Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Separated At Birth - Oscar Edition

Maybe it's because I read Spy magazine too much, but when I see televised pageants like the Oscars®, I can't help it when some celebrities remind me of other celebrities. To prove my point, I've put together some photos from the ceremony Sunday night with some random publicity photos of other people. Here goes:

Nicole Kidman

Gwyneth Paltrow

Melissa Etheridge

Hillary Clinton

Will Ferrell

Samuel Jackson

Jodie Foster

Jane Fonda

Ellen DeGeneresWillie Wonka

And Ellen, I kid because I love. I actually thought your sitcom was funnier AFTER you came out and only started watching then. You may have lost two million viewers, but you gained one for your courage and wit. I saw your interview with Barbara Walters where you talked about starting a family someday, which can be difficult when you don't necessarily have the right plumbing. Just let me know and I'll extend the same offer I have made to other celebrities in the same situation.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Anyone I missed?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Short Subjects And Oscar Predictions

I would call this Bullet Point Sunday but that would be a trademark violation of Dave’s signature bit. None of these are worth a whole post by themselves, but too good to waste.

  • My dog loves the snow. We got a surprise 4” storm today. It was just the remnants of the blast that walloped Colorado once again. Meanwhile, a Chinese ice sculpture tournament had to be called due to melting. This global warming sure is random. The Washington Post also called Al Gore a rock star because his Powerpoint presentation is about to win an Oscar.

  • Since Fat Tuesday fell on my birthday this year, I didn’t mention Mardi Gras at all. I wrote a long post about New Orleans last year and included a link to this picture, but didn’t show it. Here I am in my infamous yellow jacket in front of the New Orleans Hard Rock Café. We didn’t actually eat in it. You don’t go to The Big Easy to eat burgers from a memorabilia chain. This was back in the days when Hard Rocks were few and far between. My blog buddy Dave has been to nearly every Hard Rock there is. My list is much less extensive. I’ve been to the Orlando, Boston, Baltimore, and DC Hard Rocks and that is about it.

  • My wife and I went to see The Queen last night since we wanted to see why Helen Mirren is considered a shoe-in. In keeping with Mooselet's Saturday Skinfest (NSFW), I offer this vintage photo of Helen letting her very healthy puppies breath (and I’m not talking about Welsh Corgis).

  • I don’t have a lot of horses in the Oscar race this year. Martin Scorcese should win just so he can even the score with Three 6 Mafia. Another winner I am predicting is that Jennifer Hudson will win the award for Best Person Playing Themselves for her role as Sassy Singer in Dreamgirls. Previous winners in this category include Marlee Matlin for Deaf Chick That Sleeps With William Hurt, Henry Fonda for Dying Old Codger, Shirley MacLaine for Wacky Nutjob, and Roberto Benigni for Nutty Italian.

  • I also have an announcement. As a rating stunt on par with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, this Saturday will kick-off Meme Week here on Foma*. I have a few memes already on deck, but if you have a favorite of yours, let me know and I may get around to them. And you are welcome to play along.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Women That Rock Too

When I was putting together the Women That Rock mix CD several years ago I collected more songs that could be crammed onto a 80 minute disc. I took the other songs that just didn’t fit in for one reason or another and put together another entire disc. Being a not too clever guy, I called it Women That Rock Too.

Some of these artists never quite made the mainstream, but some like Macy Gray hit the big time. Aimee Mann has also gone onto critical acclaim since I put together this album. She has her latest album on line if you follow the link below.

It has always been a mystery to me which people make it big and which remain obscure but talented also-rans. Some of these artist haven't released new material in several years and many others are still on the small venue circuit. If they have a homepage, I've linked to it.

Women That Rock Too

1. Jann Arden - Could I Be Your Girl
2. Vonda Shepard and Emily Saliers - Baby, Don't You Break My Heart
3. Melanie Doane - Happy Homemaker
4. Poe - Angry Johnny
5. Aimee Mann - Save Me
6. Tara Maclean – Evidence
7. Beth Hart - LA Song
8. Beth Orton - Stolen Car
9. Heather Nova - Truth And Bones
10. Jennifer Knapp - Undo Me
11. Julianna Hatfield - Spin The Bottle
12. Macy Gray - I Try
13. Abra Moore - Four Leaf Clover
14. Barbara Kessler - That Hurricane
15. Beth Orton - Central Reservation (Then Again Mix)
16. Luscious Jackson – Ladyfingers
17. Liz Phair - Polyester Bride
18. Veruca Salt – Seether

One rule of mixes is to avoid duplicating an artist on the same compilation.
I put two Beth Orton songs on this disc because the remix makes the song sound entirely different. Beth Orton released a great album just this year which fits in the softer mode, but she hasn’t lost her lyrical edge.

Here are the two different styles, so you can compare for yourself.

Beth Orton-Stolen ...

Beth Orton-Central...

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is your favorite overlooked artist?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Power Of Google

There are certain platitudes along the lines of being careful what you wish for. I am always wanting more traffic for my blog and I regularly blogwhore in some of the most shameful ways. Then, in that ironic way that make all those three-wishes-from-a-genie story clever, I got my wish in all the wrong ways. The suicide of multiple-post subject Brandy Britton caused my blog traffic to explode. The day after her death hit the Washington Post, my blog got 20 times the traffic it usually does as this graph from Sitemeter shows:

When I learned of Brandy’s death, I was saddened because this was a real life that had ended, no matter how many people she had crossed in her ill-considered career. After I made my January 29 requiem post, I did nothing to publicize my blog. No comments on other blogs. No posts on public fourms. No holding a signboard on the side of a highway. Nothing. But the traffic kept coming. All of it from Google.

Death is always a great publicity stunt and the HoCo Hooker suicide story got picked up by the wire services and ran in over 140 papers. People must have read it either online or in a dead tree edition and then went to the web for more information. As I mentioned in my own quasi-obiturary for her, my blog is the number one Google® hit for “Brandy Britton” as well as several other variations of phrases associated with her story. For nearly a week, the top ten incoming links were all variations of different Google searches.

My blog traffic went ballistic once before when I wrote a drinking game for Studio 60 and got it mentioned on several pro-blogs. Then, I was flattered by the attention. I even milked a follow-up post out of watching the viral spreading of the phenomenon.

The difference this time was that only two other websites linked to me and brought in measurable traffic. One was a post on a USASexGuide message board (link NOT safe for work) devoted to aficionados of commercial sex in the Baltimore area. Everybody has to have a hobby and the internet is proof that there is no subculture too obscure to support a forum or two, even “mongering” as these guys (and I hope they’re guys) call it. The regulars here didn’t know of Brandy personally since their tastes and budgets seem to swing more towards streetwalkers and massage parlors. From skimming a few related threads, I did learn that I work right down the street from one of the busier locations for drive-by sex.

The other link was also from a message board forum euphemistically called Review and Posting Society (also not work-safe, duh), this one devoted to the more upscale call girls. It seems many sexworkers maintain a virtual presence on the web here and discuss the etiquette and logistics of the pay-for-play business. While all this was very educational, I would have to say these sites are not going to bring me visitors likely to come back to read my book reviews or look at my pictures of Christmas ornaments.

This epilogue is really the last time I intend to discuss Brandy. I really don’t need those sensationalistic HornyGooglers® coming by, never to return. In the future I may even be more discriminating in my choice of salacious topics.

Come to think of it, there has been a rash of local teachers hitting on high school kids. I could snark about that. Make some homeroom eraser clapping jokes.

Nah, I think I’ll pass.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Birthday Love Story

I met my wife when we were both fifteen. I had transferred into her English class and the only empty seat near the front of the room was next to her. I quickly spotted her as a soft touch for the borrowing of supplies I was too lazy or negligent to bring. One day she was showing off her learner’s permit and I swiped it from her and announced, “Hey, that is my birthday too.” She didn’t believe me, so I had to whip mine out as proof. She remained suspicious, but the novelty of a shared birthday caught her interest.

In another coincidence, we both joined the Social Studies Club. For those of you not up on geek culture, Model United Nations is the second nerdiest activity you can do in high school. Teams of students research and roleplay the international policies of other countries. As sophomores not deserving the famous countries, we were both on a team representing Gabon, an obscure but oil-rich African nation, at a local competition. On our birthday, I gave her a greeting card to lay some groundwork. A week after I got my license, I asked her to a movie. We went to see Breaking Away and on the way home I made a bit of an ass of myself and scared her off.

For at least the next year, she would continue to rebuff my romantic advances. I knew her entire class schedule and would make appearances. For the first month of English in our junior year, much to her consternation, her assigned seat was next to mine. There is a fine line between romance and obsession and I was in danger of crossing it. Stalker awareness was not as developed then as it was now, but in retrospect I showed warning signs. I would show up at her house unannounced. In the meantime, I dated a few other girls. One girl I had a slowly-going-past-platonic relationship with joined the Dungeons and Dragons group I was the informal leader of. Did I mention that I am a geek?

For my seventeenth birthday I had planned to just have a cake at my weekly D&D game. Unbeknownst to me, this other girl planned a surprise party behind my back. She knew most of my friends, ranging from the D&D guys to the preppy student leaders to some stonerish guys I had met at a computer club. It was a rather wide-ranging assortment. Who she didn’t invite were very many girls. In total there were three women at this party: her, my future wife (who was also celebrating her birthday), and a xylophone player in the marching band I had a crush on.

I was fighting a cold that night and about half-way through the party the xylophone girl and I took a walk down the street to get some fresh air. By the time we returned my hand had slipped into hers. Since I didn’t warn anybody I was leaving the party and I was the guest of honor, our return together was noticed and much commented on. While nothing had happened on that walk, gossiping tongues preferred to believe otherwise. My mom never learned the xylophone player’s name. She would just cup her hands in front of her chest and say “that girl with the big…” We eventually parted ways and I went back to wooing my future wife in earnest.

The Social Studies Club had romantic intrigues that make Degrassi High look tame. The pivot point in the relationship with my wife was when a bunch of us were all supposed to meet for research at the library and only she and I showed up. To this day, she thinks I somehow engineered that. I convinced her to give me another chance and we went to see that Stallone/Hauer trivia answer Nighthawks. The next day she went to Grad Nite at Disney World with another SSC member, but for the rest of the school year I continued to make inroads into her heart.

By the beginning of our senior year, we were a “couple”. We took as many classes together as we could. This time she gladly sat next to me in English the whole year. She was president of the social studies club and I was vice-president. When I won a place on the county Brain Brawl team, I wrangled a way for her to come along to the state National Honor Society convention as the school’s delegate. We were inseparable. For our eighteenth birthday, we planned a joint party and invited all our common friends. The rest is history.

Today is the twenty-five anniversery of that first joint birthday celebration. Usually, its just a dinner out for the two of us except for special dates. For our joint fortieth birthday, we threw an awesome 80s themed party. We have a lot of fond memories together and I look forward to many more birthdays in common.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Does a love story get any dorkier than this?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rock Star Chefs

Celebrity chefs nowadays get treated like rock stars nowadays. In some ways there are some similarities. Both work long hours, often at night, and wear funny clothes. Both also do things that normal people do, cook and sing. Just much better than mere mortals.

A contributing factor to this cult of personality is The Food Network. While many of their hosts like Rachel Ray, Giada DeLaurentis (who shares my taste in Venice Beach lunch spots), and Chris Cognac are just pretty faces, many are real working chefs with their own restaurants. Like my blogfriend, Madame Courtney Whiny Complainy Pants, Esq., I am guilty of stalking celebrity chefs just because they are famous. Some are over-rated and some are worthy of the hype.

One of the toughest reservations in New York is Mario Batali’s Babbo. In order to get a table, you have to wardial the reservation line exactly sixty days ahead of when you want to eat. The “must eat” menu item is his five course pasta-tasting menu where increasingly complex dishes are brought out. Batali also tends to favor obscure ingredients that you would be upset to find in your hotdog. For the money and the hassle, we expected better service. We never quite knew who our waiter was and felt a little hurried. A few years later we had a very nice Easter brunch at one of Batali’s other restaurants, Lupa, where the food was little more conventional.

Another omnipresent Food Network chef is the folksy Bobby Flay. One summer, we snagged Restaurant Week reservations to Mesa Grill. We showed up a little before it opened, so they let us sit at the bar until our table was ready. Sitting on top of the bar was the morning mail addressed to Bobby. My wife refused to let me snag a letter as a souvenir or read his Wall Street Journal. Then Bobby walked out with some people and spent several minutes within earshot of us discussing color samples, presumably for one of his newer restaurants. It may have been for the recently opened Bar Americain, which is much bigger and fancier than Mesa, but doesn’t quite have the personal touches that Mesa has.

Some chefs are so famous they don’t need a television show to burnish their reputation. The best meal my wife and I have ever eaten was at a restaurant owned by international culinary superstar Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Nougatine is the less formal (and less expensive) seating area at his New York flagship restaurant Jean Georges in the Trump International Hotel on Columbus Circle. The key concept is that “less” is a relative term. The service was obsequious to the point of intimidating. And the food was superb. The rolls came with both salted and unsalted butter. One guy's full-time job was to keep our water filled and refold our napkins back into pope's hats when we left the table. On the other hand, his thai-french fusion restaurant Vong was a bit disappointing until the fantastic deserts. On a whim one day we had lunch at the nearly empty V Steakhouse. The rather expensive hamburger wasn’t even as good as the much cheaper Burger Joint in the Parker Meridian. V Steakhouse with its Louis XIV bordello décor was closed the last time we visited Time Warner Center’s “food court”.

Time Warner Center also houses Per Se, the east coast version of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, perhaps the most famous chef currently cooking. While Keller doesn’t do television, Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour spent a long afternoon indulging in Kellor’s whimsical gourmet food. Both French Laundry and Per Se remain fantasies for my tummy. When we were in Yountville, we drove by the French Laundry just so I could take a gag photo of me eating a candy bar in front of the French Laundry sign so I could claim to have eaten at the French Laundry.

When we got back to our train boxcar hotel room, I found out that Thomas Kellor also owned Bouchon across the street. On a random Thursday night, this place had a two hour wait. You would think it was the Ellicott City Outback. Since we had already eaten dinner, we chose to sit at the bar. Here we had some munchies and let the bartender mock me for ordering increasingly complicated girly drinks. If you ever want a sixteen dollar ham sandwich, this is the place to go.

Baltimore is not very high on the gourmet destination map, but we do have a rock star chef of our own. My wife and I went to Cindy Wolf’s Charleston restaurant as an early celebration of our joint birthday. The couple at the table next to us mistook the place for a place for a quick pre-theater dinner. Cindy Wolf came over herself to apologize for the misunderstanding.

Charleston’s high concept gimmick is that is a fusion between low-country Carolina comfort food with French haute cuisine. The menu is a build-your-own tasting menu of multiple courses. The waitress was horrified when I compared the idea to Wolf’s tapas-based Pazo. The food was excellent and over our combined eight courses we had grits, foie gras, snails, rabbit, and venison. The service attempted to emulate those four-star New York places. We got new napkins after each bathroom break and when the couple next to us ran to catch their show, the new tablecloth was steam ironed in place. This was a nice special occasion dinner, but in the future I think I would rather spend the same money on two or three meals at Pazo or Petit Louis.

We were seated at the table closest to the kitchen, so I spent most of the evening overhearing Cindy in her trademark checkered flannel pants and comfy shoes managing the orders like a robotic taxi dispatcher. She apparantly stands there all evening watching the food get cooked. Running a world-famous restaurant may make you a rock star, but there is still a lot of work behind the scenes.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is the best meal you have ever had? Or, have you ever run into a celebrity chef?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Welcome Wagon

I want to thank everybody that posted suggestions when I asked for Blogroll Nominations last week. There are a lot of great blogs out there and I wish I had time and space to keep up with everybody, but here are the ones I've decided to add to my blogroll.

The Architectural Dance Society. That 2fs isn’t on my blogroll already is the the single biggest oversight I’ve ever made. He goes by Gadge Cubic on the Comics Curmudgeon where he preens moles, snarks on comics, and wrestles boats. On his own blog, he writes a lot about music and his tastes are way more hip than I could ever hope to be.

Dependable Renegade. This blog is new to me. It seems to specialize in silly captions for pictures of politicians with a side order of sarcasm. Stuff I wish I was brave enough to do.

Ironic Sans. The post where he took a picture of every billboard in Times Square and posted them all on Flickr is just brilliant. For a Baltimoron, I spend a lot of time in NYC and I recognize a lot of these picture. I can be a virtual New Yorker through him.

Psycho Toddler. This blogger is a doctor who is also a musician and a Battlestar Galactica fan (He needs to check out my BSG-ST:VOY comparison). If he weren’t already married and I wasn’t a dude, I’d have to quit my job and go stalk him. Also, the eponymous toddler is pretty adorable.

Mitch McDad’s World. Another daddy-blogger, but one with the warped perspective I admire. Recent topics have included kidney stones and vibrators. Fun stuff.

Grateful Dating. Jamy was the only person to explicitly ask to be added. She is in a way different place in her life than I am, but it's good to live vicariously once in a while.

None of this is meant to take anything away from my current fan base. I love all of you and hope you keep coming around and stroking my ego. Or taking me down a notch. Your call.

Harmonica man the other day suggested I post the songs from my mix CDs so that everybody can benefit from my work. I was wondering how to do this in the way least likely to incur the wrath of the RIAA. It seems 2fs uses a site called eSnips that might fit the bill. As a test, I've uploaded "Anchorage" by Michelle Shocked as a test. Depending on how industrious I feel, I might upload more tracks for future posts.

Michelle Shocked-Anchorage

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Making Nice With The Chicks

Sunday night at the Grammies, The Dixie Chicks cleaned up. They won five awards including The Big Three: Best Song, Best Record, and Best Album. And don’t ask me the difference, because nobody really knows. The morning after, there were several competing theories about the Chix dominance including:

  • Vindication and support of the girls in their long-running feud with Dubya.
  • A nose-thumbing at Blue State Murika for being so mean to them.
  • Further proof of the terminally middle-brow taste of Grammy voters.
  • Voters scared Justin Timberlake would use the trophy as a prop in a “Dick In A Box” sketch.
  • The album might have actually been good.

Whether their foreign soil bashing has turned out to be a good or bad career move depends on your larger viewpoint. Personally, I prefer my musicians a little on the lefty side. They tend to make better music.

I had an excellent sideline seat to much of the original outrage when Natalie Maines declared that she was ashamed that Bush was from Texas to a London audience back in 2003. My wife had gotten an award that included a trip to a technology teacher convention in Nashville. I tagged along to soak up the country and western ambience. I’ve been a closeted country fan since I learned how smutty C&W songs are.

We did the whole tourist routine including Ryman’s Auditorium, Opryland, and a pilgrimage to the Jack Daniels factory. I wanted to see some live music, but didn’t care for the smoky peanuts-on-the-floor places. From the internet, I learned about the Bluebird Café which is a songwriters’ showcase venue.

Country music is a songwriter’s medium and many of the most talented people in Nashville write the words others sing. The signature event at the Bluebird is their in-the-round acoustic jams where four songwriters sit in a circle and take turns playing their tunes. My memory is pretty fuzzy, but the night we went, the line-up included the late Robert Byrne, the guy responsible for most of Shenandoah’s hits. Not that I hold that against him.

The elder statesman of the night was Richard Leigh who wrote the classic Crystal Gayle hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. There were audible gasps when he mentioned that The Dixie Chicks had recorded one of his songs. He shook his head and distanced himself from the politics and went on to sing “Cold Day In July”, a sweet non-controversial ballad from their Fly album.

Dixie Chicks-Cold Day In July

The whole Chicks controversy was delicately avoided by the other performers, but they did like to rib Leigh about the decidedly Gallic spelling of his last name. Remember, this was at the height of Freedom Fries mania.

Natalie’s statement and disapproving responses from other musicians were featured on all the local news shows, but I didn’t see any public burnings of either records or effigies. I did see plenty of aspiring musicians living the life described in “Long Time Gone”:

Now me, I went to Nashville,
Tryin' to beat the big deal
Playin' down on Broadway
Gettin' there the hard way
Living from a tip jar
Sleeping in my car
Hocking my guitar
Yeah I’m gonna be a star

We went honky-tonkin’ down Broadway (the one in Nashville, not to be confused with the one in New York where I stalk celebrities) on a Thursday night when the dozen or more bars (most no wider than you can swing a cat) don’t have a cover charge. The more popular venues will shuffle in bands on an hourly basis all night long. Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge has one stage in the front and one in the back so the live music never stops. Other places were nearly deserted except for the singer on the barstool. We hit about a half dozen bars in less than an hour, not even stopping for a drink in some. The common thread was that all these performers were playing for tips, practice, and publicity. And you can only fill the gas tank with one of those.

The Chicks have paid their dues and are entitled to their opinion. My wife and I caught them at the MCIVerizon Center stop on their recent Bible Belt avoiding tour. The rocking but haunting “Not Ready To Make Nice” had the crowd on their feet. And the Grammy voters marking their ballot.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Do you get annoyed when singers and celebrities push their political opinions?

Monday, February 12, 2007

YouTube SuperStar

The latest mysterious internet web sensation is a karaoke singer known as ysabellabrave. She has a couple of dozen videos on YouTube where she sings old showtunes or torchy songs from the big band era with a smattering of classic rock tracks. She interprets the songs rather broadly and has huge expressive doe eyes. Her hair color ranges from brown to an allegedly natural blonde.

On digg.com and other places, there is a fair amount of controversy about whether Maryanne/ysabella is genuine or some sort of Astroturf creation like lonelygirl15. On the “genuine” end, the technical quality of the videos is definitely amateurish. Each song is a single unedited take done by a webcam. The only lighting is a desk lamp that she points right at her face. In some videos, if you look closely, you can see the standard YouTube issue messy bedroom in the background.

On the suspicious side is the quality of the singing. She claims to have never sung publicly until a year ago, but she has all the lyrics well memorized and her little vignettes are cleverly rehearsed. She has access to a pretty big library of karaoke tracks to sing along to. Those things aren’t cheap, and that is ostensibly the reason for her Paypal donation button. Also, the complete lack of personal detail about her is curious. In this let-it-all-hang-out MySpace/Xanga world, the only info about her outside of her fan-run webpage is a LiveJournal account that is heavily Christian themed.

She also claims to be an American Idol reject. This is perfectly plausible, since the show likes to focus on the future contestants and the abysmal train wrecks. Maryanne has a very nice voice, but her videos lean away from the poppy ballads Simon and the gang seem to want. My verdict is that I’m still suspicious, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt since her story seems to be internally consistent so far. I wanted to know how easy it is to duplicate her video format.

My singing talent is, at best, sorely wanting. Most everywhere I go, I eventually get banned from singing, particularly at home. Only once has anyone ever requested I sing. In high school I worked at a Wendy’s and one of the guys there loved to get me to do my particularly tuneless version of Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”. I knew he was laughing at me and not with me, but I liked the attention.

Thanks to the miracle of the intertubes, the pain and suffering associated with hearing me sing is no longer restricted to family, friends, and coworkers. My voice can now annoy complete strangers anywhere in the world.

My other YouTube videos have been edited from camcorder footage or compiled from photos slideshow style. For this video I tried out the movie function on my new pocket digital camera, a fairly inexpensive Canon A540. What you see here is one hour’s worth of work on a weekend morning. I took three takes altogether, mostly getting the camera placement right and setting the zoom setting correctly. Like ysabella, I used a desklamp pointed at me to avoid the zombie eyes common to most basement filmed lipsynch videos.

I tried to sing along to a midi-track, but I couldn’t stay on tempo, so I went completely acapella. I usually don’t get much past the first verse before people shut me up, so I printed out the lyrics which you can see me looking over at. Even then, I still flubbed the second to last line.

Maryanne claims to have no editing software. The raw 640x480 footage from my camera was 300MB, so I had to use Adobe Premiere Elements to shrink the .avi file to a more manageable 30MB .wma file suitable for uploading. Since I was in Premiere anyways, I went and added a title since that is one of the few things I know how to do. Otherwise, what you see is what you get.

Unless I achieve some of William Hung level of notoriety, this video will hopefully remain obscure. At best (or worst, depending on your point of view), someone in the real world will recognize me and use it to tease me mercilessly. While I have successfully demonstrated that any idiot with little equipment can get a video shot and uploaded, it still takes some talent or lucky break to get noticed. Maryanne, whether or not she is a real person, clearly has more talent than I can ever hope to have. Good luck to her, and if you watched all three minutes of my ear splitting caterwauling, my apologies.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Share your talent or point me to somebody even worse than myself.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Women That Rock

Back in the dark days before Napster, there were few places to get “free” music on the internet. The richest source of songs for downloading was the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) where chat rooms had been converted to file swapping forums. The process was very kludgy. You had to find another person logged into the chat and request their list of files. You then read their list and requested individual files by sending a specially formatted request in the chat. The file then got sent to you as a person to person message.

I had just gotten on a broadband connection and this was a great way to test the limits. I would load up a queue of music requests and see how fast they came. Part of the fun was the thrill of the hunt. I have a very extensive CD collection that I had ripped to my hard drive, so I really didn’t need or want Top 40 style hits that I could get anywhere. I was looking for more obscure artists and music.

I would go after themes or try artists I had heard of, but never listened to. When I would find an IRC user with music tastes I admired, I would mine their lists for music I was curious about.

About the same time, I had upgraded to a CD-R burner, so it was natural that I would make mix CDs of my music to listen to on my stereo or in my car. More than just burning a CD, I would go all out and make cover art and liner notes for the CDs. I made nearly a dozen of these before I finally tired of this particular way avoiding reality.

In a series of very ugly hard drive crashes, I lost nearly all my borrowed/stolen/pirated music as well as the accompanying album art. All I have left are the ones that I bothered to burn onto CDs

For your amusement I have scanned these and will be posting them at random intervals so that you, the reader, can mock my tastes and obsessions. Today’s CD is Women That Rock, a collection of songs by female artists that in my opinion qualified as cutting edge circa the late 90s.

If I have done my HTML right, mousing over the image should reveal the back cover and the track list. For people without that kind of patience, the track list is as follows:

1. Heather Nova – “London Rain”
2. Luscious Jackson – “Naked Eye”
3. Bif Naked – “Spaceman (Boomtang Boys Mix)”
4. Concrete Blonde – “Joey”
5. Amanda Marshall – “I Believe In You”
6. The Waitresses – “I Know What Boys Like”
7. Lita Ford – “Kiss Me Deadly”
8. Aimee Mann – “I Should’ve Known”
9. 4 Non Blondes – “What’s Going On”
10. Ani DiFranco – “Angry Anymore”
11. Sneaker Pimps – “6 Underground”
12. Dar Williams – “What Do You Hear In These Sounds?”
13. Michelle Shocked – “Anchorage”
14. Breeders – “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
15. Indigo Girls – “Clampdown”
16. Christine Lavin – “Sensitive New Age Guys”

Some of these songs came off of albums I owned like the Indigo Girls cover of The Clash’s “Clampdown”. This is one of the best tracks of the London Burning tribute album because the Girls have completely changed the tempo and turned a raucous punk anthem into a haunting bittersweet ballad. It is also available on their Rarities album.

The real find on this list was the Michelle Shocked song. She has never broken into the mainstream, but “Anchorage” is a beautiful song in that folky “girl with guitar” tradition. Both it and the Christine Lavin song, “Sensitive New Age Guys” were staples of the Womens Show that I used to listen to on WMNF. It brought back memories and reconnected me to music I loved.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Do any of these songs bring back memories, good or bad?

Friday, February 09, 2007

New Bytes

There is so much nutso stuff in the news that all I can do is bullet-list the highlights:

  • Everybody is talking about the PsychoKiller Astronaut. My dad is a fighter pilot and those guys (and obviously gals now) aren’t sane. My father is the obvious exception (Hi, Dad!). They all talk with their hands and swoop them around in formation to describe their dogfights. You risk your life walking through a cocktail party of pilots. I used to sneak looks at “log books” where they would brag about their exploits in and out of the cockpit. Top Gun and The Great Santini only scratches the surface of the machismo in a squadron lounge. And these guys form the pool of applicants that get to fly shuttles. While Lisa Nowak was a mission specialist and not a shuttle pilot, she has extensive test pilot experience as told on her official bio. I think the problem with the psychological screening process is that the sample population of potential astronauts is skewed to begin with. Normal is a very relative term.

  • All the news reports discretely mention that Lisa and her erstwhile paramour were never on the same mission. The “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” implication is that they are not members of the Zero-G Club. At least not with each other. A Slate article debunks the urban rumors about sex in space and plays up the inconvenience and uncomfortableness of the space shuttle. That has never stopped all those frequent fliers from hogging the airplane lavatories just to have a story to tell. Even on firm ground, I don’t think comfort or lack thereof has ever stopped anybody from trying out a shower stall or a too small Jacuzzi. Just sayin’.

  • I nearly got called for jury duty for a trial where a guy hid in the bushes and whacked his estranged wife with a machete, sending her to the hospital. That story got buried in the metro section because plenty of people do crazy violent stuff all the time. What part of Nowak’s story merits wall-to-wall OJ (Capricorn 1 allusion intentional, courtesy of bc) coverage? Astronaut? Woman astronaut? Diaper? Besides the high schadenfreude quotient, why should we really care about a transcontinental NASA catfight? It would be a different matter if there were video of the attack and it happened in a mud filled pond.

  • The new federal budget is out and we are going to spend half a trillion dollars next year on defense. The share for my family of three is about five grand. Our share of the National Park Service budget is twenty-five dollars, and that doesn’t count the fifty dollars I spent on an annual pass this summer visiting the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. While I support our troops, I have to ask myself what was the better value.

  • The Coalitional Provisional Authority (the incompetent Americans that ran Iraq before we turned it over to incompetent Iraqis) lost over five billion dollars in cash. We’re not talking accounting error here. We’re talking over 300 tons of small bills. For perspective, we could have tripled the Park Service budget with the money that literally fell off the truck in Iraq.

  • I’ve said before that the celebrity I most resemble is Ron Howard. I think my sister bears more than a passing resemblance to Anna Nicole Smith. I hope she takes that as a compliment. You judge for yourself.

By celebutard standards, even Lisa Nowak is sane compared to Anna Nicole Smith. Anna Nicole won the All-Time Super Bowl MVP Award in Gold-Digging, and I don’t begrudge her that, but the karmic payoff has finally proven fatal. Let’s hope she finds peace where ever she is now.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Blogroll Auditions

Way back in my early days of blogging (at least a year ago) I had a post where I explained the purpose of a blogroll. I don't think any outside visitors ever really use another person's blogroll. It's more like a public bookmark list. I use my blogroll as a convenient checklist for blogs I want to read frequently. Over time I have added and subtracted from it as I see fit. The two most recent additions were Blogography and Jenine who were both hilariously funny bloggers. Unfortunately, Jennine left full-time blogging for something called a life. I had one of those once. They are way over-rated.

Lately, the turnover on my blogroll has been frightful. Right now there are at least three dead links on it as bloggers have gone AWOL. Some fold up shop and leave a departing message. Some make empty hollow threats. Some even merge with other bloggers. Others just vanish. These can be annoying, because it seems there is an army of bots out there that pounce on abandoned blog domains and fill them with all sorts of nefarious sites that have pop-ups and other scary HTML thingies that make me fear for my hard drive.

Between these lost bloggers and the folks that just aren't that entertaining anymore (I'm looking at you, Dad Gone Mad), the twice weekly run through my blogroll is just not as rewarding as it used to be. I need to refresh my list and inject some new blood.

So, I am announcing open auditions, American Idol style, for coveted positions on my blogroll. A place on this valued real estate means that you will be visited by me about three times a week and probably get a comment on every other post. To enter, just leave a comment that I can trace to your Blogger profile or leave a link. I will visit all entrants at least a few times in the next week and make some updates to my blogroll.

If you are already on my blogroll, help me out and nominate somebody on yours that you think I would enjoy reading. You probably know my tastes better than me by now. I won't let the other people on your blogroll know that you are playing favorites. Even blurkers with no blog of their own are welcome to make recommendations, as long as they don't mention Dooce.

If you are a Boodler (and you know who you are), you qualify for the special Achenblog section of the blogroll. I don't check these as often unless you plug it in the boodle, but a spot on the Achenblog list is also immune to my random whims.

And unlike American Idol, there are no losers, just fellow bloggers enjoying some fine Web 2.0 fellowship.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Basically this whole post.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Multi-Culti Mix-Ups

Two very different articles in the Washington Post this weekend set my mind making connections about race and education. The first was an anecdote by Soledad O’Brien. When her parents were dating while attending Johns Hopkins here in Baltimore they were constantly refused service at restaurants because they were an inter-racial couple. That her mother was black came as a complete surprise to me. I have been ogling watching Soledad since her days as geek eye candy on MSNBC’s The Site. She is now the morning co-anchor on CNN and you have to read pretty deep into her official bio to learn she has been featured by both Essence and Irish American Magazine. That O’Brien surname comes from her Irish-Australian dad.

It turns out that a lot of celebrities are multi-racial. The interminably long Super Bowl preshow featured Hines Ward who has a Korean mother. Many public figures we tend to associate with one race or another actually have much more complicated and interesting ancestries than fit into the random pigeonholes we have established. This website has a rather eclectic list of just a smattering of famous people of mixed race heritage.

Race wouldn’t matter, but people still make decisions based on the ethnic make-up of areas. An article titled "How Not To Pick A School" in the Washington Post Opinion section was perhaps the most nuanced and comprehensive article I have ever read about race and performance in public schools. Brigid Schulte defends her decision to send her kids to a public school where her kid would be in the ethnic minority. She quotes some researchers that note:
White students are the "most racially isolated group of students" in the country, with the average white student attending a school in which only one in five students is of another race.

That can’t happen in my son’s school district. The most lily-white high school in the county is only 71% white and the system regularly posts the best scores in the state. My son’s school brags that they have the most diverse student body in the county. The ethnic demographic breakdown is as follows:

White: 48%
Black: 30%
Asian: 14.5%
Hispanic: 7.5%

Where does my son fit in on this scale? I am about as “white” (or European-American as I prefer to call myself) as anyone can be. I am a blend of Irish, German, and Scottish, all very pale people. My wife was born in Vietnam, but she keeps finding more and more ethnic Chinese in her background. My son doesn’t look identifiably Asian, particularly when in a group like the Math Team. On the other hand, nobody is going recognize him as a son of the Old Sod. Nonetheless, the recessive red hair and blue eyes are in his DNA and could reappear some generation down the line.

It makes me very mad when forms asking for demographic information are not multiple choice. If he answers “Asian”, then what am I, chopped liver? Several years ago, I read a news story about another local school district where two Asian girls were denied a transfer to a magnet school because it would lower the “diversity” of the school they currently attended. Nobody is handing out money to Asian kids to attend college and some very prestigious universities have been caught with informal quotas against Asians. For these arbitrary reasons, I have my son say “white” on forms that make him choose one or another.

Even the word “Asian” is astoundingly broad. Howard County is a mecca for Korean immigrants because of the quality schools. There are also substantial Chinese and Indian communities in the area. According to a 2005 study, the top five foreign languages spoken in the county are Spanish, Korean, Chinese (three different dialects), Urdu, and Vietnamese.

The quasi-city of Columbia was one of first deliberately integrated developments in Maryland. As a result of the aggressive integration, inter-racial couples and their offspring rarely raise an eyebrow in this area. I have no idea how these kids fill out their ethnic check boxes either. My guess is many just skip it altogether.

Call America a melting pot or a mixing bowl or whatever you want. When you put different groups of people together the boundaries blur. We are all more alike than we are different. Hopefully someday the differences that separate us will disappear. My son is proud to be of mixed heritage and I am proud of him.

Updated (2/6/07): I updated the ethnicity percentages to match published 2005-2006 school year information.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

BooksFirst - January 2007

The 2nd Annual National Just Read More Novels Month has ended. I didn’t get any real publicity for it, but I like the idea so I will just keep flogging it every year until it catches on. Whether you heard about it or not, if you read a novel in January, you are a winner. You can go back to the original post to claim your prize. Just copy the image that matches how many novels you read or use the link text on your own page.

Books Bought

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Time Won’t Let Me by Bill Scheft
Magic Street by Orson Scott Card

Books Read

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Time Won’t Let Me by Bill Scheft


As you can see by the books bought list, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Part of this was over exuberance for NaJuReMoNoMo, and some of it was using up all the bonus points and the gift cards from BigBoxOfBooks and OtherBigBoxOfBooks my wife gets as teacher gifts.

Fforde’s books were recommended to me by the Achenboodle as a clever piece of meta-fiction that has spawned an entire series. The Eyre Affair features Thursday Next, a Charge of the Mechanized Light Brigade survivor turned civil servant that gets dragged into a high level investigation trying to stop a evil mastermind determined to destroy the archetype of gothic romance from the inside. The central conceit is clever. Characters from books and the real world can cross over from one world to another. In this alternate universe, literature is treated as reverently as pop music or sports. Unfortunately, the book also crams in dozens of other ideas not quite as fully developed:
  • The Crimean War has lasted centuries.
  • Lycanthropy is a maintainable and treatable disease.
  • The timeline is constantly shifting history.
  • Genetically engineered dodo birds are popular pets.
  • One of the villans is named Jack Schitt.
It’s a very engaging story, but a bit of a mess. There are several other books in this series and it would be interesting to see if it settles down a little.

When I was at Balticon last year, they were giving away teaser samples of His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik’s first novel. Here the high concept conceit is very simple: What if there were dragons during the Napoleonic Wars? It’s Aubrey–Maturin meets Pern. A sea captain bonds with an exotic dragon and gets drafted into the Dragon Corps trying to prevent France from invading Britain. The book is the first in what is at least a trilogy, so the pacing is a little languid. There is a lot of backstory about how dragons and humans have coexisted. Much thought has been invested in all the different breeds of dragons and the battle tactics, trying to maintain the suspended disbelief plausibility. Perhaps too much. The book is great mind candy and pretty fun, but could have been tightened up considerably.

To go a little highbrow, I saw Memories of My Melancholy Whores bay Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the 3 For 2 table at BigBoxOfBooks. Since I will never ever get around to reading Love In The Time Of Cholera or any of his other giant tomes, this seemed like a good way to get a taste of his style. The book is barely a novella. The publishers have used all the third grade book report tricks. Wide margins, big fonts, short chapters. That said, the pace of reading Marquez was an abrupt downshift coming off of a breezy genre fantasy. Even in translation, every sentence is a polished gem meriting stopping and admiring the words for their beauty. The story itself is Nabokovian unsettling. Most men brag that they have never paid for sex. This book's anonymous protagonist claims he has never not paid. Over the years he has become a connoisseur of prostitutes. On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, he begs his favorite madame for an underage virgin as a novelty. The rest of the book is his quasi-platonic seduction of the naive and innocent girl. I can’t even begin to fathom the levels of symbolism Marquez is attempting, but to my contemporary sensibilities, the book is both beautiful and unnervingly creepy.

Time Won’t Let Me is a book that is a work of passion. The love of music that permeates Bill Scheft’s novel about the reunion of a short-lived prep school garage band is just boundless. He clearly loves the era and imbues it with a sense of adventure. The middle-aged characters are endearing and frustrating at the same time. Some border on archetype and clichés, but they have that Hiaasenesque quirkiness that makes them fascinating. The plot takes several unexpected but logical twists. The last quarter of the book is a little disappointing because the big Hollywood payoff never quite happens. The book stays true to the characters at the expense of wrapping up the loose ends in a pretty bow. If this book ever makes it to the screen, it will be a much different story and not nearly as true to the spirit of both the book and the garage band era. Time Won’t Let Me is an underappreciated gem that anyone that loves both the written word and the classic rock era will enjoy.

Remember, if you read any novel at all in January, you are a winner. And if you didn’t, there is always next year.