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A special day, in so many ways

It figures. What I have been referring to up here on Weathering Heights as “The Winter It Didn’t Snow” was, in one fell swoop, erased from the record books on a day that only rolls around once every four years.

Yes, Leap Year Day 2012 was ushered in by the first significant snowfall we’ve had in this part of Upstate New York. It also re-ushered in this not-quite-daily, sort-of-weather-centric blog that has been on hiatus for a variety of reasons since last spring. In other words, winter is back and so am I.

What else is going on this special day? Some very odd things, to be sure.

  • North Korea, which has been content to rattle its nuclear saber while its population endures year after year of famine, surprisingly announced it has agreed to stop nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and nuclear enrichment activities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for food aid from the United States.
  • The credit card-sized $35 Raspberry Pi computer went on sale today, crashing its distributors’ websites on the way to selling out within hours of launch. The fully-programmable British PC can plug into any TV and can power 3D graphics and Blu-ray video playback.
  • In celebrity “news,” speculation is that Snooki is pregnant and Angelina is anorexic. If either requires more explanation, please skip to the next item.
  • A day after word leaked that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was going to require automakers to install rear-view cameras in all cars by 2014, the agency formally announced it would not.
  • And, finally, The Onion reported on the GOP presidential primary results from Michigan thusly: “Romney Thanks State He Was Born And Raised In For Just Barely Giving Him Enough Votes To Beat Total Maniac.”

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• They still exist???

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A 136-year-old organization, gathered in Wichita, KS, this week for its annual convention, has found something current to complain about.

It’s the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the same all-female organization that helped push through Prohibition back in 1919.

Their complaint? President Barack Obama’s suds summit with the Harvard prof and the local cop involved in a recent dustup that immediately became a cause celebre for people who love to play the race card — from either side.

Bunny Galladora (honest), WCTU media director, said the meeting sent the wrong message because “alcohol and conflicts are not a good combination.”

• Who’s picking the great chefs of Hollywood?

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Opinions may change after the release of the much-anticipated film “Julie & Julia” tomorrow, but for now moviegoers’ favorite film chef is a lot smaller than the late 6-foot-2 Julia Child and a lot less likely to be able to consume portions of wine as well as Julia did.

An online poll conducted by Blockbuster Inc. shows 45% of respondents selected Remy the kitchen rat voiced by Patton Oswalt in the animated “Ratatouille” their all-time favorite movie chef. Humans lined up behind him:

2. Kate Armstrong, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “No Reservations”
3. John Clansky, played by Adam Sandler in “Spanglish”
4. Babette, played by Stephane Audran in “Babette’s Feast”
5. Isabella Oliveira, played by Penelope Cruz in “Woman On Top”

The poll shows a more current bias than I’d have on my list which would have to include some great oldies:

1. Jacqueline Bissett as the gorgeous Natasha O’Brien in “Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?”
2. Tony Shalhoub as the temperamental Primo in “Big Night.”
3. Sihung Lung as harassed dad Master Chef Chu in “Eat Drink Man Woman”
4. Hector Elizondo as tastebud-impaired Martin Naranjo in “Tortilla Soup”
5. Steven Seagal as U.S. Navy cook Casey Ryback in “Under Siege”

• Sex with ducks

A novelty music video by “Garfunkel & Oates” (Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci) is a hoot. Or a quack.

It’s prompted by a Pat Robertson quote that legalizing gay marriage would lead to legalizing sex with ducks.

Pay particular attention to the chorus.

If you like this duo, you can see more of their videos here.

• Gordon F***king Ramsay

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Anyone who has been subjected to Gordon Ramsay’s famously foul tirades, or merely watched them on TV from a comfortable chair, probably has wondered why people don’t call him to account for his behavior.

I know, I know. Much of it is acting out for the TV cameras to increase controversy and drive up ratings. Anyone who has seen his slightly calmer British shows compared to his flaming U.S. versions knows that. But Ramsay is not that good an actor. Much of it has to be his real vinegar-y personality.

Thus, it isn’t terribly surprising that the prime minister of Australia has labeled him a “low life.” Here’s how it came about.

Ramsay was in Australia for a set of personal appearances. He was a guest on the popular talk show “A Current Affair,” hosted by Tracy Grimshaw. He apparently made insulting remarks to another host and a member of the studio’s cleaning staff. The next day, at a food-and-wine tasting event in front of a crowd of several thousand, Ramsay is alleged to have held up a photograph of a naked woman on all fours, with multiple breasts and a pig’s face, and commented: “That’s Tracy Grimshaw. I had an interview with her yesterday. Holy crap. She needs to see Simon Cowell’s Botox doctor.” He also called Grimshaw a lesbian.

Ramsay, 42, at first claimed the insults were “tongue in cheek,” but then issued a public apology. That hasn’t done anything to lessen the furor, especially since unbroadcast footage of Ramsay in the studio makeup room popped up in the Australian media. In it, he makes cutting comments about several staffers, including a make-up artist, a cleaner, and a weather presenter. He is heard to say: “F***ing breath stinking of caffeine. … Christ almighty. … Turn around the other way. I don’t want to see your fat a** that way.”

Grimshaw, 49, described the celebrity chef as an “arrogant narcissist” and a “bully.” She also said, “Obviously Gordon thinks that any woman who doesn’t find him attractive must be gay. For the record, I don’t and I’m not.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, “All I could describe his remarks as reflecting is a new form of lowlife. I just drew breath when I saw the sort of stuff which was said about her, I just think that’s offensive. Good on Grimshaw for giving him a left upper cut.”

This isn’t Australia’s first run-in with the salty Scot. Last year, when an episode of his “Kitchen Nightmares” show was broadcast, showing Ramsay using a four-letter expletive more than 80 times in 40 minutes, a flood of complaints prompted a parliamentary review. That resulted in instructions to TV networks to review the way they rate programs.

Given Ramsay’s rampant boorishness, it probably would be better to investigate why people annoyed or offended by such behavior — real or enhanced for show biz — bother watching any of his shows in the first place.

• Restaurants a go-go

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For months, now, I’ve been sensing a disconnect between the news reports that tell me people are cutting back on dining and drinking out because of the bad economy and the daily sight of crowded parking lots and even lines at the front doors of many restaurants, restaurant/bars, wine/tapas places and the like.

Now, The Harris Poll has released the findings of a new study of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18 by Harris Interactive that explains what I’ve been observing.

It says that while majorities still are inclined to decrease spending on eating out and entertainment, the numbers are better than they had been two months ago.

I find this survey a comforting one. As a person who has had a lifelong affinity for the restaurant business — as bus boy, dishwasher, line cook, sous chef and restaurant critic — I have become increasingly annoyed at the “how to cut costs” lists disseminated in print and online. Inevitably, one of the suggestions is to stop going to restaurants. Nothing like telling the populace at large to, in effect, boycott an industry that is a huge employer in this country.

It’s one thing to tell people to order wisely — from both financial and nutritional standpoints. It is another to try creating a trend toward harming the cooks, waitstaff, cleaning people, launderers, food and drink vendors, truck drivers and myriad others who have a share in the world of dining-out.

In March, three-quarters of Americans said they were decreasing spending on eating out (74%) and entertainment (74%). Now, two-thirds say they are reducing eating out at restaurants (66%) and 64% say they have reduced spending on entertainment.

Americans are cutting back on their spending over the next six months. Specifically:

• Similar to last month, two-thirds of Americans (64%) say it is not likely they will take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week while 36% say it is likely they will vacation away from home. In March, 35% of Americans said they would be likely to take a trip;

• Large purchases continue to suffer as more than three-quarters of Americans say it is not likely they will buy a new computer (79%), move to a different residence (81%), buy or lease a new car, truck or van (88%), purchase a house or condo (91%), start a new business (92%) or buy a boat or recreational vehicle (95%). These numbers are all very similar to March so people are still not ready to spend on the big-ticket items;

• One quarter of Americans (26%) say it is likely they will have more money to spend the way they want in the next six months which is up from 21% in March; and,

• People are slightly more likely to say that they are going to be saving or investing more money. Just over half of Americans (53%) say they are likely to save or invest more money while 47% are not likely to do so. In March, Americans were split on this as 50% said they were likely to save or invest and 50% said they were not likely to do so.

The pollsters note, “As people get ready for summer vacations, it seems as if the trips may be getting shorter and closer to home — more [damn, I hate this word] ‘daycations’ and [I hate this one even more] ‘staycations.’ But, even if summer vacations may be changing this year, there are small signs that things may be getting better, at least in terms of spending. More people are eating out and spending money on entertainment, something that the studios for the big summer blockbusters will be happy to hear, but the big ticket items are still not seeing any type of rebound. Those may take a little longer to see the slight recovery that the smaller expenses are seeing.”

Full data tables and methodology are available online.

• Kent State redux

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Next week is the anniversary of what has come to be known as the Kent State Massacre.

On May 4, 1970, four students at the Ohio college were killed and nine others wounded, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis, when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of young people. Some were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia on top of our continued involvement in Vietnam, others were merely passers-by.

That was then. This is now:

(From the Associated Press)

Police say a weekend brawl and riot near Kent State University in Ohio started with the arrest of a female for underage drinking.

Kent Police Chief James Peach says 50 people were arrested Saturday at the off-campus “College Fest.” The annual party marks the near-end of the school year but is not an approved Kent State activity.

Fires were intentionally set. Peach says a large crowd chanted and challenged police and firefighters by throwing bottles, rocks and other items. Most of the people arrested were charged with misdemeanor counts of failure to disperse.

Peach also said Monday that one police officer who responded, from nearby Lakemore, had a heart attack later at his home and died.