Thursday, September 28, 2006

Watch Your Comics

Updated 10/30/06

Boondocks, the comic strip featuring two young African American kids transplanted to the ‘burbs, went on hiatus several months ago when creator and erstwhile illustrator Aaron McGruder decided he’d rather spend his time rolling in his Adult Swim Benjamins than keeping his dead trees version fresh. Hopefully to nobody’s surprise, the return of Huey and Company to the funny papers is looking less and less likely.

There are several comic strips written by African-Americans including Curtis, Jump Start, Herb and Jamal, Housebroken, and even the stereotype-reinforcing Wee Pals, but the debut of Boondocks brought anger and attitude to the comics. McGruder took his experiences growing up in the racially diverse Peoples Republic of Columbia, Maryland and spun comedy gold. In a meteoric rise, the strip became one of the fastest spreading comic strips I’ve ever seen. As he got more successful, he started paying less attention to the strip to chase the Hollywood Dream before taking a six month and counting sabbatical.

The serendipitously prescient Washington Post has been using the empty comics slot to preview several other comic strips, some in the same general vein as Boondocks, others not so much. By far and away the best of these has been Watch Your Head by Cory Thomas. Cory, and I presume to take first name liberties since he posts at the Comics Curmudgeon forums, is a mechanical engineering grad (a notoriously funny profession) from Howard University that has started a strip about the college experience. He chatted about the process back in May.

The other strips that have gotten a exhibition are Pajama Diaries, a preachy SAHM tribute, Agnes, yet another smart-assed kid strip, and La Cucaracha, an edgy but only occasionally funny Latino strip full of inside jokes. Out of fear that Pajama Diaries might assault my eyes everyday, I finally got up the energy to write the comics editor at the Washington Post. Here is what I politely said:

I am a Washington Post subscriber and a frequent poster to Joel Achenbach's blog. I also devoutly read Gene Weingarten's chat which frequently discusses comics. Of the four comics you have previewed while Boondocks has been on hiatus, Watch Your Head is easily the best of the bunch. WYH really nails the college life experience in a way that is funny and relevant. It evokes the long-running sitcom Different Worlds without being patronizing or overly obscure.

Agnes is cute but a little too reminiscent of One Big Happy and other family oriented strips. La Cucacaracha has a very unique visual style, but tries too hard to be edgy and frequently fails.

Off the four try-out strips, Pajama Diaries was clearly the worst. I found the humor overly broad and occasionally offensive to families with two working parents. Punch lines tended to be platitudes and the strip treaded overly familiar territory.

Cory Thomas has created a fresh, hip comic with a lot of engaging and funny characters. I hope you will make it a permanent part of the comics page.

If you are a WaPo reader, either online or dead-tree edition, give Cory a hand and either call the Comics Hotline at 202-334-4775 or email them at

In other related comics news, after several half-hearted attempts, I finally got a comment selected by the Czar of Funny, Gene Weingarten, for his weekly lunchtime Chatological Humor chat.

Fo, MA: Since Aldo from "Mary Worth" died in a car crash and Grandpa Jim in "For Better or For Worse" is about to kick the bucket, what comics page character will or should fill out the death pool trifecta?

Gene Weingarten: CATHY! PLEASE! Or Zoogie, in Gene Pool, who should die from auto-asphyxiation while self-pleasuring.

Until later, I will see you in the funny papers. And I hope to see Watch Your Head there soon.

Update 10/30/06: The Washington Post has added Watch Your Head as a permanant feature in the old Boondocks slot. I woul like to think my mini-campaign helped, but the WaPo works in mysterious ways. Good luck, Cory.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What's In Your Wallet?

About two weeks ago, I got tagged by Mooselet by a meme that seemed particularly female-centric since it was called What’s In There? and had a picture of the contents of her purse. Mooselet had been tagged by Janine at My Ovaries Made Me Do It. Janine had tagged Harmonica Man as well. It turns out that the original meme was What Is In Your Pockets? Since H'man and Mooselet are two of my most loyal readers, I had to play along.

I don't keep much in my pockets. In my left pocket I usually just have two key chains. One chain had the keys to my car and my wife’s car and their respective fobs. Those are pretty bulky. The other key chain has a leather thingie that my kid made back in Cub Scouts. On that chain I have keys to my house, the office, the mailbox, our safety deposit box and a spare key to my car for when I lock the other key chain in the car. It’s my way of protecting me from myself.

I will also have spare change in my right pocket, but I empty that every night onto my dresser, so that is pretty hit and miss.

My back right pocket has my wallet. At work one day we were comparing wallets, and mine was called a George Constanza wallet and a danger to my spinal health. Like George I keep receipts in the wallet, but I throw them away when I enter them into Quicken every week or so.

My wallet has six different sections, and I have tried to organize them in a way that is coherent to me. Here they are by section:

Section 1 – Credit Cards
Three Visas – One is for books only. One is for online purchases only.
One Mastercard – The ubiquitous Capitol One card. I got it just to get them to quit bothering me.
ATM debit card
American Express Gold Card – I pay for the gold level because it gets me advance shots at Broadway shows and stuff.

Section 2 – More Credit Cards
Sears Card
Another Visa on an account I’ve closed

Section 3 – Discount privilege cards

Borders Rewards - used and abused. See any of my BooksFirst posts.
Hollywood Video
Blockbuster Video
Regal Cinemas – good for free popcorn every now and then
Holiday Priority Club
Choice Hotels – I belong to about three frequent stay clubs. I don’t know why these two are in my wallet instead of my the filing cabinet.

Section 4 - Membership Cards

Howard County Library Card
Library of Congress Reader Card - You need one to get into the main reading room. I got it just to say I have one.
Gym membership – Hasn’t been used in four months.

Section 5 – Identification – The one place to go in an emergency
Drivers License
AAA card
Auto insurance cards – including two that are expired
Health Insurance Card

Section 6 Part A – More discount cards
Metro SmarTrip – I need this to ride the DC Metro and pay for their park and ride lots.
Jos A Banks
The Jockey Club – for buying my tighty-whiteys
BJ’s – a local competitor to Sams Club and Costco
REI – Bicycle and outdoorsy gear. REI is technically a co-op and gives card members refunds each year.

Section 6 Part B – Punch Cards – Things you need to collect punches or stamps on.
Atomic Books - 7 of 10 punches
Noodles and Company – 9 of 9 punches – I need to redeem it.
Great Harvest Bread Co. – 1 of 12 – My wife buys most of the bread.
Brusters Ice Cream – 3 of 9 punches
Festival Eatery – 9 of 11 punches
California Tortilla – 1 of 7 punches
CafĂ© Bagel – 2 of 10 punches
Moes Southwest Grill – 4 of 9 punches
Build A Bear – 5 of 10 punches - Don't ask.

Main Pocket
$42 in cash
17 receipts

I should have entered the receipts into the computer rather than do this post, but then it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining.

You can tell a lot about a person by what they have in their wallet. I hope I haven't said too much. Now it's your turn.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cheap Irony

Today's lesson, kids, is in ironic foreshadowing. This is when a character says something that the reader knows is not true. Today's FoobStrip would just be sappy filler if we didn't know this relationship with a stable, single, hardworking guy was doomed.

For homework give three other examples from movies, literature, or bad comic strips.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wrapped Up Like A Dooce

I’m going to catch hell for this, but I have no idea what the big deal is with Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce. Sure, she is the patron saint of fired bloggers. She lost her job because she was making snarky comments about her bosses and coworkers. Boo-fuckin’-hoo. It’s great to become a verb, but what a way to go. She sure made a silk purse out of those lemons, because she is now about the most popular non-political blogger on the planet and has been annointed Queen Of The Mommyblogs.

To many, she is the face of the blogging world. When a MainStreamMedia type needs a quote, Heather’s phone rings. The latest example is this article by Washington Post writer Robert Samuelson that inexplicably tries to tie LonelyGirl15 and Facebook and all the personal bloggers together in some big trend. Why does Dooce merit mention? Because she is so popular that her ads can support her husband. Her site was probably recommended to Samuelson, whose blog-cluelessness is almost endearing, since he seems to have just discovered the internet.

I just don’t find her that funny or clever or enlightening. She talks about all the things other bloggers do, but everyone hangs on her every word when she talks about dirty diapers. In one post, she recalls a few bad dates and asks in BlatantCommentWhoring™ fashion “What are your dealbreakers?” The result: 390 comments in two days. I’d be lucky to get six on the same topic. Her toddler is adorable, but so is everybody’s. That doting "every gurgle from my baby is sooo pwecious" bit makes my eyes roll and causes the gag reflex to kick in. And do thousands of people bookmark her for lame Viagra jokes? It's only the name recognition that makes her a WebStar. If she were to restart her blog with an anonymous Blogger account, there would be nothing but cobwebs and chirping crickets.

Jealous much? Maybe. But I am resigned to my place as a Slimy Mollusc. I will always be a lot closer to the pointy end of the long tail and will never have 10,000 inbound links. This is my hobby and blogging is her career. And of course her website looks great. After all, she was a webdesigner in her former life. She has time and skilz to come up with a new witty banner every month.

In the blogiverse, like elsewhere, claim-staking and being first to market is a big advantage. There are doctoral dissertations on the phenomenon. It means the latecomers never have a chance even if they are better and sharper and funnier.

For my money, Lindsay Ferrier (nee Lucinda) at Suburban Turmoil, who is herself a tongue-in-cheek member of the Cult of Dooce, is way funnier. Lindsay has parlayed her step-mom schtick into a paying column with an alternative weekly and teamblogs all over the place. But no matter how good a hand Lindsay gets dealt, she will always get trumped by a Dooce.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
Am I offbase here, or does the empress really have no clothes?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Studio 60 Drinking Game

It’s well established that any show I decide to take an interest in is doomed to cancellation. This does not bode well for the new Aaron Sorkin show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip since I have programmed my VCR for Monday nights at 10. Things already look a little grim rating-wise as Tom Shales mentions in the Washington Post today. It seems the numbers for the premiere were good, not great. And worse, after about a half hour, people started turning off in droves. Tom Shales's theory is that the most brain dead show on television is not the best lead-in for the smartest.

Sorkin shows require thinking and he adds a degree of difficulty by throwing in as much visual and aural clutter as possible. For example, during one "walk-and-talk" the rap group with more Oscars than Scorsese is strangling cats in the background just to make sure you miss at least one witty line. Since so little on the show is ever summarized by Dr. Exposition, I had to piece together what actually happened. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it streaming here or catch it on Bravo tonight.


The hard-ass network censor demanded a skit be pulled because it made fun of Christians. This made Judd Hirsch channel Peter Finch. The suit demanded that he be cut-off, but Elliott from thirtysomething (doing a Willie Tanner impersonation) kept the camera rolling.

The eversexy Amanda Peet decided the best people to save the show would be Chandler (since that would reunite two-thirds of the Whole Nine Yards dream team), who was flying on 'shrooms his chiropractor gave him, and Josh Lyman, who does all the stuff Hamilton Jordan always denied doing in office.

Chandler used to bang Galinda The Goody-Goody Comedian until she sang gospel songs on a show her target market actually watches. Ironic twist: She was supposed to be in the Christian-mocking skit that Chandler and Josh had written years ago but which had been plagiarized by the current head writers. The religion mocking skit itself was never seen and probably never will be. It's one of those rules about shows-in-shows.

And least that is what I saw. According to this recap, I got at least a few details screwed up. Like Matthew Perry's character, I may have taken too many Motrin for my sprained wrist to make anything coherent out of it.

In the interest of Internet traditions, even though the show has only aired one episode, I propose a drinking game guaranteed to get you more sloshed that Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah.

Studio 60 Drinking Game Rules

Take a sip when:
  • Someone makes a thinly veiled reference to an actual NBC show.
  • A cast member of either West Wing or SportsNight guest stars or cameos. (Bradley Whitford does NOT count.)
  • The camera completely circles any characters talking to each other.
  • Amanda Peet calls someone by the wrong name.
  • Anyone carrying a clipboard gives exposition.
  • The “director” yells some technical jargon to a flunkie.
  • Any character starts to drink an alcoholic beverage but puts it back down.
  • There is a TV on in the background showing something else happening.
  • Anyone makes snide cracks about bloggers or the internet.
Drink the whole bottle if:
  • A real cast member, past or present, of Saturday Night Live is name-checked.
  • Anyone says “bing” in any context.
  • A major religion or a political figure is ridiculed.
And check into rehab whenever:
  • A character struggling with a substance abuse problem falls off the wagon.
Have fun, because I guarantee you won't stay sober through the first commercial break.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
Feel free to add your own rules if you don't think these will get your blood alcohol level high enough.

Update (10/8/06): For a meta-update on this post see my reaction to going viral.

Update (11/13/06): Check out my head to head comparison of Studio 60 and 30 Rock. The results may surprise you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The AchenBoodle Book Drive

When my son was little, I read the bedtime stories. I was angling to pass the George Will Custody Test which says that whichever parent can recite the first page of Cat In The Hat from memory gets the kid. My son wasn’t all that big a Dr Suess fan, but we had Chicka Boom and Ready Teddy down cold. I finally got the boot as bedtime reader when he kept reading ahead of me out of one of the Narnia books.

I figured my job was done, but my son remained an indifferent reader through elementary school. In another bout of parental bonding guilt, I decided we would join a book club. The local library runs book clubs for all ages and had one for middle school aged parent/child pairs. Both people had to read the book for the month and then meet at the library for a group discussion with refreshments afterwards.

The book club facilitator would start each year with a big cart full of candidate books and then take votes on the selections. He would subtly steer the kids to some more issue oriented books rather than just pure adventure or fantasy. Since the demographics skewed slightly male, the choice of books appealed to my son. It also exposed him to some genres and writers he would not normally read. When we joined, there would be about half dozen kids each month. A few years later it had grown to nearly twenty pairs each month.

After three years, my son’s reading level had outpaced the book club selections and we dropped out moved on. As the receipts from the local BigBoxOfBooks will attest, his reading pace hasn’t slowed down any.

I’m not trying to just brag about what a good reader my son is or what a great dad I am. My point is that getting kids to read is more than just teaching them to read. I have an “imaginary” friend on the internet that goes by the name Cassandra S. She volunteers with a reading program in rural North Carolina. Her group does not have the resources of an affluent suburban library system. She has asked our little on-line community for help with her program and we think a great aid would be to donate books for her group. Let me let her say it in her own words:

We're targeting early readers or beginners, and trying to help those that are struggling with reading. Of course, we want to encourage children to go beyond what they think they can do, but we certainly want them to feel successful in whatever they strive for. I work with primary, middle school, and some junior high students.

She also added a list of books recommended by some teachers and librarians including:

Fourth Grade
  • Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume
  • Super Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachan
  • Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World by Margaret Pitts Walters
  • The Whipping Boy by Sid Flieschman
  • How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  • Ramona Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
  • Because of Winn Dixe by Kate DeCamillo

Sixth Grade
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Cay by Theordore Taylor
  • The Adventure of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • The Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard Evslin
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
  • Famous Story for Performance Holt, Reinhart, Winston
  • Local News by Gary Soto
  • Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jang
  • Journey Home by Yoshiko Uchida
  • Myths, and Folktales Holt, Reinhart, Winston

The Library List
  • The Farm Book by Jan Peloog
  • Little Black Pony by Walter Farley
  • The Horse in Harry's Room by Sud Hoff
  • Cowboy Slim by Julie Danneberg
  • All the Pretty Horses by Susan Jeffers
  • No Howling in the House by Erica Farber
  • Dinosaur Hunters by Kate McMullan
  • Fox Be Nimble by James Marshall
  • Grasshopper on the Road by Arnold Lobel
  • A Garden for Miss Mouse by Micheala Muntean
  • No Carrots for Harry by Jean Largerman
  • Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
  • Pigs Pigs by Gail Gibbons
  • Buck-Buck the Chicken by Amy Ehrlich
  • True Blue by Joan Elste
  • My Little Red Car >by Chris Demarest
  • Franklin's School Play by Pauletter Bourgeois
  • Clifford's Family by Norman Bridwell
  • Moongame by Frank Ash
  • The Reason For a Flower by Ruth Heller
  • Lady and the Tramp >by Disney
  • Miss Piggy's Night Out by Sara Hoagland Hunter
  • The Great Pet Sale by Mick Inkpen
  • Bunnies and Their Grandma by Amy Ehrlich
  • Fievel's Big Showdown by David Kirscher
  • Leaf Jumpers >by Carole Gerber
  • Find Nat by Kelli Foster and Gina Erickson
  • Daisy Rabbit's Tree House by Penny Dale
  • Humpty Dumpty as told by Kin Eagle

Cassandra added:

Now if any of you know of good African-American stories, I would love those very much. The lists given to me contain just a few of those stories, but not many. The public library here has just a few, but I know there are so many out there even if I cannot get them here. I would love those stories as well as the above lists. And this isn't all, folks. I have another list to get from the school this morning. And please feel free to throw in your favorites. I want the children to have access to a lot of what goes on in this world, and it can all begin with books. Thanks again.

She also mentioned the need for some professionally published series aimed at teaching reading skills.

Seedling Publications and access their leveled reading site. Choose from emergent and fluid readers categories.

Lerner Classroom, at this site we have different categories of books for K-3, 4-6 grades. I would love to have the science, health, and earth series. If possible the classroom sets would be wonderful.

Scholastic, at this site one has picture builders, skill builders, character counts, early readers, and the list is endless. Any choice from here would be great.

My family had a big purge of the kiddie books a few years back, but I wondered how many of my readers had extra books that could use a second home in place that needs them. Books even get a big discount at the post office, so really all you would be donating are books your kids have outgrown and a little postage. I'm sure new books would be appreciated as well. To protect Cassandra’s privacy, I don’t want to give out a mailing address except to people that e-mail me at yellojkt [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

Since my audience consists of mostly LostGooglers® searching for unsavory topics, I would sincerely like to have some links to this post from more reputable sites to help spread the word. Because getting kids to read is hard, but the rewards are amazing.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The End Of The Foobiverse

It’s pretty much assumed as an article of faith that when Lynn Johnston retires from For Better Or For Worse sometime in 2007, she wants to tie the package up with a nice little bow for her devoted readers. For the past years her more undevoted readers have been watching the gears of her apocalyptic plot machine grind and clunk into place. Every week now includes some anvil to the head form of foreshadowing.

Let’s review the major characters and see where the Calvinist (that’s John Calvin, not Calvin & Hobbes) staff at Foob Central is sending the characters. Unfortunately, I am calling the shots as I see them happening, not as I would like them to. For real creativity, read some of Ellcee's foefic. Here we go:

Michael and Deanna.
Michael has been locked in his Dickinsonesque dormer for months scribbling the Great Canadian Novel while still holding down the editor job at Vanity Vogue For Us Dull People. During this time he has been oblivious to his growing hellspawn except when they develop second hand smoker’s cough. Elly, who has no known publishing qualifications except taking the same community college photography course for two decades, is copy-editing this guaranteed bestseller despite the plot that sounds derivative by historical romance standards. Meanwhile the rash of pregnancies in Ontario from customers following the Deanna birth control method is overcrowding the local schools.

John Patterson.
Trains, trains, trains, trains… Sorry, I blacked out there for a minute. The most vestigial appendage of the Patterson clan has been trying to downsize the house he does no chores in for quite awhile. He’s got his eye on the neighbor’s cottage for no reason other than it fills the plot hole necessary for Mike and Deanna to move into the big house and carry on the family line. Mike needs some big moolah to buy out the equity, hence the necessity of Little House in Saskatchewan to be a huge bestseller. This is how these stories interlock in a minuet that even Shannon could figure out.

April is the fifth wheel in this whole house-trading key party. As an “oops” baby, she gums up the whole go-quietly-into-the-good-night happy ever after ending. At fifteen, she is too young to send out to pasture, so the resolution of her story arc will be messy. Ever since she killed Farley, her destiny has been to atone for it by becoming a vet. Her whole trip to Alberta this summer was meant to telegraph her interest to all the readers still without clues. I think there are some hints she may even change to human medicine and cure cancer or something equally saintly. That means her garage band is doomed to failure, but Eva, the ambiguously ethnic singer for 4-Evah, will emerge as some wholesome cross between Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette.

The matriarch and doppelganger for Lynn Johnston has had one foot out the door for years now. She sold her store because there was so much vacuuming and grammar checking to do around the house. The whole “I’m so bored with my life” ennui she now exhibits serves mainly as the central metaphor for the laziness the strip has taken on. Lynn has thrust onto Elly a quiet desperation that comes only from being stuck in a career with no escape. We can always skip the strip, but she has to live with this monster she created. Her characters yearn endlessly for retirement but there’s no Moira behind the counter to hand off the daily tedium of making the blandest comic strip characters in Canada clever and interesting.

This mac and cheese loving schoolmarm has become the central character of the strip as her narcolepsy inducing love life resolves itself. Many people long ago predicted the inevitable Liz-(Gr)Anthony union. I was briefly fooled by Mountie Red Herring, but it is now clear that Anthony is finally going to get into Liz's rapidly expanding pants. This sniveling bushystached bookkeeper is easily the most despised character in all of Foobdom, which is what makes him so perfect for Liz. The highpoint of the entire FBorFW endgame is watching this runaway train collision unfold in slow motion. The Howard “Erk” Bunt trial as the spark for reigniting their lukewarm flame is more effective than ipecac for inducing nausea. The distastefulness of this whole rehashed sexual assault followed with violins and candles is just wrong on a near infinite number of levels. The only suspense left, if it can be called that, is how and when Paul “Dudley-Do-Me” Wright is dispatched to the ice floe of discarded suitors. My money is on him and his ethnically appropriate hook-up buddy from high school getting caught in flagrente delicto. Since this would recycle the whole Cheating Scum Boyfriend Eric plotline, the lazy storytelling is just icing on the cake.

Update (1.11.07): My prediction has come true and it is the fault of the Bad Idea Foobs.

No matter how (assuming if – there is always the chance the syndicate refuses to kill their most golden goose) the strip ends, the only guarantee is that it will be uplifting, heat-warming, and mind-numbingly vapid. Which should sell a lot of commemorative books.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Feel free to spin out your most disturbing revenge fantasy. Be sure to include some violent graphic deaths like this one.

For my previous snarking about the foobs of the world, see this post, or this one, or even this one.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Day Trip II: Jousting

joustingYou never know what you will find on the road. When I talked about day trips a while back, I asked my readers for suggestions for other day trips. I got some really great suggestions, but I ended up going another way. We decided to head to the town of Solomons Island at the southern tip of Calvert County.

We hit the road and picked up Maryland Route 4 in Bowie. This used to be a narrow country road, but it’s now a wide divided exurban sprawl strip mall highway slowly creeping out of Washington, DC. We stopped at combination public library and visitors center where I picked up some tourist maps and noticed a sign that there was a jousting tournament a few miles down the road.

Since jousting is the official sport of Maryland, we were game. We arrived at Christ Church in the town of Port Republic just in time for the start of opening ceremonies of the 140th Annual Jousting Tournament. Some people paraded on their horses in full Ren Faire regalia, but the real competitors were in street clothes.

Shortly after the opening ceremonies, the tourney began. If your idea of jousting comes from birthday parties at Medevial Times, you are in for a disappointment. Competitive jousting is done for accuracy, not blood. Each rider has to go through three gates in less than nine seconds. At each gate, a small ring is suspended. The rider must spear the ring with his lance. If a rider gets all three rings, he or she (this is a rare co-ed sport) advances to the next round, where an even smaller ring is used. These guys (and gals) ride really fast and it is tough to even see the rings standing still.

I keep trying to come up with some sort of snarky or sarcastic dig at jousters, but I just can't bring myself to it. It's a real sport with a national association and regular events and standings. It's at least as much a sport as NASCAR, if not more so. Sure, the sport is obscure, but it seems to require skill and athletic ability for both the rider and the horse.

I have a full Flickr set posted of my pictures in case you want to examine them closer. I also have some video footage, but I'm not happy with my editting yet, so I will have to post that later. And if you ever happen to stumble upon a jousting tournament, take some time to stop and be amazed and entertained. I guarantee you will be both.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is the most obscure sporting event you have been to?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Day Of Remembrance

Today is the fifth anniversary of the hijacking of four passenger jets by fundamentalist Islamic extremists. In the blogosphere, you will find literally thousands of tributes to people killed in these attacks, including this very moving one. We should also remember that tens of thousands of people survived.

Like presidential assassinations and shuttle explosions, nearly everyone remembers where they were when they learned of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings. While I watched the events unfold on television, I had an uncle at work in Building 2 that day. He escaped and survived. Many others did that day as well, often due to the courage and determination of friends, coworkers, and heroic first responders.

It is not my place to tell my uncle’s story. I could not do it justice. I have only heard it once. While he made everything sound like it doesn’t bother him, it’s not a topic to bring up too often. Let it suffice to say that I would not want to have been where he was that day or seen the things he saw.

The people who tried to kill my uncle are evil, pure and simple. There are many theological definitions of evil. Some even argue that evil is a purely human construction. Perhaps it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that evil does exist and it can be recognized. By whatever way you define it, evil must encompass the willingness of people to kill innocent bystanders to bring attention to their cause. The Irish Republican Army bombing British department stores was evil. Bombers of abortion clinics in the name of Christianity are evil. And Osama bin Laden and his followers that arbitrarily killed themselves and nearly 3000 other unsuspecting victims is an appalling act of brutality that has redefined our working definition of “inconceivable”.

It galls me that five years later we have yet to bring justice, retribution, or vengeance on the mastermind architect fiendish planner of those attacks, and we don’t even have any good leads on him. Osama bin Laden’s decision to kill thousands of people because of a twisted interpretation of the words of a warrior/leader/prophet who has been dead for over a millennium should not go unpunished. No one should ever be allowed to use words in a book to justify the killing of random strangers.

It’s a petty complaint, but I despise hearing of the events of that day five years ago constantly shorthanded as “Nine-eleven”. September 11th deserves more than just a date on the calendar. Even the Fourth of July is officially known as Independence Day. “Day of Infamy” is already taken, but a military sneak attack by a nation we could rise up against and defeat in a few short years seems quaintly simple compared to the Pandora’s box of tactics employed by faceless sinister cabals who have proven that human life means nothing to them.

Because of the sweeping nature of the attacks which include the crash into the Pentagon and the foiled hijacking of United 93, no simple phrase can sum up the enormity of the attacks, except perhaps to say that evil exists in this world. We should remember that and fight it every chance we get.

Never Forget.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

K-K-K-Katie, The G-G-G-Girl We Adore

Earlier this week, Katie Couric performed the nearly unprecedented feat of reading from a teleprompter on a major network newscast while owning a set of ovaries. This event received unprecedented news coverage and her performance, down to every tick and twitch, has become the most minutely analyzed scene since the Zapruder film. The Washington Post alone has done dozens of previews, reviews, analyses, post-mortems, and follow-ups and that doesn’t even include Joel Achenbach’s online meta-parody.

My reaction?


Ooompa Loompa Orange.

The episode of Friends where Ross can’t figure out a tanning spray booth orange.

Bad 1960s kitchen appliance orange.

In some shots her skin tone was deeper than the wood grain on the new desk they kept walking her in front of. Since I’m being catty, I must say that while I found the just-short-of-perky tilted head annoying, more disturbing was the way she kept thrusting her chin at the camera like a curious ostrich in order to hide any possible neck waddle the nip and tuckers have missed.

If this sounds shallow and superficial, that’s because that’s the level of scrutiny they invited. The big news before the broadcast was just how Photoshopped® her publicity photo was. Like 47% of the NASCAR-level wreck anticipating rubberneckers that tuned in that night, I’m not a regular watcher of the nightly news. My primary news sources are the Comcast splash page and Wonkette. I do regularly read the Washington Post and Time magazine, but it’s for perspective and context, not for breaking news.

Content-wise, the major network news shows aren’t much different than Naked News. The differences are style and production values. CBS does spend much more on burkhas for its news hotties. But on the web, I am much less likely to run across Morgan Spurlock by accident.

In this infotainment universe we live in, the true value of a celebrity is the ability to draw eyeballs. In this arena, Katie is just behind People That Repeat Stale Jokes On Hit Sitcoms, which is pretty rarefied territory, making her worth about 375 mid-career public school teachers. To put it another way, assuming 5 minutes of airtime a night and 2 weeks of vacation, every second of Katie flashing through the ether costs CBS $250.

This information is really only valuable to advertising account executives for medically unnecessary pharmaceuticals still under patent. Bad open-mike comics do it better, but I find news show ads more depressing than the stories. The day I am in that demographic segment will depress me enough to need the mood enhancers they are peddling.

Geek Corner: The photomontage I made was my first ever true experiment with Adobe® Photoshop® Elements. I had a little trouble finding a high enough resolution snippet of Katie's face for me to up the saturation on. Most of the publicity pictures from that first night were very wide angle shots of the fancy set that was polished to the same level of Max Headroom sheen as Katie’s complexion. For the Oompa Loompas, I insist on the original Gene Wilder Willie Wonka version. It was well publicized that Tim Burton just digitally cloned one actor over and over for his Oompa Loompas. Which may be how we get our news anchors in the future as well.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Whitest. Blogger. Ever.

I was all ready to blog today about the Katie Couric debut, but that will have to wait because I found out it was finally my turn in the barrel at Ask And Ye Shall Receive (the url is actually more descriptive than the blog name). These fine folk are yet another snarky blog review site. Their twist is that instead of just being cruel, they are cruel AND helpful. Let’s see what they have to say:

The format is non-offensive. That's the best I can offer. It's beyond plain. It's white, white, white, white. It's white-out conditions at the ski resort. It's buggering up the copy machine and being buried in reams of paper. It's screwing an irishman.

I really can’t fault their criticism of my site. I am about the whitest blogger alive, literally and metaphorically. I’m also part Irish and have never heard that particular ethnic slur before. I thought we were just belligerent drunkards. I had no idea we were boring lovers as well. I better not let my wife find out.

This guy is a pretty prolific writer, and he turns out about a blog post every day. Most of them are long.

I agree with that. It does take me a while to build up a head of steam and I try to limit posts to one page in Word, but I often run long. I think the pictures and videos make them look longer than they are. I try to post 3-4 times a week to give readers a reason to keep coming back. Maybe I do need to be shorter and snarkier.

It's often a longer regurgitation of news blurbs.

The last time I had my blog savaged reviewed, they also complained that I just rehash news stories. I write about what interests me and it is often pegged to a current event. I try to give a twist or a fresh perspective or a personal anecdote that relates to the topic without being boring or pedantic. I guess I need to work harder there.

Now that I think about it, some pieces of the content are so soulless that, like the template, they remind me of Laura Bush. Smiley and well-groomed, but vacant.

Being compared to Laura Bush is not a bad thing. She fits into my fantasy of smart powerful women. It helps that she is a librarian. I have hanging in my cubicle a picture of her I took at the 2001 National Book Festival when she was mingling with the common folk and eating some ethnic food. Does it get anymore white bread than that? As far as politics go, lets just say that Dubya married up.

I give it a and a for thinking you're so damn smart and soulful, but showing us your tighty whities instead of your naughty bits.

I have discussed my choice of underwear before (see the comments on this link if you are that curious) and the reviewer isn’t that far off. It’s what I find comfortable and suitable to me. I make no apologies. It’s what I am.

I will look into some of the more technical comments, which highlight some deficiencies I’m aware of already and some I never realized. Given limited time resources I am more inclined to provide new content rather than futz with the template. Come back some time and check out the snazzier me.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
Are blog review sites helpful or just mean-spirited train-wreck gawkers?

Bonus Comment Whoring™:
Are my posts too damn long or worth every word?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Going To The Chapel

Twenty years ago today, I married the person that has been my partner and soulmate for over two decades now. We met in high school and maintained a long-distance relationship through college for nearly four years. We got engaged our sophomore year, but the timing of our wedding was the subject of some negotiation. She finished college a full year ahead of me and had moved to Atlanta. Her family still lived in Florida, but my dad had been transferred by the Air Force to Italy. Since I was still in school, the only times that made sense to schedule a honeymoon was between quarters.

At first, we had wanted the traditional June wedding, but my dad’s tour got extended and we pushed the wedding back to September to coincide with his transfer from Italy to Hawaii. Some people get all the rough assignments. Especially after their eldest son leaves for college.

We decided to have the wedding in Atlanta and organized the event on our own after getting a rough budget approved by my soon-to-be father-in-law. We started planning in February, which was plenty of time to book everything we needed for a September wedding. We even had a few vendors wonder what our rush was. Nowadays there is no way to book and plan a wedding on such short notice. It seems like anything less than eighteen months is impossible. I can’t figure out what is driving that phenomenon. It’s not like more people are getting married. They just seem to be dragging out the process longer.

We were both active with the Georgia Tech Campus Center and asked the priest there to officiate. He had us reserve the Sacred Heart Church in downtown Atlanta for the ceremony itself. For the reception, we booked the penthouse ballroom of what was then the Colony Square Hotel in Midtown Atlanta. The hotel catering coordinator, who called himself Mr. Wedding, warned us that at a reception only one person can actually run the event and it isn’t either of the wedding participants. It can be either the caterer, the DJ/bandleader, or the photographer and it’s better to know who it will be ahead of time. We put Mr. Wedding in charge and he ran it great.

We wanted an elegant but relaxed event but we also had a budget to meet. At the time many things seemed extravagant to us, but by contemporary standards, we were actually fairly spartan. Since the wedding was at 10:30 am, we went with heavy hors d'oeuvres and a buffet for the meal. I hate cheesy wedding bands, so we saved the money and hired a DJ. The reception was only two miles from the church, so we opted to just have a friend drive us from the ceremony to the hotel. Today, nothing short of a stretch Hummer for the entire bridal party would do.

We also kept the bridal party small. The bridesmaids were two of my wife's college friends, her best friend from high school, and my sister. The best man was my roommate, and the other groomsmen were a former Rocky Horror player, and our respective brothers.

Videography was in its infancy, so we skipped having the wedding filmed. I still think that’s the right call. Nobody ever watches the wedding video more than once and people only care about the gaffes and mistakes. Better to remember it the way you want to, rather than constantly see how it really was.

The best budget trimming idea worked out great. My wife had a coworker who did photography on the side. We paid her to take pictures and have proofs developed. Then we used a pro-quality photo store for reprints and assembled our own wedding album and even made separate ones for each set of parents. No professional photographer would have done half as much for twice the price.

We did have a few splurges. The wedding cake had amaretto flavoring, which I have never run across since. It was delicious. I wish I had gotten to eat more of it. And I’m sure there was an ice sculpture or two somewhere. Nothing says throwing money down the drain on a wedding more metaphorically than watching it literally melt away.

The wedding ceremony itself kicked off fifteen minutes late because my grandmother’s unsanctioned family brunch ran long. Also, my mother in her Mother-Of-The-Groom hat got mistaken for a pushy bridal consultant by the church staff. The actual ceremony was beautiful. Catholic weddings run long, but it adds a level of gravitas to the occasion that I think the shorter walk-through ceremonies don’t have. The homily brought more than one tear to an eye, including the priest giving it.

When we arrived at the hotel still in full wedding regalia, the bellman addressed my new bride as “Mrs. Yellojkt,” That’s when I knew I was really, truly married.

The good thing about a morning wedding is that the reception is over before fatigue begins to set in. We did all the dances and greeted all the guests and cut the cake and did the tacky garter traditions all before 3 p.m. As a kickback to us for booking the wedding, the hotel threw in a honeymoon suite and a courtesy “get-away” limo. Since we were just coming right back to the hotel, we had no idea what to do for the hour we had the limo. Just to kill time, I had him drive us over to campus so I could check my exam results. I am such a dork.

My wife's bridesmaids hummed "Chapel of Love", which is a pretty infectious tune cootie, to her all morning as some sort of good luck gesture. The wedding blessings must have taken because twenty years, eight addresses, four cities, two dogs, and one teenage son later, everything is still going strong.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wide World of Weddings

The Washington Post Magazine this weekend ran a multiple article set of stories about weddings. One was about a large traditional ethnic wedding. Another story is about a redneck wedding (although the Post is too polite to use the “R” word, it is implicit). The final one is by a staff writer and her struggles with a wedding planner on the archetypal over-the-top wedding. As someone that hasn't been in the market for wedding services in a long time, sticker shock is the biggest factor. The Latin wedding cost $30,000 and even the redneck wedding, where the biggest expense behind the live band was the keg rental, ran six grand. The wedding planner alone in the third article cost four thousand dollars and the tone of the article suggests it wasn't money well spent.

These articles, a recent chat narrative on the Achenblog, and my own upcoming twentieth anniversary made me think back about weddings I have been to over the years. I’ve been to between a dozen and twenty weddings, which doesn’t seem like a lot to me, but it’s enough form impressions. I’ve been to weddings in public parks, on the beach, elegant churches, and rental halls. I even crashed one wedding long before Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn ruined that gambit. At all these weddings, the location or the cost of the food rarely has any correlation to the quality of the celebration.

Everybody has a stage in their life when they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time shopping for wedding gifts as all their friends pair off and get hitched. My wife’s college was a small Baptist-affiliated school in western North Carolina. For several years, we found ourselves driving days to get to weddings where the ceremony lasted less than ten minutes and the reception was held in the church basement. We went to these not for the booze, since they were usually dry, but to celebrate with old friends.

The funnest rehearsal dinner I have ever been to was at the wedding of one of my wife’s closest college friends. The venue was at the groom’s mobile home where he lived with his daughter from a first marriage on a huge chunk of land in the Appalachian foothills. Like the Jeff Foxworthy joke, the directions to the house included the phrase “turn off the paved road.” The food was chicken stew that was cooking in a cast iron kettle hanging from a tripod over a wood fire. The event, like most of the western Carolina weddings I have been to, was dry, but the combination of fun people, great location, and cool fall weather just gave everything a glow of relaxed festivity. The most important part of wedding are the memories. Although in my next life, I have vowed to cultivate more friends that are heavy drinkers.

Blatant Comment Whoring™:
What was the most interesting place you have been to for a wedding?

Friday, September 01, 2006

BooksFirst - August 2006

Books Read

The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler
Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? by Gavin Edwards

Books Bought

The Algebraist by Ian M. Banks
Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? by Gavin Edwards
Photoshop For Dummies
Premiere Elements 2 In A Snap
The Duct Tape Book by Jim and Tim
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
A Tidewater Morning by William Styron
Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Yuppie Handbook
My Point...And I Do Have One by Ellen Degeneres


Another poor showing with only two books finished. I finished The Washingtonienne in only a few days. Jessica Cutler's book is a rather thinly veiled account of her sexploits as a Staff Ass on Capitol Hill. I had just heard of Wonkette when that blog broke the Washingtonienne story. The brouhaha was picked up by the Washington Post and the whole story metastasized in the blogosphere as yet another cautionary tale about blogging on and about the job. The original blog was better than the book.

Whenever I am in the Hampden area of Baltimore, I stop into Atomic Books and pick something up if for no other reason than to do my insignificant part of making sure quirky bookstores survive. This time the Tiny Dancer.. trivia book caught my eye. Rock trivia fascinates me, and while I had heard many of these rumors, tales, and legends in other forms, the book was great mind candy.

Every Sunday, in my technolust, I read the tech store fliers to see if there are any bargains I need. One weekend they had the typical price cut and mail-in reabate discount on an Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements bundle. Up to now, I had been using the bundled software that comes with DVD drives and digital cameras. While that stuff is adequate, I wanted some software with a little more third party documentation so I could explore some more. Hence, I went to the adjacent BigBoxOfBooks and used one of their ubiquitous coupons to get some how-to manuals. Hopefully the results will show as I gain more confidence and get more ambitious with my YouTube and GoogleVideo postings.

The last seven books were bought at a church fair where one dollar bought a bag of books. As you can tell, I was stretching to fill the bag. I bought the Preppy Handbook for nostalgia value since I once used this as a manual rather than satire. The other book I genuinely hope to read is the Ellen Degeneres book. Since it was written before she came out, I intend to read it for subtext. I found my first example in the introduction.

As you may have noticed, my mind does not work the same as most. That is to say, I'm sort of, well -- different -- and yet it seems to have worked for me.
I genuinely like her off-beat non-sequitor style and thought her Ellen show was funnier after she came out. At least the romantic subplots were less cringe-inducing.

The rest of the books are either guilty pleasures or bizarre jokes to myself. We'll see how many I get through by next month.