Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Favorite Poemer

April was National Poetry Month and I managed to nearly let it slip by unnoticed. Several of my blogroll buddies have been far more dedicated. The Geekwif has been including poems in nearly every post this month. Karen from Read/Think/Live posted about a really cool haiku-style poem form based on the Fibonacci Series. And of course, Lisa Manzi from Lam(b) is a real life published poet.

I find being a professional poet a very devoted calling since "nobody gets paid to be a poemer" to quote Bucky the Cat. That may not be totally true, but poetry is definitely one of more underpaid career choices.

My favorite poet is the late Richard Brautigan. Brautigan is one of the minor Beat poets known for his quirky metaphors and non sequitor style. His novel Trout Fishing in America is his most famous work, but I find his poetry just as mind expanding and intriguing.

In high school, I found a rather tattered copy of Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt at the used bookstore I practically lived in. I would get to English class a little early and write one of his poems on the chalkboard as an alternative to all the traditional poems we would study in class. I’m not sure my teacher appreciated my contribution, but she at least tolerated it.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Have You Ever Felt Like A Wounded Cow

Have you ever felt like a wounded cow
halfway between an oven and a pasture?
walking in a trance toward a pregnant
seventeen-year-old housewife’s
two-day-old cookbook?
Propelled By Portals Whose Only Shame

Propelled by portals whose only shame
is a zeppelin’s shadow crossing a field
of burning bathtubs,
I ask myself: There must be more to life
than this?
Nice Ass

There is so much lost
and so much gained in
those words.

The last poem was always particularly provocative. People who were offended by it (and there were many) obviously just didn’t “get it.”

Richard Brautigan died of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound in 1984. His body wasn’t found until about six weeks after his death. Friends had become suspicious of his absence and broke into his home to find him.

A poet’s life can be very lonely, but no one should die that alone.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Enough is Enough

I am very sorry to announce that I have turned on Comment Verification. The ratio of spam comments to real comments has been increasing steadily lately. At first I ignored it and actually found some of them misguidedly kind of funny. I would delete them when I caught them, but many get posted on very old blogposts and I don’t find them until I starting looking through the archive for something.

I have all my comments sent to my blog e-mail address so I can catch the occasional comment on old posts. Within the past day or so I have gotten over half a dozen of this particular spamment:

Very nice! I found a place where you can
make some nice extra cash secret shopping. Just go to the site below
and put in your zip to see what's available in your area.
I made over $900 last month having fun!

There were three in my Stalking Julia post alone, telling me that the spammer may be using some sort of keyword search to find places to spam. This guy making $900 a month is pretty proud of himself. A Google® search for “I made over $900 last month having fun!” yields 84,700 hits. That's an awful lot of spam for someone looking for people needing an additional 10 grand a year. I hope no one is quitting their day job to jump at this opportunity.

The real straw that broke the camel’s back was this one:

Cool site on uncircumsized penis Check out my Penis Enlargement

This stuff appears to be big business. Here’s the website of a guy that people THINK is in the PEP (penis enlargement pill) business and some samples of the e-mail he gets. These folks are desparate. Obviously a need is going unfulfilled, but I really don’t want my blog to be a conduit for the trade.

Besides these spam comments are grossly unfair to the female members of the internet community. My reading audience is roughly half female and I don’t get all sorts of spam for breast enhancement cream. Hey spammers, let’s show a little equal opportunity out there.

Navigate the Turing Test and let me know what you think, as long as you don't want to share a way to make some money on the side. With my enlarged bifurcated penis, I'm thinking I could make at least an extra $900 a month as a porn star.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


In plagiarism news, Dan Brown seems to have been exonerated in the pretty trivial lawsuit that had been brought against him, once again reinforcing the maxim that stealing from one is plagiarism, but stealing from many is research. The distraction appears to be keeping the reading public from getting their next poorly written thriller full of idiotic conspiracies as fast as the publishing world would hope. But like whacking moles, new accusations of pagiarism are always being unearthed.

A new case that seems more clear cut involves Kaavya Viswanathan, the author of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life and a sophomore at Harvard, that has been accused of copying passages from stories by Megan McCafferty. According to a Washington Post article by David A. Fahrenthold, several passages appear to be nearly identical.

Kaavya ViswanathanMegan McCafferty
Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty.Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart.
Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend.Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend.

The Harvard Crimson, which broke the story, has plenty of other examples.

Fahrenhold in his lede says:

That long list of excuses authors have given for writing a book that turns out to contain parts of somebody else's book just got a little longer. Add to the "Oh, I thought those were my notes" and the "I was in too much of a hurry," this one: unconscious copying.

I wouldn’t give Viswanathan that much credit. Her defense is really a variation of Rule #7 from Yellojkt's Top Ten Excuses Used by Plagiarists (©2006 by yellojkt) which states:

7. I didn’t copy. I changed a bunch of words.

I think that “unconscious copying” is a pretty fancy way of saying “I changed a BUNCH of words.” Or in her case, at least one a sentence. Unfortunately I am not well enough versed in the coming-of-age sub-genre of Chick-Lit to speak authoritatively on the merits of the broader accusation of suspiciously similar “characters, and plot points" as the WaPo article alleges McCafferty claims.

In fiction, the standards for plagiarism have to just a little bit different. If I am writing a book about an obsessive quest for a white whale, it could be interpreted as a re-imagining, or in the case of The Wind Done Gone, a parody (that being the most defensible way of using obviously similar characters and events). Directly lifting, or “unconscious copying" text is pretty damning evidence.

I do like it that Fahrenthold referred to a hypothetical canonical list of excuses that plagiarists use, particularly since I have already prepared such a list. I would love to see the other items on his list because I am sure we can fold them into one or more of my established categories. After all, I am not the only person to have come up with a list of plagiarist’s excuses. A quick due diligence Google® search into the prior art produces this list and this list.

Creating a numbered list is not even a particularly original idea. David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists are probably the most famous. When David moved from NBC to CBS, CBS insisted on keeping the rights to many of the “bits” (a specific sub-category of “intellectual property”) like Stupid Pet Tricks, the Top Ten List went with him. He was either able to make the argument that the lists predate his work with CBS or that the concept is too generic to own. Letterman's distinguishing characteristic is that his lists countdown rocket launch style.

I first fell in love with lists from the astoundingly appropriately named Book of Lists by Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace. While I can no longer remember many of the individual lists, the impression on me was tremendous. Not to mention that many of them were very risque that meant that as a thirteen year-old, I could read some pretty smutty stuff in broad daylight since the book looked so informative.

I am often tempted to do as a blog post music related lists like Cars Mentioned By Bruce Springsteen or Musical Tributes To Onanism, only to find they’ve been done earlier and better in my The New Book of Rock Lists by David Marsh. And once I’ve seen his list, my mind is tainted, so I abandon the idea.

I love lists and I hate plagiarists. There are even some pretty funny lists about plagiarism.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I Am Such A....

Sometimes when I comment on a blog I make a statement that is so confessional of some pathetic part of my personality, that I end the post with my personalized trademarked catch-phrase: I am such a dork™.

A classic case is when Ces from Drink At Work talked about his favorite Christmas present of all time, I chimed in about mine which was a model of a B-52 bomber. One time I made a joke on the Achenblog that referenced BOTH a Robert Henlein novel AND Star Trek. Sometimes I'll just reference some really obscure piece of trivia about history or philosophy.

I know that "dork" is a very vulgar word. When Dad Gone Mad discussed obscure vulgar words, I confessed to this childhood incident:

My brother used to dare me yell "DORK" as loud as I could. My dad anrgily explained what that meant and why he never wanted to hear it again. Now that's about the mildest thing you can scream.

My dad was right. "Dork" is a vulgar synonym to "penis". "Dorkhead" and "dork-breath" mean the same as their "dick-" versions. In context though, a dork is different from a dick. A dork is a clueless loser while a dick is an annoying asshole. Completely different connotations. For example, in Dibert, Wally would be a dick and Asok The Intern would be a dork. I personally identify with Dilbert who is the poor befuddled nerd.

I knew that the word geek had it's origins as "circus geek", meaning someone who bites the heads off of live chickens in a circus sideshow. The origin of nerd is more obscure, but I figured it couldn't be vulgar since it was used so much on Happy Days. This website lists the most poular theories.

So what's the difference between being a nerd and a dork? I was very intrigued when I ran across the The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test. I think you get 10 dork points just for taking the test.

Modern, Cool Nerd
73 % Nerd, 52% Geek, 47% Dork
For The Record:
A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.

Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used
to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a
pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world
that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and
geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very
least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent,
knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing
computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one
you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one
up there, winning the million bucks)!


Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST
My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 81% on nerdiness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 78% on geekosity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 82% on dork points
Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

While this test classifies me as a nerd, based on those bar graphs, I could go any which way with those categories.

In the future, I should be more accurately saying either "I am such a nerd" when I point out some arcane historical fact, and say "I am such a geek" when I have an obscure fact about a television show or movie and say "I am such a dork" only when I reveal some embarassing fact about my life. Trust me there are plenty of all of those things to go around.

Afterall, I am such a...(you fill in the blank). And that's fine with me.

Now, don't leave me hanging here. Let me know where you fit and whether you're okay with it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Stalking Julia

When we go to New York, we often try to amortize the cost of hotel, gas, and tolls over a couple of shows. In my previous post, I described the heroics we went through to get tickets to see Julia Roberts in her limited engagement of Three Days of Rain.

Encouraged by our backstage door photographing and autograph hunting on previous trips to New York, we decided that rather than seeing a different show the night before, we would try to get Julia Robert’s autograph and/or picture instead.

For this we would need a strategy. Previously, we had figured out that big stars tend to just camp out in the theater between the Saturday matinee and evening performances, so there was no use in being in Times Square until Saturday evening. Instead we drove up to New York Saturday morning and went to the Frick Gallery and had a great dinner at Vermicelli’s on the Upper East Side (thanks to Carol for the tip).

We checked into our hotel next to Grand Central Station and left our kid to his own devices for the evening. Here is the run down for the rest of the trip (times are approximate):

9:00 pm: We took the Times Square Shuttle from Grand Central Station. Then we walked down 42nd St to 8th Avenue and up to 45th.

9:20: Just past the theater for Avenue Q is the Jacobs where Three Days of Rain is playing. A crowd of about a dozen people is standing behind an imaginary line just outside the stage door.

9:25: We get in the crowd behind some other people. A mother with her daughter had seen the matinee show and had come back for autographs. There were a couple of guys with big cameras hanging around the curb. Someone tells us they usually come out about 10:30.

9:30: I take some pictures of the poster and the marquis to make sure everything is working with our compact digital camera.

A lady with a whole lot of flyers for The Caine Mutiny keeps handing them out telling us not to miss David Schwimmer next door.

9:45: Bored, I start checking out the other shows on the street. 45th Street this month is a great place for fans of Must See TV. Both Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd had been guest stars on Friends. In the next theater over, David Schwimmer from Friends and Tim Daly from Wings are in The Caine Mutiny. Across the street, Julianna Margulies from ER is in Festen.

9:50: A black GMC Yukon pulls up and parks just opposite the stage door. The driver gets out and shoos people to a line behind his doors.

9:55: Festen across the street lets out.

10:00: A security guy in suit comes by and spends about 5 minutes putting up security barricades in front of us. Across the way between the stage door and the theater exits, he builds a little pen with the gates. Anyone that tries to get in gets chased out.

10:05: My wife points out that Julianna Margulies has left the other theater. She is walking down the sidewalk with a male friend having a casual conversation. I keep trying to get ahead of them to take a picture, but they are walking too fast.

10:10: A fan spots Julianna in front of the Schubert Theater and asks to take a picture with her. Julianna then notices me and asks if I want a picture too. She stands still enough for a good shot and I thank her. I feel like some awkward stalker because she is so nice to me.

10:12: Back at the Jacobs, the crowd has gotten bigger. My wife is wedged between a guy holding an enormous camera and a 6’-3” tall female German tourist. I work my way up to right behind the German tourist and her normal sized friend.

10:15: The guy with big camera tells everybody they might not come out until 11:30 or later. Someone else says that she never comes to this side of line because we aren’t people that have seen the show.

10:20: The show lets out and a huge crowd of people piles into the gated pen on the other side. The crowd rolls out into the street and cops and security guys keep telling people they have to get out of the road. This AP article describes the insanity.

10:30: Every time a security guy goes in or out of the door, the huge mob starts waving programs and taking pictures until they realize it’s a false alarm.

10:38: A woman my wife recognizes as Julia’s mother comes out and gets in the SUV.

10:40: Julia Roberts comes out and pandemonium erupts. She goes to the theater side of the enclosure between the stage door and her SUV and signs their Playbills as people take pictures.

Julia comes to our side and my wife furiously waves her 8-1/2” x 11” e-ticket for tomorrow’s show in front of her. Julia takes out a Sharpie and signs it. I furiously snap pictures but the Amazon German girl keeps waving her hand in front of me.

10:43: Julia signs a few more things, ignoring the guy behind my wife with a bunch of enormous professionally printed posters.

Julia, having yet to say a single word to anyone, runs into the SUV and it drives off. The guys with huge cameras all hightail it out of there.

10:50: Bradley Cooper comes out to far less panic. My wife says, “My husband was a big fan of Kitchen Confidential.” He asks, “Where is he?” I wave my hand in his general direction. He also signs the ticket.

10:55: Paul Rudd comes out and works the line, also signing my wife’s ticket.

10:56: The crowd breaks up and we start walking back to the hotel, but are blocked by the huge shrieking mob watching David Scwhimmer get into a limo and drive off.

11:00: We walk back to the hotel ecstatic about getting the entire cast to sign the ticket for tomorrow’s show. We vow to frame it with the Playbill and any of our pictures that come out decent.

The next day we went to the actual show and thoroughly enjoyed it. As we left the theater we veered over into the veal pen for patrons, but never got closer than about four people deep from the security barricades. On the other side, we could see the same guys with the big cameras that were crowding my wife the night before.

My wife used the camera and I took some pictures with my phone. This being mid-afternoon, Julia had “I’m a big eff-ing star” sunglasses on. Having already scored our big haul the night before, the mood was anti-climatic as each of the cast came out in turn.

The press has not been very kind to Julia. The Washington Post says "that the pretty woman is pretty much in over her head." The New York Times compares her performance to "the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost". I agree with many of the points the reviews make, but they seem to be going out of their way to pile on.

In conclusion we decided that Julia was being as nice as possible under the circumstances and that the real paparazzi are incredible assholes that get whatever they deserve when some celebrity hauls off and hits them.

Over two shows, we think Julia signed about a dozen people’s items and we were lucky enough to be among them. Thanks for the autograph, Julia. It’s a special treat we will keep forever with our memories.

All photographs are ©yellojkt and cannot be used without permission. Go get your own any Tuesday through Sunday night on 45th Street in front of the Jacobs Theater until June 18. Or visit here or here for more paparazzi style shots.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bradley Cooper on Broadway

This may end up sounding like I’m gay for Bradley Cooper, especially since I’m already on the record lamenting the canceling of his show Kitchen Confidential, but the family made a special trip this weekend to see him in his Broadway debut, Three Days of Rain.

Bradley has been doing all right for himself lately. He was the destined-to-be-dumped asshole fiancé in Wedding Crashers and he played the male-bonding buddy of Matthew McConaughey in Failure to Launch. Hopefully, some leading man roles are in his future.

My wife and I go to New York a couple of times a year to see Broadway shows or other special events. I get a bunch of e-mail newsletters giving me advance notice on upcoming shows. When we got word about a super-double-secret presale of tickets for Three Days of Rain featuring Bradley Cooper, we knew we wanted to go and that this might be a hot ticket.

On the Saturday of the super-double-secret presale, we set up a virtual war room for making sure we snagged good seats. We had identified Easter weekend as the most advantageous time to go and assigned each family member a show to try to get tickets for. I was working at the office and used the office internet connection. My son was upstairs at his computer and given explicit directions on how to navigate the Tele-Charge system. My wife sat at the family computer and used her laptop on the wireless network as well.

As usual with these things, the website was swamped and error messages abound. After fifteen minutes of diligent refreshing, my wife got through and snagged a pair of tickets for the Easter Sunday matinee in the third row of the orchestra. These were essentially the same seats we had the second time we saw The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, so we were ecstatic.

Three Days of Rain only has a cast of three. In the first act, two children of a famous architect that has just died try to figure out his legacy. Bradley Cooper's part is as the childhood friend of the first two and the son of their dad’s dead business partner. In the second act, all three actors play the parents. The second act also features the titular (my favorite word again) rain. We are talking a level of hydraulic verisimilitude that I haven’t seen on stage since the wet sari dance number in Bombay Dreams. It rains on stage with real water the entire second act. I got splashed at least once.

Now Brad, much to my dismay, does not carry the entire show. Of the three leads, his part is probably the least important. The dual characters of Walker and Ned are played by Paul Rudd, who despite being an accomplished stage actor, is best known as Phoebe’s husband on Friends.

The female lead who plays Paul Rudd’s sister in the first act is, like Bradley Cooper, making her Broadway debut. She has played a lot of those stereotypical Hollywood roles like hooker, waitress, intrepid girl reporter, wife being stalked by her ex-husand – those sort of things – but has never had to face the task of doing eight shows a week live in front of an audience. Despite her lack of thespianic experience, she is rumored to be making $35,000 a week for the limited twelve week run, significantly above union scale.

I should remember her name…it’s on the tip of my tongue…oh, yeah…

Julia Roberts

This where I hear eye-rolling and mumbling about me going off on one of my celebrity obsessed rants like I did for Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise. But Julia is not my obsession, it’s my wife’s. When she was bed-rested in the last month of her pregnancy, she would occassionally sneak out of the house and go catch a matinee of Pretty Woman. Between the pregnancy-induced high hormone level and the Cinderella fantasy of getting paid to screw Richard Gere, she somehow bonded with Julia in a way inexplicable to me.

While we haven’t seen EVERY Julia Roberts movie (nothing could make my wife sit through Mary Reilly), we have seen most of them, including the very bad ones. I paid a babysitter to see I Love Trouble, the chemistry-free romantic comedy she did with Nick Nolte. She still owes me for that one. Both my wife and Julia Roberts.

I guess seeing Julia live in Three Days of Rain makes up for it. She doesn’t have much to do in the first act except stand around and give exposition, but in the second act, she gets to unleash her Southern twang and chew the scenery a little.

I really liked the show and am still trying to get my head around some of the plot twists, but my opinion doesn’t count. We saw the last performance in “previews” and the official opening is tonight, so theater critic reviews will roll out all week. I just have to say that for an Academy Award winning Broadway rookie, I think she did great and hope she breaks a leg come Tony time.

Tomorrow (or soon): How we scored autographs and pictures of all the cast members (and that includes Julia).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Warum Babelfish Saugt

Years ago, I worked with a German guy who really took me under his wing when he found out I had taken three years of German in high school. Actually, I took one year of real German and then took two years independent study where I would goof off for an hour a day in the library and then occassionally cram for a test. I had the very sweet old German lady that taught the class completely snowed. Naturally my German was pretty week. Twenty-five years of neglect haven't done it much good either.

When my German coworker quit, he gave me as a momento the November 1993 issue of German Playboy featuring Mimi Rogers (the first Mrs. Tom Cruise, in case you don't remember). This of course makes the "I read it for articles" excuse completely implausible. The good thing is that since the format of German Playboy is identical to the American version, you can pick up a lot through context. I would try to read the Playboy Advisor, but I think some of the more technical terms that might appear in Playboy would not be in the vocabulary lists from my high school texts.

Laughter is the universal language, so the Party Jokes page should be a little more accessible. Here is one of the ones I was able to decipher:

“Hören Sie mal, junger Mann, warum bringen Sie meine Tochter erst um fünf Uhr früh nach Hause?”
“Dumme Frage! Weil ich um sechs zur Arbeit muss.”

I loosely translated the joke to this:

“Listen up, young man, why are you bringing my daughter home at five in the morning?”
“What a stupid question! Because I have to go to work at six.”

I didn't say it was a good joke. Most jokes in Playboy aren't. To test my translation abilities, I went and typed the joke into Babelfish to see if I got the gist of it and I got this gibberish.

"hearing it times, young man, why you bring my daughter only at five to o'clock early home?"
"stupid question! Because I around six to the work must."

I would never recognize that as complete sentences let alone a fairly unfunny lame joke. Bablefish translates the sentences word for word, not even trying to adjust the grammar, let alone shift the prepositions or idioms to something a real English speaker would say. I pity anyone relying on Babelfish to do anything other than look up the harder words.

At least I know enough German to know how dreadful the translation is. Maybe my three years of high school German weren't completely wasted.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Visit Disney, Bring Money

Disneyworld is the capitalist American version of Mecca. Everyone is expected to make a pilgrimage to The Happiest Place On Earth at least once in their life. Like all pilgrimages, one of the unspoken tenets is to soak the faithful every chance you get. The defining characteristic of Disney is their unrelenting goal of making sure no cash leaves the property. The Mouse insists on shaking you upside down by your ankles until all your loose change falls out and then sends you home.

They keep you from visiting the other attractions in the area by blatant imitation and one-upsmanship. When Universal Studios announced they were building a theme park, Disney hastily slapped together the Disney-MGM park and beat them to opening day by nearly a year. Animal Kingdom is an attempt to keep people from day-tripping to Busch Gardens in Tampa. The Living Seas in EPCOT is aimed to give you a marine life fix so you won't want to see SeaWorld.

Disney has on-site spring training for sports fans and five golf courses for the guy that would rather drive a seven-iron than the Test Track. Our band group went to Festival Disney because Disney saw how the area band festivals that rented the park worked and took that function in-house. They literally try to be all things to all people and do pretty well.

Our band trip stayed at the All-Star Music Resort, which is part of an enormous complex of cheaply built motel rooms with trowels of Disney gingerbreading everywhere. These were built expressly to combat the miles of motels that had sprung up around Route 192 in Kissimmee catering to people that wanted to visit Disney but couldn’t spring $200 a night for the resort hotels. For my money, if you want to be on Disney property, the Port Orleans complex is the best value. For a little more money you get queen beds instead of doubles and a really niced themed pool play area instead of a generic pool with a Three Caballeros fountain.

I like Disneyworld. It is really the gold standard for theme parks. You get what you pay for, but, boy, do you pay for it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Band Trip

I just got back from chaperoning a five-day band trip to Florida with over 100 members of the school’s band, orchestra, chorus, and flag squad. We took three buses and stayed three nights at the All-Star Music Resort in Disneyworld. The competitions were part of the Festival Disney program Disney runs for music programs from across the country.

I’ve talked about the travails of being a band parent before. As I see it, a chaperone’s duties are to make sure nobody gets lost, drunk, or pregnant. That makes it sound a lot simpler than it is. Mostly it involves a lot of roll-calling. Fortunately, my wife, who was also a chaperone, is a professional teacher and has either had many of these kids as students or knows them from two years of band-parenting. That made roll call pretty easy. I put myself in charge of keeping the DVD player on the bus running until everyone had fallen asleep.

The bus ride to Orlando was billed as being sixteen hours. Having done that trip many times, I knew that time could only be met by fraternity boys with lead feet and strong bladders. Still, we made good time and it wasn’t our bus that had the AC conk out on the Georgia-Florida border. On the way back our bus threw a belt just north of Richmond and we had to crowd everybody on the remaining buses for the final leg. Still, the trip had to be considered a success.

The key to keeping teenagers out of trouble is to keep them busy. In addition to two full days of competitions, they spent evenings at EPCOT, Downtown Disney, and the Disney-MGM theme park. The final day was 8 hours of the Magic Kingdom before rolling them hot, sweaty, and tired back on the bus for the overnight ride home.

During the trip, wake-up was at 7 am and lights out was usually between 11 and midnight. Rotating shifts of parents wandered the halls at night to keep the partying down to dull roar and inside their individual rooms. We found out too late that some of rooms had interconnecting doors that kept the inter-room traffic going.

The hardest part is corralling the hormonally charged instincts of kids that age. On our bus we had two couples that need the firehoses turned on them a couple of times. Keeping boys and girls in TrueTeenLove® apart with anything less that a crowbar can be tough. Tricks of the trade include rooming guys and girls on separate floors, enforcing open door policies during freetime (which is kept to a minimum), and making sure all groups consist of three or more.

The same sex couples provide a greater challenge. The irony is that the level of physical contact that draws concern -- hand-holding, hair-stroking, deep, longing looks and the like -- is what we usually hope to keep the straight couples down to. One female couple in a long-term relationship did manage to pull off a room-swap on an unsuspecting room chaperone and spent at least one night together. At least that won’t result in a shot-gun wedding a few months from now like band trips back in my day tended to.

Overall, the kids I was in charge of were extremely well behaved. It makes me wonder if I’m a better chaperone than the clueless administrator’s we were constantly conning back in my Model United Nations days or if I am now the dupe. But they all made it home alive and sober, so I think I did my job.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

NCCC Championship Match

We have reached the final game of the National Crappy Comics Competition (NCCC™) and the last two comics left are Mary Worth and BC. Which of these two is most worthy of never being seen again on the comics page?

Is there even really a reason for Mary Worth? The topics she deals with at ungodly length are so banal and treated so ham-handedly. In her universe, Women's Shelters are cot strewn institutions in the seedy part of town worthy of The Snake Pit . The issues her friends face are nearly always ridiculouly lame. If you really want to know what to do about drug dealing, infertility or substance dependency, read Dear Abby or Ask Amy. They’re usually on the same page as the comics or nearby. Definitely don't trust Mary Worth. The newspaper advice columns daily address real issues with far greater candor than Mary Worth in her Charterstone ivory tower can't even imagine.

Maybe that’s the answer. Let’s let Caroline Hax or Dan Savage plot a few of these and see what hits the fan. I would like to see Mary Worth deal with some fetish related storyline. Then again, maybe not.

Actually, the true heir to the serial strips are the ones that don’t take themselves so seriously like, For Better or For Worse, Funky Winkerbean, Luann, or even Sally Forth, where serious topics get handled with a light touch. All of these strips hav dealt with life issues far more serious than Mary even with her melodrama can muster. Time to give Mary a long rest.

As for BC, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for a religiously oriented comic. Heaven knows there are enough political ones. A lot of strips, and not just Family Circus, have “spiritual values” without outright proselytizing. I’ve seen Zits reprinted in magazines aimed at Christian teenagers. Even hellions like Curtis and Dennis go to church. Heck, like any obscure enough sub-culture, there are websites dedicated to Christian comics, which have various levels of stridency. Reverend Fun is one of the better of these. Some of these are way too “inside” to ever be funny, or even make sense, to a secular audience but some are better than what is in my newspaper right now. Unfortunately, like fans of Christian music, readers of “Christian” comics place doctrinal correctness above quality, which is not going to draw in outsiders.

What Hart, like most zealots, doesn’t realize is that his incoherent street corner bible thumping turns away more people that he saves. A little subtly goes a long way and you don’t have to be condescending or offensive about it. Just be FUNNY.

And the results are in and the champion of the inaugural Comic Demolition Derby is:

Gil Thorp

This is the Comics News Network reporting from the site of the National Crappy Comics Competition™ and the arena is in complete pandemonium. The fans have stormed the court chanting “Death to Gil Thorp!” The scorekeepers have taken cover to avoid the angry mobs but we have this statement from the selection committee:

Under severe pressure from the Vegas Sports Comic Bookmaker Association, the selection committee originally determined that Gil Thorp was ineligible for the competition. The bookies successfully argued that if Gil Thorp was in the field, no one would give any other competitor any consideration. However, as scoring progressed, the judges secretly awarded Gil Thorp an unprecedented 4 round bye.

If you are unfamilar with the train wreck that is the Gil Thorp comic strip you are not alone. It's not even carried by the Chicago Tribune that syndicates it. Yet still it endures.

Let’s face it, this is currently the lamest strip in print. The art is juvenile, the plots unfathomable and the dialog simply wretched. This Milford place is an idealistic ‘50’s throwback never-never-was-land that makes Beaver Cleaver’s hometown look like South Compton. Everyone in the town is an athlete or an athletic supporter. The students listen to hip-hop but dress like they’re going to a sock hop. The various scrapes the athletes get into wouldn’t past muster at an Afterschool Special pitch meeting.

This Friday Night Lights Fantasyland is morally suspect in a que sara sara way that the writers actually endorse. No one ever suffers any long-term consequences if they’re a starter. The leading defense plea among its various miscreants seems to be, “But Coach Thorp says…” Who died and elected this guy God-King of the Flat-Tops anyways? I’ve seen more responsible leadership at midget league hockey dad fights.

This would all be forgivable if it were done in an ironic or even coherent way. The characters are drawn so identically, yet at the same time so inconsistently, there is no way to identify them from even panel to panel let alone from day to day. The fast-paced three-panel cut shots don’t speed the narrative as much as they give the reader a migraine.

Just about anything in its place would be an improvement. Heck, give the spot to a fifth grade drawing class. Then at least the little tykes’ parents would clip the strip for the refrigerator. Otherwise this is just a waste of trees and ink. Well, at least one guy manages to use it as clip art for a sports parody website, appropriately subtitled "Frankly, more Gil Thorp than any sane person should have to tolerate". We agree. Any Gil Thorp is too much to endure.

There you have it, the conclusion of the first, and probably last Comic Kick-Off Classic. Thank you for playing along at home. We now return to our regularly scheduled snarky commentary, running inside jokes, scantily-clad, under-talented actresses, and general mayhem.

Monday, April 03, 2006

NCCC Final Four

The NCCC™ FINAL FOUR® semi-final match-ups are:
Dead Writer Division Champion Shoe vs.
Pointless Soap Division Champion Mary Worth
Just Not Funny Division Champion BC vs.
Walker-Browne Division Champion Hagar the Horrible
Who will cut down the nets?

In the first game of the semi-finals of the NCCC(tm), we have Mary Worth against Shoe. These two strips have one major difference; the funny one is not meant to be and the unfunny one ought to be. Meddlin’ Mary, as she is unaffectionately known, is the subject of constant ridicule and scorn. The subject of countless parodies and often amazingly vituperative satire, she never seems to quite notice the “Kick me” sign written in permanent marker on the back of her electric blue outfits.

Shoe, when he is noticed at all, usually elicits a grown and quick glance to the next comic. Long term exposure to Shoe may lead to excessive familiarity with old Vaudeville routines but nothing more serious.

Mary on the other hand induces nausea, resulting in gag reflexes strong enough to make you pay attention to acid reflux medicine commercials. Obviously Mary is as hazardous as typhoid or any other disease spread by exposure to sewage.
Winner/Loser: Mary Worth

In our second Final Four Steel Cage Comic Deathmatch™, we have Hagar the Horrible squaring off against BC. Hagar and BC both work in a tough comic genre, the Wildly Anachronistic Milleu (WAM™). Hagar is no more about medieval barbarian culture than Sherman’s Lagoon is about marine biology. Most of the humor derives from laughing at these ancient people having the same problems as we do. The other strips in this category, which includes Crock, Tumbleweeds, and Redeye, tend to be horrendously lame to begin with. Perhaps the only strip currently working this concept well is Johhny Hart and BrantParker's Wizard of Id, which is faint praise indeed.
Hagar never really takes off on the absurdity of the Viking world, often resorting to other set-ups like deserted island and cannibal gags, and then just recycles material older than his ever-sinking Viking ship.

BC on the other hand, has abandoned any internal consistency whatsoever so that he can say what he wants when he wants like some sort of fundamentalist Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer. The strip features cavemen living alongside dinosaurs, One Million BC style, but includes many pop-culture references in addition to the obviously anno domini religious ones. One of the older running gags had an apteryx constantly explain that he was about to become extinct, yet Hart, in his evangelical zeal, now rejects and ridicules evolution. Two of his newer characters are a painfully sterotypical Native American and a handlebar mustached Italian who have no connection to the other cavemen whatsoever except to allow for ugly ethnic humor.

BC quit being about cavemen a long time ago and the guys in the furskin togs are now just filler between the increasingly baffling and mean-spirited evangelical tirades. Johnny should be looking at the mote in his own misogynistic eye a little closer. Could any newcomer get a strip published today where one of the characters is known only as The Fat Broad? Does The Cute Chick have a name either? Rather than constantly giving sermons to the choir, maybe he should practice what he preaches, unless that doesn’t include tolerance and compassion.
Winner/Loser: BC

For the final game, click here.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

NCCC Walker-Browne Division Championship

The final game of the second round of the NCCC™ has Walker-Browne Division legend Hi and Lois against Hagar the Horrible. We have some bad blood sibling rivalry going on here with Chris Browne facing older brother Chance who has teamed with the Walker Brothers, Brian and Greg (and Walker sister Dot, oops, wrong family) to continue to run the empire patriarchs Mort and Dik built.

And family is the business of Hi and Lois. This suitable for all ages strip has been doing family based humor for over half a century. Over the years, the clothes and haircuts have tried to stay in style, but the mere timelessness of the humor makes drastic updates pretty unnecessary. Not that it hasn’t kept up with the times in small ways. Would Blondie have ever started a catering business if Lois hadn’t led the way by becoming a Realtor®? As Brian Walker tells in this radio interview, he would like to veer a little more into Arlo and Janis territiory, but the syndicate makes him keep it squeaky clean. The family oriented comic strip is a crowded market and H&L, while not groundbreaking, is still better than many of its wannabe rivals (yeah, we’re looking at you Drabble).

In many ways, Hagar is a family strip is Viking drag. Chris Browne’s late lamented Raising Duncan had almost a one-to-one correspondence: Chubby Patriarch – Hagar/Big Daddy; Plus Sized Wife – Helga/Adele; Wacky Sidekicks/Kids – Lucky Eddie/Duncan, etc. The running gags in Hagar are also done a lot better in other strips. For hen-pecked drunk at a bar, go with General Halftrack. For battle-ax wife, go with Loretta Lockhorn. For dumb as a brick lackey, go to Zero. For sexually confused youngest son, well, let’s just not go there. The only eye candy is the strip, Honi the Underage Valkyrie Hottie, doesn’t even show up all that often. For tepid family humor, the Flagstons are a lot more real and a lot funnier.

Winner/Loser: Hagar
Hagar charging

On to the Final Four.