what's the big deal? Well, the staffer spends the first two paragraphs excitedly pointing out that this will be Infiniti's first convertible, ever. Specifically,:

"Infiniti is rolling out its first convertible, the 2010 G37.

The luxury division of Japan's Nissan has been around since the early '90s and has fielded a varied lineup of cars, SUVs and crossovers, including some of the most fun and sportiest sedans on the market, but until now never had offered consumers a drop-top option."

Do these journalists ever think about fact checking? Shouldn't the guy in charge of writing articles about cars have some memory of the 1991-92 M30? Tsk tsk.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Found On EBay: 1992 Citroen XM In New York

I have never been more tempted to buy a car on eBay. This 1992 Citroen XM out of New York is in fantastic shape cosmetically. It's currently at $7,665 after 12 bids, with the reserve not yet met. My guesstimate is that the reserve is around $18,000.

I've written about the XM in America before. The few that came here were federalized by CXA. This is one of only 18 in the States. The amazing thing is that it has less than 25,000 miles, only one owner, and was garage kept. For any car buff with a little extra cash and a very understanding spouse, this is a great buy.

Notice early 1990s passive shoulder belt buckle

Speedo and odo in MPH

Don't believe my obsession with the XM?

Ramzan Kadyrov's Cars

As a rule of thumb, world leaders with large car collections are corrupt and/or ruthless. We saw an African example recently. Today, we look at the young leader of Chechnya, 32 year old President Ramzan Kadyrov.

The bearded car lover is in the news this week because of the kidnapping and assassination of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. Kadyrov's taste in cars is impressive and expensive. Among the dozens of cars in his collection, there are:

an oft-used armored Porsche Cayenne Turbo,

a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, and

a rare Lamborghini Reventon.

Chechen presidential convoy (can you tell he likes Cayennes?)

Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts, And Their Rides

Aside from ruthless dictators, only feted space travelers get to ride in glorious convertible sedans.

Yuri Gagarin in London in a Rolls-Royce.

Alan Shepard in a Lincoln Continental.

Taikonaut in a Chery Eastar

Mercedes W140 Coupe

With some W140 coupes (500SEC, 600SEC, CL500, CL600) hovering around $10,000, they are quite affordable. Every time I see one, I'm reminded of my strong belief that it is the ugliest Mercedes ever made.
It looks big (in a bad way), unruly, and blunt. There is zero sophistication.

What I dislike most about the W140 coupe is the thick black gap that separates the trunk lid from the rest of the rear end. It looks crude.

Which class is classier?

What Is A Mexican Jumping Bean?

Here's your answer:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Confusing An Alfa for A Datsun

This morning, I was stopped at a light behind an Alfa Romeo GTV. For a few seconds, I thought it was a Nissan 280ZX. Do I need to get my eyes checked?