Friday, August 31, 2007
Matthew Kayser has written a practical article for wives concerned about their husband’s sexual orientation. He has come up with five signs to help out the curious spouse. Some tips like he “consistently viewed homosexual pornography” are particularly good, but some are a little vaguer.
Less than half the population has a husband, but we all have elected representatives and a surprisingly large number of them have turned out to be gay. Normally, I don’t advocate the outing of closeted celebrities, but politicians have power over our private lives and full disclosure would be helpful in making voting decisions.
Some politicians are loudly and proudly gay or lesbian. Others don’t disclose their sexuality because it may look bad as they vote for or against legislation that affects fellow gay Americans. As a public service, I have come up with some warning signs based on case history. So here are my six signs that your congressman (or governor or assemblyman) MIGHT be gay.
He gives money to someone in a public restroom. Very few legitimate financial transactions take place near toilets. While it is called filthy lucre, that is usually just a metaphor. Florida state representative Bob Allen allegedly included an offer for oral sex with his cash transaction. He has had several explanations about how this might appear gay, but really isn’t. I’m going to stay skeptical.
His boyfriend runs a call-boy ring out of the house. There are gay politicians on both sides of the aisles, but for some reason the threshold level for scandal for gay Democrats is higher. Barney Frank’s poor choice of boyfriends caused him some bad publicity at the time, but the voters seem to have forgiven him.
He has hot chats with teenage guys. Usually, straight elected representatives have very little reason to exchange masturbation technique tips with high school kids. Mark Foley was a little unclear on crossing this line until the parents of the kid came forward. Hopefully he has figured this out now.
He admits to having sex with a page. An even stronger sign would be if he admits to having sex with a male teenage page. Gerry Studds admitted to such an affair and was re-elected six more times.
He has an affair with his homeland security advisor. Even an affair with another grown adult could come to light like it did with New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy. While he eventually announced that he is a “gay American”, some people refuse to believe him.
He goes on television to announce that “I am not gay. I never have been gay.” Most revelations of your sexual orientation tend to be more private and usually clear up any misunderstanding pretty quickly. If, like Senator Larry Craig, you have to drag your poor wife onto a podium in front of television cameras to declare your relentless heterosexuality, some may feel you doth protest too much.
While these tips may not be all encompassing, they are important clues. What you do with this information is up to your personal political views. And if your elected official is spending a lot of time in airport bathrooms, he might not be gay. It could just be a bad prostate. Either way it’s a warning sign.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Any other indicators?
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
In a surprise announcement yesterday, Barney the Scottie announced that he is resigning as First Dog. Barney is the latest in a succession of White House pets to jump ship including recent departures by Fredo, Turd Blossom, and Scooter. In his formal statement, Barney stated that he was leaving to pursue outside squirrels and spend more time with his bitches. Barney’s sudden departure has pundits questioning the conventional wisdom of how to get a friend in Washington.
Barney was frequently criticized for being a lap-dog and accused of being too yippie to be a presidential pet. President George W. Bush has defending his choice by saying, “Barney might not be a goldie, but he is no French poodle and I am tired of his name being dragged through the mud like a bone.”
One controversy that has dogged Barney is his refusal to give his account of The Pretzel Incident, citing execu-pet privilege. Barney is the only witness to the events surrounding Bush’s mysterious fainting spell. Despite multiple subpoenas, Barney claims that the cat has got his tongue.
Left-wing blogs have raised unsubstantiated rumors about Barney’s whereabouts during the tragic drive-by killing of former First Pet Buddy Clinton. Barney has repeatedly stated that his accusers are barking up the wrong tree.
Another unconfirmed rumor is that Barney is in top secret negotiations with Socks The Cat to head up a bi-pet-ison anti-terrier-ist campaign.
A replacement pet has not been named but insiders say that possible choices include Eddie from Frasier, Blues Clues, or The Target Bullseye Dog.
Michael Vick could not be reached for comment.
Monday, August 27, 2007
With the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (hereafter referred to as Torqueberto, Gonzo, or That Lying SOB), the last of the Texas Crony Mafia has been removed from the day to day advisors working with President George William Bush (hereafter referred to as Dubya).
Karl Rove previously announced his resignation earlier, all the better to work his dark arts in secret. Karen Hughes has been exiled off as Under Secretary for Making Brown People Hate Us Less. That left Al as the last bastion of the cabal Dubya brought from Austin to Washington.
While Rove is easily the most reviled, Gonzo was the most emblematic of the problems with Dubya’s inner circle. His incompetence, cronyism, and general brown-nosing reached heights unknown in modern political history. Like a combination of Woody Allen’s Zelig and Joe Btfsplk from Li’l Abner, whenever and wherever disaster struck the Bush Administration, Gonzales was somewhere to be found. His general lackeyism and lack of professionalism followed him from back in the day, so let’s recap the general fiasco that has been our latest Attorney General.
10. Cronyism Over Competency. In a reverse Peter Principle common to the Bush Administration (and indeed to Dubya’s career itself), incompetence is rewarded with promotion as long as loyalty is enforced. Gonzo was a lawyer with Enron’s favorite firm when Dubya made him successively General Counsel, Texas Secretary of State and Texas Supreme Court Justice before dragging him to Washington with him. Every public service job he has ever held has been a direct appointment by Dubya and he has never forgotten it.
9. Death Row Thumbs Down. As Dubya’s Texan Attorney General, Gonzo never saw a death row case that was ambiguous, spotty, or unjust. He wrote summaries of the cases for the first 57 of the 152 men and women that were executed during Dubya’s reign as CEO of Texas. His lack of due diligence and general rubberstamping of verdicts angered death penalty opponents but pleased the “let ‘em hang” attititude Dubya fostered.
8. Keeper of Secrets. When Dubya as Texas Governor was faced with jury duty for a drunk driving case, Gonzo made the novel argument that the governor can’t sit on a jury since he reviews pardon and clemency requests. Both Dubya and Gonzo conveniently forgot or ignored the Governor’s own DUI conviction that would have been revealed had the jury pool questioning continued.
7. Supreme Court Joke. When the nomination of co-crony Harriet Miers was circling the drain, Gonzo was briefly raised as a trial balloon that quickly became a firing range target. His milquetoasty decisions on abortion angered the far right, his loyalty to Bush bothered the left, and his lack of competence inspired nobody.
6. Sick Bed Syncophant. When the Department of Justice refused to sign off on the more problematic measures of the NSA wiretapping program, Gonzo and co-crony Andrew Card were sent in the dead of the night to harangue Attorney General John Ashcroft as he recovered from surgery. Deputy (and acting) AG James Comey headed off this social call and Gonzo has been bending the language since over why he was there and what the issue was.
5. “You’re Fired.” As part of a purge of attorneys that weren’t carrying enough water for the political goals of White House, Gonzo aided and abetted some equally incompetent underlings in replacing nine US Attorneys with more partisan picks. Part of the process was to use obscure provisions of the PATRIOT Act he had drafted as White House counsel to avoid congressional advise and consent powers.
4. No Thanks For The Memories. When facing congressional questioning under oath back in April, Gonzo used the phrase “I don’t recall” 72 times in four hours. Since then, congressional committee members have hoped to aid his memory by giving him the questions in advance but Al just found entirely different phrases to avoid answering questions. Which is good, because anything he does say is usually discredited immediately. His mastery of the parsed denial is positively Clintonian. He even lied about resigning.
3. Habeas Corpus Killed. Among Gonzo’s novel interpretations of the Constitution that he never got to explore as Supreme Court Justice was that the right of “habeas corpus” or the right to be presented with an accusation when arrested wasn’t as iron-clad as the phrase “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” might make it sound.
2. Super PATRIOT. As the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales oversaw the FBI while it was running roughshod over civil liberties with their hastily written national security letters to obtain evidence without a warrant. The irony of these letters is that not only is the information they get unconstitutional, the subjects of the letters can’t disclose or appeal their receipt. It’s better than Catch-22, it’s positively Orwellian and fully endorsed by Gonzo.
1. The Torture Memo. While the White House Counsel, Torqueberto wrote or approved sloppy memos and briefs that assert that combatants captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the War On Terror are not covered by the Geneva Convention. Apparently he doesn’t believe they are covered by basic human decency either. These memos were used as the lynchpin of the torture policies that emerged in Guantanamo and spread to Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The scandal and outrage from these acts have done irreparable damage against the US image as a moral authority in the world. And we have a grinning yes-man grabbed from the bottom of the Texas political barrel to thank.
Every Friday for the past few months, I have placed a mental bet that this would finally be the Friday where shame or moral outrage would force the resignation of the worst Attorney General in American history to resign. And this is a crowd that includes John Ashcroft, Janet Reno, and Edwin Meese. Now Torqueberto is gone, but his legacy lives on. Good riddance. If only we could erase the damage done.
LinkPlugging: Andrew Cohen of WaPo's Bench Conference says it much more eloquently than me.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Will things get better now that Fredo has left The Family or will nothing change?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
One benefit of China's lax intellectual property policies is that music is nearly free. A grocery store near our hotel had a music and video counter with all sorts of professionally produced bootleg CDs and DVDs. I still haven't watched all the bootleg DVDs I bought in Vietnam, but I wanted to get an inkling of Chinese tastes in music. I ended up buying three CDs for about $2.50 each. Here is a little information about each one.
Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business
I picked the Black Eyed Peas nearly at random from quite a number of American acts were available. The Peas were the most tolerable to my tastes from the rather pop heavy selection. All the Chinese bootlegs are double discs with way more songs than on the official release.
If you mouse over the image, you can see the back cover with the track list or you can click here for a bigger view. Each disc has 18 tracks and some are listed as album versions and some as remixes. Two of the American version tracks are missing and except for two verisions of "Don't Phunk With My Heart", none of the songs on Disc 2 are on the US release. The final track on Disc 2 includes a guest appearance by Ustin Timberlake. Part of the irony on the back cover is the copright notice for the Hong Kong/Singapore/Malaysia/Canada market Whether this is the real thing or just part of the counterfeit versimlitude, I don't know.
S.H.E. - Play
I saw posters for this group everywhere, so I grabbed this CD expecting a bunch of bland Asia-pop and I wasn't disappointed. The three singers were all on a Taiwanese version of American Idol and the record company decided to rename them Selina Ren, Hebe Tian and Ella Chen so that the initial of their first names spells S.H.E. They have recorded over ten albums and have videos on You Tube and everything.
Some of their songs are in English, but most are in Chinese. A lot of music from Taiwan is popular in mainland China even though official political ties are very strained. I don't know if S.H.E has crossover appeal outside China, but they are huge in Asia.
Lee Hyori - Dark Angel
You can't judge a book by the cover, but that is how I bought this CD. I just picked the hottest looking album art. I thought the artist was going by Dark Angel, but that was the album name instead. The Anglicized name of this artist is Lee Hyori which is nowhere on the cover art. She is a Korean actress that also does K-pop with a hard R&B edge.
As you can tell from the video, she takes a lot of cues from American hip-hop and while it would be tame for a Beyonce video, it pushes the envelope for Korea. Which of course raises the question of how much a Chinese consumer is understanding of the Korean lyrics. The second disc contains a lot of older schmaltzier pop songs more in line with traditional Asia-pop.
All three albums contained two discs full of tracks for one low price. The production values on the CDs themselves are excellent. They include a sleeve over the jewel case, with inside pamphlets that include lyrics and credits. While I can't condone the complete lack of payment to the artists, US record companies could pay some attention to the quality and value the Asian counterfeit consumer gets for their money.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Would you listen to either S.H.E or Lee Hyori if they sang in English?
Thursday, August 23, 2007
One of my favorite quizzes is the one that tells whether you are a Nerd, Geek, or Dork. But there are a lot of different types of nerds and geeks. The quiz below discerns what type of nerd (I would argue they mean geek, but that is neither here or there) you are among several types of different nerdy obsessions.
|What Be Your Nerd Type? |
Your Result: Literature Nerd
|What Be Your Nerd Type?|
Quizzes for MySpace
While this marks me as a reading nerd, I come in pretty much a dead heat (86% vs 77%) as a math/science nerd. Since I'm an engineer that makes sense too. My literary side tends to get ignored by people that know me in real life since my livelihood is so nerdy. But my house is literally filled with books. Many are math, science, or science fiction, but I also have plenty of mysteries, beat writers, contemporary literature, and history.
In high school, one of my English teachers lamented the loss of literature as a common intellectual bond. I argued that serious literature would never go away entirely but would instead become just one of many obscure hobbies that people have. This quiz proves that. Reading is just another style of nerding out, like anime or costuming.
A recent study showed that one out of four Americans haven't read a book of any type in the past year. Even among people that have read, the median number of books was seven. That makes me feel a lot less guilty for "only" reading twenty or thirty books a year. Like sex survey quizzes, there are always a few outrageous outliers that skew the results. It seems that when it comes to reading, I am one of the promiscuous nerdy sluts.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What type of nerd are you and how many books do you read?
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Long time readers will know that I am a pretty big Broadway buff and I’ve often tried to figure out how that happened. I, of course, blame my wife who is also a big fan, but I carry a little responsibility. In junior high I flirted with drama. I was The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland and had a bit part in a comedy/musical revue, but my nails on chalkboard voice and complete lack of rhythm kept me out of the musicals. I remember the associated high school putting on Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. Coincidentally, these were about the only two soundtracks available at the local library. I listened to them until my ears bled.
In college a friend of mine asked if I wanted to volunteer to usher at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. All it involved, she explained, was wearing black pants and white shirt, handing people programs and pointing them in the general direction of their seats. For our efforts we were allowed to sit in the aisle and watch the show. Since my girlfriend and future wife was in town that weekend, I got her in as well. We saw a wonderful tour of Evita. A few years later my wife won tickets off the radio to see Cats. We had crummy seats in the back of the orchestra and the sound was terrible, but the bug had bitten.
We had moved to Tampa at the time the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center opened and decided to buy season tickets for the Broadway Subscription Series. Since it was the inaugural season we got great seats in the third row and saw three years of bus and truck productions. A typical Broadway tour series includes one must-see show, two mediocre shows with has been stars, and two gawd-awful clunkers. To keep the good seats, we had to take the good with bad.
Then we had a kid and both us and our priorities moved a few times. It took us four years to discover that Baltimore is only four hours away from Times Square with the real thing. Our first Broadway show was a mediocre adaptation of Saturday Night Fever. Once we realized how easy it was to make a long weekend in New York, we kept going. Two or three times a year we sneak up to New York and see a couple of shows. We even planned a summer vacation to Canada around seeing Mamma Mia! in Toronto before it opened in New York.
These things add up. After twenty years of tours and the Great White Way, we have seen over fifty different productions. With my addled memory, some Googling, and a look through our saved Playbills, I have roughly listed all the various musicals we have seen. This list ignores plays, which would tax my memory even further.
Saturday Night Fever
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Phantom Of The Opera
The Boy From Oz
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Woman In White
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
|Major Tours, Toronto|
The King and I
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Song And Dance
Me And My Girl
A Chorus Line
Into The Woods
Phantom Of The Opera
The Secret Garden
Beauty and The Beast
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Whistle Down The Wind
The Lion King
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
A Chorus Line
Blue Man Group
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical
They’re Playing Our Song
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
Menopause: The Musical
There is both a lot of wheat and chaff in that list. I wouldn’t wish Edwin Drood on my worst enemy. You will also notice some repeats. We have seen A Chorus Line and The Producers three times. The best version of Chorus Line was by the Atlanta School For The Performing Arts. Good theater comes in all sizes.
This year my son’s marching band is doing a show based on West Side Story and every chance I get I embarrass him by warbling “Maria” off-key.
I am also proof that exposure to show tunes does not affect your sexuality. Despite seeing thousands of actors randomly break out into song, I am still relentlessly heterosexual. Although my wife worries just a little.
See you at the stage door.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Ask me my opinion on any of these shows and I will answer in the comments.
Monday, August 20, 2007
This blog is longtime big fan of both Joel Achenbach and the Achenblog. Joel used to write a humor column for the Washington Post Magazine, the glossy insert where the really long articles go. But it seems that a downturn in advertising from plastic surgeons and high-end furniture stores, made the powers-that-be realize there was only room for one Dave Barry derivative humorist and Gene Weingarten won that sumo-match.
Joel got shuffled off to the Sunday Outlook section where this week he personifies the navel-gazing and deck chair shuffling that has afflicted the dead tree media conglomerates as they become this century’s buggy whip industry He wrote the tongue-in-cheek lament titled “I Really Need You to Read This Article, Okay?”
Let’s lightly fisk this cry for help and see if we can see where the problems are.
Newspaper journalism is different these days: Suddenly everyone is obsessed with eyeballs, page views, "stickiness," "click-through rates," and so on. No one shouts "Stop the presses!" anymore, but they do whimper "Why aren't I on the home page?" The noble product that we manufacture and distribute throughout the metropolis -- the physical thing so carefully designed, folded and bagged -- is now generally referred to in our business as the "dead-tree edition." It gets little respect.
I’m trying to remember the last time what we commonly refer to as fish wrap got respect, but I’m pretty sure it was back when Cary Grant was chasing Rosalind Russell around the copy desk. After all, newspapers got us into a ill-thought out war of imperial expansion. And that was in the 19th century. It's called yellow journalism for a reason. Journalism got a minor ego boost during Watergate but that was back when Carl Woodward was the president’s enemy instead of his stenographer.
Our future is on the Web. This is the mantra in newsrooms. And the Web lets us discover how many readers each article attracts. The data can be scrutinized in real time, moment to moment. Inevitably, this is going to change the way we do business -- excuse me, I mean the way we do journalism.
As opposed to television ratings or box-office grosses. Why is instant feedback a bad thing?
The classic slander against people in my profession used to be "You're just trying to sell newspapers." It wasn't true. We were much too pretentious to worry about the crass concerns of the bean counters. The business model for a newspaper seemed secure. Newspapers were cash machines, with profit margins routinely hovering around 25 percent.
It’s the big fat lazy industries that never see it coming. Detroit in the 70s and 80s never realized that efficient well-made cars would eat their lunch. I have a brother-in-law who has never read a newspaper classified ad. He has furnished his house entirely off of CraigsList. The dead trees were too busy charging ten bucks for the first 25 words so that I could sell a $50 lawn mower that they never saw the truck that hit them. If legal classifieds ever go virtual, every weekly lawn litter paper in the country will go away overnight. Overcharging when you have a virtual monopoly is always a prescription for long term disaster.
The most important Web site for mainstream news outlets is the Drudge Report, once mocked and derided as a tabloid operation with low journalistic standards. But Drudge, which has millions of readers, is the No. 1 source of readers coming "horizontally," via links, into newspaper Web sites.
This is one of Joel’s hottest buttons. His little boutique blog is on the exact opposite end of the erudite versus “linky” scale as Drudge. I never go to Drudge Report to read the flashing light headline, but rather to find the fifty or more opinion makers he has linked to in a clean concise quick loading format. If I want to find George Will, or heaven forbid, Charles Krauthammer, it takes six clicks and two pull down menus to find him on the garish WaPo homepage. Google rode a white screen to search engine dominance but most newspaper webpages look like someone spilled a box of HTML crayons on the screen. People go to Drudge for ease of use, not because they agree with his moronic opinions. God I hope not.
Mackenzie Warren, who runs the online edition of the Fort Myers News-Press in Florida, told the Los Angeles Times that he would use a fake e-mail address to lobby Matt Drudge and his associates to include a link to stories on the News-Press Web site. "I'd say, 'Great story down there in Florida.' Then I'd throw in some incendiary adjective, and next thing you know our story would be at the top of his site and our traffic would be on fire," he said.
I’m astounded that Joel found a quote where a Real Journalist admitted to sock-puppetry, a vile, despicable practice. People get fired for that kind of subterfuge.
There's a favorite saying in the news biz: "Nothin' but readers." Meaning: That's a story that readers are going to devour. A water-cooler story. We used to discern such articles through gut instinct. The best editors had a "golden gut" for news.
They also used to call those “Hey, Martha!” stories. Stuff so whacky you just have to share it. Only nowadays sharing involves everyone in your Outlook Contact list. Nobody knows what is going to be the next YouTube sensation and chasing it is a fools game. Now if you could find that e-mail where Karl Rove says “Fire all those loser lawyers” you would get plenty of links.
There's one hitch in all this: The numbers are squishy. The page-view metric is easily gamed. You may notice that many stories online "jump" to a second page (or third, or fourth, or 25th, etc.) for no obvious reason. That's just an attempt to up the page-view stats. And a page that automatically "refreshes" will have more page views even if it's minimized at the bottom of your computer screen.
One more thing: Good writing remains good writing regardless of platform. The Web tends to be a chattier place, more off-the-cuff, but it is still a place where readers appreciate a well-crafted sentence, a nuanced thought, a fully elucidated thesis and commentary undergirded by fact, honesty and a generosity of spirit.
How about some numbers then? This article is completely fact free. According to Editor & Publisher, WaPo.com is the third most visited online newspaper as measured by monthly unique visitors. Compare those to the audited circulation figures of the dead tree editions.
NYTimes.com -- 14,149,000
USATODAY.com -- 10,611,000
washingtonpost.com -- 9,157,000
LA Times -- 5,267,000
Wall Street Journal Online -- 4,487,000
Those circulation numbers are two years old, so subtract about 25% across the board. In another year only people with exotic birds and incontinent puppies will still get a paper. WaPo is actually a major player in the online game. It’s just that eyeballs don’t sell as much as ink stains at the breakfast table. Until the metrics pay, there is plenty of jostling for position to do.
For a much more detailed primer on web traffic and funny numbers see this Gawker article about rival gossip site PerezHilton.
For example, look at the most-viewed list on any Web site: Opinion dominates. But opinions are worthless without facts to support them. You know the saying: Opinions are like ax handles, everyone's got one. (Substitute something else for ax handles.)
Still looking for the facts in this article. Of the top ten blogs at The Truth Laid Bare, six are rabid political sites, two are linkdumps, one is entertainment gossip and one is a mommyblog. The WaPo most read and e-mail lists seem to be a mix of hard news, opinions, weather and exposes. Your article is 18 most e-mailed as I write this, so you are getting some recognition.
Also on the web you get to swear and shit, unless the use of “ax handle’ was a subliminal allusion to the joke about George Washington’s ax, thus mentally associating with someone’s only temporarily out of print biography. If that was your goal, well played, sir.
My strong hunch is that most readers -- even those crazy Internet people! -- will gravitate to news sources that provide solid reporting and analysis. Get it right and be fair -- these principles are good ones regardless of the platform.
People go to be informed AND entertained. Looks do matter. The only thing keeping Joel from greatness is the ability to insert an “img” tag. Get that protégé of yours to give you some tips. He’s young and tech savvy. He sure knows his way around month-old cross-promotional astroturfed memes.
Citizen journalism, commentary, rants, recipes, travelogues. Readers can produce all this stuff for a newspaper Web site. The professional journalist can be an instigator of a micro-community of readers, but the readers themselves really run the show. And by the way, they do it all for free.
Hey, he’s talking about the Boodle now. Not only do we do it for free, we get our bosses to pay for it. Citizen journalism is fine, but we still need people that with the big rolodex that can meet sources in dark parking garages.
Some of you may disagree with the preceding. I invite you to post a reaction on my blog. And, um, if you don't mind, please "refresh" the page frenetically.
And feel free to link to the people that bother to talk you up and link to you. This New Media backscratching goes both ways.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do you still read a hard copy newspaper?
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Every decade or so, a writer of such talent comes along that he completely redefines a genre. William Gibson is one such writer. He literally invented cyberspace, both the word and the concept. His innovations concerning the relationship between man and computers and society have become conventional wisdom and even cliché. If anyone can claim to have created the future instead of merely predicted it he can. The brothers Wachowski owe Neuromancer a debt they can never repay.
As soon as I found out that Gibson was coming to the DC area in promotion of his new book Spook Country, I knew I had to be there. I bribed my wife with banh mi and pho and headed down to the BigBoxOfBooks in Baileys Crossing, Virginia.
Taller and even lankier than his book jacket photos would suggest and wearing an iPod Shuffle on a olive drab bandolier, he read a passage at random and then took questions. The biggest controversy over his last two novels is how contemporary they are. There isn’t a neural interface jack or set of bionic fingernails in sight. He explained that when he started writing in 1981, he was writing about the weird complicated world of the 21st century and the actual 21st century has proven to be weirder and more complicated than that. It may take him awhile to let his imagination stretch to fit the new possibilities.
He sometimes writes sentences of such pure hallucinogenic twistedness it’s like a Beat poet took a snort of Betaphenethylamine and got stuck in his typewriter. He explained that sometimes he writes a phrase so poetic that even he is only barely aware of what it means. He allows the reader to take them or leave them as they see fit.
Continuing on the rift between literary fiction and genre fiction, he made two interesting observations. One was that the original derivation of the world “novel” inferred novelty and that as genres became established, the effect was to create novels that weren’t uncomfortably different what you might have already read, thus losing much of their novel-ness. He also expressed dismay that hardcore science fiction fans refer to non-genre fiction as “mundane”. He noted that that dismissive word encompassed the works of Mark Twain, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon.
He literary influences include J.G. Ballard and Thomas Pynchon. He is confounded that Ballard does not get more credit than he does and he notes that Pynchon’s writing filled the hole in his reading that Philip K. Dick does in others. He praised The Man In The High Castle, but remarked that Dick and his books became clinically insane towards the end.
He defended charges of being obsessed with brands by saying he was only taking a naturalistic approach to writing. Ignoring marketing and advertising in today's culture, he said, would be akin to writing about Victorians and ignoring factories. It's what we do. He asserted that most people know what brands they were wearing at any given time whether they wanted to admit it or not. Since I was wearing a Chinese counterfeit Ralph Lauren polo shirt, I was busted.
I asked a question about his characters that seemed to have a penchant for collecting antiquities and his own collecting habits. He said he wasn’t so much interested in collecting as he was in examining the rationalizing of the value of stuff in your attic through eBay. He said he uses eBay to collect a file of jpeg’s of his dimly remembered childhood toys. Thanks to the meticulousness of the internet he can recite information such as years of production and point of origin for toys that as a child he didn’t even realize had names.
He indulged me when I dropped a rather tall pile of hardbacks to be signed including a first edition of Count Zero. He was impressed that my copy of The Difference Engine had been signed by co-author Bruce Sterling at Worldcon 50 nearly 15 years ago. I hope to still be reading Gibson’s predictions and observations fifteen years from now and even further.
I leave you with a short excerpt of his reading where he details a barbeque stand that serves as a central meeting place in Spook Country.
BlantantCommentWhoring™: What other writers have so radically transformed a genre?
Friday, August 17, 2007
It's busy here so I am once again resorting to lame memes. This is actually funny and even funnier at Why Are You Stalking Me where I stole it. And besides, it gave me an excuse to google "Betty White naked".
1. If I showed up at your house randomly next week, what would we do together? Eat out too much. It doesn’t take a lot to make me decide cooking dinner is too much trouble.
2. Rather than saying “I have a blogger friend”, or “I have a friend who’s a blogger”, there should be a word for this that makes it less awkward to say. Would you prefer “blend”, “frogger”, “bluddy”, “blogquaintance”, or “webbud”? Or do you have a better idea? On the web, I use the phrase “blog buddy”. In real live, I use “some loser I read about on the internet".
3. If we were hanging out together and you noticed that my balls were hanging out of my shorts, would you tell me or try to maintain eye contact and talk to me? I’d keep glancing down out of morbid curiousity. Shaved or au natural?
4. If you had no neighbors, would you buy curtains for your windows? Why or why not? Yes, we like our house dark. We’re like vampires that way.
5. Who would you rather fuck: Dan Rather or Betty White? Betty White was a Babe back in The Day. Google “Betty White naked” if you doubt me. There is even a Golden Girls Gone Wild (Do I have to warn you about the link?) art show.
6. If two girls walk into a bathroom and they both find a newly born baby in the toilet at the same time, should they have to wrestle in oil while nude to claim the baby as theirs, split it in half and share it, or sell it on the black market and divide the proceeds? Mud-wrestle. On Pay Per View.
7. Do you believe in ghosts, aliens, heaven, or mothers-in-law? Why or why not? Only mother-in-laws. My wife has a really strange one.
8. What was your most embarrassing moment of your life and do you have pictures or video that you will share with me? Some coworkers and I were making fun of what a uptight bitch the office manager was when her husband and our boss walked out of the far stall.
9. Do you know where I put my sunglasses? Mine are right next to the computer. Don’t ask, it’s a long story and not very interesting.
10. What aspect of your own blogging do you wish you could improve and why? Would you pay money for lessons taught by me to improve that skill? How much? And what’s your credit card number? I wish I were less gullible about internet scams. How soon can we start those lessons. Just charge what’s fair.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Answer any or all of these for yourself.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
One of my biggest peeves is misleading statistics and factoids. The other day on the Achenblog, Joel Achenbach quoted eminent contrarian scientist David Pimentel. Dr. Pimintel is famous for claiming ethanol costs more energy to make than it produces, and he may have a point. In this case he was talking about how much death and misery is attributable to pollution and throws out this nugget:
Of the world population of about 6.5 billion, 57 percent is malnourished, compared with 20 percent of a world population of 2.5 billion in 1950.
I did the math and 57% of the world is about 3.7 billion people, which is about the combined populations of China, India, Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. I called “bull-hockey” and decided to find out if this was accurate. I may not know much about world hunger, but I have mad Googlin’ skilz and ran across some stats that were below his number by a factor of four.
From CARE (an organization that raises money to fight hunger, so they ought to know):
More than 840 million people in the world are malnourished — 799 million of them live in the developing world.
From Bread for the World, another hunger group:
854 million people across the world are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago.
(Never mind that 75 million people were added to the world in that same time frame.)
From the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (which is where most of these other groups get their stats):
In 2001-03, FAO estimates there were still 854 million undernourished people world wide: 820 million in the developing countries, 25 million in the transition countries and 9 million in the industrialized countries.
Wikipedia had this very nice map sourced from the United Nations World Food Programme:
According to an accompanying table, the hunger rate in China, the world’s most populous country, was 12%. The most desparate countries were concentrated in war-torn parts of Africa. I asked Joel to follow up on this magic multi-billion number and he got this reply from Pimintel:
The 850 million people who are malnourished refers only to the people who are protein/calorie malnourished and ignores the people who are iron, iodine, and several vitamins malnourished. WHO reports there are 2 billion who are iron malnourished and the number of deaths from iron malnourishment equals the number of deaths from protein/calorie malnourishment. WHO references for 3.7 billion malnourished (57%) are:
WHO 2004 World Health Report.
WHO 2004 World Health Report.
Heck, by that definition I may be malnourished. I haven’t taken my One-A-Days in years. I searched all through his links which had some very distrubing mortality rate tables, but I just couldn’t find that 3.7 billion number.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t just pull that number out of his posterior, the second part of his alarmist statement is an even more blatant falsehood. He claims world hunger has gotten worse since 1950. He is either comparing apples with oranges or his numbers come from an alternate universe. Remember, in 1950, your parents were being told to eat their vegetables because there were starving children in post-war Europe. In the 60s, between 20 and 43 million people died of famine in China’s Great Leap Forward. According to this FAO table, the rate of malnutrition in the developing world has been cut in half since 1970.
In China today, the biggest problem isn’t starvation, it’s pollution from the hyper-rapid economic expansion. Vietnam, which also had famine in recent memory, now exports rice to Africa. Most food security issues are distribution problems, not production issues. The highest rates of hunger are in war-torn regions where food is used as a weapon.
Hunger is a serious problem and having nearly a billion people without enough to eat is a epic tragedy, but we don’t need to go spreading half-truths to make it sound even worse. One of the most insidious aspects of the internet is that once bad information is out there, it stays and spreads. I tried to find malnutrition information for the 1950s but I kept coming across Pimintel's unsourced quote. The real problem with this sort of fear-mongering is that it makes your other numbers suspect. You need to guard your credibility for when the real wolf arrives.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What sort of absurd fear-inducing numbers have you seen?
David Pimintel was kind enough to reply to me by e-mail and this is what he had to say:
The difficulty with understanding malnourishment figures is that few studies present the data on how they were measured. For the 1950 data on malnourishment, no information was presented on how malnourishment was measured.
Concerning the current situation getting better, I note that the previous figure of 800 million for protein/calories malnourishment has increased to 850 million.
There are many reasons for the increase in malnourishment. First, per capita cereal grain production has declined and grains make up 80% of the world food. FAO reports that per capita grain production has been CONTINUOUSLY declining for the past 22 years. Supporting this decline in per capita food are the following facts for the past DECADE:
1) Cropland declined 20%.
2) Irrigation declined 10%.
3) Fertilizer use declined 17%.
I hope that these data are of help to you.
I’m still skeptical. All previous Malthusian predictions have proven wrong. The area with the largest increases in food instability have been in sub-Saharan Africa where genocidal campaigns have disrupted the already tenuous food production system.
Please check the comments for some other great remarks.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
One of the weekend features of the Washington Post is the Style Invitational Contest. Each week they run some silly competition that is often literary or current events related. One of their staples is the caption contest. This week the former Czar of the SI (rumored to be a close, close friend of Gene Weingarten) suggested giving a cartoon caption and making the contest to describe (but not draw) the cartoon for it. His example was for the caption "When Harry Met Sally Forth".
Harry Truman is at a table with Sally Forth. She is yammering, "So then Ralph said he thought the department should be reorganized and I pointed out that it was just like a man to blah blah blah . . ."
Harry looks at her balefully. Above his head, in a thought balloon, is a vision of her chair, with a mushroom cloud over it.
I have never entered the Style Invitational before, but I would be remiss in my duties as self-declared Worlds Biggest Sally Forth Fan if I did not enter. There were other captions available, but I only came up with entries for the Sally Forth option. The winner gets their idea illustrated by a staff artist, but I decided to risk copyright infringement and mash-up my own illustrations.
Hilary has been having a tough time fitting into her new school until she takes an after-school class in magic and meets a new friend. Unfortunately Sally has some issues with the ‘tude the black clad buddy keeps giving.
Sally’s cougar friend Alice has gotten a crush on the young new office worker who happens to be the son of a famous heir to the throne. Unfortunately, Sally has to admonish the two frisky paramours when she catches them in a compromising position.
Sally has accidentally walked into the house of their neighbors the Hendersons (they live next to the Gezelters) and mistakes their Sasquatch houseguest for her unemployed husband.
In order to keep anyone from sniping my entries, the deadline for the contest was yesterday, so if you had a better idea you are out of luck. Winners will be announced September 1, so watch your WaPo online or check back here to see how I do.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What famous Harry did I miss?
Sunday, August 12, 2007
One of the great treats about visiting New York is getting to eat the many varied types and styles of foods. During my recent visit, I kept noticing one particular menu item coming up again and again: macaroni and cheese. This comfort food staple has gone gourmet. I ended up eating it three times in five meals. Here are how some of the Big Apple’s cheesy noodles stack up.
Spankys. Normally New York is not where you go for barbeque, but this Times Square mega-restaurant had some convenient features. It was quick, inexpensive, and located between our hotel and the theater for Les Miserables. Our expectations were low, but the food was consistently excellent. Their Royal Flush Platter contains chicken, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, corn bread and three sides. It was billed as big enough for two, but with a side order of sliders, it filled up our family which includes an always-hungry teenager. For one of our sides, we picked the mac and cheese. The waitress warned us that it had vegetables in it. We saw that as a bonus, not a minus. Sure enough, there were small flecks of broccoli in it. The taste was slightly sharp and the cheese was smooth and even.
BLT Steak. For an excellent report card, rather than paying out in cash, we take our son out for a steak dinner. We often combine the reward with one of our trips to New York. This time he picked BLT Steak, a modernist take on the traditional steakhouse. Owner Laurent Tourondel is a celebrity chef with unoriginal names for his bistros. His other places are BLT Prime, BLT Fish, BLT Market, and BLT Burger. Like most fancy steak places, the sides are ala carte and one of the specials that night was macaroni and cheese with truffle topping. The truffles were there to justify charging seventeen bucks for mac and cheese. Since it was a treat for my son, we sprung for it and split it. The mac and cheese was well done and the thinly sliced potato chip-sized truffles were plentiful, but I have to add truffles to the list of foods I Just Don’t Get. Let’s leave the fungi off the comfort food.
Dumont Burger. On our way out of town, we had planned to visit Coney Island, so we decided to have lunch in the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, the area that all the artists, musicians, and hipsters moved to when they couldn’t afford Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side anymore. Dumont Burger was a narrow hole in the wall with no tables. You can sit at the bar or at one of the three long counters. And despite the rough appearance, don’t mistake it for a dive. The beer list includes Stella Artois and several brands too hotty totty for me to recognize. I had to have the mac and cheese entrée. Their version was baked in a oversized oval dish and was made with radiatore (corkscrew) pasta in a bacon and cheddar sauce with a thick gruyere crust. Clearly the winner of my weekend tasting spree.
It goes to show that you don’t need to go to a fancy Manhattan restaurant to get a great variation of an American staple.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where have you found an upscale variation of a classic dish?
Thursday, August 09, 2007
David Brin is a great science fiction writer and he keeps a really cool blog himself. He is the only blogger I know more long-winded than myself. At the end of the month, he is going to be the International Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan. Before he goes, he is taking the time to do some traveling in China and attending some science fiction related events there. In his blog, he asked for some travel tips and got some good responses, like the one from this guy.
Since I was in China just over a month ago and was in Japan back in 2005, I figure I am as qualified as anyone to give some travel tips:
- Bring a few individually wrapped packs of toilet paper with you so that you can be confident that you will be able to clean up in case of an emergency. I got the call of nature while on the Great Wall and if it weren’t for a toilet paper vendor at an outhouse things could have gotten pretty ugly.
- Don’t worry about bringing condoms. My hotel had a nice three pack right in the bathroom if I needed it. On the outside wall of several public toilets there was a condom machine with a cute banana shaped mascot.
- Bring an ethernet cable with you. I’m not sure about WiFi, but both the hotels we stayed at had broadband service in the room. Just don’t expect to be able to connect to sites advocating the overthrow of the PRC. I hear they are kinda touchy about that.
- Take the subway once just to be amazed by a system where line monitors make sure everybody lines up and waits for the people exiting to get off before letting others on.
- Don’t stand in line to convert currency. The ATM machines are bilingual and you don’t have to go digging into your stuff to show a passport and then fill out some form in Chinese you can’t understand.
- Don’t expect to get any pictures with blue skies in them without a lot of photoshopping. In fact, if you can’t get within a block of something, don’t bother taking a photo at all. The smog turns everything a hazy gray. The key photo composition concept to remember is “foreground interest.”
- Bargain for everything. Your opening counter offer should be 10% of what they offer or one fourth of what you think its worth, whichever is less. And walk away at least once during every negotiation. If they run after you, your last offer was still too much to pay.
- You will never really know what you just ate, so don’t worry about it. It doesn’t kill them, it won’t kill you.
- Same rule about the toilet paper. There is no guarantee the vending machine is going to be well stocked or you are going to have the right coins when you need them.
- Don’t expect to be able to throw something away on the next block. There are no trashcans on the streets. The Japanese are too fastidiously clean to need them.
- Take a bullet train somewhere because they are so cool, but expect to pay for it. We wanted to day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo, but the round trip would have cost $275 a person. Contrariwise, in China, a four person overnight sleeper car one-way from Beijing to Xian cost $45 each.
- Pay a lot of attention to the subway map and know where you are going before you get on. You are going to get one chance to get on or off.
- Get a really good map. There are way too many narrow alleys and crooked streets to try to walk by dead reckoning.
- If you don’t like cigarette smoke, you are going to have a rough time at dinner. The indoor air quality at most Japanese restaurants is much worse than the outside smog in Beijing.
- The electronics aren’t any cheaper in Japan, even in Akihabara where you are allowed to haggle, than at Best Buy. Only buy gadgets you absolutely can’t get stateside. And make sure you get an English manual.
- Visit the Sony Store in the Ginza section of Tokyo if you can. It has lots of cool gadgets they don't sell in the states. I still have seen the US version of the Bleach game my son was playing two years ago.
- If you need to check your e-mail or read your blogs, go to the Apple store. Just like the US, they let you surf all day for free.
- You will never really know what you just ate, so don’t worry about it. It doesn’t kill them, it won’t kill you.
Also, remember my China Sights blog where I post pictures of both the tourist attractions and the street life in China.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Any other suggestions for David?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
A couple of times a year, my family heads up to New York to check out the latest Broadway shows or do other touristy things. This trip, the two shows we saw were both an interesting contrast and oddly similar.
It was nearly twenty years ago that my wife and I saw a touring company of Les Misérables, the now-classic musical based on Victor Hugo’s doorstop of a novel. It was recently revived on Broadway, so we decided to give it another look. The show is as epic and sweeping as ever. While nobody applauded the set like they did back in the day, the massive barricades and the turntable stage still inspire awe.
The cast is excellent with both Valjean and Javert having strong booming voices. In the Playbill I caught some familiar faces. I had seen Megan McGinnis play Beth March in Little Women and Ann Harada who was Christmas Eve in Avenue Q was the hilarious Madame Thénardier. However, we were disappointed when we found that Fantine, normally played by Lea Salonga, was being done by an understudy. Not nearly as disappointed as the women next to us that had bought a bouquet of flowers to give to Lea. After the show we got stuck under a marquis while a thunderstorm blew through. My son overheard a different woman sigh that she was so glad to finally see Lea on stage. My son burst her bubble about the understudy. He was confused how someone that claimed to be a fan of Lea Salonga since the age of 14 could mistake the pasty blonde on stage with the Filipina that starred in Miss Saigon.
The next day we caught the matinée of the show we were really up there to see, multi-Tony winning Spring Awakenings. I have a hard time describing this show to people that don’t follow theater. It’s a rock musical update of a 19th century play about a group of hormonally charged German teenagers. The songs are by indie rocker Duncan Sheik, who I hope has a better Broadway career than schlockmeister Rupert Holmes.
To say that Spring Awakenings is edgy is an understatement. The show touches on a whole phalanx of teen sexuality issues including masturbation, sexual abuse, homosexuality, and abortion. Or as we call it in the Yellojkt household, “family entertainment”. After all, when my son was fourteen we took him to see Avenue Q, but in that show it was only the puppets having sex on stage.
A big sign outside the theater warns that the play contains adult themes, language and brief (partial male and female) nudity. That sign and a whispered comment from a theater manager did not deter one mother from bringing her ten-year-old son. The two left just after the first act. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, since by then the deed had been done, both dramatically and metaphorically. If you are going to have to explain to your kid what a character is doing with his hands under his nightshirt or why two of the guys kiss each other, a theater lobby is not the place to have that conversation.
To my taste, the show is a little emo-ish ballad heavy, but the uptempo numbers really rock, complete with flashing neon and fist-pumping beats. Two of the more memorable numbers can’t even be spelled out fully on the soundtrack album cover. My son loved the show and we got both the soundtrack and the school-safe souvenir tee shirt. The drama geeks are going to be so jealous.
With its single set and simple special effects, Spring Awakening seems as far away from the bombastic Les Miz as possible, but they do share some intriguing similarities. Of course, both involve ill-fated romances, but the ones in Les Miz are much more chaste. Oddly, each features a dramatic suicide as well as singing ghosts. Also, in both shows the main character is confronted with an ethical dilemma. Jean Valjean sings:
If I speak, I am condemned
If I stay silent, I am damned!
In Spring Awakenings, Melchior, the atheist rabble rouser realizes that he has been set up and declares:
There’s a moment you know…you’re fucked –
Not an inch more room to self-destruct
And the chorus confirms:
Yeah, you’re fucked all right – and all for spite
You can kiss your sorry ass goodbye
Totally fucked – will they mess you up?
Well you know they’re gonna try
Totally Fucked - Song Not Safe For Work (Duh!)
Both shows won Tonys for Best Musical and Best Featured Actor among other awards. Les Miz was part of the 80s British invasion that brought similarly overwrought and lavishly produced shows like Cats, Phantom Of The Opera, and Miss Saigon. Perhaps Spring Awakenings will bring in a new era of shows that rely on energy and rock intensity instead of massive sets and operatic crescendos. Let’s hope so.
Here's a video clip (also NSFW) from the official site:
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do you like your musicals big and bold or dark and edgy?
Monday, August 06, 2007
Driven by blog peer pressure by trusty getto, I took the time on my recent trip to New York to check out Coney Island. My only knowledge of the place is the distant memory of The Warriors and the many grainy sepia images that always accompany cable channel shows on roller coasters. The first thing we saw was the grand-daddy of all roller coasters, The Cyclone. My son and I immediately got in line. Since on the first ride, we were in the middle of the car, we exercised our four dollar ride again option and that is when this picture was taken.
For as small as it was, the Cyclone was one of the more frightening coasters I have ever been on, especially since I don’t like the wooden bone shaking type. The Cyclone is not just rickety, it is steep and fast for such a little looking coaster.
Coney Island itself was both more and less than I expected. Astroland, which may or may not become some resort condo development, was no trashier than dozen of traveling carnivals I have thoroughly enjoyed, albeit it’s a permanent fixture. After two trips on the Cyclone, we weren't ready for any more carnival rides, so we pressed on to the beach. The boardwalk was suitably wide and grand but suffered from some serious maintenance issues. Loose boards and open holes made walking a hazard, so I have no idea how other people kept tempting tetanus by walking on it barefoot.
The food was varied and delicious. We ate the mandatory Nathan’s hot dog even though we could have gotten the same thing at every turnpike rest area in Jersey. But it just seems better on the boardwalk.
Every couple of feet there was some sort of live entertainment. There was a jazz group of Messianic Jews (a concept my kid couldn't quite comprehend), a karaoke kiosk that I was dragged away from before I could sign up, and a very good Cuban band with a large crowd watching folks dance to the tunes. Down the way, we could see a stadium full of people watching the Coney Island Coasters play. Truly something for everybody to enjoy on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
People-watching is the real main attraction, particularly if you are fond of tattoo ink. There were some really awesome tatts on display. I kept worrying about crossing the line from glancing into gawking. One girl had great art that kept disappearing into her bikini only to emerge somewhere else. My wife expressed concern about the shape these images would transform into as age and gravity take their toll.
The surrounding town has obviously seen better days. There were way too many boarded up storefronts and the places that were open made the tourist shops in other towns look like Neiman Marcus. Prime beachfront property was being used as a parking lot for the large collection of the proverbial short buses I have ever seen. It seems there is a lot of land and rehab opportunity available with destroying what little charm remains.
I appreciate the function and history of Coney Island. It’s great to have a beautiful beach just a short distance from the city with direct public transportation access. I’m not beach person but I’m glad I got to see this historic gem of an older era before some developer turns it into a glitzy reminder of what it once was.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is Coney Island a run-down blight or a treasured piece of Americana?
Friday, August 03, 2007
|You Are 36% NYC|
Okay, so maybe you've been to NYC. But you probably really live in Connecticut.
As much as a loathe to admit it, my heritage is New England even though I never lived there. Maybe that is why I like HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything (she recently gave herself a promotion) because she is true Boston and I get to live vicariously through her.
I took some quiz I found on Google that finds your best place to live. It was not a joke quiz and took awhile to do. I was a little pissed when I got to the end and it wanted tons of personal information, so of course I lied to it. Still it came up with good ideas.
Your Top Spots
At least both Baltimore and Washington came in the Top 10, so maybe I'll stay where I am for now.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are you living in your best place?