Friday, November 30, 2007

Life Intrudes

National Blog Posting Month Day 30

Today is the last day of National Blog Posting Month and I had a mental draft of a clever witty synopsis of the whole phenomenon and how it has changed my life, improved my outlook, and made my teeth brighter.

At 6 am this morning, my father called and said that my grandmother had passed away. This was neither sudden nor unexpected. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in June and had been resting at home until Tuesday when she had to be moved to a nursing home.

I dare not even begin to detail or chronicle the many wonderful ways, both large and small, that she had impacted my life for the better. Let it suffice to say that she was nobler and kinder than anyone not a grandparent could possibly be.

Now that I have fulfilled my contractual obligations I will take care of the many logistical and emotional challenges ahead. Until then, thanks for the support of my many friends, real and imaginary.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lucky Pearls of Wisdom

National Blog Posting Month Day 29

Lucky Cow - 05/30/07

Pearls Before Swine - 11/28/07

Click on images for bigger version.

Pretty much says it all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

iTunes Info

National Blog Posting Month Day 28

I got this meme from Blogography who traffics in only the highest quality memes. I'm very proud of my iTunes library which is nearly all completely legal.

One weird quirk of iTunes is that it places numbers at the end of the alphabet instead of before it. I also wish that it was smart enough to alphabetize by last name and band name without "The". I had a dBase compatible catalog a long, long time ago that I customized and it was able to put Bruce Springsteen between Spandau Ballet Steely Dan.

It annoys me that the Gracenote database is not smart enough to know that AC/DC is the same band as AC-DC. I also hate that iTunes places all the collaborations as separate artists. Jimmy Buffet's License To Chill album has a bunch of different duets that shows up as eight different artists. Mega-annoying.

Enough bitching about iTunes, here's the meme:

How many total songs?
6050 items including podcast episodes and books on CD chapters. They aren't all unique since I buy a lot of 80s music one-hit wonder collections, so I end up with duplicates that I'm too lazy to eliminate.

Sort by song title - first and last...
"A.D. 1928" by Styx to "78% H2O" by Ani DiFranco

Sort by time - shortest and longest...
"Wherever" by Ani DiFranco and "{Silence}" by The Dixie Chicks tied at 7 seconds
"False Echoes" by Jimmy Buffet at 15:55 barely edges out "Telegraph Road" by Dire Straits. I don’t count a 30 minute hidden track on Oh No by OK Go.

Sort by Album - first and last...
Abbey Road by The Beatle to 80s Movie Hits.

Sort by Artist - first and last...

a-ha is first, and 4-Non Blondes is last.

Top five played songs...
They’re all tracks off of Bruce Springsteen’s new Magic album. For some reason the track count keeps resetting itself, so I don't really trust those numbers.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?
Sex: 10
Death: 20 but 11 are Death Cab for Cutie tracks
Love: 328
You: 781
Home: 58
Boy: 125
Girl: 153

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle...
“Long, Long, Long” The Beatles
“I Just Want to Have Something to Do” The Raisins
“Can’t Cry These Tears” Garbage
“Le Bel Age” Pat Benatar
“Good Day Sunshine” The Beatles

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What's on your music player?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance

National Blog Posting Month Day 27

I want to thank everybody for their kind words and sympathy on my memorial for Chessie. The most difficult thing I've ever done was going to the vet that morning. I would have done anything for one more day and one more walk, but I had to do what was best for him, not me.

The hardest part of the loss has been adjusting my habits with him not around. There is emptiness in both my heart and my day. My morning and evening routines revolved around his routines. He had a rhythm and pace. If we were slow in moving upstairs at night he would let us us know it was time to go to bed.

My wife who was always jokingly dismissive of the dog is taking the transition to a pet-free house harder than me. She was the one that spoiled him rotten, teaching him to jump onto the bed and buying him rolls as treats. We had just bought a doggie step stool to help him climb onto the couch that he will now never need.

She can't walk into a room without a flood of tear-welling memories. Our housecleaners have dogs, so we gathered all the pet beds and dog dishes and accessories to give to them. Chessie traveled light and didn’t have a lot of toys or doodads. We are trying to find that fine line between memorializing him without being constantly reminded of his absence. We have saved his collar and the bumblebee costume we dressed him in every Halloween.

One strategy to keep him off our minds has been to keep busy. On Saturday, friends invited us to their family’s late Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was sympathetic and uplifting. We cleaned out the coat closets to have something to do. The outdoor Christmas lights went up in record time without the complications of my always underfoot companion.

It's the little things that keep hitting us. Yesterday we went to OtherBigBoxOfBooks to buy a different calendar to replace the English Cocker Spaniel one we had already bought for the upcoming year. I had to change the wallpaper on my work computer so that I didn’t get hit with a pang of grief every time I minimized Outlook.

I make fun of young newly married couples raising puppies. I call those dogs practice kids. At the other end of the lifespan, pets are also lessons in life. Their limited lifespan makes tragedy inevitable. The death of an animal will never be as tragic as the loss of a loved one or family member, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt any less.

BlatantGriefTherapy™: Tell me a happy story about a pet you've had.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nerd Night

National Blog Posting Month Day 26

When you have a seventeen-year-old son, there are few father-son bonding experiences left to exploit. Fortunately I have found one. On Monday nights, my son and I drive my wife out of the bedroom where the HDTV is and watch two of the nerdiest shows on television back to back.

Since they are both on at the same time on separate networks, it takes the miracle of DVR to make this happen. Sometime between 8:00 and 8:30 we fire up Chuck, skipping commercials, and then roll right into The Big Bang Theory. Chuck was a dark horse on my Show Killer Shortlist but it’s the only one of the four I’m still watching, mostly because it appeals to my kid enough to make it appointment television. Neither show is flawless, but they have something in common that makes them worth watching. See if you can figure it out:

That's right. Both shows have seriously talented actresses that give Meryl Streep a run for her money. Seriously, we watch the shows together for the geek humor as much as for the eye candy. My wife gets a little worried when we are cracking up over some obscure string theory joke. Of the two shows, Big Bang gets the geek right and Chuck teeters a little closer to guilty pleasure territory. The plots on Chuck are hokey and formulaic (Drink a shot whenever someone tells Chuck to stay in the car), but the light-hearted goofiness works in its favor. The endless Moonlighting-lite will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension gets a little sophomoric, but you have to admire a show that puts it’s heroine in pigtails every week.

Big Bang has a little more, well, banging. By my count, three of the four chief geeks have gotten lucky already. Leonard the glum goofball geek’s big score was with fellow physicist Leslie. Leslie is played by out-lesbian Sara Gilbert who was Johnny Galecki’s TV sister girlfriend/sister-in-law/wife on Roseanne which makes the hook-up doubly meta-ironic or just uber-creepy depending on how twisted your sense of humor is. Put me down in the ultra-hilarious camp.

Over on Chuck, neither Chuck nor co-nerd Morgan have gotten past second base, but supporting character gum-snapping quasi-harajuku girl Anna has a past that needs more exploring. Adding to Chuck’s nerd cred is the casting of former Firefly crewmember Adam Baldwin as chief cockblocker John Casey who is a complete 180 degrees different from Jayne Cobb. The slapstick action sequences are barely tolerable, but the endless innuendo keeps things amusing.

Both shows are trying to get a lot of mileage out of nanotube thin premises and part of the fun is figuring out which show will run out of steam first. Until then, my son and I will be chuckling along with every nerdy double entendre.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Elementary My Dear

National Blog Posting Month Day 25

cash advance

Get a Cash Advance

I've been saving this meme that I found at Doghouse Riley's blog for a day when I really didn't feel like blogging and today is that day.

When I first tested my blog a few days ago it rated as Junior High, so I've slipped a little since then. I'm a afraid to run across a Genius blog out of fear I couldn't even read it.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your level?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Good Dog

National Blog Posting Month Day 24

April 25, 1995 - November 24, 2007

I don’t write about my dog much. I wrote 100 Things About My Dog and about him hunting bread, but I didn’t write a lot of boring things about our everyday routine. Blogs with annoying stories about every cute thing their pet does are tedious.

But my dog was part of my life. And he did a lot of cute things. When we were about to leave the house he would sit at attention at the stair landing and cock his head because he knew we gave him a treat as we walked out the door. He would go upstairs and howl at the bedroom door because he liked the water bowl in our bedroom better than the water bowl in the kitchen.

We went for a walk every morning and I would read the paper while he ate breakfast because he liked company while he ate. He liked company period. He followed me from room to room as I did things in the evening. If I snuck upstairs without waking him up my wife would ask where my shadow was. We would time how long it took for him to realize I was gone and come find me. It usually took just a few minutes.

As he got older he would whimper if I wasn’t around. About three weeks ago the whimpering became so constant that I took him to the vet to get medicine to clear up the skin conditions that seemed to be causing him discomfort. She gave him some pills that cleared up the skin and his attitude perked up. But then he quit eating his dry dog food and I kept having to mix rolls in with it to trick him. Then he started eating just the rolls.

His stomach became distended and yesterday we took him to the vet who took some x-rays. His abdomen was filled with fluid that had drained from metastasized cancer in his chest. The vet said there was less than a 5% chance of being able to treat cancer that advanced successfully. After a night of quiet cuddling with him and one last walk to the elementary school where I always let him run off leash, we took him back to the vet this morning to put him out of his pain. It was quick and peaceful and now we miss him incredibly.

Having a pet is a bargain you make with an animal. You give them food and shelter and they give you loyalty and love. It hardly seems like a fair trade. And when they are gone, all you can do is remember them in your heart. Chessie was better than a friend. He was a good dog. And that is the highest compliment I can pay him.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day Comics

National Blog Posting Month Day 23

Josh Fruhlinger, THE Comics Curmudgeon, has taken the weekend of to stuff his face full of leftovers. As a public service, I am filling the breach with my own comic strip deconstructions.

What goes together better than turkey and Thanksgiving? Pilgrims and football! Two comic strips pastiche all our great traditions together.

Rhymes With Orange 11/22/07

First, we have sideline footage of the first meeting of the Plimouth Plantation Pilgrims facing off against the Wampanoag Warriors. Goody Elway is calling a Hail Papist Heresy pass.

Bound And Gagged 11/22/07

In addition to stealing maize, cranberries, and lacrosse from the first inhabitants of North America, we also stole the idea of halftime. And it seems the Puritans borrowed the Santa Maria to make their first voyage. And if that is really Christopher Columbus interrupting the big game, shouldn't this cartoon have run last month?

Hat tip to 2fs for recommending me go with comics commentary for a cheap quickie post.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are historical anachronisms inherently funny or just lame?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Back

National Blog Posting Month Day 22

This year my wife made a lateral career move and became a teacher in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. When she arrived in America in 1972 as a seven-year-old child with little English, the only system for immigrant children was the “throw them in the deep end” approach to English immersion. Since then, as a new flood of residents have joined our country, the system has learned how to streamline the assimilation of those not born here. This is her chance to make a difference to kids that are now in the position she was in so many years ago.

In today’s slightly xenophobic atmosphere, ESL (also called ESOL or ELL) is a much misunderstood approach. It is not bilingual education. It can’t be. Among the twenty-five students my wife works with, there are over a dozen nationalities and languages represented. The goal is to get children that don’t have English as their native tongue up to speed in the regular classroom as quickly as possible. Speaking a foreign language is neither mandatory nor necessary to be an ESL teacher, although my wife’s degree in French, her high school Spanish, and some leftover childhood Vietnamese help.

The other day one of her students, a little Vietnamese girl the same age my wife was when she came to the US, insisted on showing my wife her class assignment. The work involved putting different paper feathers on turkey cut outs. The girl had done the assignment fine, but didn’t know what a turkey was. My wife asked if she ever ate turkey at lunch. The girl had always eaten pizza, the universal food, because it was familiar and safe. They looked up “turkey” in a Vietnamese-English dictionary and the literal translation was “American chicken.”

My wife took the girl to the cafeteria where they were putting together a turkey lunch. The cafeteria lady took time to put together a little sampler platter with turkey and the fixings so the girl could try the meal. That day, my wife passed on a small sliver of our American culture to one of our newest members. It’s these small moments that despite the increasing hassle and frustration of being a teacher keeps teaching fresh and rewarding.

Our one true nation holiday celebrates sharing culture and welcoming new people. And it is about more than thanks, it’s also about giving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hitting The Wall

National Blog Posting Month Day 21

IMG_3283About twenty miles into a marathon, runners hit what the call The Wall. The body runs out of fuel and it must begin burning body fat to continue. Runners get an extreme sense of fatigue and struggle to continue. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never run a marathon.

Twenty days into NaBloPoMo, I’m running out of fuel. Normally I have three or four blog post ideas running around my head. Right now I have one idea for Thanksgiving Day and a meme I’m holding in reserve for when I’m flat out mentally bankrupt.

The difference between blogging four times a week and every day is enormous. I’m constantly preparing a blog entry or thinking about the next one. I have about three hours a day that are mine. One in the morning before work and two in the evening once dinner is cooked and other chores are done. Since a really good blog entry takes me up to two hours to research, write, and edit, that is cutting it thin. Here is what has suffered while I’ve been running this virtual marathon.

Reading. I’m not even half way through the one book I’m trying to read this month, and while it’s physically heavy, the reading isn’t that difficult. It’s just that after a chapter or two, the eyes can’t stay open.

Television. I’m not getting the full benefit of my new DVR because I don’t get time to catch up on the recordings. This weekend I plowed through the backlog of 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother but I still have three weeks of The Office and My Name Is Earl to go through. I figure the writer’s strike is going to give me plenty of time to catch up.

Dog Walking. As my dog gets older, he becomes more and more reluctant to take long walks in the morning. On weekends, we still make it to the site of the bread dump, but on weekdays, it’s a quick jaunt around the block. Especially if it’s rainy of extra cold.

Newspaper Reading. If I’m almost done with a post in the morning, rather than saving a draft and working on it later, I take my breakfast downstairs and rush it out before I have to leave for work. This cuts out the time I have for the front page and the editorials. Some days I don’t even finish the comics. Horrors.

Other Blogs. I feel I'm giving the blogs in my blogroll short shrift. Especially the ones that also post every day. Sometimes I find three or four new posts and even though I would have something witty to say on the older ones, I feel the moment has passed. I haven't even updated my blogroll to the new Masters of Gilligan page.

Romantic Activity. This blog stops at the bedroom door. I’m no Mitch McDad. However, proximity is 90% of seduction. If I’m downstairs in basement tapping out a draft of the next day’s blog and my wife is upstairs reading trashy romance novels, there have to be some missed opportunities happening.

So why am I doing it? To prove I can. But that is the topic for Post 30. I’ve got to pace myself if I’m going to make it to the end.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: I need ideas. Give me some.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ugly Betty Friedan

National Blog Posting Month Day 20 Bonus Post

While I’m doing silly comparisons today, Joel Achenbach has a column on the Achenblog that cites some wingnut survey that declared The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan to be one of the most harmful books of the last two hundred years, up there with Mein Kampf and Das Kapital. Judging by the column and the completely looney commenters, these folks would have problems with any books not written by Fox News talk show hosts.

Besides, I think Betty Friedan looks a little like another Betty trying to enjoy the fruits of the feminist revolution:

Beauty is in they eye of the beholder. And the idea that women are the equals of men is one of the least harmful idea of the twentieth century. Methinks the wingnuts want to turn back the calendar a few decades. Perhaps even centuries.

Pretty Portman

National Blog Posting Month Day 20

Maybe I'm a little too worked up about Natalie Portman doing a nude scene for Wes Anderson in a 17 minute prequel for The Darjeeling Limited called Hotel Chevalier. And I still fondly remember her work as a movie stripper in Closer. So when I saw the movie poster for squeaky clean kiddie movie Mr Magorium's Magic Emporium, I was reminded of the pose by that famous movie hooker.

Yeah, It's just me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

3D: The Eyes Have It

National Blog Posting Month Day 19

I don’t do a lot of movie reviews here on Foma because not only am I not very good at it, there are a lot of people that do it very well. I saw Beowulf this weekend up in Pennsylvania and the Stephen Hunter review in the Washington Post is very good. There is no way I could match a line like "Ma is Angelina Jolie as interpreted by someone who apprenticed by doing airbrush portraits on custom Harley gas tanks." For a ordinary viewer’s opinion, Ivansmom at the Achenboodle sums up my opinions pretty well.

What I will discuss is the technical features of the movie. I had seen The Polar Express in 3D Imax a few years ago and was a little creeped out by the woodenness of technology. Part of my desire to see Beowulf had improved the state of the art. My other purely prurient reason was to see if it was possible to make Angelina Jolie look hotter than she does in real life.


I was tipped off to the movie over a year ago when Neil Gaiman discussed it while at Balticon. He mentioned that the motion capture software had been improved by at least two generations. In particular he mentioned the eyes. The eyes in Polar Express were cold and soulless and made all the characters look like zombies. In Beowulf, not only are the eyes much, much better, they actually do some extreme close-ups just to show off the verisimilitude.

Hair and skin

Hair and skin are the bane of CG movies. That is why Pixar tends to stick to things like toys and cars that are supposed to be shiny and smooth. In Beowulf, the male characters tend to be suitably craggy and hirsute. The female characters and the queen in particular still suffer from a botoxed Princess Fiona sheen.


The real irony of motion capture animation is that it tries to be realistic, but the point of animation is to do things that can’t be filmed in real life. In Spiderman 2, anytime Spidey had his hood on, I feared I was watching a cartoon instead of an actor. And it looked it. In Beowulf, the level of detail keeps shifting back and forth.

Motion Capture

The alleged advantage of motion capture and rotoscoping is too add a level of realism pure animation can’t attain. Even with the finest actors lit up like a Christmas tree and Tron, they can’t capture everything. Every now and then a “character” will jerk around like an extra in a Thunderbirds puppet movie.


Three-D is and always will be a gimmick. The scriptwriters of anything 3D always think of as many was as possible of having things point or fly at the viewer. This always breaks the forth wall and disrupts the suspension of disbelief.

Depth of Field

A problem related to 3D imaging is that the “camera” seems to have an infinite depth of field. This ends up making the screen have a layered look that reminds me of prismatic books I used to read as a kid. When the background is as sharp as the spear pointing out over the audience, the emphasis becomes fuzzy instead of the scenery.

Peripheral Vision

The Imax screen has its own issues. The screen is so huge, it’s hard to see everything going on at once. In particular, things in the foreground at the edge of the screen catch the eye. At times the glasses (especially, if like me, you have to wear them over regular glasses) don’t cover enough of the field of vision to avoid fuzzy artifacts at the edge of you field of vision.

I really liked Beowulf, especially the meta-epic subtext that questions the entire mythmaking process. The motion capture technology is really maturing fast. Animation lets directors tidy up even Angelina Jolie’s few flaws. Her fluid gold skin is really no more revealing than Mystique in the X-Men movies, which is to say she is easy on the eyes. And the eyes are the windows to the soul.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Will CGI ever get so good it will replace real actors?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Imax In Demand

National Blog Posting Month Day 18

This weekend was time for the Fall Philly Road Trip. Last year we went to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair. This year we went to catch Beowulf in Imax 3D. My son began broadly hinting that he wanted to take some friends to see the movie a week or so ago.

We usually take him out to a fancy steak dinner for getting a good report card, but we decided a road trip with three of his friends was an excellent alternative. Since none of the vehicles in our current fleet will fit six, I got a Grand Caravan for the day and we all hit the road. And just so we didn’t neglect the steak part of the tradition, we hit Pat’s in South Philly to school the kids in what real cheesesteaks taste like. They all agreed they were infinitely better than the pale imitation the school cafeteria serves.

But why did I rent a minivan and drive two hours to see what is showing just down the street? Because the closest theater with an Imax screen is in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, home of what must be the biggest mall on the eastern seaboard.

I can’t believe that the greater Washington/Baltimore area can’t support a commercial Imax theater. There is no shortage of museum affiliated screens including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the Udvar-Hazy Center, and the Maryland Science Center here in Baltimore. Some of these dabble in commercial releases after hours, but none show them on a regular basis.

A few years ago while killing time during the holidays down in Tampa we caught The Polar Express in 3D Imax at the otherwise nearly deserted Channelside Complex. If Tampa can support an Imax theater, I don’t know why this area can’t. You expect to find Imax theaters in big cities like New York, San Francisco, and Dallas, but according to Wikipedia, other US cities with commercial Imax screens include Nashville, Fresno, Colorado Springs, West Palm Beach, Boise, and dozens of others.

The movie chains need to get a clue and tap a market that demands it. If I can drive a hundred miles to see an Imax movie, think of the thousands that would drive across town.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Would you pay more to see a movie in Imax? Would you drive a hundred miles?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Hour Hijinks

National Blog Posting Month Day 17

Never let anyone convince you that teachers can’t party. One of the schools my wife works at has a happy hour party every Friday. Last night it was at one of the teacher’s house in Arbutus. Let’s see what I remember:

Mai tai
Pomegranate martini
Another pomegranate martini
Three or four mudslide shots
Jello shooter

And I met a lady that truly can tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. I had hitherto thought that was just a sleight of hand parlor trick. Now I’m a believer that it can be done. Not sure what value that skill has, but it does fascinate people.

There is also one disappointed husband out there. He had stayed at home to watch their seven and four year olds while his wife, Teacher A, stopped by the party. Teacher B stole her cell phone and started hot-texting the husband in guise of Teacher A. The first message was “If you’re not up when I get home, you soon will be.” His reply was “Oh my!” It went downhill from there. At one point I was looking the wrong way to catch a particularly spicy cell phone picture being taken.

Unfortunately for her husband, Teacher A was just a little too shnockered to drive home and deliver on any implicit promises made on her behalf. Fortunately for me, my wife is a very dedicated designated driver. On the way home, she noticed that my drivers side mirror had been clipped just enough to spiderweb the mirror. Having some experience with mirror replacement during my son’s student driver days, I know this will exceed my deductible but not be worth filing a claim for. Makes for a very expensive happy hour.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How was your Friday night?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ugly American

National Blog Posting Month Day 16

Pictures for this post were taken by me in 2005 and can be found in my Vietnam Flickr set or you can click on individual pictures for larger images.

Don’t ask me how (but blame this site), but I ended reading the blog of Megan McArdle, a writer for Atlantic Monthly specializing in economics. She is on a busman’s holiday in Vietnam and blogging about what she finds.

Since I had been to Vietnam with my family a few years ago (chronicled in this blog), I was interested in what insights an economics writer might have. Boy was I disappointed. For the most part she has made the most banal, naïve, and borderline offensive observations I have ever read. Let’s take a look at some of her insights.

Vietnamese people are short.
People back home stare occasionally, but here a near-majority point and chatter. Their eyes, meltingly, ask a question they have neither the courage, nor the English, to speak out loud. I cannot bear to deny them.

"188 centimeters," I say. It took me ten minutes to work out the first time, but now I'm practiced. Their eyes widen, as if I had suddenly gotten even taller. Smiles. Giggles.
Yes, people in Vietnam are petite. Not having grain self-sufficiency until a decade ago will do that to a country. But McArdle is an Amazon. For the metric impaired, 188 cm is 6’-2” without heels. She should be used to having people looking up at her by now. She could walk through the lobby of my office and draw stares. And trust me, the Vietnamese have no social taboo against staring and pointing at strangers.

Really short.
The effect of all those high-octane Western diets is very obvious in one way: I am a giant among women here. I presume that all tourists who walk into the stores here are followed by one or more of the multitude of store clerks who seem to sit there waiting for the sporadic traffic. But I suspect that they aren't usually the object of regard by all the other giggling, pointing attendants.

In a triumph of optimism, none of them can quite bring themselves to believe that no, their clothes really won't fit me. I inevitably find that the waist is eight inches too high, and my not-terribly-broad shoulders strain the seams. The unoccupied clerks giggle harder as two or three now very worried shopworkers delicately peel the clothes back over my head, holding their breath as they wait for the terrible ripping sound. So far, luckily, it hasn't come, but I've largely given up shopping for apparel.
DSC02901At over six foot tall, how many stores in the States have clothes that fit you off the rack? And you expect Vietnam to be better? If you had bought a guide book before you left, you would know that there are plenty of tailors and dressmakers that will custom sew anything you want to your exact size. And it would still cost a fraction of what you would pay in America. It's almost cheaper to buy the fabric and have clothes made for you than to buy the same items in a store.

They have dark skin.
This is weird, and not terribly uncommon, as far as I can tell: Caucasian mannequins. They seem to be prevalent even in stores that look like they cater to the Vietnamese. I have no idea what this means, but I'm sure someone must know.
I'm perplexed about where to begin with this bit of misplaced hyper-political correctness. They’re mannequins. And not very good looking ones at that. Who cares if they don’t mirror the local skin tone? The ones I saw at Macy’s last week were spray painted gold. Spin all the theories you want about cultural imperialism and implicit racism, I bet the real reason is that white mannequins are cheap. And furthermore, when was the last time the word “Caucasian” was used outside a Klan flyer?

They work too hard.
I saw a farmer today peddling a cow to market in a trailer attached to his bicycle. This engendered considerable confusion--on my family's farms, the principle has always been that the animals expend energy to move you around, not vice versa.
DSC02687aMcArdle’s bio says she was born and raised on the upper west side of Manhattan, so I’m not sure just how extensive her farm experience is, but maybe grammy and pop-pop let her summer on the ranch. That’s not quite the same thing as subsistence farming in a third world tropical country.

For one thing, I doubt that was a cow she saw. Dairy cattle like we think of them are a relatively new form of livestock to Vietnam and are mostly in the south. The ubiquitous beast of burden in rice paddies is the water buffalo, a creature not known for its speed. It’s also a poorly suited form of transportation. You try to ride one. If you have to get it to market, you are going to have to pull it with whatever you have. If that’s a bicycle, so be it.

Scooters are quickly replacing bicycles as the universal form of transportation among the Vietnamese and I saw everything from pigs to twenty foot long pieces of rebar to entire families being transported on scooters. Shame on them for not having king cab pick-up trucks to haul their animals around. That’s why it’s called a developing country.

Or not hard enough.
The streets are also filled with women carrying baskets suspended on the ends of traditional yokes. The cognitive dissonance inspired by watching these women weave in and out of the motorbike traffic offers a slight thrill to camera-happy tourists like me.

But that thrill really isn't very thrilling when I stop to think about it. The labor productivity implied by all that basket-carrying is bleak in the extreme. For the last twenty-four hours, I've found it hard to venture outside of my (extremely overpriced, thoroughly Westernized, lovely and modern) hotel without mentally calculating the average hourly wage implied by a three-dollar, ten minute cab ride, or a woman hauling two meager baskets of cucumbers to a bustling street corner where she can squat and sell them for hours.
Dsc02545If you are a street vendor, you need some way to get your wares too and from your market stall or patch of sidewalk. The bamboo pole with balanced baskets is a clever centuries old method. And street vending isn’t a very lucrative trade anywhere in the world, but anything you sell is more money than you would have had hanging around the house.

If you want to see the real economic engine in Vietnam, ignore the old ladies selling vegetables and go hang around a factory with the big “ISO 9001 Compliant” banner on it and wait for shift change. You will get run over by the scooter traffic jam as their daughters come home for the evening and ask granny how many cucumbers she sold.

They wear funny clothes.
This is a really common pattern in almost every non-western country; the girls wear traditional clothes, while the men wear western suits and ties. It is not universal, but it is nearly universal enough to make me ask what integral part of the human psyche this stands in for, the men wearing the garb of the economically successful, while the women remain mannequins for the past.

I think the ao dais are much more attractive than western school uniforms (and don't get me started on the dress policies of the Riverdale Country School. But surely the men would look equally fetching in whatever the Vietnamese elite males wore 200 years ago?
DSC02681As far as formal native dress goes, the áo dài is actually pretty practical. It’s a pair of silk slack with a long tunic in contrasting colors. According to Wikipedia, the modern version dates back to the 1930s and has had a recent resurgence in popularity. And if a school requires girls to wear one once a week, where’s the sexist oppression? And like most native dress, among adults you really only see it worn in restaurants and other places that cater to tourists.

As for the guys getting off easy, I can only imagine her umbrage if she saw a group of men in mandarin jackets and top knots. Besides, what American male would wear something that was the height of fashion in 1807? Imagine someone showing up to work in a morning coat and ascot. Why should Asians wear styles 200 years out of date?

News flash: Pants and tee shirts are the world-wide universal uniform. In many ways Vietnamese men dress way better than their Western counterparts. Twill pants and golf shirts or dress shirts are worn everywhere. Despite the climate, no self respecting Vietnamese guy would run around in baggy cargo shorts looking like Kevin Smith at a red carpet event.

And funny hats.
Vietnam is unbelievably picturesque. At least here in Hanoi, there are loads of women still wearing those pointy straw hats, and presumably not just because they know how much the Western tourists enjoy all this authenticity.
DSC02552Guess why women (and men) in Vietnam wear pointed hats? Because it’s hot and sunny there and they work outdoors. The round brim shades the head and the pointed top provides ventilation. They’re also made of bamboo because it’s cheap. A more interesting observation that McArdle didn't make is that women wear long sleeves or elbow length gloves outdoors no matter what the temperature to avoid getting that peasant farmer’s tan.

For a lifelong New Yorker, she sure isn’t very worldly. I can’t wait for more cringe inducing posts about how things are so different outside our benighted states. Why can't these foreigners be more like Ivy League educated dilettantes?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Red Headed Babies

National Blog Posting Month Day 15

When I was in high school I took a class in philosophy with a hippie 60s relic teacher. He liked to be cool and hip and rap with his students. In class I set next to the girlfriend of a guy on the math team with me. We’ll call her Tina. Tina was a gorgeous redhead and way out of my league. Her boyfriend was a shadetree mechanic that drove to school a dune buggy that he had built himself. He was not a guy I would cross if I even wanted to.

At least weekly Mr. Hippie would make some crack about me and Tina getting together and making “redheaded babies.” See, he knew that since red hair is a recessive trait, two redheads will have redheaded kids. It got to be really uncomfortable and made me self-conscious of being a redhead. A skinny geeky freckled kid has enough trouble without being inadvertently harassed by a teacher about his hair color. Somewhere along the line, being a redhead became cool, but not soon enough to help my social life.

Somehow a thread about the sex lives of celebrities on the Achenblog turned to famous redheads (which is as close to staying on-topic as the Boodle gets). Names thrown out included Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon, Bette Midler, Frances Conroy, Kirsten Dunst, Ann-Margret, Shirley MacLaine, Lindsay Lohan, Marilu Henner. Julianne Moore, the great Maureen O'Hara. Meg Ryan, Annette O'Toole, Annette Bening, Reba McEntire, Debra Messing, Anne Robinson, Cate Blanchett, Courtney Love, Elizabeth I of England, Florence Nightingale, Geena Davis, Geri Halliwell, Katharine Hepburn, Marcia Cross, Mary McAleese, Mary Robinson, Nicola Roberts, Patsy Palmer, Rene Russo, and Sarah Ferguson.

Us guys have it rougher in coming up with equally sexy male redheads. Most people will immediately name Robert Redford, but he is more a strawberry blonde, emphasis on the blonde. Famous guy redheads include Ron Howard, David Caruso, and the eponymous Carrot Top. Not a stellar bunch.

Being curious I went and Googled “real redheads” (which is incidentally a very bad search to do in a public location with SafeSearch off) and found this canonical list of natural redheads on film. The requirement was that they be a movie actress, a natural redhead and not dead or old.

No sooner was his list published than his readers were commenting that not all the women were “natural”.

Everytime I hear the phrase “natural redhead,” I think of the Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. That book has a list of famous redheads:

The Twelve Most Famous Redheads
  1. Lucille Ball, comedienne
  2. Gen. George Custer, military maverick
  3. Lizzie Borden, hatchetwoman
  4. Thomas Jefferson, revolutionary
  5. Red Skelton, comic
  6. George Bernard Shaw, playwright
  7. Judas Iscariot, informer
  8. Mark Twain, humorist
  9. Woody Allen, humorist
  10. Margaret Sanger, feminist
  11. Scarlet O’Hara, bitch
  12. Bernard Mickey Wrangle, bomber

In the book, Bernard is a radical bomber nicknamed the Woodpecker that has come to Hawaii and has been detained by Princess Leigh-Cheri. Bernard suspects that Leigh-Cheri has a crush on him. This leads to the most tender romantic moment between two redheads ever written.
Leigh-Cheri held a strand of her hair to her eyes. As if in comparison, she reached across the table of where Bernard sat opposite her and examined one of his unruly ringlets. The hair of most so-called redheads actually is orange, but it was red, first color in the spectrum and the last seen by the eyes of the dying, it was true-blue red that clanged like fire bells about the domes of Bernard Mickey Wrangle and Princess Leigh-Cheri.

There followed an embarrassed silence, tense and awkward, broken finally with a snap by the Woodpecker’s abrupt plunging of his hand into his jeans. Patterning his gesture after the successful Jack Horner, he pulled out a single hair and held it aloft. It glowed like a copper filament. “Can you match that?” he challenged.

Okay buster. Okay okay okay okay okay okay.

Beneath the table, beneath a map of Hawaii with extraneous atolls, she submarined a hand into the depths of her skirt. And slid it along the flat of her thigh. It winnowed into her panties. She yanked. Ouch! Damn it! She yanked again. And presto, there it was, curly and stiff, and as red as a thread from a socialist banner.

“What do you thing of that?” she asked brightly. Then she noticed that from the tip of the hair there hung, like a tadpole’s ballon, a tiny telltale bead of fishy moisture. O sweet Jesus, no! She released her grip on the crumpled toilet paper. It fluttered to the deck like a stricken dove. Her face heated as crimson as the hair, and then some. She could have died.

“What do I think of that?” The Woodpecker’s voice was very gentle. “I think it could make the world a better place.”
Now there is a couple destined to have red-headed babies.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Who is your favorite redhead?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Bard and I

National Blog Posting Month Day 14

William Shakespeare

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in foma?

Which work of Shakespeare was the original quote from?

Get your own quotes:

This little Shakespeare Quote Widget was stolen from Malnurtured Snay. On the first hit I got that quote from Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare play. My fascination with the Scottish play goes back to sixth grade when I played the title role for the English class production. It was then that I had to memorize his most famous soliloquy.

To test how well my memory has held up, I wrote out the speech and then checked it against the Complete Works of Shakespeare textbook I keep next to my engineering manuals (You never know when a good quote from The Bard will be relevant to a technical study). I didn't do too well. Below is my corrected version. I forgot one entire line and missed a few other things.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
creeps in this its petty pace from day to day
until the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking a shadow, a poor player
who struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.

In grade school, I used to be real good at memorizing things. When we had to recite poems for class, I would always pick the longest poem I could fine. At one time I had the entire "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" available. Now, the brain isn't what it used to be. My wife only kind of jokes that she will never know the Alzheimer's kicks in. I joke back that it already has.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What can you recite from memory?

Google Number One

National Blog Posting Month Day 13

I knew I would never make it through thirty continuous posts without resorting to some memes and gimmicks. Here’s one I found recently over at Impetua's blog. This is called the Google-Fu Meme:
I'd like to suggest a meme, where the premise is that you will attempt to find 5 statements, which if you were to type into google (preferably, but we'll take the other country specific ones if need be), you'll find that you are returned with your blog as the number one hit. This takes a bit of effort since finding these statements takes a little trial and error, but I'm going to guess that this meme might yield some interesting insight on the blog in question. To make it easier, we'll let you use a search statement enclosed in quotations - this is just to increase your chances of turning up as number one, but if you happen to have a website with the awesome traffic to command the same statement without quotations, then flaunt it baby! Of course, once you find your 5 statements, pass the meme on to others
I don’t need quotes. There are several searches that, good or bad, lead to my humble blog.

Live by the foma. Through shear repetition, the Vonnegut quote I have in my sidebar has inched its way up over the years over all the Vonnegut quote sites to be number one. My dream would be to the number one pick for “foma” itself, but I have little hope of ever overcoming the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Ted Forth. As the number one fan of the Sally Forth comic strip, my blog entries for that wacky slightly limp-wristed bundle of neurotic pop trivia known as Ted Forth are both the number one and two Google searches, ahead of the Wikipedia entry that I wrote as well.

Top 100 Cheesy Songs. My tribute to the worst number one hits of the 1970s is always gathering traffic from those seeking out the lamest songs ever recorded. Ironically, the post only lists 23 songs altogether. But they are truly awful.

VO5 commercial. This one is a complete shocker to me. About the time we were hosting a Chinese exchange student, a commercial was running set in a fictional Maoist school where true love and fine hair care products overcome tyranny and conformity. How I got enough links to this post, I don’t know, but if it is on the web, people will find it.

Jordan Todosey naked. I mentioned the twelve-year-old costar of Life With Derek way back in this post which included a throw away reference to another rival tweener show called The Naked Brothers Band. And then the perverts started Googling. I complained about it in the comments on other blogs and they started getting hits too. When I mentioned this phenomenon in a post that had a nekkid picture of High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, the stars aligned. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a couple of hits from the true scum searching in vain for the celebrity kiddie porn motherlode. You won’t find it here, keep looking.

What these searches have in common except for my twisted attention deficited thoughts is anybody’s guess.

BlatantCommentWhoring™ (which is a number one Google hit if spelled as all one word, but only second when spaces are used): What GoogleSearch® is unique to you?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Horny Teens Aren't Hoodlums

National Blog Posting Month Day 12

Here at FomaCentral we are just a little obsessed with the sex habits of teenagers. This is perhaps a little prurient, but I defend it as a necessity as the parent of a teenager. The latest hooking up news is a study that shows that despite conventional wisdom, losing your virginity is not a valid predictor of criminal behavior. One of the lynchpins of abstinence education (news flash: still not working) is that by deterring sexual activity, there is a halo effect in lowering criminal activity. Right.

The new report as detailed in Sunday’s Washington Post article by Rick Weiss debunks the causality link between teen sex and crime. One problem with the online story is that it doesn’t include the graph in the dead trees edition that I was interested in, the age at which teens first get their freak on, so I have recreated it as a public service to my similarly curious readers.

One problem with news reporters is their complete lack of graphing skilz. I don’t care how many kids have sex exactly between the Quinceañera and Sweet Sixteen parties, I want to know how many kids have been knocking boots BY the time they are seventeen, so here is a better graph.

By the time the eighteenth birthday rolls around, they can't legally drink but 69% of them have already done the dirty. What is more alarming is that 18% of kids have danced the horizontal bop before 15. Age of consent laws have not kept up with reality, and like speed limits, so many people are breaking the law as to become meaningless. Unless you are a teenager in Atlanta getting a hummer from your fifteen year old girlfriend. Then you can be thrown in jail for three years as a sex offender until the Georgia Supreme Court declares that cruel and unusual punishment.

These public relations fiascos result from vagaries in the patchwork of state laws as another recent WaPo article explains. Maryland, like many other states, has what is called by creepy internet-only lawyers as the "four-year rule". If you are under 16 but your partner is within four years of your age, you are in the clear. The problem in Georgia was that sexual acts were treated different from sexual intercourse which, as Bill Clinton will explain, makes all the difference in the world. Nobody cared until somebody went to jail. And all you pervy guys on the web that seem to know all the rules by state: If you have to check a lawyer, you shouldn’t be checking out the chick.

But back to the UVA Study. Counter-intuitively, the study even found that while juvenile delinquents have has more sex than most teens, they didn’t commit crimes BECAUSE they have had sex. In fact the study found the reverse. Here is how the Post explains it:
Perhaps most surprising, the Virginia study found that adolescents who had sex at younger ages were less likely to end up delinquent than those who lost their virginity later. Many factors play into a person's readiness for sex, but in at least some cases sexual relationships may offer an alternative to trouble, the researchers say.
Somehow I don’t see the Bush Administration rushing to hand out condoms as an anti-crime program.

Every time I write one of these posts, I get accused of wanting to deny hormonally flushed youngsters from enjoying their bodies while they are still fresh and attractive. No such thing. I just want the sexual activity to follow the emotional readiness, which as any parent of a teenager will tell you is long after they get out from under their roof.

Besides, these little graphs contradict an earlier post I made about college students, even the lucky ones, not having as much sex as everyone thinks. That article mentioned that half of MIT undergrads were still virgins. I better keep my fingers crossed for my son's application. And study up on the concept of causality.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: If you had a teenager and you caught them in a compromising position, would you call the cops, the other kid's parents, or the family doctor? Or just laugh?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Veteran

National Blog Posting Month Day 11

Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States, a day commemorating all the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. It is also, modestly ironically, the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut, a noted pacifist who died earlier this year. His opinions on war were formed while a soldier in World War II and a prisoner of war during the fire bombing of Dresden. He wrote the novel Slaughterhouse Five about his experiences in the war.

In his autobiographical collage Palm Sunday, he includes an introduction to a special edition of Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve excerpted a portion below:
Time marches on—and the key events in this book, which is the fire bombing of Dresden, is now a fossilized memory, sinking ever deeper into the tar pit of history. If American school children have heard of it all, they are surely in doubt as to whether it happened in World War One or Two. Nor do I think they should care much.

I, for one, am not avid to keep the memory of the firebombing fresh. I would of course be charmed if people continued to read this book for years to come, but not because I feel there are important lessons to be learned from the Dresden catastrophe. I myself was in the midst of it, and learned only that people can become so enraged in war that they will burn great cities to the ground and slay the inhabitants thereof.

That was nothing new.

He was being much too modest and self-effacing. The Dresden bombing is still remembered in no small part because of his book, which in now part of the post-war literary canon.

He goes on to declare himself to be the only person to profit from the Dresden atrocity. As a veteran, he witnessed first hand the terror and horror war can inflict on the civilian population. On this day where we remember the veterans that proudly serve our just and noble fights, we must also remember that wars kill more than soldiers and that all life is worth protecting.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


National Blog Posting Month Day 10

My son played his last half-time show with the school marching band last night. Before the game we brought over to the band room a fat envelope from Georgia Tech. The contents of the letter weren’t much in doubt because the words “Congratulations! You’re a Yellow Jacket!” were emblazoned across the front.

After his victorious scream, he said to me “Now I have a safety school.” He does that just to tweak me, but I take it in stride. There are worse places he could go. The timing of the acceptance sharpened the sense of finality as his four years in the marching band and my career as a band parent end. The game was played in cold drizzle, but we proudly walked him to mid-field for the Senior Night recognition. Tomorrow we have to report to the school by five a.m. to head to Allentown for the final competition of the year.

And then the rest of the year is all endgame. As parents of an only child, every milestone is a first and a last. We won’t be going to ChainBarAndGrille after a high school football game ever again. I play it cool as we plan where to hang the HDTV in his room when he leaves, but we are going to miss him.

He’s already making the transition from high school to higher pursuits. Every year the band plays a prank on the band director. This year, they hid all the band trophies and replaced them with the ubiquitous gimme seat cushions the band keeps getting. The posted a picture of my son in his school color duct tape sports coat blaming him. He wasn’t there to defend himself because he was out giving a report on the carbon nanotube research he is interning for. There’s a metaphor there that I just can’t make through my tears.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poets and Polemicists

National Blog Posting Month Day 9

Since as a geezer in his forties, I am the last remaining sucker of the music industry that pays cash money for shiny little circles of money. The music companies have been catering to my tastes with a lot of recent releases of new material by artists that had their heyday in the 70s and 80s. I’ve bought a lot of those lately and while the music is both fresh and comfortable sounding, I’ve noticed the inclusion of the mandatory political song on a lot of albums. It’s no secret that most musicians are a little lefty or else they would have become investment bankers or country singers, but if you are going to polemicize your songs, it has to be done with a certain style and panache.

The Eagles are a band that has always been more than the sum of their parts. Their first album of all new material in eighty-five years had to be two discs to contain all the egos. The negotiations between members of how many songs by whom get on the album or the setlist must make Middle East peace talks look tame.

Don Henley is a clever if not overly subtle lyricist. He was a way with the bon mot line that is just so. “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” is a phrase of pure genius. His song “Business As Usual” takes a lot of pot shots, but the center verse is particularly political.

Monuments to arrogance reach for the sky
Our better nature's buried in the rubble
We got the prettiest White House that money can buy
Sitting up there in that beltway bubble
The main jefe talks about our freedom
But this is what he really means...

Business as usual
How dirty we play
Business as usual
Don't you get in the way
Yeah, make you feel helpless
Make you feel like a clown
Business as usual
Is breakin' me down

Any guesses as to who “the main jefe” is? Bueller? Anyone? And the irony of a song about the mispractices of the music business being sold as a Walmart exclusive is too delicious to not notice.
Eagles-Business as...

Another singer-songwriter that has thrown away any carefully encouching of themes is my girlfriend Melissa Etheridge. I've lamented before that her transmogrification from an artist into an icon has hurt her music. And like Al Gore, throwing Oscars at her just encourages her worst excesses. Here is part of “Kingdom of Heaven”:

A suffering soul on the way to the kingdom of heaven
Held up a sign that says god hates America
A child has been lost; a mother is shocked and is grieving
And turning away, turning away

He said there is a love that is so hideous and destructive
We must drive it from earth to save all of our children
He must know it well in the night it's the hell that he speaks of
It keeps him awake, keeps him awake

My god is love, my god is peace, my god loves you, my god loves me

A suffering soul on the way to the kingdom of heaven
Prayed in the dark, death to the infidel
He strapped on his desperate pain and his faith to his body

Blew them away, blew them away

Packing abortion clinic protesters, self-hating gay Republicans, and Islamic suicide bombers all into one song is a grand feat that matches the souring cliché of the shredding guitar solo.

Melissa Etheridge-...

Bruce Springsteen has never been not political. He was a charter member of the No Nukes crowd (although conspicuously absent from the latest incarnation) and took on Sun City before it was cool. Right around 2004, he deliberately took sides in the election and alienated a good portion of the frat-boy sided of his fanbase. They immediately put him in the Shut Up And Sing bin next to the Dixie Chick and Bruce bid them good riddance. On Magic, the most overt call for action is in “Last To Die”

Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake

The wise men were all fools
What to do

The sun sets in flames as the city burns
Another day gone down as the night turns
And I hold you here in my heart
As things fall apart

Of the songs I’ve highlighted here, it is both the most overt and the most subtle. Rather than scream and rage, he takes it down a notch, makes it personal and turns it into a lament. The signature line echoes the Vietnam War which Bruce has bona fides for. His early concerts often had a long rambling very non-Woody Guthrie-ish narration of his draft board encounter. Now that he is a father of teenagers, his concerns over the trade of blood for oil and land are still as poignant. And he does it with the touch of a poet.

Bruce Springsteen-...