Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NAtional BLAtant PLUgging MOnth


November is coming and to thousands of bloggers and other people that like to tickle the keyboard, it’s also National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I’ve poked gentle fun at this exercise in mass delusion before, but I try not to ridicule it too much. Particularly since many of my readers or lurkers probably participate. Mostly my disdain is a large bowl of sour grapes, since I’m not sure I have a novel in me, and definitely not one that would only take thirty days to write.

I’ve even run into a few real life NaNoWriMo “winners”. Admittedly, the Neil Gaiman autograph line doesn’t count as a random cross-section, but clearly a lot of people do it. If you are let me know either in the comments or on your own blog and I will provide moral support.

I created my own alternative called National Just Read More Novels. In January of each year, participants read at least one novel as opposed to a memoir or non-fiction book. It’s easy and fun and was the inspiration for my monthly BooksFirst feature.




While randomly surfing other blogs, I ran into someone with a button in their sidebar for NaBloPoMo. Wanting to keep up with the state of the art in NaMoWriMo parody sites, I checked it out. It’s a blogging sub-community called National Blog Posting Month, obviously dedicated to posting daily for one month. I have always envied daily bloggers like Blogography. A good part of their success is through pure determination. I can’t admit it’s because they’re much better writers than me (even though it’s true) because that would be too discouraging.

Besides with all the work I’ve been putting into Dowd Report, I’m posting anywhere between 6 and 8 times a week anyways, just not all in the same place. I may end up cross-posting a little and I have been holding back some quick and easy memes to use as filler. Feel free to join the ride.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hillary The Hippie


The GOP Media Meme Manipulation Machine aka The Dirty Tricks Squad is masterful at defining their opponents in the most unflattering light possible. They take a grain of caricature and transmogrify it into a mental shorthand in the minds of the voters. It doesn’t matter how disingenuous the cheap shot, all it has to do is resonate in the mind of the public. Just ask Internet Al the Serial Liar or Jean-Paul Kerry the Flip Flopper. Let me introduce their next work of genius: Hillary the Hippie.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, recently co-sponsored a rather piddly one million dollar earmark for a museum in upstate New York. This is the type of petty penny-ante pork barrel stuff that a junior senator is supposed to support. Except the museum is in Bethel, New York, the real site of the Woodstock concert, which makes it The Hippie Museum. That piece of routine home district bone-throwing will prove to be a strategic error for the Clinton campaign on par with riding in a tank while wearing an Elmer Fudd helmet or windsurfing off Nantucket Sound in a hundred dollar farmer john. Just check out the first salvo in this McCain commercial:



As Joel Achenbach explains in the Washington Post, the Woodstock connection is mostly incidental. The museum is an ancillary piece of the much larger Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. And by “center for the arts”, they mean an outdoor concert pavilion designed to cash in on the lucrative summer shed tour business. It competes with Saratoga Springs for shows that hit places like Wolf Trap, Nissan Pavilion, and Merriweather Post. Bob Dylan played there this summer. So did Dave Brubeck, Brad Paisley, and the Boston Pops. The concession stand sells ginger and garlic hummus. It’s a place for sipping six dollar Heinekens, not rolling fatties from a nickel bag.

In short, it’s a tourism development project with a gift shop attached. The museum portion is strictly to bring in some daytime gawkers between shows and sell some tchotchkes to aging Baby Boomers who may or may not have been at the original Woodstock, depending on the clarity of their memory and quality of their weed. Check out the online preview if you doubt me.

That this vistors center with a few exhibit halls has been exaggerated into a monument to Free Love and Brown Acid is no accident. By rhetorically turning it into some budget-busting tribute to the counter-culture, the Right Wing Echosphere can confabulate Hillary the Unreformed 60s Activist with Hillary the Free-Spending Liberal into Hillary the Hippie. Just mentioning the Hippie Museum will invoke all the subliminal baggage the eventual Republican nominee needs to paint Clinton as a wild-eyed, drug-crazed, tax-and-spend radical.

Whether that image is true or not doesn’t matter. If it’s a portrait they can make stick, it will become true, and everything she says, does, or promises will be filtered through that perspective. People have tried to pin an image on Hillary before. There has been Hillary the Ashtray Throwing Housewife, Hillary the Health Care Harpy, Hillary the Carpetbagger. While all these previous views appeal to those who already hate Hillary (which is a not insignificant bipartisan percentage of the electorate), they don’t put that cynical spot of doubt in the mind of the fencesitter.

However, Hillary the Hippie could have legs. Unshaven hippie legs turned into pantsuit-wearing politician legs. Expect to be deluged with every Sixties era snapshot of Hillary the Opposition Research teams can unearth. The bigger the glasses and the longer the hair, the better. Once Hillary the Hippie becomes a talk show staple punchline, the swiftboaters can relax and let the mainstream media do the rest of the dirty work. By this time next year, the Halloween stores will be filled with latex Hillary masks bundled with peace symbols, fringe vests, and love beads. Check out my poorly photoshopped mock-up. It’ll be the most terrifying costume of the 2008 election.



BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which Hillary do you see?

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Vonnegut Shelf


Click on picture for a bigger view in a new window

You can tell a lot about people by their bookshelves. Mine are messy, cluttered, and over-stuffed. The pride of my book collection is what I call the Vonnegut Shelf. It contains all the major hardback editions of my various Kurt Vonnegut collectibles and related ephemera. Here is an abridged guide to the highlights.

  1. My wife collects penguins of different materials. We have wood, glass, coal, quartz, and several obscure types of stones. When we were in China, the big quest was to find a jade penguin, which is a humorous story all in itself. I had to move a bunch of the penguins off the shelf to take the picture, so only a representative selection is visible.

  2. I wrote about my letter from Vonnegut back at the time of his death (so it goes). I keep it in a pretty cheap picture frame and the magic marker signature is starting to show some fading. The envelope it came in was hand addressed, but it has long disappeared.

  3. For our first anniversary (which is the paper anniversary), my wife gave me a first edition of Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. A book dealer just a little up the road from our apartment in Tampa had a copy. Nowadays they are only available from internet dealers at prices easily five to ten times what she paid. It is one of my most treasured possessions for several layers of sentimental reasons. Next to it is the equally rare, but much less valuable book club edition.

  4. Vonnegut’s most famous novel is Slaughterhouse Five and first editions of it go for nearly as much as the much older Player Piano. I have two copies and I’m not sure what it would take to make me part with either.

  5. My favorite later Vonnegut novel is Bluebeard and I own four different versions of the book. In the red paper cover is the galley proof. The faux-leather bound fancy version is the Franklin Press limited edition. These are silly collector plate type of editions designed to rip-off collectors. I bought mine used at less than what the original price. Next to it is the standard “trade” edition first printing. At the top left of the picture, in a yellow cover, is the latest paperback edition you can get at your local BigBoxOfBooks®. I have had to slowly buy reading copies of all my Vonnegut novels.

  6. The one and only time I saw Kurt Vonnegut in person was when he was autographing his last original book, Timequake. The picture of me standing next to him while he is signing it is still misplaced somewhere.

  7. For his 60th birthday, Vonnegut’s publisher in cahoots with wife Jill Krementz put together a commemorative collection of tributes to him called Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut in homage to his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June. This book was never available for purchase.

  8. Another rare piece of Vonnegutia is the ostensible children’s book Sun Moon Star he wrote with artist Ivan Chermayeff in 1980. While hardly rare, it is usually not listed in bibliographies of his works. Somehow I’ve ended up with two copies.

  9. In addition to the printed works, I have a few audio recordings. One is a cassette of excerpts from Slaughterhouse Five read by Vonnegut himself. The full unabridged CD version is read by Ethan Hawke. I also bought on a whim a CD collection of interviews with him. Ironically, I have never listened to any of them because they are all still in the original shrink rap as if they were precious Star Wars figurines. Not on the shelf is the ten-minute CD called “Tock Tick” which is Vonnegut reading the backwards bombing sequence from S5 set to music by Simon Heselev.

  10. When we first moved to Maryland, one of our must-do items was to take our son to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The two wooden eggs are the souvenir of that rainy Monday. The blue one is the standard egg given to all the kids. The yellow one is the much less common one with Sock’s paw print on it. My son has no memory of the event, but I’m still thrilled he got to do it.
I hope to give tours of other parts of my book collection in future posts, but these are the crown jewels.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How do you display your books or collectibles?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Good Sports


The World Series is upon us and it is incumbent upon us non-sports fans to pay a minimal level of attention so that we aren’t completely cut out of water cooler talk. I’m pretty sure one of the teams is from Boston because Her Royal Highness Courtney, Queen of Everything is sure excited about something.

I don’t follow pro sports and have used all the time I have saved by not watching 20 hours a week of ESPN on even more ephemeral pursuits such as what you are reading now. I couldn’t name five current baseball players even if coerced under enhanced interrogation techniques personally conducted by Dick Cheney. I think the best paid baseball player is named A-Hole or something like that and plays for the Yankees. And my new favorite stolen line is that rooting for the Yankees is like hoping Brad Pitt gets lucky.

In developing sports loyalties, there are hierarchies. As a Baltimore resident, I have to support the Orioles until they are mathematically eliminated, which is usually about mid-May. With DC nearby, I’m allowed to have the Nationals as my National League team, but I keep reminding myself that they are really the Montreal Canuckis in disguise.

My high school hometown is Tampa, so I would have claim to the Devil Rays except that due to the machinations of waste removal capo Wayne Huizenga (remind me someday to spin my conspiracy theory about how Blockbuster was a money laundering scheme gone horribly profitable), the Tampa Bay area was deprived of a franchise until long after I moved away.

In my youth, the Cincinnati Reds in their heyday spring trained in Florida. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon when there were no good monster movies on television I would actually watch the Reds. It's entirely possible I even saw The Big Red Machine play a game or two. I might have even once stuck a Johnny Bench trading card in the spokes of my banana seat bicycle, but don’t make me swear to it. I’m not sure the Reds are even in major league baseball anymore. They may have been traded to Europe for David Beckham.

My astoundingly undistinguished Little League® career is no help either. Unlike other people with fond memories from their youth, five seasons of wearing itchy poorly fitting stretch polyester knickers didn’t fill me with nostalgia. My year with Palma Ceia Tigers when we went winless was my only memorable season. I spent many an otherwise perfectly fine afternoon counting daisies in right field. If it weren’t for two inning must-play rules I would have never seen the inside of a batter’s box. Getting beaned by wild pitches was my most successful on-base strategy. According to Moneyball (reviewed here), I was well ahead of my time in that regard. If it weren’t for the free suicide soda after the game, I never would have lasted an entire season.

My maternal grandfather was a lifetime Massachusetts resident and I do have both an uncle and an aunt (pronounced awwnt) living in Beantown. By rights of two degrees of separation, I can officially declare the Boston Rouge Hosiery to be my favorites in the World Series over the Square State Mountain Ranges (Ha! I lead you to believe I didn’t know who the teams were). I just fear that if the Sox win two World Series in the same century, success will go to their head and people may even expect Ben Affleck’s career to recover.

The hosiery jab does remind me that baseball team nicknames are far wimpier than football teams. I don’t know of any football teams named after articles of apparel. Even in a Jeopardy category like Sporting Birds, you would have to admit that Eagles, Falcons, and Ravens are much tougher than Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Orioles. Of course, this is coming from a guy whose college mascot is a particularly ferocious insect.

Play ball! Wake me when it's over.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How do you pick a favorite team? Cute uniforms? Hot guys? Fewest team felonies?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore's Closet Mates


J. K. Rowling has outed Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster (snicker, snicker) of Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter novels, as being gay. In hindsight this is forehead slappingly obvious. Here was an elderly bachelor whose calling in life was teaching young wizards how to control their wand. And not to give away any spoilers (and the Harry Potter Spoiler Free Period has long expired), but Deathly Hallows (which I reviewed here) has a very touching and even more tragic backstory on the tale of Dumbledore's one true love (which wasn't Harry and calls into question the whole relationship with Snape).

The reaction has been mixed, mostly lining up against Rowling for revealing details outside the canon of the printed works. I defend her on the grounds that she had to stop a line from getting into the next movie that would have been untrue to the character. Still, I am uncomfortable with having to reveal the sexual orientation of a character where it plays no significance to the story. Besides we shouldn’t be spreading rumors about the deceased (and that WAS a spoiler).

Normally I eschew outing celebrities against their will, but this revelation has made me wonder about other fictional characters. I did a survey on ambiguously gay comic strip characters earlier this year, but there are some characters in popular movie and television series that I wonder about just a little.



Scotty – While wishful thinking fans literally invented the slash fiction genre with their Kirk/Spock fantasies, Scotty is the one that seemed married to the ship. He always had some excuse to tend to the warp cores while Kirk ran around chasing every skirt in the quadrant. I’m no Star Trek: TOS expert, but I’m not sure our favorite engineer ever got some trim that wasn’t related to the navigational systems.


Chewbacca – Making fun of the prissy ways of C3P0 is just too easy, but we shouldn’t confuse effeminate with gay. When it comes to a big hairy critter, nobody is a bigger bear than Chewey. His unrequited crush on Han is what kept him on board the Millennium Falcon and saving the galaxy’s ass more than once. While the non-canonical Holiday Special hints at a family life, can you really tell Wookie genders under all that fur?


Starbuck – I mean Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica: The Original Series with Dirk Benedict, not Kara Thrace from the remake (not that that wouldn’t fulfill some fantasies as well, but I think we have too much on screen evidence of Kara’s proclivities). Between the blinged-out uniforms and the feathered hairdos, Apollo and Starbuck would have looked as home in Studio 54 as they did in a Viper. It doesn’t help Dirk’s case that he went on to be “Face” on The A-Team. Talk about typecasting.


Gabrielle - There isn’t even subtext here. The blatantly Sapphic trysts on Xena: Warrior Princess became a running joke. I just needed an excuse to Google a picture of Rene√© O'Connor so that this post doesn’t look like a complete sausage-fest.


Pikachu – The love between a Pokemon and its trainer dare not speak its name. Pikachu! I call you! A closet case.

For more suspect fantasy characters see this post on Cup Of Joe or the thread on ExtremeSkins (the fact that this is a football message board worries me just a little).

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What otherwise innocuous characters have been hiding in the closet?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free Speech, Free Beer, Free Music


The word “free” has different contexts. Free beer is different from free speech and free music was never really free. In the late 1990s I was a casual music pirate. I used Internet Relay Chat to navigate the really geeky text based chat service that had become a file sharing service. I used IRC to grab many of the tracks I put on my Women That Rock and Women That Rock Too mix CDs. As file sharing became more and more prevalent, I began looking for newer things.

At first, peoples’ shared libraries were just mish-mashes of random tracks. Then they got bigger and bigger and more organized. With the right commands on IRC, you could download peoples’ entire playlists and browse through them like a checklist. I would be stunned to find some with over a thousand songs with capacities in the gigabytes. In 1999 that was a lot of storage.

File sharing soon changed from being a treasure hunt to tidal wave. There was more music out there than any single person could ever listen to. I made it a sort of game. I would go looking for a particular artist or genre, the more obscure the better.


While not particularly obscure, I had a passing interest in the Beastie Boys but wasn’t about to buy multiple albums just to get a few tracks. I got some of my younger hipper coworkers to come up with a list of their favorite tracks and I went hunting. Soon I had a seventeen song playlist that I got from a couple of sources. Shortly afterwards, the Beasties put out a 2-disc 42 track compilation. I like my more selective list better. The only song I have missing from The Sounds of Science is “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, a pretty serious omission on their part. Besides, eighty minutes of Beasties is plenty.

I can date exactly when I became jaded with file swapping. I knew Midnite Vultures a new Beck album was coming out. I decided to see how long it took for the entire album to show up on IRC to measure just how fast the piracy system was working. The official release date was November 16, 1999. Even I was stunned with how efficient the pirates were. There was a full rip of the advance promotional copy available two weeks early. How was a record company supposed to compete when their product is available on the internet before it’s in the stores? That is a rhetorical question they still haven’t figured out.

That is when I realized that pirating music was just shooting fish in a barrel. I quit downloading full albums. If I wanted to listen to an entire album I should want to be willing to spend something on it. When everything is free, nothing has a value.

I leave you with two Beastie songs to keep your body movin'. Just don’t steal the tunes.


Beastie Boys-Three MC's And One DJBeastie Boys-Alive


BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where do you get your music?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sex Scandal Mad Libs


I’m a big fan of schadenfreude especially when it comes with a side order of hypocrisy, but lately the truly disturbing stories of people in high places getting caught doing exactly what they rail against has become tiresome.

They are coming so fast and furious it’s hard to even keep track of them. In a way, they all sound alike. In fact, they resemble really bad Mad Libs with each story trying to top the next one.

Here is the formula where you just fill in the blanks:

{Incredibly white-bread name}, {political office or religious figure} from (state, the redder the better} was {past tense verb} (location or situation) by (law enforcement figure} for {crime against nature}. {Person or group} claims {extremely absurd rationalization or laughably implausible explanation}.

Let’s try a few:

Larry Craig, a senator from Idaho was arrested at the Minneapolis airport by an undercover police officer for tapping his foot to solicit gay sex in the restroom. The accused claims that he has a wide stance and was trying to remove toilet paper from his shoe.

David Vitter, a senator from Louisiana was accused in New Orleans by a Canal Street hooker of paying prostitutes to let him wear diapers. Vitter admitted to paying prostitutes, just not wearing diapers at the same time.

Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University was sued over wrongful termination by three former professors for disclosing irregularities including his wife’s affair with a sixteen year old boy. Roberts claims “The untrue allegations of sexual misconduct by my wife have hurt the most. It has broken her heart and the hearts of my children.”

Gary Aldridge, pastor of Thorington Road Baptist Church in Alabama was pronounced dead of auto erotic "accidental mechanical asphyxia" by the medical examiner for wearing two rubber wetsuits and mask while hogtied with a sex toy in his anus. Church officials claim that community members should refrain from speculation about what led to Aldridge's demise.

Clayton Goober, deputy mayor of BFE, Pennsyltucky was lynched by angry environmental activists at the NAMBLA convention for running a panda bear prostitution ring. Goober's gay lover claims that he was undercover investigating al Qaeda attacks aimed at disrupting the NCAA womens volleyball tournament.

Okay, I made that last one up, but it was hard to top the real stories. The depths of human depravity used to amuse me, but now I get worried that truth is stranger and creepier than fiction.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Give the Sex Scandal MadLib a try.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Toilette TMI


What is the internet for if not for sharing intimate grooming and hygienic habits with complete strangers? The latest scheme to make people open up is a meme created by Jeff of View From The Cloud. He came up with sixteen questions that fall just short of anything too graphic. Since I have sung the praises the Washlet toilet, I have proven I have no shame and have no excuse to not play along.

1. Conditioner y/n?
I use Pert Plus Shampoo and Light Conditioner for Fine and Oily Hair. So, technically there is some conditioner in there, but I don’t do the whole Lather, Rinse, Repeat routine.

2. Razor - manual, electric?
I used cheap disposables for years, but since I never bothered replacing them, my wife got tired of me leaving the house with a face full of tissue. So I have gone electric.

3. Shaving cream - foam, gel?
Bareback. I shave right out of the shower, so it is plenty soft and supple enough to shave without any additional emoluments.

4. After shave - y/n, brand?
I had a boss once that wore heavy aftershave and would come into my cube and use my phone. The rest of the day my phone reeked of cheap aftershave. I swore I would never get there.

5. Toothbrush - regular or electric?
Plain toothbrush. My wife is in charge of changing it out when it wears out. My dentist gives me a new one with every visit and they just accumulate in my car.

6. Toothpaste - regular or gel, whitening etc?
Our latest brand is the cinnamon flavored gel. Delicious.

7. Floss - y/n, flavored, thick/thin, waxed?
Maybe twice a year, usually just before a dentist visit. I was told a long time ago that I only needed to floss the teeth I want to keep.

8. Mouthwash - y/n, brand?
No, but I never refuse a breath mint or a stick of gum.

9. Toilet paper - over or under?

Over. Anything else is heresy that risks eternal damnation.

10. Magazines?
No. My morning constitutional does involve the Washington Post Style section. We have now entered the TMI Zone.

11. Hair dryer or towel dry?
The benefit of thinning hair is that the availability of hair dryers is never a factor when I am booking lodging for myself. My wife still needs the full blowdry.

12. Hair "products" - moose, gel, hairspray, etc?
I have a pump bottle of hairspray called Consort that I use only on formal occasions when the hair has to stay in place.

13. Cologne or body spray - y/n, brand?
Who am I trying to impress?

14. Deodorant - Spray, roll-on, stick (gel or white), scented etc?
The only thing that keeps the swamp that is my armpits under control is the antiperspirant formula of Brut. The great smell of Brut is definitely old school and not carried at Tar-Jay or most grocery stores. Wal-Mart is the only reliable source.

15. Sink and shower soap - liquid, bar, bodywash, etc?
Sink: Liquid hand soap.
Shower: Always some flavor of the shower gel that Bath and Bodyworks carries. The current one is pink grapefruit.

16. Sink cup - disposable Dixie type, regular?
We don't keep one in the bathroom. My wife has a large plastic glass she keeps on her nightstand. It’s my job to fill it up with ice water every evening. A job I frequently neglect.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite bathroom product?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dowd Digg Dudd


One of the complaints about journal style blogs like mine is that they are too unfocused. Basically, I write about what ever enters my undiagnosed attention deficit addled mind without much regard to whether other people find it interesting. It’s almost assured that nobody will be interested in everything since some of it is only written for an audience of one.

The truly successful blogs are relentlessly and narrowly focused. My idol in this category is of course Josh Fruhlinger and his Comics Curmudgeon blog. He has taken a mild obsession with newspaper comics and ridden it to real world fame, if not fortune. But some days I bet he would love to blog about some show he saw or a cute picture of a cat he took, but his format is locked into comics and his fans wouldn’t cotton to a sudden change in direction.

The hardest part of creating a single topic blog is finding a subject obscure enough that hasn’t been taken, yet still appeals to some minuscule fragment of the blog reading public. One tack is to go even more obscure, like the now silent Silent Penultimate Panel Watch or find some hitherto unknown twist on an established blog format like Judge A Book By Its Cover does for book review sites. Some narrow blogs like The Foobiverse!’s Journal develop enormously successful communities of their own.

Besides, I didn’t have a obsession deep enough to make the long term commitment to make such a thing work. That is until the end of Times Select and the return of Maureen Dowd among the great unwashed. My Dowd fascination goes back nearly two years and I welcomed her back in this blog last month.

With Dowd again casting fresh columns onto the internet twice weekly there was an opportunity to fill a new niche on the web. A quick Google tour revealed that while many blogs praised or trashed MoDo on a regular basis, they did so in a broader political context. And none focused on her writing exclusively.

To give my new idea some breathing room from my yellojkt persona, I created a new sock puppet called Mo MoDo and gave it a g-mail address and a Blogger account. Voila, Dowd Report was born. Rather than just gush fanboyishly over every article, my gimmick was to pedantically explain the often arcane inside jokes embedded in the column, hence the subtitle "Lightly Fisking Maureen Dowd". If I came across some larger revelation, that was fine too, but the meta-concept is that Dowd needs explicating and I'm the one to do it. I knew I was on the right track when one of the very first search engine hits was for “what is judi giuliani puppy-killing, husband-hiding, all about”. My entry titled Ringtone Rudy explained that the presidential candidate’s current wife had formerly worked for a company that demonstrated surgical tools on shelter animals. I was filling a need.

But trees that fall in the woods rarely get heard. My China Sights blog gets single digit traffic even when I am updating regularly (as I haven’t lately). I had to get Dowd Report out in front of the blogosphere and that meant some blatant self-promotion. And I do blatant real well. I have a Google Reader Blog Search feed for “Maureen Dowd” that alerts me to other bloggers that discuss Dowd allowing me to comment and link on their blogs. That also gives me material for special “Blogwatch” posts to fill space between the full NYT columns.

About a week ago, I left a comment and link on The Volokh Conspiracy that resulted in over 120 hits over two days. These enormously popular political blogs have very dedicated followings and developing a fan base among them would help Mo MoDo's readership tremendously.

Yesterday, my alert system notified me that Sunday’s Dowd/Colbert collaboration had been “dugg” on Digg. For those that don’t know, Digg is a news aggregator site where readers vote on the most popular articles. Getting “dugg” can bring enormous amounts of traffic to a site. Early Sunday morning, the Dowd column had gotten about 6 diggs and not going very far, but I went and left a comment and a link using my yellojkt Digg account anyways.

The Dowd column languished on the Diggmeter until late last night it when all of a sudden it took off. By this morning it had over 400 diggs and was climbing. Since I had the first comment, a lot of Digg readers clicked over and read my reaction post.

And they hated it. Not only can you “digg” a story, you can “digg” comments on a story. You can also “bury” a story or comment, meaning you didn’t like it. As I write this, my comment’s net dig/bury rank is -50 and falling. The two comments on my comment were:
that post sucked balls.
And
giant hairy donkey balls
I take little solace that the most popular comment for the MoDo column is:
That. Was. Awesome.
Very eloquent, Moncal.

I don’t know whether this very brutal reaction is the result of my breaking some etiquette on linkwhoring, or whether Digg readers just don’t get what I’m trying to do, or if I just really suck that bad. Either way, traffic is still trickling in. Call me want you want, just spell my alias correctly.

I want to reassure both of my regular readers that Foma* will stay as random and navel gazing as ever. You are under no obligation to add Dowd Report to your regular reading, but it’s there if you share my obsession. And if you liked this post, feel free to Digg my article

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How far are you willing to go to build traffic to your site?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting The Geek Right



I’ve been diligently watching the shows on my Show Killer Short List and have not been impressed. To give everything a fair shake, I’ve watched at least two episodes of each of them, but none of these are must see television. However, since I recently upgraded my cable box for a DVR version, I might as well leave them in the record queue an hope they get better.

The one show not on the list that has caught my attention is the new show following How I Met Your Mother (which is showing signs of incipient shark jumping). The Big Bang Theory has a really unpromising premise. Two uber-nerd roommates and their ultra-dork best friends have a superhottie move in next door. All the geeks get crushes on this girl that is so far out of their league that a tee ball player in the World Series has a better chance of scoring than they do.

The show works for two reasons. The first is that the writers get the geek right. When the nerds argue superhero powers, they know what they talk about. When the alpha nerd mumbles on about how string theory is unprovable he is right. Nerds and geeks have been sidekicks and comic relief forever. Usually they are played with a broadness and unsubtlety that makes Jerry Lewis look like Robert DeNiro. From the gadget mastermind of Simon and Simon to breakout dork Urkel, nerds have been laughed at rather than laughed with.

The only other show that even tried to show nerds in an accurate light was Freaks and Geeks, or as it’s known in my house, My High School Resume. Seriously, Judd Apatow owes me some coin. While Big Bang plays the nerds for laughs, they do it without malice.

The other part of the show that breaks the mold is that the blond neighbor is no bimbo. She isn’t the brightest bulb and has a crappy waitress job at Cheesecake Factory, but she isn’t a Chrissie Snow airhead or a Kelly Bundy slut. She seems to genuinely like the geeks and is only slightly oblivious to their pathetic romantic overtures. I just worry about the creators being able to pull off this one sided sexual tension for too long without things blowing up in their face. And of course, now that I’m watching it, it’s doomed to cancellation.

I could also sue this show for stealing a minor fraction of my life story. My first apartment in college was in a highrise on Peachtree called The Darlington. The average age of the tenants was between geriatric and dead. The building had a sign up front with a running display of the population of Atlanta. I used to joke that they had the sign so that rather than send out funeral notices when a resident died, they could just click down the count by one.

Anyways, the basement elevator lobby exited to the parking lot and I kept running into a very attractive blond and we would make small talk while waiting for the elevator. It turns out she was a dancer at one of the B-list strip bars in town. Her life had plenty of drama. Everytime we ran into each other she would update me on the situation. She broke up with her boyfriend, moved out, moved back in, made up with the boyfriend and so on.

She would invite me to come see her at the club and I kept politely making excuses. She seemed genuinely hurt I never came by. Her trying to drum up business may have been part of her friendliness, but she seemed preternaturally perky even when coming home from a double shift on the pole.

So here I was a nineteen-year-old geek regularly chit-chatting with an exotic dancer never realizing this would make a great premise for a sitcom. I only lived there three months and never saw my erstwhile elevator pal again. I harbored no delusions about my chances with her even if I had been available, but you can never have too many hot blonde friends. And it never hurts to be friendly to someone no matter how good looking they are.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What TV show is based on your life?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cook Of The House


You Are a Learning Cook

You've got the makings of an excellent cook, and the desire to be one.
But right now, you're just lacking the experience. You couldn't be a top chef yet, but you could be an apprentice.


About twelve years ago, when we moved to Maryland, my wife decided to give her attempt at a teaching degree one more shot. Being an understanding husband and not wanting to impair her earning potential in any way I fully supported her. Having a student spouse and small child necessitated some compromises. This is a recreation of one of those conversations.

WIFE: I’m going to need some help around the house if I’m going to be interning full time and taking night school courses to fill out my prerequisites.
ME: Sure. How can I help?
WIFE: Maybe you could cook dinner.
ME: Hey, no problem. Remember in college when I cooked nothing but spaghetti and meat sauce for an entire semester.
WIFE: That was because you were in the dorms.
ME: Right. When I moved to an apartment, I would steam some broccoli and have a bowl of ice cream.
WIFE: Maybe we want more balanced meals.
ME: No problem. There are all those cookbooks my mom has given you. They’ve never been used. I should be able to figure it out.
WIFE: That’ll be a great help.
ME: So once you’re out of school, you’ll go back to cooking right?
WIFE: A new teacher has a lot of lesson plans to write. That is going to take a lot of time.
ME: So after a year of teaching, you should have a full set of plans and then your time will free up.
WIFE: A teacher has a lot of papers to grade and reports to fill out. I’ll still be pretty busy.
ME: So in about two years we’ll go back to splitting the cooking.
WIFE: We’ll see about that.

That was twelve years ago. I’m still seeing about that. The one time I got militant and made her cook alternate meals, she claimed that my kitchen cleaning quality was so lackluster that she might as well just clean up afterwards herself. While that was part of my strategy, it backfired into making me keep the chef’s toque on.

The first meal in my repertoire was a variation on my dorm-room spaghetti recipe upscaled to family size: one box of spaghetti, one pound of hamburger, and one jar of sauce. I’ve dropped the ice cream accompaniment and just serve broccoli (or green beans) on the side. Over the years, the recipe has been upgraded. The hamburger has been replaced with pre-cooked frozen turkey meatballs and the brand of sauce has been upgraded from Ragu to Prego to Barilla.

But I was determined to make the best of my role and quickly began learning new things. While I can improvise, I need a base to work off of. It bugs my wife that I need a recipe no matter how many times I have prepared it before.

For example, the page in the Good Housekeeping Cookbook with the recipe for Oriental Pork Chops has turned dark brown from all the soaked-in spilled soy sauce. I still need to read the recipe every time even though there are only six ingredients: pork chops, soy sauce, cooking oil, rice wine, garlic, and ginger. It’s getting the right quantity that stumps me.

The most frequently used cooking appliances in our house are in order, the toaster oven, the microwave, and the rice cooker. My wife firmly believes that rice is the only suitable side dish for any meal. I do manage to slip in the occasional pasta-based meal or, even more rarely, some mashed potatoes. My son’s Irish heritage has definitely had to take a back seat to his Vietnamese side.

The Asian dishes I cook are usually just variations on stir-fry. A meat, usually chicken, a sauce, and some vegetables all in one big pan and served over rice. I sometimes eat the rice on the side with butter. My wife and son accuse me of contaminating the rice beyond edibility. My insistence that this was how I was raised falls on deaf ears and has occasionally erupted into major domestic disputes.

Nevertheless, I try to be accommodating. When she has to cook for herself, my wife often eats soups featuring mysterious Vietnamese processed meats and fish sauce. Fish sauce is, as the name implies, made of fish, but exceptionally concentrated and particularly pungent. I used to despise the smell. Really despise it. Then I started cooking a Thai basil chicken recipe that uses fish sauce and I’ve grown accustomed to the stench.

I would bring leftovers of my Thai basil to work and reheat it in the breakroom microwave. The aroma would reek through the office causing my coworkers to wonder what had died. I’d get accused of felinicide and caninicide and other assorted crimes against nature. I’d just smile and say it’s one of my family’s favorite meals and then offer to share the recipe.

Now, with my kid on the road with school activities several nights a week, we have resorted to more easy to cook meals. Once a month we go to a franchise dinner place where we prep and freeze about eight meals at a time. They cost more than making them from scratch, but the ingredients are high quality and pre-measured. Also, the portions can often be stretched to leftovers if my teenage son is not particularly ravenous that night.

Best of all, my wife and I make it a couples night out where we both go there together and split up the making of the meals. She may not realize it, but after twelve years in the kitchen, I’m finally putting her back to work. Just don’t tell her, she might catch on.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who is the cook in your house?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Torture Trading Cards


Al “Torqueberto” Gonzales may be gone, and I already wished him good riddance, but his legacy lives on. It seems that when we repudiated the infamous torture memo, there was another even more super double secret torture memo in the wings to take its place. The New York Times last week in a Pulitzer bait article detailed the long torturous history of our attempts to give the most morally repugnant practices a veneer of legality so that the entire Dubya Administration doesn’t get hauled in front of the Hague at the first opportunity. The story is so convoluted, I put together some baseball card style bios so we can keep the characters straight. I'll let you decide who are the good guys and the the bad guys.

John Yoo
Position: Berkeley law professor serving in the Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)
Nickname: Dr. Yes (given to him by John Ashcroft)
Published Works: The Powers Of War And Peace: The Constitution And Foreign Affairs After 9/11 and War by Other Means: An Insider's Account of the War on Terror

Role: Wrote the original August 2002 Torture Memo that
said no interrogation practices were illegal unless they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or “even death.” A second memo produced at the same time spelled out the approved practices and how often or how long they could be used.
His principal novel legal theory is Unitary Executive Power meaning that during wartime, the president’s authority exceeds that of any law or treaty.

David Addington
Position: Vice President Legal Counsel (2001-2005), Vice President Chief of Staff (October 2005 – present)
Nickname: “The Most Powerful Man You’ve Never Heard Of” (US New & World Report)
Role: According to a Newsweek article titled “Palace Revolt” Addington spearheaded the drive to expand executive power.
Addington and a small band of like-minded lawyers set about providing that cover—a legal argument that the power of the president in time of war was virtually untrammeled.

Minimizing dissent by going behind the backs of bureaucratic rivals was how he played the game. A potentially formidable obstacle, however, was the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC is the most important government office you've never heard of. Its carefully worded opinions are regarded as binding precedent—final say on what the president and all his agencies can and cannot legally do.

The brainy, pleasant and supremely self-confident Yoo became Addington's main man at Justice, a prolific author of legal opinions granting the president maximum power during wartime.
Addington became Cheney’s chief of staff after Scooter Libby’s resignation for his role in exposing Valerie Plame’s CIA employment.

If you truly believe in greater executive power, like his boss does, the right to torture prisoners in defiance of the Geneva Convention and simple human decency just seems like an odd battle to fight.
James B. Comey
Position: Deputy Attorney General (December 2003 through August 2005)
Nickname: "Cuomey" (by Nicknamer-In-Chief Dubya)
Role: Comey was a central figure in the faction of DoJ lawyers that opposed the NSA wiretapping program. In regards to the interrogation memo, the Times reports his reaction:
Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
According to the New York Times:
At a 2004 White House meeting, former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey asserted that “no lawyer” would endorse the legal justification authored by former Justice Department attorney John Yoo for the NSA warrantless surveillance program. Addington reportedly replied that he was a lawyer and found it convincing, to which Comey shot back: “No good lawyer,” according to someone present at the meeting.
Jack Goldsmith
Position: Assistant United States Attorney General and Head of the Office of Legal Counsel (October 2003 to July 2004)
Published Works: The Terror Presidency

Role: Repudiated the John Yoo memos as being overreaching and poorly reasoned. Under his watch, the Justice Department issued a statement that
“Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.”
He was in the room when Gonzales and Andrew Card tried to get John Ashcroft to sign orders authorizing warrantless wiretaps on Americans.

According to the Newsweek article, Addington and Goldsmith clashed repeatedly over presidential power and the balance between protecting America and upholding the laws governing treatment of prisoners.

Stephen J. Bradbury
Position: Head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department (June 23, 2005 to present)
Role: He had been Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the OLC on a probationary basis. Bradbury became head of the OLC when Jack Goldsmith resigned. He signed the official interpretation that all currently practiced CIA interrogation techniques were legal.
[His office issued] a statement that the standard imposed by Mr. McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act would not force any change in the C.I.A.’s practices, according to officials familiar with the memo.
These practices include:
a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Nope. None of these sound like torture. {end sarcasm} They do sound a lot like waterboarding and other war crimes that Gestapo interrogators were sentenced to death for after World War II.

Michael Hayden
Position: Director, National Security Agency (March 1999 - April 2005)
Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (April 2005 - May 2006)
Director of the CIA (May 2006 – present)
Role: When faced with the accusations of the New York Times article, he responded with an internal agency memo that was obtained by the Washington Post. In it he
disputed the suggestion that the Justice Department opinion opened the door to harsher interrogation practices. He described the CIA's interrogation program as "small, carefully run and highly productive."

"Fewer than 100 hardened terrorists have gone through the program since it began in 2002, and, of those, less than a third have required any special methods of questioning,"
So by his own admission, the CIA has tortured over thirty prisoners. And that doesn't include actions by independent contractors or other governmental agencies.

There’s an old joke about a fellow that laments being taunted by his neighbors. He defends himself by whining “Shag one little sheep and the rest of your life you’re known as the village sheep shagger." Well, the same goes for countries that torture prisoners. It only takes one to get a reputation.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are torture advocates war criminals or patriots?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

E Street Band vs. Marching Band


Bruce Springsteen has a new album out that is getting mostly good reviews. He is out this fall touring with the E Street Band. If you read my list of artists I’ve seen multiple times, you know that Bruce is a three-fer, so naturally I wanted to check out the tour for the new album.

Unfortunately, all the dates in my area conflict with my son’s marching band schedule. This leads to one of those ethical dilemmas parents always face: doing something you want to do versus doing something to support your kid. To help make that decision I mentally weighed the relative merits of The E Street Band against The Marching Band.

Band Size

There are 9 people including Bruce in the most recent official group photo.

This year’s band is 35 strong including two drum majors and three color guard members.
(Click picture to see a bigger version.)

Tour Schedule

Bruce is playing 26 dates in 17 cities for the US leg of the tour. There were “rehearsal” shows in Asbury Park and the tour kicked off earlier this week in Hartford. The closest shows to me were Philly and DC.

The Marching Band plays at five home football games and travels to five competitions including Hershey, Wilmington, Cumberland, and Annapolis.

Ticket Prices

At the Verizon Center, most tickets were $95 plus service charges for any decent seat. Current prices on StubHub for non-nosebleed seats range from two hundred to over a thousand.

Four bucks gets you into a home football game. I don’t know what the competitions charge since I usually get in free because “I’m with the band.” I bet five bucks sounds about right.

Ticket Availability

The first DC show sold out in less than five minutes. A second show was added but tickets were all gone by the time I learned about it at noon.

Walk-ups welcome.

Set List

Each night’s setlist is a little different, but it tends to be equal parts new material off his new Magic album, big hits, and older gems.

This year's show celebrates the 50th anniversary of West Side Story featuring excerpts from “Maria” and “Officer Krupke”.

Show Length

Bruce shows are nearly three hours long with over 20 songs.

Each band has ten minutes to perform, but with dozens of bands, a competition can go for 6 to 8 hours.

Saxophonist

Clarence Clemons is one of the world’s best recognized and most loved sidemen in music.


My son is a senior and it's his second year as section leader. This year he is playing the tenor sax in the show.


When all the pros and cons are weighed, especially the all-important sour-grapes there-was-no-way-to-get-Bruce-tickets factor, I think I will spend my fall weekends earning Good Parent Karma Points by driving to obscure stadiums to watch my son play out his senior year in the marching band. Bruce will come back to town someday. My son will never be seventeen again.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who would you rather see, your favorite rock band or your kid's marching band? Come on, be honest.

Friday, October 05, 2007

WikiTedia

Click on picture for entire strip.

When Francesco Marciuliano hemmed and hawed and hinted that maybe My Hero, Ted Forth, the unemployed slightly off-kilter husband of Sally Forth, deserved his own Wikipedia page, I took notice. As the web’s leading Ted Forth expert (the key to internet superlatives is a narrow focus on obscure topics) I could not let this challenge go unanswered. I quickly whipped together a few things and got it up and going. Another fan of Francesco Explains It All (and he does it so much better than Clarissa ever did) cleaned up the references and fellow Comics Curmudgeon woodrowfan added a few tidbits as well. And that is what WikiTeamwork is about. Obsessive fans of ridiculous trivia preserving it forever.

This wasn’t Ces’s first go at WikiBegging. Back in his Drink At Work days, he lamented that despite being the star mid-reliever on the Sally Forth team, he did not have a WikiPage. WikiEthics prevent someone from writing their own WikiLoveFest, so Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Curmudgeon himself, stepped up and got the ball rolling.

So impressed was I with Josh’s sense of public spirit, that I went and created a page for him. Alas, that page is no more. Some WikiCensors came along and determined that Josh, despite having the internet’s preeminent blog covering newspaper comics, was not “notable” enough to merit a few kilobytes of storage on the precious WikiServers. Notability is the stock in trade of who and what merits WikiPresence. If you read the requirements for notability strictly enough I’m not sure Mother Theresa or George Lucas would pass muster. In the blink of an eye, Josh became a WikiNonentity and my hard work vanished.

WikiCommandos are a notorious uptight bunch. They go around slapping threats and admonitions on pages that don’t meet their rigorous WikiStandards. If you look at the WikiPage for Comics Curmudgeon, it is festooned with warnings about lack of references and poor style. It seems nothing is ever quite up to snuff to these high-falutin’ WikiRules.

So that my humble tribute to Ted Forth does not suffer the same fate as Josh, I have replicated the WikiEntry below with revisions to my original post in italics.


Ted Forth


Ted Forth is a character in the syndicated comic strip Sally Forth. Ted is a perpetually forty-year old white collar worker of indeterminate career.[1] Since mid-May of 2007, he has been laid-off and seeking new employment.

Ted's gentle nature and slightly effeminate[2] manners have made him the frequent subject of parody and ridicule, including by the writer of the strip Francesco Marciuliano. Other people find Ted to be a refreshing and realistic portrait of modern fatherhood.[3]

Plot sequences and running gags involving Ted include:
  • He has an obsession with 1980s pop culture trivia.
  • His ten-year-old daughter Hilary does not know what he does for a living. This stems from the fact that Ted's job is never explicitly mentioned, and fans of the strip often debate about it.
  • He becomes highly competitive while coaching girls' softball.
  • He despises his mother-in-law who insults his masculinity.
  • His favorite food is meatloaf.



I've deleted the references section for clarity, but thanks to Scott Nazelrod for getting the right WikiFormat.

I expect I will someday enter a WikiPissing match with some humorless WikiGoon about the notability of poor Ted. And if there is no room for Ted Forth in the WikiVerse, I don’t want to WikiLive there.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who deserves WikiFame?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

MoPhony Delurker Day


The Great Mofo Delurk 2007All you need to create an internet blog meme is a clever idea and a cute logo. When I ran across the MoFo Delurker link, I knew I had found such a combo. Schmutzie who runs the Milk Money Or Not, Here I Come blog is the genius behind this one. It’s a very pretty blog and seems to be very popular. But as she explains:

I have been up and down this internet over the last few weeks and found that there seems to be a drop in comments everywhere.

And I do mean everywhere. From small twenty-hits-a-day weblogs to ones that receive thousands of visitors before noon, people are falling silent when it comes to entering text into the small, white comment boxes, and quite frankly, no matter how many hits you get on any given day, it is a little disheartening to have your comments drop from three to one or from 500 to 250.

It is the commenters, (which are also you and me), who have been falling down on the job.

Of course, this is all horsefeathers. It’s really about driving traffic to her blog. People post her little button all over the web and their readers all go to check it out. And if it increases her comments so much the better.

Which is not a bad thing. I love comments as much as the next guy. Heck, I trademarked BlatantCommentWhoring™. But I refuse to browbeat my readers into commenting. I have previously clearly stated my Lurkers Welcome policy. I would rather have ten dedicated lurkers than a hundred LostGooglers® looking for “Jordan Todosey nude” or “in a bikini” or any other pervy search result.

I don’t blame people for not commenting on every post. Not every post deserves it. When I run through my blogroll, I’ll leave comments on about half the posts just because I can’t always think of something witty, sarcastic, clever, or sympathetic to say. It’s not the blogger’s fault. It’s me.

And speaking of blogrolls, in addition to my lurkers welcome policy, I run a very liberal blogrolling policy. Just ask. But I’m lazy and don’t update very often. I have recently added two new blogs to my must read list. I always need a sexy mysterious lady to live vicariously through and Mistress Of The Dark fits that bill well. I haven’t quite figured out Doghouse Riley yet, but he sure is entertaining.

On a sad note, I keep a separate blogroll for members of the Achenblog Boodle and we lost a boodler recently. The very funny Bob Lewis went by the alias Error Flynn. Even the name was a great running gag. He was a presidential candidate with the campaign slogan “Vote for Error. This Time On Purpose.” He was a font of trivia and jokes and always brought a smile. He passed away after a long illness and our lives are emptier for it. Fellow boodler bc wrote a memorium better than I can say it. That is part of the problem with making virtual friends. Reality intrudes.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: I’m posting this a day early so that my Aussie and European readers get the full benefit of MoPhony Delurker Day. Leave a comment. Or not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

BooksFirst - September 2007


Books Bought
The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
King of the Vagabonds – The Baroque Cycle #2 by Neal Stephenson
Odalisque – The Baroque Cycle #3 by Neal Stephenson
My Boring Ass Life by Kevin Smith
Fiasco by Thomas Ricks
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Books Read
Spook Country by William Gibson
American Virgin: Head by Stephen T Seagle and Becky Cloonan
American Virgin: Going Down by Stephen T Seagle and Becky Cloonan
Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich

Books Heard
The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Commentary

For a good while when I was traveling for business a lot I listened to several books on tape/CD. It’s a great way to “read” books you otherwise might not have time for. For several months I have been listening on and off to The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I read Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything last September. Bryson is best known as a travel writer, but Thunderbolt Kid is a memoir where he travels back to his childhood in the late 50s and early 60s.

The book is more than a memoir in that it is more of a eulogy for the forgotten era of the major city downtown. Many of the funnier parts take place in or around downtown Des Moines, Iowa. He also writes about timeless rites of passage such as seeing naked girls and stealing beer. The tone is nostalgia tinged and prone to comic exaggeration. No person could be as bad a cook as his mother. Well, maybe not. My dad read this book and says Bryson nailed the era dead center. I wasn’t even born until his narrative trails off, but I also recognize a lot of the universal truths of childhood.

I blogged about seeing William Gibson touring in support of Spook Country, so I plowed through it as fast as I could. Stylistically, this is much faster paced and complicated than its predecessor Pattern Recognition (see last month for that synopsis). The two books have one character in common, the new media advertising genius Hubertus Bigend. Here Bigend hires a former punk band front woman to hunt down a new technologically sophisticated art form that involves virtual reality helmets.

The trail immediately goes down a rabbit hole and leads all sorts of other places. This book has a slightly darker and more cyberpunkish tone than Pattern Recognition. There are two other intersecting plots where you don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys until the end, and maybe not even then. The chapters are much shorter and the interlocking narratives give a little whiplash until everything converges. The three points of view are very interesting because they all come from people who aren’t sure what they have got themselves caught up in. The puzzle that gets set up and solved is also very clever and topical and worth a book or two of its own.

The American Virgin series are graphic novel collections that feature a non-superpowered evangelical abstinence advocate as a hero. He practices what he preaches and when his fiancé is brutally raped and killed, he vows vengeance.

The supporting cast is very well-rounded. His best ally is his slutty tatted-up half sister. His brother is a skater punk that takes his vow of chastity a lot less seriously. There are also a lot of unsavory hanger-ons including his Tammy Faye-ish mother.

The huge ironic set-up of the series is that Adam, the titular virgin, keeps finding himself in sexually charged situations where his beliefs and attitudes are always getting challenged. The first volume, Head, has him wading through the moral cultural relativism of Africa where even the Christians have very different outlooks on purity. Going Down, the second volume, continues the revenge track to the leather bars and transvestite underground of Australia. As you can tell by the covers, the artwork is excellent as well as a bit graphic and suggestive.

It’s good to know that a decent education will help become a success in whatever field you apply yourself. Before there was poker on television 24/7, the only game where you could make money was blackjack. Bringing Down The House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions with its subtitle that needs a spoiler warning tells of a blackjack card counting ring made of MIT students that for several years treated Vegas casinos as ATMs. They had a sophisticated team system that upped the odds in their favor considerably.

The book spends some time delving into the gambling subculture, but most of the book is about if and how the MIT sharpies will get caught. There is an arc to the story, but a lot of the moral hand-wringing is glossed over. They make it look and sound easy, but if it were, more people would be doing it. And maybe they are, but I would not want to go head to head with casino security goons under any circumstance.

My wife as a teacher got a good educators discount this weekend on anything and everything at BigBoxOfBooks™, so I went a little hog wild with the new purchases. We’ll see how long it takes me to clear the inventory.

BlatantGettingSuckeredByAMeme: This week is Buy A Friend A Book Week. I had no idea such an event existed, but it seems to happen quarterly. If you miss out this week, the next one is the first week of January, just in time for Just Read More Novels Month.