Monday, February 27, 2006

Mardi Gras Memories

This Tuesday is Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday or Carnivale depending on your locale and upbringing. This year all eyes are on New Orleans as it tries to emerge as a water-logged phoenix from the flooding of Katrina.

My one and only visit to The Big Easy was 18 years ago when I was but a newlywed. I had come home one day with my first bonus check from my first real job and my wife asked if we wanted to go to Mardi Gras since it fell on President’s Day weekend and she would only need to burn two days of vacation. Feeling flush, I said sure.

Then she told me how she tried to make reservations at the Days Inn in Metarie, but had dialed the Dauphin Hotel in the French Quarter by mistake. They had just had a cancellation for a king suite facing the street and we snagged it. I later found out that people make Mardi Gras reservations at this hotel upon check-out for the next year and it sometimes takes years to get upgraded to a street-view.

That sort of serendipitous naivete would work in our favor the whole trip. One morning we were strolling past Brennan’s and I popped in to see if they had a table. They were booked, but gave me a reservation for the next day. It turned out to be the most fantastic dining experience of my life. Eating at Brennan’s is more than a meal. It is a three hour lesson in culinary superlatives ending of course with the original and best Bananas Foster on the planet.

We collected a trunkful of beads without exposing any body parts on either of us. My wife had to explain why some of the balconies would only throw beads to me and not her. I had to tell that the technical term for what the guy was doing on the table at Pat O’Briens was not “mooning” but “flashing”. A Pat O’Briens hurricane is 5 ounces of rum with enough fruit slush to make it go down completely unnoticed. There were people with 4 or 5 empties lined up on their table. We were barely able to stagger back to the hotel after one.

We ate beignets at Café DuMonde. We had mufulattas, and jambalaya and gumbo. We saw celebrities. Buster Poindexter was there and "Hot, Hot, Hot" was the unofficial theme song, even though it was cool enough for my yellow jacket. Nothing screams MTV in the 1980s better than Adam Curry in full TV make-up.

We saw costumes and parade floats unlike any anywhere. The parades were endless, running all times of day and night throught the entire weekend. Each float was more spectacular than the last.

We were surprised by the number of families there in full costume. We had been prepared for a wild orgy of debauchery, but if you just wanted to have a good time, that worked too. There were evangelical groups trying to save souls that were noisier and ruder than any of the more exotically dressed partiers and at least as entertaining.

When Katrina hit, everybody poured out their hearts and wallets to help the victims. I made a modest effort myself. Now the money is running out and people aren’t back in their homes yet. Even though they are more somber than in the past, the parades and festivals are going on with the gallows humor that gets people through tragedy.

New Orleans will survive. It always has. But you can't step in the same river twice and I will always remember the wide-innocence I had when I saw big muddy Mississippi and the Crescent City that sits in its shadow.

Laissez le Bon Temp Rouler!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Shanks For The Tunes

My musical taste is at best, suspect, as I have proved over and over and over. Still, I try to keep up with the cool kids as much as I can. For a middle-aged suburbanite like me, staying up on musical trends is a fool’s game, so I have to rely on the tastes of real hipsters, like Carol with her Friday DrinkPod Download (Pela RAWKS!).

The hippest people I know in real life are Benn Ray and Rachel Whang, the owners of Atomic Books, an independent bookstore in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Hampden in Baltimore. They also have a great blog/e-newsletter called the Mobtown Shank that is crusading to prevent the Starbucks-ification of this great quirky neighborhood that was immortalized in John Waters’ Pecker.

Atomic Books bills itself as “Literary Finds For Mutated Minds” which I think understates the case, particularly on the mutated end of the scale. Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Eggers are the most mainstream type of authors you will find. They run a book club, but they do graphic novels instead of lying memoirists. I don’t think V is For Vendetta or The Watchmen are going to get plugged by Oprah anytime soon.

The best way to characterize their extremely eclectic stock they carry is “a LOT of really weird shit.” They have one whole section of what I would call Ironic Smut, stuff that while not quite adult book store hard-core pr0n, you would never leave on the coffee table during a first date, unless you like giving the impression you are a serial killer. Check out the categories they have on their website if you don’t believe me. I think they do a lot of mail-order business, because you just can’t find these things at your local BigBoxOfBooks™.

A few weeks back when I was in the neighborhood, I picked up Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan and the music issue of Bust, Benn threw in his DIY home-brew CD that he had compiled from various freebie tracks off the internet. It had a bunch of bands that I had heard of like, The Decembrists, Bright Eyes, and Sleater-Kinney. It also had bands I had no clue about like Of Montreal, Deerhoof, and Magnolia Electric Co.

I didn’t think much about it, then the FM antenna went out on my car stereo and for a week all my son and I had to listen to on the way to school was The Shank Best of 2005 CD. And it was good. My son quickly got to like several of the songs. When a dad can impress his jaded teenager with good music, that’s worth everything.

I ended up trekking back to Atomic Books to get the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Franz Ferdinand CDs. Sure I could have used my 10% off bonus points coupon at BigBoxOfMusicAndRefrigerators™, but none of the people working there are hip enough to look out for me the next time. If you want more music links to listen to than I have time to go through, try out Radio Shank.

Thanks Benn and Rachel. For exposing me to new music. For serving a needed niche in the bookselling world. And for making me look cool to my kid.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Memed Again

I got tagged by Courtney, so it's time for me to sigh passive-aggressively, mumble about how I hate memes, roll my eyes and go ahead and do it. Actually, this one asks interesting questions. So many out there don't. If anyone ever tags me with a meme that asks my favorite color or if I've ever kissed another blogger, not only will I not do it, I will publicly ridicule the answers of the person who tagged me. You've been warned.

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?

The color the director filmed it in. Although I do think most old black and white movies would have been in color if it had been available.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

Sports. My eyes glaze over as soon as someone starts citing stats. How can they remember all that useless trivia. On the other hand, ask me who sang “Locomotion” and I can give you three answers.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?

CD’s. Never owned vinyl and I have had too many hard drive crashes to trust my music collection to Bill Gates. I also like being able to hold a case and read the lyrics and stuff.

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going ... ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?

No way. A kid is a lifetime commitment and I love my wife too much.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world's most pressing issue now?

Intolerance. It comes in all flavors.

6: How would you rectify the world's most pressing issue?

Education. Smart people get jobs. People with jobs buy stuff. People with property don’t have time to riot and hate. Most of the time.

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?

There are probably a few people that think I’m a complete asshole when I was really just an immature teenager. I’d behave better to them.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?

A life cut too short is the most significant historical turning point that can be pinpointed. But there are too many assassinations to pick from. JFK, MLK, RFK, Francis Ferdinand. But even if I could, I’m not sure the world would turn out better.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole' Opry --Which do you choose?

Grand Ole’ Opry. The one thing I didn’t get to do in Nashville.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you'd like to solve?

Who killed Nicole Simpson. Me and O.J. will get to the bottom of this one eventually.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

Kurt Vonnegut, of course. And I would cook one of the recipes out of Deadeye Dick. If it were breakfast, I would have Neal Stephenson over for Cap’n Crunch.

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky -- what's the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?

Nothing. True morality is doing the right thing without the silly threat of an afterlife.

I also don't like tagging people with memes, but these folks might be good sports:

J. Po

If you've got better things to do, I understand. And if I didn't tag you it's because I'm too intimidated to. You could do the meme anyways if you want. I'd understand that too. After all, I'm a peace, love, and understanding kind of guy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Olympic Sport: Closet Watching

When my college roommate came out of the closet, he introduced me to a game I call “closet watching”. In his newfound Pride (as dyslexics and lefties tend to do as well), he kept telling me about all the famous people that were gay. This was back in the mid-1980s when there were very few “out” celebrities. A lot of them, like Elton John, Richard Simmons, and Freddy Mercury, fell into the “Well, duh!” category. Some, like Richard Chamberlain, Lily Tomlin, and Jim Nabors, were news to poor sheltered me. Others were pure wishful thinking on his part.

Anyone suspected of being gay went on the Closet Watch List. We would watch for evidence in the press or gossip magazines for evidence one way or another. Many times he was eventually vindicated, but not every celebrity that was rumored to be gay was. Burt Reynolds really was very, very sick.

Then Rock Hudson died of AIDS and this parlor game went mainstream. There are tabloids that have annual, or it sometimes seems weekly, Are They Gay? issues. These articles rarely “out” anyone not already out and are usually just innuendo-ridden rehashes of existing speculation.

In this post-Seinfeldian “not that there’s anything wrong with that” era, closet watching is a much more challenging sport. Even today, some gay celebrities have public personas where it would damage their careers if their fan base knew the truth. One of the unwritten rules is that while it is okay with the mainstream media to be gay, being a hypocrite about your orientation is grounds for scrutiny. The press has developed a set of dog-whistle adjectives to alert those in the know while still sounding innocuous to the general public. For example, gender neutral references to a “partner” or “companion” are a good clue.

Now it seems that there is a male figure skater named Johnny Weir that is rather flamboyant, but not publicly “out”, even though his behavior leaves little doubt about what side of the fence he is on. Who knew there were gay figure skaters? Well, the Advocate claims that half of the recent medal winners are, and they should know. I know I can’t name seven openly gay figure skaters and most people can’t because that is personal information they don’t share with the world.

Hank Stuever of the Washington Post wrote an exceptionally catty article called Out? In? Or Past All That? Johnny Weir's Fancy-Free Skate. The general tone of the article was Johnny, you silly nellie, why are you being so coy? You’re not fooling ANYone, girfriend. Hank Stuever is a very talented features writer who just happens to be gay (A fact not prominently mentioned on his website bio, but why should it be?). He has written excellent articles in the past about closeted celebrities and politicians. I just found the article on Weir particularly mean-spirited. Would such an article have passed muster or even have been considered if the subject had been a hyper-masculine female speed-skater instead of a Bjork impersonator?

Stuever is not the only writer to take a stance on this issue. David Haugh wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune that quoted Rudy Gallindo trashing Weir for his reticence. Being called “over the top” by Rudy is a serious bitch-slap. In counterpoint, Philip Hersh of the same paper took offense to the article in his offical blog saying he doesn’t “give a damn” about Weir’s orientation. Ann Killion of the Mercury News also had a great defense of Johnny’s privacy. For the record I agree with a lot of this article.

When a putatively straight male like me sticks a toe into the waters of sexual identity politics, it can only turn out bad. No matter what I say, I will be branded either a latent homophobe or a humorless politically-correct priss. So as an exercise, I am going to make a list of celebrities, none of which I know for a fact is gay, and it’s very likely that some are not. Then I am going to ask a series of questions that I will not even attempt to answer myself. Think them over.

Sean Hayes
Clay Aiken
Ricky Martin
Brian Boitano
Jake Gyllenhall
Tom Cruise
Collin Ferrell

  • Who on this list would it be safe to write a bitchy article about what an obvious closet queen they are?
  • Who can be safely ridiculed for blatant hypocrisy about their private lives?
  • Which careers would be affected positively or negatively if they were to come out?
  • Is flamboyance a positive or negative trait for a gay celebrity?
  • Do gay celebrities have an obligation to be a role model for closeted homosexuals?
  • Can only gay writers write articles ridiculing closeted gay celebrities?

Johnny’s Olympic medal hopes were dashed when he, as some wags put it, “flamed out” during competition. I’m sure the controversies over his orientation, whether self-inflicted or not, didn’t help his mental preparation. Let’s hope for a world where one day these sort of private conflicts do not have to be public issues.

Update: In the February 22 Post, Libby Copeland writes Drop Till You Shop about a purse-shopping trip with Johnny to Louis Vuitton without mentioning his sexuality once. That's a way to give us a peak inside his closet (literally) without dragging him out.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Awesome 80s Birthday Bash

My wife and I have our birthday today. Yup, same day, year, and everything. After accounting for time zone differences, I am two hours older. Having a shared birthday sure makes remembering it a lot easier. And it's more fun that way too. We usually just celebrate by going to dinner. Since our anniversary is in September, that spreads two nice meals out through the year. But one year we had a big birthday bash.

Two years ago, as we were staring the Big 4-0 in the face, we got really into the numerology of it. Our birthday is February 20th or 2/20. 2 times 20 equals 40, which is how old we were turning. 2 times 40 equaled 80 and the 1980s were a very important decade to us. We went on our first date in 1980; we graduated high school in 1982; we got married in 1986; and our kid was born in 1990. It was a decade with a lot of changes in our lives.

To celebrate, we rented the banquet room of a local restaurant and invited friends and co-workers for an 80s themed bash. We used Trivial Pursuit 80s Edition cards for ice-breaker games. We put out an impossible trivia quiz with questions like, “What was the movie we saw on our first date? (A: Breaking Away)” Some of the guests brought 80s memorabilia. Since most of the participants were similarly aged, it became a great night for looking back.

I put together the music. I went through my iTunes list and then went down to Tar-Jay and bought up all the “Monster Hits of the Eighties”-type compilations I could find. I came up with a playlist of 40 songs I felt embodied the 80s in all their Reagenesque/New Wave-ish contradictory glory. I hooked my iPod up to some speakers and when the guests started arriving, we all got into the 80s groove.

That particular playlist is lost to history, but here is a reasonably accurate recreation:

1. “Down Under” – Men At Work
2. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cindy Lauper
3. “I Ran (So Far Away)” – A Flock of Seagulls
4. “Born In The USA” – Bruce Springsteen
5. “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” – Wang Chung
6. “Come On Eileen” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
7. “Goody Two Shoes” – Adam Ant
8. “Little Red Corvette” – Prince
9. “Material Girl” – Madonna
10. “Jesse’s Girl” – Rick Springfield
11. “Take On Me” – aha
12. “Relax” – Frankie Goes To Holywood
13. “St. Elmo’s Fire” – John Parr
14. “The Safety Dance” – Men Without Hats
15. “Mickey” – Tony Basil
16. “Walking On Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves
17. “Stand” – R.E.M.
18. “Stray Cat Strut” – The Stray Cats
19. “Walk Like An Egyptian” – The Bangles
20. “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” – Culture Club
21. “Hungry Like The Wolf” – Duran Duran
22. “Whip It” – Devo
23. “Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits
24. “Sunglasses at Night” – Corey Hart
25. “Would I Lie To You” – Eurythmics
26. “Obsession” – Animotion
27. “Juke Box Hero” – Foreigner
28. “Rock The Casbah” – The Clash
29. “Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco
30. “Jeopordy” – Greg Kihn Band
31. “The Power of Love” – Huey Lewis and the News
32. “Open Arms” – Journey
33. “She’s A Beauty” – The Tubes
34. “Broken Wings” – Mister Mister
35. “Doctor, Doctor” – The Thompson Twins
36. “True” – Spandau Ballet
37. “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon
38. “Maniac” – Michael Sembello
39. “Like A Virgin” – Madonna
40. “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper

Unlike my Cheesy 70s Songs, this list is not exhaustive or canonical. You may have lived through a different version of the decade. Feel free to disagree or expand. I know there are some major omissions. For example, The Go-Gos are missing. And the lack of hair bands is intentional.

There is also lot of room for debate on the individual songs. Which Madonna or Prince songs best embodies the spirit of the decade? Which is the definitive Men at Work song, “Who Can It Be Know?” or "Down Under”? These are the questions music scholars will be debating for decades long past the musical treasure house that was The Eighties.

And I’m sorry for any tune cooties I may have inflicted on you.

No, I’m not.

If you are here for the first time from the Complimenting Commenter site please read all my recent posts and check out my Best of 2005.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Anansi And The Boys

As the founder of NaJuReMoNoMo I get to make the rules and they do not require any actual reporting on or about the book read. However, as a self-proclaimed Winner with three Oak Leaf Clusters, I fell a certain obligation to provide my bona fides. Here’s a little synopsis of the first of the four books I read in January.

Anansi Boys by Neil Giaman. This as a sequel to the Hugo Award winning American Gods. The oxymoronic phrase “instant classic” is thrown around a little too easily these days, but American Gods is definitely that. A weird, dark, rambling, and in places, intensely funny, look at mythology and human nature, American Gods is a book that makes you just sit and think for about a week after you finish it. Anansi Boys is less a true pick-up-the-pieces sequel and more of a little sidebar story. Much more humorous in tone than American Gods, and several hundred pages shorter, Anansi Boys is about the sad sack son of one of American Gods’s minor but intriguing diety characters.

Anansi is an African spider legend that serves as the seed kernel for a whole host of contemporary tales most people are totally unaware of. Everything from Song of the South to Bugs Bunny owes a debt to the tales of Anansi. In the book, Anansi’s son, Fat Charley, is lucky in the “bad luck is better than no luck at all” sense. He then finds out his dad has died under unusual circumstances and that he has a brother that he never knew about who seems to live a preternaturally charmed life.

Neil Gaiman uses obscure legends and fables to tell a tale that takes place in a magic realist modern London and Florida as well as in the dream world of forgotten myths. The laws of logic don’t really work here and that is part of the mystical charm.

Neil Gaiman is much better known for his comic book work like the Sandman series, but his written fiction carries a lot of that same blurry water-colored dark spirit. Anansi Boys is a slight book that is charming and doesn’t require any knowledge of the epic events of American Gods other than an awareness that forgotten gods still live and die. Pick it up, but be prepared to be both baffled and amused.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inside Mount Foob

Last Saturday when I was reading this For Better or For Worse strip, I nearly snorted iced cappuccino out of my nose. Not because the lame gag about computers was funny, but because the strip is so hypocritical. Elly and John may trust April, but the folks at Foob Central sure don’t trust me. Like any sufficiently obsessive-compulsive blogger, I religiously track my visitor statistics. It seems that the Masters of the Foobiverse do too. My very first post about the History Of The Foobiverse drew a visit from Sudbury, Ontario. When I published my Tour of Foob Central, I was getting two or three visits a day for about a week. From my logs, I could practically tell when Stephanie, the site’s pixie-ish webmistress, showed up at work. She hasn’t been by in a while and I miss her. I was kind of getting a webcrush on her.

Normally, I would be flattered by a look from the subject of one of my posts (are you reading this Angelina?), but when Mount Foob pays attention, bloggers tremble. Johnston and Company have a reputation for zealously protecting their intellectual property. At least one site had to shut down because of pressure from Lynn and the Syndicate. The Foobiverse Journal has received cease and desist letters as well. When this happens, other bloggers like Josh from Comics Curmudgeon take notice. [Update: See the comments for the Josh's experiences.]

I try my best to stay just the side of allowable practice under fair-use, because I would hate to lose my comfy free Blooger account because some system administrator at GoogleWorldHQ didn’t want to listen to my side of the story.

Fortunately, people like Ellcee way more familiar with their foobish quirks warned me against “deep-linking” their content. For graphics, I only use a panel or two of a strip hosted on my own account under the fair use review and commentary principle and always include a link to the original source. This hasn't drawn the wrath of the Lynnions, yet.

So why are they so defensive? It’s all about the eyeballs. Their web page is a huge graphics heavy site that gets over 75 million hits from more than 300,000 unique visitors each month. 600 Gigabytes of monthly traffic is a lot of foobs, and it all costs money. Take a look at the number of unique visitors for 2005:

Notice the big spike in September. That is when Lynn refused to renew her online distribution agreement with Anyone who used to read the strip from that site had to find a new source, and it seems a lot of them turned to Foob Central., and its mirror site, are ad-laden destinations. Any links to content that doesn’t include their ads is taking money out of their pocket. The home page doesn’t even include the current strip. Which means you now have to click on Strip Fix and see even more ads. No one ever accused Lynn of being a foolish businessperson. At least Foob Central doesn’t have pop-ups, so it isn’t all bad.

The whole website is very sticky with lots of reasons to click around. Most people come for the strip fix, but the CafePress specials page actually gets more visits. People also love John’s Coffee Break game and hunting for Ned. And if I were Elly, I’d be a little worried about Liz taking over the strip, since Liz's character page is nearly as popular as our potato-nosed retiring heroine.

There are legitimate licensed ways to see the latest strip without risking a diabetic coma from the splash page of the FBorFW site. The Washington Post and Yahoo skin a feed of the colorized strip from uClick. The Houston Chronicle uses the black and white “official” version but host it on their own servers and keeps an archive of old strips. Most other newspapers just provide a link to the homepages of their comics. The Detroit Free Press does that and is the number one source of incoming links to the FBorFW homepage, accounting for 16% of the incoming traffic from external links.

I hope this behind the scenes tour has been interesting and I haven’t annoyed Lynn or Stephanie by revealing too many trade secrets. Here's my open letter to them:

I still have an open invitation for either of you to leave a comment on my blog. If you want to talk to me privately, just say so and I will e-mail you confidentially. I can find the address on the website. And if I’m ever on MacPherson Drive in Corbiel, I hope I can look you up so you can show me Rod’s trains.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Yahoo Hits and Misses

I love getting hits or even links to my old posts. It lets me think that what I write is just a little less ephemeral than love notes written with a stick in the sand below the high tide mark. Thanks to the links from The Comics Curmudgeon and Drink At Work, my Ted Forth tribute will always get a few residual hits as people read the back posts from those very popular blogs. About a week ago, Freyburg linked to my old mash note to Maureen Dowd. These links bring fresh eyeballs to the blog, some of whom stick around to read newer posts.

Another major traffic builder is the search engines. I am very proud to be the Google “I feel lucky hit” for “foobs” and “alligator mouth”. These are topics that I have deliberately tried to focus on. Search engines, however, are fallible. Plenty of bloggers put together hilarious posts about the misguided and sometimes rather disturbing searches that end up at their sites. There are a lot of sick people out there and I don’t think the NSA or FBI can track them all if they tried.

Often some random conflagration of archived keywords has led searchers to me as a bad practical joke on both of us. The person looking for “tween lesbian summer camp“ did not find what they wanted at my blog. And this guy was persistent. I was only the 132nd highest link for that search. Most misplaced searches are a little less prurient than that. For these people, I like to think that I have something in a post interesting enough to read, even if my blog wasn’t exactly what any particular LostGoogler® was looking for.

Even more benign search words can be very misleading. Yahoo has somehow decided that I am the number two source on the web for “cute baby pictures”. Don't believe me? Click here and see. Nearly 20% of my traffic is now lost Yahoo searchers landing on my site. I also get hits for “cute cartoon babies” and “cute monkey pictures” and a bunch of other minor variations. Yes, I do have a blogpost titled “Cute Baby Pictures” and it does have two pictures of a particularly adorable cousin of mine, but it mostly talks about the nature of cuteness. I don’t think that level of philosophizing is what these people are looking for. They want lots of pictures of cute babies, not links to evolutionary biologists.

This has made me very suspicious of the validity of whatever algorithm Yahoo uses to rate sites. If you put the same search into Google, you get sites like this or this that are far richer in cute babies than mine. These are what people are searching for, I hope.

On this blog I openly lust after Angelina Jolie and post pictures of scantily clad actresses far more often than I wallow in sentimental photos of newborns. I have a rep to protect. So, if you were looking for cute baby pictures, I have thrown one in just to appease you, and feel free to browse through my old posts for, as Monty Pythoners say, something completely different. But if you really want boatloads of pics of grinning, drooling moppets please find yourself a better search engine than Yahoo.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Baltimore MySpace Murder

I hope that my post about the Howard County hooker didn’t set me up as the Baltimore area crime blog, because this blog does it much better. But I liked the Professor Whore story because of its ironic tone. Besides, prostitution is a relatively victimless crime unless you’re the neighbor that has to put up with the traffic and disruption. My post about it was light-hearted and whimsical. This rest of this post is not.

In Baltimore City, over 300 people a year are killed despite the best efforts of the police and the desires of politicians with ambitions for higher office. Every loss of life is tragic, but to rise up to the level of newsworthy in this area, a murder has to have a hook. In what will probably be known in the tabloids as the Baltimore MySpace Murder, the twist is the dangers of on-line dating.

Based on the reports in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, John Christopher Gaumer has been arrested for the murder of Josie Phyllis Brown, a single mother he met through Allegedly, Gaumer beat her and hid her body in the bushes on the ramp between I-95 and I-695. According to his original story, the two had been drinking at bars in the North Charles Street area and he dropped her off at her home in Hampden area.

Since the body was found, after he led police to the site, on a highway that goes past his home on the UMBC campus in Arbutus, there is more to the story than that. I’m sure more of this will be told since he appears to be cooperating with the police. The Sun article insinuates that Gauner was quite the player, quoting a roommate that remembers Gaumer dating at least ten different women over two years, but never meeting the same woman twice.

The Baltimore Sun article also has a lot of information about both the victim and the alleged killer gleaned from various online “social” sites like MySpace and Facebook. The victim was 27 years old, but many users of MySpace are younger. When I wrote my post about Ugly Xanga Sites I mentioned easily finding profiles and messages of teenagers and kids even younger that gave away sensitive personal information including home addresses and cell phone numbers.

Tragic events also seem grimmer when they happen in places you are familiar with. Back in 2000, Ashley Mason, a 14-year old girl, was stabbed 34 times in the head, neck, and torso and left to die behind a dumpster at a Pizza Hut. When I first read this story, I thought back and realized that my family had eaten at that very Pizza Hut earlier that very evening.

Ashley attended, when she bothered to go, the same high school my son now goes to. A pair of low-life drug-dealing losers she was hanging around were eventually convicted of the murder. They have been appealing the verdict that was based on a confession and the DNA evidence. Thankfully, to no avail so far.

As the parent of a teenager, both of these stories terrify me. My son is a “good kid”, but I feel justified in worrying about who he hangs around and what he does online. I think the parents of Josie Brown and Ashley Mason would understand why.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Blog In The Clouds

I need to jump on this bandwagon before everyone gets to it before I do. Keb had her word cloud on her site as a “too bored to blog” post, but I thought it was great. I’ve seen word clouds before, but never knew how to generate one. As a word cloud it seems fairly representative of what I think the blog is about.

The gimmick of the Snapshirt folks is to sell you a tee-shirt with your blog’s (or anybody blog’s, for that matter) word cloud on it. Tee shirts are one of the true money making opportunities of the cyberworld. They are something tangible that represent an intangible affiliation. I think selling tee shirts is what keeps most webcomics afloat. I know my son has contributed to that economic model with this shirt he (and by he, I mean with my money) bought off the web.

I belong to the “been there, seen that, bought the tee shirt” school of travel souvenirs. Shirts are practical and useful. My problem is that I already have a dresser drawer full of tee shirts that I never get around to wearing, but hate to give up. I think I have an Eagles Hell Freezes Over Tour tee shirt that I have never worn. The only problem with clothing as mementoes is that they wear out. If I still had my softball jersey tee from the Van Halen II tour, it would be worth a ton of money, but it must have become a car cleaning rag decades ago.

My most recent tee shirt purchase was a bootleg CafePress Achenblog tee shirt created by kbertucci (nee Reader) of Read/Think/Live. I swooped in and ordered one before Joel Achenbach, the ostensible writer of the blog, put the kibosh on this enterprise.

As Cindy Sheehan recently demonstrated, tee shirts are also speech. More than anything else about your appearance, a printed or logo shirt says tons about your beliefs, values, and consumer habits. I’m just not sure what a tee shirt with a blog word cloud would say about me. Actually, I think I know exactly what it says, and I don’t think I want to say it.

Several years ago, I was at a book reading/signing by Neal Stephenson for Cryptonomicon. One of the other people there was the archetypal pot-bellied, stringy-haired, presumably Linux-using, cypher-hacker. He was wearing a tee shirt with something along these lines on it:


This shirt is classified as a munition and
may not be exported from the United
States, or shown to a foreign national

encryption in perl

#!/bin/perl -s-- -export-a-crypto-system-sig


I pointed out the shirt to my wife and explained why that shows what a geek he was. She just turned to me and said, “You got the joke, what does that make you?”

I am such a dork. There I said it. Now I don’t need the blog cloud tee shirt.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Life In Music

A week ago trusty getto “tagged” me with a meme about music that I had first seen over at mean girl’s. I had been praying this meme would pass me by, but I like trusty too much to blow him off. Instead this meme has been haunting my thoughts for over a week now. The damn thing is way too open ended. Look at it:

1. Tell us of some songs in your life that remind you of a person, place or a specific event in your life. The kind of song that everytime you hear it, it will always, no matter what, make that person, place or "thing" pop into your head instantly. You can write as few or as many "songs" as you want. And it can be a song or two songs or a whole album.

2. Give a brief description of the person, place or thing it reminds you of.

3. You can choose to tag people or not. Whatever you want to do. And you can tag as few or as many people as you want.

4. You don't have to link the songs or the lyrics unless you want to.

5. If you play, you have to leave me a comment so that I can come and read yours.

Music is an enormous part of my life. I have been listening to music since fifth grade when I would stay up past my bedtime listening to the late night DJ on the Top 40 AM station. Where would I start? I have over 400 albums in my CD library. How could I possibly pick just a few songs and have it mean anything? Besides I have always been more of an album guy. I have compromised by picking just a few albums that hit the highlights of either phases in my life or changes in my musical tastes. Here we go:

Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams, Performed by The London Symphonic Orchestra
I have never owned a 33-1/3 LP album. For most of my life, I wouldn’t have had anything to play one on. I started my music collection on cassettes and have naturally migrated to CDs. For Christmas 1976 I asked for and got a little monophonic cassette player and the album my folks bought with it was the Star Wars soundtrack. I listened to it over and over again. I am such a dork.

The Best of Abba
In my middle school years, I lived in the Philippines where the cost of living was pretty low. The Base Exchange sold albums basically at cost for about $5.50. Since my allowance was only two dollars a week, that was a lot of money. Off-base, cassettes sold for 25 pesos, or about 3 bucks. Immediately, my purchasing power nearly doubled. I would spend hours in the off-base music shops carefully selecting what to buy with my allowance and my saved Christmas and birthday money. One of the first tapes I bought was this ABBA compilation.
Look at the track list carefully. It does not match any of the ABBA compilations listed on This one was the Philippine licensed version of a Polydor album from early in their career. I of course now have the definitive ABBA Gold compilation on CD, but this was one of my earliest forays into what would become a love of cheesy music.

'70s Preservation Society Presents Disco Fever
I bought this out of nostalgia late one night in the early 90s when I was left unsupervised watching VH1 in the presence of a credit card. During 8th and 9th grade, my school had dances nearly every other week. This being the height of the disco era, kids really danced at school dances. I had a pair of tight navy polyester pants with matching vest that I wore with a variety of silk print shirts. Fortunately I do not think any photographic evidence of these outfits survive. This particular album has the best variety of songs and artists from the disco era that I have ever seen. Only Donna Summer is missing and that is a minor quibble. When my entire CD collection was stolen in 1993, this was one of three albums the burglar left behind. I thank God for that because this album is truly irreplaceable. Every song on it takes me back to my hormone ridden days of dancing with girls I barely knew in a dark school gym.

Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson – Waylon and Wille
Records in the Philippines were cheap, but nowhere as cheap as in Taiwan where copyright laws were completely unheard of. Any intellectual property could be bought for the price of production. Record albums on the thinnest vinyl imaginable sold for about a quarter. My parents took a vacation there and came back with a suitcase filled with about every country and western album in print. At about the same time I had a best friend that was opening me up to the incredible smuttiness of country lyrics. For a 15 year-old, I became unnaturally familiar with the works of all the mid-70s pop/country greats: Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Charlie Rich, Charlie Pride and others. The greatest in my mind though were the “Outlaws”, Willie, Waylon, and Kris Kristofferson. I am a lost son of Luckenbach, Texas.

Foreigner – Double Vision
In 1979 I moved back to the States and the disco era came to astoundingly abrupt end. In my new environment, I became a rocker. I listed to 98Rock in Tampa. I wore softball sleeve concert tee shirts to school. I grew my hair out as long as my dad would let me. I got tinted prescription glasses to try to look less dorky. Pretty much to no avail. I knew the words to “Hot Blooded” by heart. My coworkers at Wendy’s would goad me into singing it over and over again acapella. I knew they were laughing at me and not with me. I didn’t care. I RAWKED.

The Clash – London Calling
At my high school, the seniors sold records to fund their annual Grad Nite at Disney World. I bought this Clash album on a whim because it counted as a double album but only cost two dollars more than a regular album. That impulse purchase changed my life. Once I heard the raw power of The Clash’s music, I would never listen to music the same. Their energy and anger electrified me. I obsessed over everythin Clash related. My future wife found my devotion to them annoying. I had this pin I wore that was preppy pink and green with an AK-47 centered between the words “The Clash”. She would steal the pin form me because she thought it was tacky. She is perplexed that they are now even more popular and influential than when we were in school. Now my son listens to The Clash as well. Great music never dies.

Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy
I’ve never even owned this album, but I listend to it dozens of times. The Georgia Tech Student Center had a study lounge called The Music Listening Room. It had tables and sofas and armchairs clustered around groups of headphone jacks. You would go in and pick out albums from an enormous library and the DJ would play them first-come, first-served on whatever listening station you were sitting at. I spent hundreds of hours in there exploring about every musical genre that even mildly intrigued me. I tried everything, prog-rock, Zappa, New Wave. I kept coming back to the singer-songwriters. Warren Zevon’s macabre tunes just floored me. This is the sharpest, smartest, sickest songwriting ever recorded.

Billy Joel – Piano Man and Eagles – Greatest Hits
Before we were married, my wife went to a college about 200 miles away from Atlanta. On weekends when I would drive up to see her, I would pack a tray of cassettes for the eight hour round trip. I wanted stuff that I could play loud and keep my mind off the monotony of the road. These two albums were in the tray more often than not. A lot of other albums were in heavy rotation: Glass Houses, 52nd Street, Hotel California, The Long Run. To this day, when I hear a song from these albums, my finger reflexively hits the volume up button.

Lesbian Favorites: Women Like Us
Tampa has a hippie-dippie community radio station WMNF that plays a wide variety of styles. I listened to them in high school for their after-midnight punk rock show. When I moved back after college and would work on Saturdays, I would listen to their two hour Women’s Music Show which featured feminist musicians and political discussion. I did it mostly to annoy an evangelical Christian coworker, but the music grew on me. It exposed me to a lot of artists I never would have heard of otherwise. Years later I ran across a mention of this album and had to have it, mostly to get the Two Nice Girls track. Rather than buy it from Amazon (since there was no way a local record store would stock it) I paid a few extra bucks and bought it mail order from Ladyslipper Music because it seemed the right thing to do.

I hope this rather thin slice through my music collection has totally baffled you. Music is too important to pigeonhole and categorize. Good music is transcendent.

I can’t bring myself to tag anyone with this meme because it is just too powerful. It has made me think and reflect on music I love in ways I haven’t in a long time. You may not realize it, but these are some of the most personal and revealing thoughts ever put on my blog. I will be posting a lot more about music in the future. You have been warned.

Easter Egg notice: The images link to more information about the artist or the album.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Amazing But True

I’ve been staying away from the quizzes and silly memes lately, but Plain Jane had one the other day that just fascinated me because it was all about, well, me. Just from my name, it figured out all these things:

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Yellojkt!

  1. 99 percent of the pumpkins sold in the US end up as yellojkt.
  2. Yellojkt is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the World that still survives.
  3. Yellojkt was first discovered by Alexander the Great in India, and introduced to Europe on his return.
  4. The word 'samba' means 'to rub yellojkt'.
  5. Yellojkt is born white; his pink feathers are caused by pigments in her typical diet of shrimp.
  6. Edinburgh imports three thousand kilograms of yellojkt every year!
  7. Yellojkt will often glow under UV light.
  8. Yellojkt has a bifurcated penis!
  9. The risk of being struck by yellojkt is one occurence every 9,300 years!
  10. Yellojkt is the traditional gift for a couple on their third wedding anniversary.
I am interested in - do tell me about

I’m still trying to figure out how they knew about that I was a marsupial in item 8. I just love the dadaesque Discover Channel meets Zippy the Pinhead randomness of it.

One of the fun things to do with memes is to trace back who they came from Six Degrees of Separation style. Plain Jane got it from MooAlex who got it from Ms Q. who got it from LuckyBuzzz who got it from BrightStar. At this point I thought I had reached a dead end because Bright Star doesn’t have links to the archive from the front page. I was able hack the archive and finally reached WolfAngel where the trail went cold.

As I go through the other blogger’s trivia, I don’t notice many repeats on the silly information. My item 10 was also BrightStar's item 7. Plain Jane and WolfAngel had two things in common. Ms Q., like Plain Jane and WolfAngel, is also just one calorie for ten licks. This item was the only threepeat®.

I just wonder how many pseudo-fact nuggets are embedded in the database of whoever created it. Someone with sharper statistical skill than me could probably estimate how many it would take to have so few repeats from seven different lists. The creators at are truly demented geniuses. Bravo. We need more nutsy whimsy like this to keep us amused.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Movie Stripper Awards

The awards season is upon us. The Golden Globes and the SAG awards have already been awarded and Oscar nominations were just announced. This doesn’t even count the dozen of phony awards shows that will fill all the gaps. It seems everyone gets nominated for something.

The problem with movie awards is that the categories are too broad. Basically, the acting nominations are divided into male and female and leading and supporting. This makes for too many tough comparisons. Can an actress in a period piece really be compared to one in a contemporary thriller. The Grammies have the right idea. They have sub-categories for every imaginable sub-genre of music.

As a public service, I suggest we need a separate category for the different types of roles. One character type that seems to get over looked at awards time is the very important role of Movie Stripper. Movie Strippers are very different from real strippers:

  • Movie strippers never actually take all their clothes off.
  • Movie strippers are attractive even before five beers.
  • Movie strippers seem to have lots time to discuss their personal lives in excruciating detail.
  • Movie strippers have elaborate costumes and choreographed routines that make Broadway musicals seem like kindergarten pageants.
  • Movie strippers don’t use bad make-up to cover their needle tracks.
  • Movie strippers never hustle overpriced drinks then leave as soon as some drunk codger across the room wants a lap dance.
  • Movie strippers never promise to meet you after their shift and then sneak out the back door with the bouncer to avoid you. (OK, this last one might just be me.)

My nominees for the First Annual Jennifer Beals Memorial Award for Best Movie Stripper are:

Natalie Portman in Closer
Natalie Portman has been playing cute objects of affection since Beautiful Girls. Try watching that without a little Nabokovian tinge of guilt. In Closer, she shows she’s all grown up by acting in a movie with other great actors playing morally reprehensible sex addicts. In this case, the stripper is the honest non-screwed-up character. When “dancing” she wears a wild fuscia wig and lavender g-string. She does con Clive Owen out of an obscene amount of money in the private champagne room. Unfortunately, strategically placed camera angles rob internet junkies everywhere of the raw materials for the ultimate Padme Photoshop Phantasy.

Jessica Alba in Sin City
I’m at a disadvantage since I haven’t seen this movie. I understand that it has some really gruesome scenes and I’m not into gruesome, even if Jessica Alba wears chaps and a cowboy hat. I'm not sure I like a trend where an R-rated movie shows the graphic torture of a guy's genitals, but lets the starlet keep her bra on.
I do know that her acting showed absolutely no improvement over two seasons of "Dark Angel", and nothing in her current oeuvre would lead you to believe it has improved any.
Rosario Dawson in Rent
Rosario’s character Mimi is a junkie and HIV-positive, providing at least some brief nod to reality. Her character's AIDS causes her to develop a really bad cough that doesn’t prevent her from hitting the high notes in her big dying number.
The sleazy LES strip bar where she dances, when not hitting on the HIV+ cowboy songwriter, is more lavishly decorated than places with $50 covers where Howard Stern hangs out. Rent is a PG-13 movie which means the extras on "The Sopranos" get to show more skin.

Since the awards shows won't recognize the valuable contributions of these thespians, I have started my own poll. Vote below and be sure to leave a comment if you vote for other.